IF ONLY YOU KNEW… A Book of Letters – Arny Wiskin
Dearest Arny, If you only knew…
I close my eyes and I am gazing out my window at the park. Earlier, when we first moved to 57 Neptune Drive and I was six, it was an open field with scattered patches of weeds and grasses. There were rabbit holes, ant hills and mice nests. At night when it was still you could hear the frogs and crickets. That was until the cranes showed up one day. They tore everything that was alive out of there to put down manicured lawns with swings and teeter totters. It was OK, but I had to get used to it. The field was my first taste of freedom and it’s where I remember you the most.
My bedroom window held the perfect vantage point for looking out to see who was there at any given moment. On days when I felt anxious and insecure, looking out at my friends in the park provided me with a sense of still being connected. Even though I wasn`t with them, there was something good about knowing they were there.
It was here, Arny, that I often observed you. I felt a kinship with you. We were both eleven years old. Looking now through my young girl’s eyes, I see you there. It’s raining outside and you are on the swing going back and forth and back and forth slowly, always slowly. The rain is washing over you yet you don’t seem to notice or care. You’ve been there an hour already and I wonder what you are thinking. How come you are not at home where it’s warm and dry? I want to go and get you and bring you inside but I don’t dare. We were both so shy and I didn’t know what to say.
My young heart ached for you. I felt your loneliness in my bones. It lingered there next to my own. Although we never spoke the words, I know somehow we felt safe with each other. I would look over at you across the aisle from me sitting in your little brown desk, in Miss Stewart’s class, drawing pictures.
You drew airplanes and cars. Detailed, precise. Perfect replicas of the models. I could see how beautiful they were. Sometimes Miss Stewart would catch you unaware and shout at you just like she used to do with me when I was daydreaming. I can’t remember, did she stomp over to you, grab your beautiful pictures and crumble them up? Did she rip your heart out as she did mine every time she made me stay after class to tell me how stupid I was? Yes, I can bet that your tender heart was torn apart with the desecration of your quiet renderings. I know mine was. Every time she hurt you, I wept.
At other times from my bedroom window I watched you run. You ran the full circumference of the park. You made it into a race track, running round and round, picking up speed each time. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell if it was you because you were indistinguishable from the trees across the way. But of course, as soon as you stopped, I knew it was you because you would take up residence once again on the swing – gently swaying back and forth – not violently like your running. Here you caught your breath after running faster than any imaginary monster in your mind could catch up to. It was just a slow and steady back and forth. Back and forth.
Were you able to make them disappear? Did they fly out into the wind as you picked up speed? Who were those monsters Arny? Who was it that haunted you? You were determined to beat them.
Beyond the park, you won every single track and field race. You became the fastest runner in all the city competitions. You put your mind to something and you knew how to make it happen. But you never bragged. In fact, you rarely ever spoke.
Do you remember the time when we were in grade 3 and I chose you to be Peter in the Peter Pan skit and you tried to say no but I must have badgered you until you reluctantly said, “Okay”. I was Wendy. We had our little scripts. Sometimes on my way to school having crossed the creek that led to the path onto Baycrest Avenue, I would spot you up ahead. I would run and catch up and with hopeful expectancy, ask,
“So, Arny, did you memorize your lines yet?”
You wouldn’t answer. You just walked in the slow way you did, head down.
” Com’on Arny, did you?” Did you?” I knew you hadn’t but I wouldn’t let up. Eventually if I didn’t stop pestering you, you would shake your head which seemed to hang down even lower now, and whisper,
Now, being totally insensitive, I would cry out, “But Arny, we’ve only got two days left. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to!”
I can’t remember if you did learn them or not. The memory that stands out for me most is that my mother took me to the hairdresser the night before the skit. My long beautiful hair was now a short pixie cut. I could have played your part. I looked more like Robin Hood than you did!
Another time I’m sure I tortured you was when we were 9 or 10 and I made you write something in my autograph book.
This is what you wrote,
“Roses are red, violets are green. My face is funny, but yours is a scream.”
That was one of the few times you showed a sense of humour but apparently, I didn’t see it that way.
I couldn’t believe you wrote such a mean thing to me. I was mortified. I wanted you to show me in writing how much you liked me so I made you write another one. You sighed but did it anyway.
This time you wrote, “Roses are red, violets are green, my face is funny, but yours is a nice lookin’ sort of face.”
Oh Arny, how it makes me smile to think of you. It also makes me sad to think I picked on you so much. Was that my way awkward way of showing you I liked you?
You were a gentle boy. And you became a gentle man.
Later, on my sixteenth birthday, I had the shock of my life. The doorbell rang. I opened it only to find a gorilla in front of me that started belting out happy birthday with the most amazing voice! Those were the years of singing telegrams. When the song was over, the person with the remarkable voice removed his gorilla head and it was none other than you! You, the boy who was so shy. How was this possible? And more than that, I never knew you could sing! Yet I did know that you pushed the edges. Maybe more than most people. Life challenged you and you challenged it back and you won. You always seemed to win…at least on the outside. I often wondered what was going on, on the inside. Had you ever known happiness?
Many years later I was attending a wedding. When I went up to dance, I looked up at the stage and there you were at the microphone, so handsome in your tuxedo, engaging the guests with your warmth. You were not only the MC, you were the leader of the band. Your band! The Arny Wiskin Band. My heart swelled with happiness for you. As time went on, you became the most sought-after wedding and Bar Mitzvah band in Toronto.
Who would have ever guessed that the little boy who was too shy to learn lines for a skit, drew cars and airplanes to tune out the teachers, sat alone swinging back and forth for hours in the rain, would become a world class athlete and performer? But you did.
I remember running into you years later. We went for a coffee. You seemed quiet and shy again. We both were. I felt I hardly knew you and in another way, I felt as though I was inside your skin. Just like it felt when I would watch you from my bedroom window all those years ago. So familiar and yet so distant at the same time.
It was awkward being with you again as an adult – our youth long gone. I had no words to bridge the gap. I thought about other men I had known. The bad boys. The ones I seemed to attract back then. And worse, fell for only to have my heart broken over and over.
I realized then that I had loved you. But I was too young and too scared to know what to say or to know how to be with a man such as you. A man so pure of heart.
God Bless you Arny, wherever you are.
Addendum: My friend Kelly called me tonight and I shared your story with her.
She said, “Hey, why don’t you find Arny on FaceBook or Google and establish contact again.”
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that. I got so excited to learn where you were and be in contact again. After a long search, in utter shock, I found your obituary.
“WISKIN, Arnie – Passed away peacefully on July 6, 2009 at home…
They mentioned family members so I knew it was you and I am so saddened by this news. Devastated, if you want to know the truth. How I wished I could have told you what was in my heart long ago. While you were still alive.
So, dearest Arny, this story is a small token of my love. My heart would runneth over with joy to know that wherever you are, you are still singing.
God Bless You,