Conversations With Dead People

August 4, 2009 at 10:26 PM | Posted in Journal | 2 Comments
  I’m not here to speak ill of the dead, but to tell a story.  I don’t want it to reflect badly on him–look, we were just kids.  How’s that song?  We were only freshman–Except we were sophomores.
  According to the spreadsheet on our class, there are two people who passed away.  I knew about one, and I emailed the girl in charge to confirm the other one.  She told me that Kevin had died in a car accident on the New Years’ Day following our fifteen year reunion, so that would have been January 1st, 1999.
  I remember Kevin.  We weren’t in the same clique or anything–I think he was what we kind of thought of as the townies.  Not people who lived in town, but people who "went to town"–in other words, the next big town–for work.  But we had driver’s ed together.
  Ahh–driver’s ed.  What a blast.  Typically it lasts for a semester, wherein the class was one quarter and your student driving was another.  I won’t mention any names but some people got to driver for a whole semester.  I’m not sure if it was a perk or a punishment, but I do know that it was through a misunderstanding. 
  We had our regular instructor, Ms Fischer, who was also a coach for various female sports as well as PE teacher for the girls, and she gave credence to the stereotype of female gym instructors.  But she had a teaching assistant, or student teacher, or something like that, and I don’t remember his name.  He taught the driver’s ed and health classes, and did the ride-along for student driving.  We started out driving around our little town, then we would typically hit the highway to go to Nashville, ten miles away.  We would drive around that slightly larger little town, and then drive back on the two-lane, the blacktop.
  So one fine day, I’m in the driver’s seat of this mid-sized Chevy economy car.  Paula, a girl that I knew absolutely nothing about yet had a hard crush on was in the back seat.  Mr Unnamed Driving Coach riding shotgun.  We headed out of town for Nashville.  In my mind, it was like Paula and I were on a date…with a chaperone.  I wondered if I would get to second base.
  We were in Nashville, and I was still driving, showing off my style, my flair, my finesse, my finely honed skills I that I had achieved after almost three total hours behind the wheel.  I was driving towards a–well, I wouldn’t call it an intersection.  The road I was on was the main road, and it went straight, then curved hard to the left.  It was nominally designated the main road because it was paved.  To the right, another road, making it appear to be a T but it was gravel.  Straight ahead, another gravel road.  Now, as these roads approach the intersection, none of them had a stop sign.  Stop signs were for cities.  We weren’t in the city.
  So as I’m driving, I do the natural, obvious thing.  As I approach the intersection I give a precursory glance around but don’t even slow down as I roll through and then take the left turn that the main road indicates.  Mr Big City driving instructor is yelling, "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" like I’m a horse, and he is pulling on the reins.  More specifically, he is slamming on the instructor brake to stop us.
  We’re already through the "intersection," so it’s a little late now.  But I pull over and he chews me out for what I did.  I was irresponsible, I wasn’t qualified to make the judgments necessary for driving, et cetera.  He saw a four-way intersection that requires a slow down, pause, look, and yield before continuing.  I saw my right-of-way all the way through.  Since I was a young, scared kid, I didn’t tell him that he was obviously wrong, but I know now that he was.
  But it was pretty upsetting to have that happen with my crush in the back seat.  Sullenly, I gave up the driving position to her.  I never did get to second base with her.  Or first.  Or even touch her.  One thing I think she did for me, though, now that I think about it:  she never did tell anyone what happened.  Maybe it’s not a big deal, but I’m sure I would have taken some heat for it.  That would have been good for a day’s worth of gossip.  Thanks, Paula.
  But this is about Kevin.  There is one experience I remember riding in the back while Kevin was doing his driving.  It was just a little thing, but I remember.  Not once, but two or three times, the instructor would tell him to "Turn on Memorial," or turn on a certain street that was two streets down, but Kevin was in his zone, and he would turn immediately on whatever was the next street.  He wasn’t hearing all the directions.

  I’m sure it was a bright spring day, and I believe I had my license at this point.  We were done with student driving, so we were in study hall.  Certainly it was supposed to be supervised, but this was the early 80s, a time of innocence.  We were in the Accounting classroom, and the instructor was no where to be found.  Mr Sunquist was a thin and balding nerdy guy with about eight kids–so he was getting laid and we weren’t.
  Like all teenage boys, Kevin was obsessed with being cool.  Especially in this study hall, he really wanted to be cool.  I didn’t pay much attention, but maybe there was a girl in there that he liked, and that’s why he did what he did.  He was bragging about the job he had.  Whoo-hoo.  Well, it was tough economic times.  He had a job after school.  Good for him.  He had a wad of money and he was flashing it around, letting everyone know he was cool and that he had money, and that he was cool because he had money.  I was watching too, envious of the money. 
  Kevin turned to me.  "Bryan!  You need some money?  I can give you some cash, man.  What do you need?  You want twenty bucks?  Here you go.  Here’s twenty bucks."
  Dumbfounded, I looked at it, then stuck it in my pocket.  Twenty bucks then was like fifty now.  And probably like a hundred and fifty by the time you read this.  As I straightened my legs in my seat to fit the bill into my tight jeans–because everyone wore tight jeans–I said, "Hey, man, thanks alot.  I appreciate it."  He nodded acceptance.  It was a pretty grown-up moment for us, and I thought we had achieved real understanding.
  As I remember it, Kevin continued to wander around the room, not being a bully but just in general being disruptive.  We were concerned that the teacher would reappear, and he would get busted.  Actually, we hoped for it.  But Kevin didn’t seem to care.
  He went desk to desk, bothering people.  He made sure he was the center of attention; we couldn’t ignore him.  Don’t you just hate people like that?  Suddenly, Kevin appeared before me, startling me out of the daydream I was having about how I was going to spend the twenty dollars. 
  "Give me my twenty bucks back."
  "What?  No.  You gave it to me, it’s mine now."
  "Come on.  Give it back.  Game’s over."  He nodded to the clock, meaning, study hall was almost over, the bell is going to ring, and this is done.  The twenty was a loaner for him to improve face.
  "You gave it to me."
  "I’ll tell the principal that you stole it."
  "You gave it to me.  Everyone saw."
  "Come on, give it back."
  I did not then and do not now understand the psychology of his intent.  We went from him giving me money, to him asking for it back, to me angrily throwing it on the floor. 
  To he and I standing and facing each other between the rows of desks in an awkward standoff.  Like all things when you are a teenager, what seemed like a good idea at the beginning spins wildly out of your control right before your eyes.  I’m sure he didn’t intend for this to escalate, but now he was caught up in it too.
  I was a pacifist.  Not through political ideology, but because I was a little pussy afraid of getting hurt.  Kevin wasn’t a tough guy, but he saw me as a pushover and he was awkwardly, strangely, stupidly trying to be a bully, or something.  He was not trained in this either.  Trying to show off for some girl he had a crush on?  I couldn’t remember who was in the classroom.  But he had pissed me off, trying to make me some kind of patsy.
  He was daring me to hit him.  "Come on, hit me."  He said my last name like it was a slur.  "Come on.  I dare ya."  You reach a point where you have had enough.  In the course of a lifetime, you reach this point several times.  This was one of them.
  Things were moving in slow motion.  It was green outside our windows, and a car went by on the road twenty yards away.  I was aware of everything.  The scribbled notes on the chalkboard.  The low rows of book shelves in the back.  the dormant heaters right next to us, near the windows.  The other kids in the room watching but not interfering.  And Kevin’s face, right in front of me, mocking me.
  From something I remembered seeing in a movie, I planned my move.  I made a fist with my right hand and relaxed it a few times, slowly.  I noticed that he saw it.  Good.  Because I’m left-handed.
  I swung wide and fast, taking him by surprise, hitting him right on the jaw with my left fist.  Immediately he spun around, facing away from me, and grabbed his jaw.  I stood there for a moment, wondering if anything else was going to happen. 
  I could see him holding his jaw, rubbing it, and his eyes were red.  He was trying to hold back tears and he didn’t want anyone to see him.  He stood silently, ignoring the rest of us, not looking, not making any eye contact.
  The bell rung, shattering the silence that had seemed so loud only a moment before.  Everyone gathered their stuff and started to leave.  I shrugged, grabbed my books, and left.
  Kevin stood there and waited until everyone was gone before he moved.



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  1. So, you hit the dead kid?Did you get to keep the $20?Did the cute girl?Don\’t you hate the passenger foot feets in the driver\’s ed car?

  2. Wow.

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