Forgotten Art: Norm – Newt 11

A reply to: A letter from Newt



Yes, I’m still writing you.

Yes, it’s a surprise to me. When you find out what I found out–oh, wait. You already know. I guess you’re surprised, too.

OK, I really don’t know what to say.


Still don’t.


Dammit, fool–just write the letter!

That’s me talking to me, not to you.


Right. So here’s what happened. The other day, Ira and I stopped by Meadow’s place. There were all these kids there, and Ira stayed outside talking to them.


I went in. I was happy. I love watching Ira with kids. She’s like a big kid herself, and seeing her with them just makes me smile.

I started painting at one of Meadow’s easels. She’s got the best light in the foyer of her place. And she has these casein paints I’ve always wanted to try.

While I was painting, she came and stood by me. She was wearing her sister look.


If you had a sister, you’d know what I mean.

She started talking.

“I’ve got big news! Like–apocalypse-size news! I mean, get ready. Are you ready?” she said. She talks really fast when she’s excited.


I set down my palette and brush.

“We gotta sit down for this,” she said.

I followed her into the living room, and while we sat there, once everyone else had cleared the room, she dropped the bomb.


The bomb is this: Your soon-to-be ex-wife is my sister’s penpal.

Well, OK. It’s not a bomb to you. Or maybe it was and it already exploded. What I mean is, you know this.

But I didn’t know it. It was a big bomb.

If you had a sister, you’d know what I mean. All my life, I’ve made it my mission to keep my sister away from guys like… away from anyone who could hurt her. That has seriously been Objective Number One with me since the day Meadow was born. You’d know, if you were a big brother. Imagine how you feel about your daughter. It’s the same thing. You’d do anything to keep her safe.

So, the first thing I wanted to do was to beat you up. Or maybe shoot you. I know I shouldn’t tell you this–but it’s just that the feeling was strong. It was instinct. Yeah, that’s what it was. This huge protection instinct reared up, and I told Meadow she couldn’t write to your soon-to-be ex anymore. We were cutting the two of you off. Like that. But not before I wrote a letter filled with four-letters–the same four letters over and over, followed by “you.”

I know. I shouldn’t tell you all this. But look. We’re friends. Yes, we’re still friends. And I had to work through all these rages. If we were friends who met for a beer, rather than pen pals, you’d know how I was feeling. I wouldn’t be able to hide it. And I’d probably take a swing or five at you, and then kick you in the gut. That is, before I worked out my rage.

But I’m feeling better now.

I talked to Jasper. Jasper said this, “So, now you have a face to the other, and you see that the other is connected to you, through your sister. And now she becomes more than an other. She becomes a person, just like you. What was she before? Was she not someone’s friend? The friend of someone’s sister? What makes it different now that you trace her back to yourself? Does she become more valuable being now within your sphere?”

Yes, my uncle really talks like that. Like he’s some guru. But the thing is, he makes a lot of sense.

I thought out what he said. I realize that it’s no different–you’re no different. It doesn’t change things that there’s this other connection. You’re still Newt, even if your ex is someone close to my sister.

It doesn’t change that you’re my friend.

It doesn’t change that you’re the reason I’m with Ira, that you’re the reason I’m trying so hard to be a good “Primary Care-giver” to Aari.

It doesn’t change that we’re still penpals, and I’m still writing to you.

You can think of this letter as my punching you out–or trying to–and us getting over it and sitting down to share a beer.

Man. I thought Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was just a game. I didn’t realize it was true-to-life.


Well, Normal Newt, it sounds like you’re doing well with your new girlfriend, setting up your new career, and moving to a new town. You’re doing a lot to set your life right, and I admire you for that.

Hope you forgive my outburst. I just needed to clear the air.

Your pal,

Neutronic Norm

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Summer Camp, pt. 4


Joel told me that he came upon Blake yelling at one of the Stuffies up in the tree house.

“What was he yelling about?” I asked.

“I just caught a few words. ‘Miss my brother’s birthday?’ ‘Work not family?’ And ‘why?’ He said that over and over.”

Earlier in the day, I’d received a phone call from Pen, Blake’s mom. She’d said that, after thinking it over, she decided that Joel and I probably needed to know what was happening with their family. She and Blake’s father would be getting a divorce during the time that Blake was at summer camp. I’d filled Joel in on it as soon as I hung up the phone.

“So what did you say to Blake?” I asked Joel, knowing that he always has the best way of cheering anyone up.

“Well,” replied Joel, “I know how much it hurts when parents separate. So there really wasn’t much I could say. I told him that the Stuffies would always be there, whenever he needed to let it out, and that you, me, and Tre were good listeners, too.”


“That was a good thing to say,” I told Joel.

“I hope so,” Joel said. “The next thing Blake said was, ‘Oh. Everything’s just fine. What are we having for dinner?’ I replied, ‘Grilled cheese.’ And Blake said, ‘Yes!'”


The kids wanted to go explore the Old Mill. I was about to start supper (not grilled cheese), and Joel was cleaning, so I asked Tre if he’d go keep an eye on them. The mill has been abandoned for decades, and it’s pretty rickety.

“I was hoping to play video games,” Tre said. “Wasn’t I supposed to get a few hours off every day?”

“You can have the evening off,” I said. “Will that work?”

“I guess so,” said Tre.


They were gone for a little over an hour.


When they got back, Gerald headed straight for Joel’s empty bed in the counselor’s building and took a nap.

“Is he OK?” I asked Hahon, who looked pretty mad.

“He’s worn out,” Hahon said.


Waikiki also looked angry, and Blake looked sad.

I found Tre in the computer room. “What’s up, Tre?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said, walking outside.


I thought about giving him space. Then I thought about my job running the camp. If there was something going on–and there obviously was–then I should probably know about it.

I followed him outside.

“Hang on a sec there, Tre,” I said. “It doesn’t take an Eagle Scout to see there’s grumblings running around!”


“No, seriously. Everything’s fine,” he said.

“You know,” I said. “You remind me a lot of my brother. He used to get mad easily, too. And then, he’d always deny it!”


“You want to know what’s up?” he said. “Kids! That’s what! Those kids don’t know how to take a joke.”

“What kind of joke were you telling?” I asked.

“Just a joke! And then, that little Waikiki girl gets all bent out of joint. Like there’s something wrong with being called a woofum!”

“Is that what it is?” I asked. “Were you teasing the kids and it got out of hand?”

“And what if it did?” he said.


“Now you really remind me of my brother,” I said. “We’d always start horsing around, and then next thing I knew, I’d be in tears and he’d be angry, and neither one of us understood what happened to make us so upset. I thought he was a big meanie, and he thought I was a little trouble-maker.”

“That sounds about right,” said Tre. He walked over to the easel and began to paint.

“I could never understand why he picked on me,” I said. “I thought he hated me. One day, after we were grown up, he told me that he always thought I was such a cute little sister. ‘Cute? You thought I was cute? Then why did you always pick on me?’ I asked him.”

“And what did he say?” asked Tre.

“That I didn’t know anything about big brothers.”

“Guess that’s about right, too,” said Tre.

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, just in case, you know, Waikiki might not know anything about big brothers, either. Maybe next time she and the other little kids are being funny and cute, you could find another way to let them know.”

Tre didn’t say anything. He looked at his canvas, looked back at me, and started painting again.


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