ONE MORNING EARLY, BEFORE MY FATHER DISAPPEARS, he shows me how to fire a gun. It was cold outside, my toes were tingly pieces of numb meat. Walking out there barefoot as he aimed at his weathered target he’d shot at almost every day. My hands tight under my arm pits.
Without looking at me or stopping what he was doing, he asked, “Why you up so early?” His voice coated with cigarette smoke and beer. Scratchy.
With a wave of his hand he says, “C’mere son, every man should know how to fire his weapon.”
“Fuck dogs.” He says, “I don’t care what people say. A man’s true best friend is his gun.”
After that he fires, that loud smack in the air that makes my ear drums pop, makes everything sound far away. Some early morning out-of-body experience.
Finally, he looks at me. His eyes distant, still coming back to reality from concentration. Just him and his gun. The only thing he really loves.
Out here, shooting all night again. You can tell from the deep dark circles outlining his eyes.
He puts it out toward me and says, “Here. Take it.” I do.
His arms, he wraps around me, his rough callused hands guiding mine. Gripping my hands gripping the gun. My cheek pressed firmly against the stock, cold metal. “Grab it,” he says, “like you mean it.” And I do, or try to.
Lifting it up, he tells me, “Its easy. Just like that cereal with the munchkins or whatever the hell they are; You snap it back.”
He cocks the firearm.
“Crackle . . . and Pop.” The metal shoves me into his chest and the butt of the gun hits my collarbone in a punch. A hit like brass knuckles. The area already bruising. Tiny blood vessels ruptured, seeping under my skin. I rub the skin, the bone, and hold back tears.
The rifle hangs from his right hand and he studies me for a while, then laughs. “Feels good. Don’t it?"
This hazy afternoon, my footsteps were loud and echoed down the halls of the school unlike ever before. It seemed empty. And a part of me almost wished it was.
The prescription medication I’d been on for some time, seemed perfect for the occasion. Xanax. Prozac. Klonopin.
Vicodin-left over from somebody’s surgery, just sitting in the medicine cabinet.
I thought, what the hell.
All the drugs were acting against each other and working together, creating a manic and lucid state inside me. The 8-ball of coke kept me alert. The other stuff smoothed it all out, made everything a little easier.
The rifle in my hands, my eye focused down the scope. The butt of it against my shoulder. The heavy piece of black metal in all its morbid beauty, makes me feel like a God. It’s easy to picture Bryan Rambo at the end of it, the gun warm inside my hands and poking the back of his throat so he gags and slobbers, thick wet saliva that runs down his chin with tears and snot. His pretty hazel eyes all watery. Just like a bitch in some low-budget porno.
To be completely honest, originally the idea for the lovely semi-automatic was to drive out to the middle of no where, with a full tank of gas and blow my brains out in a splatter of thick red chunks all over the backseat of moms minivan. After getting there, taking the long drive, parked on some hill, some mound of dirt, overlooking the city. The gun sitting in the passenger seat like my best friend. It all just didn’t feel suitable enough. Just didn’t feel . . . right.
What I needed, just for once in my life, was some recognition.
Everyone stared at my face first.
They knew the gun was in my hands, but didn’t want to drop their gaze. Abruptly stopping whatever they were doing, whatever the teacher was saying. When the door of the classroom swung open, faces stared back. Blank and pale and emotionless. I could feel the heavy beads of sweat falling from my forehead. Panting. Breaths of air forcing themselves out. I told everyone to get on their fucking knees. To put their hands behind their heads. The usual.
Once they saw the gun, most people do the same thing; they raise their hands, they beg and plead. They say, “Please . . . You don’t want to do this . . .” Their furrowed brows and open mouths. Trying to stand straight, trying to hold back tears. Slowly taking steps back.
Like anything they have to say is going to change my mind.
All I’d have to picture was some dirty look they directed towards me during the four years of high school, some unoriginal insult they could shout, then laugh with their friends about after. Groups with their fingers pointed, hands over their mouths. Giggling.
Being thrown into the trash cans after lunch. In the pitch black, the rotten smell of waste. My hand on some cold piece of lunch meat. Waiting. Waiting for the giggles from beyond the pitch black to fade away. Waiting silently till the janitor came and undid the latch that left me trapped.
You’ll never understand it, no one ever does. Why you become the target. It’s as if everyone else lives in some other world, and somehow you were trapped in this one.
Let me make this clear, this was not some copy cat killing spree. It’s not that I don’t admire Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris for what they did with Columbine. It was the work of true artists’.
But this, for me, was something completely different.
The research was important. I needed to know who did what wrong and why. The Virginia Tech massacre orchestrated by Seung-Hui Cho, killed thirty-two people, and wounded a handful more.
There was Barry Loukaitis. In Moses Lake, Washington. Who came to school dressed as a gunslinger from the old wild-west. Leather boots, holster and all. Killing three students with his two pistols tucked away and injuring a teacher. He took hostages. I like to imagine him using one of those accents. A thick southern drawl he practiced in the mirror beforehand, whipping his gun round and round on his index finger.
And always. Always, it seems it’s way too easy to obtain a gun. For anyone. They say, they’ll take care of it. Tighten the system. But soon after, there is another one. Every few years.
For me it was about a girl. The only girl I’ve ever loved. Her name is Tara Pfaff, and she was the only person who ever cared about me. The only person who ever listened.
And I know what you’re thinking; How typical. Some high school kid, some loner, he falls head over heels in love and will do anything for his so-called “soul mate.”
But trust me, this was more than love. This was my only chance to really get what was mine. To show everyone that I was a man.
As I walked down the hallways, people lay dead in pools of blood, and now I felt a pang of anxiety deep in my bones. The screaming and chaos ahead, coming from all directions. It was easier, and calmed me down once I cocked and fired a bullet straight through someones chest, immediately they’d become silent.
The floor shakes from the stampede of kids running down and out of halls. Earthquake rumble.
Next, I had to tell Tara this was it. We could leave together. That we had to go. Fast, before the cops came. I had the car parked right outside. If she wanted to be with me, now was the time. There was no turning back.
Tara was the school counselor. Where I ended up mostly every day at lunch time, in her office, talking up a storm of emotion.
One day, during one of our “sessions,” I told her how some times, I truly felt that you can’t escape fate. That maybe we’ve got this life, and all the pain, the suffering, the bullshit, is just part of this little game.
Sometimes, I kinda feel like I was just dealt a shit hand.
Her long dirty blonde hair, white collar button up shirts with the sleeves rolled up. She’d play by the rules, but there was always that edge to her. The smile she’d have on once I walked into her office, burning holes in my chest.
“Well, . . .” she says, “if you believe in a sort of fate, then, I think you have to believe in God, because then who else would line up this series of events? There would have to be some higher power, right?”
Before pushing through the heavy metal doors of the school that day, the gun zipped away in my duffel gym-bag, invisible to everyone. I looked up into the blue cloudless sky, then yelled, “God . . . Jesus, whatever. If you’ve got some kind of plan for me, if you’re really up there, show me. Or I’m going inside, and I’m going to ruin everything.” I shout, “I’m going to be the villain that everyone wants.” After a while, I stood there and started shaking my head.
The big fake.
The mystical fairy tale.
The holiday mascot.
He says nothing back.
Ray Marone, from across the yard, next to the flagpole yells, “Hey Jason, what the hells the matter with you? Shut the fuck up!”
And I make a mental note to send metal right through his ugly face.
In comic books it was always the villains who lost, who lived their whole lives losing.
The big super hero. With the flashy cape, the hard bumps and mounds showing beneath the tight clothes. Saving the world. Always the most beautiful women by his side.
Without the villains, where would the world be?
The world needs evil to feel good about themselves.
Maybe it takes time. Effort. To realize this is who you must become. The opposite who you ever wanted to be. We all want to be the hero, we all want to be praised.
But in the end, what’s the difference?
I shot the math teacher who always gave me F’s, just for not showing my work. Ashley Cheraine for turning away and laughing the time I walked up to her group, flushed red-faced and all, asked would she go to Home Coming with me.
Just for now, I am God.
And for all the people who get away, they’ll thank me. They will know what it truly means to live and be alive.
The school bells are all ringing, loud and obnoxious, causing my drug fog to drift away from me. Finally, as expected, the cops are outside yelling through their handheld intercoms. They’ve already figured out that it’s me.
Me, who shot up the school.
It all becomes to crash down. Becomes too real. My hand fumbling, reach into my pocket manically, to find a few more pills. Swallowing them dry, like hard jagged rocks down my throat.
“Jason . . . Mr. Kismate please step outside,” the negotiator is saying loud and clear, “we just want to talk to you . . . figure this thing out.”
Through the cafeteria and the library and classroom after classroom.
It’s then that I run into Tara. The school counselor. The love of my life.
Terrified, she still looks beautiful as ever dressed in fear.
She’s showing dozens of weeping teenagers where to go, what to do. This will all be over soon. Just be calm. “Look at me,” I hear her say to some cheerleader, “everything is going to be okay.”
Stepping in, stepping closer. Life and death hanging from my tensed tight fingers. She looks up at me dazed and disappointed. Swallows hard. “Jason . . . what’re you doing? Why are you doing this?” She doesn’t look down, doesn’t acknowledge the end in my hand. “I did this for you.” I tell her, my eyes already filling up with tears. A sadness so deep inside me, finding its way to the top. Bursting out. Everything starting to crumble. Me, my insides.
Outside again the intercom says. . . “This is not the end. It doesn’t have to be this way. Just put the gun down, come outside, and it will all be over.”
Tara stares right at me. Into me. “I did this for you.” I say with a fake smile. “I thought we could be together. We could run away.”
“Jason, please. Just put the gun down and we can-”
“You don’t want to? You don’t want to be with me?” Lift my left hand, with my fingers rub my close eyelids. “So fucking typical.” I say to myself.
The school bells ring and chime. Vibrating the air. Not the church bells I imagined singing for me and Tara, for our love.
“Watch.” It’s me, saying to her, “I want you to feel it too.”
Tears stream down her face like pretty rain drops. My belly feels warm and everything just feels . . . I don’t know . . . right.
The gun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger. Everything loud and chaotic outside, but the energy between us-frozen.
Everything. Stands. Still.
And just as easy as that. Just as easy the fucking munchkins from that box of cereal.
Snap crackle pop.
by Bill Pieper