By Orrin Farries
Living in a small town is soul-draining. Everyone knows everyone. No sin is too small to be forgotten. There are old housewives with nothing better to do.
Family life is important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a fair replacement for a fleshed out life with new people and new experiences. That kind of thinking is dangerous in this town. Real dangerous.
On a Saturday night while the adults and old timers are fixing themselves another drink, reveling in their fortuitous harvests, their nephews in the big league, and their ‘successful’ family lives, the ‘kids’ are out in the bushes getting drunker than their parents, fixing together the least drunk person to drive and then going out and rebelling against the lives they didn’t choose for themselves.
The typical release for the ‘kids’ was jumping people walking around town after dark. I found this out the night before a provincial cross-country meet I was set to take part in. I had night-before jitters and decided to go for a jog to set my mind to rest. I was settling into my pace after I’d run past the town limits sign. I always felt lighter on my feet outside those limits. Then I heard the roar of the engine of an old Chevy truck and could hear the kicking up of dirt and dust accelerate behind me until pain washed over the backside of my head. The drunk boys in their truck had thrown a full beer bottle that caught me flush behind my ears.
I awoke to a non-stop ringing in my head that sounded off like a fire-alarm. From the blackness, my eyes drew to form the gravel road beneath me, the red of my blood staining the earth with huge pools like the blots of a Rorschach painting.
“Oh good, he’s not dead,” I heard a burly voice say, “not yet anyways.”
It’s funny how you don’t worry about the details of a scene when your body reaches the pseudo-euphoric state of fight-or-flight, life-or-death. While my mind screamed out ‘life’, my body was leaking like death. As the drunken footsteps came near I knew I wasn’t getting the life-saving help I needed from the guys who put me in this state. With my vision only half restored I sized up the fella closest to me and my choice was made: fight.
I picked up the smashed off neck of the bottle and waited for the big man to get closer. He picked me up by my shirt collar and spat in my face. I shoved the jagged wreck of the beer bottle into his armpit, and took off as my feet touched ground.
I ran from the hollering of threats from behind me and the sound of their drunken feet scurrying back to their truck. I took my shirt off and wrapped it tightly around my head, the thumping of my heartbeat growing louder and more debilitating with every step. I first ran away from my house to throw them off my trail, and then I dipped into the alley of my neighbourhood, thinking I had them lost. It was then that my fears would become phobia. There in the darkness of the alleyway right behind my house was a truck with its lights off. With a flick, the headlights came on, and the darkness was cast out by a blinding light.
“Boy, you sure fouled this up. Should’ve just taken your beating when it came for you,” said a different voice this time, this one twangier and more immature sounding. My lungs were gassed from the sprinting and sobbing from the pain coursing through the back of my head. I tried to muster some rationale to de-escalate the boys in the truck, but they made it clear they weren’t reasonable people.
“Don’t wanna hear it dead man,” the twangy voice said, “you hurt my brother pretty good, probably put him out of work, and put his work into my lap, so you’ve fucked me off pretty good too, dontcha reckon? Well you might not know this, but we aren’t the kind of folk you go around fucking off, so here’s how this is going to go: You’re going to go into your pretty house right now and tell your parents you fell and hit your head while you were scampering around town. Then you’re going to wait.”
“Wait for what exactly?” I said trying to keep my voice from revealing my terror.
“For the day I kill you.”
I heard the door shut and the engine rev up, and the tonne of steel began hurtling towards me with murderous speed. I jumped into my neighbour’s yard just in time to realize I could have faced my fate then and there.
I personally chose to rebel against this life I didn’t choose by avidly studying the sciences, preparing myself for University, the Big City, and the Life that people in this small town don’t want me to know.
For my efforts, I had carved out my exit from this deadened place. I had gotten accepted to the University of Alberta for a degree in chemical engineering. I had tried to keep this quiet from the other kids in town who didn’t stand a chance to get into DeVry college. My mother blew the lid off those plans when she planned a party for me and invited the whole town. She couldn’t have known that she had just doomed her son to a gang beat down. Perhaps she could have, had she been sober enough to see my history of violence with this town.
The party was hosted at the agricultural centre in town, which was essentially a big red-barn with flooring installed. The party went by smoothly enough until the drinks came out. This time, the parents, the old-timers, and the kids all drank together. I didn’t usually drink because I resented my mother for her alcoholism, but tonight I thought I would drink to my success, and subsequently my death.
I had stuck around my mother and her friends until they had gotten belligerent. It was late and I knew my time had come. I tried to say goodbye to her by shaking her and looking her in her eyes, but she took this as indignation, and slapped me across my face.
“I love you too, mum,” I said, and I truly meant it. Life hadn’t been easy on her, and I never blamed her for how she responded to it. I finished my beer.
When I stepped outside, it was all headlights.