It feels like I’m submerged underwater. Every sound is distant and muffled. The windshield caves in and glass shatters everywhere. I see my own blood run out of the cuts caused by the debris. I can see the driver of the opposing car slumped over onto their steering wheel.
“Mom? Dad? Are you guys okay?”
Even though I’m yelling out for my parents, none of the words register. I see no movement from the front seats. I can’t feel any pain, but my vision is growing blurry. The last thing I see is bright red and blue lights.
I wake up, startled from what I’ve just experienced. By now I should be used to reliving the same horrific nightmare over and over. Those images always keep coming back, night after night. Whether I’m in class, or at work, or just simply watching television, they’ll come to my remembrance. They’re something I’ve lived with for over 12 years, but every time it’s like I’m there in the moment. The therapist I went to see tried to give me medication to help, but I hated putting that burden onto my aunt and uncle. They have sacrificed so much just to take me in. I owe them so much, and I truly don’t think they will ever understand how much I am grateful for them.
I get up from the bed of terror, and prepare myself for the day. I’m seventeen, and am currently a senior in the local Rockwell High School. While most kids go out and party, I sit in my room alone. I try to constantly convince myself I have better things to do with my time than eat junk food and watch Wayne’s World for the thirtieth time. When you don’t play sports and you aren’t invited to anything, life seems like a total drag. I have a few friends, but we’re not exactly that close. They try to get me to play video games with them, or hang out at the local diner, but I opt out every time. I’m a distant person. It’s not like I don’t care about friendships or relationships, but I’ve never felt like I’ve ever really had anybody.
To distract myself from my thoughts of self-pity, I put on my clothes for the day. I’m a basic guy. Same old black hoodie and blue, ripped jeans with a pair of old, beat-up Vans. I don’t spend my money on clothes. I save it, figuring maybe someday I’ll spend it on something. Maybe on a date to the movies or something. Who am I kidding? Like that would ever happen. Guys like me aren’t exactly the prince charming that the local girls are into. They prefer the camo-clothed, jacked-up truck driving country boys. So honestly, I’m kind of glad I don’t draw any attention.
Aside from the high school and diner, Rockwell doesn’t really have much of anything to offer. There’s no tourist attractions to bring in people. We used to have a pretty rad skating rink that my parents would take me to when I was younger. They tore it down to make a parking lot, though. My uncle’s store “Jack’s” is right in the middle of town. That’s where I work every day as soon as I get off the bus. The only other place is a music store called “Rockwell ‘n Roll”. It’s been there for decades but I’ve never been in it before. My music teacher at school is there on weekends, and has invited me to stop in sometime, but I’ve yet to take him up on it.
As I head out the front door of the house, the lights from the bus cut through the lightly falling snow. I wish I had a car so I could just drive to school, but I’m too much of a cheapskate to spend my money on one. There was an old 1998 Chevy Astro for only $1,800 up the road a few miles. In fact, it’s probably still there. Nobody wants that rusty hunk of junk. It’d be better than standing out in this cold every morning, though.
The bus creaks to a stop and the door slides open. I walk up the steps, say “good morning” to Debby, our bus driver, and sit two rows up from the back to my left. There’s only four other kids on board. None of them are near me, or even acknowledge my presence. Two look like they’re still asleep. I pull my phone out of my pocket, as well as my earbuds. I put the left one in, then the right. I slide across to unlock my phone, and open up my music library. Time to start the day off right.
Now Playing: “Lady Stardust” – David Bowie
We gradually pull away, and trees begin to go by faster and faster. When I was younger, I’d imagine it was the world moving instead of the car. Too bad those days are gone, and it’s nothing but the harsh reality that is growing up. Maybe that’s my fault that I have that outlook. There’s nothing I can do to change the past, but it’s up to me to decide my own future. I can either keep dwelling on the negativity that has clouded my head for so long, or I can start focusing on a more positive way forward. I just wish I could find a way to do that.
Now Playing: “Welcome to My Life” – Simple Plan
After picking up another twenty or so kids, we arrive at the high school. “All are equal, all are welcome, and all can succeed!” says the sign just outside of the building. Whoever made that up clearly has never attended this hellhole. God forbid anybody be different here. Guys wearing anything besides blue jeans and work boots? No can do. Anybody having a liberal viewpoint on any issue? Ha! Prepare to get called out in front of the entire class. That’s just a little taste of what you can expect at our school’s “welcoming” environment.
I walk down the stairs of the bus behind two other students. Instead of getting breakfast, I always go to the far corner of the gymnasium and sit with my four friends in the entire school. First we have Braden Wells, who is the most in touch with the more popular students. It’s mostly due to his participation in baseball. Next up we have Tristyn Ramsey, who is the nerd of the group. He constantly has his face in a book, and has never gotten a grade below a B. Whenever I have a big test coming up, Tristyn is always down to help me study. One row down there’s Cole Lakeler, who’s probably my best friend in our little circle. He spends most of his time at the skate park getting high, or at the local bowling alley getting high. Finally there’s the dynamic duo of Daniel “D.J.” Thompson and Adam Ross. They always are together and are actually pretty damn good at music. D.J. plays drums, and Adam plays bass. More often than not you can find them in D.J.’s garage or at the skate park with Cole.
Of course, then there’s me, Kyle Jackson. Just you’re run-of-the-mill sad boy stereotype that never feels like he fits in. If you looked into my classroom, I’d stick out hella easily. Always wears black, constantly has earbuds in, and exemplifies antisocial behavior. Most kids probably view me as “emo” or a “devil worshiper”. Which is ironic, because I actually went to church for over a decade, until Aunt Jessie started letting me skip out. I’ve never had a girlfriend, or really any type of female interaction. Since the country folk have referred to me with homosexual slurs rather than my name for so long, they probably assume it’s true at this point.
Now Playing: “American Idiot” – Green Day
At lunch I typically can be found outside under the red maple tree at the back edge of campus. Every day I go out there and sit and watch Netflix, read, or listen to music. Every once in a while a teacher will come out and check on me or try to convince me to socialize. I prefer my solitude. All the friends I mentioned are on the other lunch shift, so I’m left all to myself. Sometimes I just sit there and stare up at the sky. The sun hits the other side, so conveniently I never get sunburnt. Usually some nice breezes come through, as well. Whenever it rains I resort to going to the library, where no life has been found for years. It’s not too shabby, either. The selection is decent, equipped with some good young adult literature. I read the entire section of John Green books over the course of sophomore year, my personal favorite being Paper Towns.
After my bit of peace is over with, I go to my final two classes before exiting for the day. My classes are pretty basic. Typical high school stuff: english, algebra, chemistry, history, and music. Before the accident, my parents planned to put me through online schooling, rather than the traditional public route. That never came to be, of course.
Sometimes when I’m alone I think what life might’ve been like had that day never happened. What if it was my fault? Could I have stopped it? When I got a bit older, I asked Uncle Jack about what caused it. All I got out of it was there was a drunk driver in a jacked-up Dodge dually that lane-drifted straight at us going 105. The part that forever lays on my mind- he lived.
Mom’s old things went to her side of the family way down in Shreveport, Louisiana. The only things I have to remind me of her are my presents from passed Christmases and birthdays, and a few old snapshots from when we went to vacation in Nags Head. As far as Dad’s goes, I don’t really have much. I found an old Back to the Future poster with his name on the back of it laying in the corner of my closet. Although I’ve never actually seen any of his things, there’s a good chance that there could be some things left up in the attic. I’ve never really looked up there. Part of me wants to know what was or could’ve been, but the other part wants to lock it all out of my brain and throw away the key. What would be the point? Just even more memories that I’ll never get back.
Now Playing: “Crosses” – Jose Gonzalez
As the last bell rings at 2:30 PM, I make my way to the bus outside of the school, along with the other hoards of kids. Outside of my music, I can hear the muffled yells and trampling shoes. I can see snuff rings in the backs of jean pockets, rotten gum poking up through the dusty snow laying across the sidewalk, and underclassmen sprinting to not miss their departing buses. I make my way up the stairs yet again, and sit in the same seat. I park myself down, and resume staring out my window, as though my eyesight is going into a deep chasm. To those around me, I’m sure I look as though I’m in a trance. I’m really just focusing on my music… and trying to avoid any social interactions at all costs.
I mainly listen to my music for a couple of reasons. Number one, because it’s great, two, because it distracts me from my overthinking, and three, because it calms me when I do overthink. It’s my own self-prescribed medication. Not saying that I don’t have other methods, of course, but music is my primary go-to. When I’ve hit my lowest of lows, it’s been music that’s helped bring me back up. I owe it so much.
Now Playing: “Holding On To You” – twenty one pilots
As the bus creeks to a halt at my driveway, I take out my left earbud as I walk up, say “have a good evening” to Debby, and depart. Uncle Jack’s old 1994 Buick Century is already running inside the garage.
“Ready bucko?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I reply.
I get in the musty smelling car.
“How was school?”
“Oh, you know, the same old state regulated standardized monotonous crap. I don’t know how they expect us to learn everything at the same pace, but then turn around and say everybody is unique. Give me a break.”
“Sorry. Anyway, how are you?”
“Oh I’m just on cloud nine. Sales are at an all-time high this week. Haven’t seen this much revenue since that August of ‘97.”
His sarcasm is enough to induce a chuckle out of me. Jack has this weird way of making life seem not as bad as it could be. He’s so chill and never gets upset. He also has a calming voice like a narrator, and a face that anybody could like. I always joke about how every time he shaves off his black stubble, it exposes his baby face that takes him from mid-40s to mid-20s with some stray gray hairs.
“You been thinkin’ about what you’re gonna do after school? Jessie’s been lookin’ at colleges for ya.”
“To be honest with you Jack, I don’t really know. More school just seems like a waste sometimes, you know? Besides, you guys do so much for me already. You know I can’t let you pay for that.”
“Kyle, stop worrying so much. You know we’re here to support you no matter what you choose to do. We don’t mind it at all. You’re basically our son. You know that. Do what you want to do. After all, it’s your life.”
“I know. Thanks.”
I look out of the window of the car with my right earbud still in. He always plays old country music from the 70s that sounds horrendous, but I never say anything. It’s his car, after all. I’d be pissed if my kid got into my car and insulted my impeccable taste of music.
We pass by Rockwell National Park, about five miles out from our destination. Time to get myself in the working mood.
Now Playing: “Dammit” – blink-182