Death On The Field
**Trigger Warning: Violence, murder, and suicide depicted in this fictional work.
I made my way to the bathroom, grateful that we hadn’t unpacked our things yet. I’m sure within a few days walking down the hallway in the dark would mean that I would be stepping on some Legos or tripping over a toy car. I made my way into the dark bathroom, silently thanking God we had yet to get blinds to put on the windows. The rays of orange, south eastern sun would make getting ready for the day in complete darkness a lot easier. I walked into the standing shower, making sure to shut the shower door very quietly. The hot water worked its magic on my tight muscles. Getting out, I made my way down the hallway quietly to my empty bedroom. I had planned on wearing a bubblegum-colored cardigan and some grey leggings and my favorite pair of adorable pink sandals. Ultimately, though, I had to sift through my suitcase for something that wasn’t super wrinkly.
I slid into a pair of faded jeans, they felt familiar and comfortable, and I found a grey T-shirt. As I struggled to get the brush through my long blonde hair, I thought, people say that first impressions are the most important thing. That was a depressing thought; the first impression that I would make would be no impression at all.
I grabbed my big, lilac-colored backpack, spilling the contents onto the empty floor. Over my shoulder I was surprised at how light the bag felt. I made my way out to the living room slowly, quietly, trying not to disturb my mom and my little brother; both were sleeping on a blanket in the middle of the living room. It looks so peaceful. It was a far cry from the life they left behind. I couldn’t take that away from them.
I know I shouldn’t have done it, but on my way out, I snooped through my mom’s purse and found a $20 bill. I tore a scrap of paper from my journal, and then with pretty, sparkly pink letters I wrote:
Mom, sorry but we don’t have any food yet. I’ll bring you back the change.
I closed the door gently and made my way down the stairs. The early morning air was thick and wet; I regretted not pressing my sweater. Wearing my white flip-flops was a good choice though because at least I wouldn’t wreck my favorite pink, strappy sandals in this nasty weather.
The school was massive, even though it was your standard brick rectangle, it seemed somehow very imposing. Growing up in a rural, farming town, I knew everyone in my grade from the time I was in kindergarten until my 10th grade year when we made the decision to move.
Rumor had it this school had at least 2,000 people attending. I swallowed hard as I made my way to the end of the corridor, turning to the left there was a long narrow room. The room had the word “office” put it on the side of it in large block letters, it looked like someone cut the letters out of construction paper and taped them on to the plastic window.
As I made my way to the office I could hear my flip flops making a sloshing noise. It was gross. I sat down in a purple chair, the plastic made me colder somehow. A woman with hair the color of boxed macaroni and cheese approached me.
“The new student, I see.” I could tell that was a statement, not a question. She handed me a stack of papers. “OK, sweetheart, the top paper is your new schedule, the rest of them you’re going to have to take home and have your mother help you sign.” I nodded.
A blast of cold air came from the far corner of the room. My skin prickled with goosebumps. She stretched out her arm to me holding a flimsy Styrofoam cup of coffee; I took it carefully. The coffee burned my mouth and it tasted like it been sitting around for awhile. I drank it anyway.
I was enjoying the soothing warmth of the burnt coffee when a kid about my age came in and sat down next to me. Anxious to know someone in this strange place, I turned around and said, “hello.”
The kid smiled back but said nothing. I couldn’t help but take in some details: he was about my age, probably a little over six feet tall, strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes.
“I’m sorry!” I said again. “I’m new and I don’t know anyone. I’m not a weirdo, I’m just awkward and nervous.“ Silently, I punished myself for my nervous chatter.
The stranger reached out and shook my hand. “ I’m Dexter!” My hand felt so tiny and cold when he held it.
We exchanged smiles. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
I walked into the house and sat down at the card table. My mother had placed neon orange plastic flowers in the center. My brother looked up from his Game Boy. “Welcome back,” he said. A little piece of animal cracker escaped his mouth.
“Thanks, buddy,” I said trying not to sound grossed out.
“We went shopping today,” my mom said. “You can keep the rest of the 20, we’ve got enough to get us by until I start a new job at the call center on Thursday.” My mom handed me a bag full of junk food. “I felt like spoiling you guys!” my mom said.
“Thanks, mom,” I said, sliding a couple candy bars into my pocket.
I had gotten comfortable at a poolside table. I was reading Catcher in the Rye via the large lamps that encircled the pool.
“Holden doesn’t go to the ranch.” I heard a voice call.
“The main character doesn’t go to the ranch in Colorado. There I ruined the ending.” A chair scrape along the ground. “Hi Valerie, remember me?”
“Oh yeah, Dexter! Hi!”
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I live here.”
“No, I mean why are you out here? The mosquitoes can get pretty vicious, and you’re eating all that sugar.”
I smiled. “My mom wanted to celebrate getting a new job.”
“So she decided to give you all diabetes? Haha!”
“I guess so,” I said, pushing a can of soda in his direction. “There, now mosquitoes will love you too. I had to come out here, my brother decided to turn the living room into a gymnastics studio. It was really hard to finish my reading.”
“I’m an only child, well unless you count Russell.” He flipped open his phone and showed me pictures of him holding a brown rabbit. “My mom wanted to teach me some responsibility. So, a couple Easters ago I asked for a chocolate bunny in my basket and there was no candy, just this little guy.” He smiled and took a large gulp of the Dr. Pepper that I gave him.
After school the next day, I made my way to the swimming pool once again. It was after hours and I had forgotten to ask Dexter for his number. He was sitting with his feet in the water this time, his earbuds blocking out my attempts to reach him.
I walked over slipping off my sandals and sat down next to him. “So, I wanted to say thank you.”
“What?” he said sharply.
“Well,” my voice was quiet, “there was a pop quiz in English today and I know what happens at the end of the book. I got the question right, thanks!” I said smiling.
“Oh, you’re welcome.” He sounded annoyed.
“I’m sorry,” I said, putting my shoes back on.
“Valerie, wait. I’m sorry, it’s just tomorrow is a big day for me and I… “ he paused. “Sorry.”
I reached over and put my arm around him. I was struck by how cold he felt. His long blond hair was dry and hung wildly around his face and shoulders. He put his head on my shoulder. We sent like that until my mom called my cell phone and asked me to come inside.
“I have to go. Would you like to come too? My mom makes great cocoa!” I smiled warmly.
He shook his head. And then he walked the other way.
The next Saturday, I woke up to my little brother bouncing on my bed.
“Hey Valerie!” he said, poking me with his tiny fingers, just barely missing my eyeball. “Momma says we get to go watch FOOTBALL!” He was wearing his New York Giants shirt.
“You’re about to pull my arm out of its socket!” I grumbled. “I’ll get dressed.”
I made my way down to the football field in my red tank top and white jean shorts, trying my best to be in school spirit. The woman with the macaroni and cheese hair must have spotted my family and I. She came over, gave me a hug, and guided me to the small corner of the field where there was a stone monument that simply read, “class of 2017.” There were a lot of stuffed animals, balloons, and flower arrangements that looked new.
“I just really didn’t want to shock you guys,” she said. Her smile was fading. “Last year, we had a student here. His name was Dexter, he was a sweet kid. At least I thought so. He must have fallen through the cracks. He fell into a bad crowd, and there are actually records of him reaching out for help, but no one would listen. His parents were going to get divorced, and it seems like if the teachers don’t like you, no one really cares.”
She took a deep breath. “His grades dropped, so they cut him from the football team. He got even more depressed, and one day he showed up here with an M16. No one knows how it got it. That’s the sweet kid. He killed 20 people and then himself. At first, everyone thought one of the football players was faking, you know blood can be hidden by red jerseys.” Tears trickled down her cheeks and she gave me a hug.
She whispered into my ear, “you see Dex sometimes, don’t you?”
I nodded. I bent down and placed an unopened can of Dr. Pepper amongst the other gifts before I got up and left trying not to cry.
I don’t know what I’ll do when I see that boy by the pool again.
Help is out there. Suicide 24-hour hotline: 1-800-273-8255