A broken promise takes a gifted teenager down a suicidal path of self-destruction. Will the love of a girl and the persistence of his coach be enough to save him?
NOTE: "Live For Today" is based on my high school days. It sends a message to let everyone know suicide is not the answer. There is always hope for tomorrow. One of the characters is Marilyn. I dated her when I was eighteen. Beautiful girl. She committed suicide. There was no reason. Just this week, People magazine, had an article about three students who committed suicide after being teased and tormented by classmates. This story has a time and it's now. The message is hope. (This is a reflection of my senior year in high school)
SUMMER OF ‘61
Remember the first time you fell in love? You probably thought it would last forever.
In the summer of 1961, Lance Renfro had everything. He was in love, had a great family, and already had his future planned. Lance was twelve years old.
Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you plan.
Lance sat in the back seat of the tutone, red and white Ford, Edsel convertible with his younger brother Timmy. Both wore crew cuts that their father, Joe, a naval officer during World War II, demanded. The front of Lance’s crewcut was a little longer, and he combed it straight up with butchwax. His father drove, and his mother, Beverly, filled the passenger seat. Next to football, this was Lance’s favorite time of the year. Every summer his parents took a weekend trip to Neal’s Cabins, not far from Kerrville located near Garner State Park. He loved swimming in the Frio River.
People from all around the country came to Neal’s cabins. This West Texas resort offered a retreat where occupants could relax and enjoy the warm Texas weather alongside the cool and refreshing water of the Frio River.
The narrow two-lane asphalt highway took the family down a hill, and only a few feet from the Frio River. Lance glimpsed to his right and could see kids already swimming in the river. The Texas summer was hot; the Frio River cold. Kids splashed and frolicked in the waters of the Concan resort. He couldn’t see his favorite spot, but he knew where to find the “swing.”
The road rose sharply more than thirty feet, then leveled off. Lance’s father pulled off the road and parked in front of the office.
All four bailed out of the car and stretched their legs. Lance and Timmy were anxious to hit the river. They were already dressed for swimming, but first they had to go to the cabin and unload the car. Their father wore khaki pants and a summer shirt, while their mother wore a long dress and had her hair tied back in a ponytail.
The resort office also served as a miniature grocery store. While Joe checked the reservation, Beverly picked out a few groceries with her sons.
Sad faced, both boys stared at the candy and comic books. Beverly smiled, reached into her purse, pulled out two coins, and extended a hand to each of them, “Here, get what you want.” In each hand was a shiny new quarter the boys quickly snatched from her hands.
Lance scanned the comics and shortly picked a ten-cent Superman comic book; however, he debated on the second. He could not choose between a ten-cent Batman comic or an Amazing Fantasy 15, a twelve-cent Marvel. The latter was a story was about a dorky boy jocks on the school football teased. He later acquired super powers through a spider bite. This new hero was called Spiderman. Lance chose Spiderman and with the remaining three-cents he was able to get two pieces of Double Bubble gum for a penny, and one two cent Hershey Bar. His quarter was gone, but he was fascinated with the Spiderman comic book because in many ways the boy, Peter Parker, was much like him; picked on and always in trouble at home. He was always late, doing something that didn’t please his father, or failing in his requirement to protect his brother. Lance identified with Peter, this mystery boy who became a super hero. Content with his items, he returned to his mother.
The boys had their new treasures, Beverly had collected assorted food including hot dogs, buns and a can of chili, along with essential items they would require for the weekend. Joe smiles at Beverly and shook the keys to the cabin over his head. Outside the office, Joe pulled out a pack of Camels he kept rolled in his shirtsleeve, and lit up. Beverly did the same but with a Salem Menthol.
All four hopped in the Edsel. When the engine rumbles to life they rolled slowly along a narrow crushed stone road to their cabin nestled on a bluff above the river. The area was dry, arid, filled with diminutive oak trees, cedar trees, and prickly pear cactus. The pungent odor of the cedar filled the air. They pulled to a stop next to their cabin, took what they could carry from the car, and walked toward their getaway. Nearby, a roadrunner dashed across the landscape and disappeared into the brush.
Screens covered the windows Inside the rustic cedar and pine cabin. Beverly unloaded the food while the boys put away their clothes. Joe put his things in one of the bedrooms. He began to cough and took a handkerchief from his pocket to cover his mouth.
“Sure wish I could get rid of this bronchitis.”
Beverly said, “Hey, Sugar, why don’t you relax in the rocker outside and I’ll bring you a beer.”
With a smile Joe said, “Thanks, Honey.” He walked outside where he had one of his coughing spasms. He adjusted the old wooden rocking chair, settled into the cushion, and lit up another cigarette.
Beverly turned to the boys, with a bright smile, and waved her hands for them to leave. “Go. Enjoy the river before it gets too dark.”
Lance and Timmy burst from the cabin only to have their father stop them. “Whoa.” Both boys stopped. Joe grabbed Lance’s shoulders, “Tiger, I want you to look after Timmy. Okay?”
“Yes, sir,” said Lance.
Tiger was a nickname his father had bestowed upon him when he was small and still in his playpen. Lance would shake the bars and growl. Joe would smile, laugh, and always say, “Look at that little tiger.” The name stuck. Everyone in the family called him “Tiger.”
Joe grinned, “Enjoy the river.”
Without a response, the boys tore from the cabin and raced for the river, leaving behind only a tiny dust cloud. Near the edge of the cliff a stair carved from the stone led down to the river a little more than thirty feet below. Tall cypress trees lined the river rising high above the cliff more than five feet in diameter and all perpetually watered from the flowing river. The river widened out and formed pools twenty feet or more in depth; the water so clear you could see to the bottom.
Lance and Timmy reached the end of the stone stairs and continued to a boulder filled spot on the river. A few of the boulders were as enormous as a school bus and pierced the river on angles that afforded the brave a chance to climb to the top and dive back into the river. A half dozen children and teenagers frolicked into the flowing water. One brave boy climbed to the top of a boulder and dove into the river.
All took time to enjoy the spring fed, crystal-clear-blue waters that flowed swiftly through and around the limestone boulders that filled the rock-strewn river.
Lance and Timmy passed these and other spots until they reached “the swing.” They ran along a narrow trail skirting the river’s edge until they came to an opening where the river was more than a hundred feet wide and the cypress trees were abundant and tall. From one giant cypress hung a rope more than an inch in diameter and on the bank had been built an old stone and mortar set of stairs that went up about five feet. Mostly teenagers waited in line for the rope. At the top of the stairs one gallant teenager held the rope suspended from the cypress. He gained courage and prepared to swing into the river. He took a deep breath and swung to the center of the river where he let go and plunged feet first into the river. When the rope came back to the bank someone grabbed it and pulled it back to the stairs where the next in line took the rope and readied for their chance to jump. Lance and Timmy got in line at the bottom of the stone stairs.
Two teenage girls, lay on towels stretched on the bank, while next to them rock and roll blasted from a battery operated transistor radio. Summer time romance was in the air.
Lance was next in line for the rope. From the radio Elvis Presley sang, Can’t Help Falling in Love. He heard the song, smiled and said, “I like Elvis.”
From behind him came a sweet, soothing voice, “Me too.”
Lance turned, and saw the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life, with long wavy blond hair that hung below her shoulders. She was like an angel before him. He was dumbstruck.
She smiled sweetly, and said, “What’s your name?”
“Tiger,” blurted Timmy.
Lance frowned and glared at his brother, but when he heard the word, “Tiger,” roll from her mouth Lance had never thought his name was so cool until that moment.
She said, “I like it.”
And for the first time in his life, so did Lance. He pushed the rope toward Angel. “Here.”
Surprised, Angel took the rope and prepared to swing.
“What’s your name?” Lance asked.
She giggled, “Angel.”
On the bank a girl screamed, “Go Angel!”
Angel smiled at Lance, turned away, grabbed the rope tight, swung out towards the water and plunged feet first into the cool Frio River.
Mesmerized, all Lance could do was watch as Angel swam to the bank. Lance mumbled, “Angel.” He was oblivious to the rope handed to him.
A teenager stepped in front of Lance and grabbed the rope. “My turn.” He yelled, “Flip.”
Everyone turned to observe the teenager swing to the center of the river, where he executed a perfect flip. Most cheered, even Angel.
Again the rope was ready for Lance but this time Timmy held it, “C’mon Tiger, swing.”
“Okay, okay Timmy.” He took the rope and yelled, “Flip.”
All within hearing distance, turned to see who was next. Most considered this young, brash kid too young to do a flip. Some laughed, a few resumed what they were doing but many watched only to see how bad the results might be. They wanted to see the proverbial wreck, so they gawked as he swung to the middle of the river and tried to flip in mid-air. The flip wasn’t pretty, but when he managed to penetrate the surface, some of the teenagers actually applauded; as well as Angel. He swam to shore and pulled himself out next to the pretty, young blonde who had recently captivated his attention and caused his desire to show off. He had barely settled in next to her when Timmy swung clumsily into the river. He kept a close eye on Timmy just as he promised his father. Timmy broke the surface with chocking and coughing. His movements were awkward as he splashed toward Lance.
Timmy crawled out of the river and sat next to Angel’s girlfriend. Lance was nervous yet excited. He had never felt this way in his life. He felt strange and his heart pounded from within his chest. Lance tried to talk to Angel, but it seemed everything coming out of his mouth sounded stupid; however, for him, everything Angel said was wonderful.
From the bluff a woman yelled, “Angel!” Angel turned her head and waved to her mother. “Time to come in.”
“Okay, Mom,” said Angel. She stood up, while Lance scrambled to his feet. “Gotta go.”
Lance shrugged, “Sure. I’ll walk you back.”
Angel appeared pleased. Her girlfriend and Timmy trailed behind. For Lance, the world didn’t exist outside this new found glory known only as Angel. All Lance could notice was when their shoulders touched or his hand brushed up against hers, each time the contact sent a thrill through his body. Once upon the bluff, Angel turned to Lance, “Will I see you tomorrow Tiger?”
His heart filled his throat, but he managed, “Sure, Angel.”
He stayed and gazed at her until she disappeared from sight. Still, he waited diligently, should she return. He mumbled, “Angel.”
When Lance and Timmy reached their cabin, Timmy continued teasing his brother, “Lance has a girlfriend.”
Even though he hated his brother teasing him, this time it didn’t seem to matter. Waving his arms with excitement he tried to describe Angel, the beautiful girl from the river, to mother and father. They thought Lance was cute as he fumbled with his words. He was determined to spend Saturday again in Angel’s company. That night he thought about Angel while he read Amazing Fantasy 15 and the story about Spiderman. This new comic book hero was so much like him in so many ways. The only difference was Peter Parker’s super powers. Spiderman helped the weak similar to the way Lance helped his brother Timmy. The only sad part of the comic book story was when Spiderman made a mistake that caused the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. Spiderman always blamed himself and it was something he never forgot.
The next morning Lance shoved his breakfast down in an animal type fashion and ran to the river. He waited all morning but never saw Angel. He went to lunch with his parents and his brother, but couldn’t wait to return to the river. Again, his father told him to watch and protect Timmy. Angel didn’t arrive until mid afternoon, when she finally strolled up with her girlfriend.
All four swam in the river and floated around in huge black inner tubes. Slowly, Angel and Lance pulled away from her girlfriend and his brother. The two talked about all kinds of things. She was from Houston and Lance shared with her that he was from Corpus Christi. For two young children like themselves, the two cities seemed to be a world apart, but that was a detail they could fix later. What they had was today. They would worry about where they lived...well later. Eventually, they came back to the swing, where they first met. While Angel waited on the bank of the river, Lance swung from the rope again. He swam quickly to shore. Their glorious time together passed all too fast. And then it ended when Angel’s mother called again. She waved to her mother then turned to Lance and waited for him, but he made a quick check back to the river and saw Timmy still floundering in the water. He grunted and thought, “Why not.” But he had promised his father. With a groan Lance said, “You go, I’ve gotta stay. My brother is still in the river.”
Angel smiled, “Okay.”
He watched as Angel and her friend walked away, and at that moment Lance hated his brother. He glared at Timmy, who was splashing toward him, and frowned. He watched as Angel walked away.
She stopped and turned to Lance, “Are you going to the dance tonight?”
This was perfect and he smiled at Angel,, “Nothing could keep me away.”
He continued to gaze upon Angel as she climbed the stone stairs that led to the top of the bluff. Somehow, unnoticed to Lance, his brother managed to pull himself from the river. Lance continued to gaze at Angel until she reached the top. Just before she disappeared from sight she turned, looked down at Lance, grinned, and waved. Lance almost choked on his heart as she disappeared from sight. He turned to Timmy,
“I’m going to ask Angel to go steady at the dance.”
Timmy giggled, “Tiger is in love.”
Even Lance laughed as his mind filled with wondrous thoughts about Angel. Soon, she would be his girlfriend. This was the happiest day of his life. He continued to stare at the spot, on the ridge where Angel had vanished, with the hope she might return one more time. He was in another world and happy beyond belief.
Maybe his distraction with thoughts of Angel was the reason for what happened next. As coordinated and athletic as Lance was, he slipped on a wet muddy stone. His feet flew out from beneath him, high up in the air, and he landed on his head. That was the last thing he remembered.