There is a very good chance you’ve heard about me. Eh, maybe not, for that would totally depend on your circle of friends and how late you stayed out on the weekends in Spokane, Washington. Was your car dented by some hellions driving a red car?
Hand raised high, right here! That was me, baby!
I mean…sorry, man, I really regret doing that in the now. Of course, back then, oh hell yeah it was a trip! I had several “nicknames”, most of them I can’t say in order to protect the guilty. My name is Matthew Tracker, aka “hey, you’re the guy who…”
I am getting ahead of myself though…and I’m not thinking things though. My girlfriend has told me to slow things down a bit…breathe, count to ten in Welsh of all languages—and I’m still not sure how that makes a difference--and then then continue. I’ll take that breath now. The counting may happen later.
I’m a different person now. It’s easy for me to see that. However, until a certain point, me of my past would have cold-clocked me of now, dragged him down a flight of stairs and kicked him into the street saying “I hope it works out for ya!” For a long time, I was never alone. Seriously, I always had a voice inside my head giving me directions, telling me how great everything would be if we just did it his way. Well, when you’re seven years old and you hear someone saying that it’s okay to want to duct tape a roman candle to a tree and point it towards a bird’s nest. Then, yes, you’re probably going to do it because, hey, it sounded cool at the time.
The voice was always mine. It wasn’t like some low, guttural, demonic voice ordering me to do its bidding. No, more like a friend who was already there. A friend who had some great ideas, some not-so-great ideas, and a few illegal ones. The one I mentioned about the bird would have been one of the not-so-great bordering on illegal variety.
A great idea was to, at the age of fourteen, borrow a parked car and drive it around the city for a while, obeying all traffic laws, of course. I wasn’t alone in the escapade, no, we worked as a group in most of our hijinks: Chris, Tyler, Damon and yours truly. We did not have a gang name unless you damn bastards counts, we weren’t really even a gang…just a group of idiots doing stupid things to the residents of Spokane County.
Anyway, we’d take a car from the downtown area and then drive it up the north side through residential streets around the Newport Highway area until it either ran out of gas or we just got bored. If it ran out of gas we made sure to get it over to the side of the road and then get out and nonchalantly walk away. And if we got bored, I’d park it at a shopping center and we’d go inside to get a coke or something. After that, we’d find the nearest bus stop and head back to the South Hill, courtesy of Spokane Transit Authority.
"Where did you pick this piece of crap up from?" Chris asked as he slammed the door closed.
"Off of 29th Avenue. It was on the side of the road."
"Magnetic case. Rear fender," I replied as I pulled away from the curb.
"Where we goin?" Chris asked as he fastened his seatbelt. That was a rule of mine: wear the freaking seatbelt--so the police wouldn't have more of a reason to pull us over. Forget about the fact that I was fifteen something and without a license at the time.
"Pick up Ty."
"Got grounded. Has to help his grandmother with something. We'll try to swing by and get him if we can."
Chris looked up the street as I looked down.
"We're clear. Floor it!"
I turned the car onto Freya Street and we were on our way down the South Hill.
I was comfortable behind the wheel and I was pretty sure I would pass my driver’s test one day. The key was to take it easy when one had to and then let ‘er rip every now and then. I had to slow down as we approached Tyler’s neighborhood as his father was usually out on the front.
Mr. Jenkins always reminded me of those old guys on TV—the “get off my lawn” and “when I fought in the war in Vietnam” kind of parents. He was either in his easily sixties or late fifties with Tyler being the baby of the family. Tyler himself referred to his dad as “Ol’ Man Jenkins” so it was easy to laugh with him about it.
I pulled the car onto the street behind Tyler and revved the engine slightly—not enough to get people looking at me but enough to signal Tyler—who then came running down the alley and over the hood of the car. Chris, by then, had jumped to the back seat.
“Getting better at hearing the signal?” I asked.
“No, just needed to get the hell out of my house,” Tyler replied as he threw his head back twice—it was a thing he did when he got frustrated and it appeared his parents were dog piling whatever it was on him. I checked my mirrors and accelerated down the road.
“Never tell your parents you want to get into theatre.”
“No problem.” Chris said
“Never crossed my mind,” I replied as I turned onto Freya to head down into the city.
“I mean, you think I killed someone when I said I wanted to take up drama next year. Old man laid on the shit storm, talking how theatre doesn’t pay bills. What do I care about bills? I’m fucking fifteen years old!”
Tyler was the oldest of our group, and, like his old man, he had the voice of authority in a lot of what we did. I’d get the idea and run it by the group and if he objected when we’d stop—as Ty kind of knew if things were too dicey how much trouble we would get into.
“What’s the plan? Ty asked.
“I’m thinking NorthTown, you know, check out the chicks in the food court, maybe the arcade.”
“You give up on Krystal?” Chris asked.
“She does not want to be within a mile of me.”
“One wonders why,” Tyler replied as he flipped through the radio presets.
Krystal Laberdee was a cheerleader at Ferris High School. She had been on the junior varsity but had recently graduated to the varsity position. This girl had long, and I mean, freaking long blond hair and had these looks that grabbed me back sixth grade and there were times I wanted to talk with her but I could never get close to her due to her cousin, James Kane—who. Was. Always. Around. Me. Like he wanted to be my friend.
James Kane...how would be the best way to describe him...in a word, nothing.
No, quite literally, nothing.
You know that wasted space between the cereal bag and the box? Or that last bit of stale coke in the bottom of the can? Like that. Of course, he was useful for one thing-he was an easy target.
I admit, I tried to be the guy’s friend but there was something about him that made me just want to smash his head into a locker, figuratively, and that feeling grew so much that I tied his shoes together during his birthday party—you would think he would have noticed but he was so busy babbling on about working on some kind of clothes designs that he fell flat on his face in front of the ball return.
So, the issue was that if I really wanted to get with her I had to avoid James; but it was so hard to because he had this obvious mark on the back of his head that lit up like a Christmas tree wherever he was; a beacon signaling that everyone in a thirty mile zone was required to kick him when he was down.
And he was down a lot.
In fact, I made an extra on the last day of the school:
It was the final bell of school and all I did was stick my boot out over the sidewalk:
“You ought to watch where you're going!” Chris yelled at this pathetic looking kid lying on the ground. James was a short and lanky kid; no real redeeming qualities.
“Looks like you made it through the year, pussy,” Damon said as the four of us stood on the side of walkway.
James planted his hands to get up and with a salute by Tyler that we were in the clear of any teachers, I put my boot into his back to keep him down.
“And he hasn't been thrown into the crapper this year.” Tyler commented as he continued to be on the outlook.
“Yeah, you lucked out, didn't you, Kane?” I asked as I dug a little into his back, then took a step away, and adjusted my jacket. “What’s your plans for summer? Gonna finally score big with the ladies?”
James didn’t reply as he once again tried to get up. Damon looked at me to see if I was going to knock the kid down again. I decided to let him stand up and ‘face me’. This was going to be something to see.
James did indeed stand up and grabbed his back pack.
“Oh, so we’re sticking up for ourselves now, are we?”
We weren't getting any younger so I grabbed him by the neck and shoved him back to the ground. It was an interesting game; to see if he would try to get up and try walk away. He usually just needed a little prodding.
“C'mon, wuss, get up and let’s see you take your best shot.”
I planted my boot on his abdomen and applied just a little bit of pressure. Nothing to leave a mark, but just enough to prove how much of a wuss I thought he was.
“Let him go!” screamed a voice that, as I said, once loved but had grown of tired of hearing: James' cousin, Krystal Laberdee. I used to think of so many things I wanted to do with her...some not exactly pleasant and others, well I was pretty sure she would tell me to drop dead.
She stood next to Lindsey Nichols, another cheerleader. They weren't idiots, quote the contrary to how cheerleaders are 'stereotypically supposed' to be.
“You're so lucky your cousin is so stacked,” I commented to James as I stepped back. The other guys moved away from us; for some reason they were afraid of a couple of cheerleaders.
“Shove it, Matt!”
Krystal stepped through the group to help James and we watched two cheerleaders save this pathetic kid from, well, I really didn't know what we were planning to do other than threatening him with bodily harm on the last day of school. Maybe it was a going away present since we wouldn't see him for a few moths and he needed to remember us.
Yeah, that doesn't sound right, does it?
Lindsey picked his backpack up as Krystal led him away.
“See you pussy!” I called out.
“You talking to Krystal or James?” Chris asked.
"Both," I replied as I lead the group in the opposite direction that James, Lindsey and Krystal walked. I looked back to them a few times, maybe twice, but stopped as it may have looked awkward to the other guys
I parked the car on the far side of the parking garage and left the key locked inside under the driver’s seat. The three of walked into second floor of the mall.
“I mean, I think I still like her it’s just that cousin of hers annoys me.”
“Ever bothered to tell him that?” Ty asked.
“He doesn’t hear it, you know?”
“There’s always the fall. Assuming she goes to Ferris,” Chris replied as we walked to the escalator.
“I don’t know, I think I may keep my options open. Maybe someone from another school, like you and that Alexis chick, eh?” I asked Ty.
He shook his head and grunted, “long distance relationships are overrated.”
Ty kept his dating life secret. We only knew her name was Alexis, or Alex, or Al, but we never saw her. She went to Lewis & Clark High School; a bit over four miles away but as a person without a car, she might as well live in Seattle. He didn’t talk about her nonstop and the three of us occasionally jibed him on when we would get to see her but I had a feeling that that she would’ve freaked out at meeting us; or Ty would.
* * *
"Matthew Modine Tracker!"
My father had used my middle name--this wasn't going to be good.
"Where were you?"
Yeas before GPS and cell phones, parents would tell their kids to be home at such and such times. They'd even buy them a watch--so they could be reminded of the time--and expect them to come home on time.
"Out with my friends."
"You're late for dinner." It was five minutes after five....on a Saturday.
"You're a mess. Get cleaned up and then go eat something. Quickly. We're leaving for church in thirty minutes."
I walked inside the house and passed by the wide-eyed stares of my younger siblings and my older sisters who were all sitting at the dining room table.
The Tracker family filled an entire pew at our church. I mean, there were eight of us counting my parents, Stephen and Sarah, Leah, Rachel, myself, Mark, Luke and John.
Are we sensing a pattern here?
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