Parking Lot Superhero
My friend Barb and I trotted our way through drizzling rain in the barely-lit parking lot with our jackets bunched up around our heads. As we climbed into the car, I locked it from habit. Just then the car rattled and I glanced out the window, expecting a wind storm.
Several guys were shaking my father’s car up and down. Somebody pounded on the windshield as if to break it. I had never seen any of them before, though they were probably around our age.
“What are we going to do?” Barb’s voice shrieked. Sweat sloshed between the steering wheel and my hands in their stranglehold grip. Barb and I rose and fell with the car. Barb’s head bobbled on her neck like back window décor.
We were too scared to step out of the car. If we stayed put, the front windshield could give way to their fists. It seemed as if the car itself would fall apart.
From out of the shrouded distance, Jack Bennett and his sidekick, a guy who followed him around the hall at school, appeared car side like Batman and Robin.
Jack and I had shared the same fourth grade class and then went to different schools. In eighth grade, we were back in the same school. In physical science class, Jack took over the smelly job of mixing chemicals and monitoring the Bunsen burner, while I handed him test tubes and rotated the gas valve. Other pairs chatted more than they worked, and the room buzzed with sound, but Jack and I worked in a cocoon of silence.
I hated class because we spent too many days in a darkened classroom, which smelled of rotten eggs, watching football games I didn’t understand. I’d always thought science was fascinating. Now it seemed like a foreign language understood only by boys.
Rumor held that Jack was in slow learner classes, and I was usually confined to a small clique of advanced students, but the school decided to mix it up for science. Jack’s presence at my side had a calming effect on my new-found science anxiety. He exuded capability. Jack concentrated on the recipe before us, pouring and mixing and stepping back when vapor rose out of the glass vial. I gasped and stepped back, too. We looked at each other and smiled.
Jack was head and shoulders taller than me, with thick unwashed brown hair, a handsome Elvis face, and broad shoulders. He was almost fifteen, nearly two years older than me. I wasn’t sure if I loved him like a brother or wanted to be his girlfriend. The only sure thing was that Jack and I had some kind of unspoken symbiosis.
I didn’t see Jack again until we both turned up in the same tenth grade science class. I had refused to dissect any animals in biology, so the administration transferred me to bonehead science. I sat at a table for four, with Jack and two other kids. I thought it ironic that Jack was tracked into this course when he helped me pass eighth grade science.
He still looked the same: hair unwashed and tousled, handsome, smelling faintly of mechanic’s grease. To stay awake during the teacher’s monotonous lectures, the other girl and I chatted and joked softly, while Jack grinned and occasionally wrote funny comments on a piece of paper he pushed across the table.
Now we were all seniors, looking for something to do on a Friday night. Barb and I had been careless, not paying attention. Seeing Jack and his friend rushing to my car, I felt hopeful in the midst of my fear. Jack began pulling boys off my car, punching and flinging like in a full-blown movie fight. He motioned hurriedly for me to take off.
I had to search my mind quickly for a decision. If I stayed, we were all in danger — and Jack’s heroism would have been pointless. I peeled my car out of there, leaving Jack and his friend alone in the fight.
This is where I want to end the story. After all, I had a conflict and was rescued. Because I didn’t do my own rescuing and there was no epiphany — at least for me — we could classify it as a fairy tale. But in the manner of fairy tales, there is a second ending. Or maybe a hidden subplot.
The previous year, the school bus had buzzed with gossip about Jack’s family. His mother and her ex-con stepbrother had been arrested for the murder of Jack’s father, an amateur detective, who had been overheard giving the police a crime tip. When Jack’s dad came home from work, the step brother stabbed him fifty-nine times. The local newspaper published an update in every issue, as it followed the trials. I tried to remember if Jack had ever mentioned either of his parents.
That’s when I realized we had not exchanged more than one hundred words since fourth grade.
A few weeks after his father was killed, Jack returned to school. When I ran into him in the halls, we’d nod and keep walking. I never got the courage to tell him I was sorry about his father. Then, Jack donned his superhero cape and rescued Barb and me. With the windows closed against the rain and the bad guys, Jack and I didn’t exchange words that night either. I never saw Jack after the parking lot fight and don’t know how he fared against that brutal crowd. I don’t recall if he graduated with our class. All these years later, I wonder what happened to Jack and marvel that even after the murder, he envisioned himself as a hero, not a victim.
I suspect there wasn’t any happily-ever-after for Jack, and I can’t say there was for me either, although my mother never did kill my father. And if I ever have an epiphany it might have to do with the thousand other versions of this story I could have told.