I hadn't seen her for years.
I instantly knew who had softly placed a hand on my shoulder. Even though I hadn't seen her for years.
It was a soft touch, unique in its placement and path it took from the edge of my shoulder to the final pause and release with a gentle pull of the hairs on the nape of my neck. I didn't even have to raise my head, turn my face to her and look into her eyes.
"Allie," I thought.
It was Allie's soft comforting hand. I didn't even question the how and why of her presence. I didn't know how or why. I just accepted she was there.
I was sitting a ways from my house. My back to the crumbling embers of my life. With knees scrunched up to my chest, rocking back and forth into them, rivulets of tears were trickling down my face.
How I wished I was a woman and could shed buckets of tears to help wash away the pain. "Men don't cry," I'd heard often throughout the younger part of my 27 years. It really never bothered me; that altruism.
"Tough it out!"
"Be a man Donnie. Be a MAN!!!"
The male credo, "Take it like a man."
The credo my father had beaten into me in my youth. Time and again. Time and time again I had gotten the firm hand of his belt. The STRAP as he called it. At the least slight of a whimper as the leather caught my skin, tore my skin, he'd yell at me, "Be a man."
My back, buttocks and the rear of my legs bore witness to the uncountable number of times I'd been subject to my father's frustration and fury. It never had to be much to light his fiery tirade about how worthless a human being I was.
Kids break things as they learn. It's their job to test and try things that don't make sense to an adult. It's just the way of life.
Kids make mistakes. That too is a way of learning and life.
Kids wonder how strong things are and just what will make them break.
Kids learn how careful you have to be or glass that's all around them will break.
But not in my house growing up. No mistakes allowed. Make one and it was strip for the strap.
"Donnie ... go bend over the workbench in the shed," he'd tell me as he drew that heavy leather punishment belt from the strong loops round his waist. "Take your medicine ... like a man," he'd said so many times I'd stopped listening. Stopped caring. Stopped loving. Began hating.
Over childhood years as I got older the fury ebbed. I learned to both be more careful and his health failed. Finally in my late teens, just before I became that "Man" he always drummed into me, beat into me, he abandoned me with death.
Even with the physical torment by my father ended, I still flinched at every error, expecting "The Strap." He was gone yet I continued to punish myself.
It was once about Allie, the error of my ways. The small thing that had given my father just one more reason to unbuckle his belt and with a stern finger point to the shed saying those dreadful words, "Get into the shed." Then with disgust oozing from his mouth he added, "Donnie ... Get your ass into the shed!"
It had been a very warm sunny afternoon early in my 14th summer. A sleepy breeze wafted through my hair as I mowed our lawn. Sweat dampened my shirt. I thought of removing it to wrap over my head. Or throwing it to a branch the next time I neared the Dogwood tree centered on our front lawn.
Opting for neither, I started to tie it around my waist. Easier, I thought, was to tie it around my middle.
As I swung the t-shirt around my hips to tie it off, it never reached around me. That little sprite of a girl next door, Allie, went off in a run. Her excited scream of victory billowing from her mouth, waving her trophy round and around, over her head. "Catch me if you can," came over her shoulder, her eyes shining brightly a challenge.
It only took a moment of indecision before I was after her in a full tilt run. Just as I'd gotten in gear she disappeared into the woodland bordering our back yard. She slipped into the narrow trail ending at a small pond just a short ways back.
It was a destination we'd gone to many a time as kids. A place where we swam together in the heat of summer and skated in the frigid winters. A place we'd gone many times, enjoying our solitude, together or alone.
But that fateful day, the first day of my 14th summer, everything changed.
As soon as I got to the edge of the woods, I let my pace slow a little. To this day, I don't know why. I just did. Somehow, even though I wanted to speed up to overtake her, the chase now seemed more important than the catch.
Let's say, I let her win.
It just seemed the thing to do. After all, I was only a few paces behind her as she ran and I chased. Chased her all the way to the edge of the small swimming hole and out on the tiny, rickety dock there. It was barely three paces long; the dock we fished off, dove off, skated off, many, many times. But this time it was different.
Sure, ever since I could remember, we'd had fun stripping off our clothes to frolic, free in the water. Cannonball into the water. Dive into the water. Swim or just relax together sunning on the dock. Free in our birthday swimming suits.
But this time it was different. Different there on very same dock where we often shed our clothes and laughing at the summer sun, dashed to the water.
I bent over to shed my shorts. Allie lifted her pale yellow sundress over her head. I felt the soft breeze it stirred up as she tossed it over my back toward the shore.
After I stepped out of those shorts, leaving them on the dock, I looked up over at her. For the first time, I saw Allie.
I saw she had changed.
Everything changed that first day of my 14th summer.
As constant playmates, we'd seen each other nude for years playing together at the pond. It was just what we did. Not even thinking anything about it. There was no reason to. Our clothes would get wet, so we always took them off.
But this time it was different.
From that instant on, our lives would never be the same. She was different. I hadn't realized it but I was different too.
Straightening up, all I could see was the huge smile on her face. A huge smile caused by the awe glowing from my face. She giggled and all I could do was let my jaw drop at the changes in her body that confronted me.
Stuttering for the first time in my life, I said, "Buh ... Buh ... Boob ... Boobs."
Then letting a smile cross my face as my momentary surprise lifted I pointed toward her chest. Only with slightly less awe, I uttered a complete sentence, "Allie ... Allie ... You've got BOOBS!"
She laughed loudly. Her smile became so huge that if it had gotten any larger it would have split her face in half.
Reaching up to accentuate her body, she lifted them one with each hand, as if to present them to me and the world saying, laughing, "Yeah Donnie, they finally came in.
"I'm officially a woman. I've finally got boobs!" The joy and satisfaction in her voice was phenomenal.
Allie grabbed onto my outstretched hand and pulled me to her. Our arms came around each other and we were in a full body press of a hug. It felt wonderful.
Being a true fourteen year old male, my body stirred.
It wasn't as if I was thinking of anything. My body just did its own thing and I rose between her thighs to rest solidly up against her crotch. I flinched and almost pulled away from her.
Countering my reaction Allie giggled once again, arched her back a little, putting more pressure on our stomachs. Letting her hands slide down to the narrow of my back, she kept us together, pulled us tightly together.
We'd never been so close together. We were hip to hip. It felt so wonderful. My body started to sing.
Her huge smile waned a little and a soft cast covered her face. She'd felt all of the old and new welts that covered my back. Resting her head on my chest she she reached up, softly brushed her hand on the nape of my neck and pulled a few of the short hairs there. Then she said softly, "I wish your dad would stop that."
I sighed, realistically telling her, "Not much I can do about it. He's all I've got."
Brushing an errant hair from my forehead she said, "It's not right." Then Allie pleaded into my eyes as she shook her head, repeating, "It's not right."
But that was the last word I would ever hear from her for as she completed her statement, I heard a very familiar sound. The soft hiss of my father's belt being drawn from its belt loops.
Allie tensed and screamed, "NO!" as I heard the sharp air cutting path of his belt followed by its sting snaking its way along my back.
"What the fuck do you think you are doing," my father yelled at me.
Tears formed in Allie's eyes and she sobbed.
"I'm sorry," I told her as I flinched from a second strike to my back.
Then that awful phrase came once again as I felt the third whip hit, "Donnie ... Get your ass into the shed."
Then with a firmness and rage I'd never heard before he added, "NOW!!!"