Three roads diverged in a Dedham wood

by Brian Keaney

In the third grade I was very jealous of my two best friends.  Once a week or so they would get pulled out of class to attend TASK, a program for Talented And Special Kids.  I, being an average and mediocre kid, was left behind with the teacher who had to draw her eyebrows on every morning.

Both of them were far, far smarter than I was.  Neither one made it past the 10th grade.

I thought of them this weekend as I finally got around to watching Mystic River.  In the film the lives of three boys diverge after a tragic event when they were 11, and though nothing nearly as serious happened in our lives, that’s probably about the time we began going our separate ways as well.

In high school I would occasionally check under a nearby railroad bridge for one of them as I knew he would stash and drink skunked beer there, but I only ran into him once.  The last time I saw him was several years ago when his pregnant wife drove past my house and he spotted me in the driveway.  He said he had forgotten to renew his license, but I suspect that wasn’t the real reason he was in the passenger seat.  He was living in Rhode Island at the time, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.

The last time I saw the other was a few days before I left for college.  Not so long ago I found him on Facebook, but I just discovered he has defriended me.  I don’t know why he did, but I distinctly remember the time in his bedroom when were about 9 or 10 when he articulated the fact that we were best friends.  Of course I knew that, but it sticks out in my mind because I thought it was so odd to hear him actually say it out loud.

There is a line in the film about how simple choices can dramatically effect the direction your life takes.  It really should have been either one of the two of them who got the Ivy League education, not me.  I’m still sometimes reminded of the fact that I did the least amount of homework of anyone in my 5th grade class by the half of the parent-teacher conference responsible for making me do it.  Funny how things work out.

Of matters less personal and wistful, I thought the movie was excellent and well deserving of all the praise it got when it came out and since.  I had forgotten that it was directed by Clint Eastwood, though I should not have.  He is one of my favorite directors – second only to Scorsese – but he overuses light and darkness more than any other director I’ve ever seen.  It is always very effective, but also sometimes overdone.  I have and do argue that Million Dollar Baby is an anti-euthanasia picture based on the way he uses light and, particularly, darkness, in the penultimate scene, though many disagree.  Mystic River is a much darker film, but Eastwood uses the same techniques.

Relatedly, I don’t know how I first came across the book Sleepers, but I enjoyed it a great deal when I first read it in high school and have ever since.  It deals with a similar subject matter – the paths of childhood friends parting after a tragic experience – and the varied lives they lead as adults, but it is notable in my mind for a different reason.  It was the first movie I ever saw that was as good as the book.  As I write this, I can’t think of another off the top of my head.  I haven’t read it in a while so it might be time to pick it back up, and, perhaps, maybe the telephone as well.