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General

No Good Deed

“Why don’t you introduce yourself, and tell us three interesting things about you,” my teacher suggests. This happens every time I begin at a new school, which is often.

  "My name is Alanis Abbott. I have four siblings, and we are all named after musicians. We moved here because my father is in the Air Force," I reply. I feel like I've said the same things each time a new teacher has asked me to introduce myself. 

I look around for a moment before I go to sit in my seat. A girl tentatively raises her hand and asks if I’m named after Alanis Morrissette.

“Yes, I am,” I answer, trying to hide my surprise. 

“I saw Jagged Little Pill on Broadway over the summer when I was on vacation in New York. It was good! I downloaded some of her songs afterward,” the girl explains.

"I haven't seen it yet. It wasn't out last time we were in NY," I respond. The last time I was in NY was when my dad was stationed at Fort McGuire in New Jersey around five years, or two moves ago.

  My family is quite unique. My dad is a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, so we move often. Texas is the fifth state I have moved to in fifteen years. My father joined the Air Force right after high school and made a career in Security Forces, whatever that is. He enjoys his job and is a proud Patriot. He loves America and has taught us to, as well. I think he hopes one of his kids will enlist, but I don't know if that will come to fruition.

My mother is a stay-at-home-mom, but she has many hobbies. She is a talented artist. I can't describe the beauty and realism of her artwork. She paints and draws landscapes, and since we move often, she has a collection of scenery from across the country. Since she's very creative, she collects things too and makes displays from what she discovers. Mom keeps rocks, sand, shells, and sea glass from every beach we have stepped foot on; leaves, dirt, seeds, and rocks from different forests, even a bit of volcanic rock from Hawaii. She collects them and puts them in mason jars for later use. They are her memories.

When she was in elementary school, she learned to play the violin. She was a natural and fell in love with the instrument. She performed throughout her entire school experience, and even continued in college. In college, she learned how to play the electric violin. It's actually part of how my parents met. 

She is athletic and likes to be outdoors, so we all know how to swim, ski, camp, and hike. Before we moved, we even started geocaching, which was more fun than I had expected. My mother gave us all an active, healthy childhood. She felt that the more teams and groups we joined, the easier it would be to fit in places. Turns out, she was right. She’s a smart lady, that mother of mine.

Both of my parents were teenagers in the 1990s and love Rock (grunge, punk, alternative), so my brothers, sisters, and I are named after rock singers that my parents considered being the "greats" of their age, dead or alive. Their songs are often blasted throughout our house any time, day or night. 

I am named after my mom's favorite, Alanis Morrissette. I actually really like my name. It's unique, but not too out there. I don't mind her music either, so it's a good moniker. I'm the second oldest of the five and the eldest girl.

My parents grew up in the time of Garage Bands. My dad played bass in one. My mother met him when she auditioned to be a violinist with his band. The members were looking to do something different, so they would stand out. They never made it big or anything, but they have a lot of funny stories from those times. Like, the time they were performing for their high school's variety show, and their cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit caused the teenagers to form a mosh pit in the auditorium! It became so rowdy that security had to shut it down. 

The oldest is Kurt. He’s named in honor of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who committed suicide in 1994. Both of my parents can tell us exactly where they were when they heard that he had died. His death was one of those iconic musical celebrity deaths for my parents, like John Lennon or Prince. 

My brother, Kurt, hates his name but loves to listen to Nirvana. He’s seventeen and a senior in high school. Don't ask him what he wants to do when he graduates because he is struggling with that decision. He's considering joining the military, just not the Air Force like our dad. He says he wants to build his own legacy. I like that option, but he also wants to go to college, which is an excellent idea. Kurt's just not sure what he would major in. And, there's the cost. The military could pay for college, but then he needs to enlist, and the carousel goes around again. 

I’m next, then third is Janis, named for Janis Joplin. My mom enjoyed her music and loved her name. Luckily, so does my sister. Janis is fourteen. We are considered "Irish twins" because we were born almost exactly a year apart. That's also why they gave us names that are so similar. My parents like to joke that dad was home on a short leave for my birth, and Janis happened. Not a fan of how often they tell that story, but I love how close we are in age. It makes us more than sisters. She’s my best friend and my biggest supporter, as I try to be for her. She has a bright future ahead of her. She’s wicked smart and athletic, so she will be awarded scholarships to any college she chooses. She has some time to decide.

Fiona was named for Fiona Apple, who is another favorite of my mother’s. Again, my mom just loved the name. She told us she thought it sounded noble and old-fashioned. I think she was confusing it with the movie Shrek, but whatever, it’s still a cool name. My ten-year-old sister thinks her name is okay. I believe that it wouldn't matter if her name was John Jacob Jinglemier Schmidt, she would still get all of the attention, since she’s the actress of the family. She’s very dramatic and always putting on a performance. She takes gymnastics, singing, and dancing classes and is quite skilled for her age, in my opinion. I think she has a bright future if she keeps at it and works hard. I would be so proud to see her name in lights one day.

The baby, Chester, is two. A pleasant surprise, as my mother puts it. She was pregnant with him when Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, took his own life. My baby brother received his name as a tribute. He’s charming and adorable, and he also has Down Syndrome. His Down Syndrome causes him to have some delays in development, so he has been receiving Early Intervention services practically since birth.

Along with the Downs, Chester has a vision impairment and heart condition. Luckily, my mother isn't flaky like the stereotypical artist and had his doctors and therapies scheduled to begin as soon as we moved in. As frustrating as the therapy can be for him, it’s necessary to help him to live a productive life in the future. He has some vision, but not enough that he will be able to navigate a visual world without the proper support. 

His heart condition scares me. Chester had heart surgery soon after he was born, and he’ll probably need more surgeries throughout his life. That surgery terrified me, thinking about how they operate on that tiny, infant heart. I don't understand why he was given this tremendous burden, but I know he can shoulder it. He's a tough little guy, plus, he has a secure support system in his family and the military. 

The military is its own family because we can empathize with each other.  I love being an "Air Force brat." I don't think I'd have seen so much of the United States if my dad wasn't in the military. Most people don't get to travel like that in their lifetime, and I have experienced so much in only 15 years. Granted, I don't remember the first base we lived on. I was only a baby when we moved, but I like being able to say that I was born in Florida, then moved back and forth across the country twice so far. I think I would like to continue to travel throughout my life. I really enjoy it, and there are so many places to see. I would like to visit every state in the US, then, maybe, every country in Europe. Australia and New Zealand are on my list, too. 

Maybe I'll pursue a career where I can travel, like a journalist. I love to write. I wrote for the school newspaper at my last school and joined a few creative writing clubs throughout middle and high school. I plan on signing up for the paper here if they have one. It’ll be a more natural way to make new friends, too.

I honestly don't know what I want to do when I graduate. I do know that I don't want to join the military, there is too much structure. I want to have my freedom to explore life and the world around me. I definitely do not want people shooting at me for my career. I'm not afraid of guns. I actually have great respect for them because of my father. 

Since we are a military family, we have all had exposure to weapons. My dad has a permit to carry a pistol and is a hunter. We’ve all been taught how to properly handle a gun since we were young. We’ve all learned to shoot, clean, disassemble, and reassemble a handgun; except for Chester, because he's too young and differently-abled. 

I don't know how my parents plan to handle that. They were insistent that we learn since there are firearms in our home. My father takes us to the shooting range and on hunting trips as often as he can. The more practice we have with handling a weapon, the more confident and calm we will be if we ever need to use one.

I’m considering becoming some sort of special educator. I adore Chester, and helping with his therapies is so fulfilling. I try to work with him when he is not scheduled to be with a teacher, so he maintains his skills. I find it fascinating to learn about child development and Down Syndrome. Reading about developmental disabilities has really opened my eyes. It's incredible to me that, with all the things that could go wrong when a fetus is developing, how often it goes right. 

I'm starting to research what I would need to do to become a special ed teacher, and it is really overwhelming. My mom says that tenth grade is the "planning" year, the eleventh is the "action" year, and twelfth grade is "smooth sailing," if you've done everything right.

That girl approaches me as the bell rings and introduces herself as Fallon.

"Nothing’s exciting about my name," she jokes.

She’s shorter than me, with very long blond hair and green eyes. Fallon resembles my mother more than I do, with her light hair and eyes. I look like my dad, except for my eyes. My eyes are hazel, so they change color with whatever I am wearing. My hair is mid-length, black, and wavy. I usually keep it in a ponytail because it's easier to manage throughout the day.  I am olive-skinned and of average height.  

I tell her that I like her name and compliment her hair because I was taught to say something complimentary to new friends. Her hair is gorgeous, pin-straight, and down past her waist. She blushes a little and reactively strokes her hair. 

“Thanks,” she stammers sheepishly. “I’ve been growing it out for a while. I’m going to cut and donate it soon, so they can make wigs for cancer patients.”

I stop short and look at her. I think she thought I was upset or offended, but, in fact, I am in awe of that gesture.

"You can donate your hair to make wigs?" I ask astonished.

“Yes,” Fallon explains further as we start walking again. “I do it as often as I can. It usually takes a year or two to get it long enough." She sees the quizzical look on my face and tells me, "at least twelve inches."

"That's amazing," I exclaim! "I had no idea you could do that. How did you find out about it," I ask?

“Well...” she begins tentatively, “my little brother died of cancer when I was six. He was almost four-years-old, so I do this in his memory. I want to be a pediatric oncology nurse after I graduate. I want to help other kids fighting cancer.”

At that moment, I knew I wanted to be friends with Fallon. We already had some similarities in our lives, which was a bond to build on. 

"My baby brother is two," I tell her. "He has Down Syndrome. I know it's not the same as cancer, but it's a different kind of struggle for him and our family. I'm thinking about becoming a special educator of some sort since I like helping with his therapies."

We arrive at our next classroom, which we are both assigned to. I claim the desk next to Fallon, and our day continues. We have several classes together, including lunch. 

During lunch, she introduces me to the other people at our table, some of whom I saw scattered throughout my lessons in the morning. They all seem to be very welcoming and warm. I feel optimistic and excited. Of all the first days I've had up until now, this is by far the best one!

I saw Kurt and Janis here and there throughout the school day. Turns out, they have the same lunch period. I'm glad they have each other, at least, but I wish I could be with them too. Strength in numbers, and all.

My siblings all had awesome first days, too. It’s challenging to assimilate into a new population of students mid-year. Winter break began for us in frigid, snowy North Dakota, and ended here in sunny, warm Texas. It seems that everyone made one friend today, except Fiona, who made five. Chester even likes his new physical therapist and had a positive first session.  

Dad is home for dinner tonight, which usually only happens when he’s home on leave. This new position at work is more of a 9-5-type day, rather than an all-day-every-day kind of life. He will need to deploy from time to time, but less often and for far less time away from us. It will be an adjustment for everyone, but I feel like this is the perfect place for us to live. It will be welcomed change to all be together more, spending family time, making memories, and having fun. 

Everyone is talkative during dinner. Dad tells us about his new base. Mom tells us about the painting she started while Chester had his therapy session, and how well he did in PT. Fiona describes every detail of her new classroom, gives us a bio of every child in it, and recites every bit of gossip she was told. She can be such a busybody; she will fit in well in Hollywood. Janis talks about her classes and teachers. There are a few clubs that she is interested in but needs to talk to the volleyball and softball coaches to make sure the schedules won't conflict. Kurt tells us about how long it took to get his parking permit this morning, which caused him to miss homeroom and half of the first period. I can see him shift in his seat as he describes being the new kid entering class late. Unlike his namesake, my brother hates being the center of attention or being put on the spot. The upside was that, since the teacher was in the middle of a lesson, he did not ask him to introduce himself to everyone.

I fill the family in on my day and my new friend Fallon, as we finish eating and start clearing the table. After-dinner dishes are a family affair. There are so many of us and so many dishes to clean, it wouldn't be fair to leave them for only one person. It's an old habit for us now, effortlessly clearing, rinsing, and loading dirty plates and utensils in the dishwasher. Dad entertains Chester while he cleans up the mess he made with his dinner. 

As the din dies down, Kurt tells us about a music festival that is happening in a couple of weeks.

“Supposedly, there will be a bunch of local, small-time bands playing, trying to get their name out there. It’s some sort of charity event. There’s a small charge for admission, but it all goes to whatever cause they’re supporting. It’s a full-day event, one town over. I was hoping we could go? It sounds fun…,” he trails off, looking at our parents and the rest of us.

“That does sound fun,” my mom exclaims! “I’ll see if I can find information about it online.”

Mom was able to find information about the music festival and the charity it’s supporting. A local foundation formed about a year ago, after the death of a young woman from a rare disease. Her family started the foundation to help raise money for research. 

The woman's brother is in a band that’s widely known locally.  He’s the one who thought of and launched the music festival. Once word got out, the wheels started turning, and now there are an expected 20-30 local music groups from surrounding areas in our county that are planning to attend. Vendors will set up booths, girl/boy scout troops will sell food and beverages, and some other community group will provide bouncy houses, face painting, and other activities for the younger patrons. The festival will be next Saturday, from 11 am until the last person leaves, according to its Twitter page. Now referred to as, Remember the Greats Music Festival, the organizers requested only cover songs to be played. They feel that since the charity is honoring the memory of this woman, they should pay tribute to those who came before them.

With two weeks until the festival, advertisements and fliers start to circulate, and social media is blowing up. With that, comes the rumors of famous musicians, like Ariana Grande or Drake, who are supposedly planning on making an appearance. I seriously doubt anyone famous will take the time to come, but if they do, I hope they give an impromptu performance. That would be a cool story to tell.

We Abbott kids make more strides and friends at school over the next two weeks. Janis joined both sports after learning the schedules wouldn’t conflict with each other. She also joined the school newspaper with me. I figure one club is enough for me for now. I have a heavy school schedule and lots of homework. I want the extra time to study and help with Chester. Kurt was able to get his parking permit situation settled and has been actively looking for an after-school job. Fiona has already been invited to a birthday party. 

Friday, the day before the festival, Chester woke up with a nasty cold. His immune system is weakened due to the Downs, and all the recent changes probably caught up with him. Mom decides to play the "wait and see" game before she makes the decision of what to do about the festival tomorrow. I know how that game typically ends; with us not being able to go. I understand that his health always comes first, but it can be extremely upsetting when our plans are suddenly null. The excitement I've had building for this weekend left my body like a deflating balloon. I saw the same posture in my siblings, and we trudged off to bed, feeling defeated.

We are woken early by our parents and told to get ready to go to the festival.

“Is Chester better,” I ask?

“No,” my mom replies while opening the curtains and kicking my dirty clothes from yesterday towards the hamper. 

“Are we bringing him,” Janis questions as she sits up in bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"Nope." My mother speaks as she moves towards the bedroom door and stops, placing her hand on the doorknob.

“Dad is going to bring you. I will stay home with Chester.” My sister and I start to object, but my mother quiets us.

“You’ve all been looking forward to this for two weeks. Dad never has the opportunity to do these things with you guys, but now he can. We are finally a two-parent household! We can split the tasks.”

Once everyone showers and dresses, we converge downstairs for breakfast. My mother set out cereal, milk, and fresh fruit for everyone. It was so early that Chester was still asleep. It takes a while to get so many people ready to go somewhere on time. At some point, my parents packed our backpacks with some essentials: a light jacket, snacks, water, and extra chargers for our phones. As each of us finishes our breakfast, we add our personal touches to our bags, like my Eos lip balm and sunglasses. Then, we brush our teeth and say good-bye to mom.

The drive to the festival should only take about forty-five minutes, but traffic is already getting heavy. We drive for double the travel time and are eager to stretch our legs when we arrive. The attendants direct us to our parking spot in the middle of a field. There are already more cars than I expected lined up in the rows they’ve created. We unload our gear, far less than what we would’ve brought if Chester had come, and follow the crowd to the entrance of the festival.

It’s only thirty minutes after the start of the festival, but it’s crowded already. It's all set up on a long road, sandwiched by two fields. The field behind us is where we parked. Set up on the field on the other side are small stages. Each stage is about fifty yards away from the next and set up in a U-shape. We are looking from behind and can see the wires, amps, and large bins that are stored there and under them. On the far side of the field, we can see some have a few lone instruments or a microphone on it, but none are ready for performances yet. I guess the music will start later in the day.  

People amble by wearing old T-shirts, jeans, and work boots, with chains dangling from their pockets. Other don cowboys hats and boots, and spit tobacco on the pavement. Kids are squealing and calling for parents to "take a picture," as they ride down the giant inflatable slide. One child is already crying because he has to wait his turn for the bounce house. Surprisingly to me, it’s already at capacity. 

As we walk along in front of the vendors, we peek into each booth, commenting on the merchandise and promising to come back later. Clothes, jewelry, soaps, and oils fill most of them. Others are set up by companies vying for customers, with pamphlets and free samples to hand out. One booth has a wheel, like on Wheel of Fortune, that gives the winners various discounts, like a free estimate or $50 off installation. 

I could smell a mix of aromas the moment we approached the entrance, and it’s growing stronger with each step. The unmistakable buttery smell of popcorn, juicy burgers and greasy french fries, and sausage and peppers all mingle together to tickle my senses. My mouth starts to water, and my stomach growls in anticipation, yet we continue to wander around for another hour before we agree it's time to eat. We get our food and sit at a picnic table at the opposite end of the entrance.

While we eat, a handful of bands start to show up. They drive up in box trucks filled with instruments and equipment, parking at the bottom of the U of stages. We finish our lunch and just sit there, watching them labor back and forth with their dollies piled high. The five of us chat excitedly about the upcoming concert. Knowing there is still a long day ahead, we choose to stay at our table for a while and enjoy the scene.

After a short while, the sound checks begin. We take that as our cue to get up and move around again. We point out this and comment on that in the various booths, as we slowly make our way through the ever-expanding crowd. The street containing the festival is, from the entrance to the picnic tables, probably between a half-mile to a mile long. There are so many people here now that, if we were indoors, we would be in violation of occupancy codes, perhaps by double. I imagine many families with small children will leave by dark, but there is still a huge amount of fans. This fact makes me happy because the foundation will have the opportunity to make a large donation for research. I am so glad we came.

We peruse the booths and sit in the grass when we want to rest. We laugh and joke and truly enjoy our time together. It would be best if mom and Chester could have shared this experience with us, too, but I will take what I can get. It’s refreshing to finally be doing something like this with dad. We need to have these kinds of moments with him more often now that he’s home. 

A few more bands start playing, and we can hear bits of song drifting our way. People come and go, laughing, singing, dancing, and talking over the music. We notice some peers from school but don’t know their names, so we wave politely to some and say hello to others. No one lingers too long. There’s just too much other stimulation to ignore.

Dusk is settling in. There are fewer families and more 20-somethings in tight pants and cut-off shirts, drinking beer, and vaping. More bands are preparing to play, checking their mics, and making last-minute adjustments. There is a charge building in the air. Whether it be from the excitement and activity or the amount of voltage needed for the equipment, it’s reaching an apex. Plumes of people are making their way onto the field of stages. Groups converge in front of each depicting the name of their desired ensemble. 

Each stage is ready for the performers as the audience continues to bulge in the growing darkness. The drone of so many voices crescendos into a cacophony that echoes in my ears. All at once, the lights beam on every stage, and the musicians come running out onto their respective platforms. The crowd shrieks and cheers for the artists, as they take their places and start their shows.

My family is gathered at the edge of the crowd closest to the entrance, but still a fair distance away from it.  We don't know the bands, so we decide to wait on the outskirts until they are done with their introductions and kick off the show. Then, we can make our way around to listen to each in turn. We’re standing in a sort of huddle at the edge of the crowd, deciding what to do. My father’s on my right, leaning slightly past me to speak with Kurt, who’s to the left of Janis. Janis is next to me, and Fiona’s on the other side of Kurt, completely distracted, trying to see the performance and bopping along in beat. 

I hear a snap to my right and see my dad jolt up straight at attention.

Snap. Dad's arms and body come around, swooping us together, and pushes us on to the ground. Snap, snap. More to my right, moving towards us. Screaming and the sound of an impending stampede

Gunshots. Not automatic. Consistent. Targeted. Dad's talking very fast, giving orders, as he tries to move us in the opposite direction, behind the stages and away from the shooter. He's maneuvering Janis and me around him, shielding us with his body as he tries to get us to move while calling for Kurt and Fiona over his shoulder. I still hear screaming and shooting, much closer now. 

Without warning, dad shoves Janis into me and turns to run back towards the mob. We stumble backward, almost falling, but I catch my footing and Janis just in time. I push her aside to run to my father, as he falls to his knees and crumples to the ground. 

I reach him as the shooter is approaching, still killing at random. My father is lying on his side, bent at the knees, almost as if in a fetal position. His arm is limp on the ground, slightly behind him, like he was reaching for something. His jacket and shirt are askew, and I can see the strap of his holster. I react without thinking.

In one fluid motion, I retrieve his pistol, charge and unsafe it, and lookup for the shooter. Janis is behind me, yelling something incoherent and pulling at my shirt. The shooter has just turned his attention towards me when I raise dad’s gun and fire. I hit him once, which gives me a moment to breathe and aim. I fire at his head and immediately again at his chest, just to be sure. The gun falls from his hands. He drops to the ground on top of it, dead. 

Behind him, lying in a heap, I see Kurt and Fiona lifeless on the ground. Kurt is sprawled across Fiona's small body, blood seeping from the wound in her head. I can see the crimson wounds on his back from trying to protect his little sister. 

I stand and slowly look around at the carnage, barely aware of Janis sobbing over our father's corpse. Bodies and blood are scattered all around.  I become aware of others rushing back onto the field, calling out for their loved ones. People are weeping and sobbing in pain, pleading for a reason why. 

I rotate on the spot and take in the new activity that has begun. Police officers have entered and are directing people toward the entrance. I see officers passing by in my periphery, and I register that Janis is being ushered away. As I round again towards the exit, I hear more shouting. Yelling to "Get down!" and "Drop the weapon!"

Is there another shooter? I start to pivot my body left and right to look for this new threat. I don’t hear any more shots, so who are they screaming at?

“Put down your weapon, now! I won’t tell you again. Drop the gun, Miss!”

I make eye contact with the officer and realize he's talking to me, and his gun is pointing at me. I scan the scene in front of me and see that many officers are poised, aiming at me. I look at my hand and notice that I am still holding my father's gun.

I open my mouth to explain, lifting the gun to show them that it's my dad's. Several sudden sharp stings of pain pummel me, and I slump onto my father’s body.



January 31, 2020 11:41

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2 comments

Tim Law
11:40 Feb 06, 2020

The worst reward for a true hero. Such an intimate window into a crazy, creative, truly beautiful family. A sad tale.

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Allison Cellura
19:20 Feb 06, 2020

Thank you

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