Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Broken Promise

Janet sat at her kitchen table drinking her evening cup of coffee as tears steamed down her face. The open windows allowed her to hear the waves crashing in the distance. The sound usually brought great comfort to her but tonight they did nothing but leave her unsettled.

Born and raised in Cape Cod, there was not much in life that brought her more joy than all that her beach community had to offer. She had built many strong relationships here as a young girl. Her ancestors were among the town founders and Janet's immediate family were active members of the community. Her father had recently retired after 50 years of service as mayor and her mother was on the executive board at Dawson Memorial Hospital. 

Janet had returned to the Cape fifteen years ago after a failed marriage that resulted in the ultimate departure of her husband without so much as a note. The pull of the shore, her family and a position teaching 2nd grade at the local grammar school made the decision to return home an easy one. With each passing day it was obvious that coming home was the right decision.  Old friendships were renewed and the charm of this wonderful place made her wonder why she had ever left in the first place. There was nothing in life that she was more passionate about, than her hometown. Except for him, he was the love of her life.

Kevin Hope had recently celebrated his 15th birthday on Labor Day weekend at a clambake for the ages. The party was attended by his mother Janet, his grandparents, and a large assortment of family and friends. High School had followed shortly thereafter and Kevin was adjusting nicely. He and his friends were keeping busy with their studies, playing football and still finding time to fish on the beach.

Kevin's dad had left when he was just six  months old and made a decision not to be an active part of his life. He didn't know much about him other than what his Mom referred to him as - the man who she loved once but misjudged. He was not ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood and left one day never to be heard from again. For 15 years Kevin had grown up in a loving home raised by his devoted mother and strongly supported by his extended family.

His grandfather and he had an especially strong bond. He taught him how to swim, how to catch a baseball and most importantly how to catch Stripers. Over the years Kevin's passion for the Cape would match his mothers and he couldn't imagine a better place to grow up.  Year after year he and his grandfather would enter the annual Striper fishing competition and every year they would emerge with the largest Striper.

Fishing was one of Kevin's greatest passions in life and he always looked for opportunities to get to the beach and fish.  The running joke with all that knew him was that, " if you couldn't find Kevin, head to the beach on 51st Street and look for the kid with the fishing pole in front of him.  

Unfortunately Kevin's new schedule allowed little time for fishing. After a few weeks Kevin became frustrated with his inability to manage his new schedule to acccomadate his love for fishing.  Eventually he devised a plan to skip some morning classes a day or two a week in order to steal some time away at the beach and fish.  Kevin's classes were large and his absence went unnoticed at first. He would usually arrive in time for lunch and then resume his day as scheduled.

 Balance was returning to his life and Kevin was happy to be able spend some quality alone time doing one of the things he enjoyed most in life, fishing for Striped Bass.

 For awhile no one was the wiser to his morning excursions. Then one day there was a substitute teacher in Mr. Mooring's Science class who kept meticulous records. Miss Watts had finished taking attendance and noticed that Kevin Hope's name did not appear on the attendance list. She called theschool attendance officer who verified that Kevin was not in school and not marked absent. The attendance officers next move was to call Kevin's mom to inform her that Kevin was currently unaccounted for.

On this beautiful Tuesday morning Janet had just returned to her classroom after dropping her students off at their Music class.  As she prepared to grade some papers the phone rang and the voice on the other end informed her that Kevin turned up absent in Science and was currently unaccounted for after a thorough search.

Janet was alarmed at first but then remembered Kevin complaining lately about not having enough time to fish. She thanked the attendance officer for the call and told her she had a pretty good idea where he was. 

Janet arranged for coverage and headed for the beach. As she pulled up to 51st Street she noticed a boy about Kevin's height with headphones on, standing next to his fishing pole. As she got closer there was no doubt that it was Kevin, who had cut class to go fishing.

As Kevin turned to start packing up, he saw a shocking sight. His mother was 15 yards away and heading towards him. The gig was up and his morning fishing excursions were about to come to a quick halt.

After listening to his mom share how disappointed and worried she was, and telling Kevin how important his education was to his future, they headed back to school.  Kevin tried to tell his side of the story but realized the error of his ways and vowed to stop cutting class.  On the ride back to school Janet grounded Kevin and told him that he was not allowed to fish for a full month. Kevin protested but accepted the punishment.

The fall went by without further incident and then a colder and snowier than usual winter settled in. Storm after storm had forced the residents of the Cape inside throughout most of the winter. Kevin was itching to get to the beach and go fishing, but conditions just wouldn't allow  it.

When spring finally arrived Kevin was thrilled that not only were his Redsox poised to make a run at the pennant but calmer oceans meant the fish would be running soon.

One afternoon after school on a day when a downpour had forced the postponement of his baseball game, Kevin decided to go fishing.  Excitedly he headed home grabbed his fishing gear and headed for the beach. In his haste to get to the beach he forgot to call his Mom and tell her. 

Eventually Janet arrived at the game only to find out that the game had been postponed. Some of the boys were still hanging around and told her that hadn't seen Kevin since fourth period.  Not happy to hear that news she headed for home. When she arrived home she noticed that she had two voicemails. The first was from the school attendence officer informing her that Kevin had cut last period. In anger she rushed to her car and headed for the beach. In her haste she never listened to the second message.

When Janet arrived at the 51st Street beach she was beyond angry. Not only was Kevin cutting school again but he had broken his promise to her and that was heartbreaking.  When she finally arrived at Kevin's fishing spot a joyful Kevin turned and greeted her with a hug and kiss. The look on Janet's face though indicated this was not a coincidental or happy visit. Kevin had caught a 50 lb. Striper and was beyond thrilled to share the news, but his Mom's look worried him. She asked him to pack up immediately and head for the car.

On the way home she began to cry because after informing Kevin about the phone call and the "broken promise" he denied it.  He insisted that he went fishing after school only when he found out the game had been postponed, but had been in school all day. Not only did he break a promise Janet thought, but now he was lying too. This was unacceptable. Janet's next move was to ground Kevin from fishing for two whole months. It would be June before he fished again.  This was more than Kevin could take. He couldn't fish for two months and the most important person in his life thought he was a liar. Distraught he ran out of the car as they pulled in the driveway and headed in a direction away from his home.

Sitting at her kitchen table, Janet called her dad in tears and told him the details of the conflict with Kevin which ended with him running off. Her dad reassured her that things would work out and that he had a good idea where he was.

Sure enough Kevin's grandpa found him drinking a milkshake at their favorite ice cream shop on the Cape called Soft and Sweet. After calling Janet to tell her he found Kevin, he talked to Kevin and assured him that things would work out. Full from the milkshake and satisfied with the conversation, Kevin and his grandfather headed for home.

After hanging up with her dad and learning that Kevin was okay, Janet noticed that there was an additional voice mail message. The school attendance officer was calling back to apologize for the first phone call. It was actually Kevin Jones and not Kevin Hope who had cut last period. The school had regretted the error.  

As Janet hung up the phone she began to cry tears of joy and tears of sadness all at once. Her son was not lying and had not broken a promise after all, but she had refused to believe him despite his assurances otherwise. Now it turns out that his entire story checked out.  How would she repair the damage done to the one relationship in her life that mattered most?

When Kevin returned home a few minutes later it was apparent that his Mom had been crying.  Kevin sat down at the table and listened to Janet's apology. Then he listened as she shared the details of both voicemails. Angry at first Kevin eventually turned empathetic, telling his Mom that he understood why she reacted in the manner she did.  While Janet felt much better now that they had cleared the air, she still had more to say.

She told Kevin that she learned a valuable lesson on this day that would serve her well as both a teacher and a parent. She went on to say that two plus two doesn't always add up to four.  When you gather your facts and confront someone else with your evidence, you should always leave room for doubt and other possible explanations. When you dig in and refuse to listen, you close the door to all other possibilities.  Most importantly you forget to allow for the possibility that things are not always as they seem and perhaps you are being told the truth.  As she found out on this day this can often be the case.  She promised Kevin to keep an open mind in the future and always give him the benefit of the doubt. Kevin nodded, smiled and asked his mother if she could cook him a burger because while the milkshake was a good snack he was still rather hungry.

Janet smiled and replied that takeout was a better plan. Kevin smiled in agreement and said "deal."  They got in the car and headed down the road to their favorite fast food place. As they pulled into Bob's Burger Bonanza they observed a beautiful sunset, thus signaling an end to what had become an emotional and exhausting day.

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