Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

 

1 November 2008

Note from Jonni:It won’t surprise anyone who read last week’s blog to discover that Jack is not up to sitting at a computer for any length of time. All things considered, he’s doing quite well, but he tires easily and asked me to take over this week.

So I had an idea (groans from the audience): Why don’t we all write a blog? A different contributor each week.

Having worked with him for several years, I have heard many people who love him tell how he has changed lives. Perhaps only a word; a quiet lecture — or, in my case, a verbal 2x4 swung with stunning accuracy and insight.

So — here’s my story. What’s yours? Send us your “Jack changed my life” story and we’ll post it on the blog. Be assured that your anonymity will be carefully preserved. The identities of contributors will only be revealed if they specifically request it.

The Bird with the Broken Wing

Our weird friendship started so prosaically — with a fan letter. I had read The Blue Max and Sweeney’s Run and enjoyed them both. To my astonishment, Hunter’s address was listed in the telephone directory — and, to my further astonishment, he lived only about 40 minutes from me. I expected Form Letter 13-A in reply. Instead, I received an e-mail, written in that cheeky, jokey style only Jack D. Hunter can accomplish. Telephone conversations followed — conversations that got unconscionably long as we discovered we had much in common.

Inevitably, of course, he wanted to know what I did for a living. “Um. . . bookkeeping, administrative stuff,” I replied evasively. No way was I going to tell him I was an aspiring writer! No way did I want him to even suspect I might have written to him with the idea of using him as a lever to get my own work published — because my motive for contacting him had been precisely what I had said in the letter: I was fascinated by his smooth, innovative writing style, in which he somehow managed to tell a serious story sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek asides that kept the reader alternately laughing and gripping the edge of the chair. How does he dooooo that?

Jack Hunter is a newspaperman at heart, and his keen nose for hidden stories soon started to twitch. Several times he asked me what I did; each time I mumbled an evasive answer. Finally I realized he was getting suspicious, so I admitted I was also a writer.

“What do you write?”

“Just about anything. Plays, poetry, short stories, articles.”

“Ever had anything published?” he asked.

“Here and there. Once in a while. I really write just because I have to — because, as one writer put it, it’s as necessary as breathing.”

“You got it bad. Ever written a book?”

“No. I like short stories: get in, tell the story, get out fast.”

The conversation drifted.

But as we got to know each other better, it became apparent to this eagle-eyed news hound that I was going through a rough time. His zany sense of humor was a wonderful relief from the dreck I was wading through in my own life, and he eventually picked up on my silent pain. Like a good newsman, he started to dig, asking questions I didn’t want to answer, trapping me in little white lies. Finally I got tired of the evasions and, beginning to trust, told him what was causing the pain.

“You need to write a book about it,” he said flatly.

“No, I don’t. I don’t want to relive the hell. I just want to forget it.”

“Writing the book will help you forget it.”

We argued. He can be the most tenderhearted man in the world, but when the streetwise newspaperman surfaces, run! hide! I finally agreed to write the book just to get him off my back.

It took nearly a year, and it wasn’t fun. Contrary to his promise that it would relieve the pain, it only made it worse as I relived episodes I was trying to forget.

One evening on the phone he could sense I was really down, and he began his probing questions. Despite having learned evasions don’t work with this guy, I tried to pretend it was unimportant, but finally I admitted I was depressed, that writing the book was taking its toll on my emotional health.

I was stunned speechless when he blew up. “You’re nothing but a **** alcoholic!” he stormed. “But your booze is depression! Put the **** cork back in the **** bottle!” I protested that he had no idea what I’d gone through.

“I’m really sorry you had a rotten childhood,” he snapped. “I admit mine was pretty happy. But I know where hell is: I lived it in Germany after the war. I saw kids digging for food in garbage cans! I saw hell you can’t even imagine! So don’t tell me I don’t know about pain! I know all about it, baby, but I sure as hell don’t wear it on my sleeve!”

By this time I was in tears, crushed by the realization that I’d misread him, that he was the kind of jerk who liked to kick his friends when they’re down. Well, I told myself, I don’t need friends like that. When we finally rang off, we both knew the friendship was over.

But I couldn’t stop crying — and thinking. Could he be right? Was I wearing my pain out there where everybody could see it and feel sorry for poor poor pitiful Jonni? I didn’t much like that image of me.

It took me three hours to compose an e-mail apologizing, knowing even as I wrote that the friendship was already in bloody tatters at our feet.

To my amazement and joy, his reply was a touching, affectionate reaffirmation of the underlying connection between us. “I never intended to hurt you,” he wrote, “but I could see you weren’t seeing things clearly, and it was the only way I knew to reach you. I had accepted the fact that I might lose your friendship, but I wasn’t willing to listen to any more of your woe-is-me victimhood, either. I’m glad you heard what you needed to hear.”

And you know what? To this day, I don’t slip into those deep, grinding, hopeless depressions like I used to. Oh, sure, I get down — who doesn’t? — but, as I told him, I’m afraid he’d swing his 2x4 again if I got really depressed.

“Damn right.”

And so, when I look back on our years of friendship, I can only be grateful that Jack Hunter took the time to heal a bird with a broken wing.

Okay — your turn. Let’s share the wealth. What did Jack Hunter do for you?

Jonni

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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