Some people believe your life flashes before your eyes the moment you die. I guess that's what's been happening to me. It's the stuff you never thought was important that ends up coming back in the end. Like how Dip n Dots ice cream felt rolling around and melting slowly on my tongue the first time I ever tasted it at the beach with my cousin Brett. Or the way I couldn't stop smiling that afternoon in sixth grade when I got my braces off; mostly because of how slimy my teeth felt against my lips. Or how my gram's house always smelled like old cigars, not because of my gram, but because of my granddad. His car still reeks of cheap cigars to this day. I never started smoking, even when most of my friends were doing it. There were always a lot of ads on TV showing pictures of black decaying lungs and people with oxygen tanks following their every move. Sure they were convincing, but nothing seemed to stick in my mind as much as one conversation with my gram. She always talked to me as if I were her best friend, even if I was only eleven and she was sixty five. All she had to do was tell me never to start smoking, because it was such a hard habit to break. If it was hard for my gram to do something, it must be almost impossible. I'm sure if she'd given me any more advice I would have stuck to it like glue. Maybe she did and I just couldn't hold onto it all. I hope I'll get to ask her. I hope that's what heaven really means.
I was never mad at Jenny. I would be lying if I said I was. You can't control the thoughts in your head sometimes. And you can't control who you love. It's a strange feeling, loving someone. It can be so sad sometimes. Even sadder than death, I think. Love is something we'll never really understand. We can open our eyes to death, and feel that it's real. We can watch it happen right in front of us, and we can accept it, even though it isn't always easy. But love isn't like that. Love makes us weak and desperate. Love kills parts of us we never even knew we had. I guess I still love Jenny, because I can't remember a day that I ever really stopped. But I do remember the day she told me she didn't love me anymore. The day she told me that she loved someone else.
I remember how green the grass was under her black Chuck Taylor's. The ones with little designs and song lyrics scribbled on the sides. I remember how smooth my pen felt against the white rim of her shoe that day. I wrote Connor + Jenny even though afterwards I felt a little childish; it was all I could think of when she was asking me to write something. I added a tiny star because I always saw her drawing them on her papers in school. The star got a little smushed because that's when the bus hit a pothole in the road. I always gave her the window seat because she said the world went by so fast sometimes, and if you weren't watching, you might miss something amazing. I didn't mind missing it if I got to watch her. I watched her eyes moving back and forth trying to focus on one thing but not able to catch up. Her forehead pressed against the glass, being jarred around by the bus's erratic driver. Sometimes I wrapped my arm behind her head and cradled it in my hand. I watched the muscles in her cheeks pull her lips up into a smile when she saw something out there in that fast moving world that she liked. Sometimes I would look at the other girls in our class and wonder how she could be so much more beautiful than they were when they tried so much harder. She wore the same black choker everyday; it was something she found in the back of her mom's closet. She twisted it three times to make it fit the way she liked. Sometimes the twisted part would slide around to the front; those were my favorite times. I would slide it back around behind her hair, that hair that smelled exactly like a hard candy, the strawberries and cream kind that my math teacher always ate. And she would make a wish. Sometimes she said her wishes out loud, even though that meant they were wasted.
I don't blame Jenny. She just fell in love with someone else. But just because I don't blame her doesn't mean I didn't feel it. I remember how on the day she told me I saw her eyes float down to her watch three times. Each movement of her ocean blue eyes was like a splinter being placed into my heart. I didn't understand why things had to be like this. There were a lot of things in my life that I didn't understand, and people always just said that life isn't fair; you have to take the good with the bad; things happen for a reason, all of those cliche lines adults use to try to cheer kids up when they lose football games or when their dogs get hit by cars. I didn't want Jenny to have to use any of those lines on me, so I just said that I loved her and that I would be all right. I told her that I wasn't angry with her, but somehow I think she wanted me to be. She had always told me that I never showed enough emotion, that I never got mad. I didn't feel mad, just sort of deflated. Like when you let the air out of a balloon really slowly. Usually it goes in circles if you let it fly around on its own. That's sort of what my head was doing, slowly circling down in little waves. I stared at her dark brown hair blowing across her cheeks. She was cradling her history book and a blue notebook in her left arm. The sun was so intense that day that it was reflecting light from her notebook up onto her face and giving her skin a blue tint. I wanted to touch her face, to kiss the color back into her blue lips. But I knew by the way she looked at me and then down at her shoes that I would never get to kiss those lips again. She surprised me by walking over slowly, staring at the grass the whole way, and then hugging me. It felt like the kind of hug I got from my aunt before she left for her new job in Milwaukee. I knew I was going to see her on the holidays, but it felt like a goodbye forever the way she held on to me so tight and buried her face into my neck. Jenny closed her eyes into my green sweatshirt and I felt so safe. But I knew she was just saying goodbye. She let go and backed up, careful not to look me in the eye. She knew if she did I would see her eyes filling with tears. She said she was sorry and that she didn't want to hurt me. I didn't want to hurt her either, but all I could think to say was,
But she turned and walked away. As each foot hit the ground it was like a tiny ice pick was chipping away at me from the bottom up. With every chip I felt myself shrinking lower and lower into the ground. The trees and houses around me got taller and taller and I felt small and insignificant. I stayed standing in the same spot until her body became a shape in the distance. When I finally did try to move my feet they felt like they were bolted into the ground, like I was buried from the knees down. I was suddenly six again, and on the soft wet sand of the beach for the first time. The water rushed over my toes and I stared down at the tiny colorful shells all around my feet and watched them disappear. The longer I stood staring and letting the water rush over my white legs, the less of them became visible, the more anchored into the ground I became. I started to get swallowed up in the ocean floor. I wiggled my legs around and started to make cracks in the sand. The water rose around me and the more I wiggled my toes under the sand the more it glued me to the spot. I guess my mom noticed my struggling and before I knew it my feet were suctioned out of the sand and I was carried back under our bright yellow umbrella. The yellow started to turn a fiery orange that burned my eyes. When I raised my hand to cover my face I saw I wasn't six after all. I was still standing alone in the park. I stared down at my feet and wiggled my toes in my shoes before I attempted to move them. The sun was slowly setting behind the rows of houses in the distance and somehow I made it back to mine before it disappeared.
Going back to school was hard because I still felt so small. But my heart was just as big as it always was. And I guess that's why Jenny stayed there through all the shrinking and the chopping. I still thought about her all the time. I heard once that love means that you think about a person as soon your eyes open in the morning, and as soon as they close at night. I thought about Jenny like that. I thought about her even when my eyes were shut. In my dreams we were just like we used to be. We were sitting in the lunchroom talking about angels. She was amazing like that. Most girls in the lunchroom talked about makeup or prom or other girls. But Jenny wanted to know if I believed in angels.
'I guess I never really thought about it much.'
'Well if you had to think about it now, what would you think?'
She always looked at me like she really cared. As if all of the other kids in the cafeteria weren't even there. It was just like we were alone in some peaceful place like under a willow tree or something, just talking about heaven. She only looked away for a few seconds to guide her fingers in peeling the orange that she rolled between her hands.
'Well, I guess if I have to say, then I say no. I don't think there's these fluffy white clouds that people live in up there after they die. And I don't think there's like ... angels. Ya know?'
'Yeah, I don't think there's that stuff either. But it's just hard to know what to believe in.'
'I don't think we have to believe in anything really. I think people just get sad and they start to make things up to help them out of the sadness. And I don't think that's fair.' Jenny put down her orange and I watched the skin above her eyes start to wrinkle. We never really argued much, but I liked the way that when her hair fell out from behind her ear, she didn't bother to fix it because she was too focused on what to say next.
'What is fair though? Should people be sad all the time just because it's what's real? Isn't it alright to pretend sometimes if it makes people happy?'
'Not if it means that everyone in the world is fake; that the world is fake.'
She put the piece of hair back behind her ear and the pale white skin above her eyes was smooth again. I could always tell when there was something important on her mind; something more important than winning one of our little arguments.
'I guess I'm just confused that's all. Have you ever been to a viewing?'
Jenny and her family used to go to church almost every Sunday. Now she went with them on holidays and stuff like that, but she told them once that she didn't believe in God, so they didn't make her go with them anymore. They never told Jenny's grandparents though because I guess they thought maybe it was just a phase she was going through, one of those teenage rebellion sort of things. Jenny's grandmother was one of those really religious old ladies that had a huge oil painting of Jesus in her dining room. That same painting was placed above the open casket at her memorial service the night before our conversation in the cafeteria.
'She looked so different. Like she had been beaten up real bad and then someone dumped a bucket of flour over her face to cover the bruises. I kept expecting her to sit up, or move her hand or something. It was really creepy, and really sad.'
'I'm sorry. I was going to go but I thought it was a family thing and it might not be right.'
'It's ok; you probably would have felt weird there. Everyone just walked by and cried and looked at her body. It was all dressed up in her clothes and jewelry, but it didn't look anything like her. The whole thing felt so strange. It was like a tribute to her life, with pictures and music and flowers, everyone who ever loved her was there. We even served food after. But she wasn't there to see it. By the end I felt like screaming at everyone that she was gone, and to just go home because there was nothing else to see.'
I didn't know what to say to her, but she looked so alone even though she was sitting right beside me.
'I'm sorry. I guess I don't know what else to say. I know I don't have any answers.'
'I don't think anybody has the answers. At least no one I know. But I don't need an answer when I have you.'
She took my whole arm into her lap and held it onto it, putting her hand in mine. She rested her head on my shoulder and I felt her breath on my neck. It made even the noisy cafeteria the most peaceful place in the world.
After these dreams I wake up feeling so alone, so small. It's hard to get out of my bed sometimes, hard to reach my shoes. Food seems too big to fit into my stomach now. Nothing tastes the same on my tongue. It seems like only a few thoughts can fit in my brain at once and schoolwork is harder than it ever was. I've always been good at history, but now the board seems so far away. My pencil feels like it weighs a thousand pounds, and my eyelids weigh even more. Jenny is in my history class but I try not to look at her. I must not be trying hard enough because she moved her seat across the room after our eyes met and my pencil dropped like a brick to the floor. I tried not to notice when I heard her laughing at the teacher's corny joke even though her laughter sent chills up my spine. Walking in the halls alone is tough too when you're so small because no one notices you. Or they stare with big bulging eyes and point with long crooked fingers. Sometimes I wonder how many of them were ever left standing alone in a park, or by a front door, or in a car. I wonder how many of them can't tie their shoes in the morning either, or hold the spoon steady over their cereal. They all have their makeup on so tight, and their hair folded and ironed so perfectly. It sort of reminds me of a commercial I saw on TV for bathtubs. There's this company that will come to your house and custom fit a bathtub and tiles and stuff over the one you already have, instead of fixing it up and building a new one. They just slide it over the broken chipped one and it looks brand new. It's white and shining and there is a lady sitting in it surrounded by hundreds of perfect little bubbles, holding a glass of champagne. All I could think about was how much the old bathtub must be molding and cracking under there. I don't know much about bathtubs so maybe it's all right, but the thought of something rotting away just inches under me while I'm trying to clean up just wasn't nice at all. So I guess that's how I feel when I look at all the kids in school who wear the expensive clothes and the pounds of makeup. There must be something rotten and chipping away inside of them too.
'Ya know, Connor, it's kids like you that they're gonna search. Hope you don't do crack.'
Laughter followed Todd Harmon down the crowded hallway as the classrooms filled back up with students. It wasn't the first time our school had a bomb scare. But this time all the rotten chipped away kids were mad because it was on the day of a pep rally and it would have to be postponed. They didn't know who called it in, so a lot of kids were checked out. The usual suspects were called to the office and they had brought in the drug sniffing dogs for a locker check. There was a rumor that one of the dogs crapped in front of someone's locker. There were always rumors at our school. For some reason ever since the day Jenny walked away from me in the park, I had become a usual suspect. I saw people whispering in the halls around me. I felt like wherever I went I was hearing little voices. At first I thought they were in my head, but I knew if I was going to have voices in my head they wouldn't sound like a group of teenage girls. And they definitely wouldn't sound like my principal. When I heard him call my name over the loudspeaker I realized it was probably the first time I had ever heard it called out like that; at least in high school. In elementary school they used to call out birthdays and for you to come to the office if your mom was there to get you. But this felt different. I walked down the empty hall and kids in classrooms turned their heads as I passed. I hated how loud my feet sounded on the tile floor and surprisingly wanted to get to the office as fast as I could.
My principal was the football coach in the seventies, and he had a thick Russian accent. He told my class how he escaped from Russia when he was a boy and had to travel a really long way through a whole lot of snow. I thought it was interesting but I didn't pay much attention to his story, I guess because he came to talk to our history class, and I paid more attention to the thin black line that Jenny's choker made around her neck than how Principal Russo broke through enemy lines and made it to America. He seemed like a down to business kind of man, and he didn't waste any time with small talk when I walked into his office.
'Connor, have you been under any kind of stress lately?'
His office was a lot more cluttered than I would have thought. It kind of made me feel at ease knowing even the principal of my school was disorganized. He seemed like he was trying to be extra nice to me. He pulled up the big green chair with the dark wooden legs from the corner for me instead of the regular plastic blue ones the other kids sat in. He asked me if I wanted anything to drink, said he might have some Coke. It made me think of what the kid in my class said about me doing crack. Maybe my principal thought I'm on drugs and that's why he's being so nice to me? Maybe he thought I called in the bomb scare and he's just stalling until the cops get here to pull this nice cushioned chair out from under me and shove my face in the carpet? I started to get concerned; I guess my face showed it, so my principal started to speak.
'Don't worry son, I know you weren't responsible for what happened today.'
I didn't want to look too confused, because maybe he was just trying to trick a confession out of me like they do on those cop shows. But I was confused. I knew I didn't do anything wrong; so why was I here? I figured it was enough with the mind games and I asked him what was going on.
'Well, frankly, we're all worried about you, son. You've been acting strange these last few weeks. Your teachers report that you're failing every class, even gym. So all I want to know is what I can do to help. You're going to be a senior next year and you can't afford to fail like this if you want to go to college.'
I watched his mouth as he spoke and I turned it upside down in my head. I wasn't in his cluttered office anymore; I was on the porch of Jenny's family's vacation house in Virginia. She was sitting behind me and holding my head in her hands as I looked up at her. I remember how hard she started laughing and I remember how the sun reflected off her lips. She could hardly stop long enough to tell me why she was laughing. She called it 'Mr. Chinnegan'; a funny sort of trick she did to people's faces. She said she pictured two eyes and a nose on my chin when my head was upside down. So now every time I spoke it was like I had a little puppet on my face. I heard her laughter echoing throughout the room until a deeper voice pulled me back.
I couldn't help but smile when I realized where I was again and watched my principal's moustache, which was now his beard, bouncing up and down as he said my name.
'Connor, this is what I'm talking about. There is nothing funny about you possibly not being able to graduate.'
I spun him right side up again and let his words slip into my brain. I sat there quietly for a minute so the smile could slide off my face. I never thought much about how my grades were. I knew I wasn't doing as well as I used to be, but I just didn't think it was that bad.
'I'm sorry. I guess I just didn't realize. I'll do better now. Thank you for wanting to help.'
I pushed back the arms of the chair and noticed that they were lion heads. I wondered if having lions on the arms of your chairs gave you more power. Maybe that's why he gave me this chair instead of the blue plastic one; he thought a chair would help. He gave me a green pass back to my classroom and I noticed that he signed me out for 1:20, but it was only 1:10. I started to motion towards the clock but he made this sort of squinty face that made me realize he wanted to feel like this was his favor to me. The time kids get to spend alone in the halls is sacred, especially with written approval from the principal. So I didn't say another word. On the way out I passed Ricky O'Neil. He was the kid who put tacks on my fourth grade teacher's chair, and took light bulbs from the janitor's closet and smashed them all over the parking lot one morning in seventh grade. The teacher noticed the tacks before she sat down, and the janitor put up cones in the morning and swept up the glass before any cars came, but Ricky still got in trouble. And every time he got in trouble his reputation grew and put him higher and higher on the list of usual suspects. By then I think he must have been number one. The principal called his name out as I grabbed the door handle and I looked back just in time to see him sit down in the cold blue plastic chair.
I wasn't sure what to do with my new found freedom. I had about fifteen minutes to kill before I had to go back to class. I figured the bathroom was where everyone always went, and it was better than wandering the halls alone.
'So you do it, Davis?'
'Course he didn't do it. We all know who it was so why you gonna even ask him, James?'
'Well, why else would they wanna talk to 'im. He went in first too. Even before Ricky. He musta done sumthin.'
This seemed to happen to me a lot; people talking about me as if I was in another room when I was standing right in front of them. But I didn't mind this time because all I was thinking about was how James McDougal knew who I was. I guess it felt kind of stupid to care what a guy like him thought about me; but it made me feel a little bit taller than I'd been feeling lately. It kind of made the room seem more lifelike around my body. I didn't feel so lost in its ugly brown tiles and harsh fluorescent lights.
'I didn't do anything really. I'm just failing.'
'Well, shit aren't we all. I thought you were smart? Weren't you in that G+T back in the day?'
'Yeah, I was. I don't know what happened.'
G+T stands for Gifted and Talented. It was a program we had in our school and some other schools around. I guess it was for smart kids. You had to get certain grades and test scores to be able to be in it. At first I didn't like the idea. I thought it was corny and I didn't want to be hanging around all those smart kids all the time. But when I found out Jenny would be one of those kids I brought the papers home and my mom couldn't sign them fast enough. Once we made a huge bubble out of plastic and then we connected all the bubbles from the other kids' teams together with tubes and crawled in and out. The gym at Logan Elementary was transformed into a surreal maze of plastic and masking tape. I remember when we made the bubble; being on the inside doing some cutting or measuring, and Jenny being on the outside bouncing the tape on the plastic wall. I remember thinking that if angels did exist they must look exactly like her at that very moment. The gymnasium lights beamed all around her and blurred her features together into a mass of pale skin, light and air.
'Ha, I know what happened. Look at his eyes, man! He's so stoned!'
I guess I didn't realize how long I was standing there in a daze. I walked over to the mirror and pulled my face up close to it. It was the same face I saw every morning in my mirror at home. A little dark around the edges since I hadn't shaved in a few days, and my hair was getting kind of long too, now that I really looked at it. The white parts of my brown eyes were mostly pink. I could see the tiny red veins collecting in the corners and jutting out like fingers.
'I guess I'm just tired. I don't smoke.'
'You mean you didn't smoke any today? Or you've never smoked any ever?'
In a weird way I knew that how I answered that question would determine how the rest of my day went. Maybe even my life; who knows. Things had been changing so fast that I didn't know which way was up. But I knew I never liked how I felt when I told a lie; I thought people could see right through me.
'I haven't ever smoked.'
Their reaction was pretty much what I expected. James had a reputation around school. He was popular, mostly because people were scared of him, not because they wanted to be like him. He was also known around school for dealing drugs. He was white, but none of his friends were. His shoes were never tied, and his facial hair was always shaved in a perfect thin line on each side from his ear to his chin. His friend Tavis was tall and thin and always wore an Atlanta Braves hat. When the teachers told him to take it off, he just slid it around the thick silver chain he wore around his neck and let it dangle there all day. They stood laughing and stomping their boots on the tiles until they were satisfied and then James started looking around in his bag.
'Oh shit kid, your cherries gettin popped!'
There was more stomping and hissing before he finally pulled a blue glass bowl out of his bag.
'Here? Won't the alarm go off?'
I glanced up at the smoke detector and noticed the red indicator light wasn't blinking.
'Nah we took care of that. Just bust open the window and pick a stall, cowboy.'
So I did. I had never really thought about what my first time smoking weed would be like, but I figured that this would be as good a time as any. I hadn't waited this long for any particular reason, except maybe because Jenny didn't like it. I tried to remind myself that she wasn't here to not like it anymore. Thoughts of her leaving me clouded my head and I wanted them gone. I pulled in the smoke hard and held it in even harder. I tried to hold onto it as long as I could but it escaped my lungs in painful fits of coughing. I was embarrassed but James and Tavis assured me that since it was my first time I couldn't expect much better. The smoke burned my throat and left my tongue feeling dry and sticky. Even though it smelled like rotten eggs I sipped water from the sink out of my hand. I noticed the clock on the wall and realized if I left now I would have been gone exactly fifteen minutes, perfect timing. James said he thought I was 'good people' and told me if I ever needed anything to let him know. I guess I was a little surprised, but it made me feel even taller. So I left the smoky bathroom and entered the empty halls. As I walked it started to feel like I was walking on air. The doorways started to melt away into skies and the tiles became clouds under my shoes. I closed my eyes and heard James' voice echo over and over in my head. 'Just pick a stall, cowboy ... .'
'Connor, if you're supposed to be a real cowboy then you can't wear sneakers. Cowboys don't wear sneakers. And Cowboys wear real Cowboys' hats too. You're just a phony! Phony! Phony! Connor is a phony!'
Halloween was always my favorite holiday. Especially in first grade when I was a cowboy. All the boys in my class were either cowboys or firemen or they just wore all black and had fake blood all over their faces and chased the girls around the room. That was the year my parents were starting to stay up really late and talk really loud after they thought I was asleep. A lot of parents think that their kids don't remember the fights or they don't ever hear the car skidding out of the driveway because their kids were too young. But I remember. I mostly remember doors shutting harder than I think doors needed to be shut. I remember lots of silence. But it was always that same kind of silence I hear in the halls; the kind where I can still hear little secret whispers and I wonder why. I remember the cracking and hissing of beer cans being opened and the sound my dad's feet made under the gravel in our driveway. I remember how my room looked for the last time before we moved out of our old house in Rockport. There was a chair by the window where my mom would always read me stories. She read books that were much too old for me, but I loved every word and made her read them again and again. I had a small closet that I imagined was a porthole to secret worlds like the ones in the stories she told. My walls were a pale green on the bottom and white on the top, separated by a thick border of lassos and silver spurs that my parent's picked out when they found out I was going to be a boy. My dad had wanted the football helmets but my mom loved horses and I guess she thought by giving my room a western theme she might sway me into loving them too and asking for riding lessons. I never did want to take lessons, so I guess her plans didn't work out. She helped me pack up some of my toys and my favorite shirts into boxes. She told me I should find the things in my room that I loved the most and make sure I them with me because there wouldn't be enough space for everything. She sat with me on the green carpet and handed me a five dollar bill. That was the most money I had ever seen in my young life. She assured me that I could buy new things, and told me everything would be alright. So there I was in the middle of my favorite place in all the world with a fortune in one hand, and an empty cardboard box that read 'Connor's Room' in the other. I placed the five dollars in the bottom of the box, and started packing. Unfortunately the cowboy boots and hat that my Uncle Ted gave me for my birthday the year before wouldn't fit. So when it came time for Halloween that year, and I so desperately wanted to be a cowboy, I used my five dollars to buy the greatest star I'd ever seen to make up for the lacking boots and hat. I told my Mom about the star and she told me I could use my money however I wanted. My mom was always trying to do the best she could for me. Sometimes her idea of what was best was making my first day at my new Elementary school, Halloween. I guess she figured this way I would be greeted with a big party with candy and costumes. I was a little nervous, but excited to show off my new cowboy star. Of course once I got to school the other kids didn't notice the shining silver star. All they noticed was my empty head and my worn out sneakers. One person did notice though. Everyone's desk had a nametag and this one said Jenny.
'I like your star.'
The first time I saw her she was wearing red wings with little black dots on them, and she had two antennas bobbing out from the sides of her brown bowl cut.
'Thanks. I like your antlers.'
My eyes were as wide as the big black dots on her clumsy wings.
'I mean ...'
She just laughed so hard that it made her ... antlers ... wiggle back and forth.
'Come on they're giving out candy!'
She grabbed my arm and I was whisked away into her world.
Sometimes I used to stare outside in math class and pretend I really did crack open the window and crawl outside into the blinding sun. I heard the chalk making sharp swift taps on the board and tried to follow the powdery white lines against the blackness but they slowly faded. I watched the leaves dance and chase each other in the parking lot, dodging cars and flying up into the air and swirling back down again. Leaves are a lot like people, I think. At least, watching them outside my math class I felt like I was learning more about life from them than I was from the dusty equations mimicked on my teacher's black sweater. Sometimes I saw a car drive past the window near a pile of freshly raked leaves. The force of the car would pull some of them along with it and send them flying, following the car until they spun away falling in their own directions. I see this happen to people too. Someone seems to scoop a person up as they pass. They become part of them for a while. But they can't keep them forever. Eventually they both have to be alone. So that's why I don't blame Jenny for where I am today. I guess I just got scooped up in her for a while, and that's how life is. So when people point their crooked fingers at her it makes me feel sad. She didn't mean for things to turn out this way. If she would have seen me here in the cold lonely place and would have known what was about to happen to me, she would never have left that note on my desk. She would never have asked me to do those bad things. But she did. And here I am. And people need someone to blame for those bad things. They need to feel safe again knowing that badness is gone. I don't feel bad, I mean, I don't feel like I am the badness. But if they need someone to blame it should just be me, and not Jenny. People also always ask why when bad things happen. It's hard to tell them why I did it when I can't really tell myself why. It's as hard to explain as love is. No one really knows why people fall in and out of love, or when something is love and not something less. Love is complicated and some people even say it's blind. I'm sure my love for Jenny blinded me in lots of ways. I guess that could have played a part in what I did that day; I guess it was just something happened. No one wants to hear that though, because they get scared that bad things could happen all over the place, to their own sons, in their own neighborhoods. Maybe there are sons out there like me, and maybe there are neighborhoods out there like mine. I guess it is a pretty big world, but it's hard to believe something like this could happen twice.
The first time I saw Jenny with her new boyfriend Sam I threw up. Twice. The first time was in the hallway on the way to history class. The second time I made it to the bathroom. I don't think that was any better because I never wanted my face so close to anything in that bathroom, especially the toilet. My teacher told the class there must be something going around. I'm not sure what he would have said if he knew the real reason I vomited in his classroom. Sam was on the lacrosse team, and he wore t-shirts with numbers on the back that he bought from the mall. His jeans were always just the right fit, with the perfect amount of fray at the bottom. We only had four minutes between periods to get to our next class. I think they made it that short so kids didn't have time to smoke pot in the bathroom, or make out in front of teachers. I guess they should have made it shorter. I always got to class on time and watched the teachers struggle to tear couples apart in the halls; threatening them with detentions if they don't take their affections elsewhere. I watched two pairs of feet approach the door and I recognized the dark brown Diesel sneakers as Jenny's. I also recognized the perfectly frayed jeans covering the white Puma sneakers next to hers. But they weren't next to hers at all. They were facing hers. I felt my face getting hot and I didn't want to look but I had to. I followed the denim up to entangled arms and Jenny's long brown hair draped over Sam's sharp chin. Before Mr. Dunn could make it to the door to call Jenny in to class, I found myself clutching my stomach and vomiting all over the floor, just missing Jake Brown's feet. I hardly heard the shrieks and groans as I dashed out to the bathroom, mostly to hide, and then when I pictured Jenny's mouth on his, to throw up again. When I passed them I just barely heard the whispers I came to expect, and I just barely felt Jenny's eyes on the back of my neck. But none of it mattered anymore; nothing mattered when I was on my hands and knees wrenching my guts into a toilet that smelled so awful that I could hardly stop gagging.
'So, Cowboy, we meet again.'
I pulled myself to my feet and turned to see James standing behind me with a paper towel.
I wiped my mouth and resigned myself to another mouthful of the rotten egg water.
'So what's your deal? Up late last night with your buddies Jack and Johnny?'
'Nah. Just got a little queasy.'
'No offense man, but for somebody who doesn't do shit, you sure look like it.'
I guess this meant a little more coming from James. I didn't care how much my mom told me I needed a haircut, or how tired I looked all the time. Even my principal telling me I was failing didn't seem to faze me. But when James told I looked like shit, I felt like shit.
'I guess I've been a little stressed out.'
'Yeah, what with your girl cheatin on you and all.'
You see sometimes in the movies when people hear things that shock them, their mouths drop open and sometimes in the cartoons even their chins hit the floor. I think my chin must have hit the floor, because I heard a loud booming inside my head.
'Aww shit man, you mean you never knew?'
It couldn't have been true. James must not know all the facts. Jenny would never do that. We were in love. My head was spinning, my eyes started to blur and I had to get out. I just started to leave. I didn't know where I was going, because I knew I couldn't go back to class, but I didn't want to go home either. I didn't want to have to explain to my mom why I came home early.
'Wait, where you goin? Me and my boys are ditchin. You should come.'
I just shook my head and told him I had to be alone right now. He said he understood, but he told me he wanted me to have something to help me out.
'Here, take one of these. Trust me. You'll feel better about it. And here's my cell too. Call me if you need anything else.'
'What is it?'
I stared at the white pill in the palm of my hand and almost didn't care what he said it was.
'It'll help you forget about that slut and move on with your life.'
I hated the idea of anyone calling Jenny a slut, but I also hated the idea that James could be right. Maybe Jenny was seeing Sam before she left me. I thought back to the day in the park and remembered how fidgety she was. I remember those splinters that her eyes put into my heart and I felt them work their way deeper and deeper.
'Uh actually, do you think you could drive me home?'
'No problem. Hope you like Lil John.'
'Uh, I never met him.'
James yelled 'WHAT', in a voice that wasn't really his own. I heard a lot of other kids saying that around school and figured it must have been an impression. I just looked at him and he banged his boots on the ground like he always did when he laughed.
'Man, Cowboy, you crack me up! Come on.'
I met Lil John on the ride home. I guess if I listened to the radio more I wouldn't have looked so dumb. James drove a purple Honda Civic that was so low to the ground I could see the vibration of the road shaking the fibers of the custom purple carpet. The interior was all painted white and across the dashboard, in large gold cursive letters, were the words 'Pimpin Aint Easy'. I definitely felt out of place, but it was better than being alone, even if it was only for a few minutes. I told James where I lived and it was only a few minutes away. As we got closer I saw we were about to pass Beckett Park. My stomach did a flip and I grabbed my mouth as hard as I could with both hands. I could only imagine what would happen if I threw up in James' car. I had seen the way he inspected everyone's shoes and made his friend Darrel bang his boots off on the curb before he could get in. Darrel was squished next to me in the back seat and was the first to notice me almost lose whatever was left of my lunch.
'Oh shit, James, this kid's trippin!'
James and Tavis both looked back and saw my sweaty palms holding my distended cheeks. My eyes were bulging and tears were about to stream down my face purely from the sick feeling in my stomach. Darrel was half wanting to reach over my lap and roll down my window and half wanting to jump out of his. But I didn't throw up. I regained control of my stomach just as James started losing control of the car. It was probably only about ten seconds of swerving and foul language before he managed to pull over, but it felt like an eternity. As soon as we stopped there were three sets of eyes all on me.
'Damn, kid! You tryin to kill us all?'
'Yeah, James, where'd you find this one? Why's he rollin with you lately anyway?'
James didn't say anything. I think he was still in that shock period. When something big happens to a person, something that really matters, it needs a minute to sink in. I guess almost crashing his Civic needed more than a minute, because he turned off the ignition and put the keys in lap. So there I was on the side of the road right across from Beckett Park, the same park where I stood the day that I watched Jenny walk away from me for the last time, just sitting, and letting it all sink in.
'Cowboy, we need to talk. Outside.'
James looked angry. But he didn't really sound angry, he sounded more concerned. Sort of like my principal sounded when he told me I was failing; or like my mom when she said I needed more sleep. So I stepped out onto the grass and followed him until he stopped walking. He stopped by a bench near the lake, right on the runner's path. Our school used this park for competitions like Cross Country and Soccer. Jenny was on Cross County freshman and sophomore year. I used to sit on that same bench and hold out water for her as she ran by. The runners dropped the cups on the ground as the passed and Jenny and I went around after the competitions and picked them all up. I looked around and wondered who was doing it now.
'Connor, you got some kind of issue?'
James had never called me Connor before; it was either 'Davis' or sometimes 'Kid' like his friends, but usually 'Cowboy'. I knew he was trying to be my friend but I really didn't understand why. I felt like there must be some hidden camera somewhere. I scanned the trees for kids hiding with recording equipment and I knew I was just being crazy.
'I guess I'm just sad.'
Well there, I said it. I was sad. I was sad and lonely and I missed Jenny.
'Lots of people are sad, man. Doesn't mean they gotta try to puke in my ride.'
'I'm sorry. I've just been a little emotional lately.'
It was sort of wrong to say lately because I was one of those kids that people classify as 'emo'. Emo is a type of music but it's also a way to separate kids in school into groups. It's short for emotional. There were kids like James who listened to music like Eminem, and apparently Lil John. That wasn't really considered emotional even though I thought anyone who writes their own lyrics and has passion for them should be considered 'emo'. But the kids in my school thought 'emo' to be more of a fashion statement than a musical choice. Usually they wore a lot of dark, tight clothes, probably from thrift stores, or they made it look like they bought them there. My favorite bands all sang songs with lyrics about broken hearts and stuff like that. Most of them wore girl's pants. I didn't buy girl's pants but they were just as tight. James' pants hung around his knees and his boxer's were almost always showing.
'So what got ya this time? Did you two do it the back of a Civic once or sumthin? Bring back ol memories?'
I hadn't realized how long it had been since I really smiled. But the way he talked made me feel so comfortable. I didn't get offended by what he said because I knew he was just trying to help. I felt like I could say anything to him and he would understand. Maybe I was just too lonely. Maybe I should have started seeing a shrink or writing in a journal instead of talking to a drug dealer to get out my emotions. But I didn't have a journal, I had James. So I told him all about Jenny, and the park. And I told him about Sam. And then he told me a few things about Sam too. Apparently Sam had a reputation around school that I wasn't aware of simply because I didn't care much about school gossip, or Sam until he started going out with Jenny. Sam's ex-girlfriend Kristin used to be on the cheerleading squad. She quit when she couldn't cover the dark bruises on her body with the tiny uniform anymore. The rumor was that he hit her, but it was pretty obvious when she started wearing sweaters in June. She would say she was clumsy, or her new puppy was feisty. When word got out that Sam had gotten her pregnant she dropped out of school before anyone even had the chance to talk about her. Sam started telling everyone at school that Kristin was a slut and that it wasn't his baby, even though everyone knew that wasn't true. He was trying to get to college on a lacrosse scholarship and if his parents and his coach found out that he had gotten a young girl pregnant that would be the end for him. So he denied it and drove Kristin away. James said Sam was a big asshole about the whole thing and that people like that don't change. I just sat and wondered if he was hitting Jenny and why she would want to leave me for someone like that. I remembered how she told me she wished I would get mad sometimes. And I hoped she wasn't searching for a guy like him, a guy that would get mad, because of how a guy like me wasn't mad enough.
Sometimes I wonder if there's ever an exact moment when your life changes, or if it's just like riding the bus and not having the window seat. Things just change around you when you aren't watching and before you know it, it's time to get off. A lot of people ignore what happens to them until one day they can't ignore it anymore and that bus they've been sitting on all that time runs them right over. I guess I never noticed how sad the world was. I never noticed how much my heart was filling up with all that sadness, and how it was starting to leak out at the most inopportune times.
I couldn't remember the last time I had been out to dinner alone with my mom. She was a nurse and was taking night classes so she wasn't home very much. But she had that night off so we went to an Italian place up the street. When we were waiting for our table I sat and watched the people walking in and out. I liked to do that a lot, especially in the mall. There were always so many people in the mall that when I stood still and quiet and just watched them, the ground shook a tiny bit under my feet. I always wondered if everyone else took the time to feel the shaking, if they would still feel safe letting their kids run around building bears and buying burgers all day. In the lobby of the restaurant a family sat down across from us and placed a baby carrier down on the granite floor. I'm bad at judging people's ages if they're under three feet tall, so I don't know how old the baby was. I guess it was just a few months. I kept watching it just look around the room, staring at all the people and the lights and the paintings on the wall. I couldn't even tell if it was a girl or a boy. Its skin looked so smooth and flawless and each finger was so perfectly placed and moved on its tiny hands in a delicate rhythm. Its eyes were beautiful and glassy like the little marbles I used to play with at my grandmom's house. They took in each person, each inch of the world with such careful consideration, such awe. My eyes welled up with tears and I couldn't hold them back. I didn't really know why I was crying, but I just started to feel so much all at once. I was strangely envious of this new life, this fresh start I would never see. It felt so amazing and at the same time so sad. I tried to imagine what this baby would be doing in ten years, or fifty. It made my head ache. I wondered what I looked at when I was that small. Then I watched as the baby was whisked away and saw the mother's wide eyes on me. I guess a crying teenager staring at her child made her a bit uncomfortable. And that's pretty much how the rest of the night was; uncomfortable. It was hard talking to my mom because she just asked a lot of questions that I didn't want to answer because I didn't like lying. She asked the sort of questions every parent asks their kid when they break up with their girlfriend, start failing every class, and crying in crowded restaurant lobbies.
'Connor, I'm only going to ask you this once, and you know you can tell me. Are you on drugs?'
I guess I just got caught up in the part where she said 'you know you can tell me', because it was just the opposite. I had never felt like I could tell her anything. Our conversations pretty much stayed within the safe confines of schoolwork and maybe politics or how my Aunt Carolyn's new job was keeping her up all night. Sometimes we even talked about my dad and how things used to be. It was never that it used to be happy and then all of a sudden we just had to move away or anything like that. I always knew things were bad, even when I was really small. My dad drank a lot, and at first my mom said she thought it made him cooler. He was in some kind of band and my mom said she used to fight off a lot of groupies and then she learned just not to care when she saw them leaving the van in droves. She said she knew Dad loved her so she knew they meant nothing to him. When she told me those things I thought about Jenny and Sam and wondered which category I fell in. I guess my mom would have told me different stories if she knew what was going on in my head.
'Mom, it's really nothing. I'm just having a hard time getting over Jenny. She was a big part of my life and now she's not. But you don't have to worry, I'll get over it, people always do.'
I figured that was what she wanted to hear. It was the truth, so it made me feel better. There was still something bothering me though, I could feel it in my stomach and it made me not want to eat any of my Fettuccini Alfredo. I had been walking around for so long with this feeling. It was like I was in an airplane about to jump. My mom finished her food and I played around with mine until the waitress boxed it up. She just kept talking to me about life and love and how everything works out in the end. She said that things happen for a reason; she said life isn't always fair, Lord knows. I wondered why she added Lord knows, because usually when people said things like that they just kept God out of it, especially my mom, she had never been very religious. She sounded like she was talking from experience. She talked about my Dad and how hard it was for her to make the right choice and leave him, and how great her life was ever since. I thought again how maybe that wasn't a great example since Jenny was the one who did the leaving, and maybe she would be the one with the great life now. I was the one who was getting sick over it and couldn't go ten minutes without her face burning into my brain. I remembered the last time I heard anything from my Dad. It was three Christmas's ago, and we got a card from him postmarked from Santa Fe, New Mexico. He sent us a picture of himself sitting on the porch of a tiny blue house. He looked old and his face was wrinkled and sun burnt. My mom told me he lived alone and had never remarried. She said he sent her things all the time, notes trying to apologize, asking her to come back. I wondered if I would end up like him one day; just a sad lonely old man.
When I lay in my bed that night a thousand thoughts flew through my brain. I pictured myself old and grey sitting on the porch of that tiny blue house all alone. I pictured Jenny far away in some perfect suburban neighborhood with probably not a white picket fence, but just a plain wooden one. A Dalmatian, her favorite kind of dog ever since she saw 101 Dalmatians at Samantha Jenson's birthday party in second grade, would be playing in the yard. She would be in the house sitting by her fireplace reading a book. Even in my head I couldn't help but picture two cars in the driveway, one of them belonging to Sam. I tossed the sheets off my sweating body and pulled myself into the bathroom. Being an only child I had a bathroom in my room that I didn't have to share with anyone. My mom got some kind of inheritance from my Aunt Lillian a few years ago so we could afford to move into a house big enough not to have to share sinks. Actually Aunt Lillian was my Great Aunt, but we left the great part out. I don't know why, I thought she was pretty great considering she got me my own private bathroom. Next to the sink sat a tiny white pill. My mom didn't come in my bathroom much so I wasn't worried about leaving it out. Even if she did go in there, she was a nurse so I could always just tell her I found it and see if that worked. I knew she was in a little bit of denial about how I was acting, and when a mom is in denial it usually works to a kid's benefit. I didn't need to worry about it anyway because I grabbed the pill and a glass of water and swallowed it without even looking up. I walked back to bed and hoped that whatever James had given me would just let me rest.
I watched the clock by my bed slowly start to shrink as I began to float above my mattress. I felt my mouth moving and felt my arms floating all around my body but couldn't figure out what they were up to. I heard a tapping at my window and squinted to see a bright light flickering and floating on the other side. In my head I knew I couldn't possibly be floating across my room suspended in the air. I couldn't possibly be opening my window for what looked to be Tinkerbelle with the head of James's friend Darrel, but it all felt so real, so good. I flew right out the window and into the dark. The grass was a deep purple under my feet as I flew. I stopped and let it run over my finger tips. It was soft like a rug. I saw the light blue shutters and the big oak tree on Jenny's lawn and I let myself land there right on her porch. I heard faint voices and what sounded like boots stomping in the street. Everything was changing with each blink of my eye, each turn of my head. Tinkerbelle came back and flitted around in front of my eyes pulling my attention to a room on the second floor. The lights came on and the window flew open. I heard what I knew was my name being called out into the air. Jenny stood at her window and looked down on me. She saw the white Civic parked in the street and she saw James and Darrel standing by it. She saw me stumbling in her lawn grasping at beams of light from Darrel's flashlight in my eyes. She closed the window and came running down the stairs. I heard a train coming. I saw the lights heading right for me. I tried to move and get out of the way but the lights were still in my eyes and the pounding didn't stop until a door in front of me swung open.
'What the hell is going on?'
Jenny stood in front of me in shorts and a big t-shirt. I felt like I was going to throw up again, but this time it didn't have anything to do with her.
'Our boy's got some shit he needs to resolve.'
Darrel spoke from near the oak tree. His voice caught me off guard and made me spin around. The spinning made me dizzy and I fell onto one knee. No one around me moved to help me, but I wasn't really sure who I expected help from. I wasn't even sure how I got to where I was, or if what was going on around me was even reality. I wondered how I could find out if I was dreaming, and I remembered that in my dreams whenever I fell I always woke up before I hit the ground. I stood back up on my feet and let myself fall without using my hands to catch me. When my face hit the ground, even though it didn't hurt at all, I knew I must not be dreaming. Jenny had never looked at me like that before, and I knew my dreams would never make her look at me that way.
'What did you do to him?'
This was one of those times when I didn't want to be talked to like I wasn't there. I didn't want to be called 'him', not by Jenny.
'He'll be alright. Darrel, help him into the car. We're done here.'
I didn't want to get in the car. Whatever high I was on was quickly wearing off and I was trying to piece together the events of the last few hours. There was a crumpled piece of paper sticking out of my pocket and I pulled it out to see what it was. It was James' cell phone number. On the back was Jenny's address, and another address that I didn't recognize. I took one more look at Jenny standing on the porch, her arms crossed, her eyes concerned and confused, and I turned and walked away.
'Whoa there buddy, careful.'
James and Darrel helped me into the car and we sped off without another word to Jenny. I watched her out the window as she stood staring on the porch, her body getting smaller and smaller. This time I was the one leaving her standing alone, and it gave me some strange comfort even in the awkward circumstances.
'So you done for the evening then or you still wanna pay a visit to Sammy boy?'
My focus turned to the front seat and I stared down at the note in my hand. I noticed the baseball bat on the floor near my feet and wondered if either of them had been holding it while they stood behind me on Jenny's lawn.
As I was spiraling down from the wild high I was on, the drug started to have a different effect on my mind. Calm was washing over my body like rain and seeping into my veins. I closed my eyes and asked James to take me home. I heard whispering in the front seat but I paid no attention to it. I was trying to remember why I wanted to come here in the first place. Strange thoughts started floating into my head and I couldn't tell what was real and what I was dreaming up. I was picturing the door of Jenny's house swinging open as it did only a few minutes before to reveal a baby carrier sitting inside. In my head I stepped inside the house and turned the carrier around to see a tiny child inside with a sharp chin, dressed awkwardly in tiny frayed jeans and a blue shirt with big white numbers on the front. The door slammed behind me and I found myself trapped inside, only to realize that the door slamming was only Darrell getting out of the car. Both he and James were tugging at my arm and trying to get my attention.
'Uh ... a ... baby?' I said, confused and slurring my words. I was trying to ask them why my mind was showing me a baby dressed up like Sam, inside Jenny's doorway, but that's all that would come out. Darrel was the first to speak although I could tell by how James looked at me that he was the one that should have been doing the talking.
'Damn kid, you really can't handle youself, can ya? Whatchu talking bout ... a baby?'
'She ... does she? I saw a ... never mind.'
They pulled me the rest of the way out of the car and walked me to the back of my house. I went in through the cellar door to avoid my mom, and walked in the dark for what felt like hours, especially because I had to pee. Being in the pitch dark and trying to find my way up the steps through the mess of boxes wouldn't have been so hard if my bladder hadn't been so full. But I made it. I also made it to my bed only after seeing that my mom had left for her early shift at work already and didn't even notice that I was gone. I spent the next few minutes trying to fall asleep, watching a ladybug crawl across my ceiling. I thought it must have sticky little feet, at least I hoped it had sticky feet when it crawled to the section of ceiling directly over my head. I pulled the covers up over my face before I finally fell asleep anyway, just in case.
I decided to go to school the next day even though the space under my eyes was a deep purple, and the space inside them that should have been white, was a deep red. School was a lot easier once I made the decision to stop caring about it. I stopped taking notes in history, and just wrote my name over and over as many different ways as I could. By giving up on school I guess I was giving up on graduating, and giving up on ever going to college. I never really thought much about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Our teachers and counselors always asked us where we saw ourselves in ten years, and that was a good indication of what we should try to achieve. I could never see myself anywhere. Maybe I should have seen that as a sign and tried to do something about it back then. But I try to think that things happen for a reason, even if I'm not exactly sure what the reason is for what's going to happen to me. Maybe someday there will be a reason, or maybe there already is and I just haven't figured it out yet.
I sat at my desk fighting sleep and scribbling stars onto my notebook while Mr. Dunn told the class about some war somewhere else in the world some hundreds of years ago. Something stopped my pen from writing and made it drop from my fingers onto the ink splattered notebook. It was Jenny's hand placing a note on my desk. Jenny had the most beautiful hands. She always said they were what she liked most about herself. She kept her fingernails short even though her friends were always jealous of how fast they grew. But Jenny always cut them off. Our music teacher said Jenny should play Piano because she had the perfect hands for it. She never did learn.
I opened the note when Mr. Dunn turned his back and saw that there wasn't much to read.
'I know you know. Meet me by the lake after school.'
The lake meant the park. The park meant Beckett Park, and that meant the possibility of me getting sick again. I just hoped I could control my weak stomach for one afternoon. I had managed to sit through her placing a note on my desk and that was ok, so maybe I would be all right. The rest of the day just dragged on. The clock seemed to go backwards. Finally in last period I didn't even realize I had fallen asleep on my desk and the bell made my heart explode into my throat. I walked out the front doors and the sun hit my eyes and made me have to squint to see anything. It was warm outside already. I had been forgetting to flip my California Quotes Calendar, and it had been stuck on the town of Winnetka 'Where They Understand the Weight of Human Hearts' since October. It was now April.
I saw Jenny sitting on the ground throwing what must have been bread or crackers into the lake. The ducks were all swimming towards her. She saw me coming and threw the last bits of what I now saw were pretzels into the lake and stood up dusting herself off.
'Thanks for showing up,' she said, as if she thought she was just going to be spending the rest of the afternoon waiting with the ducks. This was really the first time I had spoken to her since we were here last, and all I felt was empty. I still had that feeling in the pit of my stomach like I was about to jump out of a plane. There was never a time when I looked at Jenny and felt anything but love. My chest was always caving in with so much love for her that I think that's why I felt so sad. I couldn't do anything with all that love any more. And when I felt sad about something else I didn't have anyone to go to. Before I knew that Jenny felt the same way I did about the shaking floors in the mall and about lonely cats. The other day after school I saw a cat sitting on the side of the road by a field. It was just sitting there perfectly still staring into the field all alone. I wondered who was going to feed it, where it would sleep. If it would wander around and get hit by someone who didn't see its jet black fur darting across the street. Things like that made me sad but Jenny always knew what to say. She would tell me that the cat's name was Blackie and that he was the best mouse hunter in Logan. She would say she saw him running around at night by trash cans and through fields. He wasn't lonely, he was just resting, taking in the beauty of the field. He was an artsy introspective cat and he needed his time alone to reflect that's all. But now Jenny wasn't there to tell me these things so all I saw was a sad lonely cat and I imagined horrible futures for him.
I stared off at the ducks pecking at the soggy pretzels floating on the water. I had no idea why I was there but I just decided to let Jenny talk, mostly because I hadn't heard her voice in so long.
'I know you know. I'm not really sure how. But I'm not mad about it. I'm sure you're upset, I'm sorry you had to find out however you did.'
I had no idea what she was talking about. I just watched her lips move and her hair spin circles around her neck as the wind blew. I didn't want to interrupt her because her voice calmed me so much. I could feel my knees weakening and pleading my legs to let them fall. She looked like she was done for a moment so I prepared myself to ruin things and tell her I was lost.
'Actually, I don't know what you're saying at all.'
'You don't?' She said, confused but seeming not to believe me.
'No. I just came here to find out, I guess.'
I could see in her face that she was thinking hard. It seemed like she was deciding whether or not to tell me whatever it was I was supposed to already know. Then she took a deep breath and walked to the runner's bench and sat down. I followed slowly and watched her hand fall down next to her signaling for me to sit. And I did.
'Connor, I know you've taken this hard, and I'm sorry. But you know I would do anything for you, right?'
I knew she loved me once, but I also knew she left me. And 'anything' sure covers a lot. But I said yes anyway, mostly because I wanted to find out this big secret of hers.
'And you would do anything for me too, right?' She stared me right in the eyes as she spoke and it sent the hairs on my arms straight to the sky and the words straight out of my lips.
'Well, I thought you already knew this, so it's kind of tough to say it to you, with our history and all, but ...' She was looking out towards the lake now and her face was like a stone. I watched her eyes as the words escaped her lips and it seemed there was no joy, no spark, no light.
I wasn't sure what to feel. It was like in some strange way I already knew, but it still hurt to hear it straight from her lips. I was never good at those sorts of things. Giving advice or consoling friends. But I was a good listener, so I figured I would just let her talk.
'He doesn't know yet. But if he finds out he'll kill me.'
The word kill scared me because of what James told me about Sam and his anger. I wasn't sure if I should ask Jenny if he hits her, but she started to speak again before I could decide.
'He'll deny it's his and beat me more. I don't know why I stay ... so stupid ... .' Her voice trailed off and she grabbed at her face with both hands. Only then when her t-shirt rose a bit did I notice a deep bruise on the pale skin of her back. The anger rose in me and thoughts spun in my head like a carousel. My hands started to shake and my heart was beating fast. I wondered to myself why she came to me. Maybe she just wanted to talk to me about it and make sure I would keep my mouth shut since she thought I knew? I wanted to see why I was brought into this, because if there was no other reason I would find my own.
'Jenny, I have to ask you, why do you want me to know all this?' She placed her hands back in her lap and this time she looked directly at me when she spoke.
'Because I need your help.'
And that's pretty much it. I guess there are moments that change your life, because that was a moment that changed mine. I guess there were a few other moments that changed it too, but if I hadn't agreed to kill Sam Watson that afternoon then I wouldn't be here today. Today my home is a twelve by twelve cell in the Michigan State Penitentiary. Tomorrow at midnight I get out. I'm not sure exactly where I'm going yet though. I've been placed on death row by a jury of my peers, although all of my peers happened to be at least twenty years older than me. I've been in here for a while, I guess I lost track of time. I started doing that a long time ago. I like my lawyer even though he didn't do a very good job of keeping me alive very long. He suggested I write about my life because people like to read things like that. They like other's people's problems because it gets them away from their own for a while. I wish it was that simple all the time. Even when I read I still have to close the book and remember where I am. I have to see the white walls and feel the cold steel between my fingers when I grasp the bars at night. And I have to remember that day that it all happened even though it put me here. Because it was the last day I saw sunlight. The last day I saw Jenny alive.
After I agreed to help her kill her boyfriend I wondered what was wrong with me. And what was wrong with her to ask me to do such a thing? But those thoughts passed as quickly as they came because now I was getting to spend so much time with Jenny again. It was just like it used to be. Jenny had planned on doing something to the engine in Sam's car, or messing around with the wires so that when it started, it would explode. That way there would be no evidence against her. She just didn't know what to do to the engine to make it explode. That's where I came in. My mom's friend Bill owned an auto mechanic shop and I used to work there in the summers. I learned a lot about cars; even how to blow them up. I guess I never thought I would need to use that skill, but it came in handy on April 18, 2003, the day I killed Sam Watson.
It was just like any other day I guess. It was starting to get warmer and harder to see my breath even in the dark. I only remember things like that. People like my lawyer and Sam's parent's get angry with me for that because they think I'm lying. But sometimes your mind keeps all the good stuff and doesn't leave room for the bad stuff any more. I guess that's why I don't remember much from that day. I do remember walking down the street and some neighbor's dog that I never noticed before starting barking at me. I was always walking everywhere. My mom said maybe next year she would help me buy me a car. I never minded walking though. I remember throwing a stick to the dog and watching how high he jumped to get it. I wondered why he cared so much about something like that. The cell phone that lay dormant in my room for months had recently found its way into my pocket once again and it vibrated there for a moment until I grabbed it and saw the green lights flashing Jenny. My heart leaped higher than the dog leaped for the stick he was now carefully burying in the corner.
'Is it over?' She asked, her voice a bit shaky.
'Yes.' I didn't know what else to say. I had just committed a murder, basically for hire. I felt a bit awkward.
'Ok. Just go home and act normal. I'll do the same thing. I'll see you at school. Uhm ... Connor ... thanks; for being there for me.' She hung up the phone before I could say anything back.
That was the last time I heard her voice. She killed herself when the six o clock news came on and it showed Sam's car exploding into a fiery mass of metal and glass. It also showed my face in the upper right hand corner as the suspect. I guess the school and the police put it all together. Maybe I wasn't as good an auto mechanic as I thought. However they figured it out, they did. The police were at my house before I was. I saw James standing near my house as they drove me away. I hope he didn't feel like any of this was his fault. I know Jenny felt like it was all her fault. Her dad had a handgun under his mattress and Jenny took it in her mouth in what I could only imagine was her last desperate attempt to control her own fate. Or maybe it was those thoughts in her head that you can never control just taking over. I guess no one ever really knows. I don't know what heaven is, and I don't know where people go who steal the lives of others, or who take their own. But I can only sleep tonight dreaming of a place where everyone I love can be together all at once, where there are no crooked fingers being pointed or tiny whispers being echoed. There is only love. I can only dream that tomorrow when I'm laying on that table and my thoughts spread out like an ocean, that maybe somewhere that ocean will meet up with Jenny again, and we can spend eternity floating together through an endless sea.