Dec 17 2002 Kelly Norton

Pat was the first friend I ever had who smoked and even at fourteen I seldom saw him without a thin trail of smoke rising up into his face. Of course, like most fifteen year old smokers, it took a great deal of determination to maintain the habit. He was relegated to smoking in the neighboring woods and stealing packs of cigarettes whenever a lenient clerk was not available. Pat was also the first friend I ever had who had relocated from the North, as his father had been transferred from Michigan just as Pat was to begin high school. The fact that he wore “sneakers” and drank “soda” was enough to mark him as different in South Georgia, but Pat's appearance and demeanor were what really set him apart. His stature was somewhat slumped and his feet turned outward has he waddled forward with apparent efficiency. He wore heavy large-lens glasses that tended to ride down his nose and exaggerate his two excessively thick dark eyebrows and his hair seemed always on the brink of being disheveled. Clinging tightly to his wiry limbs were always t-shirts that were arguably too small and straight cut blue denim jeans that gave a glimpse of his white socks with every step. His appearance, even to the least judgmental, was unmistakably weird and yet Pat seemed content not having any social ambition. The more negatively people received him, the more eccentricities he would reveal. The more attention people paid to his talents, the less he applied them. In fact, we first met in English class where I would often give him the five minute abstract on whatever work of literature might be featured on a pop quiz that day. But it was away from school, sitting on the ditch bank in the woods across the street from his house, that I first realized the appeal of Pat's weirdness. We would sit for hours and plan some project that had no hope of ever being realized, while he smoked slumped over looking at the burning tip of his cigarette. When we were finally compelled to action, it was usually to build some device or structure from whatever scrap materials we could find in the neighboring subdivisions. Other times, we would take his parent's small boat out to sit on the 6th pylon under a nearby bridge and listen to the rhythm of car tires hitting the section divisions on the surface of the bridge. When the sun finally brought an unwelcome end to our day, Pat would arrange free meals with another friend whose parents owned one of the nicest local restaurants. We sat in the closed section of the restaurant eating from Styrofoam plates piled high with fried catfish and hushpuppies and refilling our own drinks at the drink fountain. After dinner, we would return to Pat's house along with the very generous other friend to grab sleeping bags which we took to the middle of a field down the road and spread out on the grass. I spent many nights sleeping in that field with no shelter except a warm weather sleeping bag. As morning rolled in, the dew would always force me to retreat all the way into the bag and more than once a neighbor's dog was excited to find us while out on his morning rounds. And inevitably, as the sky darkened in anticipation of the coming sun the buzz of the mailman's car could be heard topping the adjacent hill as it accelerated to the next mailbox and then back down by an old creek bed. Pat was the only friend I ever had who was content to sleep in a field with nothing but a sleeping bag. It was all part of his supposed weirdness, that quality which seemed to set him free.