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It was a cold October afternoon in 1996, and I raced down the stairs and out the front door, in an attempt to avoid my mother's questions of where I was going, with whom, and when I'd be back. I saw my friend Kolin pull up in his rusted, broken-down gray van, and the side door opened as Mark jumped out and motioned for me to come. I was just about to get in when my mother called from the front doorway. She wanted to talk to me, but I didn't want to talk to her, so I hopped in pretending I hadn't heard her and told Kolin to drive off.
When we were out of my neighborhood I asked where we were going and Kolin said we were going to Dre's apartment first; afterwards we would take the Metro down to Northwest because he had to meet up with some people for a drug deal. Mark began to roll a joint and he said, "Look, I scored some KB off this idiot high-school kid who thought it was swag. It's my treat ladies." We rolled up to Dre's apartment, drank a little and hot-boxed the van. As we sat there smoking, Kolin, Mark, and Dre began to talk about the recent events. "That party last Friday was fucking stupid. I can't believe they gave you shit at the door," said Kolin.
"Yeah it was almost a messy situation, but they backed off," replied Mark.
"Who cares man, I got sixty-five for the stereo in that house. And the way I see it, it was all fair," remarked Dre. At this they all burst out laughing and even I joined in for a chuckle. The "KB" was in effect, and our spirits were raised, not to mention our "senses of humor." I leaned back and sat there smiling as they continued to reminisce about their other excursions. I loved to hear about it all, and it was fun learning about drugs and theft, and other things you could put into practice without "really" hurting anyone. I was unknowingly getting an education in "street smarts," and how to "rip people off." I enjoyed learning about it because it all seemed so fun and easy, and only the benefits, such as money, seemed tangible to me, not the consequences of my actions.
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We left the van there because Dre only lived a short distance from the Metro stop and the four of us got out and started walking. We looked all somewhat identical; Kolin and I were wearing our black bomber jackets, and Mark and Dre were wearing black and navy hooded sweatshirts, all of us in jeans and some type of army boots. Dre lived in a bad section near Northwest DC, but I guess it never registered to me and these guys never looked at the situations like I did because I lived in a good neighborhood, well off in the suburbs of Maryland. So when we turned a corner only a couple of blocks from the station and saw six guys coming towards us, we didn't really think anything was about to happen. They were walking in the opposite direction towards us, and as they neared us, that's when it happened.
Four of these guys were walking slightly ahead the other two, and when we passed the last two Kolin bumped into one of them. Well the guy gave Kolin a look and I knew that Mark who was walking next to Kolin just couldn't resist saying something. Mark mumbled something like "mother-fucker," and within two seconds words were flying. The guy Kolin bumped pushed Mark and Kolin decked him with one right arm swing. I froze next to Dre who tried to grab Kolin and shouted "Fucken' Jesus Kolin, what are you doing!?" In the next few seconds all of us were on the ground and getting our bodies kicked in, except Dre who was tearing this one guy up. I got kicked in the head and ribs about three or four times, when Dre decided enough was enough and pulled me out of the situation. Dre then whipped out his butterfly knife from his pocket and the other guys, seeing the blade, stopped kicking Mark and Kolin. They took off running down the street. Kolin got up on his hands and knees and coughed up some blood on the pavement, and Mark stood up holding his bruised ribs.
It partly scared me and it partly fascinated me. All that blood and all sort of made me look tough. I'd only been in about two fights in my life, and I lost both of them. I'm not too tough. I'm a pacifist, if you want to know the truth. (Salinger 45)
We walked back to Dre's apartment and I listened as they talked and laughed about how Kolin decked the one guy and Dre was "whooping some ass" on one of the others. It was weird for me because I was still all shaken up about what had happened, not having been in too many fights in my sheltered suburban life. I hardly felt like laughing when I could still see the results of the fight in the fresh cuts, gashes, bruises, and scrapes on all of us, but somehow I was still amazed by the experience. When I got home that day, my mother saw my face and arms and began to ask all the motherly questions. "What happened to you!?" she said. "Are you alright?"
"Nothing mom. I'm fine," I said, and that was all. I just went to my room and closed the door. There I sat up all night thinking about what had happened.
In November, one Saturday, I went to go out again with Kolin, despite my mother's request that I stop "hanging around" with "that sort of crowd." We were at Mark's apartment just drinking and smoking up, when an old girl-friend of his called him up sobbing and told him that she was raped by this guy last night at a party. Well, it didn't take much more conversation with her, describing what had happened last night, before Mark went ballistic. He demanded to know what this guy's name was and what he looked like. Then Mark looked him up, and decided we should go "talk" to him. I was designated to drive and so we all piled into my parents' station wagon.
When we rolled up at this guy's house in Silver Spring, I parked the car about two houses down and Mark and Kolin walked up to his front door with baseball bats, but I really thought they were bluffing. Smoking on the front porch ledge sat a guy who matched his description. Seeing this, Kolin put a ski mask he had on, Mark pulled his hooded sweatshirt over his head, and they rushed him. I watched as they literally put this guy in the hospital. They broke his nose and his arm with the bats, and then proceeded to kick in his ribs, all while he screamed out in pain for them to please stop. It was completely and blatantly wrong. He was unarmed and outnumbered, and getting the beating of his life. They didn't even listen to his cries for mercy. A splatter of blood had smeared against Mark's boots. I could see it even from where I was, and I was horrified.
"Did you ever get fed up? ... I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something?"
Suddenly I panicked. I turned on the car and drove up honking the horn. They ran and jumped in the car and I put the pedal to the metal and we were out of there. As I sped off they were actually laughing about the amount of blood they were covered with on their clothes and boots, and I dropped them back off at Mark's apartment, and then went home sickened. I stood outside my house when I got back for a few moments, trying to gain composure. My face was pale white, my mouth dry, and I was still unnerved by what had happened. I opened the front door and entered the kitchen. I saw my mom look up from what she was cooking and seeing the long expression on my face began to ask me what was wrong. "Brian, what on Earth happened to you!?" she said. But it was no use, I couldn't say a word to her. "Here, sit down and have some dinner right now." I ate my meal slowly and silently, then went to my room to pretend I could sleep, and lay awake.
It was in early December that I had my last horrible day with my so-called "friends." My mother was bothering me all day about where I was going that night, and so I lied and told her I was hanging out with some of my other friends who she liked and thought were a better influence on me. So there I was with Kolin and Mark again in Wheaton's city metro station at about ten o'clock, and that's when Kolin decided we needed some money. He said he was broke but that wasn't all he was. He had been drinking since about seven that night and was completely trashed, and pretty messed up from the bud we smoked earlier too. Mark saw it and started teasing him, and Kolin got pretty upset and started walking ahead of us. "Hey man, leave him alone. He's gone and you know it." I said whispering to Mark.
"Naw, I've seen him worse. He can handle it." Mark said to me. "Can't you handle it Kolly-wolly!?" he blurted out in a singsong manner to Kolin. Kolin ignored him and walked on farther ahead of us.
The station was pretty empty and as we got outside the streetlamps were dimly lighting the street. An old man in a business suit walked towards us from the opposite direction and Kolin waited till he had passed and then grabbed him from behind. I was stunned, but even more shocked when I saw Mark react by running up and hitting the guy in the stomach. That's when it occurred to me that they were actually mugging this guy. Kolin reached in his pocket and pulled out his favorite weapon. This was a palm-sized steel bar, welded with two prongs that projected out of one side, and which fit between his fingers. It was constructed so that when you punched with it, the two prongs would hit first and take the blow. He nailed the guy right in the face and instantly blood gushed everywhere.
You're afraid, you're afraid of being wrong.
Always be the passive one and go along.
You're afraid, you're afraid to speak your mind.
That's not for me, not for me, not for me.
(Husker Du, "Afraid of Being Wrong")
I felt tears forming in my eyes as I yelled at them to please stop, but they were in a zone and didn't hear my cries. What raced through my mind at that exact moment changed how I thought about "screwing people over" forever. I thought of my poor father who used to take the metro home everyday from work to save money for my family, rather than leasing a new car and just driving in. This was the connection that made all our pranks and crimes seem so utterly wrong to me now. What if they, or I, did it to someone I knew, or cared about. The man hit the ground and curled up into the fetal position, like a little ball. Mark swiped the old man's wallet from his suit pocket. Kolin shouted at the man to not look at him as he went through it. Forty-three dollars was all the cash he said he had, looking up, and then crack, Kolin hit him again while laughing. "Now dumbass, what did I just tell you," Kolin said smiling as he spoke condescendingly to the old man. At this moment I realized that Kolin and Mark actually enjoyed hurting people, not for the rewards of a mugging, but just for the sake of doing it. There was a huge gash on the side of the man's face and the blood was spurting out. I was truly scared and revolted by these guys for the first time, and ran away crying to catch a bus home. When I got in my mother read my face and knew everything was wrong, but to not even bother asking because I couldn't tell her. But then I just did. I told her everything, sobbing with sadness, tears of rage, and overwhelming frustration, and when it was all over she smiled at me. She said to me; "Brian, you always knew what the right thing to do was. I never needed to tell you."
"Thanks mom," I said, "for being here and listening." After that, I hugged her and went to bed. This time I slept all night.
I already knew that I would no longer hang around with those guys anymore. Even though they would have done almost anything for me because I was their "friend," it scared me too much to think of what sort of things I might witness them do anymore, or even partake in myself. Sure, these incidents were few and far between, and the majority of our times together were indeed rather fun and rebellious, but it was dangerous and even scary knowing them. The thing about looking back is that it was those bad times though that I remember most, in vivid detail. I don't think I will ever be able to get those terrible mental images out of my mind, of all the violence and blood.
They always say mother knows best, and it's so true. She knew what was going on all along, and she knew it was best for me to find out for myself. If she had tried to stop me, it would probably have just pushed me farther away from her, and so the best thing she could be for me at that point in my life was an understanding and concerned friend. She always knew I was so different from them, a good kid at heart, and would one day grow so repulsed that it would sicken me to be around them. They were truly sick people with no aspirations for the future, and with all the drugs and violence that they were involved with, would probably die in the street, or are dead now, for all I know. For I never spoke to or heard from them again, and it terrifies me to think that there are people out there who live this way on a day-to-day basis.
I guess in life we all try to make distinctions, but what I have learned is that there are seldom clear-cut ones. We draw lines in our minds about what we think is, or in my case can tolerate as, morally right and wrong behavior. Growing up everyone needs to begin exploring this for themselves, as I believe no one can truly tell you. Adolesence is time for the individual to formulate their own values, cares, and concerns that will act as guidelines for future behavior. How I was raised, and who I was becoming distinctly proved me different then my "so-called" friends, but I think that learning this, through experience in my case, if not at least in private reflection for everyone else, is a fundamentally vital part about what growing up is all about.
Du, Husker. "Afraid of Being Wrong." Standing. Audiotape. Warner, 4-25447, 1986.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher In The Rye. Boston: Warner, 1991.