The Recollection

Garrison Schmidt

Forgotten. This is the only thing I’ve ever been afraid of being. Not sick, not hurt, not dead. Forgotten. But now I lay, face up on the ground, gasping for air, tasting my own blood, and beginning to wonder, where did this all go wrong?


It could have been so many times. Toward the beginning, when my father preached to my brother and I the same thing every morning before school.

“It is important to do what is right. Even if that means you break the law of man, for the law of God is higher than the law of man. It says so in the Bible.” I looked at my brother, and we nodded, silently agreeing. We knew damned well that he had never picked up a Bible, let alone read one. Yet he still used it as his most powerful weapon. He was a God fearing man. Usually when people use this term, ‘fear’ is synonymous with ‘respect.’ For him, it was much more literal. He was intimidated by his Lord, and by death because of it.

It could have been the daily beatings throughout my childhood that came from the hands of my brother, Brian. As I got older and neared manhood, I finally realized that he did it all out of love. I realized that it was much better to learn to stick up for myself at the hands of my own brother. He really did love me, and actually was trying to protect me from the beatings that he knew lay in my future, beatings from boys much less forgiving than himself.

“If you ever start a fight with someone smaller than you, I’ll kick your ass,” he would say. “We’re fighters. Protectors. It’s what we do, and we’re pretty damned good at it. But the first and most important thing that you need to learn is that we fight for people who can’t stick up for themselves, and to look after each other. We don’t start shit; we finish it.” The protectors thing didn’t come until later though. After mom died.

We had little to no respect for our father. He was a coward. He was a worker in the paper mill on the edge of town. He was a grunt, as low on the pole as one could be. We didn’t care about that, everybody’s dad worked at the mill. But not everybody’s dad took out his rage on his wife every night after dark. We’d go to bed, and pretend to sleep as he beat her up, night after night. He was careful not to leave any marks or bruises, anything that could be used as evidence against his drunken ass. I used to lay awake, praying the neighbors would hear what was happening and call the police, but I knew that no one would. This was an Irish neighborhood, 90% Irish Catholic. What happened inside your home was your business. Nobody called the cops. Ever.
But even Irish Catholic Cops can’t ignore a death.

I remember the night it happened so clearly. It’s strange how when your life flashes in front of your eyes, the things that you’ve tried so hard to forget stand out the most. It was a warm, sticky, east coast night. Summer was in its hottest month, but school was about to start. Brian and I were about to start fifth and second grade. Brian was so excited because he would finally get to go to the middle school. We were both excited because we would no longer attend the same school. Just like every other night, we talked in quiet voices so that our father couldn’t hear us, but we couldn’t hear him, either. Suddenly the sounds downstairs stopped. I still regret not stepping in earlier, but looking back, we really were just children. I will never forget that silence. We knew what he had done, what he had finally done. We stayed in our beds, afraid to move, afraid to cry, afraid that the sound of a tear hitting our pillow might remind him that we were here. We stayed still, silent as the fucking grave until we heard his car start and peel down the gravel driveway.

Our 911 phone call ended up with the first time the Massachusetts state troopers had come to our neighborhood in 15 years. They found our father the next day, literally dead in a ditch. I guess it was tough to accept what he had done once the liquor wore off. They called it a “murder suicide,” because he had slit his wrists with a shard of green bottle glass. Brian and I were no longer excited about going to different schools. Lucky for us, we wouldn’t have to. We moved in with our godfather; our uncle Tommy, and his girlfriend Karen.

Tommy and Karen tried so hard to make things good for us. They kept us fed, and kept a roof over our heads. Uncle Tommy even tried to fill in where our shitty father had lacked, which meant just about everywhere. He used to try to explain why our father did the things that he did. He explained that there really was good and evil, and that mankind was constantly fighting over it. He said that there was nothing more important than being on the side of good. This seemed scarily similar to what our father used to tell us, but the words seemed to mean something completely different when they came from the mouth of someone who was actually good. Brian and I vowed to never stand by and let something evil happen again. We swore to each other that no other person would suffer as Mom had, if we had anything to do with it. I remember exactly how it felt when I cut open the palm of my hand with an Uncle Henry pocket knife and slammed it into Brian’s, freshly cut. We made a promise then and there, a pact.


For a long time, it was really hard. Everything was difficult. We couldn’t eat, we couldn’t sleep, things were definitely different. But eventually a sense of normalcy settled over us. We eventually were ready to go back to school. Going to school meant either walking all the way up and around on the highway that ran through town, or cutting through the old state junkyard that was next to Uncle Tommy’s. It generally cut about ten minutes off our trip, so we did it every day. This junkyard wasn’t just any junkyard. It was the place that the state took all the cars to that were involved in drunk driving accidents. They left them messy, brains still stuck to the windshield, hair melted to the seat, because first time D.U.I. offenders were required to walk through with an officer as part of their sentence. The officer would explain what had happened, a little thirty second sob story that had been exaggerated so that it could shock you in such a small amount of time. Most of the time the cop didn’t really even know what had actually happened. He would make up the story as he told it. What was worse was that they just made up the worst story that their small imaginations could muster. Sometimes they blew the story far out of proportion. Other times they weren’t even close to how awful and tragic the truth actually was. Sometimes the truth is worse than the lie.

So Brian and I walked through every day, and eventually we were numbed to the reason for the vomit we tried not to step in. None of it bothered us anymore, the smells, the sights, nothing. We were completely immune to it. We were unafraid.

The only thing that scared us was that no one remembered what had happened to them. At one point, these were front page stories. Everyone knew what had happened to these people in their cars. But now, all had forgotten.

School was very similar to prison. The food was terrible, there were armed guards and metal detectors everywhere, you couldn’t leave, and if a new kid was smart, he would have kicked somebody’s ass on the first day to establish a reputation. There weren’t too many people that had real hard reputations, but we did.

My childhood of constant beatings from Brian had tempered me. By high school, my knuckles were hard, my reflexes were sharp, and I fought to protect the defenseless. I had earned the status of Enforcer. Anyone who stepped over the line was quickly straightened out. I did what the guards and staff of the school wouldn’t do. I did what was right, no matter what.

But as with all who choose to live their life by a code of violence, the day came. Every man knows the day I am talking about. The day you fight the fight you know you can’t win. The day it all comes crashing down. It doesn’t have to be an actual fight. For some, it’s the day you finally stand up to their boss, expecting to make your point, but end up losing your job. For others, it’s the day you finally tell your wife that if things don’t change, and she doesn’t start treating you with some respect, you’ll leave her, and she replies that she wants a divorce anyway. For me, it was the day I tried to come out of the local bar and rock club, the Mock-Hock, and saw the group of skinheads blocking the door. They wouldn’t let anybody in or out, and no one was brave enough to say anything. There are a few things that are really predictable about Neo-Nazis. They’re almost always in big groups, they are usually armed, and they always fight dirty. These things make them one of the worst kinds of people to fuck with.

It was Brian’s twenty-first birthday, and I had used my fake I.D. to get him tickets to his favorite band at the Hock. When we realized why we couldn’t get out of the bar, we looked at each other, each knowing what the other was thinking, and began to push our way to the front. When we got to the doors and pushed them open, a man and his date begged us not to go out. The girl was especially insistent.

“Don’t! They’ll leave soon. It’s not worth it. Just wait a few minutes. Be cool, man,” she pleaded.

“We’ll be okay,” responded Brian. “We’re good at this sort of thing.”

By the time the door opened, it was too late. There was no way of telling how many of them were out there. We knew before we started that we would be outnumbered; this was okay. We had been outnumbered before. We just didn’t know that it would be this bad. The first thing we saw when we opened the doors was upward of twenty men. They were passing through our town, scoping for a new place to set up shop. Later the police informed me that their meth lab had been raided earlier in the month, and that they were running out of money. They had been rolling through towns, wreaking havoc and committing various crimes and that our town was just the latest stop on their tour de’ freak.

“What’s up, Bitch?” asked a small, ratty looking one.

Interesting things happen to your mind when you’re faced with total, uncontrollable danger. The term ‘fight or flight’ really nails it on the head. First, your stomach starts to hurt. Next, your knees and hands begin to shake. Sometimes your head feels light, and that’s all normal. In the movies, they make the hero out to be brave by showing you how they think a brave person looks. His wits keen, his hands and eyes steady, his jaw clenched and his mind set on victory, as if he doesn’t know or care that he’s in danger. Real bravery is knowing that you are in danger, feeling the fear, feeling sick and shaky, and standing your ground anyway. We knew these feelings. They were as familiar as old friends, and we weren’t about to let these guys think that their intimidation would work around here.

I lit a cigarette as Brian began to talk. He must have been really nervous, because he usually wasn’t the type to give a monologue before a fight.

“We’re going to ask you boys real nice to get out of the way so that these people can go home. Once they’re gone, we can deal with our own problems,” his voice shook a little toward the end. I blew the smoke from my lungs, and stepped in front of him.

“Why don’t you just get the hell out of here, and we’ll tell the cops we never saw you,” I said.

“Why don’t you shut the hell up, and I won’t kill you after I kick your ass,” said what seemed to be the leader of the group. He had on a sleeveless denim jacket that had a patch sewn to the breast pocket that said ‘Fuhrer’.

“Don’t ever threaten my brother’s life,” said Brian, his voice once again strong, “that’s a line that I just can’t let you cross.” With this statement, Brian Broke one of the cardinal rules of fighting, he let them know that he had something to lose.

“Ah, so you’re brothers,” said the leader “we had you two figured for a couple of gay boys.” He began talking to me. “You must be the smart one. You shut up when I told you to. You will be spared. Your brother, on the other hand, he might not be so lucky. He’s got a cocky little mouth on him. Don’t worry though. We’ll fix that.”

They all came at us at the same time, hard and fast. We held our own for a good piece of time. It’s hard to judge time in those situations, but it felt like forever. At one point I remember wondering when the police were going to show up. It had been a long time since I spent a night praying for somebody to call the police, knowing that no one would, and if they did, it would already be too late.

They made me watch as they killed him. They held me down and forced my face to the side so that I could see it happen, but I couldn’t see what was going on through all the tears. Then the lights went out.

I woke up in the parking lot. The police never came. I could feel the place on the back of my head where they had kicked me with the steel toed boot. It had turned into a bleeding, throbbing lump. I could see Brian’s dead, lifeless body. For the first time in my life, I felt completely alone.

Brian’s funeral was in the local Catholic Church. The priest said that nothing would ever be the same. He had no idea. Nothing was the same. I did some time in the hospital for the problems that seemed to be arising from a lifetime of concussions mixed with a recent series of kicks to my head. I had problems with my memory. I had constant tremors and shakes. My once smooth speaking tempo was now choppy and uneven. Of course, I had had many concussions in the past, and it felt like that, except that it never went away. The doctor said it was Dementia Pugilistica, also called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and where I come from, it’s called punch-drunk syndrome.

I struggled the rest of the way through high school. I never fought again. Things went back to the way they were at the school. Bullies ran the place. The young and the weak were preyed upon. I didn’t do anything about it. Eventually, I just quit going. Brian was the reason that I went to school. He told me that if I wanted to keep defending people after I graduated, I would need an education. But after he died, I didn’t care anymore.
I got a job down on the docks. I loaded fish waste, as in heads, bones, and guts, into the trucks for the fertilizer co-op. It was the only job I could get. I worked there for eight years. I went to work, came home, went to sleep, then went to work again. It had been ten years since I fought for anything. And I planned on keeping it that way.

But sometimes life doesn’t go exactly as planned. It is fall. The trees are dying, and so am I. I was walking home from work. It is Friday. I didn’t have any plans. I haven’t had plans in ten years. I take the same route home, every day. I was thinking about Uncle Tommy. He had married Karen a few years before, but she had recently died in a car accident, hit by a drunk driver. Her car was on display in the old junkyard. Tommy knew this, and I think it was just too much for him. He died on a Sunday. It seemed as though he had died of a broken heart.


As I walked past the same alley I walk past every day, I heard a sound. The sound wasn’t the same as the other sounds you hear walking home from work on the docks. It wasn’t the beeping of a dump truck in reverse. It wasn’t the sound of a tug boat straining to pull its morbidly obese load out to sea. It was, however, a sound I was frighteningly familiar with. It was the sound of the unprotected.

As I looked to my left to see the source of the sound, I saw what was happening. Two men, both dockworkers, had a young girl cornered. I didn’t know what they had planned, but they were armed with a box cutter and a Philips head. They were inching closer to her. My mind began to work. It had been so long since my mind had worked, I had forgotten what it felt like. As I watched the men move closer to her, I was flooded with memories. It was as if my life was flashing before my eyes, but I was in no danger. It would’ve been easy to walk away. Even the victim hadn’t seen me. I wouldn’t have to see her eyes go from fear, to hope, to disgust as she realized I had seen her then realized that I wasn’t going to do anything. Yes, it would’ve been easy.

But no, it wouldn’t have been easy, for when I saw her, I saw so much else. I saw my father, beating my mother and quoting Revelations. Everything that bastard knew of the bible came straight from a fucking Johnny Cash song. I saw Brian, lifeless as his soul departed in the parking lot. I saw countless small, helpless kids who needed someone to be on their side. And I saw the police, walking the convicted through the junkyard, faking remorse for the victims of tragedy. I saw it all. I saw it all. I saw it all.

I started running. I saw a beer bottle on the ground, and picked it up. I began to get dizzy. My illness had left strange marks on my day to day activities. When I tried to move at any pace faster than an easy walk, I almost always stumbled, and when I stumbled, I fell. But I didn’t fall. No, I kept moving, faster and faster toward the end of the ally. As I neared the men they heard my heavy boots hitting the ground. They both spun. The look on their faces was one of sheer terror, and they knew that they were screwed by the look on mine.

I lunged, flew through the air and struck one of them, knocking him down and hitting his head on the brick wall that lay behind him. I gathered myself and got back to my feet, which was more difficult than I remembered it being. I saw the girl, I recognized her. She was the weigh girl. She was in charge of taking down the weight upon entrance and exit of the docks. But as I staggered to my feet, the second man drove a screwdriver deep in between my shoulder blades. On reflex, I spun and jabbed, hitting him in the throat, and putting him down.

I wasn’t afraid of death. I wanted only one thing. I wanted to see her expression. I wanted to feel like a hero, one more time. When I saw her face, I saw exactly where I’d gone wrong. I needed that satisfaction, since childhood. It was an addiction. To feel like I’d helped, I’d saved. I never got to save my mother. I never got to save the people in the junkyard. But I had saved her, this girl from the docks. She knew that I’d saved her, I knew that I’d saved her, and that was what I needed. I knew now that I’d never gone wrong at all. I always tried to do the right thing, no matter what.

Now I lay, face up to the sun. She has gone to get help, but will be too late. I will die cold and alone, yet happy. Soon I’ll be gone. Soon after that I’ll be forgotten. That’s the only thing I’ve ever feared. I realize that when I’m gone, the memory of my mother will be gone, too. She will be forgotten. So will Brian, and Uncle Tommy. Karen’s story, cut short, will be forgotten. I can feel death falling over me. I open my eyes one last time, to see the sun or whatever it is that I’m sure I’ll miss, and the girl is back.

“Hold on. Help is coming,” she says. I try to get the words out, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Finally I find the strength, drawn from somewhere deep inside that I’ve never felt before.

“Please,” I say, “don’t forget about me. Don’t let me be forgotten.”

“Hold on, hold on.” This is all I can hear from her, but it’s getting quieter. It feels far away. Maybe the world will forget to remember me. Maybe it won’t. But she will always remember. And I won’t be forgotten.

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