It all happened so fast. I keep trying to play it back in my head, moment by moment. But it’s like finding a plot hole in your favorite movie; it only leaves you with this dissatisfied feeling that you can’t shake. So, I’ll start at the beginning and crawl my way to where I am now, staring up at my ceiling with a furrowed brow and a pit in my stomach.
It was a normal Saturday night for me, a seventeen-year-old kid who’s never been to a real high school party in her life. I was three weeks into my senior year and felt like slapping whoever told me that nothing was harder than junior year. At least once a week during the summer, I would walk down my street to Sunset Boulevard. I’d pass a couple of bars and Persian rug places to cross the legendary street in order to get to a not-so-legendary 7-Eleven. It was the only place near me that sold Dippin’ Dots. I don’t know why I like them so much; it’s just strangely packaged ice cream.
Sal McIntyre managed the place and by the end of the summer we greeted each other by name. He was a wiry guy with a name fit for a fat Boston gangster. Sal was good at his job. He never had to worry about much, other than the odd hobo who’d walk in and attempt to barter for some booze. This part of Hollywood, the older part where I live with my parents, isn’t quite as glamorous as the parts that are closer to Beverly Hills. They say that the house up the street was formerly a bathhouse that Rock Hudson used to frequent. Leave out the Rock Hudson part if you ever talk to any kids my age. They’d think you were talking about Dwayne Johnson.
Anyway, this particular Saturday night was no different than the others when I’d stopped by to get my tacky dessert. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was that I planned on telling Sal that, now that school had started, I was trying to wean myself off of my ice cream addiction. It was time to hit the college apps.
At 9:30 p.m., the store was almost empty. The only people in the store were Sal, me, and this touristy-looking chick browsing the chip aisle. The ice cream cooler is across from the register. That night I was having a hard time deciding between Cookies and Cream or Banana Split. They both had their pros, but to be honest, I think that in the end they taste the same. Right as I was putting back the Cookies and Cream, a skeleton of a man walked into the store. I glanced up at the mirrors on the ceiling to get a look at the fellow 7-Eleven customer.
From what I could see, he was a skeletal dude with tattoos up the wazoo. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. They were the kind of tattoos that didn’t have a lot of thought put into them. He was wearing a black hoodie with no sleeves and baggie jeans. That was all I could see. His face was turned in the opposite direction as he studied the Hostess baked goods section of the store.
The touristy lady, who I’d later come to know as Carol, was still vacillating over a bag of cheese puffs as I had successfully set my mind on Banana Split. I heard Carol tell Sal she was visiting “The City of Angels” from Tucson, Arizona. She’d booked a room in the hotel a couple blocks from the 7-Eleven, thinking that she’d be right in the heart of Hollywood. She was wrong.
The store had this eerie quiet for just a beat. It was the kind of quiet you can hear in a really snowy place, where the sound’s absorbed like cold water into a sponge.
Then all of a sudden, the quiet was gone. There was a SMACK!—the sound of metal hitting flesh. I looked up at the mirror to see Skeleton Man slapping Sal across the face with a handgun. Carol screamed, and I ducked behind a shelf of Hollywood postcards. They say that time slows down in moments like these, but for me it sped up as if time itself had just taken a shot of adrenaline.
“If you say one word, I’ll put a bullet through your head, man. Just give me the money in the register,” Skeleton Man commanded to Sal.
My heart was beating so loudly I thought that it would burst out of my chest. Carol was cowering and crying in the chip aisle. Skeleton Man kept moving his gun from Carol to Sal, Sal to Carol. I wasn’t sure if he had seen me. Maybe he just thought I was the unassuming teenager I am. I squeezed the life out of the Banana Split package as I watched Sal slowly unload the register’s contents into a plastic bag. There was a loud BANG!—a gunshot.
The thing about gunshots is that you think you know what they sound like because of movies and shows, but you’re dead wrong. It’s the type of sound that rattles your ribcage and leaves your body, taking all the warmth with it.
Sal let out a howl. I peeked through the shelf to see that Skeleton Man had shot him in the shoulder. Carol sobbed more as he yelled at Sal, “Keep your friggin’ hands on the counter where I can see them or you’ll lose one!”
That was when the chain of events became a blur.
I remember that I turned to see a shelf with rows of those metal coffee thermoses. I grabbed one and bolted towards Skeleton Man, who had his gun pointed at Sal’s head. I took a swing and made contact. Metal to skull. Skeleton Man fell forward a bit and his gun ricocheted off the side of the counter and onto the floor. He stared at me with wild and surprisingly desperate eyes. They seemed void of any color. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a knife. Carol was still crying, and Sal was trying to keep himself upright, clutching his arm in pain.
I lunged forward and grabbed the gun on the floor. With shaking hands, I brought it up, pointed at Skeleton Man. “Little girl, you’re gonna hurt yourself. I don’t want any trouble here, just the money. But if you ever want to see Mommy and Daddy again, get the hell out of my way,” Skeleton Man snarled at me.
I was paralyzed. Stuck in a sad version of a C.S.I. cop’s ready stance. My head was reeling. Then, the alarm went off with a deafening wail.
Skeleton Man widened his eyes at me and lurched forward, knife leading the way. There was another BANG!
He hit the floor.
I sunk down to the floor with the gun in my hand, my back pressed up against the cool ice cream freezer. The sound of sirens added to the alarm, creating a thundering amalgamation of noise.
That’s when the rewinding started. I sat there, in a 7-Eleven on Sunset Boulevard, gun in hand, wondering how I got there. I tried not to look at the blood that began to pool out around Skeleton Man. There was no way I could have done that. My hands were sticky with Dippin’ Dots ice cream, not the blood of another human being.
I put the gun down beside me, watching the veins in my hands that were full of color not too long ago. I didn’t even look up as the first wave of policemen entered. I was too busy trying to remember what had happened.
And from then on, it was one big rush of words and flashing lights all around me. I was asked the same questions at least a half a dozen times. There were tears from a lot of people, but not me. It was like my eyes were perpetually downtrodden, trying to grasp onto how I ended up at a 7-Eleven being questioned by the police.
I don’t even remember what my parents said when they got to the scene. I was sitting on the curb in the parking lot with a blanket over my shoulders and policemen surrounding me. What was the point of the blanket? Was it for comfort? It certainly wasn’t because it was cold out; the summer was still in its Florida-like humidity phase. I hate Florida. The blanket was just as dumb as someone asking me if I was okay.
I didn’t even look up when my parents called my name. I just recall that there was a lot of yelling and hugging. Every once in a while, I looked up to watch the cars whiz by on Sunset. They reflected the situation in a much more abstract light, one that better represented the one in my head. There were lights of red and blue and white. There was even the occasional call-out from a reporter. I felt like I was there forever. Time stood still because all I could think about was how I ended up sitting on a curb at night by my formerly favorite convenience store.
That was the beginning of the end. That was the cessation of any freedom I thought I’d gained in my short time on this withering planet. From then on, whenever I left the house, I caused enough worry and paranoia to silence conspiracy theorists for decades to come.
I was taken out of school. I didn’t have to go to court on the big fat account of self-defense. Journalists blew my privacy to pieces. I received letters from Sal and Carol about how grateful they were for my actions. Sal sent me packs of Dippin’ Dots, even when he was in recovery. Carol wrote me letters from Arizona. I felt obligated to reply, but remain unapologetic about my curtness. These people thought I was a hero, so why don’t I?
His name was Ed Moore. He was twenty-three years old and strung out. His record showed that he’d a history with drugs and petty crime. Yet another skeleton in the closet of this so-called great city, he was born and raised in the Pacific Palisades, a suburban village so rich and tidy you almost lose the smell of rotting souls swept underneath the rug. But something had gone wrong, and things took a sharp turn for him. I couldn’t just think of him as Skeleton Man anymore. Now he had more than a face. He had a history. A life cut short.
They tell you not to think about the what-ifs, but I can’t help it. What if I had gone to the store at 9:00 p.m.? What if I had chosen my flavor sooner? What if I had stopped going altogether, a week before? There were so many variables that led me to that store on that day at that time. Why were there so few that would brand me for the rest of my life?
So, here I am, in the dark. And although I can’t see myself, I’m sure I have the same look on my face that I did three months ago. Every night, I do this. I’m stuck in a hamster wheel built on blood and ice cream. I’ve been told that there’s a step to take in order to get past this. I need to accept the thing that I’ve done. But what if I don’t think of myself as a hero; instead the polar opposite? Won’t that make it worse? Won’t it draw me farther into the maze of misery that I’ve put myself in?
I guess there’s only one way to find out.
“I killed someone.”