Wednesday, April 27, 2011
All the Same Songs : Chapter 1
That guy you read about in the newspapers, that awful guy, that’s not the real me. Everyone probably thinks I’m a terrible person, but I can still at least try and explain myself. If I don’t tell my side of the story then the truth about me might never be known, and I would hate that. It’d be almost as bad as being forgotten.
I want to talk about more than just that night I robbed the bingo hall. I can not make this about only that night alone. Maybe if I talk about every important thing that I can think of I’ll figure out why I did it.
I like to think that I’m still ok. I like to believe that this can be salvaged. I like to hope that this life of mine can be repaired, and fixed… but maybe I’m just kidding myself.
I want you to know the other things about me, these things I’m going to tell you, so that you’ll know something about me besides what’s in the newspaper headlines. Even if my name isn’t in the papers I’ll still be there in the stories. Instead of my name they’ll just write, "unidentified robber" or something. Either way I’ll be in there and people will make all sorts of judgments about me and come up with all sorts of theories as to why I did it. Why we all did it. I don’t think anyone could have actually identified me, but I can’t be sure. How can you ever be sure? I still worry that they might have somehow seen my face when we left.
Even if you get to the end of this and still think I’m terrible, at least you won’t forget me. I’m not sure what you’ll make of my side, but I hope telling my story at least makes me feel better. At least I can tell you about everything while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I’ll start from earlier that night. That’s what I would want to hear about first if I were you.
We had graduated about a month and a half before this.
We got there, parked close to the building, and headed down the stairs to the side doors. We had planned for a few months and eventually we all felt like we had thought of everything. We didn’t see any reason it couldn’t be done and gotten away with. It was so simple on paper.
We banged through the doors and charged in together. My legs never felt so light.
"This is a robbery!" Will shouted.
"Get out your money!" screamed Wayne.
There was some confusion at first. I mean, I guess there would have to be right? No one goes to bingo night expecting to get robbed.
Will threw the cards and markers off of the first table he went up to and demanded the money again. This was the heart of our plan. We just wanted to scare them into giving us their cash. No guns or other weapons necessary.
So the people at that first table started going through their pockets and purses, paying up, but there was one man at the end of the table who was just kind of staring or whatever. Staring at Will. He had no real expression and he didn’t say anything, he just sat there, glaring. Will made his way down to him.
"Let’s go pops, hand it over. Whatever you’ve got," he said. "On the table."
Will was doing a pretty good job of being intimidating, I guess, to them maybe, but to me, since I knew him, I mean, fuck. It looked like a play or something. The whole situation. It was like at any minute someone was going to yell ‘cut’ and tell us to start the scene over from the beginning. I couldn’t believe we were actually doing it.
I still can not believe we went through with it. And we thought it was going to go smoothly. I don’t know why Will called the guy ‘pops’ either. He never said ‘pops’ as long as I knew him.
So basically the old guy was not having it. He was not about to just hand us over his money. It didn’t even look like much… it looked like fives and ones that he had in his hand. It must have been about the principle of the thing.
Wayne lost it and started screaming at the guy. Just nonsense.
"Ya gonna do this man?" he said. "Ya gonna make it go like this?"
He started shoving the old man a little, knocking him back in his chair. Still nothing. No reply. He grunted as he absorbed Wayne’s shoves. You know, Wayne was strong. He could have easily pried the guy’s hand open and taken the goddamn money, but he didn’t. Maybe he just really wanted to make the guy give it to him. Who the hell knows?
"Come on, forget him. Help me out over here," said Will from the other side of the room.
Wayne didn’t respond. He had collected some money from other people at the next table, but he kept coming back to yell at the one guy.
"Damn it Wayne forget him," I yelled.
It was then that I saw Wayne pull something out of his bag.
"Why are you trying to make it harder?" Wayne asked.
"A gun?" I thought.
I was frozen.
Wayne fucking shoots at the dude. Shoots him. We’ve been in there less than five minutes and already he can’t keep it together enough to avoid killing someone. I never saw a body fall over so ungraciously. I ran over to Wayne.
Like I said, guns were specifically not part of the strategy. We didn’t think we would need to do any more than push and shove and yell. I was prepared to rob people not murder them. Maybe Wayne had his plan B all along.
"What the hell are you doing bringing a gun man?!" Will yelled.
Wayne didn’t answer though. We lost him at this point. He was looking down at the old man. Blood was streaming out of the guy’s shirt and onto the beige tile floor. He was wearing a white collared shirt that had a light green horizontal stripe running across it near the top. He only had the bottom two of the three buttons on the collar buttoned. I stood there, looking at this horrible scene, again frozen in my place. The bingo machine went on filling the air with its ludicrous sound. I wonder if anyone besides me was still noticing it.
Some of the people gasped and said things and looked absolutely terrified, but some others just stopped and sat silent. I don’t know what I would’ve done.
I could tell from Wayne’s face, despite the mask, that he was in disbelief. And shock maybe. All that tough guy junk had melted away.
Just a few months prior our biggest concerns had been pop quizzes and prom. Now? Now we were criminals. Felons. Twenty-five to life and shit. Jesus, I hope it’s not that bad. I didn’t pull the trigger. That helps right?
Leave it up to Wayne to do something hotheaded. The only way I ever saw him deal with conflict was to push back harder than the other person was pushing him.
Will started yelling to us.
"Grab what you can and get back to the car! We’re out of here now!"
Will was the schemer, and the craftiest of the three of us, but the fear I saw on his face that night, right at that moment before we ran, it was such a major contrast to his usual look that he didn’t even seem like the same person anymore. He always had this smug, confident way about him. He’d have you believing that if you were on his side there was no way you were going to lose.
A few seconds after Will said to get out, once I got some sense of myself and my surroundings back, I slung my bag back over my shoulder and bolted for the doors we had come in. Wayne and Will had already scooped up some of the loose cash and were near the exit.
It was like when you’re a kid, before you can drive to school, and you sleep through your alarm. You’re running late and you’re in an absolute panic trying to get out the door so you can catch the school bus. Your Mom is yelling at you, you’re trying to get your pants on without falling down, and you’re stuffing your books into your school bag. That’s how we ran out of there that night. Like three kids trying to catch the school bus.
I know, I know. How the hell did we end up there right? Where did things go so wrong? That’s what I want to find out. This year started normal enough… hanging out, doing homework, taking tests, staying up way too late… you know, typical school year stuff. It was our Senior year.
Whenever I think about high school the first thing I remember is being tired all the time. I remember one night in early October I was lying awake in my bed, desperately trying to fall asleep. There were too many nights like that.
My alarm clock had this green backlight and black digits. It looked sort of futuristic. I had it on top of one of my two stereo speakers. The one that I kept on the floor. Sometimes I would go ahead and turn the clock away from me, to the left, so I couldn’t see what time it was from my bed as I was trying to fall asleep. The last thing I need while I’m trying to lose consciousness and get some rest is to actually watch the minutes melt away. Nothing keeps you awake quite like trying to fall asleep. On weekends and days off I would unplug the damn thing.
My left quad was twitching that night and that wasn’t helping matters.
"If you’re so tired then why are you moving?" I asked it.
I was all under my covers, these really warm plaid patterned things, because the air was just starting to get colder. Just at night. During the day the temperature was still fine, but at night you needed covers. It was that chilly, urgent air you get in the Fall. It was that part invigorating, part foreboding type of air that settles in at the beginning of a school year. The type of air that gives you the stamina to run faster, and longer. Each Fall when that air settles in it makes me feel like something big is going to happen. It’s like something important is on its way. It’s great, but of course unfortunately it’s also that time of year when you have to face the fact that Summer is really over. Fall is the last nice time before Winter comes and ruins my mood.
I lifted my head just enough to see over my pillows, opened my left eye a little, and then looked to see what time it was so I could evaluate how I was doing. The clock read 4:13AM.
"Son of a bitch," I said to myself. "Thought it was only … 3:15 or something."
I probably should have turned the clock to the left that night.
As I was laying there I suddenly remembered I had to return some books to the library the next day or they’d be overdue. They were downstairs. I got up out of bed and, I mean I really didn’t want to turn the lights on, so while it’s all dark I’m looking for a pen and a scrap of paper to write a reminder on. I finally found some and put the note on my bureau and then got back into bed. I started thinking though, and I figured I’d miss the reminder if it was there, so I got up again and moved it on to the ground, right in front of my bedroom door. Then I got back into bed again. I’m always remembering shit like that while I’m trying to fall asleep. It drives me crazy. Sometimes I wish I’d just forget about things so I could at least fall asleep. Sometimes I think it’d be better that way.
At that point I had about three hours to salvage some slumber before Will would be pulling into my driveway to pick me up for school.
"Goddamnit," I said to my pillow.
Before I was ready it was daylight again. I learned a long time ago that the sun waits for no one.
I crawled out of my bed, got dressed, and scarfed some cereal for breakfast real quick. I grabbed my school bag and a bottle of orange juice and I was out the door.
"Yo," I said to Will.
"You know you should really buy some stock in Tropicana with the rate you buy that stuff."
I laughed. It hurt my face because I was so exhausted.
So there I was at school. This is a Monday morning. I was in our counseling center reading up on colleges and filling out some applications. This was back when I was still trying.
I was sitting in one of the hard wooden chairs they had in there, trying to get at least somewhat comfortable. Everything from the school’s desks to park benches mess up my back. Either my muscles cramp or my bones and joints ache, or everything together. I was shifting my weight from left to right, putting one leg or the other up on the table in front of me, and pretty much just trying any position I could think of to alleviate the pain. No luck. I messed up my back when I crashed snowboarding one time.
The counseling center was this long narrow room with tables, chairs, and racks of info on all the colleges. The racks had all the brochures and packets and books and what not. Across the room from me there was a girl going over the particulars of the college admissions process with one of our counselors, Mr. Pascal. To hear him tell it an 8.4 GPA and a ten thousand on your SAT’s still might not be enough to get you into the school of your choice. He was a worst-case scenario type of guy. Not only was his glass half-empty, but he thought someone might have poisoned it too.
The girl was leaning forward in her chair, furrowing her brow, marking notes on the papers that she had in her lap with a red pen.
I had seen her around a bunch of times before. I was pretty sure her name was Lauren. I was sitting there imagining how she’d look without her glasses on. It’s hard to imagine someone you always see with glasses on without them.
Across from me at another one of the tables was a guy from my Physics class named Dave Anderson. He was flipping through some of the brochures.
"Hey Dave, you gonna read any of those things or just pick a school based on the pictures?"
Dave was the type of kid that I knew well enough to joke with or shoot the breeze with, but not well enough to really say anything else to. It was always, "how’d ya do on that test?" or "I hope we get a snow day tomorrow." There’s nothing wrong with that though. He laughed and put down his brochure.
"Yea man I hear ya. This is a head spinner though. I can’t believe it’s Senior year already. This is a lot to process," he said, tapping his hand on the brochure.
"It is, but I’m definitely ready for this ride to be over ya know? We can move on."
"Yea," he replied, picking his brochure back up.
I smiled and began filling in the first part of the application I had in front of me. As I went through it I read out loud to myself quietly.
"Let’s see… name. James Reed. Age. Eighteen. Address. 2461 Dentlett Street, Warnsten Pennsylvania." Those were the easy parts. Those were the parts of a college application I could handle. It was the questions about my extracurricular activities and the essay they always wanted on why I wanted to go to their school that slowed me down.
"Dear such and such University. I am applying to your fine institution so I can learn to make something of myself. I have no doubt that your over priced education will help me become a successful, well-rounded contributor to our fine society."
Done. The bullet-proof essay. Points for brevity. Give me the full scholarship.
Well, that’s what I should have written.
I put the application into my folder and left the office. A lot of my visits to the counseling center ended like that. I always told myself I’d finish the applications later, maybe after school or something. When it came to things like that it was always "later" and "anything but today." That’s what I would say to myself, literally, out loud, "anything but today."
I waved to Dave as I left but he was still reading a brochure and didn’t see me. I hate it when that happens. When you try and say hi or goodbye and the person doesn’t see it. It’s especially bad if it’s from a distance. When I’m walking towards someone I know, and I see that it’s definitely them, I’ll debate whether or not I should wave to them, or whether or not I’ll just pretend I don’t see them. Sometimes I’ll wait until they see me and then wave right after they do. You don’t want to look like an idiot and have your wave missed.
Anyway, I left the center and closed the door behind me. That stupid thing always made so much noise when I shut it. It was like I couldn’t keep it from slamming no matter how careful I was.
Fourth period was almost over by the time I left the counseling center that day. I had fourth period free every day this year. More free time was one of the perks of being a Senior. Then again there were technically only three things you could do on your "free" periods; study in the library, go to the college counseling center, or eat in the cafeteria. I remember there was this one time when one of the teachers saw me and Will hanging around outside smoking during fourth. He asked us in a very sarcastic tone, "Are you fellas part of an independent study program? What are you doing out here besides ruining your health?"
I wanted to sock him.
Anyway it was a little past eleven when I left the counseling center and so I started to make my way up to the third floor where my locker was so I could grab my history textbook. I had fifth period history every day. I didn’t like carrying too many books at once on account of my back, so I made quite a few trips to my locker throughout the day. As I walked I looked down at the darkened reflection of myself in the black tile floor. Then I looked up at the lights, and squinted.
We had the long, rectangular fluorescent lights, which are the kind I hate, but those particular ones weren’t so bad because they were pretty bright. They didn’t give off that dim cruddy lighting that most fluorescents do. With all the time you have to spend at school the last thing you need is depressing lighting to make things worse than they already are. Before I got to my locker at the end of the hall I took a detour to the bathroom.
I stepped over to a mirror and tried to re-comb my hair with my hand. It was still long back then. I always meant to pack a comb in my school bag, but I never got around to it.
I wore my red and blue long sleeve button down shirt that day. I went shopping for some heavier shirts in September, and I picked that one over the others because it had these cool silver buttons. I’d never really seen ones quite like that on that kind of shirt before.
My undershirt kept sliding down below my neck line like it always did. The whole reason I went to the bathroom in the first place was to get a look at it. I pulled it back up into place even though I knew it was pointless. After I washed my hands I left. I’d already been washing them for a minute when this other guy came in, and in the past it would have bothered me to have someone watching me like that, but by then I’d decided I didn’t care if people thought I was going overboard with it. I have to see lots of bubbles to feel like my hands are getting clean. If there aren’t enough bubbles from the soap I’ll use more until there are so I can be sure. You’ve gotta take some of the dead skin off.
A few more steps down the hall and I was at my locker. Good ol’ number fifty-two. I couldn’t tell you the actual numbers of the combo anymore, but I could still open that thing up right now if I had to. I had my blue and white wind-breaker hanging in there, with my basketball sneakers on the bottom, and my books and lunch on the shelf at the top. Sometimes I would shoot hoops in the gym after school so that’s why I kept the shoes there. I usually packed my own lunch instead of buying it because as my Mom used to say it was more economical. Besides that it just tasted a lot better than the typical cafeteria stuff. I switched books from my bag to the locker and got out my textbook. The thing was called "European History: The Beginning."
And then out of nowhere, "Hey there handsome."
The sweet song of a voice I was hearing belonged to my girlfriend Emily.
She and I had been dating since mid-July of the Summer before this past school year. She was a Junior this year. We had met at one of Will’s pool parties.
She wasn’t the type to open up easily, but I tried my best to win her over and my patience had really begun to pay off this Fall. She loosened up and would talk about more stuff, and would let loose and laugh more. I closed my locker door and looked to my left and there she was.
What a sight. I’d look at her the same way I’d look at a sunset. I could never get enough… it was always hard to walk away from all that beauty.
Emily is about five foot three, so I have almost a foot on her, which made it hard to kiss while standing up without looking funny sometimes. She didn’t like me to lean over though, because it made her feel bad about her stature, and so she would get up on her toes instead. She has a perfectly symmetrical, beautiful face. Just flawless. She even has a beauty mark on the right side above her upper lip. I really think she could do some modeling. Not runway modeling I guess, because she’s short, but definitely other stuff.
She has thin little lips and hazel eyes. I loved to gaze into them but for some reason it would always make her un-easy or self-conscious when I would do it for a long time. Her hair was a medium brown and when it got warmer outside there would be streaks of blonde in it. Her breasts were the perfect size, and perky. I could have put my face in her cleavage and just stayed there like that forever. Sometimes I tried. She had a great set of hips too. A woman’s hips. Whenever we were standing and facing each other that’s always what I would grab on to. It was awesome. I miss that.
We usually ran into each other a few times each day during school and we spent a lot of time together after it let out. We always greeted each other with a kiss. She liked them soft. She usually tasted like vanilla.
"How’s your day going?" I asked.
"It’s ok," she said, hugging me. "Vantasky gave us some stupid pop quiz but I think I did alright."
Vantasky was Emily’s Pre-Calculus teacher. He had a reputation as being pretty tough on his students. Emily’s good at math though, and pretty much every other subject for that matter, so she never really had anything to worry about.
She looked down the hall for a second and swept her hair to the side of her head with her hand. It looked really cute when she would play with her hair like that, or look down a hallway like that. It looked so perfect I’d sometimes think she did it on purpose, at just the right time. That’s crazy though. That would be silly.
"Ah I’m sure you aced it," I said.
"I hope so. I missed you."
"I missed you too. I love you."
"I love you too baby."
I’m still in love with her. I don’t see how that could ever change. I hope she feels the same way. She’s right there on my mind every day. After the robbery got botched I had to run and I haven’t seen her since.
"I should go," I said. "I don’t want to be late to Frank’s class again. He’s always hassling me even though I know he loves how I write papers."
"You are late pretty much all the time babe. It’s a bad habit. If you were elected President, when they had the inauguration, you’d still be late," she said, laughing.
"Yeah, well, whatever. Class starts when I get there. I’ll catch ya later ok?"
"Ok. I’ll see you after school. I’ll miss you."
"I’ll miss you too."
We kissed again and then I had to get to class.
I couldn’t tell you what we studied in history that day. It was a typical, forgettable class I guess. Napoleon this, King George that. Whatever. The facts are all skewed anyway. Will came up to me in the hall afterwards. We high fived. I fucking love high fiving. We didn’t mess around with it either. We acted like we had just connected on the go ahead touchdown in a Super Bowl.
"Hey. Ready to eat?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure. Twelve o’clock high noon. Time to chow down."
I sat down across from Wayne and his girlfriend Janus at our usual table in the cafeteria and unpacked my lunch. Will sat down to the right of Wayne, who was to the right of Janus. There were swarms of people everywhere. Sixth was probably the most popular period for lunch. The tables didn’t have chairs but were like picnic table style with one long bench.
"Vitamin pizza," I said to Will, pointing and smiling.
"Can’t live without it," he said. "Cheers."
"Cheers," I said, toasting him with my salami sandwich.
"Must be nice to be able to eat whatever you want," Wayne said. "Coach has me on a low-fat diet now. Says I have to get faster. More agile."
Wayne played football for our school. Tight end and linebacker. He was pretty good at it too, and it got him chicks.
"So I guess you’re just starting on that big boy?" said Will, poking Wayne’s stomach.
"Very funny jackass. Pass the salt."
"He’s just manly Will. Big and strong," Janus said, squeezing Wayne’s arm.
"That’s right," Wayne agreed, flexing his right bicep.
Wayne loved any excuse he got to flex. He probably practiced in the mirror at home.
Will ate his lunch in about five minutes like he always did and then once I was done he asked if I wanted to go out for a smoke.
"Sure," I said.
"Alright, I’ll see you guys later then," Wayne said.
"Bye boys," said Janus, waving.
"…See ya in my dreams tonight girl," Will mumbled.
I had to laugh.
"I just wanna get a shot at those D cups," he added.
The best place to smoke on school property was in the back parking lot. We went over to where Will had parked that morning and lit up.
"You know, if that one dumb ass hadn’t tried to pass a joint off as a cigarette we wouldn’t have to be back here like lepers," Will said.
"Oh, what, you mean like two years ago or whatever?"
"Yeah. That’s when they said you couldn’t smoke on school grounds anymore, even if you were eighteen."
I was coughing a little bit as I worked on my smoke, but Will looked like a cigarette commercial the way he puffed on the thing. Watching him you’d think cigarettes really did make you cool.
"What are you doing after eighth period man? Feel like throwing the Frisbee around?" Will asked.
"Ah yeah, sure. Oh, wait. No. I’m supposed to meet up with Emily."
"Dude ditch the chick for once. Come on. Your throw is gonna get rusty. We never have catches anymore."
"Sure we do."
"When? When’s the last time we tossed the bee around?"
"Uhh, what about when we threw it around your front yard? At night. When we used the light up disc?"
"That was like two weeks ago."
"Alright, alright. I’ll toss. It’s not like I don’t want to. …Emily’s a great girl that’s all."
"I know, I know. We’ll just toss for a little while. I gotta do some stuff after that."
With Will "do some stuff" could mean lots of things, but usually it meant smoking weed. I didn’t ask for specifics. I never did with him. I don’t want to say he was shady, but… well, shit, yeah. He is kind of shady. He wasn’t some scummy drug dealer, but he would sell extra shit if he had it. Caffeine pills, some weed, but nothing he didn’t do himself. He wasn’t going out of his way to get stuff to sell to people or anything.
I worried about him. I still do. I guess now he’s got bigger problems, we all do, but so many times I wanted to tell him to stop it with the drugs and I didn’t. I hinted at it, almost like a joke, but I never said it with any conviction. It was like when you suggest something as a joke so you can test the reception it gets. If people agree with you then you’re like, "Oh ok, great. It is a good idea." If they don’t like what you’re saying then you can just fall back on the fact that you presented it as a joke in the first place.
I didn’t hang out with Wayne outside of school nearly as much as I did with Will. I didn’t really call him up to hang out, just us, one on one, the way I would with Will. I don’t know. Some people you just aren’t going to do that with. You don’t have enough in common, or you don’t think you’ll have enough to say to the person. I would run out of things to say to Wayne. The conversation would just feel like it was dragging, like I was really laboring to try and keep it going, and, I mean it wasn’t always like that with Wayne, he just… he had his football buddies and whatever, all those people, that crowd, and he usually hung around with them. The kid liked to drink, and Will does too, and so that’s how they started hanging out together. At parties. I was never as into that scene so that right there limited how much I would see Wayne. Most of the time I wasn’t going to those parties he would go to. I wasn’t into getting as wasted as he and his pals liked to get.
So yeah most of my time this year I spent with Will, if I wasn’t with Em. Mom was always saying I spent too much time bumming around with Emily when I should have been thinking about college, but, whatever. I wasn’t trying to hear that, even if she had a point. I did procrastinate a lot, but hey. I wasn’t going to pass up hanging out with Emily just to fill out applications or study for the SAT. I just wasn’t. It freaked me out to think about post-graduation type stuff and so I tried not to. I tried to ignore it I guess. I tried not to think about what I would be doing in the future.
Most of my life I felt like I was cursed to be stuck in a rut forever anyway. Putting a lot of energy into planning my future never seemed worth the effort to me. Near the end of Senior year I stopped trying entirely. When you’ve never seen anything big work out for you, it’s hard to imagine things ever being any different.
Anyway now step one is get out of here. Nothing else really matters much now. I need to get out of this.
I hope someday I can look back on that night in July when we robbed the bingo game and see it was just a temporary screw up that I eventually got past. Something I eventually put in the rear view mirror. I just don’t want my whole life to be about one night. At least not a bad one. Maybe someday I’ll be able to forget it.
There are problems that you can fix yourself, there are problems you can find someone to help you fix because you can’t yourself, there are problems you can learn how to fix for yourself, and then there are things, problems, that no one in the world can tell you anything useful about. There are things that go wrong in life that no one can help you make sense of, even if you find someone who’s been through the same thing as you. I’m afraid this is one of those things for me.
I’m afraid that this thing, this one thing, will be enough to wreck everything.