At fifteen years old not having a girlfriend meant Sunday nights were almost always spent watching reruns of Roseanne at home with mom and dad, which, as any one who’s been fifteen and watched Roseanne can attest, was an agonizingly boring way to fill an evening. This week’s episode was especially laborious to get through as DJ had just discovered a passion for filmmaking and was trying to convince his sister, Darlene, to let him film her birth. Gross. Even now, just a few days before the liberation of my sixteenth birthday and being able to drive, I couldn’t shake the interminable pain that came with knowing every one else in the world was having an amazing night, or at the very least, a much better one than me. And so, while detesting violence myself, I had to jump at the opportunity to join my friends when Spennie Mac called to tell me that there was going to be a fight. Anything was better than this.
I tossed on the Fuel concert tee I’d bought at their show at Cain’s Ballroom a week before, the echoes of Brett Scallions belting out the line, “Leave love bleeding in my hands,” still permeating my angsty eardrums. Once on, I realized the bright orange tint of the shirt didn’t exactly scream “tough guy,” so I covered it up with a solid light gray hoodie, the kind that really accentuated sweat marks when it was hot, but did a great job of keeping me warm during Oklahoma’s winters. Minutes later I heard a honk out front and gave my mom and dad a quick hug goodbye, both satisfied that I’d be back from church in a couple of hours.
We pulled into the pitch black back lot of Service Merchandise. The offending party hadn’t arrived so we decided to park our cars in the most menacing way possible, a one hundred yard circle with each car’s headlights pointed at the center. Me, Spennie, Blake, Pauly, Nate, Rooney, Wilbanks, Dex, Chugger, Ptak, Snider, and Ashley. I guess we thought it was important to have a girl to offset all the testosterone. Still, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to fuck with us.
I was with Nate in his lifted Dodge Ram pickup truck with 35-inch tires. On the opposite end of the circle was Nate’s brother, Blake, in his lifted Ford F-150 pickup truck with 35-inch tires. In the back of Blake’s car was his other brother, Dex, who I imagine would have cruised up in a lifted truck with 35-inch tires had he been old enough to drive.
Dex was the reason all of us were there. Apparently him and a kid named Bull from Jenks, our cross-town rival high school, had been exchanging words for some time. But the time for words was over and now they were going to fight. We were there to chaperon the youngsters. We all got out of our cars and walked to the center of the circle, the whole way marveling at how tough we looked. A group of sophomores there to preside over a fight between two eighth graders. What could go wrong?
We waited… and waited… and waited. Someone made an offhand comment about how they’d probably driven by, seen us, and turned around with their tails tucked between their legs. About that time an old truck, clearly foreign to our lifted cavalry, drove up to Blake. I couldn’t make out what was said between the people inside and my friend, but after they drove off Blake told us that the other guys were on their way. We waited.
The first headlights that came around the corner filled me with equal parts excitement and nervousness, two emotions I’ve found to elicit the same exact physiological response but differentiate themselves by the controlling thoughts in our brains. If the accompanying thoughts are hopeful, we call it excitement. If they’re fearful, we call it nervousness. By the time the twentieth car’s headlights came into view there wasn’t a shred of hope left in me. I did, unfortunately, still have my pride. Rather than do the rational thing and get the hell out of there, we all stood our ground and decided to see how it all played out.
They parked their cars next to each other on the other side of the lot, maybe another hundred yards away from the outer rim of our circle. There must have been four or five guys that piled out of every car that pulled up, and as soon as all one hundred of them got out, they began marching our way like an angry mob from a western movie. I was at the end of our circle farthest away from them. The first person they’d make contact with was Blake, which was good, cause he was arguably the toughest among us.
As they got closer, I noticed something incredibly disconcerting. There wasn’t an empty fist among them. Every one was carrying something, from baseball bats to an axe. One guy even had a long stick like Donatello used to carry in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, except this guy’s had a knife taped to the end and I was pretty sure they weren’t on their way to fight Shredder. Still, Blake held firm as they approached.
When the pack reached his truck, it was clear who the ring master was. He was an animated guy dressed in denim, probably in his early twenties, with a teardrop tattooed under his left eye. His demeanor was confrontational as he approached Blake. He said something I couldn’t make out, then backed off a few feet, reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. As this was happening, I hadn’t realized that the rest of the guys in their crew were spreading out across our circle. By the time it dawned on me, about twenty of them had made their way to the end of the circle where Nate, Wilbanks, Ashley, and I stood.
What Wilbanks lacked in size, he made up for in backbone. He hadn’t retreated an inch, even as the guys stood directly in front of him, about ten yards away from me. This time, no words were said. The first punch of the night struck him in the face and he stumbled back a few feet. I took the first few steps to rush over and help him right as he turned around to face them, both of us instantly realizing this was a no win situation. As he ran to the driver’s side door of his Explorer, I booked it back to the passenger door of Nate’s Ram. We closed our doors and not a second later the short distance between them was filled with guys trying to pull us back out. I couldn’t lock the door in time and as I tried to pull it shut with all my might, five guys threw punches at me and worked to get it back open. Wilbanks’s car pulled away as Nate jumped in the driver’s seat of our car. He hit the gas and, for a second, I knew we’d made it out alive.
But there was still an entire parking lot of people to avoid. And as we picked up speed, silhouetted figures came into the headlights and Nate banked a left to avoid hitting them. In the chaos of the last two seconds, I hadn’t had a chance to re-close my door, and the velocity of the turn sent the door flying open. I tried to hold on, but it was no use. I shot out of the door like a canon and braced for impact on the concrete below. My head hit first, body tumbling behind. The roll seemed endless, like the first kiss with someone you’re in love with. And as it came to an end, part of me knew I was going to die. I’d seen them carrying knives, bats, and a spear, and I was the only person left to use them on. I got up to run, not quite sure where I was going and unable to see anything but the blackness of night. The bat came first, hitting me in the head and rocketing me face down on the ground. I looked up, but all I could see were feet approaching. “This isn’t my fight,” I screamed out, “Please!” But it was no use. Repeated kicks shook my body like an earthquake. I braced myself for the end.
A few seconds later a white light appeared and the shaking stopped. For a moment I thought I’d crossed over to the other side. That’s when I heard a familiar voice. It was Spennie Mac asking if I was alright. I stood up and checked my body. Everything seemed to be in order, other than only having one shoe on. My vision was a little blurry, but I eventually found it. The laces had been burned off from the impact of my crash landing on the concrete. I hurried back to Spennie’s lifted Bronco. Ptak sat in the front seat. I climbed in back in between Pauly and Rooney. We drove off, a mixture of anger and disbelief clouding our sensibilities. Spennie was already on the phone. As he chased the cars of the other guys, he explained the situation to someone on the other end of the line. “They just jumped Naylor… Some guys from Jenks, we’re following them now… Just get ready.”
I tuned out his conversation as I began to notice something dripping down my face. I dabbed it with my hand. Blood. My whole face was covered. “Fuck, man. Hey, Spennie, can I crash at your place tonight?” I said. He nodded and I let myself believe if I could make it through the night without my parents suspecting anything, then they’d probably never even realize I’d been in a fight. About that time Rooney said something that caught me off-guard. “What?” I said, not sure I’d heard him correctly. “I think you’ve been stabbed,” he said. He had his hand on my back. I couldn’t feel anything where it was placed. “Nah, man. I don’t think–” Then I felt it. The same warm liquid from my face on my back. But this time it wasn’t dripping, it was pouring. Spennie hung up his phone call. “Rooney thinks I got stabbed,” I said. He must have seen something in our faces because he didn’t question it. We changed course, no longer chasing the other guys.
If you would have told me that an early 90’s Bronco with a lift kit and Super Swamper tires could hit 120 miles per hour I wouldn’t have believed it. But there we were, headed down Memorial on our way to Southcrest Hospital, the speedometer at 115 and counting. As we approached the first red light, it was clear Spennie had no intentions of slowing down. He blew through it expertly dodging the Honda Accord that happened to be passing at that time. This type of recklessness would normally have sent me into an all-out panic attack, but something was different now. The inevitability of death had made these last moments feel like an eternity. And without the weight of time hanging over me, I could finally breathe, perhaps for the first time in my life. That feeling lasted for the next two minutes. As we screeched to a halt in front of the emergency room doors, I was brought back to reality.
Ptak jumped out of the car first. “We need help! He’s been stabbed! My friend’s been stabbed!” I hobbled out last, limping my way up to the emergency room doors where I was immediately taken into a room with a doctor. In the pandemonium of the situation, the doctor either didn’t seem to realize or didn’t care that my friends were standing right there. I pulled off my sweatshirt, the other two shirts coming off with it. “Oh, shit!” the doctor said under his breath as blood squirted out from my wounds. My friends were asked to leave the room as two nurses came in.
One of the nurses applied pressure to the wounds. “Stitches?” said the other. “Too deep, could get infected” said the doctor. They eventually agreed the best course of action was to slow the bleeding with what amounted to a very large, adhesive band-aid that was apparently only used in hospitals. Once it was applied, they laid me back in a hospital bed. They still had to do something about all the blood that I’d lost, so the IVs came out. One in the left wrist and one at the crook of each of my elbows. Before I could ask what was being pumped through them, the doctor looked at me and said, “What’s your home number?” Fuck, I thought. And as I reluctantly gave it to him, I made sure to underannunciate each number.
“Mrs. Naylor,” I heard him say into the phone. “There’s been a situation with your son, Jared. Everything is going to be okay. He is going to live, but he has been stabbed.” This time I heard the other end of the line. It wasn’t so much a question as an expression of absolute shock. “What?!” my mom said. Then there was a long pause and, in the pit of my stomach, I knew what was coming. “Hello, Mr. Naylor,” said the doctor, “There’s been a situation with Jared…” I tuned out after that, overcome equally by the fear of my dad and the disappointment I felt in myself.
My dad had a strict policy of always driving five miles an hour under the speed limit, but I imagine even Speed Racer would have had a tough time keeping up with the Ford Aerostar that night. Not five minutes later, my parents were at the hospital. All of the fear I had about disappointing them disappeared as soon as they walked in the room. I guess, at fifteen, it was impossible for me to realize a parent’s concern for their child’s well-being takes precedence over any other emotion they might be feeling.
After they were satisfied I wasn’t going to die, my dad decided to take my blood-soaked sweatshirt to the car. When he returned I learned the entire waiting room was full of people from my school. It was hard to believe. An hour ago I’d been bored sick and had convinced myself no one really cared about me. And now, sitting in this hospital bed with stab wounds that could have killed me had they been a quarter-inch deeper, I’d never felt so loved or cared for.
Huxley was right when he said, “We participate in tragedy; at comedy we only look.” The first people to visit the room other than my family were my closest friends, and it wasn’t long after they all realized I was going to be okay that we got back to joking. “It’ll make for one hell of a story,” someone said. “Raise your hand if you’ve been stabbed,” my dad said. I chose to raise the arm with only one IV in it. Everyone else kept their hands down.
Once my closest friends and family left, the rest of the waiting room came by in groups of fours and fives. First came friends, then acquaintances, then people who I assumed just wanted to be part of something. I empathized with them the most. After I’d seen everyone, one of the nurses wheeled me out of the emergency room and up to my room for the night. Even though much of that night is a blur, I still remember being wheeled down the hospital hallway so clearly. About halfway down I began to sob uncontrollably, one of those where if I’d been talking I would have had to take a breath between each word. I remember being overcome by how quickly life could end. Before that night, everything seemed limitless, and even though I knew in my head that we all would eventually die, my heart believed I was immortal.
Years later, Blake would tell me that as the guy in denim pulled out his knife that night, he’d said, “Somebody’s gonna die tonight.” I may not be immortal, but I’m still alive.