Excerpt from Nobody Knows
The introduction and first two chapters lay out the background of the Horton family. The oldest daughter, Anna, mysteriously left the iron Range town of Mesabi as soon as she graduated. Jake is three years younger than Anna; followed by his brother, Mike, who is 2 years younger; and DeeDee is 2 years younger than Mike. Jake is anxious to start the next phase of his life at the University of Minnesota…
The day I left the town of Mesabi and headed for my new life in Minneapolis remains fixed in my mind for several reasons. My dad had gotten work outside of town and wasn’t present for the good-byes. Maybe it was for the best.
Dad was not an emotional man. I always thought he held conflicted feelings toward me. One Father’s Day, I took a risk and mumbled, “I love you.” Dad looked at me and said, “Thank you.” I would have liked to have taken those three words back. We butted heads on what was said and knew we would butt heads on what wasn’t said. So we said very little at all.
I had packed my orange Pontiac GTO Judge the night before so I could avoid too long of a sendoff with my mother. Mom held back the tears right up until I hugged her. I assured her I would be coming home often, and this would turn out to be true.
DeeDee now became the eldest child at home, but she looked twelve to me, not fifteen. Still, a quick thought came to me as we hugged good-bye. She’s starting to look like Mom.
Mike squeezed my hand, and I cried out in fake pain, which was our routine. I doubt Mike understood the implications of what I was doing.
As I headed south on Highway 53, I could see the three of them waving to me in my rearview mirror. Once they were out of sight, I pulled off the highway, parked the car, then ceremoniously kicked the iron ore dust off my tires. I couldn’t remember where I had read of somebody doing something like this, but I liked the symbolism.
My best buddy, Gary Halstead, would be meeting me at the apartment we had committed to in Minneapolis. Gary and I had been friends since grade school. We had plenty of history to draw from when we ran out of things to say. He was not a stellar student and appreciated my help in getting him through some math classes. Neither was he any kind of an athlete, as he had quit competitive sports in eighth grade.
His father worked in the mines, and his mom stayed at home with the kids. Gary was the youngest of four. His dad often told people, “When Gary leaves, the old lady needs to get a job.” He was also proud to state, “None of my kids get a handout. When they’re done with high school, they are out on their own.”
While I was expected to earn some income to pay for my room and board, my parents planned to help me with tuition and loans. We would figure it out together. The Halsteads—or at least Mr. Halstead—was a believer in independence and self-sufficiency. At least when it came to his kids.
He was also a believer in the benefits of hard and frequent drinking, even for a Ranger. On several occasions, Gary and I saw him in varying degrees of drunkenness.
Drunk or sober, he liked to lecture. I didn’t like him much. I thought he was a blowhard. He carried himself as if his opinions were common sense and even smart, but I knew he was an idiot where it mattered. It’s harmless to sit at the bar and bore people with your parenting theories and to rant about the younger generation. But to believe your childrearing skills are superior to others because you provide no financial help seems like nothing to brag about.
He regarded me as a “Big Christian,” so he weighed his words some around me. Both Gary and I were amused by this because he often referred to Christians as “weaklings.” I guess he had figured out it was more admirable to be dependent on a bottle rather than a god.
Despite this disagreeable man, all four of the kids, especially Gary, were popular in school and well-mannered. When school started at the U, Gary joined the Young Christian’s Club, mainly so the two of us could do something together. He seemed to get more out of it than I did. Candidly, I could feel he was a better person inside than I was. I always had.
As we entered seventh grade, we had a black classmate for the first time in our lives. For the most part, the student body treated Allen decently. It didn’t take a great heap of empathy to consider how it felt to be outwardly so different than everybody else. But behind Allen’s back, some students made jokes and comments that were clearly racist.
Allen joined Young Christians with Gary and me, and his knowledge of the Bible amazed me. After one meeting, he needed a ride home, and I asked my mom if she would mind bringing him to his home. It was a fifteen-minute drive, and my mother and Allen never stopped talking.
The next day at school, one of my idiot football teammates commented to me, “I hear Allen is really your brother.”
I knew what he was saying. But while I stood there, unable to come up with something suitable in response, Gary got in this student’s face.
“I think Allen is a great guy. Smart too. What do you think?”
As the kid fumbled to recover, I couldn’t help but be proud of Gary—and jealous at the same time. He had the guts to speak up. Later, I thanked Gary for standing up for Allen.
“Hey, Jake,” he replied, “don’t forget you’ve been a friend to Allen from day one.”
That made me feel a little better, but I still couldn’t help but note the difference between Gary and me. That feeling would always be there.