The story you are about to read is a dramatization, if you will. The events are essentially real but the way this plays out is to the best of a fading memory (ya, I’m getting old, I just had a birthday and everything).
You could say that this is a bit of creative non-fiction, but the only thing that is real in this is the incident that inspired the piece. This is a touch of history of the world I grew up in.
And as a side note, this was also a monthly bonus story for Patreon subscribers. As always they get some stories before the rest of you. Add to that some of the stories they get may never find their way to this site (ooo incentive). Become a subscriber and get all the benefits. But I digress…
“Where were you yesterday?” First thing George said to me when I joined him at the bus stop. He didn’t bother with hello or how you doing, jumped straight in with the third degree. “You missed it all.” The excitement behind the words, he vibrated with news.
“I was sick,” I said. “My mom took me to the doctor and everything.” I pulled my coat tighter to my body to block the chill morning wind.
George pounced. “You missed everything,” he said. “A kid blew up, man!” He edged closer to me, a ticking bomb that I couldn’t get away from.
“No one blew up,” I said. “People don’t just blow up.”
The smile on his face like the kid who dropped an M-80 in the toilette, you might have thought he lit the match himself. “It’s true. Billy Anders told me all about it. His sister was friends with the kid.”
Other kids slowly joined us at the stop but they kept to themselves. Some of them whispered to each other, huddled close together to keep their voices low. The sun hadn’t come up yet in the early fall morning. Sure it was morning and we were about to go to school but that never stopped the usual antics of morning. Kids swapping notes and homework answers, trading in the currency of gum and marbles at times when they could. It wasn’t there.
“So who was it?” I asked. I inched away from George but he moved with me.
“Guy named Toby or was it Tim,” Becky Jones said. She pushed into our conversation bubble. “I heard he dumped gas all over himself and then poof.” She nodded as she said it and looked me direct in the eyes.
The deadpan look, her eyes about to water, I didn’t know if she would cry or scream at me.
“Why, why would anyone do that?” Shallow and pathetic, but all the words I had. It wasn’t real, couldn’t be real but they were so set on it.
We didn’t have the Internet then, didn’t have instant access to information through our phones. Heck at that time kids didn’t bother with the news and parents weren’t talking. If my parents had seen a story about it they didn’t tell me. Stuff like this didn’t happen, no way.
The bus arrived and we filed on, no pushing no shoving. A straight line with no words as we all found our seats. There weren’t many stops before we made it to the school but every stop was the same. Whispered words from the kids who paired off in their seats, they kept to their own spaces. George had pushed his way onto the seat next to me. He chattered at me in hushed tones while I ignored him and looked out the window.
Mr. Mills, the principal stood guard at the drop off point at the side of the school. The side of the school, not the front, we never took the side entrance into the school in the morning. He yelled at kids and shouted orders at a few teachers that wrangled any kid that crossed to close to the front of the school. They herded us straight into the gym for an early morning assembly.
The tumult of voices in the gym echoed similar questions. “Did you see it? What happened? Who was it?” So many questions but no answers came after. We guessed and built stories in the moment of who it could have been and why. The answers that did travel through the airwaves ranged from a dozen kids in a death cult to a few kids killing someone at the front of the school. No one knew, but that didn’t stop the voices, the guesses.
Vice Principal Smith stepped up to the microphone, his hand in the air with the flat facing us. The collective sssshhh flashed through the crowd in its rush to silence. “Good morning.” His voice boomed into the microphone, an echo that blasted into the back of the gym. After he stepped back he spoke again. “Good Morning,” he said. The change in intensity changed the tension in the room. “I know you are all anxious to get to class so this won’t take long.” He picked up a yellow legal pad from the podium.
“What happened yesterday was tragic. I understand that you will have questions and concerns.” He cleared his throat. “The worst thing you can do right now is spread rumors and make jokes about the incident. The details of what happened are a private matter for the family. Please respect their privacy and their loss.” He waved his hand and the lights cut out to the sound of a filmstrip whipping through the reels. A countdown flashed across the wall as the film started. Title of the film Suicide is Murder.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, you really need to talk to someone. (wow, talk about getting heavy here). Though I do make light of it a little here, the main objective was to contrast the difference of the attitudes from when I was younger to how the world views it now.
The event that this story is based on came from a kid I knew growing up. His girlfriend had broken up with him so he poured gasoline over his own body and torched himself in front of the school. We also had a kid shoot himself in front of the school at a different time. Tragic incidents all the same, but life goes on. Even when it feels like you have no where else to turn, it isn’t the end of the world unless you take it that final step. There is no return from this.
Wow, does anyone else feel like it just got all cold and heavy around here. We may need some blood and gore soon to lighten the mood.