I suppose it was inevitable that I find Tim Dale again later in life. After all, he had been on my mind for more than forty years.
The exact circumstances of that chance meeting might be given in laundry list order. I followed my usual daily routine, breakfasted on cereal and coffee, left the house at 7:45 that morning with plenty of time to take a train into the downtown business district where my offices are on the fourteenth floor of the former Wells Fargo building on Montgomery Street. I say “former” because we still call it the Wells Fargo building even though the bank sold it in the late 90’s when the depreciation schedule and mortgage interest deduction crossed each other on the benefits curve. No matter. Old news. Purely a financial decision. Nothing emotional about it.
I would have bought a paper, and this is critical, if the rack were not empty. This was the variance in the routine, the change that brought on the episode I am about to describe. Had it not been for the paper being sold out, I never would have glanced in his direction, taken the first step, said word one and my life would be now as it was then, under control, in the proper order, taking the correct direction which is as it should be.
How I recognized Tim Dale is a matter for conjecture. After all, we last saw one another when we were approximately ten years old, could have been younger, which means we no longer looked the same.
Yet I saw something in the eyes as they glanced in my direction aboard the train that day. There was a face associated with the eyes that was fuller, fleshed out and larger, more round, but it was familiar in a nagging way, a remembrance of things past, a tug in the mind that would have remained unanswered throughout the day if I had not turned directly toward him and asked, “Tim? Is your name Tim?”
There was a cloudy instant of non-recognition, the “do I know you” expression we all have when confronted by a stranger. He shifted on his feet as the car tumbled through a tunnel on its way toward the future.
“Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it is. But, I’m sorry, do I know you pal?”
I found myself at something of a disadvantage. Ordinarily no one notices another human while en route to work. It’s just easier that way and I usually practice the technique by firmly burying my nose in the paper. Today’s missing paper. No news. Was that good?
“Well, then. Tim Dale is it?” I had to be sure it was the same person all grown up and, by the looks of him, a successful businessman on his way to work. Just like me. But how similar our lives had become I had no way of knowing or I might never have asked that opening question. I wanted to add, “Are you the boy I knew as a child, now a man?” But I did not. Then he stuck out his hand to shake and I was certain it was him before he even spoke because he had only four fingers. The ring finger was gone.
This did not surprise me. After all, I had cut the finger off more than forty years ago. And that was undoubtedly what made me think of him, the fact I still rued the day my cruel, disagreeable, childish self chopped a fellow school mate’s finger off in an instant of pure, unadulterated mean-spiritedness that I condemn myself for to this day.
It had come about because at Christmas I got my wish: a Swiss Army knife. The Spartan had half a dozen parts including a wire stripper, cork screw and two different length blades. School was not in session between Christmas and New Years so, as boredom set in, I played with my new toy and envisioned things I could cut up or chop, whittle or throw it at with or without precision.
No, it never occurred to me to use it on another person until the exact moment when I did.
Tim Dale was a year younger. That meant he was technically persona non grata to me and my friends, none of whom had a lick of sense or a sense of obligation to be anything but annoying to anyone not in our group. That meant adults and, most especially, our siblings and their friends, of whom Tim Dale was one.
I remember Franky and me discovering the mausoleum which was unlocked and, somewhere deep in its arced red roof interior behind a thick curtain, the entrance to the crematorium. One of us dared the other, it was typical childish behavior, to enter the room where we crept up to the only thing it contained. I pulled on a handle that looked very much like a silver towel rack which lowered a door revealing an empty interior lined with a porous, off white colored stone. This was the inside of the furnace where fire consumed the caskets and we were briefly in awe.
However, this turned to devilment in no time.
“Let’s scare Tim.” Franky may have been the one to come up with the idea, but it could just have well have been me. Three of us had ridden out to the cemetery. We left Tim to guard our bicycles while we explored. Now we had a purpose, so we returned to the outside world and shouted from the entrance that Tim should leave the bikes behind, no one would bother them, and join us. Look what we found, and the statement remained unanswered because we could not very well tell him, that would have spoiled the fun.