Children are adorable. One look at those round angles, those elephantine eyes, and rationality fades. We become not only willing to spend weeknights observing the wee spawns as they stand around green fields in uniforms; we will, upon the occasional intersection of coordination and intention, actually stand and cheer. We get so dazzled, staring down at little Jimmy or Jessica, we won’t even recognize this terrifying reality: until very recently, they did not exist.
My realization that things popping out of the void are as alarming as things popping into it came via Bissler. Even now, years later, I can picture that gray house on Sixth Avenue; the one where he lived with his parents, two older brothers, and golden retriever named Sadie. It’s like this for all of us who knew him. Recalling that neat dark hair arched over devout eyes is effortless. Answering questions about what he actually did and didn’t do is not.
Did Bissler actually execute a cat in the microwave? Probably not.
Was Bissler actually responsible for those families moving away? Possibly. But lots of people left town when the Harnischfeger plant closed.
How deep did that arrow actually stick into Tyler Beckstrom’s butt cheek? Bissler’s favorite trick involved inviting people to his house, hiding on the roof, and then shooting them as they wandered about in his yard. So it is easy to imagine how the incident occurred. But even back then, our memories uncorrupted, those one-inch/four-inch arguments were moot. Evidence pointed to the use of a compound bow, but the arrow had been tipless.
The sad fact is there are few actualities left in Bissler’s exploits. Barely enough to tell you this: in my first memory of him, Bissler is at my birthday party, screaming and using the couch as a trampoline. His scratchy voice is too old for him. His velour shirt, stretched at the collar, is too big. We are eight.
After I open presents and after we eat a cake shaped like Mr.T’s head, my mom agrees to let Bissler and Ben sleep over. We stay up as late as we can. In the morning, my mom buys two dozen donuts, instructing only that we leave the two jellies for my dad. We eat the others, eight apiece. Then we stretch out on the floor near my parakeet, repeating our names.
An hour later, while my mom is at the store, Bissler lures us outside.
“There’s a hawk on your chimney!” he yells.
We run into the backyard as Bissler steps inside. He slams the door and turns the lock. Ben and I race to the front door, but Bissler beats us there. We ring the doorbell. We peer through the windows. We see Bissler, lying on the couch with his shoes on, watching cartoons. Outside, it’s cold enough to see our breath.
We wait on the steps. I feel like I’m going to get in trouble. Ben does, too. He says, “You’re going to get in trouble.” He repeats this five times before my mom pulls into the driveway. I try to tell her what happened, but she’s mad because it’s winter and because we don’t have jackets on. She tries the door. She tries the doorbell. She screams, “Scotty! You open this door!”
Bissler pulls the curtains back from the picture window, squints out the sun, and stares down at us. The window dwarfs him. In it, slack and confused, it’s obvious why even those who knew better thought he was darling. The jaw muscles in my mom’s face relax. She smirks and points at the door.
Bissler seems to understand. He erects his posture, gives us the thumbs-up, and disappears. I glance at my mom, and then at the door. We all wait. We all wait some more. But the door does not open, not yet. Not until after Bissler reappears in the window. Not until after we see the jelly donuts in his hands. Not until after we watch, stupefied, as he takes his time, exaggerating each bite, like he’s trying to tell us something we cannot understand.