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Coming of Age Friendship High School

I won't say Harvey was my best friend. Jim, my buddy on boy scout camp staff, had been my constant companion since third grade. But Harvey earned my respect in so many ways. In the time I knew him in high school, Harvey's looming presence was my salvation a number of times. In medieval times, he'd have been my jousting champion.

From the outside, Harvey was what people call "a bruiser," the kind of bigger-than-life physique that might make him a good bouncer at a rave. He wasn't exactly Andrea the Giant, but he was two inches taller than me and at least 100 pounds heavier.

Size does not describe Harvey though. His soul was pure and his standard of conduct was high above the rest of my classmates. There was no one in school kinder than Harvey. He took me under his wing when he caught several older boys slamming me against the lockers in PE.

One afternoon there was a major scuffle across from the teachers' parking lot where the smokers hung out. It seemed like all the kids went over to cheer the combatants on. Harvey whispered, "Don't go. Stay by where the school buses load."

Sure enough, out came Mr. Agnew, the vice principal. The two fighters were arrested and a dozen of their crowd were suspended. The next day, all the kids who went to watch were summoned to the principal's office.

Harvey was the butt of many jokes, all said behind his back. He knew about them and they hurt him deeply. There was never any doubt that he let the ridicule go over his head and didn't try to stop all the hurtful and spiteful things I heard. As for my stepping in to help, I was a skinny kid and expected that anything I did would risk being beaten up.

Besides, I knew they made jokes about me behind my back too. They called me "sticks." They called Harvey "elephant." They abused my name, calling me Mikey, which I hate. My name is Michael -- end of conversation.

They called him Harv. He hated when they shortened it. Like me, he wanted to be Harvey. Sometimes they called him Tattoo, after Herve, the short actor who portrayed Tattoo on the TV show "Fantasy Island," or sometimes Hardy Har Har, after a cartoon character. Those names and others were just plain mean.

Harvey was not athletic. He could have been a good linebacker but he hated sports. After his dad got out of jail, the man lounged around the house drinking beer and watching football on TV. And sometimes betting on games, which he always lost. I can't be certain and Harvey never said, but there must have been some royal set-tos at home over his lack of sports interest.

Harvey spent a lot of time at my house. My parents liked him and for many nights, let him sleep in his favorite place -- the lounger/rocker. The couch was too small for him. The one place my mother put her foot down was to cut back Harvey's love for chocolate bars, and he never argued.

His dad came to our house once, demanding that Harvey come home. "That boy's no good," he said. My father told him to get off the porch and never come back. Fortunately, he never did. Harvey's mother was long gone by the time he started high school, so in a way, my family became his family.

It's too bad there were no video games back then. Harvey was quick and would be a natural-born winner. But we played lots of board games. He helped me set up a slot-car track -- then proceed to beat me at every race. We laughed with each other and weekends were our favorite times.

There is one thing I regret. Harvey liked to go to the gun range and shoot at the targets. My father was opposed to firearms and I wasn't allowed to go with Harvey. I think he was disappointed, especially when Jim bragged that we earned our riflery merit badges at scout camp.

Harvey did okay at math and geometry while I barely squeaked through those classes. I loved history and English, which were stumpers for Harvey, so I helped him study for tests and explained how parts connected. I tried out for the tennis team and Harvey bought me an ice cream sundae when I didn't make the cut.

There's no denying the major impact Harvey had on my life. He was a strong big brother to me even though we were the same age. I'm not sure I would have made it through high school without Harvey. In so many ways, we were completely different but at the same time, we were a perfect pair. I didn't go to prom and neither did he, even though he did have a girlfriend.

I lost track of Harvey after graduation. He left home and drifted a bit. Then he was drafted, which honestly was the best thing that could happen to him, considering his family history. He'd never done well enough in school to have any desire for college. In the Army, he could learn a trade.

I lucked out by having a really high draft lottery number, 317, so I escaped a vacation in steamy southeast Asia, which made my mother happy. I think secretly, she was thinking of shipping me to Canada. I wonder about what Harvey would say when I marched in the protest parades. I think he would have been sad, not just about my actions -- but about our country being a bully.

A couple of years after I got my BA in photojournalism, I contacted Harvey's high school girlfriend. She hadn't heard from him either. She was certain that he made it home from Vietnam safely, but without knowing what was left of his family, we could never be sure.

Sometimes I think of Harvey. I've looked for him on Facebook but his name never came up in my searches. Given his lack of interest in engaging socially, I wasn't surprised. I hope he landed on his feet in the Army and afterward. I would love to introduce him to my wife -- and challenge him to a video game. I know I would lose against him. 

June 10, 2023 00:06

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2 comments

Andrew Bell
22:55 Jun 21, 2023

Nice character study. I like that it doesn't have a neat ending. Harvey drifts away from the author as they grow up and leave high school taking their prospective paths - Harvey to the army and the author to University. You get the feeling Harvey is Blue Collar and the author becomes or always was white collar. It leaves you wondering about how Harvey's life pans out. Is the author American? It reads like he is with the high school situation and then the expectation of going to college and he misses the draft to Vietnam which we didn't have ...

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Kevin Logue
10:33 Jun 17, 2023

A whole life story in so little words, well done. When I finished I wanted to know what happened to Harvey though. This may need a companion story of Harvey in Vietnam and what happened after.

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