One day, a new kid came to Ruskin. I decided to befriend him, knowing that he was probably scared to be in a new environment and school. His name was Nick.
When walking home from school with Nick, we were chatting like everything was normal. I was getting to know him and learn of his background.
One of my older brother’s friends came up to us as we were walking and joined us. I don’t remember the name of my older brother’s friend but I do remember that we used to say he lived in a mansion. Most likely he just lived in a large house, but I never had visited his house, so I never knew if it was true or just kids exaggerating.
Then, a kid riding a bike started approaching us. Out of nowhere, Nick jumped off the side walk onto the street and kicked the bike really hard. The bike toppled over and the kid was left scuffed and hurt. I did not know why Nick did that or whether he even knew the other kid. As the kid managed to regain his composure and quickly try to leave, my older brother’s friend said, “That was messed up.”
As my friendship grew with Nick, I discovered that these types of compulsive behaviors were not uncommon for him. He lived in a corner house right next to the creek. Since the house was only a few houses away from my house, I started to spend quite a bit of time with him. I discovered that Nick lived with his mother, a single parent and that Nick often was alone, since she was working.
Nick showed me lots of cool things. He once doused his hands with rubbing alcohol and lit his hands on fire in the bathroom. I was shocked. He also showed me a picture of a Playboy centerfold. It was a page ripped out from the magazine, but it fascinated me. We hid the picture outside the house, in a secret compartment used for cleaning his chimney. Sometimes, I would go to look at this picture briefly on my way to school.
Nick was everything I wasn’t. He was fearless and seemed to have no care in the world. No boundaries. In a sense, I felt protected when I was with him. He never seemed to turn his aggression towards me, probably because he saw me as an admirer. So we had a strange symbiotic relationship. He would keep me safe from bullies and I gave him the affirmation of a follower, long before Facebook would capitalize on the concept.
Then, one day, things changed.
Since Nick lived on a corner house, there were four corner houses that faced each other. An Indian family lived on an opposite corner. As Nick and I were playing, he started randomly yelling at the woman across the street. It was my first real experience with racial hatred. One of the things he told the woman was to go back to where she came from. He also criticized her English speaking abilities. Watching this, I was confused. I wondered if I was supposed to hate Indian people just because they were Indian. At the same time, I felt sad for the woman, because I felt she didn’t do anything to us and was just minding her own business. Even more surprising, I felt sad for my friend because he was so full of hatred and anger.
That very same day, Nick and I walked to my house. It must have been a Saturday, because my dad was in the front yard, fixing the flower bed in front of our house. When Nick saw my Japanese father, he started yelling at him too! I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard the word “Jap” before. I thought my father was going to kill this kid. But my father was calm and patient. It was as if my father had experienced this many times before. Like water, he absorbed the hateful remarks and seemed to realize Nick was just a kid and the hatred must have been built into him from his environment. My father never talked to me about this incident. It was as if it never happened. I didn’t know how to process all these things that had just happened to me.
A few days later, Nick and I went to the creek behind our house. I don’t know why I even decided to still hang out with him. Maybe I thought I could forgive him for attacking my dad. Maybe I thought I could save him from his hatred through our friendship. I don’t know.
As kids, we used to always walk through the creek as a shortcut to go to Ruskin. The creek was like the highway for the kids in the neighborhood with exits at both Ruskin elementary school and Piedmont Hills high school.
It was not uncommon for us kids to play with the tadpoles in one season and watch over time as they grew into frogs. And this day, Nick and I set out to catch some frogs. I can barely remember the incident. I can barely remember what he said to me. But for the first time, in the entire time we were friends, he started yelling at me and calling me names. I don’t know how it happened but I picked up a rock from the creek and slammed him in the face. I don’t know if I was protecting myself or if I was retaliating for how he attacked my dad.
But I didn’t stop. I hit him again and again and again. I wanted to make sure that nothing negative ever came out of that mouth again. And when I finally stopped out of exhaustion, Nick wasn’t moving. He was laying on the ground underneath me. Reality kicked in. What had I just done? What would happen to my family?
I didn’t know what else to do, but I rolled Nick’s body over a few feet and watched as his body rolled down from the top of the creek straight to the bottom. His body fell into a shallow pool of water below. Then, I dug a hole at the top of the creek and kicked an avalanche of dirt down the hill. I dug and I dug and I dug until the whole pool of water was covered with dirt.
I knew that Nick would eventually be found. I knew that my life would forever be changed. So all I could do was run home. At home, everything turned to slow motion. I have never experienced a longer day in my life. And that night, I waited. I waited for something. I waited for anything. A question about where I was all day. A question about whether I had seen Nick. I must have stayed awake the whole night, as my heart and mind raced wondering when everything would be brought to light.
But somehow a day passed. Then, a week. Then, a month. I would pass by Nick’s house on the way to school. No one asked about him. There were no police cars, no search parties, no press clippings featuring his mother on the front page. I didn’t understand it. Looking back, perhaps people thought Nick had run away. I still don’t know.
By the end of the school year, Nick’s mother had moved away. I never saw Nick’s mother again. I don’t understand how Nick’s body was never found.
Or perhaps it was. Perhaps it became a week long investigation that was shoved under the rug and wrapped up as a violent gang crime. Perhaps reality was right in front of people’s eyes but they refused to face it. After all, the neighborhood and school district were so pleasant. Who would want to tarnish that reputation?
To this day, I am shocked at how time has erased Nick’s existence from the world. But I still remember.