I turned the corner of Forbes and Craig. The Starbucks has a sharp corner, I didn’t see this guy until I almost ran into him. He was a little gnarled, had a big coat on, and was holding a club underneath his coat. He saw a perfect target in me, but realized that he saw me a fraction of a second too late and hesitated, and plus there was another student around, so he had to wait for his next target. The boss wouldn’t be pleased if he didn’t bring in a couple hundred dollars tonight. Damn! That kid’s ipod alone would bring in my nightly quota! He scowled inwardly.
I took a lap around campus, went up on the numbers on top of the Posner Center, and saw in the labyrinth a ramp down and an underground door. I went inside- it was unlocked- and there was the rare book collection, bathed in a pale blue light. The air practically sparkled. The floor was made of stone, a textured but smooth blue-grey stone. The books were on pedestals, open, each one a thick tome, all uncovered, the pages so stiff that you could see every little crackle in them. I reached out to touch one of them- no, I didn’t, I didn’t even want to touch them- I just felt this uncanny peace, underground, alone, surrounded by these books and the blue air that almost sparkled.
I went through the UC, ran into Staci, talked to her as I walked towards Beeler street. She later reported to the police that she was the last one to talk to me.
As I went down Beeler, it took me farther and farther from campus. Somehow, every step took me 10 steps farther away. It got all darker, the kind of dark I haven’t known since childhood, when night was Dark because you knew it was night and you should be asleep. The dead-of-night dark, that you never even saw, except for that one time Mom and Dad woke you up to see the meteor shower at 3 AM, and you just wanted to go back to sleep; that opportunity you wasted- not to see the meteors, because shoot, those are just dots in the sky- that opportunity you wasted to be outside in the dead of night in a suburban setting as a child, with nothing on your mind except how invigoratingly cold it was, how quiet everything was, and how you were sitting outside looking at the stars with people who loved you very much. The kind of dark that is a little darker than the darkest dark that it’s safe to be outside in.
A van drove past- it looked orange, but in the streetlights, everything looked orange- with no headlights on, just his parking lights- why no headlights?? I never found out; he slowed down beside me, rolled down the window, and fired off three shots before I could even register that he was pointing a pistol at me. Each one hit me square in the chest, and I fell over, quickly resigning myself to the tired calm that was coming over me, not even realizing the pain in my chest because it wasn’t pain, it was abdication, it was my body realizing there’s no hope here and just plain old giving up.
Except they weren’t bullets- they were tranquilizer darts, and I woke up in the back of that same van, hastily bound and gagged with duct tape. It took me maybe 10 minutes to get over my initial panic, because I don’t do too well in panicky situations. By that time, I realized it didn’t matter where we were; I just had to get out of the van. I could kind of earthworm-squiggle along, and my fingers had a little freedom of motion, but not much else. I looked for the handle to the door- it was clearly out of reach, and probably locked from the outside anyway. I tried to pry off any of the tape, and I could reach a little bit on my ankle, but then it made that characteristic duct-tape ripping noise, and the driver noticed and screamed at me. Shit. The second wave of panic struck, as I realized that I was completely under the control of this guy, who was clearly hostile and not necessarily reasonable. What did he want- ransom? Clearly my parents would pay it, if it was humanly possible, but who’s to say it would be? Who’s to say he would return me, even if they did? Who’s to say I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my short life in a hole in the ground in his house, before I was tortured and brutally murdered? Because if this guy was smart, there’s no way the cops would find him in time. Ultimately, my life was destroyed, because of two fateful seconds: the one in which I let my guard down and decided to go running at night, and the one in which he shot me.
I turned left on Wilkins, and the sidewalk became covered with leaves. I trampled over them, until one point, where the leaves covered the sidewalk, and I stepped through the leaves into a hole. A snare around the hole caught my leg and lifted me up into the tree. What?! That happens in real life? Apparently yes, as three kids, probably younger than I, jumped out from behind the rock wall to my right and grabbed my wallet, phone, and ipod (god, what was I thinking, wearing that obvious sign of wealth around at this hour of night? the little white headphones… quite the giveaway. dumbass.) and ran off, I think towards fifth, but I was so disoriented it could have been anywhere. I caught a glimpse of them, but they were all wearing cheesy skeleton costumes, as if to say “we don’t really hate you. We’re just prankster kids.” All the same, I was still in the tree. Luckily, though, I had enough strength to swing myself back and forth, grab the tree (it was a skinny tree), kind of shimmy up it, and- huh? a swiss army knife, stuck into the tree? a big one too, bright red, must have been expensive. and it had, engraved on it in gold script letters, “Thanks.” Wow. I used the serrated blade to saw off the snare, and I jumped down to the ground. “Thanks”?! Wow. I almost felt a kinship with those skeleton kids- and what did I lose? Some money? a couple of gadgets that can be bought with money? Whatever! It’s all one big joke anyway, according to the skeleton kids, these vigilantes of counter-consumerism. That night, I said a prayer of thanks to them, because I lost my chains that shackled me to my modern culture. I gained a pocketknife and some friends.
On the way home, I jaywalked across Neville Road. I was too caught up in my cute pretentious indie music to hear the car that hit me. I had one awful moment of realization as I turned my head left and THERE IT WAS. My last thought was “this is all my fault.” I woke up in the hospital and my first thought was “this is all my fault.” As I realized the collision had given me a spinal cord injury leaving me entirely paralyzed and unable to speak, I saw in one horrific glimpse the future before me: I could think all I wanted, but never communicate it to anyone. Or at least not any faster than I could blink my eyes in Morse code. I could think anything, but probably my only thought for the rest of my life would be “this is all my fault.”
As I went down Fifth and entered Webster, I contemplated my next ten years. Here’s how it goes:
Graduate from CMU with a BS in CS, a minor in Discrete Math, and a semester studied abroad in Switzerland. I never found anything I truly enjoyed doing for more than a year, I dated a couple of girls but ultimately nobody lasting, I made a few friends that would stay great friends throughout my entire life, and I got accepted into a sweet grad school. First year of grad school, I met my future wife. Throw in whatever cliches about love you want here, we went through them all, and ultimately decided they weren’t enough. I got a Ph.D. through some accelerated path, and so did she. Or she got a Master’s and decided that was fine. Shortly after grad school, I became a professor, she got a great job that she loved. We had a subdued wedding, we lived in a humble apartment near a big city, (or bought a house because it made more financial sense), both biked to work (and everywhere else), and cooked amazing meals. When the kids I was teaching had winter break, we’d take the money we saved by living humbly and go skiing. We went everywhere- we went to Whistler, we went to Jackson Hole, Alta, Vail, we went back to Switzerland and I showed her around. One summer, we went to Chile and skied in July. In a couple years, we decided we enjoyed it so much we wanted to go again, but we couldn’t go to the same place twice, (lame!) so we went to New Zealand. Throughout it all, I kept in touch with friends from high school and college, made new ones wherever I lived, and got together with them whenever possible. So this takes me to age 30 or so, and after that, I haven’t really figured it out, but I’m not worried about that yet.
Life is simple when you figure it out in five minutes at the end of a run.
Seriously, Dan Tasse, you are so depressing. I’ve heard some depressing things in my day, but that takes the cake.
And then there’s the last one. The one I assumed really happened. But if you plan it out, you have two problems: 1) you get dissappointed when it doesn’t happen and 2) you forget to look past it. You write off the girl you meet tomorrow waiting for the one you meet in grad school.
Anyway, I’m rambling.
Whoop, you’re right, I got all grim. Sorry, I meant it all more in a surreal sense, and it wasn’t all depressing!
At any rate, yeah, I’m not meaning that’s how my life will go. I mean, it’s clearly just one possible thread in the grand tapestry of What’s In Store.
I should have a store, and call it “What’s In Store.” People would ask “what do you sell?” and I could just say “What’s in store.” Or “I sell what’s in What’s In Store.”
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