When we’re teenagers, we can barely see into our first year of college… let alone the rest of our future. Adults tell us to make plans, act responsibly, and do as they say not as they set the example. But it’s rare that we take the advice of the people we see failing. Even if it’s good advice. If I had listened to all the good advice I’d ever heard and planned accordingly, I still don’t think my current predicament would be any different. What’s that saying? The best intentions pave the road to hell? Well, like I said, we can’t see the future. And if I’d seen this coming, I sure would have run in the opposite direction.
Everyone’s got a different story about where they were when it all started. My mom always told me she could remember exactly where she was when she’d heard President Kennedy had been assassinated and I guess this is kind of like that. She was sitting in her dad’s blue Cadillac with the leather seats, waiting for him to come out of the grocery story that used to be where the CVS is now. She’d had a dentist’s appointment that day and had gotten out of school early. She could tell people in the store were gathering around something near the front, by the registers. At first she thought it was a baseball game on the radio, but then she watched the people’s faces as they left and said it was like the air was suddenly heavy and tense. She said she’d never seen that look on her father’s face before, nor since. It was all surreal. I, on the other hand, was drunk.
Like I said, we don’t take it even if it’s good advice. So when I say drunk, I mean I’d crawled half way into a tequila bottle. But I still remember every detail…
My friends and I had gone on a beer run. (B double-E double-R U N, beer run…) Topher was driving and Angela was sitting in the front passenger’s seat. I was in the back with James, brooding over the fact that cute Angela got to sit up front with cute Topher and I was stuck with drunk James, who was obviously trying to get somewhere with me, which I was having none of. James was one of those guys who went from being super shy and kind of cute to super awkwardly outgoing in all the wrong ways when drunk; then remembered nothing. If he would ever have had just one drink, he probably would have been the hit of the party. Anyway, we piled out of the car and into the gas station and I remember thinking it was odd there weren’t more people there. It was prime time for Thirsty Thursday runs, yet it was dead. Angela flirted some with Topher then ducked into restroom. I pondered Bud Light Lime and Miller’s Light. I had just decided on the Bud (it was on sale) and reached for a crate when I suddenly (though I remember feeling someone approach) felt the warmth of a person immediately behind me.
Topher craned his wiry arm around me and grabbed the case of Bud, his chest practically pressed against my back. I felt a wave of heat flash through my body and hoped I wasn’t blushing too badly. He turned his head and whispered into my ear, “I’m going to need you to call shot-gun for the ride home.”
I smiled while my back was still to him, giddy that maybe Angela had come on too strong and unwittingly given me a shot. James must have seen this as he was immediately nearby and offering to “get that” for Topher. He already had a pack of Coors under one arm… I was annoyed. It seemed like he was trying to show of some strength by carrying beer. Who cared? I scoffed.
The three of us made our way to the counter, but no attendant was there to greet us. Topher called out in search of someone to ring us up. James tried the little bell at the counter, then griped about professionalism. I didn’t want to look at the television. Something was wrong with it and I knew that if I looked at it, nothing about this situation would ever be right again. I wanted to leave. Time seemed like it slowed down at this point. Topher started asking if I was okay – I have no idea how I must have looked, probably like I was going to be sick. James had moved on to knocking things around on the shelves to make noise, which knocked a can of Frito Lay cheese dip onto the floor. It rolled… and rolled.. and rolled… and all three of us stopped to watch it. The air was heavy and tense, but there was a wet slurping sound. How had we not noticed that before? It seemed so loud. The can rolled, turned, then tipped onto its flat side into a puddle of thick red liquid that seeped out from under the door labeled, ‘Manager’.
I guess he was trying to be brave when he rushed for the door… maybe it was the alcohol in his system. Maybe he hadn’t seen what was on the television. Maybe he hadn’t remembered that it was an “end of the world” party we were making the run for. Whatever the reason, he dashed for the door like some super hero. He looked so handsome in that moment.
I don’t remember seeing it, but I remember everything else. The slurping sound, the sudden feeling of needing to puke, the feeling of Topher’s hot palm on my forearm, the cool dampness of the night air, the buzz of the flickering Quick-E-Mart sign… the screaming. And that was it.
That was when the world changed. And what did I do?
I left Angela. We left Angela.
We never talked about it.