An original memoir written in CW 352: Creative Nonfiction Workshop with Prof. Elizabeth Geoghegan — Spring 2010
One muggy day in early July, a month after my fifteenth birthday, I remember playing with the water hose in my best friend Liz’s driveway when I began to notice her neighbor across the street. He was playing basketball outside with Greg, the third member of our trio. Liz yelled at Greg to come over and the anonymous boy came too. He tiptoed across the blazing pavement wearing gym shorts that sat very low on his waist. I could feel my heart beating faster as he approached me and I tried to plan out a conversation starter in my head. His skin was bronzed and his body was more chiseled than any boy in my grade. He was a few inches taller than me and had short blonde hair.
I made the first move and asked him, “How the hell are you walking around barefoot? Aren’t your feet burning?”
“Nope. I don’t believe in wearing shoes during the summer. They just make my feet sweat. I’m more comfortable wearing as little as possible.”
I liked his philosophy. I wanted to know more about him, so the four of us sat in a circle on damp towels and he talked about his favorite things to do, which consisted of skateboarding, snowboarding, shooting birds with BB guns, listening to angry music and doodling during class. The main interest we shared was the art of doodling and the I don’t give a fuck what you think about me attitude.
We spent everyday at Liz’s house that summer. Her mom was always at work so during the day we had the whole house to ourselves. At night she slept like a rock so we snuck out a lot. We would sneak Greg and Brian into her basement and drink her mom’s old Brandy and smoke her Basic cigarettes. Sometimes we would walk to Friday’s and eat dinner together. Brian told us his initials were B-A-M, like the professional skateboarder, Bam Margera, and from that moment on, that’s who he was: Bam.
We spent the month of August playing on Liz’s trampoline, exploring the woods, skateboarding, and swimming. One night the four of us split a bottle of brandy in Liz’s pool area. The night was abnormally cold so I wore jeans and a sweatshirt, but Bam wore a pair of grey gym shorts and a white sleeveless tee. There was only one hazy light that reflected off the water creating a subtle glow on Bam’s face. I was sitting across from him and we couldn’t stop staring at each other as we passed the bottle around. His fidgety hands continuously turned our flashlight on and off. I snatched it from him and pointed it at his face just so I could see his pale blue eyes sparkle.
Suddenly Greg interrupted our intimate silence. “Hey Jess, I think it’s about time for a swim,” he said as he quickly moved toward me.
“Don’t you dare!”
I screamed as he pulled me from my chair and threw me over his shoulder. I looked at Bam before Greg lifted me and he was laughing but I was scared as hell. It was freezing out and I was not prepared for a late night swim.
I remember him dangling me over the pool and thinking he would never actually throw me in. But I was wrong. He let out an evil laugh as he released my squirming body. I shrieked until I hit the water and sank slowly. My limbs went numb and I struggled to swim in such heavy clothes. Suddenly, I felt someone grab my arm and pull me up. I gasped for air once my mouth was above the dark water.
“Jess, come here. Grab onto me.”
Bam was standing on the side of the pool desperately trying to get a good grip on my soggy body. In one swift motion he pulled me up next to him and embraced my body.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I got you now.”
He sat me far away from Greg and wrapped me in a towel while vigorously rubbing my arms to give me warmth. We were both shivering and his shorts were soaked.
“I’m sorry if I got you wet.”
“Are you kidding me? That is the least of my worries. Your lucky I was here to save you,” he said as he hugged me and smiled wide, showing off his flawless grin.
I was blown away by his kindness and I felt so comfortable in his arms. Our relationship changed after that night. We had our first kiss a few days later when we were walking around the neighborhood at night. It was so peaceful. We stayed out until 5 am just talking, laughing, and kissing.
Bam told me that he was scared to die a virgin. I told him I doubted that would be the case.
On September 23, he turned fifteen. Bam was old for a freshman, which made me justify the age difference to my judgmental friends. He had a party that weekend with all of his punk-rock buddies and he wanted me to be there. I had never hung out with his friends, so I was anxious to see how he acted with me. We celebrated his birthday with a cookout in his yard. He introduced me to everyone and stayed by my side the whole night. He kept putting his arm around me and gently rubbing my back whenever his parents weren’t around. I felt like his girlfriend, and I really liked the feeling. At one point he pulled me aside.
“I really like spending time with you, Jessie. I want you to come over and officially meet my parents and see my house. We could watch a movie together or something.”
“I would love that, Bam.”
He smiled and said, “Yes. It’s a date then.”
My parents were always really strict. I needed to ask permission to do anything, especially to go over to a boy’s house. I explained that Bam was Liz’s neighbor and best friends with Greg (who my parents liked because he went to church with us). I told them we were just friends. When I arrived at his house, he gave me a tour and showed me his bedroom. Our differences were evident. He had posters of glow in the dark mushrooms and some creepy band I didn’t recognize. I had posters of Ashton Kutcher and a kitten calendar. His room smelled like Curve cologne and his clothes were everywhere. My room smelled like Love Spell perfume and my clothes were neatly organized by color. I noticed he had a pull up bar in his doorway and I imagined him furiously doing pull ups in his favorite grey gym shorts.
As our date continued, he brought me down to his basement where we attempted to play pool. I got the white cue ball in the pocket three times and he hysterically laughed at my lack of skill. He celebrated when he beat me and as I leaned on the table and pouted, he slowly walked toward me. My knees were weak as he leaned up against my body. He put his soft hands on my cheeks and kissed my lips. The moment was so perfect that I could barely open my eyes once he stopped.
That was the moment he asked me to be his girlfriend.
Bam and I dated for about two months. He made high school enjoyable. Sometimes we would make out behind the stairs in the junior hallway. We planned out the times to leave class and meet up. The highlight of my day was when I would come back from lunch and open my locker. Sometimes Bam would slip a note in it during his study period. Most of the notes were meaningless for anyone else, but they were special to me. They mainly consisted of doodles, random facts about each other and talking about how boring classes are. In one note, he drew little stick figures off the letters in my name. Another note was actually typed out. My favorite note was the one he wrote in cursive because he really never understood how to do it and his handwriting was amusing.
Problems started about a month after we began dating. My friends hated his friends. They were just different types of people. The term they used to describe Bam was “emo” because he had ear piercings and wore a black sweatshirt at least three times a week. The term he used to describe my friends was “preppy bitches” because they were snobby and wore Abercrombie and Fitch. We liked Britney Spears and they liked Slipknot. They smoked pot and we were against it. We were sophomores and they were freshmen. My friends didn’t try to see into his world like I did. They didn’t know that he sometimes wrote lovely poetry, played the guitar, or that he could sing every word to Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl.” So when my friends told me to ditch Bam or ditch them, I started to question who meant more to me. His friends didn’t like me either and no one understood why we were so attracted to each other.
I remember it was at one of the last football games when I asked him to come into the woods with me. I had to drag him up the hill because he said that we looked sketchy walking in there together. We stood in the dark, distracted by the chanting of cheerleaders and fans. We could see the stadium through the entrance of the running path we were in and the neon lights were creeping in through the leaves. We both sat silently on a fallen tree. He looked nervous. His eyebrows were slightly raised, like he was waiting for me to say something important.
We had been fighting a lot lately, mainly about how other people wanted us to break up. In high school, peer pressure is harsh.
“Bam, you know how much I like you. You make me so happy. But I think we may be better as friends.” I didn’t know what else to say. I grabbed his hands to make him feel more comfortable and kissed him on the cheek.
“I mean, I guess if you feel that way, then I don’t want to force any feelings on you. I just don’t know if we can be friends.” I explained that we were before, although I knew things had changed and it could never be the way it had been in the summer.
During the winter, I had gymnastics from 5 to 8 every weeknight. We had our meets on the weekends but Bam only came to one of them. We weren’t allowed to use our phones until after practice, so for those three hours, I was out of reach. I hated that rule. I always questioned our coach saying, “Well, what if something important happens and no one can get in touch with me?” She always responded, “Let’s hope nothing important happens then.”
January 13, 2005 was a Thursday and I had gymnastics after school. Bam and I had had gone about a week without talking. When I went on a water break in the middle of practice I saw a missed call from him. I picked up the phone and contemplated calling him back. I didn’t see him once at school that day; maybe he was calling to apologize for telling all his friends that I am a judgmental bitch. I decided the conversation could wait so I put the phone back in my bag and sprinted back to the balance beam.
I had three missed calls by the end of practice.
My mom came to pick my friend Jamie and me up in her giant black minivan. I sat shotgun and called him back twice but he didn’t answer.
“Bam called me three times during practice Jamie, and now he’s not answering.”
“Wait, so you guys are still talking a lot?”
“No, not really. I mean we talk in school and we text sometimes, but we don’t really call each other. I just don’t get why he would call me when he knows I cant answer.” The second I finished that sentence I got a call from Liz. I answered right away.
“Hey Jess, uh, have you talked to Bam recently?”
“No but he called me, did he call you too?”
“Uh, no he didn’t call me but do you know what’s going on at his house? There’s an ambulance there with two cop cars and I can see Colleen crying outside.” I lost my voice for a minute. I felt like my throat was closing in and I couldn’t swallow. A million thoughts were going through my head and not one of them was good.
“Jess? I don’t know what’s going on but his whole family is outside. And they brought someone out on a stretcher.” She sounded hesitant. Her voice slowed down as she muttered the word stretcher.
“Well is Bam outside? Can you see him?”
“No. Try calling him again.”
He didn’t answer. My vision got blurry. I looked out the window but saw nothing. My world went black and my mind went crazy. Why did he call me so many times? Will I ever know what he had to say?
At first, I kept telling myself it was probably nothing. Maybe he wiped out while skateboarding or burnt himself while attempting to cook. He was such hard ass though. Bam would never wipe out so terribly that he needed to be taken away on a stretcher. If he burnt himself, he would have sucked it up and moved on. He had a very high pain tolerance. Something really horrific must have happened. The taste of salt from a tear awakened me from trance. I was breathing so heavy that my mom could barely understand me when I told her what was going on. She told me everything was going to be fine. I didn’t believe her.
I ran to my room when I got home. I made my friend called the hospital to see if he was admitted. The woman on the phone said she was pretty sure a Brian Moore was admitted about a half hour ago so she went to double check. The voice came back on the phone and said, “I’m sorry he is not at the hospital anymore.” She didn’t know where he was or what happened. I looked at the clock and it was 11:11 pm, time to make a wish.
“I wish to see Bam in school the next day and have everything be okay.”
My face was soaked with tears and my hands were numb from squeezing my comforter so tightly. I cried harder every time the ringing was interrupted by his distant voice, “Hey it’s Brian, I’m not here right now so, uh, leave a message.” I left one last voicemail before giving up. I said, “Bam I hope you didn’t do anything stupid,” and “don’t die on me.” A week later, his mom questioned me about saying those things after listening to his voicemails.
I felt ill when I walked into school that Friday. I immediately went to Bam’s locker, but he wasn’t there. I went into homeroom and sat beside my friend Chris. I told him about the night before and that I was afraid something serious happened. He told me I was overreacting. “I bet it was food poisoning. I puked for days from that shit,” he said. I sat next to Chris all four years in the same classroom. He would die of a heroin overdose soon after graduation.
My homeroom teacher stood in front of the class with a bright yellow piece of paper in his hand. He was sweating and looked tense.
“Can I have your attention? Um, I have some bad news…”
I had to swallow a few times because I thought I was going to vomit. The kids in the class blurred out of my vision. The walls starting closing in and all I could see was that yellow sheet of paper in my teacher’s hands. I clenched my fists so hard that my nails left marks on my palm. My toes curled and my heart sank into my gut.
“Last night, Brian Moore passed away.”
I gasped for air, but had trouble breathing. I felt like someone stabbed me in the chest. I had to grab onto the desk for support. The words echoed in my head. I could feel the color drain from my face as I got struck with a wave of nausea and denial.
“His parents are not ready to talk about how he died yet, but we will keep you updated. Did any of you know him? He was a freshman.”
Everyone’s eyes turned to me but I couldn’t see any of their faces. I couldn’t breathe at all anymore. My eyes swelled up with tears and I started to shake. I got up and ran out of the room. In the hallway, I saw Liz walking toward me and I lost it.
My mind had to escape the chaos, so I transported back to one of my fondest memories of us. Liz was in bed doing a crossword puzzle and I was gazing out the window at Bam’s house. A faded light that snuck out from the darkness of his bedroom window captivated me. I watched the yellow dot glow, then disappear, then glow again. This meant he wanted me to respond. I took my flashlight, directed at his room, and then I spun it around in circles. We continued our flashlight tag for a bit and then he texted me and told me to come to his window. I glanced at my flip-flops, decided not to wear them, and ran outside. I noticed that he turned on his bedside lamp so I ducked down as I walked up to his house. I looked up and measured the distance from the ground to his window and then I picked up a small pebble to throw. It hit the glass with force. I waited for his face to appear and once it did, I motioned for him to come outside. I assumed that he was most likely barefoot because of his philosophy on shoes. Finally, his body emerged from the shadows, shoeless as expected, and he started to laugh when he saw me standing there waving furiously.
“So I’m pretty sure you just dented my window, Jess,” he joked.
“I told you I was going to do it and you know how strong I am.”
His arms embraced me and I nuzzled my head below his. His skin was always smooth and his neck always smelled of delicious cologne. We spent the night in the stiff grass pointing at what we thought were constellations in the sky. I told him that Liz referred to us as Bam-Bam and Pebbles from the Flintstone’s. He liked the nicknames.
“This is perfect right now. Let’s sleep out here tonight, Pebbles,” he said as he turned his head to face mine. We didn’t sleep there, but now I wish we had.
The memory faded and I was inevitably sucked back into reality.
The teachers didn’t know what to do with the devastated kids that day. Bam’s friends were hysterical and my friends cried as if they cared about him when he was alive. They brought us all to the auditorium where we spent the morning talking about all the good times we had with Bam. The cluster of us made a banner that said “We miss you Brian” and we all signed it. I had to leave at lunchtime and I spent three days crying with his friends, who all accepted me at the time. We couldn’t be alone, so we moved from house to house. Our parents didn’t know how to act either. One parent made a cake and gave us icing to write “RIP BAM.” Greg’s parents took a photo of the group and inserted text that said, “We miss you.” One mother bought a balloon that we all signed and sent into the air. My mom got me a puppy. I named her Pebbles.
For a long time after his death I blamed myself. I was the one who broke up with him about three weeks before he died and I was the one who didn’t answer his calls the night he passed away. I questioned God’s existence, fate, and life itself. If there is a God, why did he take the life of a 15-year-old boy? If things are meant to be, was I meant to meet a remarkable boy only to have him die a few months later? All my beliefs seemed like a lie.
To this day, I think about him all the time. Since Bam, I question things that happen to me. I wonder how my life would be if he hadn’t died. I wound up dating Greg, our best friend, a month after Bam’s death and we stayed together until college. I chose to go to University of Tampa because I visited the school on January 13 and the school colors were red and black, which were Bam’s favorite colors, so it must have been a sign.
I find myself looking for signs now. I somehow look at a clock when it’s 11:11 almost every day, no joke. Whenever I’m upset and turn my Ipod on to shuffle, Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl” always plays. I thought it was a sign when I started dating a freshman in college when I was a sophomore. When I decided to study abroad in Rome, the departure date was January 13th, 2010. Every time I doodle, I think of him. I still have every note he wrote me kept neatly in a cardboard box that I painted red and black. Whenever I visit his grave, the wind always seems to pick up, regardless of the weather conditions. Although my time with Bam was limited, he changed my life. I like to believe that he is watching over me and is proud of the person I have become.
—written by Jessica Davies