Considering that, as a child, I spent a vast amount of my time with him, I remember very little about Kent. He is foggy and nondescript, formed simply by color and geometry. Olive. Black. Brown. Square. Wide. Occasionally I am reminded of an adjective though I am never certain of its validity or, really, its form.
I do recall his hands, or, more pointedly, his fingers. They were in constant movement, probably a nervous tick but at the time, at 6, 7, 8 years old, they were my signifiers of mischief, manifested as an uncontrollable shaking of the forearm that led the fingers. It was a beautiful mesmerizing display, the elbow leading the wave, up and away from the body, reaching a zenith and snapping back, meeting the trailing fingers halfway down.
Kent lived at the top of a wooded hill no more than a quarter mile from my house, the only other English in a vast country community of Amish. After school, I would jump on my bike and race over there, grinding the fat mountain tires through the gravel to create as much dust as possible. The road to his driveway from mine was a straight shot, slightly declined. I rode that stretch fast, to see how far I could make it up his driveway before I had to work for it.
He smiled, and laughed, a lot. Constantly. Everything was funny, Everything was just another game. Now, having used the same technique in my own life, I understand what he was doing and there is sadness. At the time, there was nothing like reaching the top of that hill to put things in perspective. A child’s anger about homework, gone. Frustration from the growing distance between my brother and I, just melted. No more confusion. For me, his life was sublime.
I cannot remember if his last name was Rissel, or Brown, or maybe both. He lived at the top of his driveway, where the gravel leveled out into patchy grass and continued on and past, winding further into the woods past the tall weeds where the feral barn cats hunted. I never met his father; I’m not sure he did either. His mom (I have no idea) spoke of him rarely, bitterly, only on those days when she smelled particularly of turkey and her hair was particularly laid flat and shining. She was a manager at a Subway. I believed she was a very important person. I believed she loved me, as my parents loved him. His grandma (no, not there either) was far too much for me to handle. She was huge in presence, missing most of her teeth in her always plastered smile that never really seemed to be about happiness. I never saw her but in a nightgown with her blue slippers and flyaway gray hair; she was Doc Brown in all his eccentricity and encouraged us wildly.
We built a pool once, at the urging of his grandmother and the despair (no, truly) of his mom. Their house was an old one, mostly wood, coated in peeling once-optic white, moss growing in corners and on the hinges of the screen door. It may have been mold. I only set foot inside three or four times, each time winding through the humid kitchen filled with unwashed macaroni pots and sharp edged cat food tins, shuffling past stacks and up the stairs. Once was for a new air rifle. Once a slingshot. Once a bottle of embalming fluid and a lighter. Once the tractor keys.
The trees were close up there. They pressed in from three sides, keeping the sun out and the ground damp with leaf cover. Spring Peepers and Bullfrogs loved that yard perhaps even more than I did, and they congregated en masse inside of the small and long-broken fountain that sat just outside their front door. After the ground thawed they would fill that stone and lichen basin with their writhing bodies in a seething orgy and until the ground froze we would catch and release mutants, three legged bullfrogs and conjoined peepers.
The pool came to be one hot summer day after his grandmother stopped him from getting in the water of the fountain. We cleared the leaves from a spot in the shadow of the trees, next to the house and the kennel, and dug for three hours so that we could lay out a blue tarp, edge it with rocks, and fill it with muddy hose water. We sat in that pool for hours, drinking lemonade, until his mom came home. That evening we learned how to efficiently fill in a large wet hole.
We spent a lot of time in his barn, hunting for the pack of cats that called it home, riding the broken gleaners and motorcycles. One particularly snowy winter we rode a broken toboggan off of the roof and Kent got stitches. The barn was our criminal hideout, our safe spot when we would run from the angry Amish man (Stoltzfus) who worked the field behind the barn. He did not like our fireworks, or our gallons of gasoline we lit on fire in his empty plot. We found a long dead cat in the hay mall and attempted to embalm it. We did not succeed, nor did we wear gloves or respirators.
Almost everything on his property was broken, and we tried to fix almost everything on his property. We succeeded with one dirt bike one chainsaw and all of the bikes. Kent broke his ankle on the dirt bike while riding through the weeds near the bend in the road. I sprained my wrist when the brakes on the bike we had just fixed locked up and I flipped over the handlebars. Those were both very good days. The chainsaw disappeared before we got to use it.
Kent’s brother was not a good person.
Around the bend, past the weeds, was a family with a father we feared, a daughter we hated, and a mother we never saw. They were responsible for the warning signs at the bottom of the hill, at the start of the driveway. They guaranteed that guns would be involved with any and all trespassers. We would dare each other to ride to this mans house and back on days we were particularly adventurous. We never did it alone. Off we would go, turning as quickly as possible in front of his house and racing for the safety of the wet grotto on the familiar side of the weeds. That man (Robert?) saved Kent’s life once, maybe more.
Chip was Kent’s brother. He didn’t live with Kent, and i’m fairly sure he wasn’t welcome when he visited.
Chip brought a new John Deere riding mower to the house one day, and for a week it sat like a shining siren for the two of us, Kent and I. We were forbidden from touching it. The keys were hidden. Kent found the keys.
We liked to go fast and we liked to invent new ways to go fast. In the barn, we discovered an old red wagon, the kind made of wood designed for children to pull one another, or their toys. We took the seat belts from an old buick behind the barn, attached them to the wagon, and attached the wagon to the tractor. Kent got to drive, because he found the keys. I strapped in to the wagon and Kent drove us to the top of the driveway.
By the bottom of the driveway, I was tangled in the weeds on the embankment and Kent was next to the overturned tractor.
We used to jump our bikes from the driveway, over the ditch, onto the highway. We would jump for hours then ride to the stream to catch crayfish and scare the buffalo along the way.
I was hurt, and Kent was hurt, but we were okay. Kent was panicking and we could not get the tractor righted. Robert drove a big brown truck with a topper, the kind with bubble windows and the smell of wood and earth inside. Robert took the tractor back up the hill. We tried to form a story while we limped past the warning signs.
Chip liked to hurt Kent.
Kent’s mom (maybe it is Janet) told Chip that she hit the tractor with her car. I believe that Chip hit Janet. I believe she loved me, as she loved her sons, as my parents loved Kent.
I moved from Kent when I was twelve. He would have been fourteen. Two years later Kent was in rehab. Chip liked meth and Kent liked whatever Chip said to like.
Olive. Black. Brown. Square. Wide.
I don’t know what or wherebecame of Kent. I may not want to know. For now, he is shapes and colors and wisps of feelings.