Friday, October 29, 2010

Free-Writing VI

10/29/10, 11:31 am-

In 1993 I broke my parents’ hearts. I got suspended from school for stealing, and to make things worse I did it right before Christmas. The way it happened was I was with a group of friends who weren’t trouble-makers and weren’t nerds either, but somewhere in-between, thinking ourselves the occasional rebels while still being liked by our teachers, still maintaining decent grades, some better than others but all passing, doing well. The way those groups go is if someone decides to start trouble everyone joins in, and then a group which was fine before suddenly starts some shit. One of our group, I don’t remember which at this point, noticed our social studies teacher’s keys were left unattended, and this teacher also happened to be the lacrosse coach. I don’t know how he knew this but somehow he realized that one of these keys was the master key to the boys locker room. This meant that every, single locker in that place could be opened by this single key. I’m guessing it was someone elses idea, because in these situations each player always seems to add one ingredient, that those lockers during gym class held dozens of wallets filled with cash. It’s amazing to think back now and not realize that these were people, kids like us, whose money was in those wallets, but one of the painfully unaware realities of childhood is you don’t fully understand the consequences of actions yet. I remember, and with some of those same people, standing at the side of highway underpasses where the trees are dead and no one goes, and throwing small sticks at speeding cars. Then it would graduate to larger sticks, until the point where we were throwing entire branches and once even a baseball at cars to watch them smash and make sounds. The fact is we could have killed someone, sent something through their windshield or made them panic and swerve and crash, but at the time all we could think of was how funny it was. The sounds it made. Who could make a bigger sound, get a louder laugh. This is how kids are, and like I said, we weren’t even bad, just bored. So back to that stinking locker room, we took that key and did exactly what we’d set out to, we used it on those lockers and it worked perfectly, opened them right up, and most of them had wallets in them, and some of those cash, and we snuck in and snuck out with our treasure and divided it up and thought we were just the coolest kids out there, just quality product, and we wished we could brag about how cool we were but it had to be a secret. So of course we did what everyone does when they don’t get caught- we did it again. And again. The problem came when one of our group, a kid named Juan who no one really liked just tolerated, which is another insane symptom of childhood, hanging around people you don’t even like and you don’t know why, but the problem was he got greedy and when the end of the gym period was coming close we told him to stop but he said, “One more” and then when the ten minute bell rang, which was to let the gym kids know they could hit the lockers and get changed before the true end of the period, he still said “One more, just one more” and when he was happy and we were yelling we all piled out of the locker room and went right past the kids who were heading in, saying hey to them, one of them even starting a conversation, and we anxiously said bye and headed off and split the money as always. But this time we’d been made, because obviously kids started noticing their money was missing, and I’ll never know who it was or how it happened but someone obviously remembered seeing us leave the scene, and it doesn’t take a genius, and they told who they had to tell. Still to this day when I think of impending doom and rapid heartbeats, one of the worst times, best examples, standout memories is of the day we were all called down to the office, but not as a group just one at a time, a few minutes between. We were all in the same science class because that year they were trying something new at school, which was that all eight periods were filled with the exact, same kids, we shared identical schedules, so that in every class would be the same group of thirty-odd kids, which is a good idea for familiarity sake but I guess the down side is it can cause miniature clutches of boys who scheme all day long and end up stealing. I still remember that, the first of us being called to the office, and we watched him go suspecting what it could be but not convinced. And then the second name came and kids started to whisper, and then the third, and at this point I wanted to scream, to run, but where would I go, what would I do, and finally they called my name and my face went hot and I grabbed my bookbag and my entire body went numb, but somehow my legs took me down to the office, stopping first to hide most of the money I had on me in my sock, down to the office where I found the group was all split into separate rooms for interrogations, the prncipal and vice-principals keeping us apart like the half-assed detectives they were, coming on tough, looking at us with odd expressions because we weren’t the usual suspects, all of us or nearly all of us invisible because we were those middle kids. Not popular, not picked on, not jocks, not criminals, but apparently we were. Those idiot detectives, they played us against each other, and I tried to say little but I knew they knew some of it, and they’d say things like “The others are blaming it all on you, they say you planned it” but that was ridiculous and definitely not true, and I doubted they were saying those things but even if they were it just wasn’t true, and I maintained that and eventually they said “Open your wallet” and I showed them how little I had and they said something like “That’s all you got? They held out on you” and on the inside, even in the middle of my life crumbling I had to smile a little bit because on that level I’d outsmarted them, made myself look like the lackey and even managed to keep some of it. But the victory didn’t last long because then they were calling all of our parents to come get us, suspending us from school for four days, and this was the day, literally the day before Christmas break started, which meant it was just added on to the end of break, which in a way made it seem less real, made it less effective because it just felt like a longer break. When my mother showed up she’d clearly been crying and that was the worst feeling I could think of, and can probably still think of. She walked me to my locker so I could collect my coat and when we got there she said, “So are we going to fight this thing?” and I had to look at my mother and say, “I don’t know what to tell you, mom, there’s…nothing to fight” and in that moment I saw her heart break. I can’t even remember the ride home, I think it was silent, and when I got home I was sent directly to my room and didn’t come out until I heard my father come home from work. I heard him come inside, heard my mother say something to him which made him say “What?” and then the footsteps down the hall, my door opening, his face there, and just his hand coming up and his finger telling me to follow him. We sat at the kitchen table and he held in his hand the letter from the school, the notice of suspension, and for the reason all it said was “stealing from lockers”, and I can just remember him reading it over and over, trying to take some meaning out of it, trying to extract everything possible from those few words, but he couldn’t, and he talked low and quiet to me. Never lost his temper, and that made it worse. As he spoke he had indigestion because it was bothering him, upsetting his stomach, and to my father’s credit the best thing about this was his speech involved Star Wars. He explained, “You know Star Wars? There’s the good and the dark side? Things like this,” and he held up the letter and the three words I could see through the back of it, “this is the dark side, this is going over to that. And that’s not who you are.” It’s funny to think of now but it’s probably the best way to explain evil to a kid. And so I disappointed my parents that year, my first year of high school and already this, and I had to earn their trust back, their words, and I did my time at the end of Christmas break, and Christmas was a little quieter that year, and then I went back to school and got raked over the coals by my classmates, including one older kid who was friends with us and apparently we had stolen from him though I had no idea, and definitely wouldn’t have if I’d have known because he was that rare kid from an older grade who threw that aside and still hung around with us, or us with him, and we looked up to him. And finally things got back to normal, but for a long time I was so embarrassed by that story I never told it, in fact barely ever have, and because of that very few people know it, and it’s silly to feel that way now because enough time has passed that it was something stupid I did when I was a kid, and all that, but still some part of me knows yes, that was me, I did that thing to those people, but these are the things, and we live with them, and they make us, and sometimes that’s just our history, and history can’t be chosen, only told and written.

12:07 pm, 36 mins, approx 1,782 words

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