Cornucopia

 Assault Rifles, Pajamas, & Ice Cream

                Some countries have lots of security. Big guns are in sight. Police and guards are numerous, and they often look like combat-ready soldiers, complete with assault rifles and body armor. Armed checkpoints on roads are common too, as police must search for drugs and collect the occasional bribe.

                Take a Honduran ice cream shop as an example. The place was packed with families and screaming kids, who were happily running about on the indoor playground. At the head of the line, standing in front of the register and watching the crowd intently, was a man dressed in black fatigues, wearing sunglasses and a Kevlar jacket. He held a pump-action shotgun. I paid with a credit card, and having no pen to sign with, he politely gave me his. “Gracias.” I said, and wanting to try out the little Spanish I knew, I asked, “Es mi esposa bonita?” He smiled, “Si, muy bonita.” I patted him on the shoulder. “Es guapo”, I said. He laughed, “Es muy guapo.” You’ve never had ice cream until you’ve done so while looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

                                             

                Walking outside with our ice cream, an armored truck suddenly came to a halt after hopping the curb. Before it came to a complete stop, four men with assault rifles, again in black fatigues, hopped out and immediately spread out to the nearby street corners. One of them had on a black ski mask. Then two men appeared from the rear of the truck, one carrying two bags, presumably full of money, the other a shotgun. They marched into a restaurant, and soon after, marched out and got back into the truck. The four others did the same, and just as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. We never had a problem, but the streets of San Pedro Sula must be mean. To rob a money truck in Honduras, you better be packing some serious heat.

                Most restaurants we visited in El Salvador had not only a “No Smoking” policy, but a “No Weapons” one as well – signs picturing a pistol with an X over it, kindly requested in Spanish that you leave behind your firearms. But small countryside cafes apparently permitted machetes and holstered weapons, as every man had one or the other as they ate their morning muffins.

                                           

                Guatemala is also a nation where the NRA could easily increase its membership. My wife and I were taking a water taxi across Lago Atitlan with a few other passengers. Just as we were about to tie off, a fit, middle-aged man in a suit and sunglasses came aboard with a suitcase. Behind him was a boy who looked like he had never shaved in his life, in a uniform that was too big for him. He carried a shiny black shotgun. He sat down next to the bag, and the man in the suit sat next to me. “Muy dinero?” I asked. The man winked, and took a call on his cell. I imagined the suitcase was packed with stacks of hundred dollar bills and neatly packaged cocaine. With that thought, I moved over an inch.

                There’s a strong military presence in Israel. Everyone has to join the service, and there are soldiers everywhere, some on duty, some off. Tanks and rockets are commonly lugged around on trucks too. I remember sitting at a café. A college-aged girl sitting nearby, wearing pink pajama bottoms, got up and put her purse over her shoulder. Then she slung an M16 over the same shoulder, said goodbye to her friends, and walked out. I noticed she had flip flops on. My wife would only have to ask me once to fix something at home if she was so heavily armed.

                                                  

                The most impressive display of security I’ve experienced was in India at a Delhi subway station. At the stairwell entrance were two soldiers armed with AK-47s. They had handsome red berets on. At the bottom of the stairs, tucked into a corner, were two helmeted soldiers. Only the tops of their heads were visible because they were behind a wall of sandbags. Protruding from a gap in the sandbags was a large, heavy caliber machine gun, sitting on a mount. From there, passengers walked through a metal detector, then women and men were patted down in separate lines. Opposite the searching area was another pair of soldiers barricaded behind sandbags, also with a mounted machine gun. I wondered – were we safe, or had preparations been made to stop really bad guys from storming into the subway? We didn’t ride the subway any longer.
                                                

                The Taj Mahal. Jerusalem. Great food. Mayan Ruins. Beautiful beaches. Excellent people. Interesting cultures. Sure, there’s that, and much more. But what I remember are the guns.

 

 Communist Corpses

 

                One peculiar tradition among communists is that the bodies of their most prominent leaders, once they’ve exhaled their last Red breath, are embalmed (I prefer the term “pickled”) and put on display for public viewing. Several nations have preserved Marxists, but only four attract large crowds wanting to see their pickled leaders.

                Lenin died in 1924 and is seen by millions each year in Moscow’s Red Square. Stalin was also pickled, I think in dill, but since he was responsible for the torture and death of 20 million Russians, he’s been relegated to a small grave at the bottom of the Kremlin Wall where pigeons peck about and mount each other. Mao died in 1976 and is still looking youthful in his glass box in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, his hair combed and eye-brows trimmed. Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated, but I hear he’s looking sharp in Hanoi. And we can’t forget the beloved leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, who’s recently been embalmed and will be joining his pickled father in Pyongyang where he’ll be visited by crying actors each and every day. I got to see two of these pickled proletariats, had a popsicle above Stalin, but passed on Ho Chi Minh because it was way too hot to spend half the day waiting to see an old corpse.

        

                If you want to see Lenin you have to rise early, because most afternoons his body has to be stripped naked and bathed in a chemical mixture to keep decomposition and fungus at bay. It was my last day in Russia, so I forced myself out of bed and rushed onto the massive Moscow metro from my cozy hotel on the city outskirts. It’s clean, never delayed, and many of its stations have chandeliers and intricate mosaics. And its deep, originally designed to serve as a city-wide bomb shelter if US nukes ever fell – it takes a long time to rise to the surface on the escalators.

                Lenin’s mausoleum is a small structure made of red and black stone. It’s in the center of Moscow in Red Square, with beautiful St. Basil’s on one side and the Kremlin Walls behind. Even on the coldest winter days, people are lined up before dawn, so by the time I arrived the line was enormous and the chance of seeing Lenin was unlikely, until a police officer said to me, “You pay me, you see Lenin.” It was the first time I paid a bribe.

                I was led to the front of the line, and along the way was told by the officer that bags and cameras were not allowed, which was true. He said that for “a small money” he would put my backpack in his car and keep it safe. I removed my camera’s memory stick, handed my bag over with another 20 rubles, and descended down a stairway into the bowels of Lenin’s tomb. It was dark inside with black marble walls. Russian soldiers in crisp dress garb stood like statues in corners. Further down the stairs went, into silent darkness. A few dim red lights, perhaps candles, illuminated the way. The marble walls were so black that it was disorienting, eerie, as though I was entering the lair of a vampire. I placed my hands on the walls to guide myself. And then in a quiet chamber, deep enough to withstand a 10 mega-ton American bomb, lays Lenin in a glass case. He wore a black suit and tie. I looked close enough to see the reddish hairs of his goatee. His face was pale, and his hands looked as though they could suddenly move. His chest seemed too wide and thin, as though gravity had flattened him during the eight decades since his death. And then you shuffle along, back up into the light, a bit relieved to be away from the place.

     

                I found the police officer who took my bag and he said my bag was lost, but for another “small money” he could find it. I happily paid my third bribe. I patted him affectionately on the shoulder and thanked him for the experience. It’s not every day you get extorted by an ex-Soviet outside the tomb of one of the founding fathers of Marxism. It seemed perfect.

                My wife and I arrived in Tiananmen Square early to see Mao – like Lenin, he needs his daily afternoon bath in disinfectant. Surrounding the area were countless vagrant children covered in filth, many with horrible deformities and missing limbs, so neither one of us had positive thoughts about the person who instituted the Party in China. At times the hot Sun became a pink orb, dimmed behind thick layers of smog.

                      

                The line was a massive zigzag of people, roped off like the lines at airports and seemed to take up the entire square. Whenever nearby police turned their backs, dozens of people would duck under the ropes and sprint across the pavement to cut into the line further ahead. We eventually did the same, saving possibly hours. Unlike Lenin’s Dracula-like subterranean tomb, you walk up steps into Mao’s mausoleum, where vendors sell cheap plastic flowers to lay next to the man responsible for the Cultural Revolution, which was on par with Stalin’s brutality. We did without the flowers, and were ushered inside. It was a bustling atmosphere, some people even sneaking pictures with cell phones. Guards herded people around a red curtain where Mao lay in a glass box tucked beneath a hammer and sickle blanket. I remember wondering how such a small, ordinary looking man could cause so much turmoil. Plastic flowers were piled high around him, and several people had the duty to remove them and take them back outside to the vendors to be resold to the next “mourners”. Back outside, we immediately went to a Starbucks to celebrate capitalism.   

          

                During our honeymoon in Vietnam we planned to see Ho Chi Minh, but it was not to be. We waited in line for over an hour to see Uncle Ho, but the heat and Sun were intolerable, and a restaurant around the corner had air conditioning and excellent noodles which seduced us away. And there’s no chance I’ll be going to North Korea to see the Dear Leader. Besides, I’ve already seen two communist corpses. I think one is as good as the next.

                                                                     The Toy Room 

My grandfather, Louis, died in my toy room. He’d asked to be brought there for the end. His family was there, waiting for his last breath. His two brothers kept telling him to let go, to go to Ma. One remarked, “Jesus, the sonovabitch’s stubborn”. His son (my father) waited too, with my mother, sister, and me. A nurse sat at his shoulders, wiping saliva from his mouth between gurgling gasps. She knew death well, and told us it would come soon.

My grandfather had been living in Florida as an artist when he suddenly arrived. I was told he’d gotten into a fight with his ex – true, but simplified. When he spotted her with another man, he gave chase through the trailer park, a revolver in hand. He tripped, and a shot woke the elderly neighborhood as a bullet harmlessly journeyed into the warm Florida night, after it went through his ex’s arm. It was the most action the retirement community had witnessed since the Spanish-American War. And that’s how my grandfather and his Shih-Tzu, Brandy, ended up in my toy room.

I was nine and unhappy to cede my territory. I did everything possible to make my grandfather uncomfortable. The ceiling above his stove had gaps, so from upstairs I could see into his steaming pots. He was a crab fiend, and I often dropped plaster, dirt, and cat whiskers onto his boiling crustaceans. I’d hide his keys and tattle-tail to my mother when he drank beer. He never sat on the toilet once without the lights flickering on and off non-stop. I raided his cigar stash and took pleasure in soaking them in water or cutting them to bits. Once, while he was mowing the lawn, he left a lit cigar on a stone. I smashed it into tiny grounds and laughed as he chased me, cursing something about Cubans. Another time he was napping below a large gap in the ceiling, and I dropped a lead fishing weight the size of a plum onto his forehead; the profanity that followed the crack was more than all I’ve heard since. My favorite was to smuggle my mother’s cat, while in heat, into his room. Immediately Brandy would mount her and it would be a thirty-minute violent process before my grandfather separated them. Occasionally he shouted for me to “screw”, and I always returned with a screwdriver and commenced to do so – screwing the table, the TV, the walls, and anything else within reach.

It wasn’t always mayhem. Most nights we’d play Sorry or Rummy together. For two years we kept score, and I wonder where those tallies are today. Eventually my toy room was returned, but by then I didn’t want it. I wanted my grandfather to stay.

Twenty years later these things were on my mind as I watched him take his final breath in my old toy room, the room where I did my very best to annoy him, the room where we played Sorry and Rummy. At the end, he took a weak breath and exhaled. A long time passed, and just as one of his brothers asked if it was over, one last spastic inhalation filled his lungs and was released with a mouthful of foam, and it was over - seventy-four years of life. We all knew it. His face changed in a way I can’t describe. And I thought that a happy place like my old toy room, so often filled with laughing children and their mischief, was not such a bad place to leave this world from.

 Faraway - Around the World

                Quit work, take your savings, fly faraway, and return penniless. My wife and I did, when we were younger and free-spirited. Our dream was to travel from China to England without flying. After 117 days, 8,000 miles, and 18 countries, we succeeded.

                Our midnight, rainy arrival in Hong Kong left us disoriented, jet-lagged, and wet. Dwarfed by skyscrapers, cocooned in fluorescent lights and smothering humidity, we needed sleep. The hotel was acceptable, until seeing our windowless cell, tiny beds, closet-sized bathroom, and its insects. We did the necessities – ferried to Kowloon, stood atop Victoria Peak, then escaped to Lamma’s beaches.

                

                We trained into China a week later, and saw differences between worlds. Crossing the “border” from Hong Kong, everything seemed older, neglected. Guilin was our destination, where we adjusted to the real China – where donkeys pull loads instead of trucks, bicycles outnumber cars, and whole families ride on mopeds. We cruised the Li River to Yangzhou, surrounded by mountains resembling camel humps and upturned ice cream cones. Next was Xi’an, a city encased in ancient walls, and home to the Terracotta Warriors, an enormous army of life-sized statues. We walked the Great Wall, glimpsed Mao in Beijing, and a month after arriving, boarded a Mongolia-bound train.

              

                Mongolia is empty. Waking to the train’s rhythm, the only thing outside were fields and occasional men on horseback. Ulaanbaatar, the capital, looked and smelled like a campground. Its outskirts were dense with smoke and yurts, a horse tethered to each. Ulaanbaatar’s core was sterile, Soviet monuments standing alone. Mongolia was beyond, on the steppes.

                    

                Forests welcomed us to Siberia, as did Russian soldiers who boarded the train, shut all curtains, and prohibited talking. Everything was torn apart and searched, passports taken, some people forced off. Hours later, our passports returned, the train headed to Listvyanka.

                Listvyanka was home to sturdy people. Children pumped water from wells, men chopped wood, and toothless grandmothers sold vegetables. Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest, guarded the town. Mountains towered above. Baikal’s opposite shore was beyond sight, its frigid water a mile deep.

                                    

                Irkutsk, deep in Asia, was refreshingly European. The train moved west for three days through forests, abandoned factories and cabins the only rare interruptions. We crossed rivers, cities appeared, then an inconspicuous stone marked Europe. Asia was behind us.

                A day later came Moscow. Red Square, with St. Basil’s, is now filled with tourists, not Stalin’s tanks. We visited Lenin, and left for St. Petersburg. We got lost in the Hermitage, saw the Czar’s palace, then left Russia.

                                      

                Compared to previous lands, Finland was familiar, like home. Helsinki was clean, its trams quiet. Reserved people filled its cafes.

                We ferried to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Their capitals, Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius, have walled Old Towns that haven’t changed since medieval times. Cobblestone alleys weaved between towering steeples. We explored the Soomaa swamp, and the region’s countryside and coast.

             

                We visited Poland. Warsaw’s skyscrapers surprised us. Krakow was beautiful, its square lined with candlelit restaurants, clattering horseshoes echoing afar. The rural towns, with cozy homes and gardens, were a paradox to the nightmare of Auschwitz. Its awful gas chambers and crematories were inconceivable under such peaceful blue skies.


              

                We visited Levoca and Kosice of Slovakia, went to Buda and Pest, then trained to Sarajevo. It was a decade since the war, but security concerns loomed. After arriving we immediately saw the needlessness of our worries. People asked to help us, kissed our cheeks, thanked us for visiting, and took us into their homes for tea. The Bosnians cannot be outranked in generosity or kindness. Sarajevo is beautiful, set in a valley, the roofs of its homes an orange that glows at sunset. South was Mostar, its fairytale Turkish Bridge arching over a deep and swift moving, emerald river.

               

                Buildings in Bosnia were covered in bullet holes, sidewalks shattered from mortars, but the people weren’t. As Americans, many thanked us for helping end the war, but always asked, “Why did you take so long?” 250,000 Bosnians died in the five year war; at the end, the Serbs were defeated by NATO in days.

                We traveled to Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast and bathed in the Mediterranean Sun, then ferried to Italy, visiting Rome and Venice.  Money was low, but we wanted to visit more countries, so we quickly hit Austria, lunched in Liechtenstein, borrowed money in Zurich, and celebrated our anniversary in Paris.

                                     
 

                I’ve visited Normandy before, but my second visit was no less moving than the first. Standing on Omaha Beach, watching children swimming, it’s impossible to imagine the beach’s 1944 carnage. Above, 9,000 American graves, many containing men unknown, is a stark reminder of freedom’s price.  

              

                We ferried from France to Portsmouth, finally arriving in Britain. We stayed with a friend in Nottingham, and after two nights in London, flew home, not yet absorbing what we’d done. I often try to explain what our adventure was like, but words do little justice. And I wonder, are only the young and free-spirited allowed such freedoms, or do we all have the same possibilities hidden within us?

 

                                          What was Lost - 9/6/96

This story below was first written in 1996, only two weeks after the actual incident when I was 19 years old. I then revised the story three years later after the flip of the millenium. Today, in January 2012, my feelings are not quite the same, and at times I cringe at what I've written, but I did not want to alter anything. The story was scanned from the sole paper copy I possessed, and in doing so some spelling errors and odd spacing have occurred - I did not want to re-type anything. This was how I felt and thought during my 19th and 22nd year, so please forgive me if I offend anyone who was directly connected to this tragedy. This is how I remember that night.


It was September 6, 1996, an ordinary and usually predictable Friday
night. The best summer of our lives had just come to an end, and most of us
had stubbornly accepted the fact that school had begun and that the endless
nights and days of chaos at Hampton Beach were over. As with several of
my friends, my sophomore year at Middlesex Community College had begun only a week before. But not to worry, we all knew that with school came very different, but equally exciting times. Places like the Bahama Beach Club, the Who's On First sports bar, my parent's house,and especially the French city of Montreal, would come alive with laughter, seas of alcohol, pointless fights,and more than enough female opportunities to satisfy any testosterone filled nineteen or twenty year old "boy". Tonight, our mission, like so many before, was to getto the Bahama Beach Club at all costs, and to outdo anyone and everyone in the never-ending hunt for girls.

Carmen Favuzza, Jody Bucher, and I decided to meet at Jody's house
and then leave for the club from there. Usually, we all met at Michael
Santullo's house before going out for the night, but for some random reason
we went to Jody's instead. The basement of Jody's house had been
renovated and converted into a small aparment, which Jody claimed as his
own and used as a bedroom and entertainment area.

We sat in the unlit basement and  watchedthe movie "Interview with
the Vampire", which was on cable. Carmen sat behind me to my left on the
couch while Jody sat directly to my right in a wooden chair similar to the
one that I was sitting in.

Carmen and I had been friends since ninth grade and had gradually
grown closer over the years, but like all friends, we had our fair share of
confrontations. Once, we had almost gotten arrested at the Burlington Mall
for ridiculous reasons. Carmen, with his short and wide Italian bodv,
thought that it would be humorous if he charged me with his car while I was
walking across the mall parking lot. Not being the most intelligent person,
he stopped his car a little too late and hit my leg against the front bumper.
The impact didn't hurt or injure my leg in anyway, but I was certainly angry
and embarrassed. When I saw his wide grin shining behind the windshield, I
kicked his preciousblue Oldsmobile with force, but harmlessly on the
bumper. His grin quickly vanished with that. And to make a long story
short, we both ended up rolling around on the pavement, bare-chested,
growling at each otherlike rabid wolves, while our friends laughed at us
hysterically. Finally, when a horde of mall security guards arrived in their
tiny white jeeps, we simultaneously got off of the ground and acted like
nothing had happened. The security guards had trouble believing us when
they saw that both of us were wearing torn and dirty shirts. Ignoring them,
Carmen and I laughed, shook hands and got into our cars and drove away
with no hard feelings.

Jody was a new recruit to our group, which consisted of about ten or
twelve close friends. I actually met Jody during my senior year in high
school when I worked with him at Sam Goody's in the Burlington Mall, but
we really didn't become friends, close friends, until almost a year later,
during our freshman year at Middlesex Community College. And close
friends we were. Unlike the weekend friendships I had with Carmen,
Michael Santullo, or Brian Simpson, the friendship I had with Jody was
different. Our friendship didn't depend on alcohol or fast cars, or any other
male nonsense. It was a true friendship. Almost every day after school, and
sometimes during school, we would go for jogs around Horn Pond or
Wakefield Lake. If one of us didn't want to go running, the other would
somehow find a way to persuade the other to. While running we talked
about everything. We talked about problems we had with girls, family, love,
or any other thing that was on our minds. We talked about marriage and
future children, and how we saw ourselves in ten years. I knew what
disappointed him, and he knew what disappointed me. We both knew what
each of us wanted from life. And if we weren't running together, we were at
the mall, or renting movies, or playing videogames,or making prank phone
calls at my house for laughs. Jody and I had a tight bond. We had only
known each other closely for year, but to me he was equally a brother as
friends I had known for over ten years.

"Do you have to ask so many questions?"Jody asked in a slow,
confrolled voice. My initial questions were of no surprise to him.
I sometimes thought that he expected them, or even looked forward to them.
It was a subconscious game that we played. I would ask a stupid question,
and in return, he would scold me for being so stupid. We both enjoyed it for
some strange reason.

"Kid, I'm just curious about the movie." I said smiling, leaning back
in my chair. "If you don't ask questions, you can't increase your
intelligence. That's what your problem is. That goes for you too Carmen.
Look at yourself." Most of what we did, and what I still do with my friends
today, was argue and mock each other. No offense was ever taken, at least
in most cases. It was a simple, but somehow effective way of showing
friendship. It was constant, and never ended.

"Look at yourself. How are you going to get any girls dressed
like that?" Carmen asked, knowing exactly what to say to harass me. Now, I
can stubbornly admit that I lack efficient knowledge regarding clothing, but
then, I wouldn't budge. I was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a button
down shirt. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with how I was
dressed, at least in my opinion. Carmen and Jody hadn't even gotten ready
yet.

"Yeah, Carmen. You guys are so smooth and cool. Look how big
and wide your chest is, so strong you are." I said smiling. Jody laughed at
that. "Isn't it though? Look at how big it is." Sometimes Carmen appeared
to be wider than he was tall. He was at least two or three inches shorter than
I was, but could bench-press over three hundred pounds.

"Yeah,it is wide." Jody said walking into his bedroom to get ready
and put on his proper club clothes.

"You better hit the gym." Carmen said following Jody into the other
room. I looked away from the television and smiled at him. Carmen looked
at me and gave me a friendly nod, silently saying that he was only joking.

I continued to watch the movie and occasionally asked a sincere
question regarding it, not expecting an answer. Jody and Carmen could hear me, but didn't answer.

"Hey, do you want to borrow a shirt or something?" Jody asked,
truly making an offer.

"What the hell." I said quickly. "What the hell is wrong with this
shirt. Get dressed and let's go." To this day, I still don't understand why
they put so much time and effort into their physical appearance. Their
clothes had to match perfectly,and their hair had to be gelled and combed as if they were professional models.

"What do you want? We're your friends. We're just trying to help
you out." Jody said defensively, putting his arms up above his waist.
"Yeah, you don't have to get an attitude." Carmen said, taunting me,
hoping I would return an insult of some sort.

 After ten minutes had passed, Jody and Carmen finally finished
getting ready and then came back into the living room. I kept on
commenting on the movie, saying how interesting it seemed and how I
wished I could see it from beginning to end. Unfortunately, I still haven't
seen it.

"When are they coming?" Jody impatiently asked Carmen. Jody
always seemed to be in a rush, especially on the weekends. Every second
mattered to him. The group of friends that he spent time with during high
school never did the same type of activities that my friends and I did. They
were in bands and enjoyed growing their hair as long as possible,their last
concern was the club or the beach. He loved the clubs and the music.
He loved to dance.

"I talked to Brian a little while ago. They'll be here soon." Carmen
said, gently tugging on his shirt. His clothing had to be perfect.

Someone opened the door at the top of the stairs, letting a beam of
light glare into the dark basement, causing our eyes to squint momentarily.
Jody's father walked down the stairs, stopped on the last step and rested his
thin forearms on the railing. He was born in Switzerland and actually served
in the Swiss army before moving to the United States. He was proud of his
heritage and passed on these patriotic feelings to Jody. Jody was always
eager to tell anyone the long and repeated story of how his father once
marched forty miles through mountainous terrain during a Swiss army
training session.

"How are you doing Mr. Bucher?" Carmen asked politely.
"Good,how are you doing guys?"Jody's father asked in his Swiss
accent.

"Oh, Chris called while I was on the phone. He said that he already
has a ride." Jody said. Chris was Jody's younger brother. Jody and I went
to the mall earlier during the day and saw Chris there. Jody crept behind his
brother without revealing himself. Once close enough, Jody grabbed him
strongly and quickly, and put him in a painful head lock. Chris struggled for
a second or two, trying to impress the surrounding tenth grade girls,but soon
surrendered. When Jody decided that he had embarrassed Chris enough, he released him.

Besides Jody being three years older,he and his brother were almost physically identical. They both had very similar faces and brown
hair. They had the sarme quick paced walk. Both of them had broad
shoulders and back muscles, and strange enough, they both had teeth that
had a slight yellow tint to them. From a distance, it was sometimes difficult
to tell them apart.

"You neverknow what that means with them. Jody's the same way."
Jody's father said smiling.

"Hey! See you later Dad."Jody said in a humorous tone, pointing up
the stairs, hoping his father would obey his order. Jody had a playful
relationship with his father.

"We're are you guys going tonight?" His father asked, walking half
way up the stairs and stopping.

"The club, bye."Jody said waving, but smiling.

"See you later. Behave yourselves." His father said walking up the
rest of the stairs and closing the door behind him.

We sat anxiously for more than twenty minutes, waiting for our ride,
when Brian Simpson came running down the stairs noisily, almost tripping
over his own feet. He was very excited."You ready, let's go."He said, and
then quickly ran back up the stairs, out the front door, and into the driveway.

Immediately, like machines, we filed out of the basement and up the
stairs."Get the TV!" Jody yelled to no one in particular. I wanted to ignore
him, but since I was the last one going up the stairs, I went back downstairs
and turned the TV off.

When I got outside and onto the driveway, Jody and Carmen had their
heads in Santullo's dark blue Mustang, trying to make their claims on the
new girl inside. I wasn't going to embarrass myself by trying to fit my head
between theirs, so I just stood behind them. Sometimes it seemed like girls
were turned off by over eager and hyperactive animals. For now, I'd stay
quiet and not act too interested. And if I got lucky, it would be a successful
night. Nothing was worse than a weekend night that ended in vain.

"I got a problem. I don't have a car." Jody said with has head halfvay
in the car window. Jody had a large pick-up truck that had mechanical
problems and was being repaired, and his mother wouldn't let him borrow
her car for the night.

"Try to fit in here." Brian said from the back seat. Santullo sat in the
front with his girlfriend Lauren, while Brian, who was Santullo's cousin, sat
in the back with his girlfriend Shannon and her female friend.

"Are you an idiot? There's already five people in there." Jody said
standing up and backing away from the car.

"All right, no problem. We'll be back." Santullo said, putting his car
into reverse and backing out of the driveway. We could hear the Mustang
driving away in the distance, its powerful 5.0 engine growled like a grizzly
bear.

The three of us walked back and sat down on the small porch that
connected with the side door to the house. The night sky was very clear, 
sprinkled with countless stars. Carmen lit up a cigarette."You're stupid. I
thought you quit." I said, trying to get out of the way of the toxic smoke.
Cigarette smoke was, and is, the only thing that truly repelled me. It's one
of the most ignorant habits.

"I did, but I got stress." Carmen said blowing smoke out of his mouth
and nose.

"You're a disgrace." I said watching him. He definitely wasn't
addicted to nicotine, and if he was, he was horribly weak-minded. He
smoked just to be cool. The more I watched him, the more stupid he looked.
He sucked in each drag so slowly, squinting his eyes until they were almost
closed. He exhaled even slower, blowing small amounts of smoke out of his
nose like a dragon. I laughed at him, shaking my head back and forth in
disbelief.

"What's so funny? Why are you staring at me?" Carmen asked
defensively.

"Who are you trying to impress? Look at yourself." I said. "Jody,
look at this kid. Look at his face."

"Just shut up." Jody said, pacing impatiently. This was an
unacceptable delay to him. Every second that was wasted in his driveway
was a second lost, forever, never to be used in the club.

"Will your mother mind if I sit on her car?" I asked as I climbed on
the trunk of the white Mercury Topaz.

"You're already sitting on it, but no, she won't care." Jody said, still
pacing.
 
"Don't just sit on it here. She's home. Have some respect."Carmen
said trying to get revenge on me for my cigarette lecture.

"Don't worry about it. She won't care."Jody repeated. I got off of
the car any ways; it wasn't very comfortable.

"Who was that girl, Shannon's friend?" Carmen asked, still
making love to his cigarette.

"Yeah, if she's bad looking you can have that one." Jody said patting me on the back.

"What girl? She didn't look ugly." I said. She looked cute enough to me from what I saw briefly.

About ten minutes passed until we heard Santullo's Mustang and
Brian's Mustang coming around the street corner. Their powerful engines
rumbled. Santullo was always interested in fast and powerful cars. Every
car he had owned was special and unique in some way or another. Brian had always wanted a car that was comparable to his cousin's, but could never afford one until now. After graduating from high school,he worked at a
local auto body shop and earned a reasonable amount of money. ln his spare time he worked on his new car, enhancing it until it was perfect. He finally had that car that he had always wanted, a shiny black, powerful Mustang.

"Who's car do they have?" Jody asked, watching the two cars coming
closer."It's Simpson's."He said, answering his own question.



The two Mustangs pulled in front of the driveway and stopped one in
front of the other. The three of us stood in the driveway for a moment,
trying to decide what car to get into.

"Carmen, come with me. You guys go with him." Santullo said
rolling down his tinted window. Our fate was sealed. Carmen and Santullo had a close bond together,maybe because they were both totally Italian and had slicked-back hair. It was amusing to watch them interact with each other.

I would rather have gone in Santullo'scar, but I thought that it didn't
really matter. Simpson could sometimes be foolish and unpredictable, but I
was in his new car once before and he drove it carefully and respectfully,
which was understandable considering all of the money and time that he
spent on it. If I had a new car, I would try to pamper it as well. So with that
thought, I felt content getting in. Jody got in first and sat behind Brian, and I
followed, sitting behind Shannon.

"Hi Shannon." I said, struggling to get into the small two-door sports
car. My leg was tangled in Shannon's seatbelt. "Are you all set?" Shannon asked, waiting for me to get in and organize myself.

"All set." I said sitting down and buckling my seatbelt. Shannon
reclined her seat back into a comfortable position. This is the one reason
why I would never buy a two-door car. I hate how the front seats in them
need to be pushed forward when someone wants to get into the backseat.
The person getting into the backseat can barely fit through the door and the
person already sitting in the front gets crushed during the unnecessary chaos. It's so inconvenient and uncomfortable.

As soon as we pulled away from Jody's house I realized that I had
made a mistake getting into Brian's car. We quickly turned around in the
driveway and then sped up Skelton Street, which was relatively staight and
at a slight incline, providing a perfect environment for dangerous speeds.
The speed limit was 25mph, but we were easily thundering down the quiet
residential street at over 60mph. Both cars were driving parallel, trying to
pass each other. I didn't say anything. I just stared out of the small window
nervously. I remember hearing the song "If I ruled the World" by the rap
group "NAS" playing on the radio. We continued speeding down the small
side streets, screeching around sand covered corners recklessly until we got
onto Cambridge Road, the main street in Burlington. Brian and Santullo
started driving safely then, since police patrolled the main streets more often
and efficiently than the smaller side streets. It wasn't worth getting an
expensive ticket.

"Careful, there's usually a cop up there." Jody said pointing ahead.
He sat in the middle of the back seat, perched between the two front seats
with one hand on the back of each of them. He always sat in this manner
when sitting in the backseat of a car. And he never wore his seatbelt either.
Jody and I would sometimes argue about seat belts, discussing whether or
not they were useful. He would always say that it was better not to wear a
seatbelt during an accident because it could trap you in the car. And if the
car caught on fire as a result of the accident, you would be burned alive
before you could get out. I always said that his belief was nonsense, and
wore my seat belt religiously. "What's wrong?" He asked me, knowing that
I was nervous.

"Nothing, I'm just relaxing."I said, not looking away from the
window.

We pulled into an Exxon gas station to get gas. Santullo pulled next
to us on the left side and parked his car. Brian got out of the car to pump the
gas, leaving the long, black car door open, allowing me to see Santullo's car.
Santullo got out of his car too and walked over to talk to Brian.

"Carmen!" I yelled for no reason. When he answered me I ignored
him and pretended like I didn't say his name. It was a good way to tease
him.

"Carmen, want a piece of the cake?" Jody asked Carmen, mocking
him. Once during the prior summer,when a few of us were at Carmen's
house watching TV in his marble decorated basement, his mother yelled
down the stairs, asking Carmen if he wanted a piece of the cake that she had just baked. She was a short, plump Italian woman with a heavy accent. It was interesting to listen to her talk. When she asked him in her high pitched voice, it sounded like "Carmine, wanna piece-a da cake-a?" Since that day, someone would ask Carmen if he wanted a piece of the cake at least once an hour. We would especially stress the word cake, converting it into a two-syllable word pronounced cake-a. He didn't seem to mind the mockery too much.

"What's up?" Carmen asked knowing that we wouldn't answer. He
was hanging his head out of car window, showing off his huge smile that
stretched from ear to ear.

Then,looking out the open car door, I noticed that I was right about
Shannon's friend. She was really cute.

Santullo and Brian walked back over to the car, peering in it at Jody
and me. "My clutch is all messed up." Brian said pumping his clutch several
times. Santullo got into the car and pumped the clutch a few times too,
trying to see what the problem was. "See." Brian said, not even knowing if
his cousin thought there was something wrong or not.

"I don't know what to tell you." Santullo said getting out Brian's car
and walking back to his own.

We left the gas station and drove south on Winn Street towards
lnterstate 95. I was calm now, since we were driving at the speed limit. I
felt relieved with the thought that we probably wouldn't speed on the
highway because of the high concentration of state troopers, and not to
mention the amount of regular traffic as well. It was a little past ten o'clock,
and the police would be ready in full force for the weekend thrill seekers.

"Is the wind hitting you guys?"Shannon asked turning around. She
was an attractive girl, tall with light brown hair.

I didn't mind the window being open at all. The cool air felt good on
my face.

"No, but we'll tell you if it does on the highway." Jody said, still
looking between the two front seats. He was like a puppy during its first car
ride, so anxious to look around and absorb the surrounding environment.

"#@#@!" Brian said as he tried to switch gears. The transmission made
an awful screeching sound as the gears slid across each other, damaging
their metallic teeth.

"Simpson, you're going to @#@# up your transmission."Jody said.
 
"I don't know what the hell is wrong with it." Brian said, fooling with
his stick shifter. He'd been having minor trouble with it for the past couple
of days.

We drove underneath the highway bridge and got onto the northbound
on-ramp, with Santullo trailing directly behind us. Immediately and
ferociously, Brian started to accelerate, trying to get as far ahead of his
cousin as possible. The wheels screeched as we sped up and around the
curvature of the on-ramp. My nervousness and worries returned instantly. I
hoped that this would only be a short outburst of insanity. Soon, my hopes
would be shattered.

As we violently entered the flow of heavy traffic on the highway we
almost rammed a pick-up truck pulling a trailer with a boat on it. Brian
seemed so determined to stay ahead of Santullo. We pulled around the pickup truck and started to accelerate, quickly leaving it far behind us. Faster and faster we drove, until it seemed like the cars that we were passing stood still. Their tail-lights became a blur of red streaks, rushing past us. I saw Santullo to our right, slowly gaining on us. Cars flew between us. He would pass us soon. It was a friendly competition between cousins, but also  a very dangerous, potentially lethal competition. And I didn't want to be a part of it in any way.

@#@#@, I'm only going a hundred." Brian said, frustrated with his
transmission again. I had a brief sense of relief when I heard Brian say this.
I thought that he would stop accelerating if it was causing damage to his car, but I was wrong again. At the moment, he seemed to be addicted to speed and danger. Nothing else mattered.

Jody still sat perched forward with his head between the front seats,
watching the cars whiz by faster and faster with blinding speed. Unlike me,
he didn't seem frightened at all. He swore and cursed a few times out of
excitement, not fear. He loved the thrill of speed. He was obsessed with the
Dukes of Hazard TV show. Even his last car, before his present truck, was
the same model and make as the General Lee car in the Dukes of Hazard
show. If you called him on the telephone during the show, he wouldn't even
talk to you. The show had priority over any telephone call. He didn't
realize the risk that came with speed, and if he did, he didn't want to show it.
I felt very different.I knew how easily something could go wrong. I wanted
to get out of the car and go home. I promised myself that after the club I
wouldn't drive home with Brian. If I had to, I'd embarrass myself and call
my mother for a ride. There was no way that I could go home in a car that
was driving this recklessly. No way would I take another life threatening
risk.

I saw Shannon trying to put her seat belt on in front of me. She tried
twice and failed. For some reason she couldn't get it to lock. Maybe she
was frightened and couldn't concentrate. She tried frantically a third time
and fortunately got it to lock on, securing her body.

Santullo was ahead of us now by about fifty yards. Both cars were
still accelerating like rockets, weaving in and out of the rows of cars. A few
seconds later I saw Santullo's red breaklights flash a few times, signaling
that the race was over and that he had won. But Brian refused to stop; he
passed Santullo on the left and continued to accelerate towards a dense
concentration of cars, gaining on them with thundering speed.

I was in a trance now. I was so nervous. My mind was blank, without
any thought. "Cut it off." I said quietly, not loud enough for anyone to hear
too clearly. I was nineteen years old and still had too much pride. I had to be invincible. I didn't want to be a baby and whine about how fast we were
going. I didn't want to get to the club and listen to everyone mock me,
laughing at how scared I was. I didn't want to embarrass myself. Foolishly,
I allowed my instincts and common sense to be overpowered by the need to
be cool.

I glanced away from the window and got a quick glimpse of the green
tinted speedometer, which revealed our speed at a little more than 120mph.
At this point I didn't see or know where Santullo was,and I didn't really
care. I wanted to disappear. I wanted Brian to stop this madness. I had
absolutely no control over anything. Never in my life have I ever felt so
helpless before.

On this section of lnterstate 95 there were a total of eight lanes, four
moving northbound and four moving southbound. Ahead of us there were
four cars driving parallel to each other in each of the four lanes, creating an
impassable barrier of steel and glass. The only possible way to get around
them was to drive into the breakdown lane and pass them, but that wouldn't
be an easy maneuver. We were driving at least twice as fast as they were
and there would only be a second or two to make a decision, a decision that
would soon choose our fate. And hopefully, I thought Brian would realize
that there were no real options to continue on this insane rampage, and slow
down to a safe speed. But Brian continued to accelerate towards the four
cars, aiming his car directly at them. I couldn't believe what was happening.
There was no way around them. We would definitely hit them. We would
all be dead in a few seconds. Brian drove faster and faster towards them
without any hesitation, and at the last possible second, swerved the car to the right and drove between two of the cars, making a lethal fifth lane for
himself. I ducked and put my head between my legs, covering my face with
my forearms. There must have been no more than an inch or two on either
side of our car. It was insane. We should have been killed, but miraculously
we somehow squeezed through without hitting them. I didn't matter though;
there were many other concerns ahead of us to deal with. We still kept on
going without letting off on the speed at over 120mph. I was still alive, but
the nightmare ride wasn't over yet.

Now we were in the third lane, with a small van atread of us. Brian
gradually cut over to the second lane, dodging the van easily. It flew by us
with a blur of light. We drove for about a quarter of a mile towards the
Route 38 exit in Woburn in the second lane, the engine sounding like a chain saw at full throttle. We continued to cruise like a bullet, still not slowing
down at all. The highway went up a slight incline over a medium sized hill.
The car's suspension bounced gently as we started climbing it.
There was a frailer truck ahead of us by about two or three hundred yards in the second lane, so Brian started to steer the car into the first lane to pass it.
 
As the car was moving right into the first lane we reached the crest of the
hill and started to go down the other side, causing devastating results. Going
up the hill the car's suspension was compressed down tightly under the
weight of the car, but as we went over the crest the suspension loosened and allowed the car's weight to hop slightly, forcing it to lose traction for a
fraction of a second. This quick loss of traction, with the front wheels
turned to the right, caused the car to lose confrol and fish tail to the left. I felt
the car lose confrol. I could hear the tires screech. I could smell the rubber
tires burning. I was frightened beyond imagination, but by no means
surprised. Of course this would happen. It was inevitable. But there was
nothing to worry about. I had no control over my own fate. I would either
live or die, nothing else. I had no responsibility over my destiny. And I
knew that the truth was only seconds away. And in a strange and twisted
way, I was relieved. The ride would be over soon.

Brian panicked and quickly tried to bring the car back under his
control. I saw him recklessly swerve the car back to the left, trying to turn
into the spin, which would straighten the car out. But panicking, he turned
too much and brought the car back into the second lane, the place that would
soon change all of our lives forever.

There were no more options. In an instant we would hit the rear end
of the truck. I saw it directly ahead of us, looming like a mountain. The large, heavy steel doors of the long trailer were all that could be seen from inside of the car. It was an overwhelming, terrifying sight. The trailer hung over the car like a giant  sledgehammer, ready to crush all of us like meaningless insects. The stainless steel doors shined brightly from the reflected light from our headlights. I realized that my short life would come to an end now. I didn't want to suffer, or live the rest of my life as an immobile, helpless cripple. Mentally and emotionally, I wouldn't be strong enough to live the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Death was better. I only hoped that it would be a quick and painless death.

                  

I thought of my mother. I imagined what she was doing at that moment, at the moment of her only son's death. I pictured her in her pink bathrobe, curled up on the couch watching television. Like always, she covered herself in a warm, green plaid blanket. The bluishlight from the TV gently coated the entire room. Her cat Vicky sat in her lap purring as she slowly stroked it.

I knew that pure peace was with my mother at that moment. I on the other hand was on the brink of hell. I wished I could close my eyes and erase my horrifying surroundings.I wished that I could be at home with my mother, watching television. I wished I could lie on her warm lap. I needed her to run her caring hands through my hair and tell me that everything was going to be all right. I wanted to be comforted by her one last time before I left this world. But I couldn't. My time was finished here.

I felt guilty for my ignorance. I would be dead soon, unable to suffer any
longer or deal with the sorrowful consequences resulting from my death.
But my mother would have to live on with utter regret and hopelessness.
She would have to deal with the consequences. She would always have to
ask herself what she had done wrong with me. She would grow into an old,
sad lady, who would never see her only son again and say that she loved
him. She would never be able to hold her son in her arms again, all because
of my ignorance, I should have known better than to put myself in such a
vulnerable position. And as a result, my mother would never again be a
happy woman. She would wither away like a beautiful rose in the dead of
winter. Many thoughts do pass through your mind in the fraction of time before death.
 
The instant before the impact, everything moved in slow motion. Time
seemed to stop, allowing me to realize what I was about to
lose. ln that last instant, a lifetime of happiness and regrets rushed
through my mind with perfect clarity. There was absolutely no sound during
that eerie instant. Not one word came out of anyone's mouth. Not a shout,
not a scream, nothing.

Although I was confused and frightened, my instincts to survive still
functioned quickly. I somehow unburied and released a rational thought. I
would have to try to protect myself, even though I knew it would be in vain.
I lowered my head and tucked it between my legs, covering my face with my
forearms. I tightened my stomach until the muscles ached. The eerie silence
disappeared with a deafening bang. Even though my eyes were closed,I
saw a bright flash of white light. My body vibrated violently when the
shock waves of the impact passed through me. My insides hurt. I could feel
my internal organs being crushed and squeezed by the drastic decrease of speed and  momentum. My seat belt burned across my chest and stomach like a whip. I could feel pieces of metal and glasss lashing across my forearms. I kept my eyes tightly closed, begging for my life. I could hear the tires roaring loudly. The smell of engine oil and gasoline were potent in the air. The wind seemed to be dramatically changing directions, over and over again. It felt as if the car was spinning in circles.I glanced up and realized  that I was right. I could first see the red taillights of cars ahead of us, and then the white headlights of cars behind us would follow. The pattern repeated itself at least four times that I could remember. I couldn't believe that I actually survived the initial impact. The worst was over. But still, I refused to believe that I would live. My death was a certainty. Our car was spinning violently, crisscrossing across the highway, and would definitely be struck from behind by an approaching vehicle. I tucked my head back between my  legs and clenched my fists, preparing myself for another impact, which luckily never came.

Had the car stopped? Was the nightmare over? Had my life been
spared? I asked myself all of these questions before opening my eyes and
hesitantly glancing out of the annihilated car. I saw the median guardrail to
my left. Yes, the car had stopped. Yes,the horrible nightmare was over.
And yes, my life had been spared. I felt exfremely relieved. I was alive, and
that was all that mattered. The car had come to a halt in the far left lane,
about ten feet from the median guardrail. I turned around and looked out of
the rear window, which somehow remained intact. Before taking off my
seatbelt, I wanted to make sure that there were no cars coming from behind
that couldn't see us and crash into our car. I didn't survive the wrath of an
indestructible trailer truck to be killed by a small, passing car. The view was
clear. There was nothing behind us. There was no danger from other cars. I
quickly unbuckled my life-saving seatbelt and looked to my left at Jody. I
was worried that the car would burst into flames and incinerate all of us. I
wanted to tell him to get out. But it was too late. He wouldn't be getting out
of the car, at least on his own. He was sitting neatly in his seat, as if nothing
had happened. His neck was totally limp, allowing his chin to rest on his
chest. His hair was completely saturated with blood. Blood was quickly
running down his face and neck, painting his cheeks a deep red, almost
black. I could see a large, deep gash in his head about a half of an inch
wide, stretching from his forehead to the top of his ear. Blood flowed from
it like an open faucet. The collar of his shirt started to turn red with blood. I
couldn't believe my eyes. How could something like this happen to Jody?
He wasn't dead though. Bubbles of blood popped out of his nose when he
slowly and unconsciously exhaled. And a small bubble of blood was extending from his lips. Regardless, I knew that he wouldn't survive with such a horrible wound. How could he survive? He'd bleed to death before anyone could help him.

I put my foot on the back of Brian's seat and pulled myself out of the
car. The roof had been torn off during the impact. When I hopped onto the
pavement my back and stomach ached, but I was alive. The solid ground
felt great under my feet. I felt good to be alive. I have never felt so alive in
my life. Jody was going to die soon, but I could walk away and live another
day. At that moment I knew that I had been given a gift, the gift of life.

I looked back at Jody and saw that his entire shirt was drenched with
dark blood. The deep gash in his head was quickly draining him of his
young life. He slowly started to slide onto his side until his limp body
rested across the back seat. He looked so lifeless. I now knew that he was truly going to die. I became furious. My friend, my good friend, would die
tonight because of an ignorant, worthless race. Brian had caused all of this
destruction. He was responsible for Jody's death, and I hated him for it.

I glanced away from Jody and looked at Brian. The steering wheel
was crushed against his chest, trapping him in his seat. He had been
partially impaled by the steering column. His head was resting on the
crumpled dashboard. He was obviously dead, and I believed that he had
been rightfully punished for what he had done. He had killed Jody, and he
had almost killed me. Jody's mother would never recover, or would Brian's.
I walked closer, and what I saw guaranteed that he was dead.His left
eye faced me and was wide open, seeing nothing. He had
no idea what he had done. He would never know what he had stolen from
his own family and Jody's family. In an instant, he had destroyed two
families. He had taken something that was irreplaceable and priceless.His
forehead was misted with blood. Blood slowly ran out of his nose. I walked
even closer and put my face about a foot away from his, looking into his
blank eye. It spoke death. I glanced around at the other side of his head and realized how horrible his death had been. A large portion of the right side of his head, about the size of a large potato, was gone. His right eye was gone. Pieces of fractured skull and bloody brain tissue were stuck in his black hair, looking as if someone has sprinkled raw hamburger here and there. And hanging out of the hole in his forehead was a piece of brain about the size of a lemon, glowing in the orange light of a small fire that had started in the engine. I felt nothing. I had no emotion. I looked away from his mangled head, and saw more gore acrossthe dashboard. Small pieces of
brain and pink tissue were scattered across it. One large
piece of skull rested near the stick shifter, with Brian's hair still
connected to it. His life had ended instantly,and without fear or pain. He
had never realized that he was utterly out of control, until perhaps the
last instant.

I saw movement next to Brian. It was Shannon. Amazingly, she was
still alive. I ran around to the other side of the car and heard her murmuring
to herself. She didn't seem to be totally conscious. The fractured
windshield was on top of her, trapping her in the car. Small pieces of Brian's
brain were on her. I punchedthe window, tryingto free her, but failed.
The glass was completely destroyed, but since it was safety glass,it stayed
in one piece and was flexible. It's flexibility made it virtually impossible
to break through. I punched it a few more times,but failed again. I was confused and in shock. I felt as if I was drunk. I thought that it didn't matter.
I didn't know her, And at that moment, I selfishly didn't care what happened to her. The thought fills me with shame today. I walked away, never to see my two friends alive again.

What happened next is irrelevant. The damage was already done and
written into our memories. A few minutes later Carmen and Santullo came
running down the highway screaming in fear, hoping for the best, but
knowing in their hearts that their friends were gone. Gone because of total
ignorance. They soon saw the same carnage that I had seen, and surely they were engulfed with many of the same emotions that I had felt moments
before, like anger, sorrow, regret, hopelessness, and countless others.
And like me, they will never forget the way they felt that terriffing night.
They will never forget what they saw. They will always remember how
horrible Jody looked in the backseat of Brian's car, that terrible gash,
blood soaking through his favorite blue and white shirt, which he so often
wore during the weekends.They will always remember how their goodfriend Brian looked, with his brain hanging out of his head. They tried to pull him from the car, but he was impaled on the steering column. I remember the sight of Brian's limp neck with his shattered head on top moving about like
a ghastly doll. And they will always wonder regretfully, even when they are old men, what Jody and Brian might have done with their lives if they hadn't died that night. I have every day. Shannon, thank God, lived.

Like I said in the first paragraph of this story, I now see what was
really lost and gained that night. I have gained so much since then. I have
laughed with friends and shook their hands. I have gone to college and
graduated, meeting so many good people in the process. I have thrown
parties and had the honor of being the host. I have kissed girls. I have been jealous. I have heard the songs of birds. I have enjoyed many Christmases since then. I have played with my nephews. I have gotten revenge on people. I have gone for walks in the woods and swam in cool lakes. I have seen the sun set and rise. I have slept in a warm bed. I have thrown snowballs. I have gone for jogs and lifted weights with new friends, but none have replaced Jody. I have seen movies without paying. I have cried when there is no reason to. I have laughed when there is no reason to. I have been to bachelor parties and waved dollar bills in the air. I have taken many things for granted. I have lied on my mother's lap while she ran her
fingers through my hair. I have stepped in dogmess and have had no choice but to clean my shoe with a small stick. I have created a giant terrarium. I have been told that everything will be all right. I have felt the heat of a crush. I have felt the disappointment that comes with rejection. I have gone to summer beaches and stared at beautifulgirls in tiny bikinis. I have seen perfectly clear nights that are filled with bright stars. I have fallen in love. I have argued and  fought. I have said goodbye to goodfriends. I have said good riddance to enemies.I have been bitten my insects. I have cursed at people when stuck in traffic. I have gone to the bathroom. I have had my heart broken. I have been frightened. I have been sick. I have gone snorkeling.I have traveled across the UnitedStates and seen many unique places. I have spent and earned money. I have felt the love from another. I have eaten many delicious foods. I have been angry. I have gone camping several times and had the opportunity to start enormous bonfires, sometimes indulging myself by burning things that shouldn't be burned. I have wondered about God and aliens. I have looked in the mirror and been pleased and sometimes disgusted with what I saw. I have said jokes that no one laughed at. I have had hangovers and said that I will never drink alcohol again. I have drank again after saying that I wouldn't ever drink again. I have stubbed my toe and blamed it on a chair. I have told people that I love them. I have jumped into pools. I have mocked people. I have gone fishing. I
have urinated on trees. I have been punched and bled. I have walked during
autumn and watched the leaves fall. I have punched and caused others to
bleed. I have disappointed people. I have felt refreshed after brushing my
teeth. I have made people laugh and I have had people laughatme. I have
had my feelings hurt. I have been stuck in the rain. I have impressed people. I have made people angry. I have yelled at people for smoking cigarettes around me. I have failed and passed tests.I have gone to bars and danced with many girls. I have smiled and frowned. I have been lied to
and betrayed. I have enjoyed the scent of a woman's perfumeon on many occasions. I have gone to New York City and been fascinated by the height of the skyscrapers. I have choked on food. I have felt the ocean breeze. I have given gifts. I have felt pain. I have lived only 23 years, but it seems like so much, four more years than Jody and Brian.

And what of the future? I will have a good life. I will marry a beautiful
woman. I will see my children play in the backyard of my suburban house. I will have the career of my dreams. I will teach my  children how to be good people and I will watch them bloom. I will travel the world. I will have the opportunity to retire. I will lose many loved ones and friends. I will have barbecues at my home. I will look back at my childhood with pleasure. I will remember all of my friends and try to forget my enemies. I will tell my grandchildren, maybe even my great-grandchildren, stories about what it was like in the olden days. And I will die peacefully without any regrets, as an oldman many years from now, surrounded by my many loved ones and my still, beautiful, loving wife.

I gained everything when I lept out of the back of Brian's Mustang. So what has been lost? From my perspective, I have lost two friends. Two mothers have lost their sons, an unnatural and unGodly loss. What is worse is what Jody Bucher and Brian Simpson have lost forever. They have lost everything imaginable, they have lost it all, their lives, everything
they were and would ever become. Shame on the stupidity of youth that made this abomination possible.


 

THE DOG AND THE SEA TURTLE 

            A long time ago, along a far away beach, roamed a lonely dog.  Each and every day the dog would walk along the sandy shore in search of love, but each night, with the rising of the shining Moon, he would leave the hissing waves behind and return alone to his cold den, deep in a nearby forest.  Other dogs howled throughout the night, desperate for companionship, but their sad cries only made the dog more lonesome. 

            For years the dog searched along the empty beach in vain, never once finding anything to love.  Day after day, the dog continued his search, gradually losing more and more hope with each setting of the Sun, until one day, something caught its attention in the crashing waves nearby.  He walked cautiously towards the object, not knowing what it was.  He paused at a safe distance and watched the unknown object anxiously, more curious than frightened.  As the object emerged from the white foam and slowly moved inshore through the white sand, the dog realized that it was a beautiful sea turtle coming from the sea, surely not a thing to fear. 

            The dog had heard of stories of sea turtles, but he had never seen one with his own eyes before.  He had been told that beneath the surface of the sea, underneath the rolling and churning waves, the sea turtle is one of the most graceful creatures in all of creation.  But on the sand, he was told, the sea turtle is completely out of its natural realm, virtually helpless – and the dog saw this, as he watched the sea turtle’s flippers digging into the sand clumsily, pushing its body inland with obvious effort.  The dog approached the sea turtle with renewed confidence.

                        

             “Hello.  Where are you going?”  The dog asked in a friendly tone.

             “I’m going up the beach, to explore, to see the forest, and perhaps the mountains beyond.”  The sea turtle said in a gentle voice, pausing to look up at the dog for a moment before continuing on.  The sea turtle had wonderful, big, dark eyes, and long eye-lashes – a beautiful female.

             “Why?”  The dog asked, confused.  He could not understand why anyone would ever want to visit the forest, his forest especially.

             “Because I have never been to the forest before, and it is always good to see new things.”  The sea turtle continued pushing herself across the sand.  “These things are said to be beautiful, too.”  She said.

             “You’re right.”  The dog said happily.  And then with greater enthusiasm he said, “I live in the forest, and know the mountains well.  Let me take you to them.”

             “That would be wonderful.”  The sea turtle said.

             And so, for the first time in a long time, the dog was happy.  Side by side, the sea turtle and the dog went across the beach, agile paws and clumsy flippers leaving prints in the sand behind them.  Into the forest they went together, and to the mountains far beyond, too.  The dog showed the sea turtle where he lived, where he was born, and all the places and things that the dog loved about his home.  For many days the dog showed the sea turtle its world, and the sea turtle loved everything that she saw – especially the dog.

             One cold night, the dog and the sea turtle were warm inside the dog’s den.  The dog was so happy and content, but he was also afraid of the inevitable - that someday the sea turtle would return to the sea, leaving his world cold and lonely again.

             “Will you return to the sea someday?”  The dog asked nervously, already knowing the answer to his own question.

             The sea turtle took a long time to answer.  “Someday.”  She said quietly. 

             “I don’t want you to.  I want you to stay here, with me.”  The dog said sadly.

             “I want to stay here with you, too.  But I am a sea turtle, and I need the warm touch of the sea.  I cannot live without it.”  The sea turtle said, and then put her flipper on top of the dog’s furry paw.

             “I know.”  The dog said sadly, and then rested his head gently on top of the sea turtle’s green shell.

             “But I am here with you now.  I am not leaving you yet.”  The sea turtle said.  “I have seen all I wanted of the forest and the mountains.  There’s nothing else that I need to see.  I am only staying here, now, for one reason – you.”  She paused, and then said in a whisper.  “I love you.”

             The sea turtle’s words warmed the dog’s heart like the rising of the morning Sun.  “I love you, too.”  Said the dog, and then they both fell asleep together in the dog’s tiny, warm den, thinking not of the future and their parting, but only of the happy, perfect moment surrounding them.

             The dog and the sea turtle continued to roam the land together, growing more and more attached to each other, their love growing stronger with each day, but also with each day the inevitable, unwanted future became increasingly obvious to them both.  The sea turtle’s flippers were starting to dry out, her shell was losing its beautiful color, and her eyes needed the moisture of the sea.  She was growing sick, and the only cure was for her to return to the salty waters of the sea.  She had to go home.  The day they both feared had finally arrived.

             “It’s time for you to go home now, isn’t it?”  The dog asked with sad eyes.

             “Yes.”  The sea turtle could say nothing else, as tears rolled down her face from her big eyes.

         "Let me come with you.”  The dog said, his eyes showing a glimmer of hope from behind his sorrow.

             "But how will you swim?  You have no flippers.  How will you go beneath the sea’s surface?”  The sea turtle tried to reason.

             "You will help me swim.  I will hold on to your shell, and we will dive together beneath the sea surface.”  The dog said, and then continued.  “If only for a moment, I want to see your world, your home.”

             “It will be too dangerous for you.”  The sea turtle said, her dark eyes showing sadness.

             “It was dangerous for you to leave the sea, but you did anyways.”  The dog said.  “Like you said, it is good to see new things.  I want you to take me.  You can take care of me, like I took care of you here.”

             And so without further delay, the dog and the sea turtle moved down the beach and into the crashing waves.  The sea turtle, no longer hindered by the land, moved easily through the water, while the dog struggled to keep his head above the surface and the crashing waves. 

             “Hold on to me.”  The sea turtle said, and then dove beneath the surface, with the dog gripping tightly onto her shell.

            The dog was more frightened than he had ever been before, and held on to the sea turtle’s shell as tightly as he could.  After they had dove deeper into the water, beneath the turbulent foam and churning bubbles of the surface, silence ensued, and the dog opened his eyes to an amazing world of beauty that instantly evaporated his fears.  The sea turtle’s world was a world of color, infinite colors.  Fish were everywhere, to his left and right, above and below him, each one a different size and color and shape.  Jellyfish floated about, some transparent and almost invisible, while others pulsated with light and darted out of the sea turtle’s way.  The coral landscape below was a maze of caves and crevices, each one containing untold mysteries of beauty, and long, thick strands of slowly waving seaweed stretched to heights taller than any forest tree.  And most beautiful of all was the sea turtle herself.  She gracefully glided through the water without any effort at all.  The sea turtle belonged here, like clouds belonged to the sky.  As the dog held on to her shell, he felt as if he was flying, flying safely and slowly above the whole world.  It was a world of perfect beauty and balance, but nonetheless, an alien world, a world where the dog could never live, just as alien to him as his world had been to the sea turtle.  And then, just as quickly as they had gone beneath the surface, they rose above it again. 

             “What did you think?”  The sea turtle asked.

             “I barely have words to explain.  It was amazing.  Beautiful.  Amazingly beautiful.”  The dog said, his fur wet and panting to catch his breath.

             “It is.”  The sea turtle said.  “It is my home.”

             Their stomachs fluttered with nervousness.  It was time for them to part, to go their separate ways, but neither one of them wanted to speak of it.  The thought of leaving each other was unbearable to them both - inconceivable.  Their worlds had generously allowed them to share time together, but now, that time was exhausted, and no more could be granted to them.  They could feel their separate worlds pulling on them, pulling on them in opposite directions, and there was nothing either one of them could do to resist.  Their destinies had already been written, long ago and on separate pages of different books.    

             The sea turtle slowly swam towards the shore, the dog now comfortably holding on to her shell without any fear.  The sea turtle came to a shallow depth, and stopped, her flippers touching the sand below.  The dog still clung to her shell, as small waves gently washed up against their bodies, first pulling them out to sea slightly and then pushing them towards the shore with the same gentle force, over and over again, as if the sea itself was confused as to where it should put them.

             Against all his will and instinct, the dog let go of the sea turtle’s shell, and slid into the warm water.  Up to his chest in water, he moved close to the sea turtle and tucked his head tightly against her head, so tightly that he could feel the tickling of her eye lashes as they blinked.  They stayed like that for a long moment, until a large wave crashed into them and pushed them apart.  The dog came back and gently touched his nose to hers.

             “I love you.”  He said.

             With tears streaming from her big, dark eyes, she repeated him.  “I love you.” She said.

             Another wave pushed them apart, as if nature was getting impatient with their lengthy goodbye.  The dog backed away from the sea turtle, and they both looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment, and then another wave pushed them apart, forcing the dog onto the shore’s wet sand.  The dog gained his composure, and without thinking, ran back into the water and clung to the sea turtle once more, like a frantic pup to its mother. 

             “I will never forget you.”  The sea turtle sobbed.

             And then a massive wave, an angry wave, violently knocked the two of them apart, and washed the dog onto the beach once more.  Covered in sand, the dog got to his feet, and looked out to the sea in the direction where the sea turtle had been only seconds before.  He saw nothing but rolling waves.  She was gone.

             The dog lay down on the beach, and when the Sun set and the bright Moon rose, he stayed on the sand, too emotionally weak to move.  Full of sorrow, he paid no attention when some of the larger waves washed against him and pushed sand into his fur.  And once again, the cool night air echoed with the sad sounds of lonesome howls, his voice but one of many now.

             And deep below the sea’s surface, the sea turtle swam with sorrowful eyes, her many tears adding ever so slightly to the sea’s dark, nighttime waters.  The dog would never know that some of the sea turtle’s tears were washing up against him with each wave that came ashore on that first, heartbreaking night.

             As it has always done, and always will, time moved on, unconcerned with the countless effects it has on the world and its inhabitants.  The sorrow and heartache that the sea turtle and the dog felt with each other’s absence gradually lessened, and eventually, very slowly, allowed them to move on to once again pursue their own, separate, lives.  Both would love again, and both would have their happy families to grow old with.  But both of their hearts would always carry a small scar, a memory of special times passed.  Looking out at the vastness of the sea, the dog would sometimes wonder, with a strange melancholy interest and sad nostalgia, what had become of the sea turtle.   And the sea turtle would sometimes look up at the glimmering sea surface from below and see the bright Sun shining high above, and wonder what had happened to the dog, and if he, at the very same moment somewhere, was looking up at the Sun, thinking of her.

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