I met Leonard three days after I met Lilly. I was sitting by myself in the cafeteria eating a bowl of oatmeal. He came to my table and accused me of calling him Gene Hackman. I didn't remember calling him Gene Hackman, which made him angry. He told me that if I called him Gene Hackman again, there was going to be a problem. I laughed at him. He did not take kindly to my laughing and he threatened me. I laughed again, called him an old man, and told him if he didn't get out of my face, I was going to beat his ass. He stared at me for a minute. I stared back. I stood up and told him to get the fuck out of my face or prepare to get his ass beat. He asked me my name and I told him. He told me his name and asked me if I was fucked-up. I said yes, Leonard, I'm fucked-up bad. He offered me his hand and said good, I'm fucked up too and I like fucked-up people. Let's sit and see if we can be friends. I took his hand and I shook it and we sat down and we ate together and we became friends.
Over the course of the following two months, which is how long I was at the treatment center, Leonard became my closest friend. When I walked out of the center shortly after finishing the process of physical detoxification, Leonard walked out after me. I told him to leave me alone, but he wouldn't do it. He followed me. I knocked him down, and he got up. I knocked him down again and he got back up again. He told me that he wasn't going to let me leave, and that if I tried, he would have me found and brought back. He told me it didn't matter how many times I left, he would have me brought the fuck back every single time. I looked into his eyes and I listened to his words. He is thirty years older than me but he is what I am, an alcoholic and a drug addict and a criminal. His eyes and words held truth. I went back to the center and I stayed at the center. I was leaving because I wanted some liquor and I wanted some crack. I stayed because of Leonard.
For whatever the reasons, and I do not know all of them, whenever I needed something or someone, Leonard was there. He watched over me and protected me. He helped me reconcile with my family. He gave me the best advice that I was given while I was at the center, which was to hold on. No matter how bad or difficult life becomes, if you hold on, hold on to whatever it is you need to hold on to, be it religion, friends, a support group, a set of steps, your own heart, if you hold on, just hold on, life will get better. He encouraged me to be with Lilly. He told me to forget about the fucking rules, that love doesn't come around that often, and when it does you gotta take it and try to keep it. After Lilly left, she needed money to come back and stay at the center. Her Grandmother didn't have any more money. She had spent what she had to put Lilly there the first time. She didn't qualify for any of the financial aid programs. I didn't tell Leonard about Lilly's problems and I didn't ask him for help. He had done enough for me.
The morning he was leaving he asked to speak to me. I went to his room and he handed me a card. It had five names and five phone numbers on it. All of them were his, he said he used different names in different places. He said call if you need anything, doesn't matter what it is or where you are, just call. I asked him why there were five numbers and five names on the card and he told me not to worry, just call if I need anything. After he gave me the card, he said he had something he wanted to talk to me about. I said fine, talk. He looked nervous, which I had never seen before. He took a deep breath. He said Kid, I have always wanted to be married and I have always wanted to have children. More specifically, I have always wanted to have a son. I have been thinking about this for a while now and I have decided that from now on, I would like you to be my son. I will watch out for you as I would if you were my real son, and I will offer you advice and help guide you through your life. When you are with me, and I plan on seeing you after we both leave here, you will be introduced as my son and you will be treated as such. In return, I ask that you keep me involved in what you are doing and allow me to take part in it. If there are ever issues with your real Father, I will insist you defer to and respect him before me and over me. I laughed and asked him if he was joking. He said that he wasn't joking, not even close. I warned him that I tended to cause a lot of problems for the people in my life, and that if he could deal with that, I'd be happy to be his son. He laughed and he hugged me. When he released me he said he wanted me to go to jail and do my time and protect myself. He said not to worry about Lilly that she was going to be taken care of, that her financial issues had been resolved, that he hoped someday she would be better. I tried to object, but he interrupted me. He said what is done is done, now say thank you. I said thank you and I started to cry. I hoped that someday she would be better.
From My Friend Leonard by James Frey. Copyright James Frey 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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