We've All Changed Too Much
(A Missing Scene From Who Killed The Sixties. A portion of the story text is taken from that aired episode.)
I sat next to my silent brother as he pulled the Camaro away from Margo and Tim's house. Margo's words kept playing over and over in my head like some kinda broken record.
"It's funny the way things sometimes turn out, isn't it, A.J.?"
A.J. had smiled at her, replying wistfully, "Yeah."
"I had the same choice to make Anita did. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so Tim and I got married."
A.J.'s facial expression instantly told me he was as puzzled as I was in regards to what Margo meant by that statement. "I'm sorry. What choice?" He asked her to clarify.
"Abortion. It was still illegal then, and I...I was scare...I--" she trailed off at the stunned expression on A.J.'s face. "You didn't know," Margo stated as she absorbed the look on my brother’s face. As if in way of apology, she went on to tell him, "I just assumed Anita told you. After all, you were the father."
A.J.'s expression quickly turned from stunned, to one of pain and confusion. I was just getting ready to offer to drive us home when he mumbled, "Thank you," and "Goodbye", to the contrite Margo and climbed into the car.
"Rick...I...I'm sorry. I didn't realize...” Margo apologized softly to me as I climbed into the passenger seat.
I reached up and squeezed the hand she had resting on the car's frame. "It's okay, darlin'. Don't worry about it. It's not your fault," I managed to assure right before A.J. put the car in reverse.
We drove a few blocks before I attempted to make conversation. "A.J.--"
A.J. raised his right hand on the steering wheel as if to silence me. "Not now, Rick," was all he said, which I took to mean he didn't want to talk about what had just transpired.
The remainder of the twenty minute ride home was completed in silence. A.J. slammed the car door once the Camaro was back in its own driveway and made a beeline for the house, not even stopping to pick up the mail. I stood out in the afternoon sun for moment, not sure if I should go in and try to talk to him, or if I should just get in my truck and leave for the time being, maybe come back later after he'd had a chance to think things through. I finally decided that I'd go in the house for a minute. I figured if A.J. didn't want me there he'd let me know loud and clear pretty quickly.
I picked up the mail, then headed into the house. I threw the envelopes on the kitchen counter, looking around for my brother as I did so. I finally spotted him standing over by the French doors staring out at the canal.
"I...uh...I brought the mail in."
"Thanks," he replied without turning around, and without any life to his tone.
"Sure...no problem," I told him. "Uh...listen, A.J., if you want--"
Before I could finish he interrupted, "I can't believe she did that to me! I can't believe she'd make that kind of decision without telling me, without making me a part of it."
"A.J...look, she was young, she was scared, you can't--"
A.J. whirled around with anger. "That's no excuse, damn it! It's no excuse, Rick! She had no right!"
Big brother quietly brought little brother back to reality. "She had every right. It was her body."
That took the wind out of his sails a bit. His shoulders slumped and he sighed, "I suppose you're right."
I moved over to sit on the arm of the sofa. I knew very well what was going through his head, why he was so angry, so hurt. "A.J., you can't blame yourself for this. For the choice Anita made. She was eighteen years old--"
A.J. looked out over the canal once again, saying softly, "I would have wanted that baby, Rick. I wouldn't have let her get that abortion. I would have married her. I would have wanted to marry her. You know how much I wanted to marry her back then."
I nodded. "Yeah, I do. And it's easy to say all these things now, A.J., with the perspective of a thirty-four year old man. But you weren't thirty-four then, you were seventeen and a half. You might have felt differently. You might have agreed with Anita's choice of abortion. You were headed off to college, you had your whole future--"
"No, I wouldn't have agreed with her choice! I would never agree with that choice no matter what the circumstance," A.J. declared vehemently. "I would have married her...and even if it hadn't worked out - the marriage I mean - I could have still been a father to the baby. I would have wanted to be a father to the baby."
"You were awful young," I pointed out practically. "Not much more than a kid yourself, just graduated from high school--"
"I would have made it work," A.J. responded with determination.
I really had no doubt that despite all the adversities he would have faced in becoming a father at the age of eighteen, A.J. could have made it work. But my saying that would have only made the whole situation harder on him, so I kept my mouth shut.
A.J. turned from the French doors and began pacing the living room. "I know I was young, and that I had big plans...but I really think I would have made a good father, Rick."
"I think you would have too, A.J.," I agreed.
He went on as if I hadn't spoken. "Mom was young when she had you. Only nineteen, and she's always been a good mother."
"Yes, she has," I agreed. "But come on, be honest with yourself here. You were headed off to college with some pretty heavy courses awaiting you. Not the kind of courses that would have easily allowed you the time a baby requires. And if you remember correctly, Anita was pretty messed up after Larry died, she broke things off with you--"
"I know that," he acknowledged softly. "But if she had just told me, maybe I could have made her see that marriage would have worked for us."
"Do you really think that's true?"
My question caught him off guard. He stopped his pacing, looked at me for a moment, then threw his head back and stared wearily up at the ceiling. "I guess I don't really know. Maybe I'm confusing the feelings I have for her now, with what there was between us back then."
This is the first I'd heard that he had any rekindled feelings for Anita, though I'd gotten the impression she had some for him. I decided not to pursue that subject right at the moment, figuring if and when A.J. wanted to reveal more, he would. In response to his statement I agreed, "That's an easy thing to do. Confuse past feelings with present ones. Nostalgia gives us all a warm feeling inside. I can't deny that Anita's return hasn't brought back some good memories for me, too. That last summer I was home before I went to Nam meant a lot to me. Her being here has caused me to remember a lot of good things I thought I'd long forgotten."
"Tell me about it," A.J. agreed as he flopped into the easy chair.
"But, along with the good comes the bad,” I stated, while at the same time wondering when I’d grown to be so damn practical. “Some of the unpleasant things I remember from that summer is how you and Mom fought about Anita," I said in an effort to remind him that marriage to Anita wouldn't have been a complete bed of roses.
A.J. allowed himself a small smile. "Yeah, Mom really had something against Anita. I could never figure that out. Even the other day when Mom was over here and I told her about Anita being in town for a few weeks, and that we were getting together, she got real uptight about it, just like she used to when I was dating Anita."
Although I wasn't going to reveal it to A.J., I had long ago figured out what Mom had against Anita. For one thing, Anita wasn't like all the girls A.J. had dated previously while in high school. She wasn't a straight A student, cheerleader, and all around girl-next-door. She was a bit on the wild side, fun loving, and although smart, not particularly concerned with the grades she got or the company she kept. In general, she wasn't worried about anyone else's opinion of her. Definitely a different kind of girl from those Mom was used to A.J. bringing home. I think Mom could have tolerated all that and kept her opinions of Anita to herself, if it hadn't been that A.J. started talking marriage within just a few days after high school graduation. Mom really hit the roof then and I think, unjustly so, blamed Anita for putting the idea of matrimony in her youngest son's head. With me being home from an extended trip on the road, and then announcing I was shipping out for Nam in a few short months, it was a tense time for all of us.
All I said to A.J. concerning the whole thing now was, "Well, Mom thought you guys were too young to be talking marriage. That's all there was to it. She wanted to see you graduate college first. I really think, A.J., that had Anita told you she was pregnant things would have been rough on you two kids. Not just from Mom either, but Anita's folks, too. Didn't you tell me once that her father was really strict?"
A.J. nodded. "Yeah. He took that word to an extreme, let me tell you. I guess I was fortunate that he liked me. He'd chased off a number of Anita's other boyfriends. But I always thought he was too rough on her and Larry, expected too much of them. Sometimes I look back and wonder if that's not why she was like she was, always out for a good time, because she never had many good times at home. She really wanted to get out of that house."
"Maybe she was too scared to make any other choice but abortion," I said after hearing about Anita's strict father.
"Maybe," A.J. reluctantly agreed. "It would have been hard enough telling Mom I suppose, but Anita’s dad...I don't know. He'd have blown a head gasket, that's for sure. It would have been a very difficult thing for two teenagers to face, I'm sure. But that still doesn't excuse the fact that Anita didn't tell me. I...I thought she really loved me back then...hell, she said as much to me the other night. I just don't understand why she never told me this. I was the father. It was my baby, too. I should have had a part in the choice she made."
I gave much thought to my next question before I chose to ask it.
"A.J...are you upset because Anita had an abortion when you were really both too young to face the responsibility of marriage and parenthood...or are you looking at this baby as your lost opportunity?"
A.J.'s eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Well...it's seventeen years later, and you're still not a father. Are you looking upon this baby as your only chance for that? As your lost chance?"
For just a moment he looked like he was going to get really angry. "I..." he started to protest, then just as quickly shook his head in confusion. "I don't know, I guess. That could be part of it. I...I really don't know."
I had to give him credit for his honesty. It's never easy for any of us to look deep inside ourselves and come up with the difficult answers. "Look, it's understandable that you're confused right now. You only heard about all this forty five minutes ago. Give yourself some time to put it all in perspective. And don't look at it like a lost opportunity. I have a feeling that someday you'll be a father if that's what you really want. If marriage and family are important to you, you'll make it happen."
"Sometimes with the job we do I seriously doubt that," he said in a downtrodden tone.
I wanted to say, "Well, go find yourself a better prospect than that dragon lady Liz," but decided now was not the time to reveal my inner most thoughts regarding A.J.'s current girlfriend. I settled instead on, "A.J., when the right lady comes along, and she will, she'll understand about the work we do, the hours we sometimes have to keep, and our relationship as brothers, partners, and friends. You'll know her when you see her, little brother, and you'll grab onto her and hold her tight. And while you're doin' that, see if she has a sister for me," I finished with a grin.
He couldn't help but smile back. "I'll do that," he promised. He sat there lost in thought a moment before going on to say, "You know, if Anita had made the other choice, chosen to have the baby, to keep it, my child would be seventeen years old right now. Wow, that's hard to believe."
I smiled and teased, "Yeah, think of the hell you put Mom through at seventeen. Are you ready for that?"
A.J. chuckled. "I don't know. I suppose you kind of grow into it as the kid grows. I mean, it's not like someone just drops a seventeen-year-old on your doorstep overnight. But then I think of Tim and Margo and their son--"
"Precocious little bugger, wasn't he?" I asked with a twinkle in my eye.
"You could say that," A.J. agreed. "It's kind of hard for me to imagine having a son with a three foot high hairdo who’s running off to join the Dead Circus."
"Yeah, that's more like the kind of kid I would have."
“And you'd deserve him, too," A.J. quipped dryly.
I wanted to protest that, but didn't know what I could say that would be honest. Actually, after all I'd put my mother through over the years, I did deserve a kid like that. The thought of it definitely pushed fatherhood farther down on my list of future goals.
Before I could think of a snappy comeback A.J. was saying, "But you know, it's weird. Up until forty five minutes ago I had no idea that I ever had been a father, even if it was for only a short period of time. And yet the thought of that baby...of the life Anita and I created...well, it means something to me, you know? Something special."
The look of sorrow and regret on his face told me it did, indeed, mean something to him...something special. "I know," I said softly in understanding.
I heard a car door slam in A.J.'s driveway and rose to look out the kitchen window. "It's Anita," I announced.
A.J. stood up and came into the kitchen, obviously intent on greeting his visitor at the door.
Although I doubted that he wanted me to stay, I offered, "Do you want me to hang around for a while?"
"No," came the firm answer.
I moved toward the French doors. "I'll just slip out the back then. Maybe go get a bite of lunch, then head down to the office, check the mail, check for messages..."
"Fine," was all A.J. said.
"I'm just going to talk to her, Rick." A.J. assured me with a quiet calmness. "I'm just going to ask her why. I want some answers."
Figuring that he had every right to some answers, I replied, "Okay. Just...go easy on her, little brother. This whole thing has been rough on her too, you know. She must have had a good reason for never telling you about all of it. I know Anita. She was a good kid, and she's turned out to be a nice lady. I also know she loved you very much back then. Just don't let your temper get in the way of hearin' her out."
"I won't," he assured me.
The bell clanged signaling Anita's arrival at the door. I barely heard A.J.'s, "Thanks, Rick," as I made my way out onto the deck.
Two hours later I returned home to find Anita's car still parked in the driveway. Rather than go in the house and risk disturbing them, I walked around the back to my boat. I stopped short when I caught sight of A.J. and Anita standing out on the deck. Neither of them saw me. They were locked in a fierce embrace, tears streaming down their faces. I backed away quietly, not wanting to intrude on this private moment.
I wondered as I walked back to the truck if the two of them could somehow start over, could somehow build a meaningful relationship out of what once had been.
A.J. told me years ago that he was going to stay seventeen forever. That he was never going to grow up. Well, whether he wanted to or not, he's long since grown up and left the seventeen-year-old boy who made that vow behind somewhere in the sixties. I had my doubts that A.J. and Anita could ever find that seventeen-year-old boy again, but for just a little while, I think they tried to. A.J. summed it all up a few days later at Carl's gas station as he once again held Anita in his arms. "We've all changed too much," he told her in response to her desire to go back to how they used to be.
He was right, we've all changed too much, and none of us can ever go back and relive our youth. But, for just a little while every now and then, I think it's okay if we try.
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