My new book, Tree Farm Girl, comes out this Spring. The following is a chapter that did not make the final edit. But I really like the story all the same.
THE DEAD BODY
When I was eight years old I found a dead body at the bus stop.
I was a Mexican kid growing up in one of the poorest parts of Flint, Michigan. That year our city was once again the murder capital of the United States of America. Growing up here, we saw things. Violence, drugs, drunkenness. We had a heightened sense of fear and knew when to duck and when to run.
When we found the dead guy, we didn’t know he was dead. I thought he was sleeping off yesterday’s drunk. He was slumped over the back of the driver’s seat of a big green Ford. His car sat in the abandoned lot that was our bus stop. It was just sitting there parked across 4 spots. So we snooped. I think bothering drunks is the inner city equivalent to cow tipping. Some brave soul would creep toward the car and we would watch with bated breath. Then they would rap on the glass and we would all scatter. We all expected the yells and curses of a slobbering fool. But the yells never came. We would rap harder. Eventually, we stopped running. Fear was replaced with morbid curiosity.
I was the only kid there that hadn't crept up and knocked on the window. I was assuming he would awake and my turn would never come. But it wasn’t happening. Finally, an older kid spoke up. “Nesto, try the door.”
Electricity shot through our little boy hearts.
“What?” I was scared. I was horrified. I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t strong. I was a little boy alone in the world trying desperately to get back home without getting beaten or dead.
“You’re up. Try the door. See if it’s unlocked.”
Whispers began to rise up. “Yeah.” “Good idea.” “Try the door.”
The initial rush was over, and now we had to try something harder. This idea was a revelation, and the idea had birthed a faith that wouldn’t be denied. This was my chance. My chance to be brave and cool in front of the neighborhood. This moment would live on for years, a story told in basements and backyards. I was gonna be a hero. So I stepped toward the car. The whispers faded as I crossed the safety of our line and into the emptiness between our games and the big bad world of adults.
Sweat appeared on my neck, and my breathing slowed. I walked quietly and resolutely. Through the glass, I could see the form of the man. I can’t tell you the color of his hair, or his height, nor his weight. He was just a shape. I got to the car door and stopped. The handle was right there. One of the big thumb push ones. All I had to do was check it. It was probably locked. I would push the button and nothing would happen and I would still be cool.
I reached my hand out. My whole body was trembling. The whispers of the crowd were for me. They cheered for me, not against me. And then my hand stopped. I couldn’t do it. I was too scared. I didn’t want to open the door. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to find what was in there. I pulled my hand back and walked back to our line. My head was downtrodden, and the crowd had turned. I wasn’t their hero, I was their prey. The jeers were there, and more were to come.
The older kid, the one who had first spoken, he walked by me with bravado. He walked right up to that car and grabbed the car handle. I couldn’t believe he did it. The door was unlocked. As soon as he depressed the button, the door flung open. The man had been leaning against it. With the latch depressed, the door swung out and his lifeless body poured out onto the pavement.
We didn’t giggle. We didn’t run. We just stared. We didn’t even run when the cops showed up. We had to see this to the end. I stood there staring for a long time. I was afraid that day at the bus stop. I have been battling that same fear my entire life. Whenever that moment came to reach out and try the door, I would always draw my hand back. This story, the one I am about to tell you, is about the time I didn’t.