****Edit 05/03/2023: Image has been redone
The summer of 1985 started out very lonely. Ian, Danny and Alex started finding their own way with the girls, and I was not really interested in making new friends. I was starting into a depression over both the loss of Aiden’s friendship and the prospect of facing the future. Carman’s advice was very good and I will forever be thankful for it, but the problem with good advice is that it’s not always what you want to hear. Because of this I was becoming more and more withdrawn, not really showing any interest in hanging around friends. In retrospect I’m sure that I drove the guys away because I certainly would not have been any fun to be with, but back then I just saw them going off with their girlfriends and I was bitter and jealous. The only two things I was interested in were fishing and collecting beer bottles – at least those were the only things I could tell anyone about.
One day while scouting around the woods for bottles I came across another young fellow by the name of Colin. He was a year older than me, slightly shorter and a lot thinner, and had short brown hair. He was fairly attractive, but I didn’t yet view him in that way. He was there collecting bottles too, so we decided to pool our resources. As we worked together I asked him about himself since I’d never seen him before. He lived a few streets over from me and had gone to a different elementary school, which explained my never noticing him before. He lived with his mother, father, and younger brother.
We scavenged the entire woods for bottles, and once we were satisfied that we had found every one we took them to the bottle truck to cash them in, split the money, and went our separate ways.
A few days later I decided to hit the woods again after my brother told me some teens were drinking the day before, and when I got there I once again stumbled across Colin, so we pooled our efforts again and got to know each other a little better. After we cashed in our bottles we started to part ways again, when Colin said “What are you doing now?”
I said “Probably gonna go fishing”, which was true. At that point in my life if I was outside I was either collecting bottles or fishing.
Colin said “Cool, I love fishing. Mind if I come too?”
I shrugged my shoulders and said “Sure”.
“Cool, I’ll go get my
stuff and meet you back at the lake.” With that he took off.
This would be the beginning of a very strange and troubled friendship.
home and got my rod, reel, & tackle box, then hopped onto my bike
and headed for the lake. I had already gotten there and was out in
the water standing up to my knees when I heard “Hey.”
I turned around and it was Colin, with his bicycle and fishing rod. He asked, “Why are you in the water?”
I explained, “You have to walk out to the edge of the drop off. If you don’t walk out you’ll be fishing in knee deep water”.
The way the lake is, all along the Northern half of the lake the water is very shallow for 40-50 feet out, when it suddenly drops off. The fish tended to hang around right on this drop off.
“Ok, cool”. He got off his bike and started taking his shoes off.
“Leave them on”, I said. “There’s so much glass here from the teenagers you might cut your foot off”.
“Oh”, he said thoughtfully, looking at the lake and then down at his feet and his full length pants. I had worn shorts, and probably should have warned him, but the truth was I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t used to fishing with company. After a brief pause he said “Oh well, screw it!”, pulled his pants up as far as he could, then rolled up the pant legs and hopped into the water. With his pants hiked up so far I got a good look at his bulge. It looked good.
We fished for several hours and caught plenty. One thing about First Lake was that you’d never be disappointed with the fishing. Speckled trout, white perch, catfish, and eels were plentiful but the real prizes were the smallmouth bass. We had caught several of each species, both of us careful to return all the fish to the water – not because we were some kind of environmentalists, but because the lake was known to be polluted from the construction on its shores, so eating the fish was a bad idea. As we fished we talked, and I got to know him a little better. He was going into grade 9 at the same junior high school that I went to, and he was also into video games and BMX freestyle riding. He didn’t mention having any other friends, which I suppose I should have wondered about but didn’t at the time because, truthfully, I didn’t have a lot of friends anymore either. I guess it was natural that the two of us would end up finding each other, and with so much in common it was also natural that we would get along.
“Besides”, I thought to myself, “He really isn’t bad looking at all.”
From that day on, everywhere I went, so went Colin. It started out with him just showing up at places I was at, and soon we became friends. As the summer surged on we did a lot of fishing and beer bottling. I noticed that Colin always seemed to have everything: Pop, chips, cigarettes, and money for the arcade. His bicycle was top of the line, he always had nice clothes and expensive shoes, etc. I didn’t think much of it, figuring that his parents just must give him lots of money. I didn’t mind it really, since he was always eager to share those cigarettes and that candy. It wasn’t until one day when I was alone at the arcade and Ian and Alex approached me that I got my first clue.
“Hey”, Ian said.
“What’s up?”, Alex asked.
“Nothing much. How about you guys?”
I didn’t really care what was up with them, but I was being polite. The question went unanswered anyway.
Ian spoke again. “Listen, Carmen. We’ve heard you’ve been hanging around with that Colin guy”.
“So what if I am?”
Ian again “We’ve heard bad things about him. Amber is in his grade and she knows him. Says he was at Waterville.”
Waterville was the town where the Nova Scotia Juvenile Criminal Detention Center was located.
“What do you mean? What for?”
“I don’t know what for. She said that he was sent there over a year ago and only got released this spring.”
“I don’t believe that. Surely he’d have told me.”
Alex piped up. “Would he have though? How well do you know this guy?”
“I know him well enough. I can’t imagine he’d keep something like that a secret.”
Ian: “Look, we’re only telling you this because we don’t want you to get into any trouble. You must have noticed that he doesn’t have any friends?”
“So what? Neither do I!” I blurted out. I hadn’t meant to say that, but there it was. Besides, I was right. They had abandoned me, and now they just didn’t want me to have any friends.
Alex and Ian both looked shocked. Alex was just about to say something when Ian said “Forget it, Alex. If he doesn’t want to listen we can’t make him.”
He then turned on his heel and marched off. Alex looked at me for another few seconds as if he wanted to say something, then looked away and rushed off to join Ian.
I stood there feeling extremely guilty for what I had said. I really shouldn’t have lashed out at them like that, but what right did they have to bad-mouth Colin when they didn’t even know him? Were they just jealous that I was hanging around with him, or did they not want me to have any friends at all? I was stewing over this when my thoughts turned to Waterville. Did he really spend time there? What for? Why didn’t he tell me? And as I pondered this I also started wondering, where does he get all that stuff?
As I was thinking about this Colin
found me. He looked and acted as he always did. I looked at him. What
secrets was he hiding?
He saw me looking at him. “What?”, he asked.
“Nothing”, I answered. I wasn’t going to confront him about this here in this crowded arcade.
I didn’t confront him
about it for quite a while, as it turned out. I wanted to give him
the chance to tell me on his own, or at least that’s what I told
myself. Really, I was just too cowardly to ask him directly, so I
resorted to dropping hints here and there, hoping he would open up to
me. He didn’t though. Summer dragged on and he was acting perfectly
normal. Finally, one evening when I was at the lake fishing, he rode
up on his bicycle. He got off and tossed me a brand new pack of
smokes. I caught them and looked the package over. It was time to
find out what the hell was going on.
“Colin? Where did you get these?” I asked.
“From the IGA at the mall”, was his reply. He was obviously not going to make this easy. I was going to have to pull the answer out of him. I carefully considered how I was going to proceed.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something. How do you afford all this stuff? The smokes, the pop, the chips, the clothes, etc. That stuff’s gotta cost a lot of money.”
“Don’t worry about it”, he said.
“Well I am kinda worried about it”, I said. “We don’t make that much money selling beer bottles. I don’t think your parents are giving you that much money. Are you doing something illegal?”
He looked like he had seen a ghost. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’ve got way more stuff than anyone I know. You’ve always got money for the arcade. Even your fishing tackle – the first time you came fishing you had an old rod & reel and some crusty old tackle, but now you’ve got a top of the line Ugly-Stik and all brand new tackle. Your parents aren’t rich, and we only earn maybe $25 a week selling those bottles. I can’t afford smokes all the time, much less all that other stuff. How are you doing it?”
He was starting to look like an animal backed into a corner. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Ok, this wasn’t working. Time for the direct approach.
“Where were you at last year?” I asked.
He looked at his feet. “So you know then.”
I paused. I could tell he was uncomfortable, but I wanted the truth.
“Yes. I mean, sort of. I’ve been told some things, but I wanted to hear your side. Did you go to Waterville?”
He looked back up at me. He looked scared and sad.
He sighed. “I got caught stealing.”
So there it was. Stealing. But as I thought about it something occurred to me: Usually when kids are caught stealing they get probation or community service. They’re not going to send a kid to Waterville for shoplifting.
“Really? They sent you to Waterville for stealing? That seems harsh.”
“Well, it was more than once. I got caught a bunch of times. The last time the judge told me he’d had enough so he sent me to Waterville.”
Stealing. A bunch of times.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t find out. I mean, who wants to hang around with a criminal? Would you have been my friend if you’d known?”
I thought about this. I didn’t really know the answer. I decided to be honest. “I don’t really know. But you must have known that I’d eventually find out.”
Colin’s eyes were turning moist. “I was hoping we would be friends before you found out, so that maybe you’d give me a chance.”
I thought about this. As I was thinking, something occurred to me. I looked him straight in the eye.
“You’re still doing it, aren’t you?”
He looked away again without saying anything, but it didn’t matter. His reaction gave me my answer.
“You are, aren’t you? The smokes, the tackle box, all of it. You’re still stealing.”
He made no signs that he was going to reply.
I climbed up out of the lake, gathered up my gear, and got on my bicycle. As I was riding away I tossed the still unopened pack of cigarettes at his feet. I didn’t want this. He made no attempt to stop me, and wouldn’t even look at me as I left. The next morning I headed to the lake as usual to collect beer bottles and he was nowhere to be found. I cashed them in and went home. Again, in the evening, I headed back down to go fishing. Again, no sign of Colin. I felt a little mad at him for not telling me any of this, but I was even more mad that he was still stealing. Was everything he owned stolen?
Toward dusk as I was standing out in the water I heard a bicycle pull up. I turned around and it was Colin.
“We need to talk”, he said.
“I don’t really have anything to say to you”, I said.
I wanted to turn around and resume fishing but didn’t, because he was standing next to my tackle box. As I was looking at him a thousand thoughts were going through my head, and it dawned on me that the reason I wasn’t looking away was because I suddenly felt like I couldn’t trust him. Would he run off with my tackle box? I felt bad for thinking this, and yet I also felt that my thoughts were justified. Surely he wouldn’t steal from me, but I didn’t feel so certain. He was a thief, and thieves can’t be trusted. I felt foolish standing out there in the water not fishing, so I reeled my line in, walked to the shore, and sat down next to my tackle box. I gazed out over the lake, watching the fish jumping. Colin just stood there straddling his bicycle, looking at me.
Finally, I broke. I turned to face him.
Colin hesitated. “What do you want me to say?”
“You came down here and said you wanted to talk, so talk. You must have had something on your mind.”
“I don’t know what you want to hear.”
“I want to hear the truth.”
Colin winced. “Ok. You were right. I am still stealing.”
Of course I was not surprised, but I wanted to know, “Why?”
“What do you mean? I just like stuff but can’t afford it, so I take it.”
“I don’t believe that. I like stuff too, but I don’t go and steal it. Even if I did, being caught once would have been enough to straighten me out, if Dad didn’t outright kill me. I collect beer bottles and save up to buy things. You do too, come to think of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you actually buy anything. What do you do with your money?”
He didn’t say anything, so I continued. “So again, why are you still stealing? Didn’t your time in Waterville mean anything? Don’t your parents care?”
Colin just sat there staring at me. I was just beginning to think the conversation was over when he blurted out "They're not really my parents."