"Neblett takes us through a wonderfully imagined, captivating interface between reality and the virtual reality of next-generation video games."
Adrian Winstanley author High Hopes Silver Linings
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Love Alone by BJ Neblett
Thanks to everyone who has made Ice Cream Camelot such a huge success! I know you've waited, but the paperback version will be released late this Spring. I have had numerous inquires as to what happened to young Billy beyond grade school. I am hard at work on a follow up memoir titled A Change Is Gonna Come. Picking up where Ice Cream Camelot left off, it follows me as I move through high school, the army and beyond. Look for a possible winter release. In the mean time I'll be posting random chapters here, works in progress, for your enjoyment.
Be sure to comment, like, link and share the love!
By the time I escaped the killer
nuns at St. Pius X Grade School my drinking was starting to get out of control.
Dad had even caught me one night returning home drunk from a session of singing
doo wop with my older buddies. With an expression that told me he knew what I’d
been up to, he sent me off to bed.
I knew there would be more to come.
It wasn’t so much that I’d been
caught that upset me. But the look of disappointment in Dad’s eyes brought back
memories of all the other times, the times I’d been high or drunk and manage to
escape detection. It had been over four years since I started drinking,
sniffing glue and smoking pot. Fooling myself into believing it was all under
control, I teetered dangerously close to the abyss of addiction. I’ve yet to
completely figure out if my parents ever knew of my activities. I prefer to
believe that they were simply clueless, doing the best they knew how to raise a
rebellious, stubborn and curious son.
As it turned out I was right, Dad
was waiting for me the next morning at the breakfast table. The absence of my
sister and mother told me this wasn’t good. But once again my particle and
loving father surprised me. In no uncertain terms, tempered with homemade
waffles and maple syrup, he advised me of the dangerous game I was playing. His
words made sense and I think for the first time I began to see the damage I was
doing. I had already blown my internship at WIBG radio, working with DJ legends
Hy Lit and Joe Niagara. My pitching arm was stronger than ever but I’d been
banned from every Little League organization in the area for my drinking and
obnoxious behavior. Yet in my stubbornness, I refused to see the long term, bigger picture as my dad explained.
Drinking was interfering with things I wanted to do, that’s all. My young mind
said simply, “Be more careful and slow down a bit.” That was all. Even my
father’s stern reminder of the pact he and I had made allowing me to attend
public school made little impression.
I could handle it.
The summer between eighth and ninth
grade still remains mostly a hazy memory. Most of what I recall comes second
hand by way of friends and some long gone writings. But I do remember the date
June 2, 1965 was the last Wednesday
of grade school. I was saying goodbye to St. Pius X, and killer nuns, and
school bullies and, as it turned out, to my friends. I knew that I would be
attending public school in the fall; that most all of my classmates would be
going on to Cardinal O’Hara High; that things would change.
I didn’t know how quickly they would
My long time girlfriend Amy and I
had already come to terms with the idea of different schools. After four
wonderful, turbulent, exciting, confusing, and memorable years of growing and
learning together, we agreed that our relationship had come full circle. We
still cared greatly for one another. But it was time to move on, learn new
things, and meet other people. We agreed we would remain friends – close,
special friends – while we explored the world beyond St. Pius X Grade School, the
Lawrence Park Shopping Center, and our click of friends.
Neither of us suspected it would be
the last time we’d ever see each other.
I remember the look in her eyes,
those gorgeous mysterious hazel orbs that had held so much excitement and
intrigue for me, on that final Wednesday. Sister Joann made a touching if a bit
contrived and overlong speech about moving on and becoming young adults. It was
just a bit too pat and rehearsed for my taste. Amy agreed. The Sisters of the
Sacred Heart were as eager to see us go as we were to leave.
From behind, a slender well
manicured hand with the pinky nail bitten down found my shoulder. Amy’s soft
touch lingered. It was a touch I’d grown to know and love over the last four
years. A minute later the bell rang and it was over. Nine years of growing, and
learning; of confusion, and being bullied; of friendships, and falling in love
and discovering myself and the world around me, with the shrill tolling of a
bell it all came to an end.
Memories came rushing back in a
flood of bittersweet images. I thought of failing the fifth grade and the
friends that had moved on ahead of me; of the first day of fifth grade part two
and my father’s chiding words of encouragement, “New faces; new experiences;
new friends to make.” I thought of the
new friends I’d made. I remembered my first meeting with the beautiful and
beguiling Amy Johns who confounded and captivated me so. And I thought about
Chris, the best friend I’d lost to a careless game of chase.
My eyes began to mist.
Fighting back tears of confusion and
wonder, I turned in my seat. Amy stood at my side looking down. Her hazel eyes
“Well…” she said softly before
“Yeah…” I managed.
Later that day we talked and
reminisced with her mom over chocolate ice cream. In her back yard play fort,
Amy and I awkwardly clung together. There didn’t seem much for us to say. Amy
returned the simple silver friendship ring I’d given her, and that was that.
The main difference between the
summer of ’65 and past summer vacations was that I was alone. Amy and her
family were once again summering in Atlantic City. My other friends, Tommy and
Frankie and the rest, were busy with their own activities. I never saw any of
them again. Instead I returned to my routine of sitting in the bleachers at the
Little League games and then wandering up to the public grade school where I’d
find my older friends.
But all this too was changing. The
baseball games held little interest for me if I couldn’t play. And most of my
hanging buddies had moved on, too. Even my beloved transistor radio was unable
to cheer me. Long time rocker WIBG was quickly giving up the fight against the
British Invasion. As doo wop and traditional rock ‘n’ roll slipped from
popularity, Philadelphia began to vibrate to a different beat. After a couple
of false starts, the Beatles along with other English acts had finally
established a foothold in American rock ‘n’ roll. Their influence would change
the fabric of popular music forever. Even stalwart greaser DJ Jerry Blavat saw
the writing on the charts. He began spinning more Motown and less doo wop. I
remember the evening I switched on WHAT and heard the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. It
seemed to announce the end of the world as I knew it. Sure, it was a cool song.
But in my perfect world mind set it belonged on WIBG, not being spun by the
ultimate in coolness, the Geator With The
Heater. In another year the torch would be passed and the takeover complete
as upstart WFIL and their Boss Jocks ruled
the Philly airwaves. Removing the nine volt battery from its plastic case for
the last time, I parked my trusted old musical friend in the top drawer of my
I was totally alone now.
With nothing better to do, I
continued my old routine, usually with a pint of bourbon or gin secreted away
within a casual Pepsi bottle. My parents were gone a lot, Mom deep into her
acting, convincing Dad to join her and handle lighting and effects for local
performances. And my sister Mary, now a licensed driver, was spending much of
her free time on dates and with friends.
I stared at the lush green ball field
blankly. I didn’t even know who was winning. I didn’t care. Taking a long pull
from the ersatz Pepsi container, visions of Ronnie flooded my mind. It had been
a long time since I’d seen her, too long, but she remained as fresh in my
memory as yesterday’s sunset. We had met right here, on these bleachers, both
of us pretending to watch the game, both of us looking for something more;
neither of us knowing what that something might be.
She was different from Amy in almost
every way. I think that was what intrigued me so much about her. Ronnie and I
didn’t talk a lot, there was no need. We’d meet after dinner, sit in a corner
of the bleachers and share a bottle of whiskey. Often we’d wander deep into the
woods behind her house. There Ronnie allowed me to touch her; explore her young
body while she laid motionless, smoking a cigarette or just staring at the
trees. But we never spoke of the things we did. If the petting became too heavy
or uncomfortable for her she’d simply turn away.
Despite the quiet distance between
us, or perhaps because of it, I found I had strong feelings for Ronnie. I
missed her when she moved away. I loved Amy as best my young years were capable
of loving. But lying in my bed late at night, with the open window and roaring
attic fan doing little to alleviate the burning fever in my young body, it was
Ronnie I recalled.
A loud clash of thunder stirred me
from my brooding. A sudden summer shower was blowing in from the south. Within
minutes, bleachers and field alike lay deserted as parents hurried their kids
to the safety of the family sedan.
“That’s a good way to get
I looked up, finding a pair of cold black
sardonic eyes. “I know an easier way,” I replied.
A drop of rain found her slightly
turned nose. She didn’t flinch, continuing to return my stare. I felt the rain
on the back of my neck. “I’ll bet you do,” she answered with a disconnected dullness.
It was the same kind of response you got from parents and teachers who were
more interested in the things you didn’t say. “C’mon, I don’t feel like being
struck by lightning right now.” Without looking back she turned and headed off.
I don’t know why but I just sat
there, a child stubbornly defying his parent’s orders. The rain picked up. It
was cold; felt good. Taking another hard pull form my bottle, I finally slipped
from the aluminum bleachers and slowly walked home.
The rain persisted, ebbing and
flowing in sprinkles and showers throughout the night. As I figured, no one was
home to shoot me despairing looks and tell me to get out of those wet clothes
before I caught cold. I stared blankly at a rerun of The Man From UNCLE, and then went off to bed.
Sunday after dinner I headed out the
door. Mom asked where I was going. I had no idea. “To the ball field,” I called
back. I knew Little League games weren’t played on Saturdays or Sundays. I
doubted if my parents knew.
“Have a nice time,” was mom’s reply
as the screen door hissed shut.
I sat in the deserted home team
dugout nursing three fingers of rum. It was all I had left, and with my
neighbor Mike doing thirty days for drag racing down West Chester Pike while
drunk I didn’t know where or when I’d be getting my next fix. Tipping back the
bottle once again released more ghosts along with the tart liquid. Unwelcome
phantoms are the hidden prized at the bottom of every bottle of liquor. It was
right here, in the home team dugout I’d lost my virginity. It had been about a
year and a half ago but seemed an eternity. She was a gift for my thirteenth
birthday from my older doo wop singing buddies, her and a bottle of Seagram’s
Try as I may I couldn’t recall her
name. Involuntary selective memory is the bother and bonus for regular
drinkers. But her face came into sharp focus as the last drops of rum burned
their way down my throat. The girl was nothing more than a fish, a groupie.
Except for her face and the warm sensation between her legs I remembered
nothing of the encounter. But that cold December night we both got what we
wanted. She was accepted as a member of the gang that hung out at the public
school making a nuisance of themselves, singing and drinking.
And I became a man.
I laughed out loud at the thought,
coughing up thick green and brown phlegm in the process.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you
you’d get sick sitting out in the rain?”
I spit the slimy wad to the far side
of the floor, holding up the paper sack wrapped empty bottle. “Not sick…”
A flash of white teeth approached as
she made her way across the narrow dugout. “So, what ya got for me?”
I tossed the bag after my luger. It shattered
in the corner as she flopped down next to me. “I got nothing, I’m tapped out.
All I got is my memories.” I turned and found a familiar pair of cold black
eyes. “And memories suck. At least mine do.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Slipping a
denim purse from her shoulder, my visitor produced a bottle of Thunderbird
wine. “You don’t think I carry this thing because I’m a girl do ya?”
We both laughed as she cracked open
the fresh pint. “That shit sucks worse than my memories.”
“You said it.” Taking a long pull,
she passed the bottle over. “But, whatcha gonna do?”
I accepted the offering.
“To memories,” it tasted awful, and
I had to swallow hard to get it down. I never cared much for the taste of wine
or beer. But at fourteen you couldn’t be picky.
We sat in silence for a long time. I
didn’t know what to say and she didn’t seem interested. The sky was slowly
clearing and a waning crescent moon spilled its light into the dugout. She was
someone I’d probably ignore on the street. Pretty in a plain sort of way,
piercing black eyes and tight figure were her best features. Our two brief
conversations so far bespoke of a cynical, sarcastic attitude.
I liked her immediately.
“What did you mean about knowing a
better way?” she asked, breaking the silence.
“The other day, in the bleachers,
you said you knew a better way to get electrocuted.”
“Oh…that…” More ghosts; little did I
realize at the time how large a part in my life to come those ghosts would
play. Perhaps if I’d kept a tighter rein on the endless bottles of liquor they would
have stayed put. I thought about what she’d asked. I didn’t have to think long.
The day was burned indelibly on the insides of my eyelids. It shadowed my days
and haunted my nights. “May 18, 1962.” I turned and our eyes met. “I was in the
fifth grade. I watched my best friend get fried by a high tension electrical
She didn’t blink or even stiffen the
way most people reacted when I spoke of Chris’ death. For just a moment her
eyes softened and her detached demeanor slipped – for just a moment, “I’m
sorry. Now that must have sucked!”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. I
laughed out loud. She laughed, too. I could picture my old pal Chris looking
down, laughing and grinning from ear to sugar bowl ear right along with us. It
was exactly the way he’d want to be remembered, with laughter.
Trudy turned out to be a combination
of both Amy and Ronnie; a mysterious amalgamation of the good and bad of both
my former girlfriends. Like Amy she was fun and interesting; unlike Amy she was
shy and withdrawn around most people. Like Ronnie she drank and smoked, and we
engaged regularly in sexual activities; unlike Ronnie she participated freely
and eagerly. We became friends, or as much of friends as she would permit. I
discovered Trudy didn’t trust many people, kids or adults. Nor did she allow
anyone into the private thoughts and feelings and fears she kept tightly
sequestered behind those impenetrable black eyes. I was afforded cleft note
glimpses of her inner mind set and rhetorical reasoning. Some of it reflected
my own; some of it frightened me.
Her drinking was a result of a
dysfunctional alcoholic home life. Trudy’s dad began feeding his daughter
liquor when she was six. After she passed out he’d sexually abuse her. When she
grew old enough to understand what was going on she started drinking on her
own. One night when she was twelve she broke a bottle of cheap rye over her
father’s head while he slept. In a day an age when abuse was spoken of in
whispers and most people preferred to look the other way, Trudy was sent to
live with foster parents. The situation only abetted her anti-socialism.
But we were a pair, Trudy and I,
soul mates, kindred spirits cast from the same flawed mold. Without
explanations or questions we understood each other. Later, perhaps too late, I
came to realize it was more than just an errant storm that had brought us
together; and more than mere alcohol that kept us together that summer. With
Amy’s departure, I had nailed my emotions to my bedroom wall and placed my
heart in the desk drawer. It was obvious Trudy had long ago done the same.
As with Ronnie, the Little League games
formed the framework for deceiving nosy parents. We’d meet and watch the game
from the bleachers while sipping bourbon or rum or gin from a Pepsi can that
fooled no one. Later we’d hang around the vacant dugouts or slip into a small,
tightly concealed clearing in the woods. One evening I introduced her to what
remained of our thinning doo wop group. The guys were cool and seemed willing
to accept her as part of the gang. As it turned out Trudy had quite a pleasant
and natural singing voice. Problem was she disliked doo wop and adored the
Beatles. After that I began spending less time hanging out and singing. New,
younger faces soon began to replace the old bunch, and by fall doo wop days at
Loomis School, like doo wop itself, were a thing of the past. I missed those
times of adolescent camaraderie. I still do. Those nights of simple songs and
innocent dreams hold some of my fondest memories.
Among the many things Trudy and I
didn’t talk about, our feelings for one another ranked right at the top. It
wasn’t necessary; we shared a quiet understanding that transcended anything I’d
experienced with Amy or Ronnie. We weren’t in love; co-dependent would be a
better term. She never cracked the door to her feelings more than her safety
chain allowed. I kept mine locked up in the drawer with my transistor. We wore
our pain and loneliness like stealth armor, visible to anyone who cared to notice;
most didn’t bother. Sex mirrored our drinking; both defined our relationship:
selfish, detached, indulgent and satisfying.
It probably should have been a
memorable summer – crossing the threshold between adolescent and teenager,
moving on – it wasn’t. I did my best to hide from the changes going on around
me and to ignore the ones that lay ahead. With Trudy I succeeded. The rest of
the summer is a blur. I remember Trudy moving away the first week of August,
sent off to live with yet another foster family. It was probably the only time
I ever saw her show any signs of emotion. “This sucks,” she said flatly, “I’ll
A week or so later I sobered up long
enough to realize junior high was just around the corner. I’d better get my act
together. I cut down on my drinking, mainly because I’d begun to hate drinking
alone. By now there was no one left to hang and sing with, and I’d lost all
touch with my old St. Pius gang. The week before Labor Day was spent shopping
with my mother. She let me pick out most of my own clothes. That turned out to
be a mistake on both our parts.
September 9, 1965 was the first
Thursday of junior high. It was the start of ninth grade; the beginning of the new Billy. I felt nervous, scared and
alone. Maybe that was because I looked like a clown.