When you're dying, as your life flashes before your eyes, it is a weird sensation to realize that you were, for the most part, a gigantic asshole who got away with a lot because of your innocent child good looks.
I am dying. This is a flashback story and with any luck I'll finish it, but I can't actually guarantee that. I'm falling, literally, and so I'll start with something relevant and then skip around a bit. I'm embarrassed by my actions, so I'm going to change my name and my face and hello, maybe even my gender. To protect myself and my loved ones from retribution by other families. We'll see.
My friend Connor Smith was an Irish red headed little girl. Our fathers worked in the same factory in, 1986. We were seven years old and, to spoil what may have been some sort of dramatic tension, we are still friends today, even if we haven't talked in years. I could still call her up, we'd still help each other bury a body.
It was late June and we were playing in the woods between the freeway and our apartment complex. We'd take turns pushing each other over the winding creek with a thick stick. It had started as an accident, I think. I was jumping over a thin part and Connor jabbed me in the back with the tree stump; startling. Shocked, I flubbed my landing and skidded into some vines. Angry I stood up and shouted at her, "What was that?"
"I didn't think you'd make it," she said.
I looked at her and then the creek. I was a ways further than I could usually jump. "Woa," I said."Do that again!"
"What? You were just crying!" She shouted at me.
"Yeah, but look how far I jumped! I'm like Captain Power!" I whooped. I ran down to the thin part of the creek and jumped across.
We kept going further and further up the river, taking turns shoving each other, then pulling one another across. Each shove increased our boisterousness and laughter and we decided to play willfully ignorant of how far away from our homes we'd gotten. We just laughed and jumped and shoved and laughed louder and
"You runts. what're you doing here? This is my river." The teenager stood and loomed over Connor. I was tall for my age, but definitely skinnier than this teenager. He had hair to match Connor's, and acne to match his hair. His jean jacket was covered in patches with unreadable band names and satanic symbols.
I said, "Woa," and reached out to touch one of them --it was the cover of an album that Connor's dad listened to, and would sometimes, on Saturday nights when Mrs. Smith was working, let us listen to. "Rad," I said.
He shoved me and I flew back, landed with a sharp thud against a tree, sprawled. Connor took off running into the woods, me and the teenager watched her go. I said, "Ow," and my eyes watered. The light from the sun was bright green and there were cicadas and crickets all around us, and the rush of the stream, somewhere that may as well have been the moon.
"Pussy," the teenager said, and came and towered over me. "What? You gonna cry? Your girlfriend left you." He spat, next to me. "I could kill you and no one could prove a thing. You gonna beg?" He leered over me.
Tears streamed, but I set my jaw and, staring at the ground shook my head no. He slapped me, hard across my face. "Come on!" He yelled, "Beg!"
Thunder boomed, dirt flew, the teenager went cross eyed and collapsed. Connor was stood there, our stump slung across her shoulders.
"You runt!" The teenager roared and lunged at her, grabbed her waist and they tumbled; Connor's head smashed through saplings that whipped back and caught them both. "You RUNT," the teenager screamed and raised his fist.
I smashed it with our stump, which broke. The momentum spun the teenager toward me and I smashed what was left of the stump into his face. He started screaming about his eyes and his nose, but Connor and I were already sprinting back down the river, urging and egging each other on, bruises and welts forming as we fled.
The teenager's screams followed us all the way back to familiar forest, the desiccated, fallen tree fort. The toppled, ancient poplar. We knew the river would lead us home and it did.
We burst from the trees and into the parking lot and skidded, almost wiped out across asphalt, caught ourselves and bolted into the playground, plonked in the middle of the three buildings. We dashed up slides and duck dove, knees stinging from the impact, behind the bright red, plastic walls.
We peaked over.
We were alone.
Our hearts slowed, quieted. Somewhere a lifeguard's whistle blew and the disappointed sounds of children climbing out for adult's only swim wafted over us. "Let's go to your place," Connor suggested, "Your mom'll be home."