Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Turtle Named Jeffrey

Jeff is a friend of the family. He’s 10 and he follows me around and tells me everything that pops into his mind. He describes in excruciating detail his favorite video game, “And then on level 4 there’s a monster. You have to shoot it, but it turns into a million little monsters and you have to shoot all those too…” he excitedly raves on.

On Saturday, Jeff walked up to me at the party, and tilted his head down. I said hi to him, and asked him how school was going so far. He silently shrugged and mashed his toe into the gravel on the driveway. I’ve seen this behavior before. In fact, I’ve seen it just about every time I see him. He starts off shy. Then as the day wears on he talks more and more.

“What’s with the silent treatment?” I joked. “Normally I can’t shut you up.” His eyes glistened and his face lit up with a smile. I knew that in a few minutes he’d warm up and I’d hear all about everything.

Todd and I took him out on the dive boat. “Wanna steer?” Todd asked. Jeff looked at the wheel timidly, but took it. We stood by to guide him.

“See that red can up there?” I asked, pointing out the navigation marker. “Keep that on our left, OK?”

He caught on fast and steadily drove the boat across the clear water of Lake Champlain.

“You’re doing really well,” I said encouragingly. “You have a very steady hand.” And he did. He looked like he’d been driving boats all his life. His face looked relaxed, even though I knew he was intently concentrating on where he was going.

Todd took the wheel while Jeff and I sat on the bow.

“Did I really do a good job steering?” he asked. He’s 10 now, and he’s beginning to know the difference between when people mean that he’s doing something well, or when they’re just saying it because he’s a kid.

“If you weren’t, I wouldn’t have told you so,” I replied. He smiled, encouraged. “You know, I’ve seen a lot of people drive boats for the first time. And do you know what they do?” He shook his head. “They steer like this,” and I demonstrated how people turn the wheel sharply left and right. “They get nervous about trying to stay in a straight line, so they over-steer. You didn’t do anything like that. You did great, and I am very impressed.” He looked relieved. And another emotion crossed his face. He was proud of having done something new so well.

When we got back to the party, he asked me to play hide and seek. “Jeff, look at those girls over there. They’re your age. Why not go play with them?” He shrugged and mashed his toe into the dirt. I sat down with a beer and listened to the guitarist. When I turned around Jeff was talking to the girls. Later on they were chasing each other.

The guitarist stopped playing. Dinner was over. The sun was setting and the DJ began to play inside. The girls Jeff was playing with went inside to dance. He didn’t want to dance. He sat outside in the dark.

“Jeff, here are your choices. Either go hang out in the boat, or go inside where they’re dancing. You can’t hang out here in the dark on your own.”

He grudgingly went inside and sat in the corner. His new friends were dancing, but he was too shy to dance. One of them sat down to talk to him, and he continued to pout.

“Look! One of the girls is sitting with Jeff,” Todd pointed out. “No! Don’t look!” he laughed.

Another 10 minutes or so went by, and Todd said, “Holy crap, Jeff is dancing.” I clapped my hands and jumped up and down. Even though Jeff was dancing in the corner, behind a pole, he was still dancing. The girl was near him, and two of her girlfriends moved the party closer to them.

Todd and I went outside for air, and watched through the doorway as Jeff made his way into the middle of the dance floor. He was dancing with three girls and had a smile on his face. His dancing was slightly out of time and jerky, but I could tell he was having the time of his life.

He dropped into a split, and then spun on his butt. Then he stood and resumed dancing. The girls cheered and he grinned broadly. The split maneuver appeared to work, and he did it over and over again. The three girls whooped in approval.

Eleven o’clock rolled around, Jeff was starting to wind down.

“Are you ready to go?” I asked.

“No!” he stood up and began to dance again. I knew he was getting tired, and I knew his dad wouldn’t want him up so late.

We said goodnight to the girls, and made our way down the dock to the houseboat we were going to sleep on. He scurried onto the top bunk, excited and unable to sleep.

Until we turned the lights out, and we all drifted to sleep.



Anonymous Taoist Biker said...

Jeff is my hero.

September 23, 2009 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Mine too, TB.

September 23, 2009 at 3:53 PM  

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