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First Look: Relative Distance by David Pruitt

Monday, October 03, 2022

This excerpt is part of our First Look column where you’ll find exclusive sneak peeks into upcoming books across all genres!

In his powerful new memoir, Relative Distance, David Pruitt takes readers back to his tumultuous childhood as he grapples with his father’s abuse, his mother’s mental illness, and his brother’s homelessness. Now the CEO of Performance Bike, one of the largest athletic retailers in the country, David looks at how his path differed from the rest of his family, and why. Fans of Educated and The Glass Castle will love this debut memoir, out tomorrow!

Pre-order your copy here!

The Park

Why a seemingly merciless God decided it was his fate to be born into a damaged home is a fair question to ask, though not one with an easy answer.

He could’ve been born into the historic mansions of Old Irving Park, with their rolling hills and emerald putting greens, or the fresh-moneyed estates of New Irving Park, with their impeccable red-bricked homes backed by placid, clear waters and fronted by wrought iron gates. These are the places of privilege in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979.

It could’ve happened that way—but it didn’t. That the fates have been unkind to him is beyond dispute. That he’s been hurt by people he loved and trusted is fact. That he, without early expectation or intent, has lied, stolen, and disappointed those who loved him is an unfortunate truth.

And now he’s here in this pivotal moment, these most uncertain of times, on a warm Sunday evening, alone, in a large local park with a small name: Country Park.

He hikes the lengthy trails in tepid silence and, despite his troubles, can’t help but notice the beauty of his surroundings. The white oak and sugar maple leaves that dance beneath the clouds. The dogwoods in bloom, stray berries resting above shallow roots. Twin lakes nestled amid verdant woods casting a long shadow that cools the paired-off lovers as they lie in repose, gazing at one another, on their rumpled blankets along the grassy shorelines.

With tired feet and a weary glance, he finds an empty park bench overlooking a lake. Taking a seat, he drops his backpack on the thin pine straw at his feet, looks out, and spots a young boy fishing—his willowy line hanging from a thin bamboo pole with a half-red, half- white sinker floating aimlessly atop the tranquil pond.

He stares at its slow, hypnotic drift and remembers a time not so long ago when he eagerly cast his line in these waters. There were fish he caught—and some that got away.

Brown-haired, sunburnt, and long-limbed, at twenty years of age he stands taller than most and is lean and sinewy in a manner that prompts notice from the occasional passerby. His hands are strong and capable, lending him to excel at challenging, physical work. He may not design the building, but he can align the studs and straight- cut the two-by-fours. And despite his occasional struggle with the truth, at his core, he’s a decent soul and possesses a discrete but present charisma. There’s real good in him and some can see it. But somehow, in the recesses of his anxious mind, any faith about what he can accomplish in this life has long been stripped away.

That the fates have been unkind to him is beyond dispute. That he’s been hurt by people he loved and trusted is fact. That he, without early expectation or intent, has lied, stolen, and disappointed those who loved him is an unfortunate truth.

In the lonely quiet, he ponders the last few difficult months while the darkness continues its rapid descent.

He was ordered to leave his home and not come back—and not without reason. He made mistakes and did things that were just plain wrong. It’s also true that he was raised by a man who survived hard things as a youth and zealously passed them on—as if he was sup- posed to, as if it was all he knew, as if it was the right thing, as if it was the only way. Maybe it was. And maybe his leaving was for the best.

He spots a bathroom some fifty yards to his right near the dense woodline. With his backpack and its frayed straps resting heavily on his tired shoulders, he walks over and steps through its open door.

It’s quite dark inside. Finding no light switch, he carefully relieves himself in the low-set urinal and throws cold water in his face before stepping back outside.

The park is now empty. He checks his watch. It’s 9:58 p.m., and other than a few streetlights on the main park road, it’s dark out—time to bed down. He takes a seat at the picnic table under the attached shelter to take inventory of his few possessions. He has a small blanket, a pair of jeans, a UNC baseball cap, a gray hoodie, assorted underwear and socks, three T-shirts, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, and a Milky Way bar.

He removes the blanket and the hoodie from the backpack, zips it closed in a half-circle across the top and quickly decides he’ll sleep behind the bathroom: it backs up to the woods and is hidden from the main road. He walks around behind the building, spreads his blanket, drops down on his backside, and places the backpack under his head. He pulls the hoodie up tight around his shoulders—it’s getting cooler—and lies quiet and motionless on his left side, but the hard ground, lightly carpeted in apple-green centipede grass, is unforgiving. His eyes stretch wide open as he listens to the echoed sound of chirping crickets and the hoot of a nearby owl perched high in a skinny-boughed pine. He tries to manage his nerves, but the uncertainty of his surroundings causes sleep to elude him until exhaustion finally takes over.

A bit after 3:00 a.m., a patrol car stops, and two officers, flash- lights in hand, exit the vehicle. They slowly walk the grounds by the lake; after a brief reconnaissance, they take a look behind the bathroom and, sure enough, find the young man fast asleep. With flashlights beaming on his motionless back and after a vain attempt to rouse him with a perfunctory call, one of the officers walks over and places his boot on the young man’s hip to jostle him awake.

“Hey, you,” he decrees. “Get up. You’re not allowed to sleep here, this is city property.”

No response. He’s out cold, dead to the world.

“Hey, come on, get up!” the officer implores, more forcefully this time.

The young man suddenly feels the boot on his hip and, alarmed, scrambles to his feet. He backs against the rear wall of the building in confusion and tries to get his bearings, his mind slowly coming to life. One of the officers shines a bright beam directly in his eyes.

“Hey buddy, you can’t . . .” He turns quiet for a moment, and then: “Danny, is that you?”

Danny tries to look closer, but for a moment can’t make him out through the light. Then it hits him. The cop’s name is Mark Carroll— they went to high school together.

He tries to manage his nerves, but the uncertainty of his surroundings causes sleep to elude him until exhaustion finally takes over.

“Oh, uh, hey man, how ya doing?”

“Well, I’m okay, but what’re you doing out here?”

“I’ve had a few problems at home. Um, I’m just trying to get some rest.” He pauses. “But I’m not botherin’ anybody.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Look, I’m sorry man, but you can’t stay here. This is public property.”

“Oh? Okay. I’m just trying to get some sleep. But . . . but, I hear you. Uh, let me get my stuff together.”

He pulls on the hoodie, zips up, and bends down, fumbling with the blanket and backpack.

Mark watches the sorry scene and mercifully reconsiders his request.

“Look, Danny, this is not usually allowed. Just leave the blanket, you can stay tonight, but just for the night. If you come back here in the future, I’m going to have to take you in for loitering, okay?”

“Yeah, uh, thanks, Mark. I—I really appreciate it, man.”

The two officers start to head back to the car, but then Mark stops in his tracks and turns back around.

“Hey Danny, do you need anything? Can I drop you anywhere?” Danny looks up from re-spreading the blanket on the ground and locks eyes with his old friend. He has a sudden, desperate urge to unburden himself and, for the first time feeling the full weight of his vulnerability, nearly breaks down in tears. But instead, he stubbornly gathers himself.

“No thanks, man. I’ll make this work for now.”