(From a longer piece, currently entitled "A Split
Second in Suburbia")
The night Nick died started out just like any other night.
"Tony, dude, címon. Itíll be fun."
"I dunno dude. I donít really wanna go all the way out there. Itís kinda far."
"Dude, címon. Iím gonna be driving. Whatís it matter how far it is?"
"Dude I still gotta sit there and wait while we drive all the fucking way out there."
It was the same argument weíd been having for over a week. Nick kept wanting to drive out and see this girl, Leeza, with whom he shared a mutual attraction. She seemed like a nice enough girl, and Nick really liked her. Usually that would be enough for me. However, this time I
had a huge crush on this same girl and was finding it very hard to contain my jealousy when I was around them.
"Tony, címon man. Letís do it. Itíll be cool, and we can go by that Lyonís out there. You know how itís always deserted."
"All right, all right. But you gotta buy me a burger tonight." I inevitably gave into Nick. He was persistent and could argue for hours.
"Thanks dude. Youíll see. Itíll be cool. Leezaís family is all gonna be gone and Kyle is gonna be over. Weíll all hang out."
Whatever. Us "all hanging out" usually amounted to me sitting there sullenly while listening to Nick and Leeza talk happily. At least with Kyle there I would have someone else to talk with.
"Right on. Itíll be cool."
Most of the rest of the drive was in silence. We did our usual tradition of getting off an exit early and driving on one of the back country roads, straddling the center line with the music of Faith No More blasting and the headlights off. The tradition was somewhat soothing, but I couldnít get rid of the feeling in my stomach. I already wished Iíd stayed home.
When we got there, Leeza and Kyle were sitting on the front porch smoking. Nick got that silly fucking smile he got every time he saw this girl. Looking at him, feeling his happiness, my jealousy rising to the top of my throat, I hated him. Just for a second, but it was more than enough to add exponentially to the guilt I was already feeling about being jealous of my best friend and his girl.
The suburban hole were Leeza lived was just like the rest of the cookie cutter houses in the neighborhood: uninteresting architecture and substandard materials. Leeza and Kyle put out their cigs, and Leeza and Nick hugged while Kyle and I walked inside. Kyle and I sat down in threadbare chairs facing the sparse living room. Leeza and Nick came in a second later and plopped down on the overstuffed couch.
"Hey guys, Iíll be back in a few minutes." Kyle said, rising and walking towards the back of the house. Great. Now I was all alone with these two and my jealousy/guilt cocktail.
"Hey Leeza, did I tell you about what happened in Bio the other day?" Nick began.
"No. Tell me." Leeza tucked her legs underneath, sitting on her feet. I sighed. Jesus, I did not want to listen to Nick telling this story again.
"This one guy, Lorenzo, he was all like, ĎWhatís up?í to this kid Steve. Steve is all talking shit all the time about how hard he is, so Lorenzo was finally like, ĎWhatís up then? Youíre talking all this shit, letís go for it.í" This was a story that Nick had already shared with me. We had laughed about it for days, both of us hating that asshole Steve. I didnít want him to tell it again, especially to this girl.
"What happened?" Right. Like she was really interested in this story.
"Well, Steveís all like, ĎMan, we canít be fighting in school and shit. This isnít the place.í and Lorenzoís all like, ĎThen fuck you bitch. Shut your fucking mouth.í Steve just sat there all sullen and shit. Lorenzo would have kicked his stupid ass too. Your brother go to court yet?" I looked around the room, scanning for some slim possibility of escape. I didnít want to hear about her knucklehead brother anymore than I wanted Nick to share our stories with her.
"Yeah, he went. Heís probably going to do some time, but it depends on the judge he gets for the actual case. This was just the prelim."
And on and on and on. All I could focus on was escaping this shit. My jealousy/guilt/uneasiness just continued to grow. Not only was Nick violating some unwritten code, sharing our stories with this girl, but I was really beginning to blame, and hate, this girl for disrupting our lives, not to mention for all the shit stirring up in my gut. I crossed my arms over my aching stomach.
"Leeza, do you wanna go see that one movie?" Nick had that fucking dopey grin on again.
"Yeah. Letís go see the one--"
"HEY! YOU GUYS! COME BACK HERE!" Kyle interrupted, yelling from the rear of the house.
We all rose and began walking to the rear of the house. Nick and Leeza walking hand in hand in front of me. I felt nauseous.
"What were you saying?" Nick asked.
"I donít remember."
"Something about which flick you wanted to see."
"Oh. Well, it doesnít matter. As long as youíre there." They couldnít keep their eyes off of each other as we entered the back bedroom from which Kyle called us. Now I knew I was going to be sick. At this point in my memory everything goes into slow motion.
There stands Kyle wearing a green sweater and jeans, a comical expression on his face, as if heís waiting to share some joke with us. I notice the sawed-off shotgun in his right hand and stop in my tracks. Neither Nick or Leeza notice. As Nickís head turns to face forward, Kyle raises the gun.
"Donít you move, or Iíll blow your head off scumbag!" Kyle yells out.
Nick freezes, his posture suddenly stiff and rigid. All I can see is the back of his head. I can count every hair if I want to, time is moving so slowly. The room seems cold. Kyle speaks again.
"Címon, man. Relax. Iím just messing with you. This thingís not even loaded. WATCH."
The Moment. A car backfires in the room in front of me. No, not a car backfiring, more like a thunderclap. A deafening sound that shakes the world. Someone is screaming. My face is sticky, a bitter, salty taste on my lips. Nick has crumpled to the floor, a pool of dark brown forming under his body. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, beating out a rhythm of fear. I have slipped into a dream. This cannot possibly be real. Still unsure of what has happened, shock folding over me like a coarse blanket, I step over to Nickís prone form. One eye stares up at me in disbelief.
My room was dark. The air seemed stale after all the hours the door had been tightly closed. I didnít bother to turn on the light. I sat down on the bed and let my eyes adjust to the moonlight streaming in through the windows. The posters, the action figures still in their packages, my records, everything, gradually came into focus. The digital clock read 5:24 am. I lay back on the bed, starring at the posters plastered on the ceiling.
The night had been long. I donít know who called the cops. I just remember being ushered away from Nick by a big uniformed cop. He guided me by the elbow out to the living room and sat me down on the couch. I sat starring at the stream of cops filing into the room. Leeza sat in one of the armchairs, rocking back and forth. Kyle was out on the porch talking with a uniformed cop and a guy in a suit with a badge on his belt. My gaze returned to Leeza. She looked up at me, tears streaming down her face.
"I loved him Tony. I really did." Her rocking increased. "He was so good. So good. I loved him."
A guy in a blue jumpsuit, the letters "EMT" across his back, kneeled down in front of Leeza, covering her with a blanket and talking to her in hushed tones. A cop stopping in front of me blocked my view. I looked up to his face.
"Whatís your name?" His eyes stayed on his notepad, not looking up at me.
"Tony Reinhold." I responded, closing my gaping mouth.
"Whatíd you see?"
"What?" I had no idea what he was referring to.
"Tonight. When this kid," he flipped his notebook back a page, "Nick Donaldson, was shot. Whatíd you see."
I sat there starring at him, my mouth moving of itís own accord, but no sounds escaping my lips. The cop finally looked up at me.
"Okay," he began, his voice tightening a little, "letís try something easier, whoís gun was it?"
My throat tightened, my mouth still moving. My hands began spasaming and my vision grew blurred at the edges. The cop was now starring intently at me.
"Even easier. You ever been arrested Tony?"
My mouth still moving, sputtering now. I didnít know what to do, where to go. I started to stand up. The cop put his hand on my chest.
"Whoa there. Sit back down." He firmly pushed me back down to the couch.
"Now, you gotta know the answer to at least one of my questions. Again, you ever been arrested?"
"Hey Dougan, why donít you go help keep the neighborhood kids off the lawn." It was the cop in the suit.
"Iím taking this kidís statement."
"Yeah, well, I got it now, why donít you head on out there?"
The uniform slammed his notebook closed and turned to walk out to the front lawn. The detective stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and whispered something I couldnít make out. The uniform left angrily and the detective turned to look at me.
"Hey there, youíre Tony, right?" He pulled one of the chairs in the room up and sat down facing me.
I managed to nod.
"Hereís the thing Tony, we know this was an accident, an accident you didnít have anything to do with, but we still got to ask you some questions, okay?" He smiled at me and opened his notebook.
I nodded again.
"So, could you tell me what you saw?"
I starred at him, the acid rising in my throat.
"Hey I know this is hard but the quicker we get through it, the quicker we all get to go home. So just take your time and tell me what you saw."
A gurney was wheeled into the room, two cops wheeling it towards the front of the house.
On the gurney was an opaque dry-cleaning bag filled with something human-shaped. I stared at the bag as they wheeled it out the front door, the detective following my gaze.
"Is that him?" I asked, knowing what the answer would be.
"Yes. Thatís Nick, Tony." He gently put his hand on my knee, directing my gaze back to him. "Tell me what happened."
"I killed him."
"Wait, wait a second. You pulled the trigger?"
"I couldnít keep him safe. I couldnít convince him not to come here tonight. I didnít want to, I knew we shouldnít, but I let us come. I let it happen. I let him die. I killed him."
I was on my hands and knees, my body convulsing, the vomit running down my face, covering my hands on the floor. The cop put his hand on my shoulder and called for a paramedic.
The rest of the night is a blur. They took us all down to the Police station and took formal statements while they waited for my mom and Leezaís sister to come and get us. Kyle spent the night in the juvenile detention center. I was finally able to get it together enough to tell the cops what Iíd seen, but when they released me to my mom I couldnít shake off the feeling that I should be spending the night with Kyle. My mom was silent when she picked me up, putting her arm around me and leading me down to the car.
So that left me alone in my room at 5:30 in the morning, the sun starting to rise and sleep nowhere to be found. Still lying on the bed, I turned my head to the right, surveying my room. My eyes stopped on the CD Nick had given me for my last birthday. The case was sitting on top of my stereo, open, the CD reflecting the early morning light. I sat up quickly, my eyes not leaving the top of the stereo. I stood and walked quickly across the room. I picked up the case, closing it, and held it for a second, cradling it close to my chest as if I could offer it some consolation. I lay the CD gently down on my desk, starring at the flame on the cover. My throat was closing again and my eyes started to burn. I turned away from the CD, steadying myself on the bookshelf, and brought my booted foot down on top of the stereo.
I stood there for a moment, the sound of splintering plastic still ringing in my ears, staring at the boot half-embedded in my precious stereo. I slowly removed my foot and sat down, hard, in the center of the floor. The sun was higher now, and light was pouring into the room. I squinted out the window, trying to remember if I had told Nick that I wanted that CD or if he had just known. I closed my eyes and reached under the bed for the half-empty bottle of whiskey.
I reached out and ran my hand along the lacquered wood. It didnít feel real. The phantasma surrounding me faded into the corners of my mind as I ran my hands over the sides of the wooden box. Four corners. Polished brass handles. I leaned over the box, trying to see my reflection, something recognizable in the midst of this madness. My reflection peered back up at me, my face distorted, and my mouth stretched out in a huge toothless grin.
I quickly jerked my head away from the image mirrored on the surface of the polished box. Nick stared at me from within the frame sitting on top. His gaze bore into me, a playful smirk on his face. His lips seemed to move, mouthing words only I could hear.
"Címon Tony. Iím just fuckiní with everybody, dude. WATCH."
Images ran though my mind. Pushing them aside, I closed my eyes and steadied myself on the casket. A hand touched my shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
I nodded and started back towards my seat. Was I okay? What could I have possibly responded to that? My best friend is all boxed up and ready to be deposited in the ground and all people wanted to know is if I was "okay." Name one reason why I would be okay. A better question would be "you think youíll make it the rest of the day?" And all the advice people had to offer: "Keep you head up," or "Donít forget that heís in a better place now." How about something useful like, "Go the length of your arm, not side to side," or "Better start drinking now while itís still early." My head swam with all the shit surrounding me.
I saw other of Nickís friends on the way back to my seat. Some nodded to me, others stared straight ahead. None of them meant anything to me. Leeza stood up and hugged me, tears and mascara soiling the front of my shirt. I returned the hug half-heartedly, my eyes focusing in on Kyle sitting with his family in a back corner of the room. His head was down, starring at his fidgeting hands. He had been held overnight that first night, and then released to the custody of his parents pending his hearing. The police were planning to charge him with manslaughter. I starred at him for a moment, Leeza sobbing on my shoulder, waiting for the rush of anger. It didnít come, replaced instead by an empty, numb feeling.
I walked the rest of the way to my seat, sitting down next to my mom and feeling the numbness envelope me; her tears would have to be enough for the both of us. I could see Nickís mom standing in the front of the church surrounded by family and well-wishers. Turning my head around, I could see the church was full. Standing room only. Damn Nick. You sure had a lot of people who loved you, willing to give up their day to some to this shithole. Time seemed to be at a standstill, my watchesí hands moved back and forth, staying in the same place. I wished I was at home and Nick was just walking into my room, making some smart-assed remark and throwing himself down on my bed, a big grin on his face. But I wasnít at home. And he would never do that again. Never.
The fear suddenly replaced the numbness, hitting me strong in the stomach. Not just fear. Something stronger, more acidic, more corrosive. I sat there, my arms wrapped around my midsection, rocking slowly back and forth, listening to people talk about Nick.
"He was a fine young man, excelling at school and anything else he put his mind too."
"A good friend, he had many young people who thought the world of him."
"While this horrible accident cannot but affect our lives, Nick would want us to go on."
What bullshit. He hated school, he had lots of people who hated him, and Nick wouldnít give fuck one what we do since heís dead. I could tell these people who Nick was. Why people loved him. Why people hated him. But no one asked me to speak. No one really wanted to know who Nick was. Who cares what a dead teenager would want anyway? They would rather play make-believe, trying to hide their fear and grief while pretending that they really knew him, listening to some moron pastor go on and on about going back to dust and "His Kingdom." I could feel the room closing in on me, the pain in my stomach becoming more acute. Nick stared at me from atop his coffin, his pale blue eyes offering me no refuge. His playful smirk faded. The photo was no longer from a photographerís studio, a muted background offering the most contrast. The background had become a blood-soaked carpet. Only half of Nickís face remained, the single eye staring at me relentlessly. I stood abruptly, knocking my Momís purse from her lap with a loud clank as its hefty buckles hit the stone floor. It seemed as if everyone turned to look at me. With my arms still wrapped around my torso, I pivoted and walked towards the rear of the church. Someone called my name in a hushed whisper. I lowered my head and walked through the heavy wooden doors.