Rumors were the lifeblood of our neighborhood. Information was like a virus that spread quick and indiscriminately. It was as good as currency and the closest thing to power anyone from around here would ever hope to have.
Mostly it was about the economy, the lack of jobs, how times are changing; real adult stuff. But the best stuff, the real juicy information, were the deaths.
Suicides and driving accidents, shit even a murder now and then. There were the bar fights and the freak accidents over at the power plant. Violence had long ago cloaked itself over our town making it impossible to remember a time when the norm wasn’t as powerful and intense.
We grew up knowing nothing else. The alternatives were out there, just beyond the town’s borders, but our lack of money didn’t allow us to see that far. We were isolated, cornered off by the river and the nuclear power plant.
This was before Facebook or Instagram or Foursquare or Pinterest or Twitter or Skype. There was no My Space. The only thing available was AIM, but I was the only one who owned a computer. My mom monitored my use. She blocked off all of the good sites, leaving me with encyclopedia sites and message boards.
I remember the big thing was when I got Windows 95 for Christmas of 1997. I knew enough to manage my way around message boards, but none of us could undo the parental controls. Soon the novelty had worn off for my friends when they realized that none of us knew what we were doing. It was just a big textbook on a screen.
We stayed away from it and tried to stay outside as long as we could. Each day we would all hang out until sunset or dinner time or when our parents got home from work, whichever came first. Between baseball and basketball and hanging out with them, I had no time to become proficient on the computer.
So we were just like our older generation, slaves to the hushed tones and idle whispers between neighbors while at the line in the deli or at the Post Office.
The first one I could remember was when I was in grade school. The mother of a classmate of mine died after a long bout with an illness. According to the kid, she had cancer. I overheard my mom on the phone telling someone that the cancer was a lie. That it was just a cover-up for the real reason why she died. She said that it was because of AIDS. Pneumonia actually, but it was a result of the disease lowering her body’s ability to fight off viruses.
I stayed quiet and didn’t move because I wanted to hear the whole conversation. My mom said that she’d gotten it from that bastard and that he left town because of it and that’s why my classmate is living with only his mother. She talked about other things too, which made the whole thing sound worse. Her ability to pivot, switch to complaining of how the garbage man always throws the garbage cans halfway into the road, was strange.
The word was that one of the boys in high school had died from an overdose of heroin. He was an only child and six years older so none of us knew him that well. I’d see him in the deli buying cigarettes, always menthol.
One time I saw him at the pharmacy. I was there with my mom who was convinced that if I began to take some over the counter vitamins that I’d stop getting sick. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her twelve-year-old boy was getting sick because of the alcohol and drugs I was taking. I saw him ducking in and out of the aisles. He was wearing a big puffy snow jacket even though it was May. He stuffed a few things into his jacket before walking out. I saw where he grabbed a few bags of cotton swabs and other weird things. It wasn’t until I heard about his death that I put it together. That day the alarm went off and he took off running.
The word was that his father walked in and found the body. He had to run back out of the house to keep the mom from coming in and seeing him. She was yelling at him to tell her what was wrong, but all he did was shake his head and then throw up on the front yard. I’m not sure how much of this one is true, but it sounded right.
Rumor had it that a whole car full of teenagers died in an accident that wasn’t really accidental. Apparently the driver was drunk and there were plenty of drugs found at the scene but that was left out of the official story. The driver was the darling boy from town. He was the first one that I ever remember getting to high school and managing to fit in with the rich kids and his townie friends at the same time. He led the sports teams and had good grades.
People in town were saying all the time how some small schools were going to give him a scholarship to play basketball and some bigger ones, like the ones on SportsCenter, were interested in him as a baseball player. He was going to get out of this town and it wasn’t going to be by getting sent upstate or overseas. Rumor had it that he was doing 80 in a 30 zone and wrapped his dad’s car around a telephone pole. There were three others in the car, his girlfriend and another couple.
They all died instantly and the first responders, colleagues and friends of the driver’s old man, cleaned up the drugs and got rid of the bottle of liquor. The rest of the car was mangled. It took them a few hours to get the two out of the backseat.
Rumor had it that it took the county medical examiner a weekend to put all four back together again so that the families could identify them in person. None of them had an open casket funeral. It wasn’t until the report came out of the examiner’s office about the alcohol level of the driver that the other kids’ parent’s got mad.
Rumor had it that they were going to sue, but the driver’s family had nothing of value. Their only car was totaled and they lived in a double wide rusted out trailer. The talks of legal action slowly went away as the memory of them faded.
According to the newspaper a young child was killed by accident in the boatyard down by the trailers. They said he was only 6 years old. They only talked in generalities, leaving the details to those deemed more worthy. A different zip code and maybe a different page number but as it was, ours was worth A12. There was no picture, nothing to try and capture the boy’s short life in a still moment. The story was two paragraphs long, but people were talking. In between the smudged ink and measly byline of the reported story lay the truth. It was an accident but not on the part of the kid. No, that’s what the old man that ran the yard said to the newspaper.
He said that the child was trespassing and that it was an unfortunate accident that could’ve been prevented. He knew, and so did the rest of the town, that the kid’s dad was somewhere down south with a new family and that the mother was a crack head who spent her days a few towns over working anyway she could in order to get her some money to smoke. With the kid now in grade school she would be out all day and night, sometimes she’d be gone for a few days at a time.
What really happened down at the yard was less tragic and more pathetic. We all knew what went down because we used to sneak around in there when we were younger. We’d look for anything of value on the boats and strip them. It was also a great spot to smoke or bring one of the townie girls for a little necking. You could hide in the rows of boats and not be found. The old man was stingy, a real cheapskate. He was just after the money. He wanted the most he could get with doing the least amount of work.
He was supposed to have the boats tied down to the cages with tarps on each one, but he would only do that for the first and last of the month. The rest of the month he barely even came by the yard himself and he’d even leave it unlocked sometimes because he was in such a hurry to strip all of the tarps and bring them to his other job. He knew that the mother wasn’t going to sue because then she’d have to admit to not being at home and that would nullify any damages and would probably have her welfare revoked.
So yeah the reporter put in the necessary effort when it came to the boy but we all knew and the truth was too big and too scary to fit in the newspaper.
There were more rumors, more gossip but after a while I got used to it. It had become the soundtrack to our pathetic lives. By high school, it was just noise, a useless distraction, a way to wallow in our sorrows.
I was able to tune it out. By doing so, I silently became just another, content with the talking and whispers as long as it wasn’t about me.