New Year Edition
This Long Road Home
bits and pieces
You will be dead much longer than you will be alive. This is the truth of things. Better get used to the idea. The lives of men and women, cats and dogs, birds and fish are merely hiccups in an endlessness that will never be fully realized by anyone. You are here now and will be gone in some years, months, perhaps even days or hours. The execution of this plan will never change, even though you will do your best to convince yourself otherwise. You merely feed off the scraps of words and wares consolidated by those that came before you. You are a thing void of structural integrity. Like anything built or born, you will eventually succumb to either the weight of the world or the weight of walking it. This is the only thing you ever need come to terms with. That eventually you will be lost. They will lose you. You will be forgotten and never heard from again. And no one will ever know the story that was your life. You will be dead much longer than you will be alive, to boot.
We started out standing up. Crawling, though commonly misconstrued as a mode that precedes upright maneuvers, came later. To everything there is an unseen direction that is both unfelt and unimagined. Some might call it fate. Others, with less aptitude for things philosophical, might call it dumb luck. I don’t know that we ever thought it anything more than our lives playing out within the expected parameters. Maybe, in some other place, we would have possessed the smarts to know the difference. But the streets of our youth were paved with a sort of numbness that tricked the mind into believing that the world was something other than a globe that truly existed if one had the gumption to just keep walking. It was as if we were East Berliners, confronted by both a wall and an outer force that was greater than ourselves combined. So we remained there, walking those streets, idiots of impeccable loathing. And, as a product of that place and time, I’m lost for the kind of language that one always hopes will offer a momentous beginning. So instead I’ll just say: it happened rather suddenly,and leave it at that.
Every story has a central figure. They’re called ‘protagonists’, I’m told. This story doesn’t have a protagonist. Instead, it has a mish-mash of characters that will never seem complete- just as this story will most certainly seem vague and full of holes for the simple fact that I am not a writer by trade. I, myself, am one of the incomplete characters. The only difference between them and I is that it’s my head voice your wandering and not theirs. Which must lead you to wonder why one of them isn’t telling you all this and referring to me like I was dead. Probably because all of them are, save one. And she’s in a nut house.
So now you know what I’m up to. The reconstruction of no good. And a poor one at that.
It happened rather suddenly, as promised. It happened because everything needs to begin somewhere and, without being able to pinpoint that beginning, how is one to ever know when it began at all. There are those beginnings that creep up on you slowly and there are those that adhere to the usual guidelines. In the case of this story, it was neither. Like I said, it happened rather suddenly, which means that it was neither slow nor traditional. It just happened. And it was fast about it.
Picture, if you will, a set of concrete stairs located behind a large school. On those stairs hundreds of kids spent countless hours of their lives smoking, drinking, and what not. Most of the time there was mundane conversation involved. Some of the time there was just mundane silence. It was during one such silence that Bibs Stettner’s body came plummeting from the roof of the school to impact on the landing at the foot of those stairs. At the time there were some fifty or sixty kids out there, all of them smoking. So his body fell from the sky like a rock and slammed into the concrete. The kids smoking on the stairs said nothing. Not because they weren’t troubled by the fact that Bibs had just killed himself, but because, for the first time in the history of those stairs, the silence was something other than mundane. So no one said a word in fear of ruining it for everybody else, you see.
When the police came to gather up Bibs body, I just happened to be walking through the doors that led to those stairs. I had been in class, off in some other world, not paying any attention as usual. This mind set consumed me as I walked through the halls, deafening me to the whispers of Bibs suicide. So I walked outside, cigarette in mouth, lighter to cigarette, and found myself directly in front of his half covered body. He was lying there looking at me. I lit the cigarette and blinked. He did not. He was, after all, more akin to pudding by then than he was to me. I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my life, and I’m not just saying that to make a point. But the strangest of them all would have to be standing over my brother’s dead body wondering what in the world I was going to tell our mother when I got home. That Bibs was dead or that I had failed math again. It seemed to me then that my big brother was still looking out for me, even in death. Thank you Brian. For that was his real name, you see.
So there I was, cigarette in hand, gazing into my brother’s dead eyes. Everyone on the stairs, realizing that I had not yet learned of his death, suddenly started shouting at the authoritative figures in my vicinity to cover his body. None of them had any idea that I was his brother, you see. One of the cops decided to yell at me instead. So he said ‘ get away from there, kid!’
So I did.
There are several advantages to having your brother hurl himself off of a roof. 1: You get to leave school early. 2: You are not expected to return to school until you’ve had enough time to overcome your grief. There are several disadvantages as well. 1: Your parents get divorced because one’s an alcoholic and the other blames them for their son’s suicide. 2: Your father decides to move to Oregon and your mother’s too hammered most of the time to support you so you get sent to live with your grandmother. That’s about it, really.
I spent the better part of three weeks at my nans before deciding to go back. Most of that time I spent messing about with a girl named Penelope Fynn. At the time I didn’t see anything particularly wrong with fooling around with my dead brother’s girlfriend. I do now, of course, but I was much more horny then. I never really knew what made Penny seek me out at my nans, but our union was a tragic component of this story. Penny, now secluded from the world in a mental institution, would argue to the contrary, I’m sure. Though motivated by something beyond my understanding, her manipulations and even her very persona could easily encompass a great deal of the blame . I, on the other hand, have spent the last ten years of my life blaming myself for no good reason whatsoever.
I returned to school on a Monday. I remember that only because of the song and the fact that I agreed with the guy singing it. Besides it being a Monday, it was also the last week of the school year, which meant that come Friday I had nothing to do but get loaded and sit around at the local pool with my friends. Back then that’s what kids did during the summer where I grew up. They hung out at pools. If you think about it, it’s a rather brilliant place for teenagers to go. Everyone’s already half naked. Who could ask for more? Our pool had pretty much everything you could ask for in an outdoor aquatic facility. A concession stand, a huge grass lawn behind the diving boards where most people spent their time rather than in the water, and it was conveniently located next to a rather large park - which meant that if you wanted to get some privacy, for whatever, you could. The lawn area behind the boards even had fire pits and picnic tables. It makes me wonder why any of us ever bothered to go home at night. During my final week at school I spent most of my time daydreaming about a lazy summer wasted lying around on that lawn. That, and trying my best not to grab Penny’s ass in the hallways for fear of someone noticing.
Like I said at the start, this story doesn’t really have a central figure. It does, on the other hand, have a number of them. The three most important ones, though only slightly, would have to be Penny -who I’ve mentioned- Billy Quon, and Jack Wick. John William Wick was, at the time, my best friend. He was also my brother’s best friend. We shared a best friend. Jack didn’t go to school with us though. Jack started going to university when he was sixteen. He was a mathematical genius. Not exactly the wisest man I’ve ever met, but a genius by and by. Two days after his 17th birthday he was offered a job by a huge aerospace firm in the States. The job paid two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year to start. It would take my father almost twenty years to make that kind of money. Had Jack lived to actually start the job, I’m sure I would have enjoyed driving around with him in some fancy sports car and hanging about with super models and strippers and such. But Jack drowned in the pool that summer instead and I would be denied all the things that come along with having a wealthy, genius friend. It’s my lot in life, you see.
That summer Jack had decided to spend July in the neighborhood and August at some math camp for the intellectually esteemed. It was called ‘CALCULOT’, if you can believe it. Maybe Wick would have been Merlin had he not died. He always wanted to be Merlin. None the less, we started our summer by going to the mall on one of our quarterly shoplifting sprees. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to clothe yourself for an entire summer in a little less than thirty minutes of break-neck-theft. The fact that Penny came along only added to our success. Penny was rather beautiful, you see. A slut, true - not that bright - true again, and one of those people that can have something explained to them a million times and never understand what’s being told to them - absolutely. Combined with her beauty, these traits made her perfect for the job. While she swooned over clerks and salesmen, Jack, Billy, and I robbed the place blind. Two knapsacks, one magnet for removing security disks, and one look out. That’s all it took. There used to be four of us, of course, but obviously Bibs was preoccupied with the immensity of death. And as I said earlier, you are dead much longer than you are alive. So it must be quite an undertaking.
So our summer began on a high note. The spoils of our excursion were plentiful and spirits were as high as could be expected. Billy and Wick came away with numerous items of worthlessness, as usual, and I ended up getting a couple new shirts, some shorts, a clock radio, two records, and a pair of sneakers. You know, I’ve always loved that particular name for shoes. Think about it: ‘Sneakers’. It makes you wonder who exactly will be sneaking and why. Perfect for a guy like me who, on average, spends more time sneaking through life than not. Maybe that’s why I still wear them, even as an adult. Then again, maybe I should just grow up and get some loafers. I could steal them in my sneakers. That’s what I do for a living, you see. I’m a career criminal. And they wonder how people like me get started. It’s called the economics of poverty.
How unfortunate for me, don’t you think? Boo-hoo.
So that’s how the summer of 1985 kicked off. No different than the summer of 1984. Except that Bibs was dead, of course. Actually, that’s a pretty major difference, isn’t it. Thinking back on it I’m always reminded of something that Billy often said that summer. He’d say ‘if Bibs was here, he’d know what to do’. It was true, you see. My older brother had a gift for getting the rest of us out of tight spots. I remember one time when we were down at the markets and some drunk bikers decided to give us a little scare. Instead of keeping his mouth shut, Billy started getting lippy. He was a rather lippy Chinese guy, you see. But Billy was big for his age, so he could usually back it up. On this particular occasion he could not. So the bikers started to get rather angry and came to the conclusion that the best thing for our Billy was a good beating. So that’s what they started at. And that’s when my brother’s talent kicked in. While the bikers were attempting to pin Billy to the ground, Bibs went over to their bikes and started pushing them over, one by one. This angered the bikers, of course, but it also meant that their attentions were now focused on my brother. Billy, knowing full well what Bibs was up to, bolted, at top speed, down the street. Dumbfounded, I just stood there like an idiot. My brother, on the other hand, received the beating of a lifetime. He spent two weeks in the hospital and never bothered to tell the police who had put him there. Some months later we were all at a party at the ravine and a biker came over to my brother, patted him on the back, and gave him a beer. ‘You’re alright, kid,’was all he said. That was Bibs way of making sure we were all right. And that summer we would realized that we’d miss him for it.
Like I said, Billy Quon was a loudmouth Chinese guy. I make reference to his race only because he was the only Chinese guy in our neighborhood. His family, who owned and operated the only Chinese food restaurant in our neighborhood, chose to move there because they figured it was safer than downtown. This, of course, was not true. The downtown core of the city included Chinatown, you see. A place where a great many Chinese people had gathered since before the turn of the century. As it turned out, Billy became an instant target when he moved to the neighborhood simply because no one had ever been given the opportunity to use something like race against someone. Those were the rules, you understand. It didn’t matter if you had big ears, bad skin, a funny name, stuttered, or were Chinese. Something’s going to be used against you if it can be. It’s a test of character and nothing more. Billy’s hard times ended, of course, the first time he kicked the shit out of someone that chose to racially slur him. After that he was cool by us. You see, it never really mattered much to me or Bibs or Wick. To us Billy was just another kid who had to go through the motions before he could be let in. And like everyone else, I suppose, he got his fair share. These days things just don’t work like that. And everyone wonders why no one knows who they are anymore.
Penny, unlike Billy, was not a loudmouth. She didn’t need to be. She was beautiful. Beautiful girls don’t really need to say much. They can get what they want by flipping their hair around and such. Penny knew this, so that’s what she did. My brother fell prey to her hair flipping in 1984 and remained her captive until his death. I don’t think that Penny ever thought of Bibs as her boyfriend though. He was just someone to discover life with. Penny was very much like that, you see. All about adventures and scandalous behavior and such. She thought it made her mysterious. Turns out it made her crazy. A crazy slut. I could never quite figure out why she chose to mess around with me after Bibs died. She was always closer to Wick I had thought. I would discover later that she had remained close with Wick during our time together. We were odd and even days of the week to her. The tragic thing about it was that Wick truly did love the girl. A girl that was incapable of love. Being the genius that he was, it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end when Penny finally told him that she had been sleeping with me. I never would get the chance to tell him that I was sorry though. After a night filled with the strangest occurrences of my life, he would drown himself in the pool. He was not a wise man, like I said. Just good with numbers.
But at the beginning of that summer we were both in the dark, Billy missed Bibs, and Penny was adrift in two sexual oceans. No one was dead, save my brother, and the possibilities seemed endless to me. It was some weeks after our shoplifting extravaganza that Billy found the briefcase in the bushes behind the pool. He had been messing around with Karen Walsh again, you see. And for Billy it was a rather difficult affair. Mr. Walsh, it seems, really did hate Chinese people.
Some might say that the briefcase was the root of all evil. I disagree. Penny Fynn’s self-fabricated reputation was the root of all evil. The briefcase was innocent. It’s not so much what was in the briefcase that caused all the trouble, it’s what the discovery of that briefcase inadvertently led to. They say that twenty-twenty hindsight will kill you every time. If so, I wish it would hurry up and get me over with.
Sitting down, Billy smiles up at Karen as she heads towards the change rooms, and then turns to me with this look on his face like the world’s not really a bad place and all the snowballs in hell are neither melting or under any false pretenses about what they’re doing there. This makes me worry, of course. Billy, who is never without his rigid façade, does not smile in the vicinity of anyone who might take it as a sign of weakness. So right away I’m a little confused. Then it dawns on me that he’s got a briefcase on his lap. Thinking back, it had not escaped Penny.
‘Where’d you find that thing?’ she says. Trying his best not to make a big deal about it, Billy doesn’t look at her directly and responds ‘I think we should go to Wick’s place’. This is odd. I’m beginning to wonder if Billy hasn’t done something that he’ll later regret. But neither of us decided to argue with him. Penny, because she loved that sort of thing, and me because, well, that’s what I did. I went along.
So we left the pool and walked the seven or so blocks to Wick’s house. As usual, neither of Wick’s parents were home. His father was the only one that worked. His mother did not, but she was never around anyway. This was mostly because she was spending her time in the company of Mr. Norbeck, our gym teacher. The two, it seems, had become close during the Cub Scouts Father-Son camping trip of 1980 that Mr. Wick was unable to attend. So Mrs. Wick decided to take her son instead. The rest is suburban history. That aside, we found Wick still in bed, though alert enough to notice the briefcase the second that Billy came through his bedroom door. Wick was weird like that. He always picked up on what was out of place before opening his eyes enough to see what wasn’t. He would have made an excellent Merlin I think, had he got the chance. As it was, his super powers were focused on Billy’s briefcase and, to a lesser extent, Penny’s briefcase.
The only thing that Wick could think to say, despite his genius, was ‘what the hell is that?’ (Smart guy, hu). ‘What’s it look like. It’s a fucking briefcase, isn’t it.’ Billy replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed. ‘I realize that it’s a fucking briefcase, moron. What are you doing with itIt was right about then that Wick got that look in his eyes that signaled the arrival of the boy-genius, super-Wick. I always did hate it when he got like that. Being the youngest of the bunch, I’m the one that always got the better part of the verbal abuse. And when it came from Wick, when he got like that, it meant that I couldn’t understand half the words he was using. So I decided to stay out of it. Billy knew better as well. Penny, on the other hand, had seen Wick naked, and wasn’t about to let him spoil all the fun with his calculating ways. So she says ‘why don’t you two just shut up!’ So they did. And I smiled.
So we sat there for the better part of a half hour listening to Billy tell us how he came across the briefcase. You see, Billy and Karen had decided to venture further into the bushes than usual because they had been victims of several intrusions in the past. So they walked a while and found a decent spot. So -yada-yada-yada, oh-god, oh-Billy, oh-Karen, and all that. And then OUCH! What the... and Walla, one slightly beat-up briefcase is discovered. By that point Billy wasn’t about to continue with things. There was, after all, a briefcase sticking in his back. According to Billy, there were also a lot of pine needles sticking in his ass as well -a point that he stressed several times over. It seems that the briefcase had been buried shallow under the needles and dirt and Billy had just happened on it by accident. This was a good thing. I had been worried that he’d stolen it from someone. Such actions were not beyond Billy, you understand. Having studied it a little during the walk over I had come to the conclusion that it couldn’t have been there for very long. It looked new in spots, even though it had been stained by the dirt. As the story came to an end, Billy hoisted the thing up on to the bed. We all looked at each other as if something truly grand was hidden in it, like money or plane tickets to Hawaii or something. But that was not the case. Had it been money, I doubt that Billy would have bothered to tell any of us about it. He would have kept it for himself, for money is money after all. But that wasn’t the case. There wasn’t any money in the briefcase. When Billy threw the top back I remember feeling curious but, at the same time, quite worried for some unexplainable reason. My guts, which are usually rather accurate, had sensed what my brain could not fathom, you see. That most things, in situations such as these, are rarely accentuated to the positive. And, as it turned out, the contents of the briefcase were much worse than anticipated. For it contained several hand guns, you see.
Everyone’s reaction to the guns was different. Penny thought it was quite cool. I said nothing. Billy just sat there looking like he’d discovered the atom bomb and was overly anxious to use it. And Wick, well, he was furious.
‘What the fuck are you thinking, bringing these things into my house!’ he said. Billy’s excitement vanished immediately. ‘Jesus Christ Billy! These things were obviously put there for a reason! Don’t you think that whoever put them there had the intention of going back to get them?’ Again, Billy said nothing. This was where Wick’s rather enormous brain started to produce harmful emissions. Billy would never had thought things through enough to have reached that conclusion, let alone suspect that the guns had been buried there for a reason. Of course it all seems rather obvious now but, as I’ve said, we were young and therefore quite foolish when it came to things of that nature. We were kids, after all. But that didn’t stop Wick from launching into a lengthy attack on Billy’s stupidity in the matter. That was Wick’s specialty, you see. He operated at a world class level when it came to demeaning others. Billy, whom he rarely bothered to target, had given Wick the perfect opportunity to launch such an attack. And Wick ran with it.
The verbal abuse lasted long enough for Wick to start repeating himself. And Billy just sat there and took it. Had it been anyone else, Billy would have leveled them without question. For as I’ve said, Billy was rather large for his age. But Billy would never dare take a shot at Wick. It just wasn’t done. People tended not to deal with Wick in a violent manner, you see. Unlike Billy, and thousands or millions like him the world over, Wick was not the sort to deal with violence in a direct sense. He was the sort of person that usually detested thugs and their brutish methods of resolve. So Wick never bothered defending himself if, and when, he was faced with such people. Instead, while he was getting his clock cleaned, he would utter one simple sentence. And it was this: You had better kill me. The last time I heard Wick utter that sentence he was being pummeled by Darren Politnakov. Two weeks later, Darren’s German Shepherd was found cut into four separate pieces in a garbage can in his carport. On top of the dismembered canine there was a note. It read: I told you. You should have killed me. So that’s why no one bothered messing with Wick. He was, at the worst of times, far more diabolic than most people dare even consider. Billy knew this. So he said nothing. He just sat there and took it. He loved his dog too much.
The belittling finally ended when Penny decided to intervene. She was of the mind that nothing could be done about the situation since Billy had already gone to the trouble of removing the briefcase. That was obvious enough. Furthermore, she offered a solution to the dilemma that was satisfactory to all involved. She told Billy to put the briefcase back. I must admit, it wasn’t like Penny to make such a suggestion. Usually she was the one person who always enjoyed seeing just how far something dangerous could be taken before it got out of hand. Hand guns, it seems, were the exception.
We left Wick’s soon after and returned to the pool. The plan was to wait on the lawn while Billy returned the briefcase, and then hang around for a bit to make sure that no one had given it a second thought. But by the time we reached the pool, Billy had let the more horrible aspects of his imagination get to him. He became convinced that he, and he alone, would be brought to bare in the matter by the owner of the briefcase. He had it in his head that they were not going to look too kindly on him having removed the guns. And he wouldn’t shut up about it. I must admit, I had never seen Billy that scared before. He was actually convinced, due to Wick’s belittling insights on the matter, that something rather bad was going to happen to him because of it. Wick, who loved it when the effects of his influence crushed people, just made matters worse. Instead of telling Billy to shut up, or not to worry about it, he decided to breathe a little life into Billy’s fears. So we sat there, on the lawn, for an hour or so listening to Billy freak out. And all the while Wick kept injecting little snippets of unrealized terror into Billy’s fantasies up to the point where Billy refused to go back in to the woods at all.
This made matters worse, of course. Penny and I were beginning to construct scenarios of our own. Maybe they’d find out who was with Billy and deal with the rest of us just as harshly as Billy was certain they’d deal with him. The only one that didn’t seem worried was Wick, who was having too much fun freaking everyone out. You see, it placed him in a position of control. And, more than anything else, Wick loved to be in control. Too bad he couldn’t have let that trait consume him the night of his death. That one will forever boggle my mind. Anyway, it was finally decided that both Billy and Wick would go into the bushes together and put the case back. Billy felt more comfortable going back in with Wick, and Wick wanted to make sure that Billy didn’t screw up and put the briefcase back in the wrong place. So the two of them got up, jumped the fence, and headed off into the woods.
This left Penny and I waiting on the lawn. Neither of us spoke. We waited there for the better part of twenty minutes before Penny decided to go in and see what was taking them so long. Despite the fact that I thought it a bad idea, and said as much, she wandered off in search of them.
At the beginning of this story I made reference to fate. I said that some people saw it as nothing more than dumb luck. I also said that we viewed it as neither. Having spent years trying to reconstruct that afternoon in my head, and subconsciously scan the pool grounds for a particular face, I have come to the conclusion that neither fate nor dumb luck were applicable. What happened that day was nothing more than one persons misconception of a confused situation. Take into account that the person in question was a little off his rocker, and you’ll come to realize that this entire story was the result of nothing more than perspective. We humans love to look for reasons, you see. After spending the better part of ten years in search of a reason, the only thing I’ve discovered is that sometimes thing happen for no particular reason whatsoever.
So here’s what happened. Penny left the pool and wandered off into the bushes. She was gone for about twenty minutes before Billy resurfaced at the fence. Of course, by that point, Billy was happier than a pig in shit because he’d put the briefcase back without complication. So he had a big, shit eating grin on his face. He flopped down onto the lawn beside me and proceeded to babble on about a variety of things while I sat there wondering where Penny and Wick were. Ten minutes later, they reappeared. It was right about then that I figured I’d missed something because the two of them were in hysterics. It was also right about then that Billy slapped me on the knee and said (rather loudly I might add) ‘Oh ya, I forgot. You’ve gotta go in there. Penny found something that’ll crack you up.’ Curious as to what that might be, I got to my feet but was hesitant to move. So Billy rolls over on his back and yells ‘Oh would you just go. It’s not going to biteafter which he just started laughing. So I went over and jumped the fence. Wick, who was trying his best not to double over, came past me and said ‘You are not going to believe this’. By that point I’d forgotten about the briefcase and everything else I’d been thinking about. It seemed that, in a split second, our summer was back to normal. So I walked over to Penny and followed her into the bushes. She led me by the hand.
The hilarious event in the woods that day involved two people that we knew, Tammy Richards and Mike Chatlin (one of those inseparable couples that everyone loves to hate). You see, the two of them were sort of stuck. But what made it truly hilarious was that Mike was positioned behind Tammy and they were scrambling abound like some deformed crab trying to break free of one another. I must admit, it remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. That, and listening to my three year old daughter attempting to convince me that she could quite easily care for, and properly love, a baby elephant. She wanted one for Christmas, you see. A big elephant lover, my Jennie is. She calls them OREEPANTS.
It all seems quite resolved, doesn’t it. That’s exactly what I thought at the time. The guns were back where Billy had found them our little universe fell back into place. But before you start getting it into your head that this is just some foolish story about a briefcase, sex in the woods, and what have you, let me run you through something that I’ve tried to piece together from that afternoon.
Imagine that your name is Rick Zelleniski. You’re a big, football playing type. You and your friends happen to be hanging out on the lawn that day and you’ve got your eyes firmly glued to Penny Fynn’s chest while she rolls around on the grass, sun tanning. And because you’re a blockhead, and not at all phased by the skinny little guy sitting next to her eating candy, you get it into your head that she’s purposely flirting because she secretly wants you. As the afternoon wears on, you and your dumb-ass buddies do whatever it is that you do and Penny Fynn slips to the back of your mind. Later on that day, she pops back into your head because you see her come out of the bushes with one guy and go back in with another. This is compounded by the fact that one of the guys in the bunch says something along the lines of ‘Oh would you just go, it’s not going to bite’. So you come to the conclusion that Penny Fynn is doing dirty things to those boys in the woods. This leads you to the conclusion that she’s easy.
That’s the best I could come up with.
During the week that followed, talk of the briefcase lessened. By Sunday of the next week, everyone had forgotten it. There were more important things to concern ourselves with, you see. Namely Jared Walsh’s party.
Jared Walsh was the elder brother of Karen and the most well known guy in the neighborhood. His popularity stemmed from the fact that he was the sole dealer of narcotics in our little corner of the world and in tight with the local bikers. This was, of course, because he worked for them and nothing more. But most kids were under the impression that Jared was a member of the gang, if only a junior one. This was false, as I would later discover, but it didn’t stop Jared’s friend’s from running their mouths off about how they were in with the gang and coveted by their protection policies. Loose lips sink ships, as the saying goes. The same principles apply. That aside, we were all rather excited about the first big bash of the summer. The Walsh’s backyard was located atop a deep ravine that could be reached by going through their backyard and down a steep trail. Thus, they were known as ravine parties. The parties always consisted of the same elements, almost to such an extent that you could clock them. Everyone would show up around nine, they’d light a bonfire at around ten, and the first of numerous fights would break out around midnight. Without fail, every ravine party ended with a fight. The last party of the summer of 1984 ended with my brother fighting Randy Givens. It was the last time I remember him using his talents to get one of us out of trouble. On that occasion, it was me.
The night of the ravine party was like thousands of summer nights for decades prior. It was hot, there was a slight wind, and an unexplainable feeling of ease on the streets. It was the kind of night where everyone let their guard down a little and didn’t mind bending their usual rules of social behavior. This meant that the bikers at the party didn’t walk around intimidating the kids, and the kids didn’t spend the entire night worrying whether or not the bikers were going to start something. Traditionally, the bikers didn’t bother showing up until after midnight, but there had been talk circulating that week that they were supplying a keg and would be there from the start. It really didn’t trouble anyone, I suppose. Except for maybe Wick, who had never much cared for them to begin with. It made little difference to me.
The plan that night was to meet at the party, seeing that Penny always kept us waiting around for hours at her place while she lamented over her wardrobe. Wick had given up on trying to convince her that it didn’t matter. After all, the party was being held in a ravine. Not only is it difficult to see more than three feet in any direction after dark, but half an hour after you’ve started drinking who really cares what you look like anyway. But Penny insisted that she look her usual, stunning self. So we opted to meet her there. Sometimes I wish that men had more patience. Being one, I’m often intrigued when I sit and think about how much time I waste worrying about how much time women are taking. That night in particular, I regret being an a-typical male. We should have all gone together.
The three of us showed up at the ravine at around nine and immediately went our separate ways. Billy, as expected, found Karen and disappeared for the remainder of the night. That left Wick and myself wandering aimlessly while we unknowingly waited for the same person. I spent the better part of two hours mingling with a variety of people, all of which offered their condolences concerning Bibs untimely demise. I hadn’t been prepared for it, to be quite honest. There was still a part of me that thought Bibs was hiding out, playing some horrible trick, but that was just me being a little brother I suppose. Wick, on the other hand, hated mingling with what he called ‘the riff-raff’. He didn’t go to school with any of them so he didn’t have that unusual connection that exists between people that see each other every day but don’t really know each other. So he sulked. He sulked until he got good and liquored. And then he started with the stories.
Even though Wick didn’t go to school in the neighborhood, everyone was familiar with his genius. He was kind of a local legend in way. You see, no one from those parts was ever that smart or educated. So Wick was a big deal. This meant that either everyone looked at him like he was from another planet, or like he was made out of solid gold. Either way, Wick got off on it. So when he got drunk, especially around people he didn’t know, he’d charge up that big brain of his and started with the stories. For if there was one thing that Wick could do better than anyone I’ve ever met, it was talk. Most of the stories were nothing more than elaborate jokes and fictions. But, as expected, a small group of people soon gathered around him to listen. Two hours later it was like the guy was a rock star. There’d be twenty people sitting and standing around listening to the guy say the strangest things. You wouldn’t believe what it did to the ladies. It was like Spanish Fly or Lemon Gin.
So the hours past and Wick was well into program sixty seven. The fact that Penny hadn’t arrived didn’t seem to phase him much. He was a little egotistical, you see. His massive brain had a captive audience and he was loving it. I, on the other hand, had nothing better to do with my time than pace around the perimeter looking for her. It was quite possible that she’d already arrived and was keeping both of us in suspense for the sheer pleasure that it gave her. I wish that had been the case. Penny would eventually show up at the party around midnight. And when she did, the party came to an abrupt end.
I remember the look in her eyes more than anything. Her clothes were disheveled, her face looked like it had been used as a punching bag, and both of her knees were skinned and bloodied. But despite these things, I remember her eyes. For it was in them that I would discover the truth.
Penny was in shock. Her left arm held against her chest, she walked awkwardly past various groups of party-goers like she was looking for something. She stopped, slowly turned in a three sixty, and then proceeded to sit down on the ground. Everyone, and everything, stopped on a dime. No one moved, no one said anything. It was as if the air was instantly frozen by some unexpected, accelerated ice age. We all just stood there looking at her, watching her breathe in and out, trying to turn off the affects of the booze and drugs. They say that there are situations in life that can sober even the most inebriated of people. There are.
After what seemed like ten minutes of complete immobility, all at once people started to surround her. The bikers, who like to take charge of such situations, continued to further confuse their image by showing both compassion and total outrage at the same time. Had it been one of their own girls, having been beaten to a pulp by one of them, then I highly doubt they would have given a shit. But this wasn’t one of their girls. This was a girl from the neighborhood. So that meant their compassion and outrage stayed within the confines of the ravine. None of them were about to go looking for revenge on Penny’s behalf. She wasn’t with then, so it wasn’t their business. It was our business. And they knew that well enough. So after they put her in a lawn chair and told the majority of the people at the party to go home, they left Penny to us. There was myself, Wick, Jared Walsh, Andrea Schmidt, Sandra Hill, Jerry Reid, and Corey Haight.
The first order of business was to get Penny into the Walsh’s house and cleaned up. The girls tended to this, with Wick trailing them. The rest of us stayed with Jared in the basement and attempted to figure out what to do about it. The popular consensus was to keep it amongst ourselves. Involving the police was always a bad idea, you see. Had we known the extent of Penny’s ordeal, I’m sure we would have broken that rule and picked up the phone. But no one was fully aware of the truth. So we did what was always done. We kept it in the neighborhood. This meant that we’d have to figure out what had transpired. And the best way to go about that was what we referred to as ‘getting on the bus’. This meant that everyone present left the house and hit the usual hang outs in an attempt to gather information. So I was sent to the arcade, up on Ridgemont, to see what I could find out. I would be gone for almost two hours. Two hours was all it would take.
The only guy to remain with Penny at the Walsh’s was Wick. He was upstairs when we were all down in the basement formulating things. And because of that, he was unaware of our plans. As it turns out, Wick would be the first to discover the truth. And the telling of it would put him in the ground.
Having been put in Karen’s bed, Penny floated in and out of consciousness for a while before coming to her senses and requesting something to drink. So the girls left her with Wick and went into the kitchen to make some tea. Due to the fact that no one was privy to their conversation, I can only relay what Penny told me some time later. This is what she told him.
Penny left her house at around nine thirty. She walked to the markets, bought some cigarettes, and then started down the hill towards the Walsh’s. On her way down the hill she decided to cut through the park, a route that usually took ten minutes off the walk. She was in the neighborhood, after all, and was therefore not that concerned with her safety. So she started into the park and was walking past the washrooms when someone called her name. It turned out to be Rick Zelleniski. Rick and his football playing buddies were camped out in the back of several pick-up trucks, drinking beer and talking. Penny, never one to pass up the opportunity to make some boys squirm, decided to go over and say hello. And that’s how it happened. As simple as that.
Penny remembers Rick punching her in the head and hauling her into the back of one of the trucks. She also remembers that it was Rick, and another guy named Sean Wilson, that raped her for sure. She was conscious for those two. As for the others, she couldn’t say. After being examined by a doctor the next day, it was determined that she’d been raped repeatedly in both locations. When she came to, she was face down in the parking lot, almost completely naked.
The rest of it is rather obvious. In a state of complete shock, and with a broken arm, she put on what remained of her clothes and started hobbling towards the party. She doesn’t remember that part either. But she did remember telling Wick who did it. Two names that were for certain. She also found the time to admit to Wick that she’d been sleeping with me, and that she would stop sleeping with me if he took care of things. And like I said, Wick loved the girl. So that’s exactly what he did. He took care of things. And Penny knew just how he should go about doing it.
Of course, Wick knew just where the guns were. He had gone with Billy to put them back. His only fear was that they’d been removed by their owner. So he left the Walsh’s house and started towards the pool, some seven blocks away. Right about then I was trying my best to find out if anyone had seen Penny earlier that night. I was in the arcade talking to Tony Hickox when Rick Zelleniski and the rest of them came in. They were drunk, rowdy, and rather bent on giving everyone a hard time. So I decided to leave the arcade and go back empty handed. Two blocks into my journey a car ghosted up beside me containing Corey Haight and a couple of others. So they gave me a ride back and we sat in the basement and waited, unknowingly, on Wick.
There wouldn’t be much more to tell if I were to say that the guns were gone. They weren’t, of course, and Wick wasted little time with it. Having taken them out of the briefcase, he discovered that only one of the guns, a .44, was loaded. So he took it and left. The rest of it is a bit of a mystery, I’m afraid. For the better part of an hour Wick must have wandered around trying to locate Rick and his crew. I’m not sure how he found out they were at the arcade, but he did. It was closed by then, of course, as it stayed open on Friday’s and Saturday’s until 2am. After that, kids usually loitered around outside until they got bored and went home. Wick showed up at around 2:45 and shot Rick Zelleniski and Sean Wilson dead.
As to what occurred after the shooting, well, that’s something entirely different. Wick fled and found his way back to the pool. He put the gun back in the briefcase, the briefcase back in the ground, broke into the pool, and killed himself. To this day I’m not exactly sure what drove him to do it, despite my theories. Maybe it was the thought of spending a lifetime behind bars. Maybe it was due to the fact that he realized that Penny would never truly be his. Maybe it was because she had been sleeping with me. I’ve tried to convince myself over the years that the latter was not the case. But for some reason I always find myself fitting into the blame. It’s more comforting than being removed from it. I remember sitting in the Walsh’s basement when Jared came in and told us that Wick had shot Rick and Sean. Of course, the story was immediately spiced with additions to liven it up. To most of the neighborhood Wick became a hero, even though he’d committed a serious crime himself. The general feeling was that Rick and Sean had gotten what they deserved, despite the fact that they were defenseless. From what I could gather from those that were in front of the arcade that night, Wick’s actions were both instantaneous and completely void of emotion. He simply walked up to them, pulled the gun, and shot. They found his body floating in the pool the next morning. There was a note in his pocket. It said -‘fuck all of you’. That was all.
So long Merlin.
The rest of the summer of 1985 saw two other incidents occur that are of note. The first was Billy’s death, which happened August 27th. After everything that transpired that July it seemed comical to me that he should die. I was forced to spend several weeks in the hospital because I fell victim to a nervous breakdown, or so they say. Under the circumstances, I’m not going to deny that I wasn’t in need of something along those lines. The breakdown, that is. But, in all fairness to the randomness of things, Billy was wholly responsible for his own undoing. He got high on some pills and accidentally walked into traffic in the middle of the night. If you’re going to play with fire you had better be readily available to have the consequences over for dinner and drinks. So there’s nothing I can really say about it except that, had nothing happened prior to his death, he probably would have died anyway. Who’s to say. The only thing that’s for certain is that all three of them will be dead much longer than they were alive. As will I, eventually.
The second thing was that Penny’s brain exploded, landing her in a mental institution for the rest of her life. She was sitting at the dinner table with her folks and, all of a sudden, started stabbing herself with her fork. She did some damage too, before her dad was able to pin her to the ground. It seems that the events of that night are not so easily forgotten by some compared to others. Penny’s reasons are better than most, I’m afraid.
So that’s all four of them. My whole life wrapped up in incomplete people. One from the sky, one in the water, one on the ground, and one with fire in the head. All four elements. How convenient.
I finished school two years later, but was not exactly the type to go on to university to become something distinguished or worthwhile. Instead, I remained in the neighborhood, worked at various jobs, got a girl pregnant, married her, declared bankruptcy, and eventually turned to a life of crime. It’s not that bad actually. It’s not like I kill people for a living. I just take their televisions when they’re asleep or on vacation. You might think it bad, but who are you to talk? I do what those that came before me did. I provide for my family and do my best not to be what most people try not to be. A bad person. It’s entirely dependent on perspectives, I suppose. I’ve spent most of my life seemingly down something, looking upwards. Maybe you’ve been up somewhere looking down your whole life. Who am I to know? That said, what else is there. In the end, perhaps, you will come to see the difference of things. Those things that are tainted and those things that remain unchanged. The latter are the good bits. Those are the things that make this little time of ours worth the bother. For you will be dead much longer than you will be alive, you see. And you will have all that time to remember everything that was your life, even if no one else does. So you had better find something worth remembering. And just leave it at that.