Freshmankind Excerpt

1997

MAY

May 16, 1997

Graduation attacks, childhoods slain

Ceremony indicted for 611 deaths

by Adam Archer, Staff Writer

 

I still can’t believe high school is over. It seems like only yesterday that I showed up at Big Winters Elementary in the fifth grade with my Superman lunch box, to the delight of all the bullies.

 

Of course, even back then I knew what I wanted to do with my life. However, since all my attempts to build a time machine and move to the Garden of Eden failed, I opted to become a writer.

 

But, as a mild-mannered fifth grader who would one day work for a great metropolitan newspaper (you’re reading it), I had trouble concealing my secret identity. Everybody figured out who I was and thought it was a riot the way I held my glasses to my face as if my life depended on it.

 

Then there was the time in seventh grade when, out of sheer apathy toward nuclear power, I opted not to do my science project. When Mrs. Stewart confronted me, I told her I turned it in with all the others. Feeling bad about the idea of flunking a kid who lost his project, she gave me an 85. I was pleasantly surprised.

 

I was always fairly unamused by movies, specifically that really blah Mel Gibson stuff. What’s the deal with that? Lethal weapons, angry Scotsmen, and men without faces. Oh yeah, that’s really cool.

 

To understand my life is to understand that feeling you get when your friend announces he is going fishing.

 

The highlight of my life was that rainy Saturday afternoon in the early summer after fourth grade when, for the first time, I tasted a drink called Sprite.

 

Then there was the time I met Charlton Heston. He said to me, “Adam, one day you’re going to be living in the wilderness, protecting sheep from bears and other predators, and you’re going to see a bush that burns from within. When that happens, fall down on your knees and cry, ‘That bush is burning! It’s...burning...’”

 

Soon afterward, my ping pong team got to visit the White House, so I went. Again. And I met the President of the United States again.

 

High school meant a lot to me, because that’s when I learned to count. Suddenly, my math grades skyrocketed, and I looked to a promising career as a math-using-type person. But then I got drunk on Sprite and barred from the Magda Ferrar Institute of Mathematics, so I decided to become a writer again.

 

As I sat back a few weeks ago and watched the sophomore and junior classes participate in the student council elections, I found a certain irony in the fact that although I am now eighteen, I could not vote.

 

And so my days as a journalist here come to a close. And when I’m sitting in an auditorium at the University of North Texas, surrounded by strangers, I’ll look back on LaMont and miss you all, even those of you I’ve never met. I will most assuredly miss you all.

 

I never got along with school. I loved coming because all my friends were here. Some people believe that with time and patience anything is possible. Even if that were true, it wouldn’t be necessary. We don’t need doctors to paint sunsets, nor artists to perform brain surgery. To me, this is what school expects of us.

 

One of these days, in the future, you’ll be at a bookstore, browsing through the bestseller rack, and you’ll notice, to your surprise, a book written by me. One of these days you’ll be at a movie, watching previews, and by Jove, there’ll be one written by yours truly. Or maybe this will be the last thing I ever write. That’s the point of everything we’ve done: the future is ours now.

 

Winston Churchill said: “This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

 

This is the dawn of everything – the dawn of freshmankind.

 

At long last we are alive.

 

JULY

 

Bethany Graham was dead.

 

The trees swayed in silent wind. Their leaves spoke in soft percussion. They cast down shade over the row of graves in Restland where Adam Archer sat. He sipped the last of his thermos of lukewarm coffee. An ant crawled up the side of the stone, and he brushed it away. It was smooth and cool, but soon it would soak up the warmth of a Texas summer afternoon. Everything would grow hot. Everything would grow. Everything was alive.

 

But Bethany Graham was dead.

 

Her tombstone was small but significant. Straight, sharp edges rounded to the top. Indistinguishable from all the others – just another monument to just another life. Only a few weeks had passed since everyone who loved her gathered around it in silence. Now they were gone, back to their lives, moving on without her. The sun rose and it set. The moon arced through the sky every night.

 

But Bethany Graham was dead.

 

He traced the granite lines that spoke her name. The lawn crunched under his jeans. The soil that covered her had grown fresh grass, bright and green. Even the dirt had moved on.

 

Bethany wanted to be a reporter. She wanted to travel the world and tell its stories. She’d landed an internship at the Columbia Daily Tribune and left Dallas behind the day after graduation to go to Missouri, for college and the summer job. She’d known for years what she was going to do with her life.

 

He was sitting with her on the steps of the school, as they always did. They were leaning over the Collins overpass in the chilly New Year’s Eve air, watching the cars below and the fireworks sparking out constellations of color in the sky above – just the two of them. She was wearing one of her fabric flowers behind her ear – maybe a carnation, maybe a sunflower. They were sitting side by side in the Lamont High School journalism room. Lois and Clark. They were leaving the prom in that dark limousine, sitting on opposite sides, her hand grasping his, tears smearing her makeup. Elton John serenading them amidst her soft sobs.

 

They were at the airport the morning after graduation.

 

And now Bethany Graham was dead.

 

He traced her name again. Then Adam collected himself and ventured back to his blue Toyota Tercel. His McDonald’s uniform lay rumpled in the passenger seat. He turned the ignition and the radio welcomed him with the news. A bomb in Algiers had killed twenty-one. More talk about Mike Tyson being banned from boxing for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear. Another Plano teen dead from heroin. First there had been the black tar. Now dealers were cutting it into a powder form and calling it Chiva. It could be snorted or taken as a pill, and Plano police were stumped as to how it was getting past them and into their neighborhoods.

 

He shut it off and sat in silence, watching the trees shift in the wind. His mouth was parched despite the coffee. His eyes were dry and cracking. He put drops in them, blinking until they felt normal. The Tercel dragged itself out of the cemetery and back toward Richardson, where the breakfast shift had already started.

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