January 14th, 2020
Thinking about stupid shit. Like buying a new computer. The price of XRP. Why I feel guilty all the time—about wanting to drink wine, eat chocolate and meat—and how even though I’ve lost over 50 pounds in a year, I still am not happy with my body.
In the meantime, Australia is burning to the ground.
Kids are starving.
Animals are freezing in this cold.
And there are people that can’t read, don’t have a roof over their heads, and no food to eat. And here I am, alone at the kitchen table surrounded by art on the walls, books on the shelves, electronic devices in drawers on counters and on end tables. We’re a spoiled bunch, us living here on White Street.
We have earned it.
That’s what I like to think.
I have sacrificed. But probably not to the degree necessary to receive the great fortune we have. I have worked—hard, since I was fourteen. From writing sports articles for The Alpena News to stocking shelves at Fishers Big Wheel, I made sure to pull my weight. And over the years, the heavier I got, the harder it was to pull it.
I remember working the gun counter at Dunham’s when Johnnie Slampsaw came in. He wanted to buy a shotgun. I showed him a Mossberg pump. A .20 gauge, I believe. He had a couple young kids with him. They were dicking around by the clay pigeons. Messing with a tree stand. They were with him, but I wasn’t sure they were his.
He didn’t recognize me. He looked hollow. Felt empty. Like he did back in grade school. He was one of those kids that felt paper thin. He was scrappy. A fighter. He was emotional too. But I never felt much from him. He got into trouble a lot. Even years later at Thunder Bay Junior High. Doing the wrong things to get attention. And then, there he was. Years later. Looking worn out and run down. I remember during our conversation I said his name, Johnnie. That took him back. Now, as I remember it, I think he was filling out a form to purchase the gun. He had a question about something on the form, kept looking back at those kids, and was flustered. That’s when I said his name, Johnnie. I can’t recall why or in what context, but it made him stop and look at me as if I’d just slapped him.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“I went to school with you,” I said. “It’s me, KJ Stevens.”
He paused. Mustered up a look of disgust.
“You got fat.”
“Yeah, thanks. College. Beer. Some weights.”
He didn’t care that at one time we knew each other. That I saw him throw baby Killdeer against the side of the Maple Ride Elementary School gymnasium. Laughing, as they hit the pink bricks and were crushed and bled and died. Some of them sticking to the wall for a moment before they fell to the ground. The mother Killdeer behind us, running in circles, faking a broken wing. Him and Stan and Charlie and Wendell killing those baby birds. He didn’t care that I dated his sister for a recess. I thought I was loved. That I was a somebody. Afterall, we had exchanged notes. Stood near each other. And giggled. She was a year older. I was a quiet, nervous, self-conscious, wimpy little bitch. Just a kid full of my own issues, trying to make my way. He didn’t care about any of that then and he didn’t care about any of it now. He wanted to buy a shotgun and he wanted to get those kids out of the store and he probably wanted to shoot them. But he didn’t.
He shot himself.
In the face.
One of our schoolmates, Pete, was on the scene as a volunteer firefighter. He told me about Johnnie’s demise a few years after that meeting at Dunham’s.
It was a mess, he said.
Johnnie had gotten into drugs. Depression. Had probably been abused.
So, he did what any other pain-filled person would do when all they want is rest.
Johnnie didn’t have it like this.
Being a chubby husband with healthy, happy kids. A beautiful, smart, creative wife. Johnnie didn’t drink wine and feel guilty about it. He didn’t have three cats. A dog. A ferret. He wasn’t planning on taking his family to the Caribbean for Spring Break. Johnnie didn’t have any of this.
But maybe he could have.
If he would have toughed it out. Not gone the selfish, self-centered route.
Sure, I know it’s a sickness.
All of us do. Especially those of us that have been living with it. Thinking about it.
But we don’t do it. Because none of this is about us.
It’s about them. And when you get outside yourself and realize how important all of this is to everyone else, you don’t buy the shotgun. You don’t call an old schoolmate fat. You don’t go down that deep, dark hole that those before you dug.
Instead, you stay on top. And even if you fall below the surface awhile and get pulled into the darkness, you know that you must come up.
For a breath.
At least every once in a while.