A version of this was previously published in Port City Review (2016).
Family dinners were important in my house growing up. Dad worked nights, so when he was home, mom wanted us to be the perfect family. Mom and dad would talk about taxes, mortgages, or whatever parents talked about, while my older brother and I made faces and picked at each other because he was clearly “not touching me.”
My parents were strict and they knew everything that happened under their roof and, until the age of six, I actually believed that.
“Pass the fucking mashed potatoes, please.” My six-year-old self knew exactly what I was saying. My brother’s mouth hung open as he waited for a response from our parents. My dad glanced over at me, passed the mashed potatoes, and carried on his conversation with my mom. From that moment on, I’ve been on a never-ending quest to see what I can get away with.
When I was nine, I paid Cameron Juarez fifteen dollars and some Bazooka Joe bubble gums to punch me in the nose so I could leave baseball practice early. He only fractured it, but he still got the job done. At the age of thirteen, I convinced my brother he had H7N3 — the goose flu — because he kept calling me the “family disappointment.” Weeks later, when he confessed to our mother, tears running down his face, that he had contracted the goose flu because he went down to the pond to pet the geese again, she informed him that there was no such thing as the goose flu and he became the real family disappointment.
My best friend in high school was Cheyenne. She was five feet nine inches of intimidating teenage angst. If looks could kill, she’d be the last person on earth. Her confidence came from her perfectly applied eyeliner and her ability to say whatever she wanted without fearing repercussions. Her ivory white skin could be picked out of the crowds in the hallways as she cleared paths with her attitude.
We caused the most problems in study hall. Between a teacher who never came to class and our never-ending laughter, we achieved no studying that year.
Holt Fueler sat in front of us. Typically Cheyenne and I strayed away from the athletic types, but Holt had a bad attitude and was always up to no good, making us the perfect friends. If there was a bad idea to be had, it was floating around inside his head.
One day, Holt turned around in his seat and, with wide eyes, looked at Cheyenne.
“I have a serious question,” he said. “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”
“I don’t know. Probably ditch school to go buy more Klondike Bars.”
“That’s cute,” I said sarcastically. “We could ditch this school every day and never get caught.”
“Then do it,” said Holt, turning his gaze on me.
Was he challenging me? My rebellious inner six-year-old couldn’t say no.
“Whatever. I’ll do it,” I said. “Cheyenne, you’re coming with me.”
And so it was.
Fifteen minutes into third period, Cheyenne met me in the basement where I had independent studies. We snuck out the back doors, crawled up the grassy embankment, circled around the back to the parking lot, got in the car, and drove off school property.
“Now what?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Cheyenne said. “I didn’t think this far ahead.” Our town had only one stoplight, a bank, a church, and an antique store. Unless we wanted to open checking accounts or pray, the antique store was our only option.
We entered the store and made our way to the back where the records were. Cheyenne hated looking for records, so she disappeared into the mass of dusty furniture and signage. This store had all of the goodies: Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Springsteen, Culture Club. I had just put down a Jimmy Durante record when something appeared in my peripheral vision. POP! Something shot at me and I jumped backward shattering a plate on the floor. Cheyenne had found a child’s wooden pop gun.
The shop owner rushed towards the back, shouting expletives as Cheyenne tried to control her laughter. He was a stout old man, who had a vengeance for anyone under eighteen. The bald spot on top of his head, and retro-framed aviator bifocals made it seem like he was born to play the role of crotchety, old man.
“Shouldn’t you kids be in school?” he shouted. Cheyenne and I headed towards the door.
“No, we’re sick,” I said.
“What’s your names, you little shits? I’m going to call your parents!”
We rushed for the door. “My name’s Holt Fueler,” I said as we left.
It was around our lunch period back at school and we had to claim defeat. Ditching school, in theory, was a ball. In actuality, it was the worst decision we ever made. We drove back to the school.
As we drove up the school’s driveway, we noticed a change in the aura. Something was wrong. As we got closer, we noticed police cars and K-9 units surrounding the school and the administrators standing in the road. I tried to jerk the car around, but vice principal Lee made eye contact with me and pointed. We were caught.
Lee and I were on a first name basis since she knew my academically gifted side.
“Where have you been?” she shouted as I rolled down my window. She was the human equivalent of a Chihuahua. Her small frame and beady eyes were intimidating, but I had to play it cool. “We’ve been looking for both of you,” she shouted, with one hand on her hip while she wagged the other at us as if we were undomesticated pooches who had misbehaved.
“Oh, we went to lunch.” I had been practicing my whole childhood to tell a lie this good. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean you went to lunch? Who told you you could leave school property?”
“No one!” Cheyenne blurted out. “We thought we could get out but we made a mistake and there was nothing to do and we’re sorry!” Cheyenne must not have been practicing her lies as much as I had.
“I’ll deal with the both of you later. You park your car now and go sit with the other students on the football field. There’s been a bomb threat and the cops need to clear the building.”
Lee was visibly emotional about the bomb threat and I wasn’t sure why. I admired that Lee had faith that her students were smart enough to build a bomb, but they weren’t. These are the same kids that used the name “Einstein” as an insult and used their pocket knives to pick days-old food out of their molars which they would then spit into their old dip cans. We didn’t live in the middle of nowhere, but we did live about five miles south of it. The only things they could’ve used to make bombs were cow manure and copper wire stripped from the abandoned houses.
“What the hell?” I asked Cheyenne as we parked.
“I panicked, okay?” she said. “Sorry I’m not a filthy liar like you are.”
The next day, after Vice Principal Lee told us she called our parents, Cheyenne and I walked into study hall to find Klondike Bars sitting on our desks and Holt giggling.
“I heard what happened,” he said.
“Shut up,” Cheyenne said.
I picked up the Klondike Bar, walked it over to the trash can, and tossed it. I hate Klondike Bars.