by Randy Ethan Halprin
Randy as a young teen, during his OBI years.
R & C PUBLICATIONS
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Cover designed and created by Catherine Newstead for R&C Publications
For David...The heart of man
Please be aware that this Memoir contains offensive language, reference to drug use, and some sexual situations.
by Catherine Newstead
At the time of writing this piece, Randy Ethan Halprin resides on Texas Death Row for a murder he did not commit. For almost 17 years he has fought for his life, accepting responsibility for his own mistakes and willing the State to acknowledge that the execution of someone who never pulled a gun, or fired a single shot, is not justice. How did he get to be where he is right now?
This Memoir will take you through the downfall of a teenage boy who (on paper) had everything...Yet, this idyllic life was cut short in his teens and the only thing he had to rely on was himself.
Banished from his childhood home at just 17, Randy's path on the road to adulthood was littered with bumps and obstacles. Many times throughout this Memoir you will see instances where things look like they are turning around for him as he tries to put his life back on track; but sadly, things don't work out. Each disappointment took a little longer to recover from and Randy fell further each time.
You may ask yourself how or when the difficulties began in Randy's life...Was it sudden, or is there something that happened to him during his formative years? In those first few years of a child's life, they're a 'blank slate' – a canvass onto which their every experience is painted, and the picture determines how a child deals with each and every situation for the rest of his life.
Randy and his younger brother had a tumultuous beginning and at the age of 5 ½ years old (following periods of being in foster care) they were both adopted by the same family. At 44 years old Randy regularly tells the story of the day of he was adopted, with affection. He clearly recalls the moment when his adoptive father swept him up in his arms for the first time and the instant feeling of pure emotional love he felt for this man.
For these two little boys, being adopted was a new beginning and a chance toexperience the start in life they should have had.
As Randy and his brother grew up, the family adopted two more little boys and Randy fell in love with both of them. He was attentive to all of his younger brothers and was proud of his 'big brother' role. When he left for boarding school in 1992 he knew he was going to miss them terribly. He still misses them and often writes about them with affection, telling little stories of funny instances when they were growing up.
Moving through this Memoir you will immediately see that when Randy was sent to boarding school in 1995, those years were particularly difficult and confusing for him. To a kid like Randy who experienced a series of abandonments as a small child, finding himself sent away to an alien environment felt like yet another abandonment. On top of that, a Jewish kid plunged into a Christian and somewhat fundamentalist school and missing the people he loved most in the world, marked the beginning of his falling.
Throughout this narrative the disagreements and frustrations between Randy and his parents are apparent; and many of these tensions are part and parcel of raising a family and watching your kids grow up. But what about those instances where your child makes a bad choice? A mistake that really disappoints a parent? It can be devastating to see your child make a bad mistake when you feel you've done everything you can to show them the 'right' way. However, the parents' reaction to these situations will shape and determine how that child's life unfolds. In Randy's case, he made a bad choice in 1995 that caused everything around him to crumble...And his parents' rigidity pushed him further towards the wrong path.
All through his adult years Randy has never had any control over the narrative of his life. The media and the State of Texas have put forward what they wish the public to know – whether true or false. This is Randy's chance to tell the real story of how he ended up in prison at such a young age. He has been open and extremely candid in telling his story in the hope that it will help others to not make the same mistakes that both he and his parents made. By the end of this Memoir you will want to hug your children and tell them they can come to you with any problem, and you will be there for them.
Twenty-five years have passed since Randy was incarcerated...In that time he has grown up, blossomed, and matured into a wonderful human being. Prison did not shape his character – he redeemed himself through his own steely determination and his refusing to give up on himself.
With the help of good friends who have been by his side for years, Randy continues to grow with their love, support, and encouragement. Life on Texas Death Row is not easy; the surroundings are bleak, and the day to day existence is devoid of all humanity. But even this harsh and negative environment has not penetrated Randy's soul, nor has it infected the person he has become.
Randy Halprin is not who he was in 1995, 1996, or 2000...Can any of us say we are the same person we were 20 years ago?
"We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."
Percy Bysshe Shelley
"These are some of the safest planes on the planet," my dad said as the small Saab twin propeller air plane lifted off from Nashville. I wasn't so sure. As the plane flew it began to rattle violently and I gripped the arm rests with fright; all but certain that we would soon plunge to our deaths. “Seriously, son, these planes can fly with one wing.”
“That isn't very reassuring, dad!” I replied through chattering teeth, my voice vibrating. As we flew across the State and into Lexington, Kentucky, my dad pointed out some large grey clouds. “You see those? It means it's snowing in Lexington.”
The flight took about 45 minutes in total. As we descended I became excited about the new journey that was about to begin in my life. Sure, there was a part of me that was sad about being away from my family for a long period of time – especially my brothers – but I also looked at it as a reboot. I'd failed my first year of Junior High and also the first trimester of my 7th grade repeat, and my parents were desperate to jump-start my education.
My grades were fine in elementary school – I excelled in reading, writing, and music, but I was also easily distracted by a wildly active imagination. I'd sit in the classroom and daydream about being an astronaut or a rock star, and I'd sing pop songs to myself as I did my school work.
I wasn't a cool kid by any means...I was a geek! I dressed like a male version of Punky Brewster and cared more about quoting whole lines of dialogue from movies like Star Wars or Ghostbusters, or reciting passages from books, than I did about keeping up with the latest fashions or whatever the coolest shoes were at the time. I was shy and introverted, and I was picked on by some other kids.
At summer camp session in 1990, something changed. I was suddenly noticed by girls and I was receiving attention I'd never had before. My parents always told me I was a handsome kid, but it meant little to me. I found the sudden attention a little disorienting and my friend, Chad, was going through a similar experience. We were a couple of nerds who daydreamed about going out with the hot chicks in our classes, but it never seemed like a reality until puberty hit us. We decided to embrace it together.
Preparing for my first year of 7th grade I had to juggle studies for my Bar Mitzvah at the same time. I threw myself into it fully but I also wanted to embrace what was to come in Junior High. Chad's sister, Meredith, told us wild stories about partying and all the fun that was about to come. She made it sound like a John Hughes movie!
Chad and I were so excited we decided to reinvent ourselves. We pleaded with our parents to let us get the clothes we wanted, and I battled with my dad over the economical value of some KMART brand jeans, versus the cool factor of a pair of Z. Cavarici jeans. “Just let him get what he wants,” my mom said, surprisingly taking my side.
I can remember the first time I wore fashionable pants to a roller rink. Chad and I had skated our way to the concession stand area to grab a hot dog and a soda, before making our way to a booth. A girl standing nearby appeared to be looking at my crotch area...“Are those Cavarici's?” She asked. “Yeah!” I said, jumping into the booth as quickly as I could, and noticing I had a sudden erection. 7th grade was going to be fun!
Once school started I found myself both electrified and bored. It didn't fire up my imagination, and just seemed dull. The only class I remember really liking was Texas History; our teacher, Mr. Harry, would tell us wild stories of the early frontier days when settlers were fighting it out with the Native American Tribes. Tales of cannibalism, scalpings, and cowboy shoot-outs were horrifying, but they held my attention and made the class very interesting.
Whilst my grades slipped further down I excelled in my studies of Hebrew, and the Torah portion I would read for my Bar Mitzvah. I wanted to make my family proud and especially my Aunt Carol who was battling cancer and would be using the last bit of her strength to come and see me on the day. That first year of Junior High brought dances, parties, my first kiss, and the heart-crushing death of my Aunt...And then, my failure of the 7th grade.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Summer came and I went to camp again, and prepared for a repeat of the year. Because I was the artsy type of teen, I asked my parents if I could attend a creative arts school. It was my passion and something I really wanted to do, and they used it as a negotiating tactic. “Get your grades and we'll consider letting you go there,” they said.
I didn't understand it. They knew I was good at music and that it was my dream. “One day I'll be famous! You'll see!” I used to tell my dad. And he'd sing back at me, sarcastically, and in a crooner's voice...“Fairy tales will come true. It can happen to you.”
The second year of the 7th grade went downhill fast and I refused to do any school work. So much so that I was pulling in zeros in every class. My parents tried tutoring, but I had no will to improve. In frustration they talked to friends with troubled kids of their own, and someone suggested a Baptist Boarding School in Kentucky that had a good track record of straightening kids out through work and discipline. When my parents told me what they were considering, I yelled at my dad. “We're Jewish! Why are you going to send me to a Baptist school? Why can't I just attend a creative arts school or a private school here?”
“You need the structure and if you make up the lost year we'll consider letting you come home,” my dad replied. In a way it felt like they were casting me off. However, the explorer in me was intrigued and I did like new experiences. I liked challenges...I was curious! I'd miss the hell out of Chad and hanging out at Putt-Putt golf, the movies, or the mall on weekends, but at least I'd be able to come home on breaks to hang out with him.
I had a ton of gift certificates from my Bar Mitzvah, so my dad allowed me to use them to buy clothes and music to take with me. I bought my first cassette of U2's Achtung Baby and listened to it incessantly. I bought Girbaud jeans, Skids overalls and shorts, and I thought I'd be the coolest kid in Kentucky until my dad bought me the winter coat I'd be taking with me. He said it was going to be ten times colder than what I was used to in Texas, but I still wanted to get a fashionable jacket – something comfortable. “Looking cool isn't going to keep you from freezing your nuts off. I let you pick your clothes, I get to pick your coat.” He told me.
“No...no way! I'm not wearing that thing...I'll look like big bird!” I said, as he handed me a large puffy bright yellow winter coat.
“Just try it on,” he demanded. “You'll thank me later.”
I fussed as I put it on and stood in front of the mirror...“I look like Captain Gordon the fisherman,” I said.
“You look like you're warm.” He replied.
“Great...I spend my entire elementary school years being teased, then I go to hillbilly land and get to do it all over again.”
“You'll be warm though. Let's go pay for it.”
In the days that followed I said 'goodbye' to friends at school, and Chad and I hung out at the mall. His parents were putting him in a private school in Arlington, but at least he got to stay home. “We're still keeping our tradition of watching Dark Wing Duck together, right?” Chad asked.
“Hell yeah!” I said. “The second my classes are over with, I'm going to their T.V. room to watch it.” Forever geeks! We hugged and said goodbye, and when it was time to leave for the airport and go to Kentucky I said 'goodbye' to my brothers. I scooped up my little brother, Jimmy, in my arms and squeezed him tightly. He wanted to come to the airport with us and my dad said “No,” but I promised him I would be back home soon.
As dad and I began to leave, my mom hugged me and gave me a kiss. “You'll be fine,” she said. “Make us proud.”
“I will,” I replied.
Dad and I walked out to the driveway and loaded our luggage into our grey and white Suburban truck. Then we left for the airport, and on to Kentucky.
Randy's Mix Tape
(Soundtrack to Falling Down : Part One 1995)
Good - Better than Ezra https://youtu.be/acK0KH2uJGc
You Oughta Know - Alannis Morrisette
High and Dry - Radiohead
My Friends - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Fade Into You - Mazzy Star
A Letter to Elise - The Cure
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me - U2
Grey Cell Green - Ned's Atomic Dustbin
Piggy - Nine Inch Nails
The Man Who Sold the World - Nirvana: MTV Unplugged
These Are The Days - 10,000 Maniacs
Rock Me Gently - Erasure
Name - Goo Goo Dolls
Muzzzle - Smashing Pumpkins
Natural One - Folk Implosion
Wonder - Natalie Merchant
One Of Us - Joan Osborne
To Forgive - Smashing Pumpkins
Galapagos - Smashing Pumpkins
Let Her Cry - Hootie and the Blowfish
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Deep Blue Something
Possum Kingdom - Toadies
What do I have to do? - Stabbing Westward
Adolescence is like a kaleidoscope...Things you like or you're into can change so quickly and with each passing year. Life can become confusing as you try to figure out who you are and your place in the world. Couple that with being on your own and far away from home, family, attending a religiously fundamental school, and it's easy to feel like you're in over your head.
My first week of attending Oneida Baptist Institute began with a broken promise to my father by one of the school's administrative members, Mr. Bud Underwood. As we sat in his office, Mr. Underwood asked my dad a series of questions...
“No, he's not a troublemaker. When things get tough he backs off. He's clean cut.” My dad answered.
“Well, it sounds like he'll do good here. We expect him to work hard and get good grades. Do you have any questions?” Mr. Underwood asked my dad.
“Actually, I do. As you know, Randy is Jewish. I just want to make sure that no one tries to force him to be Christian.”
“We don't do that here,” Mr. Underwood assured him. “We want a student to come to Christ on his own.”
He and my father shook hands. My dad was old fashioned, so a hand-shake was all that was needed to seal the deal. The very next day I was told by several teachers that I was going to hell for being Jewish. I tried to ignore it as best I could and a part of me wanted to call my dad up and tell him what had happened, but he would never believe me. After all, they shook hands on it and that was that.
Despite the difficulties I encountered at the school because I was Jewish, I made friends quickly and adjusted to campus life without any problems. I'd quickly become close friends with a guy from Ohio named Wayne, and whilst he'd never replace my best friend, Chad, we did become inseparable for the next two years at school. I even spent Thanksgiving holidays with his family in Englewood, Ohio, and he spent a summer break at my home in Arlington during the summer of 1994.
My grades improved immediately! I landed on the Honor Roll, earned work awards, and began playing the piano again in a class they offered. I also earned a 'Most Outstanding Pianist' award in my freshman year at the school.
During 1994 my life began to shift dramatically...I'd been relatively popular and active at school, even becoming one of the youngest hall monitors in the high school dorms. But after a difficult break up with a girl – Amy – who I'd been dating for a year, I was beginning to feel lost. I was tired of hanging out with the more popular crowd, and being completely honest about it, I never really felt like I fit in. Wayne was more anchored into the group than I was, and although I loved him like a brother we were losing the closeness we once had. Our interests were changing too - he liked sports and rap, and I liked movies and alternative rock.
Everything came to a head on a night off from work. Mr. Garett had someone take my hall monitor spot for the night so I could catch up on some sleep. My job as hall monitor often kept me up until midnight, so a night off was very much appreciated. On this particular night I finished up my homework and crawled into bed. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the door burst open and slammed against the brick wall! Wayne entered the room and switched the light on.
“What are you doing?” I asked, startled and irritated.
“Just have to grab something real quick.” He replied, rummaging through his locker and then leaving the room without turning the lights back off.
Feeling pissed, I threw the covers back, got out of bed, and flipped the switch on the wall to turn the lights out before climbing back into bed. I had just started to doze off again when he came back, turned the lights back on, and sat on our torn up couch to play video games.
“What the fuck, man?” I said.
“I'm just taking a break. Chill out.” Wayne replied.
“C'mon, dude! We barely get to sleep as it is, will you just let me sleep? I want to meet Tracy at breakfast time.”
“Sure. Yeah, whatever. What's the deal with you two anyway? You know she's close to Amy. You trying to go out with her?” He asked. It was a barrage of questions!
“No, I'm not trying to go out with her, we're just friends. Can I go to sleep or what?”
“Alright. I'm gone.” He stood up, turned off the lights, and walked out.
I fell asleep for an hour or so when he came back into the room and woke me up for the third time. I'd had enough! I decided to use my authority as a hall monitor and put my foot down. Wayne had only been a clean up crew supervisor, so technically I could tell him what to do.
“Look, Wayne,” I said...More forcefully this time. “I've asked you a billion times! I'm trying to sleep. If you have a problem with me, or this is some way for you to get at me in a passive aggressive way, we'll take it up later. But please...Please, man, let me sleep! If you don't, I'll write your ass up.”
“Mr. Garret said I could have a light on to study.”
“You're playing the freakin' Nintendo! I couldn't give a shit if you do that, just please turn out the light!”
“I've got permission to study with a light on.” Wayne said, smugly.
“Oh yeah? Fuck! We'll just find out!”
I jumped out of bed, put on some jeans and stormed into the hallway. I had no intentions of going to tell on him, so instead I walked around the hallway before coming back to the room and collecting some coins for the soda machine. There would be no sleeping that night.
As I stood outside I looked at the stars and breathed deeply. There was something calming about a crisp Kentucky night...Then I suddenly became aware of some people talking, and I turned my head to see Wayne walking with one of the adult supervisors, Mr. Heffelfinger. I don't know why, but in that moment I became angry and stormed over to the two of them. “Hey, Mr. Heffelfinger? Do you know anything about Mr. Garret giving Wayne permission to turn on the lights in our room so he can study?” I asked.
Wayne shot me a look with pure daggers, all but calling me a 'snitch'. What happened after that is a bit foggy, but Wayne took a swipe at me and made a real smart ass comment. Seconds later we were rolling around on the damp grass. Mr. Heffelfinger and another student grabbed us. “What the hell? Y'all are best friends!” The kid yelled.
I thought Mr. Heffelfinger would have us both suspended for fighting, but instead he told us to go to our room and get to sleep. I went back to the room, kicked the door open, and grabbed a towel to go and take a shower.
In the days that followed, Wayne and I never said a single word to one another; I spent most of the afternoons – when school was out – hanging out at the school's Grill, with Tracy and her friends. They were the 'freaks and geeks' crowd and I felt more comfortable with them. I soon befriended two guys named Matt and Tom; we all liked the same music and had the same similar tastes in movies and other artsy things, so they asked me if I was interested in moving into their room as they had two open beds.
“Are you kidding me? I'd love to!” I said.
“We weren't sure as you've always been so tight with Wayne,” Matt said.
“Yeah, we were...Who else are you trying to get to move in with you?” I asked.
“You know Demetrius?” Tom asked.
“Yeah. The black dude everyone makes fun of 'cause he acts white? He's cool!” I said.
“He's a bit of a stoner, and really laid back. Perfect fit for us...Do you do drugs?” Tom asked.
“Oh well, that's cool. You'll drink, right?”
“Yeah...I've had alcohol before, but I'm pretty against drugs. Not my cup of tea.”
“That's cool. We'll respect that. We're still going to have a kick ass room! 202 forever!”
“Hey, this is a bit personal, but is it true you fucked Amy? And are you trying to hook up with Tracy?” Matt asked.
“Yeah...I had sex with Amy, and no, I'm not going to hook up with Tracy. Besides, Angie is being pretty obvious in letting me know she likes me, and she's kind of hot, so...She just gave me a mix tape! A girl who puts The Cure on a mix tape for me might just be it,” I said.
“I've got my eye on Vee,” Matt said.
“Good luck with that, dude. She might as well be wearing a chastity belt!” Tom said.
“Joe kissed her,” Matt offered.
“That is as far as she's going, trust me.” Tom replied.
In hindsight, moving in with Tom, Matt, and Demetrius probably wasn't the best decision I had made up to that point, but I can't ignore the fact that every day was a blast! We played pranks, and we were always talking about movies and music into the wee hours of the morning. We even built our very own surround sound stereo system from various old components we found, and it was so loud that Mr. Garret often threatened to take it away from us if we didn't keep the volume down. Our days were never boring!
The Cure became my favourite band around that time, and I'd turn the stereo system all the way up, open the windows – even on freezing cold days – and blast the music so the whole campus could hear. Early in the mornings as I got ready for breakfast, I'd pop in this TIME LIFE MUSIC DISCO CD and I'd blast out, Staying Alive by the Bee Gees, or something equally horrendous to kick off the day. I could really embrace my goofiness with these guys and I had never felt more comfortable with myself.
Meanwhile, I'd been getting closer and closer to Tracy and I really liked her. I wasn't sure if she felt the same about me but I began spending every waking hour I had with her and her friends, including her brother, Jim. I was still focused on school and I had made up enough credits to fix the year I had failed, so things were going well for me. But in early November of 1994 things changed when Jim entered our room one day, excitedly. “Look what we just scored!” He said, holding several bottles of cough syrup.
Matt grabbed a bottle from Jim's hand and looked at the dark thick liquid inside. “What the hell are we gonna do with this? This shit ain't got no alcohol.” He said.
“Trust me, this will fuck you up!” Jim said.
I grabbed a bottle and looked at it, reading the label. “What does it do to you?” I asked.
“It's like trippin' without the visuals.” Jim explained. I had no idea what he meant, but nodded my head as though I understood.
“Y'all got anything to do tonight, 'cause I don't? Free time is shut down, so we could drink all of this and go to the grill.” Tom said.
I was still looking at the bottle...“How did you get all of this anyway? Dude, look – the shit is almost past its expiration date! Is it even safe?” I asked.
“Mike works in the warehouse, and there's a ton of this stuff just lying around! We drank some the other night, and just grabbed a whole bunch of them.” Jim said.
“It's only cough syrup...” I told myself, after thinking about it for a few seconds. I think I was more intrigued than anything. “We drink it now?” I asked.
“Yeah. Hell yeah! Then we'll go to the grill.” Matt said.
“Bottoms up!” Jim said, breaking the seal on the bottle.
We followed and began to slam the cough syrup. It was the nastiest thing I'd ever tasted in my life! Four ounces of sickly sweet syrup disguised to taste like cherries. As I chugged it down I had to fight the urge to spit it back out and puke. We waited around in the dorm room, and close to an hour later my face began to feel hot. Then, my scalp began to itch. It felt like a thousand ants were crawling over my body. When we stood up to leave I felt incredibly light...“Whoa!” I said. Everyone else began to laugh. “I'm so light I feel I could jump to the moon!” I yelled. Then, like an idiot, I tried to jump and fell right down...If this is what 'getting high' meant, I liked the feeling. I thought I'd do it on weekends – purely recreational, of course.
We all laughed our way to the Grill and inside I saw Angie sitting with another girl at a table. I walked up, pulled a chair out and sat down. “I'm fuuuuucked up!” I said, putting my head on the table and feeling Angie begin to run her fingers through the back of my hair. “Stop! That tickles!” I said. I began to mimic throwing up and they laughed, so my theatrics became even more exaggerated. They were laughing, and I was laughing. “Where's Tracy I asked?”
“She's at drama practice. You're stuck with me.” Angie said. So I spent the next hour or two goofing around with her.
The next day Tracy caught me in the hallway at school. “My brother told me you got high for the first time yesterday. Everyone said you were funny!”
“Yeah...I feel like a bit of an idiot. But it was fun.” I said.
“Well, welcome to the club!” She said, hugging me before leaving for her next class.
I knew she smoked weed and had experimented with other things with her brother, and I was relieved I wasn't being judged. But when I walked up to my locker I noticed Amy standing next to me. “I heard about your escapades last night.” She said.
I did the combination to the lock and began to pull some books out and rearrange some CDs I had hidden there. The school often checked on what music we were listening to, so hiding them in my locker avoided having them confiscated. “Yeah, so?” I said to her.
“I don't talk to people who do drugs.” She replied.
“We don't talk anyway. And besides, half of your friends do drugs. Good day!” I said, closing my locker and leaving her in my dust.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Before Thanksgiving break, Tracy and I started dating and I remember asking her brother if it would be okay. “Fuck, yeah! Y'all are going to get married! I've never liked anyone she's dated, but I love you, man. I really do.”
I had to spend the Thanksgiving break with Wayne's family and we barely talked the entire time. It felt strange being there with him, and I couldn't wait to get back to school. Over the following weeks I would try huffing freon from air conditioning units and other things...My journey into drugs had well and truly begun.
As Tracy and I became close and fell in love we did everything together; but I also felt confused about the direction of my life. On one hand, I was still doing well in school and I'd also just started a band with some friends which brought me such joy. However, I was also finding it very confusing to navigate through the school's fundamentalism, and despite the reassurances given to my dad before I started at the school, I was being told by my teachers almost every single day that I was going to hell just for being Jewish. I could have told my dad but he'd just think I was making it up to try and come back home.
I didn't know what to do and one evening at church I started crying...At the end of the service I walked up to Mr. Spencer, who was my brother's chess coach and the school's youth minister. “I think I need Jesus.” I said.
He prayed with me, and soon afterwards a group of teachers were holding me up like some kind of trophy. “Look! The Jew who found Christ!” They said.
I didn't feel spiritually cleansed or new when I prayed with Mr. Spencer, and when I told my dad about my confusion I knew he was upset at me. He never openly expressed it, but the tension was palpable during spring break.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On my first Valentines with Tracy I spent it in the city she lived in – Louisville – staying at the home of a friend from school. I had it on my mind that it would be a romantic weekend, and I had a picnic planned. I was all but certain that before this weekend was over we'd have sex. My friend's girlfriend, Celeste, was staying with Tracy at her place, and he was so certain of it happening he'd bought us both some condoms. “Just in case,” he said.
Nothing really worked out the way I had intended. It was nice to have intimate personal time, but it seemed like Tracy wanted to stay high. I didn't mind the fact that she wanted to get high, but when she was high her focus was never on me, and that irritated me a lot. The only way to really feel close to her or her friends, was to join in with them – but I just wasn't a fan of smoking weed...I didn't like coughing, I hated the smell of it, and whilst I had never smoked cigarettes before in my life (and never would) smoking weed was the one thing I always sort of felt pressured into doing to feel part of the group. During this time I also grew increasingly needy and dependent on Tracy because of my own self-doubt, confusion, and uncertainty.
After that Valentine's weekend together we returned to school even more in love than we were before we left, and I felt our relationship was elevated to another level. A few days later I was called to Mr. Underwood's office and I thought I was in trouble for spending the weekend with Tracy. A lot of the students had conspiracy theories, one of which was that the school had spies in every city and would know our every move beyond OBI. So, before knocking on Mr. Underwood's door I took one big deep breath. “Come in,” a voice said.
“You wanted to see me, Sir?” I asked nervously.
“Sit down. I received a call from your mom earlier, and she wanted to let you know that your father had a minor heart attack, but he's okay. They'll tell you more about it when they have a little more information, but I suggest you pray and ask Jesus to heal your father. You want me to pray with you?”
“Okay,” I said, and he began.
When spring break came around I spent time talking to Tracy on the phone and helping my dad out at work. Things felt odd between us though, and one day he brought up the subject of my becoming a Christian.
“You know, you're the last practising Jewish person in our family. I don't want you to be batptized until you've really thought about this. At least wait until I have my heart surgery. I guess I just want to know why you want to do this.”
I didn't know how to answer him...Do I tell him how the school practically harassed me every day, made me doubt myself and my own faith? They called me a 'Christ Killer'! He'd never believe it. “I don't know. It's just a feeling,” I said. “I heard something call me.”
“Hmmm. Well, you know Christian services can be very emotional. I don't want you responding to religious fervor. Think about it, but don't get baptized yet. I'll support you whatever you choose to do.”
I could sense the disappointment in his voice; and since the very first day of being chosen by him as his son – being adopted – I had always wanted to make him proud of me. I couldn't help but feel like I was falling into a series of disappointments with him, even if he didn't know about my drug experimentation. "Dad, you promise the heart attack wasn't something I caused?” I asked him.
“No, son. It wasn't you.”
I couldn't help but feel like it was my fault, though...No matter what he said. I couldn't help but feel like a failure in his eyes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After a long and stressful year, I returned home from boarding school. I would only be home for a couple of weeks as I was due to return to summer school which would push me a little further ahead in my class credits. I'd spent my 9th and 10th grade years taking extra classes and summer school, so that I could graduate with my natural graduation class.
One of the great joys of returning home from school was entering our house in Arlington, Texas, and having my little brothers tackle me and hang onto my legs as I walked to our kitchen. I'd settle in and then late at night my brother Jimmy would sneak into my room and crawl into bed with me. As the big brother, nothing made me feel better. I was really happy that I was back home.
The school break actually started out fine. I no longer had any friends to hang out with because time away in Kentucky, and being teens, caused us to drift apart. My best friend, Chad, with whom I had spent most of my childhood growing up and hanging out with, had moved away to Alabama with his family. So, on breaks at home I'd spend the days swimming in our back yard pool, playing with my little brothers, or just watching T.V.. At night I would call my girlfriend up or sneak off to the side of the house and siphon freon from one of the big air conditioning units, and huff until I would pass out. Sometimes I would just guzzle a bottle of cough syrup to get a cheap high. My parents were clueless about my drug use, and I tried to keep it that way.
One day during summer break, Wesley and I had decided to go hang out at the mall which was about a mile away. I had a learners permit to drive but couldn't without adult supervision, so I asked my dad if he'd drop us off for the day. He said, “No”, so we decided to take bicycles instead. The only problem was that Wesley had a bike and I didn't. Mine had been stolen about a year earlier when I left it in the front yard of my best friend's house, and he forgot to put it in the garage. However, there was my dad's old Schwinn bicycle that looked like it hadn't been ridden since the 1970s, and I'd never seen my dad ride it.
“What the heck?” I thought. “I'll fill up the tires and see if the air holds and if it does, we're off!” I told Wesley. I wiped off all of the dust and cobwebs, filled the tires up with air and bounced the bike up and down. It seemed to be holding up, so off we went.
We headed back home after spending the entire day at the mall, and as the sun was setting I wondered what mom and dad would say about us going to the mall when dad had said “No.” I thought to myself, “Oh, they'll get over it.”
We raced each other part of the way home and then swerved into the driveway. There was an electronic key pad on the side of the garage door so I punched in the code, and after the door was up we placed our bikes inside and went into the house. I was a bit nervous about what my parents' reaction would be, but to my surprise they didn't say anything. As I was walking to my room, mom asked how our day was and if we'd had a good time...I admitted that I took Wesley to the mall.
“At least you boys got home early.” I distinctly heard my dad say. Then, after a slight pause he spoke again, almost as an after-thought. “How did y'all get there?” Wesley told him we took our bikes. Dad looked at me a little puzzled; I think he thought that maybe I took the scooter, which was forbidden for me to ride after I had gotten in so many wrecks on it. “You don't have a bike,” he stated.
“I just took yours...The yellow one,” I replied.
My dad's face tightened, and I could see he was upset. “Who did you ask if you could ride it?” He demanded.
“Nobody...I just figured I could because you never do.”
“You didn't ask me.”
“Okay...didn't ask you? It's been collecting dust since the '70s!”
Dad looked at my mom and she just shrugged her shoulders as if to say she was staying out of this one. “It doesn't matter if I ride it or not,” he said angrily. “It belongs to me. You know to ask when you're going to use something that belongs to me.”
“Yeah...Okay, dad.” I was digging my heels in for the coming fight because I felt like he was deliberately picking one, and I refused to back down this time.
“Well,” he said. ”You're grounded...No car...No going out until I decide you can, and until I get an apology.”
“I didn't even do anything!”
“The conversation is over, Randy. Go to your room.”
“Man, this is BS...This is my freakin' summer break!” I yelled, stomping off to my room. “You know this isn't fair!”
“Life isn't fair,” he replied. It was one of my dad's favourite things to say.
I went to my room, turned on my stereo, and jammed out until my parents were asleep. Then I picked up the phone and called my girlfriend. I told her what was going on and she thought I had just blown her off for the day because she called earlier when I was out at the mall. “They never said you called,” I told her. And that just made me angrier.
The conversation went on into the early hours of the morning, and the next day my arguing with dad continued. He told me that I would be helping him build some tables in the garage for part of a contract he had with the US Postal Service. I really felt like my summer break had been ruined, and I was steaming! Being the impulsive person I was back then, a small plan began to develop in my head to reclaim my summer. I loved my dad to pieces, but I was letting this stupid fight get the better of me and neither of us was going to capitulate or give ground. I felt the best thing for me to do was just leave.
I called my girlfriend up that night and told her my plan. I don't think she took me all that seriously, but she sadly underestimated my own impulsive stupidity. She didn't talk me out of it either so I took it as a green light. I asked if she would call our friend, Travis, who also lived in Louisville, Kentucky, and see if I could stay at his place. She told me she'd check on it but asked how I would be able to afford the travel. I lied, telling her I had some money saved up. However she did ask a valid question and I wondered how in the world I was going to pay for the trip and stay in Louisville for a whole week until I returned to school.
I called up the Greyhound Bus Station to see what a one way trip to Louisville would cost, and I was told it would be over $100...A hundred dollars plus? I think I had like ten bucks! I panicked a bit and thought that maybe I should call this whole thing off. Then an idea flashed in my mind, and I pushed it out. It popped back up and I wrestled with it, but soon found myself in my dad's office holding his business cheques. I forged a $200 cheque and hid it under my pillow.
I spent the next day or two helping my dad build his tables, but we still didn't talk much. Neither of us was budging and it only cemented my idea of leaving. A part of me wanted to call it off though, and just tell him I was sorry. But another part of me was determined to get away. “Fuck that...You're your own person and it's time to stand up.” I told myself. My mind was made up: I would be spending the rest of my summer break with my girlfriend...I was going to Louisville!
Right before I left I had my wisdom teeth removed, and while I was in some minor discofort, I just popped the prescribed codeine pills like candy and I was good to go. I packed up everything I would be taking back to school with me – I had no intention of skipping out on school, but I just wanted to be away from home. I wrote a short note to my parents explaining where I was going, what I would be doing, and asking them not to worry. I wasn't running away or skipping school, I just needed to get away for a while. I honestly always believed that if I ever did run away I could come back home. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I remember getting into a fight with my parents. “I'm running away!” I yelled. I walked out the door and up the street...Then, turned right back round and went home.
“You weren't gone for long.” My dad said. I told them I was sorry, and they both said that if I ever left or ran away they'd always take me back if I came home.
Later that same day I went to the garage and grabbed my brother's bicycle to ride to the bank and cash the cheque I forged. My fate was sealed! I put the $200 in my pocket, and on the way back I stopped off at a gas station to buy some Hubba Bubba bubble gum I promised to get for my little brothers. When I got home dad was out on a business errand, and Wesley was playing Nintendo with my little brothers. Mom was in the kitchen cleaning...Just another normal day.
I went to Wesley and told him I needed to talk to him for a second, and I explained everything to him about me leaving. I gave him the note I had written to my parents, with explicit instructions to not give it to them until I was gone. I wasn't sure if I could trust him because my brother was notorious for snitching me off for far more trivial things, and I often wonder if I subconsciously gave him the note because I wanted him to tell my parents so they could stop me...Maybe.
He said he would do as I asked, so I went and grabbed the phone to call my girlfriend and tell her I was leaving that night. I asked if she'd managed to get a hold of Travis, but she hadn't. She was still trying. In the meantime dad came home and started preparing dinner, and when we'd finished eating I helped clear the table. Then I hugged my two little brothers tightly. “I know you guys won't understand, but I love y'all so much! Be good!” I told them. They looked at me like I was crazy, and ran off to the games room to play on their Nintendo. I never saw them again my entire life.
I made the call to the taxi cab company and Wesley stealthily helped me move my suitcases to the garage. I threw a dusty shop sheet over them and waited. Wesley asked me if this was something I was sure about doing. “Yeah, I've just really got to go,” I said, hugging him. “Don't worry, I'm coming back home...I just need to get away for a bit.” He went back inside and I waited on the taxi cab when suddenly my dad walked out to the garage. Had Wesley just told on me? I tensed up!
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I returned.
“I'm headed to Krogers to pick up some things. I was thinking we could talk. Want to come along?” Going grocery shopping had always been one of our father and son rituals. From the very first days at home, after being adopted, it had always been me and him. So many times...So many laughs, arguments, fights over who would pick the radio station to listen to. From my clumsy shopping cart disasters like knocking over sun tea jar displays, to picking up snacks and eating as we shopped, it was always he and I. And here he was essentially offering up a truce...As if to confirm his sincerity he threw me the keys to his beloved Suburban. “You drive.” He said. I held them in my hand for a second, then threw them back to him.
“I'm good. You go ahead. I'm going to stay here.” In that moment I clearly remember sadness cross my dad's face, and I watched as he climbed into his car and drove off. About the same time, I could see the taxi cab coming down the street - my dad passed it as he drove away. Wesley came back outside and helped me load my luggage into the taxi, and then I gave him one last hug. “Don't forget to give them the note,” I said. Then I climbed into the taxi cab and it took me to the Arlington Greyhound Bus Station...
“Mom and Dad,
I don't expect you to understand what's going on with me. I'm just going to Louisville for the rest of the break. I have a place to stay and I will go back to Oneida when the school opens back up. I'm not running away. I'll call you when I get there and let you know I'm okay. I promise.
The trip to Louisville was supposed to be a non-stop drive, stopping just once in Memphis. This was the first time I had taken a full trip from Texas to Kentucky on a Greyhound Bus - all of my previous trips had been by plane, so riding a bus for this distance was a new and strange experience for me. I realized very quickly that my trips from Lexington, Kentucky, to London, Kentucky, were like taking the day care bus in comparison to this ride!
I always believed that the slightly exaggerated version of bus rides in movies were for comedic effect, but I very quickly learned that what I saw in movies was for real. When the bus stopped in Dallas I witnessed several Police officers wrestling with a man in the bus terminal; and from Dallas to Little Rock, Arkansas, a couple was having sex in the very back of the bus, while another lady was talking to herself, and another woman was weeping uncontrollably in the seat in front of me.
I decided I needed a snack to get me through the journey, so at the stop in Little Rock I bought a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos that ended up stabbing my gums right where I'd had my wisdom teeth removed, and I was bleeding profusely.
The weather got really bad from Little Rock to Memphis, so the bus stopped for the rest of the night and into the early part of the morning. I ate a greasy cheeseburger from a vender and it gave me the runs. The station was saying that because of the storms we would be delayed arriving in Louisville, and we might not get there until Sunday. I was really upset about this but I waited patiently. Besides the disappointment of the journey being delayed, I was excited about being in the city where U2's Rattle And Hum was filmed and tried to see if I could identify some of the spots where the movie was made.
At some point that Saturday the PA system kicked on and asked everyone travelling to Louisville to head towards the bus terminal because the ride was back on. Most of the rain had cleared, but once we got close to Louisville, it started raining very hard again. The rain lasted for just a few minutes, and then cleared, leaving the city grey and wet.
I exited the bus, grabbed my luggage, and headed towards the nearest phone booth. “Hey, Tracy?” I said when my girlfriend picked up the phone. “Yeah, I'm at the station, and a bit earlier than I expected! Did you get a hold of Travis? No!? Shit! Okay. Well, check this out...I'll call him from here and see what's up. I know I have to find a place to stay! Alright. Let me make the call and then I'll take a cab to your place.”
I hung up the phone and called my friend, Travis. I was fortunate in that he had just gotten home when I called, but when I explained the situation it didn't exactly go the way I had hoped. He told me that there was no way his parents were going to allow me to stay at his place at such short notice. He did offer to come and pick my stuff up at my girlfriend's place and maybe he could talk to his parents and get me there the next day, but not for that night. I asked him if he'd meet me at Tracy's and he said he'd be there later on that evening.
I hailed a cab and told him to take me to Bardstown Road. When I got to my girlfriend's house, her parents were sitting on their front porch in a swinging chair. I got out of the cab and took the luggage to the porch. When they asked where I was staying I lied and told them I'd be staying with Travis and he'd be swinging by to pick my stuff up later on. “Is Tracy home?” I asked.
“Yes. She's inside. Go ahead and go in.” I left the bags on the front porch, called out her name, and she came running from another room and hugged me. I think she was really surprised that I had gone through with everything and was standing right in front of her.
“Come on,” she said, grabbing my hand. We stepped outside and she told her parents that we were going to go on a walk and would be back in a bit. Her parents were very laid back and pretty much gave her unrestricted freedom, so we took off on a walk. This was only my second time ever being in Louisville and I wasn't entirely familiar with it, but I remember when I spent the Valentine weekend that same year and really falling in love with the city – especially Bardstown Road.
Bardstown Road was a main street that was full of headshops, music stores, and some diners. There were several Cathedrals and grocery stores along that strip and there was a certain French Colonialism aesthetic to the place, and many different kinds of people. I can distinctly remember the smell of pot, fresh bread baking, and the scent of BBQ from a butcher's shop not far from my girlfriend's house. Off the main road was the residential area – a never-ending labyrinth of streets and alley ways. We headed down a road that took us to a house where she babysat regularly – the Naders. She wanted me to meet them and it was obvious she really loved babysitting for them; but when we got to their house and rang the doorbell no one answered. We then stopped off at another one of her friend's houses but no one answered there either. Eventually, we headed back to her place.
Back at Tracy's I called Travis up again and he said he'd come and pick my stuff up. When I enquired if he'd asked his parents about me staying at his place, he said he hadn't tried...I pretty much figured out that I had no place to stay. Tracy was getting upset with the way this was unravelling, and even voiced her anger about having to lie to her family to cover for me. However, I felt like this was benefiting her as well and she didn't exactly try to talk me out of leaving Texas. A part of me knew that this was a big mistake but then again I enjoyed being there with her. I'd be back at school soon and I figured it would be forgotten quickly, and everyone would get over it. I was naïve enough to believe that anyway.
For the first couple of nights I ended up sleeping in a courtyard at the back of St Francis of Assisi Cathedral. It was Memorial Day weekend and during the day I'd spend time with Tracy and her family. On Memorial Day itself I remember it being really hot, and her family had some of their friends over as well as some of Tracy's friends. Somehow I became the go-for/errand boy, and I was running back and forth between their place and the grocery store, all afternoon long. Tracy's mom noticed I was getting really hot so she made me an ice cold container of sweet tea, and ordered me to drink it.
Towards the end of the day the adults moved to the back of the house and Tracy and her friends gravitated towards themselves. I felt left out and I began to wonder how I got into this mess and was it really worth it...I knew I was messing up big time, and I noticed more and more that Tracy wasn't happy about the situation I put her in. It was hard for her to hide her emotions and when she was mad, well, you just knew it. I took the way I was being ignored as a sign of her not being happy with the situation – especially because I had no place to stay.
As I sat there, ignored, I sulked and listened to their conversation. Something about an ex-boyfriend of hers – a guy called Mike – and I didn't like it at all. When her friends left I confronted her about it and asked if she had slept with the guy, but she said I was an idiot and that she hadn't. I just stared at her. She asked me if I believed her and when I didn't answer she exploded and tore right into me! She went on and on about the past few days and the position I put her in. I had nothing to say...I felt horrible. I walked to the back yard and sat on the patio stairs where she eventually joined me and laid across my lap. “I found a place for you to stay,” she said.
“You did?” I asked.
“Yeah. The Naders. I'm going to take you there in a bit.”
We sat in silence for a bit and then she lead me to the Nader's place. The Naders were a very normal looking middle class family with a nice home; Tracy warned me that they were very much hippies in every sense of the word. When I entered the house they were having a party of some sort and everyone was very warm and inviting - my first impression was they were middle-aged yuppies.
Tracy kissed me goodbye, and after she was gone Mrs. Nader asked me to join the circle with their friends. I was introduced to all of them, and when I sat down, a huge bag of marijuana appeared. I was shocked! I mean, here I was with a group of adults who could be hanging out with my parents. She then pulled out a pipe, packed it, and began to pass it around. I wasn't really a big weed smoker because I didn't particularly care for it. I had never smoked cigarettes and whilst most of my friends were smokers it just never appealed to me. I wasn't against weed per se, but I've always hated the feeling that I can't breathe, or the incessant cough that comes with being a smoker. So, while I had smoked it a few times with Tracy, I definitely wasn't a fan. However, these people had invited me into their home and offered me some. I couldn't really refuse it, could I? The pipe went around the circle several times until the weed was gone and I was very high. “This cannot be happening...This cannot be happening!” I kept telling myself.
At some point later that night, Tracy came back to check on me and when I went to see her she noticed I was high. I'm standing there, kind of giggling, and she says something about being jealous. She was obviously teasing me but she wished she could've joined me. Shortly after that she left.
The next few days were a little bit better. I think I worried that one of these days her parents were going to get a call from my parents and the jig would be up. But as it hadn't happened yet I decided to enjoy myself. My luggage was with Travis but I still had a bunch of clothes at my girlfriend's house, so I'd get up early in the morning and leave for her place. After her parents left for work I'd go in and take a shower and get changed before we took the city bus down town. Tracy worked down town in a frozen yogurt shop on the first floor of PNC banks, and her mom worked in the office several floors up.
When Tracy was at work I'd wander around and explore the city or spend the day at Galleria Mall. I was pretty much broke by now, so she was footing the bill for my meals. One day I had found a $20 bill in a gutter and decided to buy a couple of things for her...A bottle of perfume, a journal notebook, and a Pinky and the Brain bookmark. Earlier that morning the batteries in her Gameboy died, and I wanted to replace them for her because she and her mom liked to play it on the bus ride back home. I was going to be short of cash to pay for them, so I looked around and snatched a packet of batteries, stuffing them into my pocket. I wasn't a shoplifter, nor had I ever been one, but when I was a kid I grabbed a piece of bubble gum in a gas station and my dad caught me. He thoroughly spanked me when we got home. Stealing the batteries was something entirely new and out of character for me.
I went to the counter and standing in the line behind me was a Mall Police Officer. I acted as normally as possible and paid for the other items as well as a pen that I grabbed from a nearby stand; the items were placed in a little bag and I left the store. Once I believed I was clear of the officer and any other watching eyes, I grabbed the batteries from my pocket and stuffed them in the bag. I had walked by just a couple of stores when the officer caught up with me. “I want the batteries.” He said.
I played dumb...“ I paid for everything!” I replied. He asked to pat search me and took the bag from me, pulling out the batteries. “I paid for those!”
“No you didn't.”
“Yes, I did!”
“I watched you put the batteries in your pocket and then take them out and stick them in this bag.”
What could I say? I was defeated and deflated. We stood there for a second and then he asked me for my wallet. I'd forgotten that earlier that morning I'd given my wallet to my girlfriend to hold for me, not thinking I'd need it or that I'd find $20. This was getting worse every single second! “I don't have it. My girlfriend does,” I said.
“Well, we've got a problem because I was just going to write you a citation. But now we've got to figure out who the hell you are.” He asked me to place my hands behind my back and he arrested me, then took me to the basement of the mall where they had a little jail. I was told to sit while he made some calls.
“Who's this punk?” Asked one of several other cops who entered the basement. I felt embarrassed, but also defensive. When the female officer asked me a question I made a smart ass comment that angered the officer who arrested me.
“Hey! We're trying to figure this shit out so we can get you home. You want to act like a dumb ass, then we'll treat you like a dumb ass and send you to jail. Otherwise, you're going to sit there and answer our questions.” My mind was racing...I'm basically a runaway from Texas. I have no I.D., my girlfriend is at work, and this is my first time ever being arrested. Not to mention that everything was falling down around me. I wasn't supposed to be in a mall jail at this moment; I was supposed to be meeting Tracy at work and heading back to her place!
The officer asked me for a phone number and thinking that Tracy might already have caught the bus and was home, I gave him her home number. No one answered, so I left a message. Then I tried the Naders and no one answered there either. I was left with no choice but to call home, but chose not to. He told me I'd have to be transferred to a juvenile jail and let them sort it out. They took me to a garage, put me in a cop car, and drove me to the juvenile detention facility.
The juvenile facility didn't seem like a jail but more like a social worker office, although they did place me in a cell. I paced the floor for what felt like hours when in all actuality was probably ten to fifteen minutes. A black woman in her thirties came up to the window and told me she wanted to help get me out of there. She asked me a bunch of questions like my age, where I was from, had I ever been arrested before, and then she asked, “What are you doing in Louisville?” I tried to explain the situation and how I attended OBI in Oneida, Kentucky, and told her I really wanted to leave my parents out of this if we could. “Honey, that is the only option you have at this point.” I gave her our home phone number and she disappeared for a few minutes. Then, she came back with the phone. “You make the call,” she said.
She handed me the phone through the food slot and I dialled the number and listened as the phone rang. “Dad?”
“Where are you, Randy?”
“Oh, you're going to be! What is going on? Why didn't you call us when you said you would?” I could hear the anger in his voice...I was on the losing end and tried to explain what had happened to me. “Give me someone to talk to.” He said. I handed the phone back to the lady and she disappeared, talking to my father. When she came back she told me that they were going to straighten things out but it might be a few more hours.
As I waited I remember them putting some kid in the cell with me, and he kept talking about killing himself which weirded me out a bit. Then they removed him and I never saw him again. Shortly after that the woman came back to tell me what my dad had decided. “Okay, here's the deal," she said. "No one is pressing any charges so you're good on that. You got lucky. However, you've got to deal with your parents and your girlfriend's parents and to put it bluntly you're up shit creek without a paddle! I can't help you there. I'm going to give you the phone to talk to your dad and he'll tell you what happens next. You're getting a break here, so I hope you'll reflect on it some. Other kids aren't so lucky.”
I called my dad back and he told me that Tracy's mom was going to pick me up and drop me off at the Naders. The following morning she would come and pick me up from there and take me to the Greyhound Bus Station. I was to get on the bus and go directly back to school. Mr. Underwood would pick me up in London and take me back to OBI. “One question though,” he said.
“Where did you get the money to get you to Louisville?” I didn't know what to say...If I told him about the forged cheque I'd just make the situation worse. “I saved up the money.” I said.
In hindsight it was stupid to lie because the cheque would be returned to him eventually, and he'd know anyway. It would've been better to just come clean about everything right there and then. I mean, at that point, how much worse could it get? Just another bad decision added on top of another bad decision, like a bad decision pizza!
Tracy's mom eventually showed up to get me and she signed the documents to have me released. She was furious. “You're going straight back to school tomorrow!” As I neared her car, I could see Tracy sitting in the passenger seat. I was told to get in the back and be quiet, so I did just that. As the car drove off, Tracy reached to the back to hold my hand and her mom slapped it away. “Don't touch that fucking criminal!” She yelled. I had never heard her cuss, and those words really stung!
We drove back to the Naders in absolute silence, and when we got there her mom told me she would be watching until she saw me enter the house. I rang the door bell and they let me in. Then she drove away. I explained the whole situation to the Naders, and they thought it was kind of comical. We ended up getting high, and about an hour later Tracy showed up. “You know you have to go back to school tomorrow?” She said. I told her my dad had explained everything to me. I was upset, but it was my own fault. No sense in sitting around and feeling sorry for myself.
The next morning Tracy and her mom showed up. Once again her mother told me to be quiet and not say anything, and we walked to the bus stop in silence. Once we were down town we walked a few blocks to the Greyhound Bus Station, and her mom told me that tickets were already waiting for me. I was relieved when she allowed me to say 'goodbye' to Tracy properly, and I remember Tracy giving me a glass necklace with a little mushroom in it, and her favourite stuffed animal – a mushroom she called 'Sherman'. Her mom allowed us to hug and kiss, and then I watched as they left. Travis still had my suitcases so I was going back with nothing but a back pack and a few sets of clothes. I felt pretty stupid.
On the bus ride to London I felt very sad, and stared out my window as the bus drove by the rolling Appalachian Hills. I began to cry but I wasn't really sure why. Yes, I was upset at everything that happened, but there was a part of me that felt like I was losing everything...My family, my girlfriend. Was I feeling sorry for myself or for the bad choices I made? I don't know. I told myself that I would use the summer school session to get back on track. I had some friends there and I had my music and my keyboard. I'd be okay, I thought.
The bus pulled into the bus drop at a Burger King in London, Kentucky. Mr. Budd Underwood was waiting for me, standing beside the school van. He had become the interim President of OBI after Dr. Moore (the most beloved OBI President in its history) had passed away from pneumonia the year before.
I got off the bus and he told me to get in the van. “Randy, you're biting the hand that feeds,” he told me, before slamming the door shut.
After a silent drive that seemed to take forever, I was back in Oneida. I got out of the van and walked to my dormitory, Carnahan Hall, one of two of the boys' high school dorms. For the past two years I'd kept the same room: 202. I pulled out my key that I kept on a long pocket chain and entered my room. In a way it felt comforting to get back to some sort of normalcy; I hoped in that moment that everything that happened over the past two weeks would be chalked up to poor and impulsive choices, and be forgotten before too long.
When I went inside my room I was surprised to see my friend, Jason, sitting in a chair playing Nintendo. He looked up and was just as surprised to see me standing there, and greeted me with a loud, "Randy!” He put the controller down and came up and hugged me. It felt a bit awkward, but it was good to be in the presence of a friend.
I asked him why he was back so early and he told me that he chose to participate in the summer work program. He knew I had been in Louisville but was surprised that I was back before summer school began, so I gave him a full recap of events. He only shook his head and I wondered if he thought I was a complete idiot and my life was getting out of control. I had lied to him and to Tracy the year before about having cancer – a very stupid lie and an impulsive attempt to save my failing relationship with my ex-girlfriend, Amy.
I got settled in and went to the cafeteria to get something to eat. When free time began I went down to the gym to see if anyone else I knew was here, and I didn't see anyone. I headed back to my dorm room to grab my portable keyboard – a huge Casio – and went back to the gym to play some songs. I didn't really care who was listening; I picked a corner, sat down, and began to plunk away at the keys...Practising scales and chord progressions was peaceful.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Another day or two passed and by that time I had reconnected with the drummer in my little rock band. My other friend and guitarist, Dan, was still away on summer break, so Joe and I would just jam out and practice together. We'd still not decided on a band name and kept saying we'd wait until Dan returned, but it didn't keep us from throwing stupid names out there and seeing how they felt and sounded.
The following day I was called on the intercom speaker in the hallway telling me I had a phone call. It was Tracy. I could tell she was angry about something, and after catching up for a few minutes I asked her what was wrong, and she said, “My dad is accusing you of stealing money before you came to Louisville. Your dad told him you forged a cheque.” I was deathly quiet as she talked. "But I told him you said it was your own money you'd saved up,” she finished.
“Tracy...I, uh, did forge the cheque.”
“You did what? You said it was your money!”
“I know,” I said quietly. “I lied. I'm sorry...I just-”
She blew up. “I fucking defended you! I called my dad a liar, Randy! I stuck up for you and told him he was wrong!”
As I was saying I was sorry, again, she hung up on me. I never knew why after several more lies I had been caught out in, she forgave me. It wasn't like I didn't feel bad – I felt horrible. I never felt like I lied just to lie...Some of the lies were an attempt to cover up my own shame and guilt, and some were due to my own insecurities. For many years I didn't feel like I knew who I was or where I fit in. I had no confidence in my own abilities and I felt there was a need to fit with what people expected of me or thought me to be. Other times, lies were part of my irrational impulses. The crazier things got for me the more I'd lie, and I really don't understand why.
I was sinking into a depression...My dad told me I could not come home on the mid-term break so I had to spend the days working – mostly mowing the campus lawns, and returning to my Hall Monitor duties at night. There was a few light-hearted moments though, and Joe and I finally decided what our band name would be. Whilst walking across the school campus an old teacher walked by; his name was Skeeter Burns, and his family went way back to the founding of the school. A storm was brewing overhead and as he passed by he looked up, stuck his thumb in his mouth then held it to the wind. “Boys, you might want to get inside fast! Looks like we're about to get a bad case of the liquid sunshine.”
He scurried down the side walk, and we looked at each other...“Liquid Sunshine!” We said at the same time. It was settled.
One of the teachers at the school, Mr. Nicks, took a liking to me after seeing me horse play with his five year old son. He'd sometimes invite me over for dinner with his family, or take me and a couple of other students into London to see some movies. During that break I remember seeing, Pocahontas, Apollo 13, Batman Forever, and sadly, at my own insistence, Power Rangers: The Movie. Some days I'd just walk around with my head phones on, listening to music; at times I'd be high from huffing or other stuff, and other times I was in a natural fog of depression. I'd listen to Mazzy Star or the Cure's Pornography album, and I felt trapped in a perpetual state of sadness. I hated feeling at odds with everything and no one was trying to help me...No one...Not one single soul tried to reach out and say, “If you need someone or something, let us know.” I think Mr. Nicks was kind of oblivious to everything and I never volunteered any information. I was in a free fall.
Summer school resumed and I went through the motions of class. I signed up to a lifeguard class which was actually a lot of fun, and being a naturally strong swimmer it was a good fit for me. When I received my CPR certification I was given my own CPR respirator and told that I had to carry it with me as long as I was certified. I felt a real sense of pride at that moment! I hadn't become a lifeguard yet but I was close, and I took the responsibility seriously. Maybe with all of this happening things would turn around for me! Maybe my parents would see I was serious!
One evening Jason and I went down to the new campus ministry center to hang out. It was an alternative to free time in the gym and you could watch movies or play video games. Outside there was some really nice benches and I noticed some people had already etched out their names in the stained wood, so I went ahead and etched something into the wood myself. I had this idea that years down the road with Tracy, we'd come back here and I'd show her these words. I didn't think anything of it when I signed my name to it.
A day or two later I was called into the office of one of the Deans, Mr. Harold. I thought we had a pretty good relationship and I remember one specific incident when an ex-girlfriend of mine had cheated on me. I was on my way to confront the dude in the dorm office when Mr. Harold ran everyone out and told me to sit on the couch. “Dude! Really? You're one of the best looking guys at the school. I can name five girls who want you right now, and you're going to get upset over a chick? Screw her!” He told me.
Mr Harold had also been my summer school soccer coach, and my boss when I was a Hall Monitor, so when he tore into me over defacing school property I was taken aback and confused. He went on and on relentlessly about how people had donated the money to build those benches, and all the work that went into them. I felt bad, but also defensive, and made a sort of smart-ass comment. “Jesus...just give me some sand paper and I'll go fix the problem!”
After that, he told me to leave his office. I knew I was in trouble and I figured I'd just be suspended for a day or two and have to work at the farm. I talked to Tracy that night and she assumed the same thing. Neither of us felt it was that big of a deal. During class next day I was called to go to the President, Mr. Underwood's, office. When I got there he told me to sit down; and then he told me that several teachers had voiced concern about me walking around in the evenings alone, with just my headphones for company. “Are you suicidal?” He asked me. I assured him I wasn't suicidal. Yes, I was a bit depressed, but nothing I wasn't able to deal with. There was a slight pause and then he dropped a bomb on me...He told me I was being expelled from school.
“For what?” I blurted out in disbelief! “I'm not a behaviour problem, and I've not done anything wrong except write on the bench...I'm willing to fix it or take a suspension!” He looked at me and started quoting some scripture which just made the situation more confusing, surreal, and ironic. I was going through my own religious confusion at the time, and this did not help me in any kind of way. It felt incredibly hypocritical to me, and the next thing he said turned me away from Christianity completely!
“Randy, this school isn't equipped to handle someone with your problems, or suicide. We just can't have that on our hands. We've informed your father and he wants to talk to you. Once you guys figure things out, we'll go from there and I'll take you to the Greyhound Bus drop. If you create any problems before then, I'll call the Police and have you removed from the campus immediately.”
He picked up the phone and I sat in a stunned silence. When my dad answered he handed the receiver to me. My mom was on the phone as well. “This is crazy!” I protested. “I'm not suicidal! What y'all are doing is wrong!” My dad began to tear into me saying I'd stolen from him, I'd lied, I left home and got arrested. “I'm sorry! I'm trying to make it all right!” I felt like crying.
“Well, son, here's the deal...You can go anywhere in the US. We'll get you an apartment, we'll help you to get on your feet. But you can't come home and you can't go to Louisville. You want to go to Seattle? You always talk about how much you love the place-”
“Are you serious, dad? This is crap! What did I do that was THAT bad?!?” I began to cry.
“This is already a settled issue, Randy. What did your mom and me tell you would happen if ever you were expelled from school?”
“This isn't fair! I'm not suicidal!”
“You need to figure out where you want to go, 'cause the school wants you gone tomorrow. Call us back this afternoon and we'll go from there.”
This was madness, and after my dad hung up the phone I just sat there in disbelief. Yes, I'd messed up, but how did everything spin so out of control? What kind of parents (and a Christian school) abandon a so-called suicidal teen? I couldn't (and still can't) wrap my head around it. After that, all I could think of was what Tracy would think.
As I was being expelled I didn't even bother returning to class. I went to the classroom that my friend Jason was in and interrupted it saying I needed to speak to him. The teacher dismissed him and I told him everything that was happening. He couldn't believe it himself. Jason was an extremely smart guy and I knew he could help me find a place in such a short amount of time, so we walked to the library and pulled out a map. He asked me where I wanted to go. “You really have to ask that question? As close to Tracy as possible!” Jason told me it would be wise to find a city that had a transit system, and our choices came down to New Albany, Indiana, or Lexington, Kentucky. I knew nothing about Indiana, but I'd been to Lexington a few times, so that's what I settled on.
Jason went back to class and I went to my room and began to pack up all of my things. I had a large blue trunk that I packed everything into and sat the bigger stuff like my stereo and keyboard to the side. I had some clothes at school but most of everything else was with Tracy, and I'd been mostly wearing my friends' stuff.
A couple of years earlier, on Thanksgiving, my friend Wayne and I decided to have our ears pierced. My dad hated it and I wasn't allowed to keep it in at home or at school, so the hole had closed up. I still kept the loop earring and decided that it was time to put it back in. I grabbed some ice from the office and went back to my dorm room, numbed my ear lobe, and re-pierced it.
After I put the earring in I decided to grab a 'last supper,' so to speak, in the Cafeteria. Most of my friends ate in the School's Grill, but a few had stopped by to say 'goodbye'. As I was loading up my tray and getting a cup of tea, Missy, the President's daughter (who had only graduated two years before) made a beeline towards me, swinging her arms dramatically and pointing at my ear.
"I don't understand sign language," I said.
"That! Take that out! Now!” She spat.
"Uh, no." I replied.
"You're going to take that out now!"
"Apparently you haven't heard the news that I've been expelled and the school's rules no longer apply to me." I wasn't trying to be standoffish, but I was offended by Missy's over-zealousness in her enforcement of 'the rules', especially as she hadn't been any kind of role model at the school when she was a student. She was always sneaking off with her boyfriend to make out and other things. Now her daddy was the President of OBI and she suddenly became an authoritarian - just another example of the hypocrisy that permeated the school.
"Oh, I know...believe me, I know. I also know that my dad told you that if you do anything now we can have you removed immediately, tonight."
I took a deep breath, let it out and put my tray down on a counter. "Fine." I said, as I removed the earring. She watched as I stuck it into my pocket and left to join my friends.
Later that evening I called my dad and told him I had decided on Lexington, and he said he'd find me a place to stay. He said I might be staying at a hotel for a few days until he could get things sorted out, and I was to call him back in a couple of hours for more information. Shortly after that Tracy called, which surprised me. I thought maybe someone had told her but she was clueless, and when I explained everything to her she broke down on the phone. She couldn't believe it either. “Where are you going?” she asked.
“My dad said anywhere but Texas and Louisville, so I picked Lexington. I just don't know where yet.”
“Well, just find out and if you stay at a hotel let me know and I'll have a friend drive me there. Call me when you know more.”
Word had spread pretty fast. When I got to the gym for one last free time, some of my other friends were there to say 'goodbye'. My friend, Majic, gave me a tape of Ned's Atomic Dust Bin, and my friend, Kim, gave me a copy of an erotica book by Anne Rice. Not sure why, but it was a nice gesture! Jason said I could keep his clothes and everyone pitched in some food and snacks – lots of cans of tuna, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and Ramen noodles. I felt like Bilbo Baggins heading out on a perilous journey. Only I had no ring to destroy...Just my own life.
Early the next morning Jason helped me to load my stuff into a van. I wasn't sure who would be driving me to London but I hoped it wouldn't be Mr. Underwood; I was afraid I'd give him a piece of my mind and I was still in shock after the events of the past few days. I just couldn't wrap my head around the suicide thing.
Mr. Harold showed up and I climbed into the back of the van with my things. He told me to call my dad at the bus stop in London and he'd give me directions on what steps I needed to take next. The 45 minute drive happened in complete silence as I watched the Kentucky hills shoot by in a blur. I'd never been on my own like this before, so I was entering into a situation that I knew I'd have to adapt to quickly. I was nervous, but like going to Oneida for the very first time, I was a bit excited too. I'd never been a thrill seeker and even in spite of my impulsiveness I was actually cautious in new situations. I liked to dip my toes in the water first, see how it felt, and if it felt safe, I'd dive in.
I remember when I was a little kid our day care center took us all to a public swimming pool in Arlington, Texas. I loved to swim and could be a bit of a show off, so one of the staff members encouraged me to jump off the high diving board. I looked at it from the shallow end of the pool and it looked as tall as a skyscraper. “Nuh-uh!” I told her. She said if anyone could do it, it would be me, so I climbed out of the water, pulled up my swim shorts, and headed to the board. I began to climb the ladder and as I was inching further to the top, I became scared...My little body trembling. I reached the top of the board and slowly stepped towards the ledge. I froze! Everyone below me looked like ants!
“Go ahead and jump! You've got this!” Yelled one of the lifeguards. I shook my head and was petrified! “Jump, kid! Jump!” He yelled again. Soon, everyone in the pool began to splash the water and yell at me. “Jump! Jump! Jump!”
It was now or never...I closed my eyes and pushed myself off the board...“AHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed, all the way into the water. I went down under then quickly swam to the top. “Woohoo!” I yelled. After that, you couldn't keep me off that high diving board!
The van pulled into a Burger King parking lot that also served as the Greyhound Bus stop for London, Kentucky. Mr. Harold helped me unload my stuff. “Good luck.” He said. “Pray...Jesus will help you, Randy.”
Yeah, but y'all won't, I thought. He told me he'd watch my stuff as I went into the Burger King and picked up my bus ticket. After I returned he climbed back into the van and I watched him drive off before walking to a nearby pay phone to collect call my dad. “I'm at the bus stop, dad,” I told him.
“Good. When you get into Lexington, have a taxi cab take you to the Red Roof Inn on New Circle Road. I'm still working on finding a place for you to stay. Call us when you get there and hopefully I'll have some more information for you.” He hung up and I waited on the bus.
The Greyhound finally arrived and the driver helped me load my stuff into the belly of the bus. I remember us having to really shove my trunk into the compartment! I then gave him the ticket and climbed aboard. It was completely empty so I found a seat and stared out the window until we reached Lexington. The bus station was also on New Circle Road, so it wouldn't be a long drive to get to the hotel. I called a taxi and the driver helped me get everything into the trunk of the cab; it took us about ten minutes to get to the Red Roof Inn.
When I got there I ran into the lobby, gave them my name, and they gave me a room key. Then the taxi driver helped me get everything to my room. The first thing I did was call my girlfriend; she had told me she'd planned to take the day off so I was relieved when she answered the phone. I told her where I was and she said she'd be there some time in the afternoon. After we hung up I decided to watch MTV, and I remember it being the first time I ever heard Alanis Morrissette's You Oughtta Know, and I liked it.
I felt hungry and decided to walk to a nearby fast food place to grab a burger and tater tots. I took the food back to the hotel room, and vegged out on more MTV. I remembered to call my dad and he told me he thought he'd found a place. He was still working out the details with the manager because I was only 17 and couldn't legally sign a lease for an apartment. He told me he'd have to fax a signature to them as well as pay for the deposit, so he told me to call back first thing in the morning and he'd know everything for sure.
It was weird that everything between me and my dad was so business-like now...Having spent a lot of time with my dad on business errands and in his office, I knew both dad and businessman, and I was clearly dealing with the business version.
A few more hours passed and finally there was a knock on the hotel door. I looked out the curtains and saw Tracy with two of her male friends. I opened the door and she lunged at me and held me tightly. We kissed, and she told her friends she wanted a few minutes alone with me. They were cool with it and walked away. “I can't do this all of the time, Randy.” She said. I told her that was fine and I'd probably come to Louisville on the weekends – a bus ticket was only $10 so it wouldn't be difficult. We talked and kissed for a bit and she told me she was hungry, so we caught up with her friends and went to get something to eat at a nearby Denny's. It was late in the evening when we finished eating, so Tracy and her friends dropped me off at the hotel before they headed back to Louisville.
The next morning I called my dad and he told me he'd found a place – a little studio apartment. He'd paid for the first six months rent and it was up to me to pay for it after that. He told me that he and mom would be sending me some stuff via UPS – things that would help me to get settled in, and he also wired me some more money until bi-weekly 'allowances' would come. “The only reason we're sending you money is because we feel obligated to take care of you until you turn 18. I still suggest you get a job,” he said. I remember thinking, “Geeze, I didn't know I was an obligation...I thought I was your son...”
He gave me all of the information I needed, and it was some place called Continental Square Apartments – I had no idea where it was. I called a taxi cab and when it arrived the driver asked where I was headed. “Well, hell,” he said, “that's right across the street!” We loaded up the cab and literally crossed New Circle Road to a small apartment complex. We got everything out of the trunk of the cab, in front of the manager's office, and I paid the fare before heading inside.
Behind the desk was a pretty blonde girl in her 20s. ”Randy?” She asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Got yourself in quite a mess, huh?”
“That's debatable. I just have to deal with it, I guess.”
She told me she needed me to sign some papers, so I signed them and then she helped me to take everything to my little apartment. We carried the trunk upstairs and she pulled out the keys to my new place – it was small! There was a fridge, a stove, a table and two chairs, and a pull out bed/sofa. On the side of the closet was the bathroom. She wished me 'good luck' and told me to call her if I needed anything, and I thanked her before she left.
I looked around before sitting on the sofa, and I felt really lost in that moment – shocked at how quickly everything had spiralled out of control. It hurt so much that everyone had abandoned me so quickly. “Screw it!” I thought. “I'm jumping off the high dive! It's a new start!”
Something funny happened as I began to unpack my things and get settled in. There was a knock at the door, I answered it, and standing in front of me were two Mormon dudes from the Church of the Latter Day Saints. They were fairly young and didn't look threatening in any way, so when they asked if they could come in I allowed them to enter.
They told me they noticed someone had moved in...I remember thinking, “What do these people do? Sit in a van and stake out apartment complexes waiting for new and unsuspecting victims? Instead of Buffalo Bob, you've got to deal with rabid Mormons!”
After telling them where I was from, I gave them a run down of my story. They told me 'their' Jesus would never do that to me and they asked me if they could pray for me. I thought, “What the hell, why not? Why not sprinkle a little more craziness into the events of recent days?” They prayed, and asked if they could come back in a few days. “Sure,” I said. Then they left.
My dad had wired me a sizeable amount of money to get me on my feet but I didn't know how long it would take until they sent supplies. I decided to walk to a nearby shopping center that had a Woolworths and a grocery. I bought some utensils, glasses, plates, and some food. Then I took it all back to the apartment, sorted it out and put it away.
I wanted to explore the area a bit and I knew I wasn't too far from down town, so I headed out. I was happy to discover that I was near a movie theater and down town was the Old Kentucky Theater, which was an old 1920s era building that had been renovated for concerts and movies. Across the street from the apartment complex was a SUBWAY Sandwich shop, and I applied for work after seeing a 'Hiring' sign in the window. I talked to the manager briefly, and she told me to come back in a few days for an interview. I said I would. Meanwhile, I spent the next couple of days getting settled in and I called Tracy on a payphone to tell her that I'd be in Louisville as soon as I could. Then I called a friend of ours and he said he'd actually drive me there, but I'd have to find my own way back. I was cool with that.
On the first Saturday morning at my new place, there was a knock at the door. “Shit,” I thought. “The Mormons!" I stayed absolutely still so they didn't hear me or think I was at home. The knock came again, and I looked out my window to see who was there when I noticed someone who looked familiar. It kind of looked like Mr. Nicks from school, and he was walking away! I ran out the door and down the second floor stairs to the parking lot. “Mr. Nicks! Mr. Nicks!” I yelled as he was getting into his car.
He stopped and smiled. “Randy! We thought we might've had the wrong place.” His family was waiting in the car and his son jumped out and ran to hug me. I was completely shocked and surprised they had come to see me.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked.
“Your friend, Jason, gave us the address. We're leaving OBI and we're headed to Ohio. I thought we'd stop by and see how you were doing and bring you a box of goodies.” His family and my friends had all put together a box of foods and little gifts. I was overwhelmed! Mr. Nicks was just as shocked, and even disgusted, at how the school had treated me. His view of Jesus didn't fit the extreme fundamental view of the school's, and whilst he loved teaching he realized his family needed to be somewhere else.
I invited him in but he said they were just passing through. He wished me luck, and thanked me for being a friend to his young son. I gave the little kid a hug and told him to be good. Then they all got in the car and drove off.
That Saturday afternoon UPS arrived with several boxes of things for me. I signed for them, and carried everything inside. My parents had sent me pots, pans, and dishes. There was also towels, and some of the clothes from my room as well as my CD player, and a small black and white T.V.. I unloaded everything and hooked up the T.V.. The only thing left to do was find a job, get a phone, and hopefully a good color T.V.. I was beginning to feel settled in.
I wanted to spend Sunday in Louisville, so I called a guy named James, who was from Kenya, and had graduated from OBI the year before. He was also the guy who stole my ex, Amy, from me. After the incident where I chased him in the dorm office we made our peace and actually became pretty good friends. So, I called him up and asked if I could take him up on his offer to drive me to Louisville. “Ahh, Brotha, it is bad timing.” He said.
“Come on, man...You told me you'd drive this weekend!”
“Yes, but my sister is in town and I'm dealing with that. Maybe next week?”
“I told Tracy I'd be there this weekend. I'm already a day late and I've got an interview for a job next week!”
“Can't do it, Brotha, sorry.”
I hung up the phone. “Shit!” I said to no one, as I wondered if it were feasible to just walk? I went into a store and asked how many miles it was to Louisville, and the store-owner told me that it was about 70 miles or so if I just travelled down the I-64. He clearly thought I would be driving.
I went back to my apartment, grabbed my back pack, and threw a change of clothes and some food into it. Then I switched off the lights and headed out. I was going to walk to Louisville! Not the brightest idea in the world, but at that time I just wanted to be with my girlfriend. Besides, maybe it would be interpreted as some huge romantic gesture, like John Cusack holding the boom box outside of a girlfriend's window in Say Anything. Another act of impulsiveness, or an act of love? Probably a little of both!
I headed down the I-64 and on my journey. After about ten miles in I began to rethink my decision, but I pressed on. Grand romantic gesture I would say...Grand romantic gesture! After about 20 miles I said, “Screw this!” I stopped, and turned back around. Then I felt hungry and reached for a snack from my back pack and realized I had nothing to drink! It was mid-July, and the night was sweltering.
As I began to walk the other way I thought, “If you go back, that's another 20 plus miles...40 freakin' miles!! I might as well keep going!” Back the other way I went again, and an 18-wheeler passed me by...Thinking maybe a truck would give me a lift, I stuck out my thumb. I'd never hitch hiked before but why not add another bad mistake to my list?
Truck after truck passed me by but not one of them stopped. Feeling tired, I sat down on the side of the road and after a couple of minutes a police car approached. I assumed it would just drive by as I was doing nothing wrong but it stopped, and its lights came on. Two officers stepped out and asked me to put my hands where they could see them. I kept them in view “What are you doing out here?” One of them asked.
“Heading to Louisville to see my girlfriend.” I replied.
“You got some I.D.?” This time I did have some I.D.! I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet...When they saw the Texas I.D. I had to explain that I was living in Lexington, and I gave them my address there. They seemed satisfied with my answers.
“Hitch hiking?” One of them asked.
“Well...,” I hesitated but went with the truth, “Yeah, but not initially, sir. I just got tired of walking.”
“Did you know it was illegal to hitch hike or walk down the side of an interstate?”
“No, sir.” I answered.
“It is. But here's what I'll do to help you out...We're going to let you catch a ride to the city limits of Frankfurt. You jump on one of the farm roads from there and they'll get you into Louisville. But you can't be walking down the interstate.”
“Yes, sir.” I said. I got into the back of the police car and true to their word they drove me to the city limits of Frankfurt, pulled into a gas station, and let me out.
“Must be a very special girl, kid.” One of them said as they drove off.
I was thirsty and the gas station was open, so I went in and asked the clerk if the water was free. He said it was so I filled a cup with ice and water and gulped it down. I asked the guy what farm road would take me into Louisville, and off I went again. At this point I was exhausted and my feet hurt. I'd never been to Frankfurt – the state capital of Kentucky – and so I was completely lost. I was thinking of a safe place to sleep for the night, and passed a school yard. There were several benches and I thought that was as good a place as any, so I laid down. A couple of hours sleep would do me well. I quickly passed out and woke back up to the sound of a garbage truck beeping in the distance. The sun was rising, birds were chirping, and I felt completely refreshed! Off I went again...
I walked down some road at the side of the mountain, with the city and capital building visible in the valley below. I passed a sign for tourists which said that if I stood at this spot as the sun was rising, the golden dome of the capital building would light up and have a very majestic appearance. And so, watching as the sun rose, the dome did indeed begin to glow and reflect gold everywhere. It was breathtaking and I felt very peaceful. I took it as a sign that I was doing the right thing by taking on this particular adventure, and a plan began to develop in my head...I thought that maybe if I told people in town that my friends and I drove out here to watch the sun rise on the dome of the capital building, but as a joke they left me behind, I'd find sympathy and get a lift back to Louisville. Bolstered by my brilliant plan, I began to tell the story of the practical joke.
I walked through Frankfurt and on through a small town named Shelbyville; I kept my story going, but with no takers for the next 30 miles! The responses were either, “Some friends you've got.” Or, “I ain't gonna call nobody a friend who leaves me behind. I'd bust their chops a good 'un.” On the very outskirts of Louisville I came across a small church. I could hear someone playing the piano and headed inside...It turned out to be a man who appeared to be in his 30s, and he stopped playing as soon as I entered. “Can I help you, son?” I gave him the whole story! “Wow! And you just kept walking? That's pretty brave.” He said.
I felt bad for lying to this guy, but I felt it was the only way I could get a ride on into Louisville. He asked if I wanted something to drink and grabbed me a Coke out of a small fridge. I thanked him, and added that I played piano as well. “Really? Let me hear what you've got!” I sat down and played a hymn, and when he asked where I learned to play it, I told him I had been a student at OBI. “Wow! I preached there a couple of times! Tell you what, let me lock the place up and I'll drive you into town.”
He grabbed the keys to his van and told me to hop in. We made small talk during the drive, and I asked if he would drop me off along Bardstown Road. When he pulled in I thanked him, climbed out of the van, and headed to a little Chinese restaurant called 'Nan King'. On the side of the building there was a private restroom where I could rinse off, freshen up, and change my clothes. When I was all done I went to the DART bus stop and caught the number 17 to down town. I was getting excited about seeing my girlfriend...I couldn't wait to see the look on her face!
When I arrived down town, I headed to the PNC bank and the Freshens Yogurt place she worked at. I could see her leaning on the counter looking bored. She looked up as I approached, and was clearly shocked as she stepped out from behind the counter and ran up to me to hug me. “I thought James couldn't drive you!?” She shrieked!
“He couldn't, so I walked.
“I walked...70 miles. I'm tired...I have blisters on my feet...I really need to sit down.”
I waited in the back of the frozen yogurt place until her shift was over, and then I helped her clean the dishes and things that needed washing. Then we left and headed back to Bardstown Road. That night, I stayed with one of her friends and spent a couple of days in Louisville. I told her I needed to get back for a job interview and she offered to pay for the bus ticket back.
When I got back to Lexington I was walking down New Circle Road and back to my apartment when I heard Hootie & The Blowfish's, Let Her Cry, blasting out from a guy's boom box. The sky was darkening and I was lost in the music...To this day whenever I hear that song, my memory takes me back to that exact moment in time.
Living on your own for the first time is a strange thing. I suddenly realized that I had no parental supervision, and no teachers at school watching over every little thing I did. OBI did a fairly good job of giving a kid the illusion of autonomy and independence, but one screw up and a student would either tell on you, or a teacher would pop up out of nowhere like a Bengal Tiger in the jungles of India!
My new sense of freedom came with adult responsibilities and I was neither responsible nor an adult, so finding a real job was uncharted territory for me. I went to my interview at SUBWAY which was right across the street from my apartment; the manager was a mid-30s heavy set woman who asked me a series of questions. “You look like you're still in high school, so I'm assuming you'll work part time?” She asked.
“Well...actually I was hoping I could work full time. I was kicked out of school.” I replied.
This caused her to raise her eyebrow. “Kicked out? I don't need someone working for me who is going to be a problem.”
“No ma'am,” I said. I began to try and explain about Oneida and the events that happened there, but I obviously left out the story of stealing from my father and leaving home.
“You plan on finishing school?” She asked.
“I'd like to. I busted my butt to graduate in '96, so yeah...”
“GED or graduate?”
“I'd prefer to graduate. I don't want a GED.”
“Nothing wrong with that. It's what I have,” she said, with a matter-of-fact tone in her voice.
“All the same, I really want to graduate.”
“You live across the street?”
“You gonna show up every day and on time?”
“Afternoons good for you?”
“Okay then, I'll start you tomorrow. Show up at noon and we'll go from there. You need to get a phone or a beeper in case I need to get hold of you. Sometimes I might need you to show up early, or if someone is out sick.” She shook my hand and I walked out of the restaurant with a spring in my step. I couldn't wait to tell my parents - maybe they'd see that I was really making the effort to be responsible and turn my life around.
Knowing I had a cheque on the way from my dad, and I would be earning a regular income from SUBWAY, I called the phone company and tried to set up an account. I'd never done anything like that before and I had to answer a lot of questions. Then I gave the operator my social security number and because I was just 17, I needed to give her a reference as well – I gave her my dad's information. “Okay. You'll need to buy a phone or you can rent one from one of our stores. We'll check with your referee, and you can expect the phone to be on in a couple of days.”
I started working the very next day. I was mostly training at first, and it was weird seeing behind the curtains of a fast food place. I'd always assumed the bread used for the submarine sandwiches was actually 'fresh' as advertised, but they obviously used that term loosely! Instead, the bread was a frozen stick of dough. I would take them out of a box from the walk in freezer and lay a dozen or so on a large pan which I then put in the oven. After only a few minutes they'd rise, and voila! Fresh bread.
I had varied duties in my job at SUBWAY. I'd slice and dice vegetables, lay meats out on wax paper and put them into pans in the order of how each submarine sandwich would be made, and then I'd take all of them to the front of the store. It was very easy work, and everyone I worked with was really cool and they were all kind to me. I seemed to have impressed the manager with my work ethic. “You seem to always want to impress,” she said. “Pretty good for a 17 year old.”
I told her that my dad had instilled in me the importance of working – no matter what the job is. Plus, my own insecurities forced me to always seek approval in everything I did, so I tried to do everything in the best way I could. “How about I get you out in the front? You'll need to take that earring out, but other than that I think you'd be a good fit. I'll need you to come in a bit earlier though, for the lunch crowd.”
Soon, I was learning how to work the cash register and take orders. The only rule that seemed a bit maddening at times, and caused me to be chastised by the manager, was the 'washing your hands after each sandwich you make' rule. It didn't matter if it was part of the same order, we were directed to wash our hands after each and every sandwich. I understood the need for the rule, but when a customer comes in during the lunch rush and orders a dozen subs for their office, following that rule was often frustrating.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It took over a week to have my phone turned on. I called my parents from a pay phone on a Friday evening, and told my dad how things were going. He asked if I had received the first cheque from them yet, and I told him I hadn't. “It should be there by Saturday," he said, "You'll need to go to a bank and open an account once you get paid by your job. And remember, start saving 10% of everything you earn, and pay your bills on time. I don't want AT&T calling me up and asking me to cover your bill.” I hung up the phone and went back to my apartment.
I had the weekend off and I was going to spend it exploring down town for a bit, maybe catching a movie at the old Kentucky Theater. I wanted to call my girlfriend first though, so I grabbed a handful of quarters and went to a payphone. "Is Tracy there?” I asked, when her mom answered.
“No.” She said, tersely.
“Do you know when she'll be back?” I asked.
“She won't? What does that mean?”
“She left last night and is staying with some friends. She's not welcome home until she apologizes.”
Click...The phone went dead. What? What the hell?...I began to panic. I needed to find out what was going on as quickly as possible. I ran to a nearby gas station to change the remaining money I had into quarters, and began calling up all of her friends. I got the same reply from everyone...Nobody knew where she was, and she hadn't come to them.
I was really freaking out and had no money left to make any more calls. There was only one more person on her list I could check with – a guy named Daniel. I took a chance on calling collect in the hope he'd answer and accept. “Randy...Tracy's boyfriend!” I blurted out when I heard the pre-recorded voice. The phone rang...And rang and rang...But just as I was about to give up, someone answered! “What's up, dude?”
“Yeppers. Let me guess, calling about Tracy?”
“Yeah. I'm freaking out a bit, dude. Please tell me you know where she is.”
“Nobody knows, man. She did call me last night and told me her parents told her to leave, but she didn't say where she was going.”
“Fuck!” I said. “Okay, look, if she pops up tell her I've been trying to get hold of her...Tell her to stay at your place and if it's not a problem I'll collect call again around 5pm and see if she's there, or if you have any more information.”
“Thanks, man.” I said, and hung up. I was still in a bit of a panic and thought maybe my parents would know something I didn't. I don't know how my dad did it but he seemed to have a strange omnipresence over everything concerning my life, and an uncanny ability to find out information when he needed it. He once told me, whilst I was watching him at work, that he could do anything with a phone – and I believed him.
I called my parents and dad accepted the call. “Tracy's gone and no one knows where she is!” I said, panic rising in my voice.
“Hold on. Stop. Say it again, Randy,” my dad said. I took a breath and tried to explain the situation. My mom came on another phone and joined the conversation, and I repeated everything. They both said they didn't know anything, but my mom suggested Tracy might be on her way to be with me. I hadn't even considered that, but I doubted it would be the case because her friends would've known. Someone had to drive her to Lexington!
“I told one of her friends that I would check back in at 5pm and hopefully he will have more information.” I told my parents.
“Okay,” my mom said, “here's what you need to do...When you leave your place again put a note on your door that tells her to stay there and that you'll be back. That way she knows what's going on.” Ever the voice of reason, my mom!
My dad asked if the money had arrived and I admitted I hadn't even checked my mail box yet, but would let him know. We hung up and I headed back to my apartment. I stopped off at the mail box and used the key to open it up. Sure enough there was an envelope from my dad...I opened it up and finally had the cheque! I locked the box back up again and went inside.
I wrote the note like my mom suggested, and waited around until almost 5. I really believed if Tracy wasn't here by now she wasn't coming, but still I taped the note to the outside of the door. I had given Tracy an extra key to my place when I was in Louisville, so she could come whenever she wanted...But again, I wasn't too hopeful about that happening at this moment.
I went back out to the payphone and made the collect call to her friend. He accepted and told me the same thing again – no one knew anything about her whereabouts and they were all getting worried as well. My heart was pounding and I was a nervous wreck! I had my dad's cheque with me and knew that the gas station would cash it for a small fee, so I decided to do that before heading back to my place.
When I got back to my apartment the note was still on the door, but I heard some noise coming from inside...It sounded like cabinets opening and closing. My heart dropped to my stomach and I felt a surge of adrenaline! Had someone broken into my place? I don't know why I didn't jump to the conclusion that it could possibly be my girlfriend who was inside my apartment, but in that moment I really thought it could be an intruder!
I put my key in the door and slowly turned it, ready to strike the first person I saw. I stepped in, and standing at a cabinet pulling out a box of cereal, was Tracy! She froze in place as I ran towards her and pulled her close to me. “Don't ever fucking do that again!” I just held her tightly. Her head dropped onto my shoulder and she began to cry...then I began to cry, and we both stood there holding on to one another for a few minutes.
She explained everything that happened. She'd gotten into a fight with her mom and dad (I can't actually remember what it was about) but they told her to leave and that she wasn't welcome home for the time being. She spent the Friday night with a friend and decided she'd come to Lexington on Saturday. She would've been here earlier but missed the first Greyhound bus and had to catch the afternoon one, and she'd spent all of her money on the bus and taxi. “How am I going to get back home?” She cried. She clearly hadn't thought things all the way through. I told her I had just gotten money from my parents, so it was all good.
After we'd talked we were both hungry, so we went to a nearby Wendy's to get something to eat. She didn't have to be back home until Sunday night, so we spent that weekend together. This time she asked me to lie to my parents and tell them she was staying with a friend in Louisville, but that I had found her. I agreed.
“I thought you were getting a phone?” She asked.
“Still waiting for it to be turned on.”
“Well, I need to calm my friends down...Can I get some quarters from you?” I guess she calmed everyone down and after she was done with her calls, we enjoyed the weekend together and talked about doing this more regularly. We both figured that as long as she came on Friday evening, we could have her back in Louisville by Sunday evening, and it would be all good.
She returned home on Sunday afternoon. After putting her on the bus I walked back home from the bus station and then I watched some T.V. on my black and white set before going to bed.
Monday morning my phone was working! It was a wonderful feeling to pick up the receiver and hear a dial tone. I made my first call to my dad because I knew he'd be home and I really wanted to hear my little brothers' voices. Kevin, as usual, cracked fart jokes; and Jimmy told me what he was doing at day care. It was always a good feeling to hear their voices.
I got ready for work, cleaned my place up, and headed out. I had a couple of friends who lived in Lexington and I had yet to contact them – one was a close friend, Emma, who had just graduated from OBI the year before, and the other was one of my old teachers from OBI, Mrs. K. We often referred to Mrs. K as 'Sergeant Slaughter' because during middle school - 8th grade specifically - our classroom was inside the Old Gym and we spent the entire day in that one class room. The teachers would change with each subject, but we were trapped in there all day, so it caused a bit of restlessness in us. More often than not the restlessness would turn into shenanigans, and Mrs. K, whilst being a great teacher and very entertaining, was ruthless when it came to misbehaviour! She used the gym to her full advantage and would make us run laps around the basketball court, or run the steps to the bleachers. “Apparently you guys have too much energy! I'll take care of that for you!” She'd scream.
During my Freshman year Mrs. K left OBI to get married and move to Lexington. So, after work that Monday I looked in the yellow pages to see if I could find her. There was only one listing with her last name, and I gave it a try. I let the phone ring a few times and then it clicked over to an answering machine, but it was clearly her voice. “Hey, Mrs. K. It's me, Randy Halprin, one of your students...I'd like to get in touch with you if possible, as I live in Lexington now.”
I left my phone number and then attempted to look Emma up. There were several listings of her last name and I tried all of them when finally, I heard a familiar voice. “Emma?” I asked.
“Yeah...” She answered.
“Ahhh! Holy shit! What's up?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Well, Kim told me you were kicked out of school, but I don't know where you went.”
“Right here. I'm in Lexington!”
“What??!? Why didn't you call me sooner?”
“I was just getting settled and finding a job, and Tracy just left after spending the weekend. It's been crazy! I don't even know Lexington that well apart from New Circle Road, and the Rupp Arena. Hell, I don't even know the bus line yet. Please tell me you have a car!”
She told me she did, but it wasn't something she took out often because it was in really bad shape, but if I told her where I was she'd come out and meet me. I gave her my address and that night she drove to my place. We caught up and made plans to hang out. She'd been taking the summer off, but was going to look for a job in the fall. Before she left we hugged and said how good it was to see each other again.
A couple of days later Mrs. K returned my call. She wanted to meet me, but her husband kept the car all day long and didn't return until evening time. “Do you know where Versaille Road is?” She asked.
“Of course,” I said.
“Meet me at Rupp, and I'll walk you back to our place. We'll have dinner.” She said.
As soon as work ended I freshened up, changed my clothes, and headed down town to Rupp Arena. It wasn't a long walk from New Circle Road, maybe a mile and a half, two miles tops. When I reached Rupp Arena I waited for her and suddenly she appeared wearing shorts, t-shirt and a hip pack. “C'mon! I've got dinner in the oven and we gotta get back!” She barked, ever the drill sergeant!
We crossed a bridge and walked down Versailles, a stretch of road that was mostly apartment buildings. There was a small shopping center with a small grocery store, and some kind of medical clinic. Trees lined the street and in between the apartment buildings – that was something I always loved about Kentucky! Even in the bigger cities, trees were given priority and they were everywhere.
We soon reached her apartment and went inside...The smell of dinner cooking in the oven was wonderful! Her husband had actually come home early to meet me but had to run out and buy a few things, taking their baby daughter with him. She told me he'd be back soon, and without missing a beat in the conversation she told me to wash my hands and help her to make a salad.
As we prepared the food, we caught up on things and I was telling her bits and pieces – not everything – of what had happened. Fear of judgement held me back a little and I was caught off guard when she said she never felt Oneida was standing on biblical truth. I really didn't feel like getting into a theological conversation at that time, so I let it go.
Soon after that conversation Mr. K came home with a bag of items and their baby daughter, Bethany. I helped him by taking the baby from his arms, and I began making silly faces at the infant. As if on cue, she began to giggle and make little noises.
Before eating, Mr. K wanted to say Grace, so I respectfully bowed my head as he gave the blessing over the meal. “My wife tells me you're Jewish.” He said, as we started the meal.
“Yeah...” I said, feeling the hair on the back of my neck begin to rise. I really didn't want to get into this conversation...
“God's chosen people!” He exclaimed. “Though the old covenant has been washed away by Jesus' sacrifice...Cleansed by the blood.” I started to feel uncomfortable and hadn't realized that Mrs. K had married a fundamental Christian. Fortunately, he didn't take it any further than that and we enjoyed a very nice meal. When we finished eating I played with their daughter a little, and then I had to head back home.
“Do you know your way back?” Mrs. K asked.
“Yeah, I think so...” I replied.
“You're going to walk?” Asked Mr. K.
“I've got an old bicycle you can use...You might need to get the tire fixed, but it'll get you home. You want it, it's yours!” He told me. I was moved by the gesture and his kindness and felt guilty about pre-judging his piousness. I accepted his offer of the bicycle, noting the irony that my whole mess started with a bicycle, but maybe things were turning around for me. With friends in Lexington and getting back on my feet, things wouldn't be so bad after all. I thanked them and headed out the door. The bicycle tire was a bit flat but it held the air until I reached my apartment, carried it inside and upstairs.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After my first pay cheque from SUBWAY I opened up a bank account. I wanted to get a better television and some other things, so I headed out to a mall that had a Montgomery Wards. Their prices were relatively cheap, plus they had everything - clothing, home appliances, and more. There was a sign offering a store credit card and after reading the fine print I thought, “Hey, I qualify for that,” so I applied. I was told my card would arrive in about a week – I seemed to be getting this adult thing all figured out!
I looked around the store and saw a V.C.R./T.V. combo that looked great, but it was out of my price range. I went back to looking at some T.V.s but because I loved my movies, the combo thing kept calling my name...I just didn't have enough money to buy it. I decided that once I got my card I could buy it, and in the meantime, I went to the video section in the store and stocked up on movies I knew I would enjoy once I got my V.C.R./T.V..
One weekend Tracy had planned to come and see me; she could come on Friday evening and stay until Monday afternoon and I was really excited. I would have to stay and close up the SUBWAY at 10pm on the Friday night, so we made plans for her to come into the shop and wait for me to finish. I gave her explicit instructions to cut through the apartment bushes to get to the SUBWAY, and not to walk around the apartment complex. I worried about her because it wasn't exactly the safest place in the world at night time.
Friday came and I was excited about the weekend. I was getting paid and my allowance from my parents was due on Saturday as well. I had some ideas about what to do over the weekend, one of which was checking out the Fayette Mall – a new and very nice mall in Lexington. Tracy and I were both Disney fans and they had just built a Disney store, so I wanted to take her to see it.
I was a bit surprised when Tracy turned up earlier than planned, and I almost didn't recognise her when she walked through the entrance of the SUBWAY. I was wiping the counter down when I heard the chime of the door. I looked up and saw a red head, but she was wearing clothing A-typical to what Tracy wore: a very tight shirt, a plaid mini skirt, and very white stockings pulled up her legs. “Damn!” I heard my co-worker say as she entered the store. I remember thinking, “Who would come to a SUBWAY dressed as a school girl?” And I went back to wiping the counter down. The girl walked up to the counter and asked if I was there. I looked up again and realized it was her! I couldn't believe it! I hadn't had my break yet so I told my co-worker I was going to take it right then, and asked him not to trip if I was a few minutes late returning. “Don't worry dude, I'll punch you back in,” he told me.
I went to the back of the shop, grabbed my work ticket, and punched it in the timer before going on my break. We walked back to my place, cutting through the bushes to my apartment. “These are the bushes you told me about?" She asked. "I couldn't find them!”
“Please tell me you didn't walk the way I told you not to go!”
“In THAT?” I said, pointing to her clothes.
“I just wanted to make you smile.”
We walked upstairs and went inside my apartment. I kissed her and was excited about the evening, but had to get back to work. I kissed her again and she asked me if she could use the phone. “Sure. Don't forget to call the shop for the food order.”
I bolted out the door and ran back to work. I was only a few minutes late and we had a couple of hours work left before closing the shop. It was a slow night, so my co-worker began to put things up and prepare for closing. Then the phone rang. “Subway...Randy speaking.”
“Hey honey.” I heard Tracy say. “Just calling for the food order.” We talked a couple of minutes and I wrote things down, to make it look like I was taking an order. My co-worker had clued me up on how to get a bunch of free food. As employees we were always entitled to a free meal, but anything extra had to be written off, and that included some extra paperwork. He told me the trick was to get a friend to call in and make an order they would pick up. If that order wasn't picked up, it would have to be thrown away and written off. You could get away with a bigger order of food every couple of weeks. It wasn't anything to be abused, but just whenever you wanted a little something extra.
I had not done it before, but I made the food and drinks and put them in a 'to go' bag. It sat on the counter for the remainder of the time the store was open, then at 10pm I wrote it off as directed. We mopped and cleaned, and dropped the cash takings into a safe built into the ground. Then I headed back to my place.
The next morning, Tracy asked me what I had planned. “I say we get a cab and go to the Fayette Mall. There's something there I want to show you.” We showered and she got dressed in the same outfit she arrived in the day before, and I put on jeans and a tan shirt, and put my silver loop earring in.
“That looks really good on you.” She said. I told her I was thinking of getting my nose pierced, and she liked the idea of that.
“We'll see.” I said.
I went out to the mail box to see if my dad's money had arrived and like clockwork it was there. I could spend a little extra on the day! Tracy called the cab for us, and it soon arrived. I'd never been to the Fayette Mall before, and whilst not as big as the one I was used to growing up in Arlington, Texas, it was bigger than I expected. We went into the mall and mostly window shopped, and when I noticed a piano store I made a beeline for it! Tracy could play piano as well, and both of us had won the 'most outstanding pianist' award the same year – my Freshman year, and her Sophomore year. Music was my passion, but acting and writing were hers.
We tinkered around from keyboard to keyboard when I noticed the holy grail of keyboards – a Korg! It called out to me! I'd been wanting to show off a bit by playing Aha's Take On Me, something I had recently taught myself to play. I switched the keyboard on and it sounded like heaven! It was loaded with all the bells and whistles of technology at the time. “Not too bad,” the store clerk said, before showing me what the keyboard could really do.
“How much is it?” I asked.
“$1500,” he said, without blinking an eye.
“Well, it was a nice dream...” I said, and we walked out.
We finally found the Disney store and Tracy ran towards it in a mad dash. It was a nice store, but not nearly as big as the one in Arlington. We spent about an hour there and bought some things before going to a Mexican restaurant, 'Chichi's', for dinner, and on to see a movie called 9 ½ Months, starring Hugh Grant. After that we caught a cab back home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The following weekend I spent in Louisville. On those particular weekends I'd sleep between a pub and a shop – it was warm at night at the time, and relatively safe. Tracy's parents had let her come back home, so in the mornings I would shower at her place once her parents left for work, and then we'd head down town to meet her friends if she didn't have to go to work. I had a few days off work at this time, so I planned to stay in Louisville for a bit longer. On one of these days I had this idea of doing another grand romantic gesture...I wanted to put little 'I love you' post it notes all around her bedroom – I was cheesy like that and couldn't be helped!
After riding with her to work, I took the DART city bus back to Bardstown Road and walked to her street. Sometimes her back patio door was unlocked and I could just walk right in, so I went through the back gate into her back yard where I was greeted by her little dogs, Sara and Spice. They recognised me and began to jump and paw at me excitedly, so I scratched their head and ears, and then went to the back door. It was locked. “So much for that!” I thought. But wait! I remembered that sometimes the dining room window wasn't closed...The only problem was the window and its ledge were about five feet above ground. I'd have to grab a lawn chair to help me get up to the window. I didn't think of the implications of this...I just didn't think, “Hey, dumb ass, a neighbor might see you going through a window and think someone was breaking into the house." No, I didn't think of any of these things...I was in an impulsive moment, with good intentions, and being the uber-romantic!
I grabbed a chair from the back patio and took it to the window. I checked the window to see if it would open and it did. Then I raised it as much as I could and climbed right through. Once inside I went straight to her room and found some post it notes. I began writing 'I love you' on several stickers and sticking them all over the place...It looked like a post it bomb had gone off – little yellow squares were everywhere! When I was done I climbed back out, played with her dogs for a bit, then caught a DART bus back down town. I still had some time to kill and I decided that enough time had passed since my theft experience at the Galleria, so I thought I'd go to the mall and walk around for a while. I walked around for about an hour, and then I heard a stern voice call out to me. “You! In the striped shirt! Stop!”
I froze in place and when I turned around I found myself staring into the eyes of the exact same police officer who arrested me a couple of months before. My heart began to pound, but I told myself I hadn't done anything wrong this time...I was good.
“I thought I recognised you.” He said.
“Yes, sir?” I said, swallowing a lump in my throat.
“What are you doing here? Banned means banned!”
“I'm sorry...I was just...I was just killing some time before I had to meet my girlfriend.”
“Alright. This is a warning. Next time I see you in here I'll arrest you. You need to leave the area now.”
“Yes, sir” He followed me to an exit and I got as far away from the Galleria as I could, and I never returned.
Once Tracy was finished work I went to meet her, but instead of our typical hug and kiss she screamed at me. “You broke into our home?”
I was confused. Broke in? What the hell was she talking about? “What are you talking about?”
“My dad! He came home and saw little notes you left all over my room!”
“I didn't break in...I went through the window. It was a surprise for you!” I said, defending myself.
“He said he was going to call the police the next time you were around the house! Why are you always fucking up!?”
Those words hurt. I just thought I was doing something loving and romantic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There was just a couple of weeks left before the school year started, and Tracy had to return to Oneida. We planned one more get-together in Louisville, and then I'd be left alone until the next school break. Emma got a job at a Hilton and needed some black dress slacks and shoes, so I offered to help her buy them. We went to Montgomery Ward's in her banana yellow Honda that I referred to as the 'death trap' because it would stall out in the middle of a ride, which it did on the way to the store. “We're going to die in this thing,” I'd say whenever it did that. “I really thought I'd live to be at least 18 years old.”
There was a fall clothing sale going on, so I decided to buy some stuff for myself and hadn't realized that I maxed out the card. There was just enough left for the items that Emma wanted and a few things for me. “You really need to pay this thing off.” The lady at the cash register warned me. I hadn't paid it, and I hadn't paid my phone bill off either.
I went back to Louisville to spend a couple of days with Tracy before she left and fortunately they were incident free. I could hang out at her house, but I was not allowed to go inside which I understood. We spent the Sunday morning together before she returned to school, and when she left I headed back to Lexington feeling sad that I wasn't going to be able to join her or my friends back at school. As much as I was upset about being kicked out, there were still a lot of things that I loved about school – especially being with all of my friends. It would be the first time in several years that I wouldn't be returning to the initial excitement of a new school year...I was determined to get back!
It's a strange feeling living alone in a city that really isn't your home. I felt like I was in exile and never really had that settled feeling. I desperately wanted to be back at Oneida with my friends, and I also really missed Texas. Yeah, I could hang out with Emma every now and then on a weekend, or go over to the K's for dinner whenever I wanted – I was always welcome. But I still felt like a stranger in a strange land.
I still hadn't addressed the education issue, and I was completely against the idea of a GED. My dad had pounded into my head that a GED would never get me into the jobs that a high school diploma would and he was right about that. Although I had little in the way of direction and didn't really know what I wanted out of life, I still imagined myself being successful in some kind of way. But at the time I had neither the drive nor the determination.
The manager at the SUBWAY offered to help me get into the local high school and was willing to adjust my working hours so that I could go to school, but I just didn't think I was capable of doing both of those things at once. Besides, I was determined to get back to OBI – I just didn't know how to make that happen. On a whim I decided to write a letter to Dr. Underwood, asking if I could return and why. It was a long shot, but I figured if I spoke to his more Christian side and explained I wasn't a suicidal teen, maybe he'd give me another chance.
Meanwhile, I would continue to explore Lexington or hang out with Emma whenever I could. Sometimes I went to the K's, although with each visit I grew more uncomfortable with Mr. K's fundamental beliefs. I didn't mind the theological conversations and questions he would pose to me, but I felt them becoming more intrusive and judgemental, and at that time I was struggling with my own beliefs and trying to figure things out. One evening as I was watching a movie the phone rang. Thinking it would be a friend from school, or my girlfriend, I answered. I heard Mr. K's voice on the other end. “You know, I can't in good conscience allow you to go down the path you're going...” He said.
“Uhhh. Okay,” I said, having no earthly idea what he was talking about.
“It's been bothering me, Randy, you need to accept Christ.”
“Oh.” I offered.
This was really awkward for me. I didn't know what else to say, so I let him continue to talk and warn me that I could die at any minute – fall over dead from a heart attack – and he couldn't rest easily knowing that I was doomed to an eternity in hell. I appreciated his concern, but I had my doubts about what eternity was going to be like.
“I'm standing on biblical truth. You know I'm right.”
“Okay. We can talk about it the next time I'm over for dinner. I'm, uh, going to get ready to call it a night.” I hung up the phone and kind of laughed. They had been incredibly kind to me but I couldn't help but be a little freaked out.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Towards the end of August I had discovered two places near the campus of the University of Kentucky. The first place was a bar and grill that was a popular college hang out, called 'Tolly Ho'. It was always crowded but it looked like a good place for Emma and I to go and hang out some time.
The other place was a small independent record shop called 'Cut Corner Records'. I'd spent a lot of time there discovering some rare Cure imports on CD and vinyl, and other gems like Radiohead's The Bends – that album completely blew my mind and it was so different to their first album, Pablo Honey. Everyone knew and loved the song, Creep but I was unimpressed by the album as a whole. When it came to music, I had one rule: don't get caught up in one hit wonders, and before The Bends, Radiohead were one hit wonders. Anyway, from start to finish The Bends was perfection! My two favorite songs, and ones I listened to over and over, were Fake Plastic Trees and High And Dry.
One Friday evening Emma called me up and asked if I wanted to hang out. I asked what she had in mind and she told me she was going to pick up a bottle of wine and something else from a friend, and we could take it from there. I was game, and when Friday rolled round she came and picked me up in the death trap.
We went to a neighborhood in Lexington that I had never been to before, and stopped off at a small house. We got out of the car and there was some people partying in the front yard. They looked like they were in their early 20s, and they all said, “What's up?” I stood there quietly – I was always a bit awkward and shy when meeting new people – and Emma ran inside. After a few minutes she came back out with a huge bottle of wine, thanked everyone, and we left.
“That was quick,” I said.
“Yeah, but I got what I really came for.”
“Which is...?” I asked.
“Acid!” I'd never done acid before, but I knew that Tracy and her brother had tried it. Outside of weed, cough syrup, and huffing, I was fearful of doing anything harder than that.
Emma drove us back to her place and we went to her room. She turned on the T.V., poured some wine for both of us, and then pulled out a little piece of plastic. Folded inside were two little pieces of squared paper, and she offered it to me. “What exactly is it going to do?” I asked. She told me it would take about 45-60 minutes to kick in and we should then see colors, our senses would be enhanced, and we should just enjoy ourselves. I told her I'd try it and put it on my tongue.
“Don't swallow it. Let it dissolve,” she told me. We drank a couple more cups of wine, and I began to feel my jaw tighten a little. My body began to tingle, and I had a fit of giggles for no particular reason. It felt really good! Soon, colors began to dance in front of my eyes and I found the images on the T.V. very distracting. I must have mentioned that because she immediately turned it off and put the stereo on. I remember hearing Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, but the music didn't just sound great – it came alive! I began to see colors dance in rhythm to the music, and change from song to song. My imagination swam with images and when the song Piggy came on, little designs began to dance and shimmer before me. I sang loudly. “Nothing can stop me now, 'cause I don't care anymore!” Then, Emma began yelling it with me: “NOTHING CAN STOP ME NOW, 'CAUSE I DON'T CARE ANYMORE!!!” And we fell into fits of laughter...I loved this shit.
The acid stayed in my system well into Saturday and when I came down, and Emma was back to normal, she drove me back to my place.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
My birthday was approaching and I began to feel depressed again. I had recently bought a copy of The Cure's Faith album from Cut Corner Records, and totally immersed myself in it. I'd been on my own since early July, and had nothing figured out. Soon I'd be 18 years old and completely on my own...I feared that my parents would completely abandon me having met their obligations to me. I worried I'd no longer be a welcome member of the family. I didn't know what to do.
One evening shortly before my birthday Tracy called me and told me I'd be receiving a letter and I was under strict orders to not open it until the day of my birthday. My head was already full of negative thoughts about my parents abandoning me, so I immediately assumed the worst. “What is it? A break up letter?” I asked.
“No! It's not that...That's crazy talk! Just don't read it until your birthday.”
I wasn't convinced. I called Wesley up at school and asked if he knew anything. “I don't,” is all he told me. I called Jason and he was a bit more coy. “I kind of have an idea, but I'm not totally 100% man.” And that was all I could get from him.
A few days before I turned 18 I received a UPS package from my parents. It had some food, a few gifts, and a drawing of a train from my brother, Jimmy. Underneath the drawing he'd scribbled, 'Randy's birthday express. Happy Birthday!' It made me cry...I missed my little brothers so much! I taped the drawing on the wall, next to a poster, where I could see it all the time.
I still dreaded the letter from Tracy; I was having funny feelings about everything and felt like I was starting to give up. I didn't even touch my keyboard for a while, having no inspiration whatsoever...I just felt so alone. I couldn't talk to the K's about it because I knew there would be disappointment and judgement, and I couldn't talk to my parents about it because they were part of my depression. I couldn't talk to Emma either because her suggestion would be to just get high or drunk, which was something I wasn't entirely opposed to, but I didn't want to turn it into a crutch. I just didn't know what to do. I still hadn't received the letter though, so I called Tracy up and demanded she let me know what was in it. “I didn't send it.” She said.
“You didn't?” I replied.
“Because you were making such a big deal about nothing.”
“So, it was a break up letter?”
“How do you get that out of me not sending it? It was nothing! I don't know what's going on with you, but stop getting paranoid. I'm not going anywhere.”
We hung up and I still didn't feel reassured in any way. I was a day away from turning 18, and I was completely convinced that I would be on my own in every way...That everyone was somehow just waiting for this day. I called Wesley again and kept pressing him. Finally, he broke, but what he told me was not what I expected. “She was going to propose to you. That's what the letter was...but you were acting crazy, so she decided to not send it.”
“Are you serious? Don't fuck with me, Wes.”
“I'm not! She wrote the letter in a way that when you read 'will you marry me?' she'd say, 'yes' because YOU were asking it.”
I was shocked! But I had to admit it was a pretty clever way of getting me to propose. I did love her, but marriage just hadn't crossed my mind. I decided to call my dad and get some advice from him. Maybe I could get one bit of fatherly wisdom before they cut me off completely. When I told him about the letter he said he wasn't opposed to the idea, but I should really think it through. I took his saying that he wasn't opposed to it as a 'blessing' and decided I'd go for it. I considered calling her parents, but then chased that thought out of my head. I was worried Tracy might still say 'no', but screw it...I was going for it.
On the day of my birthday my parents surprised me with an early morning, 'Happy Birthday' call. Mom, Dad, Jimmy, and Kevin, all sang the birthday song to me and I took it as a positive sign that everything was going to be fine. I wasn't losing my family, and if Tracy said yes, I'd start building my own family. I was 18...An adult! To further commit to this idea I decided to pawn my keyboard so I could buy a ring for Tracy. I hadn't saved any money as dad had suggested, but I hadn't used my keyboard in a while either. But first I wanted to wait until Tracy said, 'yes'.”
I called her that evening when I knew she was back in her dorm room. She was excited and had all of the girls in the office yell, “Happy Birthday!!” We talked for a bit and then, nervously, I broached the subject. “So, there's something I want to talk to you about...”
“Stop, Randy. Okay? I'm not going anywhere!” She barked back at me.
“No...it's not that. It's just...I...” I couldn't get it out!
“What?” She said, comfortingly.
“I'm sorry...I'm sorry for everything...For the stupid things in the summer, for being an idiot, for the events with your parents that I blame myself for. I'm 18 now and I just want to start over. I want to get shit straight.”
“I know you do. It'll all work out.”
“Yeah...So...Will you marry me?” I asked. Geeze, the silence! It felt like it went on for eternity. I was starting to think I really screwed up, and then I heard a shriek...”Yes!!!” I heard her tell everyone in the office that I had just proposed. There was some exciting chatter in the background. I felt good! What a perfect way to end the day.
I hung up the phone, put a movie on, and fell asleep on the couch.
My brother, Wesley, was part of the school's chess team. He was actually pretty good and had won many tournaments with his team. Playing chess seemed to help him with his hyperactivity, giving his mind a center of focus and something to channel that energy into. I was the complete opposite, however. I wasn't a hyper person at all – at least on the surface! Underneath, my mind was always awash with ideas and distractions, so if I had tried to play chess I would've just ended up daydreaming and losing all focus. My brain power was best used in creativity, not sitting and playing a game that involved strategy.
Wesley called me up excitedly one day to let me know that there would be a chess tournament in Lexington at the Civic Center – a shopping center built onto Rupp Arena. His team would come into town on Friday night and be there until Saturday evening. I told him I'd be there and hung up the phone.
When Friday rolled round I spent the evening having dinner with the K's and then rode my bicycle back home. The next morning I got up, called Tracy, and then got ready to head down town to the Rupp Arena. It was a cool morning and fall was settling in. I had thrown some goodies together for Wesley to take back to school but it was too much to carry on my bike. However, I thought that if I could talk to his coach, Mr. Spencer, the minister at OBI, maybe he would be willing to make a detour on the way back to school and stop off at my place. If not I would have to just mail it to the school.
I arrived down town and headed straight to the Rupp Arena, parking my bicycle in a loading area behind the Civic Center. I went into a shop inside the building and asked a clerk if she knew where the chess tournament was being held, and she told me it was at some kind of community hall which I found easily. When I went inside I saw rows of tables with kids already playing chess, and I found the table that represented OBI. Wesley was in the middle of a match and so I approached Mr. Spencer. He was a bit surprised to see me and we hadn't talked much since I went up to him the year before asking about Jesus, in tears, and ready to convert. “Hey, Randy.” He said, shaking my hand.
How are things going?”
“I'm getting by.”
“I heard about you and Tracy. Congrats.”
We sat in silence until Wesley was finished. He won, and came up and hugged me after the game. “I still have four more people to play.” He said.
“You'll do it.” I replied.
“Hey, where's my stuff that you promised to bring?”
“It was too much to carry. I'll probably have to mail it to you.”
I could tell he was a bit irritated as I had kept promising to send it to him, and Mr. Spencer picked up on this as well. “Tell you what...when the day is over I'll drive by your place. We'll grab a bite to eat and then I'll drop you off and Wesley can get his stuff.” He offered.
“Man...thanks!” I said. As the day went on I hung out with them, encouraging Wes and the other team mates. Mr. Spencer and I didn't talk that much, but I did mention towards the end of the day that I really missed school and wanted to return. I also told him about the letter I'd written to Dr. Underwood, but had received no response.
“I'll tell you what, Randy. I'll talk to Dr. Underwood...Maybe get him to call you.” I thought he might just be blowing smoke up my ass, but I decided I'd call him in a week or two to see if he remembered. Watching the kids play chess and spending time with students from OBI really made me miss the school...I missed my friends tremendously.
Wesley took third place in the tournament and I was extremely proud of him. Mr. Spencer asked where everyone wanted to eat and the general consensus was McDonalds. I told him I had to grab my bicycle but I'd meet the van outside. Mr. Spencer pulled around to the back of the Civic Center and helped me get the bike in the van before going to McDonalds and insisting on paying for my food. After we ate I told him where I lived and he dropped me off. He told Wesley to be quick as we darted off into my apartment where I gave him the box of snacks and goodies. Then we hugged before he left and I watched the van drive away through the blinds.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Family day at OBI was approaching...It was an event that kicked off the Fall break in between the first and second quarter of school. My dad said he'd be joining Wesley for the day, and he'd be coming down in October. I decided to call Mr. Spencer to see if he had talked to the President, Dr. Underwood. He told me he had spoken with him but I needed to call him directly – he would not be calling me. I thanked him and hung up, then called the President's office and asked for Dr. Underwood. Surprisingly, they put me through immediately.
“Yes, sir.” I answered nervously.
“You want to come back to Oneida?”
“To finish school, or for your girlfriend?”
“To finish school.”
There was a pause, as if to weigh up my sincerity...“I'm considering it. I have your letter and I'll read it again. Once my mind is made up I'll call you and we'll go from there. Randy, I'll call you. You are not to call me again.”
“Yes, sir.” I hung up and thought it had gone better than I expected. I wrote the letter immediately and pointed out my many accomplishments at the school, as well as the fact that I was not suicidal in any kind of way. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to graduate with my class. I called up my dad to tell him what I had planned, but he didn't think it was a good idea. I told him that if the school will allow it, I would be going back. “I won't be paying for it.” He said.
I hadn't thought about the cost, but maybe I could work it off in the school's work program. I asked my dad why he thought it wouldn't be a good idea for me to return, and his response was that he had a few personal issues that were making him reconsider the value of the school. I was thinking, “Wow...you have these issues after I've been kicked out for no good reason?” But I kept my mouth shut and didn't really press for answers.
“You need to pay your phone bill. AT&T have been calling me up,” he said, before hanging up. The only money I had was the money for the ring, but to keep my dad from going off on me I decided it would be best to pay the bill using the engagement ring money. I'd still get a ring at some point, I just wasn't sure when. It also dawned on me that if I was allowed to go back to school it presented another set of problems – I'd be broke! I'd no longer have a job or any income and I wouldn't be able to buy anything at OBI. I guess I'd just cross that bridge when I got there.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The end of September was here and I still hadn't heard from Mr. Underwood. My dad was flying into Lexington but made no mention of stopping by to see me, so I thought I'd surprise him at the airport! I asked Mr. K if he would drive me there and he said he would.
I waited for my dad to step off the plane and I remember being really surprised by how much weight he had lost since the summer. He had told me in phone conversations that he was losing weight, but he looked like a completely different person! I walked up to him as he entered the terminal and he seemed quite surprised at the sight of me. “I thought you'd be at work.” He said. I told him I took the day off.
We made our way to the baggage pick up and he told me that he was driving straight to Oneida that night and planned to stay the night in London. We made our way to the car rental and he asked me how I was getting back home. “Mr. K is going to pick me up.” I said.
“Call him up and let him know I'll drop you off. I want to see the place anyway.” I called Mr. K from a payphone and let him know that my dad was going to take me back to my apartment. Then I hung up and helped my dad carry his stuff to the rental car. He asked me if I wanted something to eat, and we ended up going to a McDonalds. “Really? Mickey D's? What about your diet?” I asked. He told me they had just started to sell salads but I could get whatever I wanted. When I offered to pay he insisted on taking care of it.
At McDonalds I ordered my favorite which was a 24 count of chicken nuggets and some French fries. My dad bought a garden fresh salad and we sat down and made small talk as we ate. It felt like the old times when we'd spend a lunch together and just hang out, and I was suddenly sad at the feeling of missing moments like these and his presence in my life...Missing the father/son relationship and dynamic.
We finished eating and I told him how to get to my apartment. I warned him that I hadn't cleaned the place in a week, but I think I undersold how bad it was! “Whoa...” he said, as we entered. It was a pig sty! Pizza boxes everywhere, trash not taken out...I can't really remember why it had gotten so bad because I'm generally a neat freak, but it was pretty bad on that particular day. He made a joke in that moment, and I realized that was something else I missed – his Jewish humor! “Well, maybe when you clean the place up it'll look a little bigger.” He said. Then he told me he had to head to Oneida but would stop back when he brought Wesley back from family day. I told him the place would be in better shape next time he was back. We hugged, and then he headed out.
I was already making plans to see Tracy over the break, but first I wanted to see if I was going to be allowed back at the school. Family day at OBI took place over the weekend and then the school was out Sunday afternoon. That meant that dad would be back in Lexington with Wesley on Sunday evening, and they'd fly back to Arlington, Texas, on Monday. Or so I thought...but it turned out that Dad and Wes wouldn't be going back to Texas until Tuesday.
That Monday morning my phone rang and thinking it was Tracy, I picked it up expecting to hear her voice. Instead, it was Dr. Bud Underwood. “Randy, I've reached a decision. I'm going to allow you to come back to school at the start of the second quarter. That gives you two weeks to get yourself prepared. I've talked to your father and he won't be paying your tuition, so we're going to offer you a scholarship under the work program. When you come back to school, you'll need to immediately check in at the Administrative Office, and we'll further this discussion. We're giving you another chance, Randy. Don't mess it up.”
“Yes, sir!” I said, and he hung up.
Shortly after the call there was a knock at the door, and it was dad and Wesley. “Nope. Doesn't look any bigger,” my dad said, as soon as I let them in. He asked if he could use my phone to call mom and make a few business calls. “Sure,” I said, feeling a little weird that my dad would ask me if he could use my phone.
Wesley told me about family day and we talked for a bit. Then dad finished up his calls and told us he wanted to take us to a horse farm and museum. We headed out and spent the day together!...It was a really nice day. When dad and Wesley went to their hotel for the night, I called Tracy to let her know that I was heading to Louisville the next day and that I had been allowed to return to OBI. She was ecstatic about the news! Then she asked if I had told my dad or if he had talked to me about anything.
“No, we haven't really talked about it,” I said. “I'll bring it up tomorrow before he leaves for Texas. I'm enjoying this time with him and Wes, and I don't want to spoil it.” I could tell there was something else she wanted to talk about, but when I pressed her she said she'd tell me when I was in Louisville.
The next morning dad popped up with Wesley to say goodbye. I asked if it was okay if I went to the airport with them, and dad said it was fine. I had a back pack loaded up with some clothes for my time in Louisville, and my plan was to see dad and Wesley off, then catch a cab to the Greyhound bus station. I grabbed the back pack and we headed out to the car.
Whilst waiting on the plane I talked to my dad about returning to the school again...He told me he had talked to Dr. Underwood about it, but still didn't think it was a good idea. He also made sure Dr. Underwood understood that he would not be paying for my return. I told him I would work scholarship. “I'd hang onto the apartment just in case anything goes wrong.” he advised.
I hadn't told my dad I was leaving for Louisville as soon as they boarded the plane back home, but he insisted on paying my taxi cab fare for me to get back home. They boarded the plane and I hopped into a cab to take me to the Greyhound bus station. I was in Louisville that evening, caught the DART bus to Bardstown Road, and had arranged for Tracy to meet me on the steps of Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral.
The bus stop was about half a block away and I got off and breathed in the cool autumn air. The sky was nearly dark, and as I approached the Cathedral I could see Tracy and some of her friends on the church steps. Tracy jumped up and ran down towards me, locking me into an embrace. We went back to the steps and caught up on things.
Over the next few days we hung out and I spent the nights at various friends' places. The evenings were quite chilly, so sleeping outside was out of the question! There are two events I remember most about those days I spent in Louisville, before returning to school: OJ Simpson's acquittal, and a huge fight with Tracy. I hadn't been following the OJ Simpson murder trial but I do remember the Jay Leno late night skits with the dancing judges, on NBC. Other than that I had no interest in that spectacle. Like most people, even if they didn't openly admit it, I felt he was guilty...Nothing more, nothing less.
One afternoon in early October I spent the day at Tracy's house whilst her mom was at work. When I left I cut through an alley and her mom was driving home at that exact moment. I know that she noticed me and I panicked! I hurried to a payphone outside of a drug store around the corner from her house, and called to let Tracy know that her mom had seen me. “Calm down...I'll talk to her if she brings it up.” She said.
I hung up the phone and walked by a small antique shop. People inside the store were gathered around the television, so I entered the store. The verdict of 'Not Guilty' came down, and the people inside the store were shaking their heads in disgust. It was a complete surprise to me as well. After I left the store I called Tracy again. “Did you hear the news? Not guilty? Really?”
“Well, a jury acquitted him. That's that. That's the system.”
The other incident I remember is after spending a day at the mall and Tracy was acting really strange. The day started off really great, but I noticed something had been bothering her. I kept pressing and asking what was wrong. “Don't worry about it.” She said. While eating at a Chick-fil-A restaurant, she kept asking me odd questions. It felt like she was fishing, but I wasn't sure so I just blew them off. We left the mall and started walking towards the bus stop when she suddenly went off on me. “You fucking lied!” She shouted.
I was confused...I had no idea what she was talking about. I remember it began to drizzle...“What?” I said, in disbelief.
Then it began to pour! We were a few steps away from the bus stop and she walked right past it. I stopped, and she kept going. “It's fucking raining! You're going to walk back home?” I yelled after her. I walked quickly to catch up with her, and told her to stop but she kept going, so I tried to grab her hand and she yanked it back.
“Don't fucking touch me! It's over. This is all over!” She screamed. She kept walking and I followed behind her thinking she'd stop and talk to me, but she just kept walking and ignoring me. When we got to her street both of us were soaked with rain. “Don't follow me.” She said, before turning towards Douglass BLVD.
I stopped as she walked towards her house. Confused and upset I walked around the block wondering what was happening. I was really clueless as to what I had done...I mean, yes, I had lied about a lot over the past year, but what had I done recently? I couldn't think of anything! “Screw this,” I thought. I walked to a payphone and tried to call the K's to see if they could drive to Louisville and pick me up, but there was no answer. I walked around the block a few more times, soaked to the bone and freezing. After a while I turned the corner and saw Tracy sitting on this long white bench. My first inclination was to give her what she wanted and just walk away, but instead I walked up to her and sat down. She didn't move which I interpreted as a positive sign. Neither of us said anything for a few minutes.
“What were you doing?” She asked.
“Trying to get a hold of the K's to get back home.”
“That's pretty inconsiderate of you.”
“Why? You just ended things. I have no desire to be here.”
“Not what I meant. No consideration towards them...They're supposed to drop whatever they're doing to come and get you?”
“I don't want to fight. I don't even understand what I did this time.”
“I just wanted you to apologize. You've not apologized for anything over this summer! My parents split because of you!” I was still confused...I'd done my best to apologize! “You're going back to school and you're acting like none of this happened. I'm glad you're going back, but...I can't do this all over again. It stops. The stupidity, the lies...everything.” She continued. Then she pulled out a lighter and began to flick it until she had a flame and could warm her hands. Then she told me to put my hands out so she could warm mine as well. I leaned over to kiss her, and she allowed me to.
“I promise. This is like a new start for me.” I said. “No more screw ups. I want to graduate and then we can build our life together.”
I returned home and started making plans to return to OBI.
The following is a copy of the letter Randy wrote to Dr.
Underwood, asking to be allowed back into school. The letter
shows true sincerity in Randy that he wanted nothing more
than to get his life back on track and to make his parents
proud of him again. Sadly, it didn't work out, but this letter is
documented proof of Randy's struggle to turn his life around
and keep from falling.
The week before school began for the 2nd quarter went by quickly. I had to tell the manager at SUBWAY that I would be returning to school and had to quit. She asked me if I was sure and said that she still thought she could get me into a school in Lexington, but I told her my mind was made up. She gave me my last pay cheque and that was that. My days of being a sandwich artist were over!
I called Jason up and he said his dad would come and pick me up at my place early on Sunday morning. Jason lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the drive wasn't out of the way for them and would be no problem for his dad. I still had to inform the manager at my apartment complex that I was leaving, and against the advice of my dad I terminated the six month lease. She asked me where to send the remaining money and I gave her the address of the school. Then she asked me to put my keys in an envelope and slide it under the office door when I left, and I told her I would.
When Sunday arrived I had everything packed up and ready to go. The small studio apartment I lived in for a few months looked the same as the day I first entered it. I almost half expected the Mormons to come and see me off! I had woken bright and early, unplugged the phone, and stored it away in my blue trunk. Jason and his dad arrived right on schedule and we loaded up the mini van and headed out. I remember us stopping off at a pizza shop about midway through the journey, and eating a huge pizza and drinking Pepsi.
We arrived in Oneida a little after one in the afternoon. Jason was no longer living in room 202, but I was determined to get us back in there. For the time being, I had to wait on being assigned a new room and still had to meet with Dr. Underwood...something I dreaded!
I said goodbye to Jason's dad, thanked him, and headed across the campus to the administrative office on the first floor of the Chapel building. I entered and walked in where Mrs. Underwood and her daughter, Missy, were busy at work. Mrs. Underwood greeted me kindly, while Missy scrunched up her nose as if she smelt something foul. I rolled my eyes at her thinking, “get over yourself” and asked if Dr. Underwood was in. I was told to go ahead and enter his office. So, I took a deep breath and walked in...Dr. Underwood told me to sit down and I did. He reached into a file and pulled out some paper work. “This is your contract; it says that the school is allowing you to return and that you will be expected to follow the rules and to be a model student. There will be no suspensions. If you get into trouble, you will be immediately expelled. You are expected to make up for the 1st quarter you lost, so you need to go to the high school counsellor's office when you finish here and work out your itinerary.”
He shuffled through some more papers and as I signed all of them, he pulled out one about payment of the school fees etc, and said, “Here's your scholarship. When the year is over, you are expected to work for the summer in our work program. Your year will be fulfilled then.” As I signed the paper work, he continued,“Randy, we're allowing you an opportunity that we don't afford to other students who have been expelled. But because you have worked so hard at our school in the past, and you have been for the most part a role model student, we're giving you a second chance. You need to focus on getting your school work done as well as getting your life back on track with God.”
“Yes, sir.” I replied. “Is it possible that I might get my hall monitor job back?”
“No,” Dr. Underwood replied. “You'll have to start from the bottom up. Earn my trust and I'll see about getting you back in a supervision job, but until then go figure out your school schedule and then go to my son's office and he'll assign you a job.”
I thanked him and left the office. Whilst walking out, Missy couldn't help herself, and muttered, “One mess up. Just one.” I ignored her and headed to the high school building where I found the school counsellor...It seemed that the Underwoods had firmly lay conquest to the entire OBI operation, but she had been my freshman year English teacher before she had married into the Underwood family, and she was a genuinely nice and sincere person. As we talked she was very accommodating and we figured out exactly what I needed to take in terms of elective classes and required studies in order to graduate on time. Because I was already ahead in credits, the only thing I really needed was to make up for the lost quarter of English, and she offered to tutor me in that after school a few times per week. I felt that was incredibly kind of her.
I headed over to the high school dorms and as more and more kids began to arrive back to school, I went to Mr. Harold's office. We talked, and I even apologized for the bench incident last summer. “Where do you want to work?” He asked. I admitted that I would've preferred to have my old job back but his father had already said that wasn't an option right now. “Let's see how you're doing after Thanksgiving. If you're doing good I'll give you your job back. Cool? Until then, how about something like, say, substitute hall monitor? I can pull you off thebench if I need you.” I told him I was happy with that, and asked if I could get my old room back. He told me I would have to talk to Mr. Garret about that.
I headed back to the dorms and the Dorm office which was on the 1st floor of Carnahan Hall. Mr. Garret was sitting behind his desk and he said, “Welcome back.” I asked him about room 202 and he said it was filled, but I could live with Jason if I wanted to. I told him that was fine and then I left and headed out to get my stuff that was piled up outside of the dorm. Jason joined me and helped me move in.
Some kids were surprised to see me and others greeted me with great big 'hellos'. There were many faces that I didn't recognize and I was excited about reuniting with Dan, my friend and guitarist, and Joe, our drummer. Whilst I didn't have my keyboard any longer, I knew Joe's parents had one I could use or I could borrow one from the school. Maybe we could get the band thing started again.
That evening, we all had to attend mandatory church and an orientation. Jason, Dan, Joe and I, picked out a section of pews and laid claims to them as we always had. Kids poured in and I waited for the girls to arrive. As they came in through the back of the chapel, I noticed quite a few new and cute faces. Dan was telling me who all the new people were and then, there she was! Tracy! She saw me and bolted towards the pew, slid in and grabbed my hand. She introduced me to the new faces, and I felt that I had been properly welcomed and approved of.
It felt so good to be back!
I fell back into my old boarding school routine right away. I got up early to meet Tracy for breakfast, going back to the dorm to get ready for school, meeting Tracy for her 1st period class, getting a kiss, and meeting up with her in between classes.
My favourite class was Piano Lab and it made me miss my keyboard tremendously. I still needed to get Tracy a ring, but I did wonder if I'd made the right decision in selling my keyboard. I knew I could borrow a keyboard from Joe's mom, and it was only used when I practised with our band – the newly minted 'Liquid Sunshine' - though I was going to ask her if she would sell it to me.
One of the other classes I decided to take was Anatomy, but as I sat in the class for the first time I regretted that decision. It was brain-numbingly boring, so I ended up using the period for nap time. At the end of the day I would go back to the dorm and hang out with friends, or practice music with Dan, and then head out to the cafeteria or the grill to hang out with Tracy and her friends. One of the perks of being a Senior is that we didn't have to eat in the main cafeteria; we could eat in the faculty dining area which was a more elite and intimate setting, and the food was better too! The Sunday morning brunches were something not to be missed, and all of the Seniors ate there after church.
I spent most of my weekends with Dan, practising in the band together. We would watch Cure and U2 music videos in a class room, to figure out our stage craft and sound design. Both of us agreed that our sound was the most important and one afternoon, knowing the Old Gym would be open, we decided to set up shop and see what it would sound like in a big arena type area. Joe's parents helped bring his drum set and some amps, as well as the keyboard, and Dan brought a couple of guitars and an amp. We didn't set up on the basketball court floor, but on a small inlet inbetween the bleachers and the class rooms.
Once we'd plugged everything in and fine tuned things, we were ready to jam out. The acoustics were great! Dan had a small sound board and we worked out the levels of the guitar and keyboard. The drum needed no mics as the cavernous gym was filled with the huge booms and baps of his set. We worked our way through some Cure songs, and some Smiths songs...The Boy With A Thorn In His Side was a favourite of ours. Then we played Smashing Pumpkins', Mayonnaise - another favourite of mine to sing. I told Dan we should learn Radiohead's, High and Dry, and we started to work that out as well. As we played through song after song, I knew beyond any doubt that this is what I wanted out of life. If I could stay on track...If I could stay focused...music would become not just my dream, but my reality.
Dan and Joe ended up leaving for lunch and I asked Joe if I could stick around and practice on his drum set for a bit. I am a mediocre drum player at best, but I did enjoy tapping out simple beats that could later be turned into something better. I grabbed his drum sticks and began to let loose! As I was working my way through the beat of Fascination Street by the Cure, Dr. Underwood came marching through the gym door...I froze! “What are you doing?” He asked.
“Okay. Someone had told me that it sounded like a concert was going on at the gym, and I wanted to make sure no one was tearing up the basketball court.”
“No, sir. We just wanted to practice, and that's why we're here and not out on the court. Didn't want to tear it up.”
“That's fine. You guys have about another hour and then I want the gym closed up.”
“Yes, sir!” I said. Whew! I thought I was about to get into serious trouble, but I took a deep breath and went back to practising until Dan and Joe returned.
Two weeks later, the left over money from the apartment contract arrived in the form of a cheque. I took it to the school's Bank in the canteen, and deposited it with Mrs. Burns. It wasn't a lot – maybe $700 – but hopefully I could make it last. Mr. Heffelfinger was taking some students into Manchester (the small local town) for something to eat and a supply pick up at Wal-mart, or what the local hillbillies called, 'Wally's World', and I asked if I could go with him. On that Saturday morning we all loaded into a school van and headed into town. We got a bite to eat at Pizza Hut, and then hit the Wal-mart! I loaded up on Cool Ranch Doritos, Ramen noodles, and the generic Sam's Choice sodas for my brother and I.
On the drive back to school I noticed a small jewellery shop. I asked Mr. Heffelfinger if he wouldn't mind stopping for a second and let me run inside. He agreed and pulled into the parking lot so I could jump out. I went inside and an older man, about 70, said, “What can I do for you son?” in a heavy Kentucky accent. I told him I was looking for an inexpensive engagement ring, preferably white gold. “A bit on the young side dontchya think?” He asked me.
“Yes sir, but we really love each other.”
“Well, hell, reckon when you got the love bug and itsa bitin', you can't help it.”
He reached into the display case and pulled out a couple of white gold rings. One, about $200, stood out to me and I said, “That one!” Pointing to it.
He asked me the ring size and I told him, then he took it to a table with some jewellers' gadgets, slid the ring on a steel spike, and began heating it and gently pounding on it until it reached the size it needed to be. He cleaned it off, stuck it in a small box, and I gave him the money. He said, “Good luck.” And then I thanked him and ran back out to the van to head back to Oneida.
Later that evening at free time in the gym, I properly proposed to Tracy. She said “yes” and that was that. It was official!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
My grades were good that first quarter but I was teetering on the edge of failing Anatomy. I had no interest in it whatsoever, and when Mrs. Harold called me into her office, she asked me what was going wrong. “I hate it,” I told her.
“You've gotta get that grade up, Randy.” She looked uncomfortable, like it wasn't a conversation she wanted to have with me, and so I asked her what the big deal was. I could actually afford to fail this class as it was just an elective class, and didn't really matter. She sighed and said, “I can see you weren't told this part of the deal in coming back to Oneida. Randy, if you fail one class, Dr. Underwood is going to expel you.”
“What?” I said in disbelief...
“Get the grade up. When second semester comes I'll change the class for you. Okay? But you've got to pass it.”
“Even if I fail this class, I'm on track to make honor roll – at least B plus!”
“I know...Just get the grade up, Randy.”
“Fine.” I said.
I left her office feeling dejected. I felt an unfair amount of pressure to do everything right, as if every single eye of the OBI staff was watching my every little move. Once, after walking Tracy to her class, I had about a minute in between classes to get to my next class. The tardy bell rang and I took off in a mad dash across the campus to get to my class. One of the faculty members saw me and yelled out, “Better hurry up! Dr. Underwood won't be happy about you bein' late to class!”
“Shit!” I said breathlessly, running faster than I ever have in my life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As time went on Mr. Harold let me fill in as Hall Monitor at night. I figured at least I was slowly getting back to my old job. I hated having to clean toilets and sweep the hallways at night, and the first time the bed check roster was back in my hands I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was only substituting, but it was a start. “Bed check! Lights out, doors open!” I yelled at the top of my lungs at 10.30pm on the dot. Some of the newer kids who didn't know me as a Hall Monitor the year before, immediately began to challenge me.
“Shut up,” someone yelled into the hallway.
“Suck nuts!” Another yelled.
"Okay", I thought...Time to lay down the law!
My first year as a Hall Monitor started off badly. I was one of the youngest Hall Monitors in recent memory and only signed up for the job as a joke between me and my friends, as we sat on job day waiting to be assigned a role. As Dr. Underwood began to call out high school dorm Hall Monitor openings, nobody volunteered. He called it out again, “I need four guys for Marvin Wheeler and Carnahan Hall!”
I leaned into my friend Wayne, and whispered, “I should raise my hand and see what he says.”
“I bet you won't,” he replied.
I'd been a Room Monitor/Hall Monitor at Baker Hall, but dealing with middle school kids was not the same as dealing with 17 and 18 year olds. But I raised my hand anyway. “Halprin? What is your grade?”
“Sophomore, sir. But I'm working on being a Junior.” I replied.
“Ermmm,” he contemplated. “I really like my guys to be 11th or 12th grade. Come up here and talk to me.”
I got up, walked up to the stage, and Dr. Underwood looked at me as if sizing me up for the job.“You know these guys can be rough. If you let them, they'll run all over you.”
Not really positive in what I was doing, but still trying to sell it, I said, “I can handle it.”
“You've got the job then! You're still living in Baker Hall, right?”
“Gonna move you out to Marvin Wheeler. Go pack your stuff and Mr. Garret will give you a room.” I gave Wayne a thumbs up, and he raised his hand and was hired as well.
That first week was rough! I was run over like an armadillo trying to cross the road. I really had no chance! I was teased, made fun of and disrespected. It wasn't in my nature to be mean or authoritative, and even though I threatened licks and other disciplines, the guys knew they were empty threats. One night, after turning my roster in to Mr. Garret, I sat on the couch feeling frustrated. He got onto me for not taking control of my hall, and I said, “I don't know what to do!”
“Earn their respect," he said. "Until you do that, you'll never have control of the situation. But if you can't get a hold of your hall, I'm going to have to put you in another job.”
Eventually I gained their trust and respect and it was smooth sailing after that. Sometimes I had to get a bit crazy and vulgar to match their craziness. Often, I would make threats of punishment as it was in my power to do so, but I did try not to abuse that power. I had to figure out a balance of not seeming like a dick, but also not letting them run over me. Yeah, most of the time it was all bluster, but they didn't know that. I really didn't care what dudes did as long as they cleared it with me first.
Soon, I was back to working regularly in my old job. If I could make it to second semester, I believed Dr. Underwood would ease up on me a little.