Facebook Apology to William Fuller, ca. 2012
Ryan Everett Felton
It’s nearly twenty years overdue, but my therapist and I feel that I owe you an apology, and it’s all to do with the monkey I brought into Mrs. Stockholm’s class, back in fourth grade.
You’ll remember, of course, Gipper the capuchin monkey. I’d imagine nobody from the Crestwood Elementary class of ’96 could forget me strolling down the hall that morning, a chittering primate hanging off my neck. I felt like the king of the school that day. Suddenly the kid nobody ever noticed was a rock star. Gipper was the most exciting thing to happen to the class in, well, probably ever, and I was his ambassador.
It only occurs to me now that the other kids didn’t like me, didn’t think I was cool. It was all Gipper.
The monkey came into my life unexpectedly. My dad had taken the family out to see Garth Brooks in concert, and during his extravaganza encore performance of “The Thunder Rolls,” fireworks went off, burlesque dancers (such as my nine-year-old eyes had never seen before) strutted across the stage, and a veritable army of capuchins were dropped, via miniature parachutes, into the audience.
That was a hell of a show, man.
Luck had it that, at the time of the monkey-drop, my brother was otherwise preoccupied with his Pacers jacket, onto which the gentleman one row above him had just spilled a full beer. So I caught Gipper fair and square, and it could not be contested on the ride home that he was mine and mine alone.
But I’m sure you remember all that.
Which brings me to the first part of my apology, Billy. I’m sorry for the way my instant popularity changed me, how I let my head swell. I was nine, and knew no better. Looking back, I see the error in how I paid less attention to you – my real best friend, the best I’ve ever had even now. I remember taking Gipper over to the popular kids’ table at lunch that first day, at their invitation, and actually avoiding eye contact with you. I didn’t want you to follow me over there. Though I told myself I’d play the long game and eventually rustle you up a spot beside me, the truth my therapist has helped me to find is that I simply wanted this triumph to be for me. Not us, not anyone else. Just me.
It is a very human thing, after all, to crave personal victories. It does not mean I didn’t care about you.
My therapist stressed that, as well.
There were many attempts to knock me off my high horse. Mrs. Stockholm, for instance, was adamant that her classroom was no place for a wild animal. But then, she could not point to any one specific mandate in the school ledger claiming that monkeys were verboten. And by the time Gipper had proven himself a useful assistant – passing out the Scholastic book catalogs, catching Frankie that time he copied off of Emmy Huston’s math test, rubbing her shoulders one at a time during study hour – Mrs. Stockholm was just as happy to have the tiny primate around as the rest of us.
My big brother, never one to take my contentment or good fortune sitting down, coveted Gipper with a venomous jealousy, laced with sibling rivalry. I can’t count how many times he tried to dupe me out of my pet, or beat me into just handing the monkey over to him. We made a bet one time, over a game of pogs: if I won, I got to take his much bigger bedroom, but if I lost, Gus would take Gipper from me. It was a gamble, one I’d not make today, but I won the bet, the bedroom, and that rarest of treasures, which is the younger sibling’s victory over the elder.
Gipper and I were thick as thieves, you’ll recall. I’m sure you were watching from afar, wondering when I’d come back around and involve you in our exploits. I would invite you to join in the fun, now. I was selfish then.
I started getting invited to birthday parties (on the condition that Gipper also attend); you did not. The monkey, as courier, delivered my note asking Jessie Whatley to the spring dance, and she wrote back, “YES XOXOX;” you had no date and did not attend that particular soiree. I was picked first at basketball, though realistically Gipper could not take to the court with me; you were stuck passing out the Gatorade.
It twists my guts into knots, thinking about how neglectful I was, how awful a friend I made to you in those days.
But here is what you don’t know. One day, while Gipper and I were playing chess over banana puddings, there was a knock at the door. A woman, a legal counsel representing the estate of Mr. Garth Brooks, paid a terse and frankly rude visit demanding Gipper be returned to his rightful owner. I was never meant to abscond with the monkey. He was never mine, she said, and despite my tears, Mom did what she must’ve thought the right thing and handed him over.
I was beyond consolation. It broke me, I think. In many ways I never recovered. Hence the therapy.
As quickly as my rise to schoolyard power had occurred, I fell from grace even faster. Jessie would not talk to me. I lost my spot at the Cool Kid table. Even Mrs. Stockholm turned on me, and I maintain to this day that my declining grades that year were more a thinly-veiled “screw you” than a reflection on my efforts or intelligence.
And all I could think was, it was you. You, Billy. I assumed that you had put the word out to the Brooks camp that I was harboring their fugitive monkey and gave them my address. I couldn’t look at you, couldn’t even think of you without trembling and curling up in a pitiful ball of sobs and anger.
I never talked to you again. Even when you invited me to your graduation open house I tore up the RSVP card and spat on the remnants. I hated you for a long time.
Last year my dad passed away. It was quite sudden. We were all shocked. But in his hospital bed, between coughing fits, he admitted to me his terrible secret.
Dad had reported the missing monkey to Garth Brooks via his fan mail service.
It wasn’t you. It was Dad. And he was only doing what he thought was fair and honest. He was a good man, as I’m sure you are a good man.
What my father didn’t know was that his actions would lead to me losing my best friend, and by that I don’t mean Gipper. I mean you. But even this is not true. I spent months resenting a dead man, a man who raised me to the best of his abilities, only to realize through the wonders of modern mental medicine that – if I’m being honest with myself – even he was not to blame. I lost your friendship through my own selfish and misguided actions.
It’s taken me a long time to muster up the courage to reach out to you. I am so sorry that I let my childish leap of logic ruin what was the most meaningful friendship of my young life. Trust is something I have a hard time with, and though I’m working on it, I know that I wronged you then and hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me all these years later.
I don’t expect you to respond to this message. If you don’t, I’ll understand completely. But I also hope you will understand that I needed you to know all this. It is part of a healing process that I figure I’ll be undergoing for some years.
I’d love to grab a beer with you, catch up and reminisce on old times. Maybe that would be good for you, as well. Just know that the offer is there and I’ll never rescind it.
I remain, I hope, your friend and soul brother.
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