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A View From the Fence
With one last glance towards the drainage pipe and Rohmer Auditorium silhouetted behind, I climb up the steep rocky slope of the Ditch and out into the sunset Field beyond.
* * *
"All right. Before we begin, I want to make it absolutely clear that this is a _general_ announcement. It is not directed at any one or any group of you in particular. This is a note that was given to me this morning by Principal Mandley, and he directed that I read it to all squads before practice begins this evening." Coach Garrick, Coach Hyerson's last-minute replacement for the duration of Hyerson's suspension, clears his throat. Keeping Hyerson off the coaches' bench was an almost universally unpopular decision, for all concerned. Hyerson was a good coach. Yes, he could be merciless and unforgiving, but you never doubted for a minute, even when he was chewing you out in front of the entire squad, that he _honestly_ believed that you could do better. That you were not reaching your full potential. That there was untapped power still waiting to be used, deep within the very core of your being. It is because of Coach Hyerson that I have reached the level of success in this sport that I have. And that level is considerable. I am a national-grade high-school defensive back. Already, still early in my senior year, some state colleges have sent recruiting agents to watch the Hawks, interested, partially, in my performance. Afterwards, they would invariably make casual inquiries as to my future collegiate plans. Dad always said that I should hold out for more than a state school, though. "If you can't get into a decent college on your grades," he would say, in that disparaging way of his, "at _least_ you might be able to get in on your sports." And so, the answer has always been, "I'm still not sure." But I tell them I'm flattered that they're interested. And all of this is due, in part, to the dedication and inspiration of Coach Steve Hyerson.
Two weeks ago, Coach Hyerson cornered Skippy Martens in the wood shop and beat seven different kinds of shit out of him before Skippy freaked out and practically took out his jugular. Mandley, in turn, promptly suspended our favorite Coach. Angry phone calls flooded Mandley's office, demanding that Hyerson be reinstated, at least until Homecoming, about a month and a half away, but Mandley remained firm.
So, yes, for those of you who are reading that and blinking incredulously, it _is_ possible to take a moral stand in Edgerton. But it isn't easy.
Coach Garrick begins reading from Mandley's missive. "'As most of you are already well aware, these past weeks have seen a number of unfortunate events for Edgerton High. Most of these same unfortunate events have centered around one Andrew Martens, a Senior-Year Honors Student here at Edgerton. Two days ago, Andrew Martens was rushed to the Emergency Room after he was found brutally savaged and left grievously wounded in one of the drainage canals.'"
Garrick pauses, then continues. "'I have no wish to point any fingers at this stage of the investigation. But I will tell you that the sort of behavior that we have seen in the case of Andrew Martens is utterly reprehensible, and will not be tolerated in this school or in this community, as long as I, for one, am a member of both. Furthermore, if any of you receiving this missive have any information whatsoever on this act of senseless violence, _please_ relay that information to myself or any other appropriate school official. Absolute confidentiality will be enforced, and no questions will be asked. Thank you for your time.' Short and sweet, gentlemen. Any questions?"
No-one speaks. I _do_ have a question, but I'm holding back on it for the moment. My question is--why are we being singled out, here? I mean, does Mandley actually think that it was one of _us_ that did it? I find that incredibly insulting, actually. Mandley gives a special message to Garrick to read to all of us _specifically_ and then implies that he's not pointing fingers? Bullshit. If anything, it's the _parents_ that are more pissed off than we are. Sure, losing Hyerson is a blow, but we have more than a month to work ourselves up for Homecoming. We've got at least two more matches, in the meantime, to get used to Garrick's style, and so most of us are taking this pretty calmly. I can't think of a single person on any of the squads that would sink so low as mauling Skippy just because...
I am distracted from my train of thought briefly by a late yellowjacket which zips across my field of vision. In the process of waving it away, my eyes wander towards the nearby JV squad. And I notice something.
Stebbins is Grinning.
And it's not a nice grin, either. It's a wicked little thing, almost inhuman. It's accompanied by a faint, almost inaudible, chuckle.
I don't even know what he's grinning at. Maybe he's remembering a funny thing somebody told him today. Or maybe he's got a soiree planned with one of the cheerleaders, or maybe he did particularly well on a difficult exam today and is relishing the good, wholesome feeling of academic accomplishment.
Bullshit. He's as guilty as hell. You can see it in the eyes.
Stebbins! Well. I guess I would have expected it of him, the bastard. Quickly, I correct myself. If I would have had sufficient _time_ to think about it, I probably would have pegged Stebbins. He's always been a vicious little shit. Spent some time in Detention this year, I recall. Not a very good player, either. He gets too caught up in the game. That's why he's on the JV squad. That, and the fact that he's a Sophomore. I shake my head. I don't have any real proof, or anything. Not even worth telling anybody about. But still, I feel a little odd at seeing that grin...
I am considering possible courses of action when my gaze, in the process of returning to Coach Garrick, becomes distracted by Brian Stockmann, the Varsity squad's first string quarterback and, thus, de facto team captain. Stockmann is everybody's All-American. Tall, handsome, white-blond in the classic Norse style with a physique to match. He's charming, popular and gets reasonably good marks. He's laid some of Edgerton's Finest, or so I hear tell. His father owns the local Pharmacy.
And at this very moment, Brian Stockmann is staring at Stebbins.
He mouths the words, "Shut the fuck up."
And Stebbins does. The grin vanishes, the chuckle stops.
Brian Stockmann nods to Stebbins and returns his attention to Coach Garrick.
Okay, okay, I quickly rationalize. Brian is just trying to be polite here. He heard Stebbins sniggering back there at what seemed like an inappropriate moment, i.e., Garrick telling everybody how Skippy got maimed and left for dead. He found this to be very rude, and so looked back at Stebbins and told him to shut up, as he (Stebbins) was being disrespectful to both Skippy and Coach Garrick with his behavior. Stebbins, realizing his faux pas, yielded to Brian's superior moral ground and stopped.
Brian could be trying to cover his ass. Both of their asses.
And then, I realize that if Stebbins was in on this, and Brian was too...
Suddenly, I feel very alone.
I look around at the rest of my team. And in one brief, sickening moment, everything I thought I knew about each and every one of these people is called into question. And I realize that, at the end-all-be-all, I didn't _really_ know any of them at all...
Elapsed time: Five Seconds.
"All right, if there are no further questions, let's _MOVE_!"
And practice begins.
* * *
The Field. Now here's a spot for memories. Naturally, to keep the groundskeepers happy, most of our actual practices took place on the Field. The Stadium was reserved, principally, for the games themselves. I always liked the fact that we held practices outside of the Stadium. It made everything seem so much more real when we finally got there and actually had to perform in front of the student body. The glare of the lights, the roar of the crowds; you were instantly transported to a different world, a world where anything was possible, a surreal dream-state of athletic prowess. But the Field was where all the actual _work_ took place.
I futzed that practice, by the way. Something about having your entire view of your own little high-school world bent in fifteen different places and handed back to you on a bed of lettuce is not conducive to good football technique. I had to quit the field early, at Garrick's request, to go off to the stationary bikes for the remainder of practice. Brian Stockmann joined me a few minutes later, wondering if there was anything seriously the matter with me, expressing concern for my well-being. I told him no, that I had done poorly on an exam that day (not a lie), that my concentration was just a little bit screwed up because of it (stretching it a bit) and that everything was really okay (utter bullshit.) He smiled, grabbed me around the shoulders, told me how much I meant to the team and told me if there was anything he could do, just let him know. I told him thanks. He left.
And as I sat there, pedaling my life away in the hour or so that followed, I kept wondering to myself why exactly I would let Brian Stockmann pat me chummily on the shoulder but wouldn't stoop so low as to actually touch a bleeding Skippy Martens.
Why, SCABS, of course.
And as I pedaled, I naively vowed that, in the future, I would take a better view towards all of this. Would I rat on Stockmann? No. I mean, what good would it do anyone? Skippy had already taken as much damage as he was going to get. Relaying my suspicions to Mandley (and I had to remember that these were just _suspicions_; after all, I had no clear, solid facts to speak of) would just end up with everybody being _more_ pissed off because they would be losing not only Coach Hyerson but also their star quarterback for the Homecoming game. And besides, I was _sure_ that _somebody'd_ find out who spilled the beans eventually. I'd probably get thrown off the team or something, and then I could just kiss my hopes for a football scholarship good-bye. Adding it all up, it looked like relaying my suspicions would do more harm than good. But, I promised myself, in the future, I would _definitely_ become more open-minded towards the reality of SCABS in the school. And, furthermore, I assured myself that if I had heard even _inklings_ of the attack on Skippy _beforehand_, I would have dutifully reported everything to the proper people so that such awfulness could have been prevented.
So, as you can see, I was quite good at this. Rationalization is an acquired talent, and a really good blame-denial can be a work of art onto itself.
Sometimes I wonder where things started to go wrong...
Across the Field, it's a broad, flat walk up to the Second Rear Corner. From here, you can see all the way along the perimeter fence to the Third Corner and Piergeron Stadium. From here, I also used to be able to see Kim's house. She lived pretty close to the High School; that was why we always used to hang out on the campus before our time. I try to think back, trace the streets and the lot-lines in my mind, to where it used to stand. I _think_ that I mange to figure out where it was. It's amazing what a few years will do to your memory. Anyway, the lot seems to be currently occupied by a pleasant-looking yellow modular duplex, no different from any of the thousands of others in this town. Another little pre-fab box, plopped down in the charming little community we call Edgerton, fresh for another family to begin their own experience with the Suburbial American Dream. Paradise with aluminum siding and a clapboard roof.
The very spot where Kim used to live...
* * *
"Hey, Mrs. DeJong. Kim home?"
Kim DeJong has _the_ coolest house in the entire neighborhood. They've placed its date of construction at circa 1920; well over a hundred years ago. It was built, originally, for a wealthy doctor who emigrated here from Switzerland roundabouts that time, constructed _specifically_ to his exacting standards, which meant that it was the 1920's version of sheer opulence and ease-of-living. All of the cutting-edge conveniences that this era offered built right in. In its time, it served a variety of offices; an apartment building, a church parish-hall, even, briefly, a Laundromat. The last business to use the space (a bookshop) folded in 1990, whereupon it was bought and completely refurbished, from step to sternum, by a hideously rich and surprisingly young telecommunications company executive with an interest in restoring historical places. He was so enchanted with the place, once done, that he decided to made it his permanent home. He was Kim's father. It was in this house that he met Kim's mother, in this house that the post-wedding reception was held, and in this house that Kim was conceived.
For kids growing up, it was a marvelous place. Once you had played Hide-and-Seek in the DeJong house, there was no settling for second-best anymore. We even discovered a secret passage in the basement, one day. Kim's father came down and told us that Dr. Feinn, for whom the house was constructed, was a little on the eccentric side, and so the presence of a secret passage in the basement didn't surprise him one bit. With his permission, we followed it to its terminus; an old maintenance grating in a nearby park where Kim and I would often play.
For a nine-year-old, this is the _epitome_ of cool.
Gloria, in her overly-concerned stepmom-y way, would sometimes tell me that I spent more time at the DeJong house than I did at my own. This was, probably, technically true, unless you count sleeping. And hell, we did some of that together, too. Mysteriously, boy-girl sleepovers tend to end at about age thirteen, but prior to that, we got our share, pitching up a tent of blankets on the back porch and Chatting until the cows had not only come home but also, quite probably, gone to sleep as well. And, after a couple years, when Kim showed no signs of letting up the pestering, the DeJongs eventually gave in and installed a basketball hoop above their driveway. Kim always whups my ass, but I still play with her anyway. And that is why I am here today, staring at...
...a surprisingly disturbed-looking Mrs. DeJong.
"Um... sorry... did I... like... come at a bad time or something?" I respectfully stop bouncing my basketball on the porch.
She is staring at me. I begin wondering if my fly is down or something. "Mrs. DeJong?" I ask, hesitantly.
"Jay. I'm... sorry." She says, in her faint accent. "Kim is very sick. She can't do anything with you today." Mrs. DeJong is still fixing me with that odd look. I can't quite place i--
Mrs. DeJong is very, very afraid.
"Oh." I say, shakenly, trying to recover the conversation. "Can I see he-"
"No!" And then, after a moment, "No, Jay. Actually, it probably would be better if you went home."
"I can't even talk to her?"
"We're taking her to the hospital as soon as Paul gets home."
I sit down, unconsciously, on the charming old porch-swing. "What's wrong with her?" I say, foundering in disbelief.
Mrs. DeJong grits her teeth, and that expression that looks strangely like fear crosses her features again.
"Nothing, Jay. Just go. Please."
"Could you... like... erm... tell me later?"
"Perhaps." She says. And waits. I pick up my cue and my basketball at the same time and walk away. Mrs. DeJong disappears into the house.
Thirty seconds later, I am in the process of creeping around back of the house, to the tree that I know is there. Not quite as big as our Tree over in the schoolyard, but a sizeable one nonetheless. Kim _loves_ the fact that she has a tree outside her window that you can climb down. Just like in all those old movies, she said, where the heroine goes off on some wild adventure that her parents have forbidden her to take by climbing down a tree outside her window. She's used it many a time in many a curfew violation, with me as her ever-so-willing accomplice. Still trying to be as sneaky as possible, I lurk over to her tree, get a good grip on the lower branches, and begin the effortful process of climbing, which Kim always makes look so easy.
And then, I am at the level of her window. The drapes have been pulled, but there is a tiny crack where they were not closed all the way.
I look in.
There, lying upon tattered bedclothes, is...
Well, okay. You've guessed it. I mean, that's where this story was headed anyway. Hearken to the master of Foreshadowing here.
I stay in that tree for a long time. Long after Kim's father comes home with the car. Long after the both of them enter Kim's room and gaze upon that... thing... in... her... bed...
Anyway. I stay in that tree long after Kim's folks have left her room and returned with a long, hooded winter coat that looks ridiculously large for her... long after they have... well... virtually wrapped her up in it... so that nothing would show... long after they have gotten her on her feet... such as they are... and have lead her groggily downstairs, out the door... long after the car has departed in the distance, off in the direction of the Highway.
I just sit there. Hanging around in a tree in a yard that belongs to my friend Kim, just because there's nothing better to do, nothing I want to do, nothing that can possibly be done, ever, anywhere in the world, ever again.
Kim is a SCAB.