When I was in high school, my friend was dating a guy in his early twenties. We would hang out at his friend’s apartment. I’m not really sure who lived there, but it was dark and empty, like a bad movie. There was always a couple of strung out girls with babies on their hips. The furniture was always mismatched. It looked like a place that people were half moved into or half moved out of. There was nothing on the walls. Even the bedrooms were empty.
I met some real characters at that place. A skinny guy with messy black hair and eyes that matched. He had piercings all over his face and bad tattoos painted across his entire chest. If I was to see this guy today, I would definitely keep my distance. But at sixteen, I was intrigued and entertained by his dark and mysterious tendencies.
There was a duo of goofballs who always hung out. I have no idea what their real names were. We called them Frog Man and Chaz. They had to have been in their thirties, a couple of dried up, old school eighties rock protégés. They had good pot.
And then there was a guy who sort of stole the spotlight. He was a very big dude with a Cheshire Cat smile. He was always smiling. He always made everyone feel like family. He was the kind of guy who used charm as a tool for survival. He was good at it, and I always got the impression that he had to be. He had nothing. That guy grew up in a completely different world than I did.
One night while I was over there, that guy went around hugging everyone goodbye and then took off with a backpack and a couple of people I had never seen before. About twenty minutes later, seven cops went barging through the apartment looking for them. Apparently the girl was a run away. I didn’t see him again until a few years later. I was nineteen and he had hired into the furniture factory that I worked at. He and a few of his buddies hired in through a temp agency to help with some increased production demands.
His face lit up when he saw me. Still smiling as always, but his eyes had changed since the last time I saw him. He had taken on a predatory gaze behind his deceiving smile.
Working at that factory was one of the best times in my life. All my friends were still working fast food and retail gigs while finishing up college.
I didn’t go to college. I used my open house money to move into a shitty apartment with my high school drop out friend. We were drunk the entire time we lived there, which was about a summer. She ended up getting pregnant. I moved home. My parents were disgusted in me. Not because I didn’t go to college, but because I had whored around all summer and caught a bad reputation for my family.
I often wonder how I went from being an honor student who was involved in all the nerdy after school activities, to literally drinking myself through near death experiences and random sex with some shady ass men. Looking back, I wonder why my parents didn’t see that drastic change as something to be concerned about, something to sit down and lovingly discuss with me. I am certain now, looking back, that my extreme rebellion was a result of nearly dying from a burst appendix. I remember thinking that my life would have been such a waste, had I died. Because I had never really lived.
Why did my idea of living consist of following the worst behaved people into a life of drunken promiscuity? Why didn’t I see college and a career as a goal, rather than getting high and running around with strange people?
I thought working in the furniture factory was a legitimate career choice. And I loved it. I made a lot of friends there that I am still friends with today. I found a few guys to share some after work romance with. We used to pitch in for a shitty hotel room to party in on the weekends. We all got high together at lunch. And I got the summers off with unemployment benefits. It really was a good gig at the time. But everything changed when those predatory eyes and that big deceiving smile hired in.
He was trouble, and I could smell it. And I was right. He and his friends had been dealing crystal meth in the factory. He tried to blend in, but his aura had a stench to it. People recognized that he was not a good guy. But he still tried to blend in. He even heard about our hotel parties and decided to host one himself. I was the only original who showed up. I walked in the door of the hotel room and looked around at the scariest bunch of dead-eyed guys that I had never seen before. I was the only female, a nineteen year old blonde with a rack worth bragging about. I knew the moment I walked through that door that those guys were going to hurt me.
I began to plan my escape. I acted happy to see him and ready to party. I told him that I would be right back, that I had left my cigarettes in the car. I walked out of the door, got into my car, and drove the fuck out of there as fast as I could.
The next Monday, one of his friends walked up to me, and laughingly told me I was lucky I didn’t stick around that night because they had some big plans for me. That guy robbed the local KFC a few weeks later, by bashing the managers head in with a baseball bat. He is now in prison. The guy who had big plans for me is in prison now too.
A couple years after I had escaped whatever plans he had made for me, I saw him walking down the sidewalk in my hometown. He recognized my car and flagged me down. He told me to stop by later that night. I didn’t go, but a girl who went to high school with me did. According to a witness’ testimony, she had been sitting on the couch, smoking some pot with him. The witness who lived in the house had gone to the bathroom, and when he came out, she was being rolled up in a rug, thrown over his shoulder, and carried out of the house. They found her body a few weeks later, in a thicket just north of town.
It took ten years for the investigation to wrap up with a conviction. He was already serving time for some other crime. He will be in there for the rest of his life. I don’t think he acted alone. He supposedly wanted to murder someone simply for the experience of it. It’s hard to speculate since I wasn’t there, but the story never made sense to me. I remember seeing him a few weeks after she went missing. He hugged me and my body froze with fear as I was wrapped in his big deadly arms. My body could sense the danger in him, the primal dance of predator and prey.
I grew up in a town like Mayberry. It was quaint and quiet. We had one bar and three churches. Nothing bad had ever happened in my town before. It is still hard for me to wrap my head around. The sweet gothic girl who shared an art class with me, who had taken her talent to art college and was just home for a vacation and to visit old friends…the girl who pulled off the goth look before it was cool, and she did it with absolute elegance. She was a beautiful person. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. She didn’t deserve to leave this world so young, so violently. She was a person. And he killed with his bare hands. My world was never the same after that experience. The kids I grew up with were never the same after that. Our innocent little town had been diseased with murder and heartache.
It never escapes my mind, when I think of her, when I think of him, how easily that could have been my body in the thicket on the side of the road. It never escapes my mind, that I once called a cold blooded killer, ‘friend.’
I will never forget her.