January 3, 2008

This is so messed up! How did it go so wrong? We were just going to mess around with her. Now I am so terrified I’ve wet myself. What the hell were we thinking! Okay, I’m panicking, I realize that. Okay, just try to stay calm. I have to go home and make it look natural. I can’t go home like this. I’m a mess and I’ve been crying. I have got to get it together. I can’t stop thinking about it. This can’t be real. Oh shit. What have we done? I keep going over it. Okay, one last time. What could I have done differently?

The guys and I just went out riding after school, like we always do. I went over to Steven’s house and we waited for Mario. Then we all went over to get George. We were bored of the usual parks and paths. I think Steven suggested we go to the quarry and ride the rim and see if we could get down into it. No one else had a better idea so we decided to go. It was a long ride. It took nearly an hour. Steven was going to be late for dinner. He knew that even before we left. But his family is so lax, lax about everything. His morals aren’t what I would call up to par. His Dad had been divorced before because he cheated on his wife. His second wife became my second mom. I was over there all the time. She and my mom always prepared extra food just in case we decided to come over to each other’s place. We always did. Steven was a great guy, a little slow but loyal as a hound dog. He was also big so no one would bother me. We just laughed all the time and did all kinds of things. The only problem was that he had a weak will. He would go along with anybody. This wasn’t such a good thing since he had become out informal leader. I’m not sure how or why that happened. I guess because he was more aggressive than any one of us. He would stand up for himself and the group when trouble came around. His dad wasn’t around too much so Steven got bought off with all kinds of thing. That’s why he had the best bike and the worse diet. He always lagged behind.

He was lagging behind now as we rode along Main Street. We were well out of the downtown area and riding through suburbs. Street names that I never heard of went by. We were definitely out of our territory. I didn’t recognize a single kid and they looked at us like foreigners. We were in a sense. When new kids came into our block we always followed them to see where they were going. To intimidate them and to tell them that this was our place and they were invading. Odd to think how much kids are like little adults with no consciences.

We were out into farmland now and the road was a two lane highway with cars whipping past at 80 km/h. We had to stick to the gravel shoulder and it was slow going. The cars threw up dust and dirt and it filled my lungs. It tasted like salt left over from the winter gravel trucks. The quarry wasn’t too far off now. Mario was in the lead. Reckless abandon was his motto, which is why he liked to be in front.

Mario was the second of twins. His sister, Debbie, was a few seconds older than he was and she never let him forget it. Debbie was a beauty, even at our age. She was the only one that I didn’t consider icky. She was tall and thin and pale, just like her brother. What made her beautiful made him look like a rake. He had this thin hair that was more misbehaved than he was. Their folks were very well off. His dad was a jeweler in Toronto. They too lacked for nothing and while Debbie capitalized on this, Mario seemed to be the opposite. He almost looked like a street kid. Always dirty and his clothes were ripped and old. I bet it drove his mom nuts. We never went to Mario’s place too often, mostly because he lived farther away than the rest of us. We all lived in the same neighborhood. All our streets were named after the farmer’s kids who owned the land. But mostly we never went to Mario’s because he didn’t want us to. I never saw his room the whole time I knew him. I practically lived in Steven’s room and George’s basement. Mario was a bit of a loner too. Whenever our plans didn’t jive with what Mario wanted he would just take off. He also had another group of friends to hang out with. The rest of us only had each other but Mario was on a hockey team. We didn’t like those guys. They were way too violent and Steven didn’t look so big next to them. So we stayed away when Mario was with them.
I still remember the day that Mario showed up with the biggest shiner. He was so proud of it. His eye was swollen shut and it was purple. I had never seen skin go purple before. He had got it defending his sister’s honor. One of his hockey buddies was getting fresh with her and Mario stepped in. He stepped in and was stepped on. Like I said, he wasn’t very big. I always had the biggest crush on Debbie and I always thought she looked my way. However, I always thought of that black eye and what Mario did for his sister. I didn’t want Mario to have to hit me.

We got to the quarry finally. It was late afternoon and it was hot. In hindsight it probably wasn’t such a great idea to ride across town in the heat of the day but we were never known for our smarts. We just did stuff. We kept going along the road because there was a gas station at the next intersection. We all got drink except for me. The guys always seemed to have money. I had a paper route and I knew I had more money than them but my Dad had imbibed on me that I was to save it all and spend none of it. So that’s what I did. I looked at drinks as a luxury. So I went out back and took a drink from the tap. No wonder I was healthier than them. It also probably was the difference. They guys were on a big sugar rush. 90 pound kids and a bottle of pop is a powerful combination. George especially was susceptible to it. He was tiny. I was always happy when George was in my class. It meant that I was not the smallest and we would share the ‘picked on’ category. But we all know that George was going to be a big boy. His shoes were huge and he was always growing out of them. His folks were big people as well so George had this confidence about him. It was like he allowed them to pick on him now but he knew he would grow up and would remember those who took advantage of his size. He never did though. He was too smart. George was an interesting piece of work. He was the level headed one, the conscious and our mascot. He was an accident. He parent never planned on having him. His folks were old when they had him. A few examples, George was an uncle 3 times over by the time he was 12. His next nearest sister was twice as old as him at the time of this story. His dad retired from the Plant before George got into high school. He knew he was an accident. He was always surrounded with older people. He played with his nieces and nephews. This all has an effect on a guy. George was grown up before his time. And that contradiction of a man stuck in a very small child’s body was hard for him and it came out in the most peculiar ways. This was most notable in the fact that he would never cry in front of us. Never, never, never. Not even when he managed to jam a piece of fence right through his hand. He just removed it himself. Walked home! Cleaned himself up and went back to school. But we always knew that he must cry at night. We just knew it and it broke our hearts. That’s why we never talked about it and why we let him hang out with us. George tried so hard to be a kid but he acted like an adult. It was hard on us too. We called him dad sometimes and that really burned him. I don’t know what ever happened to George. It was a case of us not really wanting to know just in case we found out he cried in public once. If that was the case it would be all over for him.

We rode back to the quarry, and rode around the rim looking for a way in. There was a fence that was on a road the trucks used to get into the pit. But it was locked and there was no way around it. Mario got off his bike often as we rode around again and tried to climb down. Steven egged him on, I said to come back that it was too steep. George just watched. The path around the rim was well worn. Dirt bikes came here often but we didn’t see any today but their tracks were unmistakable. We were getting a bit bored. It was not the adventure we were hoping for. We were about to give up and go home when we saw her. A girl in a pink dress riding along the path that led to the quarry across a field. She had a little white bike with tassels from the handle bars. We could see her little pig tails had ribbons on. And she was alone, prime target for a little teasing.
We were all of an age that girls were icky but we were finding commercials on TV more “interesting”, especially the ones with scantily clad women. Steven was way ahead of us in this department. He was the first to develop armpit hair and reveled in showing us any new ones. He had failed a grade early on so was a year ahead of us. He was the first one to start after her. We, of course, followed, George bringing up the rear as usual.
We got up to her quickly and I thought we were going to do a quick drive by to scare her and show off out manliness. But Steven, at the last second, slowed down and stuck his arm out. He grabbed at her pig tail as he rode by. I thought he was nuts. She might fall and hurt herself. I was always paranoid of getting into trouble and therefore paranoid of somebody who might tell on us. I froze to see what would happen. Steven got some hair and tugged as he went by. She yelped and Steven laughed. It looked like fun so I tried the same thing. But I am notoriously uncoordinated. I nearly fell off my bike as I rode by and hit a bump. I didn’t get her hair but I damned near ran into her. Mario was on the other side and he got just a snippet of hair but he didn’t let go. He managed to take some hair with him. Boy did she scream. She slowed down to a stop to turn around. It is common knowledge that girls can’t turn their bikes around while riding. As she stopped, George finally caught up. He had no intention of doing anything. Just to get to the guys and tell them what foolishness this was. And as usual, George got the consequences of our actions. She faked pushing her bike into George. He swerved and went off the path and into the bushes. They slowed him down and tore at his legs. He went down. When he got up, he was mad. I’m not sure at what, but he was mad. I had never seen George mad before. It was actually quite funny. The guys thought it was funny too because they started laughing. That must have really burned him up. He hasn’t said anything the whole way up but I guess he must have been tired. George was always sick. Right from when he was born he was always sick. He spent the first 6 months of his life in a hospital and had been in and out ever since.
George got back on his bike and rode at the girl. I guess he was mad at us for laughing and her for making him ride into the bush. But he was mostly mad because he paid for what we did. But he couldn’t do anything to us but he could to her. The girl was scared and hopped on her bike. She was actually waiting to see if George was all right but I think she regretted it now because she lost her head start. George had some trouble getting going. Maybe he was hurt but he got up to speed on the trail and caught up to her. I had no idea what he was going to do once he caught her. There isn’t much you can do. But he passed her and took his hand off the handlebar. It was then we all realized why it took him so long to get going. He threw sand at the girl and it hit her square in the face. That’s when George’s plan, what little planning there was, fell apart. The two bikes came together as the girl lost control. George went down first. Not fast because girls can’t ride that fast right? The girl’s bike went over George’s bike then over George. Then she went down and landed on her hands. Guys know to roll when they fall off. We have fallen off a lot. But she landed and started to cry immediately. George obviously wasn’t hurt because he got up immediately too. I saw that he knew his rage had made him act rashly. He was going over to help her. She saw it differently. When she saw him she lunged at him and began clawing at him.
The rest of us has stopped a little up the trail and were watching all this, slightly amused. But when the girl attacked George, Steven sprang into action. He was very protective of us and took his role as leader seriously. But he wasn’t a thinker. He threw his bike down and ran. He would have got there faster if he rode, but like I said, he wasn’t a thinker. Mario and I got on our bikes and started after Steven. I managed to get Steven’s bike along with mine. That was one of my special talents. The guys called me tow truck. I had acquired this rather specialized skill as George’s parents often came to get him from my place and I always took his bike back to him the next day.
Mario caught up to and passed Steven and was the first on the scene. But he has no idea what to do. George was holding his arms up in front of him trying to protect his eyes. The girl was flailing madly. I knew she couldn’t see well from the dirt in her eyes as she was missing terribly. George never fought back as he was taught not to hit girls. As was Mario, who was punished severely if he even touched his sister. So George held his arms up and Mario just stood there not knowing what to do. Steven however had no such moral dilemma. He and his sister would readily fight while his parent calmly watched TV.
Steven literally leapt on her and flung her back. She landed a few feet away on her back. I rode up just then to see her eyes. They were full of fear. Steven obviously didn’t see that. He lunged at her again. I must give the girl some credit. She moved fast. But Mario moved faster. He grabbed Steven. Steven turned on him and pushed him away. Steven turned back around to see the girl running away. He took off in pursuit, Mario in pursuit of Steven. I dropped both bikes and went to George. He sat calmly on the ground, a bit stunned. I asked if he was okay and he responded by saying we had to stop Steven. I had no idea what he meant. George just said Jason. Now I realized why we must stop Steven. He doesn’t know his own strength.
Jason was a kid in a grade lower than us. He stole Steven’s swing when he leapt off of it. He could always get the highest of us all but couldn’t beat Mario’s style when leaping off. Steven came back and just grabbed the swing from the kid. Pushed him off and started pounding on him. The kid was nearly senseless when the teacher pulled Steven off. He was suspended and Jason went to another school. Steven said he didn’t remember what happened just that he kept hitting and forgot who he was hitting. George was afraid it would happen again.
So George and I leapt up and got on our bikes. We caught up to Mario who had Steven by the shirt shaking him. I thought it was odd that Mario had the strength to shake Steven. But it seemed to do the trick. Steven looked around at the girl fleeing across the field. We all stopped and caught our breath. We all were a bit shocked and out blood definitely ran high. We were all shaking.
We then heard a voice from the field. It was the girl. She was yelling all kinds of things that girls shouldn’t be yelling. So we yelled back. Then she said she was calling the cops, that made us stop. Steven has been arrested once for shoplifting and his dad nearly beat him unconscious. He had no intention of letting that happen again. He took off back down the trail. We followed like good soldiers. George yelled, “What are we doing?” He said getting her bike. That was one of Steven’s most truly inspiring moments. A trade, her bike for our freedom. Steven got the bike and yelled at her that if she ever wanted to see it again then she wouldn’t tell. She was pretty brave and said she would tell anyway and the cops would get it for her. Hmm, Steven was stumped. Mario came to the rescue. He yelled that if she told we would throw her bike into the quarry. She didn’t say anything. I guess she was trying to figure out if we would do it or not. I knew Steven would. He had thrown mine into the creek from the bridge once on a dare. Luckily I could fix it but I never called his dare again. Next time I might still be on the bike. So Steven picked up the bike and started to walk to the fence. She screamed! She said “All right!” if we left her bike there she wouldn’t tell. So Steven unceremoniously dropped the bike where he stood and backed off with his arms wide open. We all started to walk away as she started towards it. She kept a wary eye on us.
When she got to her bike she picked it up and looked at it. She yelled that there was a scratch on it. We all acted in a very mature fashion and pretended we were crying over the scratch. That pissed her off. She hopped on and started to pedal. She yelled back that she was going to tell. My heart sank, my knees went weak and I pictured the yelling my father would do. I turned and ran for my bike. I assumed the others did as well but I passed them on my bike as they ran past to get theirs.
I rode like the devil. I could see where she went and pursued like my pants were on fire. I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I had to stop her. I never thought once that she might be bluffing. Who was she going to tell? We weren’t even from here. How would she find us? I wasn’t thinking.
I heard the guys behind me but I was way ahead. I caught up to her as she passed a bend. There was a long straight path ahead. I came up beside her and pushed her, hard. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was going to do. She fell and I realized that was the wrong thing to do. It was only making things worse. But it is always funny the things that go through your mind when crises happen. As she landed she started to roll. I though, she’s learning. Then I saw her disappear. I was shocked at first and a bit confused. Where did she go? I skidded to a stop and turn the bike around as I did. There was her bike and a cloud of dust from my skid but no little girl. The guys came screaming around the corner, George last. They slowed when the saw me. Their looks asked the question. I answered with a shrug. I got off my bike and walked to her bike. It was then I realized what had happened.
The spring rain had washed out part of the wall of the pit. The fence was six feet from the side. If you walked along it was an optical illusion, it looked like the fence was connected to the ground. It wasn’t. It was suspended in mid air. My heart sank for the second time that day. Shit. I looked at the guys. Steven looked at me. He looked down the path and back at me. He said, “Last one home is a bum-licker, and took off.” Mario and George stared at Steven’s back. Mario looked down and took off slowly. He never looked up. George stood there straddling his bike, looking at the gap in the fence.
I stared at George. He was white. Then we heard a small voice say “help”. George went even paler. I thought he was going to throw up. She was still alive. I could see the thoughts going through his head. He started to think again. She is going to send the cops after us for sure now. She is going to climb out and call the cops. And we won’t be able to stop her. Then it dawned on him. She doesn’t know us. We aren’t from around here. If they do find us we can deny it. He hopped off and grabbed a fallen tree branch. He started sweeping the area with it. We had watched a cowboy movie where the hero had hid his tracks that way. George was thinking, but in the wrong way. When he was done he looked at me and said, “let’s get outta her before she climbs out.” I still stared at him. He said it again, like I didn’t hear. I got off my bike and walked to the gap. George said “C’mon!” I looked over the edge.
The wall of the quarry was sloping all the way around. It was steep but it would be a hell of a toboggan ride in the winter. It sloped everywhere but here. Here it dropped straight down. She was hanging on to a ledge and a root. I tensed up and turn to tell George to help me or she would fall. George was gone. I can’t believe he left me.

I looked back down the pit. She looked up and quietly said “help”. She was scared of me. I was the one who pushed her down the hole. She thought I was going to kill her and was appealing to my goodness. I dropped to my knees and stretched out my hand. Not even close. She said “help me” again and I said I was coming. I got on my belly and again reached out. I was off by about five feet. I was not a big kid and I never wished more than then that I was taller. If the guys were here they could grab my ankles. But they were not. I inched forward and loose dirt fell down the side into her eyes. She whipped her head away and I saw her grip loosen. I said to hold still and that I was coming. I knew she would die if she fell. I just knew. I started to slide down the side. Even if I could get to her I couldn’t pull her up. But I kept going anyway. Then it dawned on me. If I got to her she could climb up me and then pull me up. I could not go farther down the side to get at her. I stopped my slide with my hands as I came to a big root sticking out the side. I had to go further. I let go and slide some more. Too fast! I scrambled, loose dirt went flying. I grabbed the root as it went past my hip. I had only one hand forward now and I was sliding sideways now. My foot felt something. I looked up. It was the sheared off end off an old fence post, worn smooth. I hooked my foot with it and reached for a rock sticking out. I let go with my other hand and reached to her. I felt flesh! I had her hand but she would not grasp mine. I told her to grab my hand and climb up. She was scared. I was terrified. My foot was sore, and my hands were raw. She looked up at me and right into me. She pleaded to me with her eyes, her pretty blue eyes. I yelled at her to grab my hand. She was startled by my tone and just reached up and grabbed it. Her other hand took the weight for a second and the bush she was holding ripped out of the ground. She hung there, grabbing my hand. Her hands were sweaty but I knew we were almost there. I said to climb up as I couldn’t pull her up. She tried but there was no way. I looked across the quarry to see of anyone was there. The sun was beginning to set and an eerie glow made the sky look purple. I looked down again. I told her I couldn’t pull her up she was going to have to climb. She started to cry and said she couldn’t. She never asked where my friends were. I guess she knew they were gone. She looked at me and said, “Don’t let go.” I told her I wouldn’t. Don’t let go, don’t let go, don’t let go. Over and over, pleading me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to save her now and I doubted if I could get back up myself. I told her if she couldn’t climb up we would both die. My arm was screaming. My foot was in agony but I didn’t let go. Don’t let go she said, don’t let go. I promised I wouldn’t let go, I wouldn’t leave her.
My arm was numb and I felt my fingers loosen, or was it hers. I couldn’t tell. She looked up again as she had buried her face in the dirt. She said don’t let go, I won’t I said, I won’t. Save yourself, who said that? Don’t let go, and her hand slipped from mine. I watched her fall. It took a long time. Oddly, she stared at me the whole time. My eyes welled up with tears so I didn’t see her hit. I blinked and my tears fell down to meet her. She looked like a rag doll. All crumpled up. Her life was gone I could see it, feel it. Her dressed looked like it was on fire in the setting sun. I stared for an eternity.
Then my foot woke me up to the fact I was in trouble. But without her weight I was in no danger of falling. But I couldn’t get up. But I had to. I’m not sure how but I pushed myself up the side backwards. Pushing and straining till I saw the fence out of the corner of my eye. I was up top again. I put my head down and rested.
When I rolled over I was in pain. My arm felt like it had been ripped from its socket. I sat up and saw my bike lying there. I got up and walked to it. I would go get help. Then it hit me, I’ve killed somebody. I killed her. I pushed her over the edge and killed her. But I tried to save her, but you pushed her. I stood and looked at the horizon then turned and looked across the quarry. No sounds at all. The dirt bikers weren’t her today, no one saw me. Could I? I had to. I had to save myself, she said that. I grabbed the branch that George used in a fevered rush. I swept the area. I saw her bike; I dragged it across the ground and pushed it over. I hoped it didn’t hit her. It would look like an accident. She was going too fast and she went over. I looked around all was okay. It would be okay if my bike tracks were here, you couldn’t see her from here and my tracks might have put there before hers. I got on my bike and started to ride.

This is so messed up! How did it go so wrong? We were just going to mess around with her. Now I am so terrified I’ve wet myself. What the hell were we thinking! Okay, I’m panicking, I realize that. Okay, just try to stay calm. I have to go home and make it look natural. I can’t go home like this. I’m a mess and I’ve been crying. I have got to get it together. I can’t stop thinking about it. This can’t be real. Oh shit. What have we done? I keep going over it. Okay, one last time. What could I have done differently? Nothing, everything. Ah, hell.

I stopped at the creek under the bridge, close to where Steven had tossed my bike in last summer. I washed my face and cleaned my hands. I bushed myself off and tucked myself in. I looked at my reflection and I looked okay. My pee had dried on my pants on the way home. I smelled but it didn’t looked like I wet myself. I rode the short distance home. I walked in and Mom asked if I had dinner. I said I ate at Steven’s. That was not unusual. I said I was going to bed. That brought Mom out of the kitchen. She looked at me funny. She asked what was wrong; I looked like I had been crying. I said no. She gave me the Mom look. I said that Steven and I had a fight and I was going to have a bath and go to bed. She looked concerned but my Dad called to her to get him another beer. She turned around to answer and I was gone up the stairs. I don’t remember much that night, except I didn’t sleep much. When I did, I awoke with a start. It was only in the early morning that it hit me. Someone was out looking for their daughter and was worried sick. I wanted to die.

It was in the papers the next evening and I read the story as I did my route. They called it an accident. A girl named Stacey on her new bike that her dad bought for her on her birthday ran off the path in the failing light to her death.

I saw Steven that evening as I was finishing off my route. He rode over. I asked if he heard. He said no, and then warned me to keep my mouth shut. I said I would. I was scared of him. He was scared which made me scared. He said he talked to George and Mario and they were both going to do the same. I never told him I tried to save her. He never asked if I was the one who threw the bike down. But I’m sure they figured it out.

It was never the same after that. We never hung out much that summer or ever again. Mario moved away the next summer. Steven went to a vocational school after he nearly flunked. George and I went right through high school together but I was in a different program than him so I never talked to him. Not that we wanted to. We all made new friends and moved on. I’m not sure if the others wake up at night sweating as I do. They were not the ones who pushed her, but they were there and they helped in a way. But they don’t have a voice in their head that asks them not to let go. I have never let go since, to anyone or anything. I wrap myself in people and hold onto them. But I am dead inside and my smile never reaches my eyes. I will be punished for my crime for eternity. I will live to be an old man, alone after people have let go of me. That is my punishment. Fitting, isn’t it?

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