This is an excerpt from a bigger story. Enjoy!
My parents backyard pressed up against the access road, mere feet away from the Snyder welcome sign, and a literal stones throw from Pentook, the next town over. Pentook was famous (in the city of Snyder, anyway) as the worlds biggest population of douche bags and whores. This approximation was based on high school rivalries that were never let go after graduation. The populations of both cities tended to stay exactly where they were, leading to fourth, fifth, and six generation Snyderites and Pentookians. I can only imagine that the residents of Pentook felt the same towards us, but the figures stacked in our favor. Pentook had one of the highest drunk driving rates in the state at that time, with fourteen deaths a year, which is impressive for a town with a population that wouldn’t fill half of the Twin Cities Baseball Stadium (which possesses a modest 34,237 seats.) Every couple of weeks, I get to watch the funeral procession go passed the welcome sign and down the road towards Great Hill cemetery, the orange flags waving on raised, big wheeled trucks, low rider sedans, or the occasional motorcycle gang.
In June, I spent a lot of time smoking behind my parents house, hiding behind the shed that sat in an overly planned and organize mess of Midwestern wildflowers. My mom was a school teacher, and as soon as May hit, she began looking for projects, and the garden was this year’s. She bought black tubs filled with pre-grown blues and purples, yellows and greens, and spent three days arranging them on top of the soil, trying to get that perfectly executed mess. First they were too random, then not nearly enough, then she had to walk away, her short hair teased and frayed from her worried hands running through it. I thought it looked the same every time she rearranged it, but I kept my mouth shut, only offering a “looks good, ma” when she looked at me, her eyes silently asking me to say it.
My parents weren’t the loose, carefree type that turned a blind eye to childhood shenanigans. My father was raised Catholic in New York, moving to the North Star State with my mom soon after they got married. His parents were immigrants, living in Spanish Harlem, and raised him to be disciplined and to make it out of the neighborhood. He worked for the electric company as a plant manager, sitting behind a desk that he had earned after climbing poles and fixing transformers to put himself through college. A Cuban, and looking like it, he stuck out against the snow white town, but unlike Dave and the “Spic Racer,” my dad had fought hard to assimilate. It was fitting in that allowed him to move up, he believed. No one likes an immigrant, or anything they can mistake for one.
My mom was the product of a broken home and teen years of being a hippy. She left home at sixteen to finish high school from friends couches and her car. She worked her way into and through college as a waitress, a dry cleaner, a maid, and a drug dealer. My mom kept secrets, and lots of them, usually about her past. She was a teacher now. She had a degree now. She had a family and a life now. Why talk about then? This secret life, paired with the work ethic and demand on the other side, lead to my parents watching my every move. Parties were coded “band practice with Dave,” which was a long formulated idea, but would never get off the ground. I could never come home smelling like beer or weed, otherwise I would have to come up with elaborate stories about girls caught in bad situations, and having to go rescue them and drive them home. It wasn’t that my parents were overly protective. They just didn’t like the idea that their son would get into trouble or end up like all of the other drop outs or wastes of space that many of the kids of Snyder would turn into.
I smoked outside for the obvious reasons. I wasn’t sure if I was addicted (like my health teachers told me I would be after my first puff,) if it had just become a habit (it takes twenty one days to form. I had smoked for about that long,) or if it was just an excuse to be outside. It didn’t really matter to me as I watched the cars pass by, headlights turned towards the casino, the dual white lights going valiantly towards battle with the house that always wins, so sure of their luck, that they would be the one who would turn the tables and come out ahead. Or the red lights, moving under the speed limit, sheepishly, their lamps dulled by defeat, the energy required to shine taxing their spirit just a bit too much. The smoke would get caught in the summer wind, mix with the sweet tastes of the flowers, and the warm scent of night before blowing steadily east. It was what fireflies tried to look like, that smell. It was what a seventeen year old dreams about for months, counting the days until it is nice enough outside that they can sit, wrapped only in darkness, and breathe, be it clean air or acrid smoke. The hum of the cicadas was interrupted by the Doppler rush of cars, but other than that, it was quiet. Until the metallic screams of a dirt bike’s over revved engine pierced the night. The bike climbed the hill heading west, weaving though both lanes, wobbling heavily before straightening out again. The bike’s motor grew louder as it approached me, and as it was set to pass by my house, one of the tires slid hard to the drivers left. As he over corrected, leaning his whole body to the right, but not letting go of the gas, he headed straight towards the sign.
I don’t know if he was drunk. But as I sat there, entranced by the scene, he seemed like he was in total control. Time slowed. His face was clear, in perfect focus as though I were within arms reach. He smiled, winked even, and turned his attention back towards his direction. He threw his head back in a laugh, cursed the world, and raised his arms as if to be pulled by the heart upwards. The bike continued to work its way towards the sign, rearing like a horse in battle, stampeding towards its enemy, sentient and without direction.
Everything happened so fast. It was a blur of white and green as the plastic covered bike and him went face first into the wooden sign. The post splintered, but held enough that the driver went over the handlebars, flailing and screaming, before crashing into the ground twenty feet away with an explosion of snapping. It was like someone dropped a wine barrel from a four story roof. Neighbors’ porch lights popped on, the bugs all hushed in fear, and my mother came out the back door, asking “What was that?”
“Call an ambulance!” I yelled back, the dirt bike resting on the spotlight that light up the sign, still running.
“Oh my god. Is anyone hurt?” she called back, but I didn’t hear. I was running towards the man. I don’t know why, there was nothing I would be able to do for him. I had no idea how to do the Heimlich, nevertheless secure a broken bone. I guess I just wanted him to not be alone or scared. I wanted to help him, even if it was just to listen to him as he cried. I could call someone for him. I kept running towards him down the road. I could hold his hand and tell him the ambulance was on it’s way. I could tell him it was all going to be ok. I ran across the street. I could turn off his bike for him. I could put it in our garage until he could come back and get it. I could wait with him. I reached him.
There was so much blood on the street, but I couldn’t see it until I was close because it was so dark. I always thought the color was closer to a stop sign, but in the pool that was growing around the man, it was almost black. He laid on the ground, looking like he was trying to push himself up, one arm farther forward that the other, one leg bent and raised so it rested on the knee. His skin was tan. He only wore a white t-shirt that now had lighter red veins working their way up towards the back, the cotton absorbing the mess around him. His blue jeans were turning purple. Then I saw it. His forehead had slammed into the pavement, and smeared under his face were tan streaks and grey globs. Like raw ground turkey. I skidded to a stop from my full run, stumbled into the bushes, and vomited, cried, puked again, and cried a lot more. My dad was the next one to the scene. He came over to me, put one hand around my shoulders, the other on my eyes, and led me back home, the ambulance would be able to take care of it without me being there.
The police came to the house to ask what had happened. I told them what little there was so say. That he had been going so fast, that the tire slipped, that he leaned hard, that the bike hit the sign, that he went flying, that blood is so dark, that brains should never be out of the head, that I puked, that I cried, that I was still crying, that I was so sorry that I couldn’t have helped him, that I needed a cigarette, that it was summer vacation and nothing bad is supposed to happen, that the bike slipped on the street, that he was going so fast, that brains…, that his forehead hit the pavement, that I wanted to help…
I stayed inside for three days after that. The cops called the house and talked to my mom, telling her that he was from Pentook, that his blood tests showed that he was high on methamphetamines and had a .14 BAC, that the town was lucky that he didn’t hurt anyone, and that I should know that I did the exact right thing by having someone call 9-1-1 before checking on him. She should be proud to have such a level headed son. The community is happy to have me in it. She told me this. She told me that it was ok. That there was nothing I could do, and that I shouldn’t dwell. But as I laid on my bed, the stucco ceiling made pictures of the blood, the bits of bone, the whole scene. I had shaved my brown hair, no longer a curly mess, but buzzed almost to the scalp. My jaw looked harder, more pronounced, stronger that way. I had worry lines developing in my forehead. My eyes had always been some shade of hazel, greener some days, but now they were all brown. They never changed back.
I tried to get back into the swing of summer after that. They fixed the sign using a metal bracket on either side of where the post had cracked. Darla would call, we would walk. I would smoke. She would harass me about it. I would tell her “at least it wasn’t meth.” She would cry. I would apologize and we would walk some more. Night would come and we would head to the beach to drink with Dave. Until August, at least.