by CG Fewston
I’ve wasted the best years of my life in the senseless struggle every artist faces at the beginning of his life, and I can’t make heads or tails of the damn mess. Either way, those years are gone and I’ll never get them back.
Back then the media broadcasted that the end of 1999 would bring with it the end of the world. Computer experts predicted and warned the ones and zeroes needed to grease the software which kept society running would automatically reset to zeroes across the board. Even though we know the numbers kept on spinning, erasing the data might’ve been better than watching the economic crash unfold eight years later.
But at twenty years old I waited, like all of America and the rest of the world, for the great reset button to be pushed when the clocks struck midnight, ushering a new millennium and a new age more glorious than the one before—another big, fat lie the world tells you when you’re young—and all the while the radio disk jockeys and car stereos played Prince’s—or the Artist formerly known as Prince—1982 hit ‘Party Like It’s 1999,’ and most, including my elder sister, would be doing just that.
In January of 1999, I entered Howard Payne University, Brownwood’s local Baptist institution where my Aunts Judy and Cindy—from my father’s side—attended in the 1970s, and I began to major in English. At the time I held only the passion, or obsession, for reading and writing, and so studying literature appeared the obvious choice. I would graduate in four years—the real typical student—in December 2002, more focused than ever to become a writer.
On July 17, I returned from a morning swim class at the university to my mother’s home on Durham Avenue and to my sister’s shrill cry. “Oh my God, Cody. They killed him. They actually killed him.”
I immediately thought of the president until I began watching the news report on television citing how John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed his Piper Saratoga into the Atlantic the night before. John Jr. had been a likely contender for the next presidential election, and there had been a buzz around him to follow in his father’s footsteps, but that never happened.
My sister Cassie turned from me to the television she had obviously been watching all morning long. “God, Cody. How could they do that?”
Some reporters explained how a late fog had drifted in and disoriented the young pilot. Others a malfunction of some sort. Either way, he never made it to Martha’s Vineyard.
Cassie got up from the couch and walked out the front door, which we usually kept open while we were home. Big Mama, our black-and-white Boxer bulldog, followed Cassie out onto the front porch. When I came out behind them, Big Mama stood, as she often did, confidently at the edge of the porch near the steps leading down to the front yard shaded heavily by pecan trees. Big Mama sniffed the air, gave a few guttural barks, and finding her domain safe she came over to lay at the feet of my sister who sparked a joint and rocked on the porch swing.
“That’s fucked up,” she said.
“It is,” I said. I stood at the edge of the porch and listened to the wind rush the leaves.
My sister exhaled clouds of marijuana smoke. “They just killed him like that and nobody’s going to do shit about it.”
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “Why would anyone want to do that?” I felt the summer ease around me and drift down the lazy neighborhood street.
“People are fucked up, Cody. Don’t be so naïve.”
“I’m not being naïve. None of it makes any sense to me, that’s all.”
I joined her on the porch swing. Through the open door I could see the television still reporting on John Jr. and the search vessels not giving up on their manhunt or for the crashed plane.
Cassie passed me the joint and said, “it’s not supposed to make sense, little brother.”
I nodded and for a time we smoked the joint in silence secretly hoping that day, or many more like it that would follow, would remain suspended in time and never end.
Later that summer I began working as a busboy cleaning tables and stocking the salad bar at the Golden Corral Steakhouse and Buffet. At the time I hadn’t wanted much responsibility because at university I loaded myself with nineteen hours of coursework. I just needed to pay $250 for my car each month and to have some extra gas and pocket money.
But soon my work ethic proved to be more than what the manager expected and I was promoted to team leader, organizing and writing up the shifts for my friends and coworkers. I was honest and diligent and that seemed to work against me as well. The harder I worked, the more the manager promoted me. In less than six months I had been a dishwasher, a cook, a waiter and a cashier. After my experience at the restaurant, it dawned on me that the area manager had groomed me in to becoming the manager of the night shift.
To be clear, I didn’t mind the promotions nor the added responsibility. With each new job title I accepted, a pay raise came. My friends remained happy at being waiters and waitresses and I stayed happy at improving myself to be better than what I was the day before. And for this reason, more than most other reasons, was how I found myself as the closing shift manager on New Year’s Eve.
At nine o’clock I locked the two front doors to prevent any new customers from arriving and at odd intervals, while I drank my free cups of coffee, I strolled over to let diners out who had finished and wanted to leave. The waiters and waitresses wiped their tables clean and added salt or sugar where needed. The cook closed down the kitchen as the dishwasher, a sixteen-year-old runt who often asked for rides home—some twenty miles or more outside the city—scrubbed like a madman to try and finish by eleven. I had told him I was leaving at eleven and he’d better be finished or there’d be hell to pay.
By ten o’clock most of the staff had clocked out and left and I had finished counting the money and locking it in the floor safe of my office. At five after ten, I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, went around the deserted restaurant in the dark, straightening up here, straightening up there. At the front of the restaurant the lights had been switched off and I stood drinking my coffee in the dark watching the cars with their yellow headlights pass by in the night—reminding me of other headlights from the time my sister became sick and had to be taken to the hospital—and I tried to imagine where each person was headed, and what they’d be doing when the end of the year arrived in less than two hours.
I thought of my own daughter, Allison Beth, who had just turned a year old a few weeks before, and what her night would hold in comparison to all the other nights before her. I briefly thought of her mother, Katie, but quickly shook the thought away.
I checked on the dishwasher to find he was done with stocking the dishes around the restaurant and was washing down his workstation. He clocked out. Then I. He asked me for a ride home but I said I couldn’t. He said he’d have to wait or worse, he’d have to walk home. I answered by telling him to be more responsible and arrange for his own rides home and a little exercise never hurt anyone. It scared me to hear how much I sounded like my own father, but I got in my car and left. The dishwasher would quit a month or so after that night. He said it was because of school, but I knew better.
With the windows down, I drove out to Pine Creek Ranch where Twilight had been shot out in the pond earlier that year and I tried to avoid the memory as best I could.
Texas winters, snowless, were far more refreshing than bone-freezing back then, but now I hear it’s a bit different because of global warming.
The night was cool, not too cold, as I pulled up and parked to find my father’s home dark and empty. He and my mother had likely gone off to visit my Uncle Gary and his family in Andrews, out in west Texas that smells of crude oil and sand.
I walked for a time around the house checking each room until I finally decided to turn out all the lights and head back outside. If the end of the world came, I wanted to meet it head on in Mother Nature and beneath the stars.
With the dogs—Angel, Samson and Gator—at my heels, I walked in the dark out to the small hill where the weeping willow overlooked our pond. The dogs watched me sit facing away from the pond before chasing after wild animals and noises hidden in the dark crevices of the countryside and alongside the rock quarry where I used to swim naked as a kid.
I didn’t have a watch then and I figured if the end of the world came crashing down, none of it would concern me as I sat beneath a canopy of stars out on Pine Creek Ranch.
I guess I figured the telephone would start going off like crazy and that, for me, would signal the beginning of the end. But for the last hour of 1999, the December night was silent, the stars were beautiful and endless, and I sat there thinking how little my life mattered—compared to the end of the world that is—and how if it all did end, what would happen? What would it be like? Would the end be quick, like an atomic bomb blast? Or would it be slow, as in starvation and disease? And I wondered most about my life and if I’d ever make it out of that crummy little town called Deadwood, a black hole in the heart of Texas that sucked people in and never let them leave.
I wondered if I’d ever see the world and live to achieve my dreams at becoming a world famous novelist. I wondered if my parents would live to see it all too. I wondered if I’d grow to disappoint my sister or if she’d grow to disappoint me. I wondered, most of all, if I’d ever find true love, and how at that very moment, somewhere in the world the woman of my dreams, very likely a child herself, looked at the universe and galaxy above her and thought of me ten thousand plus miles away.
I thought of all these things and more and as I did the clocks struck twelve, the end of the world did not come, and out over the rock quarry I told you about, the largest most beautiful display of fireworks boomed and blossomed and magnified the spectrum of colors, lighting the night sky in front of me as if the show was for me alone and I was the last man living on Earth.
Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing