We went to the movies. I can’t remember which one, but there was lots of neon, smoke, and keytars and some stupid drug dealer plot. Let’s just call it Eighties Movie, since that covers 99.9% of Hollywood films released during that decade.
The drug lord, likely played by a white guy with a ponytail and Ray-Bans, shot a character probably named “Street Thug #2” right between the eyes. A cigarette burn-sized hole, bloodless and clean, appeared on Street Thug’s forehead, and Jody buried her face in her hands and moaned.
On the way home I said, “The fights in movies always look so stupid.”
“Like when that guy got shot he just fell over dead immediately.”
“So? What do you think would happen to you if you got shot in the head?”
“I wouldn’t just fall over dead,” I said.
“Because I’m not ready to die yet.”
She let go of my hand and scooted closer to the passenger door. “If you really believe that then you are the stupidest person I’ve ever met,” she said.
Later that night, lying together on the mattress that we tossed onto the floor of our bedroom, Jody said, “I used to hang out with these kids I went to high school with. One of them lived with her grandma in a trailer park, so we’d all go over there and sit around at the dead-end.”
“That sounds pretty cool,” I said.
“There was these two real sweet boys named Dougie and Benny that were best friends since, like, kindergarten. I loved them but not like that. They were just funny and sweet. Anyway, they always hung out there with Tammy and me and her boyfriend Bobo and a bunch of them, but then Tammy broke up with Bobo.”
“He was an asshole, real possessive and all that. So we’re hanging out and Tammy’s grandma yells that she has a call, so she runs off and comes back all freaked out because Bobo says he’s coming over to kill her. We all tell her that’s he’s just talking shit, so she calms down and we go back to hanging out.
“About twenty minutes later a Trans-Am pulls up and Bobo gets out with a gun. Everybody scattered except for Dougie. He stood up and said, ‘Come on Bobo, nobody wants any trouble,’ and Bobo said, ‘Don’t fuck with Daddy Rabbit’ and shot him in the head.”
“Oh my God,” I said.
“Then Bennie screamed and he rushed Bobo because that’s just how he was, always protecting everybody, and Bobo shot him in the chest and killed him. Tammy’s grandma heard all the noise so she came out on her porch and had a heart attack.”
“Did she die?”
“Oh my God,” I said.
“Bobo got back in the Trans-Am and left. They picked him up that night. If he’s lucky he’ll be in prison the rest of his life.”
“You mean instead of the death penalty?”
“I mean there’s a whole bunch of people waiting to kill him if he ever gets out.”
“That’s the worst story I’ve ever heard.”
“Every time I close my eyes I see Dougie’s head. People don’t know what they’re messing with when they put that shit in movies. You’re never the same after you see that.”
“When did all of this happen?” I asked.
“A couple of weeks before you and me started dating.”
“Damn. You ran with a wild crowd.”
“You don’t even know,” she said. “I’m from the real South. Not that prissy, sweet mess. I could tell you some stories.” She curled up next to me. “That’s why I love you. You’re normal and safe.”
Her comment irritated me, but she was right. I had a full-time job and a full-time school schedule, and when I got home my girl was waiting for me. I paid the bills, bought the groceries, and defrosted the freezer. Our roommates gave me shit when I collected their share of the rent. “You’re so tight you couldn’t fit a quarter in the crack of your ass,” Jarod always said. My job was “manager” and my major was illustration, the path to a career in advertising. I was doing everything right, but it all felt terribly wrong. I was slipping into Jim-ness, and I wanted to be a James.
Jody fell asleep on my normal and safe shoulder. Neither of us knew that we’d pulled at a loose thread dangling from a very delicate sweater.
Wow. That’s crazy. I can see the appeal of finding someone “normal and safe” after that….but I can see how being called “normal and safe” would not be terribly appealing.
It’s better than being called bat-shit crazy! Normal and safe is a compliment.
I kept thinking that it was going to be just a story and not real. My goodness, I couldn’t even imagine.
“Normal and safe” are tricky words. For a young James that was still seeking and forging his place in the big bad world I can imagine that being labeled as such was a sting.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? What seems so abhorrent as a kid is what one hopes for later in life.