My older brother warned me that High School was all street gangs. If you were fifteen and you weren’t in a street gang you got beat up by them, he said.
For most of my High School I lived in fear. I always got to school early so I didn’t have to walk by the guys hanging out front before classes began. I sat at the back of every class and I didn’t ask questions. I carried as many books as I could from class to class to reduce any time in front of my locker when the hallways got busy. I got in and out of the cafeteria and ate my lunch in five minutes before most of the other students got there. Even on Fish and Chip Fridays. I spent the rest of my lunches and recesses hiding in the school library.
That’s where Bowman found me in my final year as I was turning eighteen. “Mercer! Hey, Mercer, how’s it going?” He asked. Bowman never asked me anything before. Bowman was my lab partner in grade ten and we mixed things, and put them on the Bunsen burner, and dipped our litmus paper, and wrote down our results, and never said anything to each other. “Mercer, you going to the concert? You got a ticket?”
I looked at him not knowing what concert, where. It was bad not to know what someone was talking about in High School. You could be made fun of. Talked about. People would giggle and elbow each other. It could lead to being tripped, or shoulder punched, or even shin kicked. And if you fought back, you could have a bunch of guys waiting for you outside when you tried to go home. I mean, that almost never happened to me but I was sure it might one day. And it’d only have to happen once, wouldn’t it?
I tried to talk to my mom about these worries but she said I was just feeling sorry for myself. I told dad and said not to worry. He said he had a problem with a kid once and what he did was stand at the top of a staircase, and when the kid came to get him, he kicked him right in the chin. Right in his face. He said he never had a problem again. Realistically, I figured if I could actually do something like that, whoever I kicked would probably fall back, crack their head, and die. Then I’d go to prison. A place I was too scared of, to let the worries in my head go anywhere near.
“Mercer, a bunch of us are going to the concert. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and Blue Oyster Cult. It’s at the stadium across the border. We got an extra ticket. You got to pay for it but you can come with us. We got it all setup.”
No one had invited me to anything in High School and I guess I must have said yes. My mom thought it was a terrible, but my dad said it was a great idea and gave me twice the ticket cost.
A few days later, the night of, a car pulled up in front of our house. I got in the back with Jeremy and Davis. In the front was Bowman and some guy not even from our High School.
“Fitzsimmons.” He said. I could only see his eyes looking at me in the rearview mirror. “There’s something to drink on the floor.”
I tried to look down around my feet but it was already getting dark out. Davis gave me a light shoulder punch. It wasn’t one that left a bruise, he was just trying to get my attention. He pointed to my other side and I reached around the floor and found a big clear glass jug. I pulled the cork and took a sip. My mouth was on fire when I exhaled.
“It’s strong. It’s homemade.” Jeremy said. “Fitz, where’s it from?”
Fitz didn’t answer, he was concentrating on the highway. All of us were sipping from the jug, making a thing out of holding it the way we’ve seen them do in hillbilly movies and television shows. After a bit, Fitz reached into his shirt pocket and took out a black pill. Fitz had his hand on the steering wheel, eyes on me in the rearview mirror, and his other hand reaching back to offer me this strange pill. “It’ll keep you awake.”
I swallowed it. There was no weighing and speculating on the consequences. I swallowed it.
We hit the border and almost sobered. The custom man was sharp with us. We show him identification, and the concerts tickets, and he waved us through in disgust.
We parked blocks from the stadium. The street lighting was bad. I saw a guy going from car to car trying the door handles, looking inside their windows. I could hear glass breaking and banging, from who knows what part of the street or alleys nearby. A lot of people were converging on the stadium. A lot of noise, laughter, and shouting.
We got in line and large groups of guys had open bottles and garbage bags they were selling bundles of stuff from. Right in front of the stadium. I saw a couple of guys in coveralls that had SECURITY printed on them. These guys had three-foot metal rods in their hands and were patrolling side exits.
I stood in line behind Fitz. I only saw his back. Tall, skinny, head up, and alert. One of the guys from the big group on the lawn came over to the line. He started bothering a guy with his girlfriend. You never bother a guy with his girlfriend. I always thought that was something nobody did. I didn’t have a girlfriend myself, yet.
The guy with the girl got mad, but didn’t do anything. Then it hit me that big group selling stuff was a gang. A real gang. Not the High School gangs my older brother had made up.
This gang was on the lawn selling drugs out of garbage bags and no one was stopping them. I looked up at the back of Fitz. The gang guy went along the line until he came to us. Fitz looked ahead. When the guy stopped, Fitz turned his head to look down on the guy. The guy sneered, but left us alone. Maybe you didn’t have to give in and hide from every dirty look you got.
We passed a pat down at the entrance and they punched our tickets. Fitz led us all up the stairs and to the Restrooms before seating. Inside, Fitz found a guy in a stall who had a duffle bag of stuff he was selling from. They agree on price while we stood by waiting. Then a Police Officer came in, and I felt a terrible panic that I was going to a foreign prison.
“Hey! It only takes two of you to do that. The rest of you get out of here!” The Officer said. We got away from the Restrooms. The stadium held twenty thousand people and I guess there was too many people to arrest who might have been arrested anywhere else on any other night.
We found our seats and waited for Fitz to join us. Our seats were not in a row. It was one row of three, with Fitz upfront, and two in the row behind where I was. Ritchie’s Blackmore’s Rainbow was already playing. A lot of screaming guitars and drumbeats you couldn’t hear the lead singer over. Fitz passed around the funny home rolled cigarettes he had bought and we all inhaled.
I felt the most wonderful glow. There was a glow around the stage. There was a glow on the backs of my classmates in front of me. I floated above my seat and was gliding over the crowd. A fight broke out on the floor just in front of the stage. It was alright. The crowd parted to make a circle for the fighters. The band kept playing. People around me booed the fight. Security cleared away the combatants. I was falling into the crowd. But I could see myself still sitting in my seat. I was floating above. I was tucked into a ball, doing backward summersaults slowly above my seat.
At one point I looked around and my classmates weren’t there. I think Blue Oyster Cult was starting. The stage was changing. I looked to my left and several seats over some girls were sipping drinks and smoking and giving me a little wave. I even waved back. We all smiled waved and nodded. I looked to my right. Some guy several seats over was nodding his head, giving me a thumbs up, he toasted his beer my way.
The band played. There was a drum solo that lasted forever. Strobe lights going crazy and drumsticks flying out at all angles. A stagehand kept feeding fresh drum sticks to the drummer.
I couldn’t hear anyone, anymore. We all shouted at each other to say things, and we all laughed about not being able to hear what each other said. A bright flash of white light ended the concert. I soared above the crowd again.
The next thing I remember was sitting in the cafeteria the next day as school. I don’t remember leaving the concert. I don’t remember going home. I don’t remember sleeping. I hung around the entrance way to the cafeteria and slapped my legs to some beat the drummer had played the night before. For some reason I couldn’t remember I felt still filled with energy.
“Did you see the concert?” I asked almost everyone who came in. “Did you see the concert?” They were coming in with their lunchboxes. In with their friends. In line to buy from the food ladies. I kept asking. I got eyerolls, and nos, and some laughs. I had some people asking. Some people smiling. Some people scowling.
What did I care how they reacted? I went to the concert, what did they do?