Guilt

by | Feb 14, 2023 | CNF, Issue Thirty-One

I was seventeen and leaning over the handles of my bike. My friends were resting on bikes too, all of six of us, as a storm gathered in the West over the granite ledge of the ridge. I could feel the electricity and the choke of coming rain. It didn’t take long for news to spread in the small town and soon the farmstand had radioed us out in the field and we could see the state trooper who lived at the end of the farm road standing in the intersection in his civies, directing traffic with a handgun, and helicopters came up river and circled like vultures. There had never been a bank robbery as far back as anyone could remember. And so, we put down our hoes, parked the pick-up at the barn, rounded up a pack of bikes, and snuck behind the trooper along the railroad tracks and out into the parking lot of the gas station where we had a front row seat to the drama across the road at the little bank building. We wanted something to happen. And perhaps this is why I think of the day often, because I am ashamed not of bearing witness but of wishing as I did so, for greater violence. Because it wasn’t cash the boy with the gun wanted, but help. He was begging to be admitted to the hospital but he couldn’t make anyone understand how bad the voices were in his head until he pumped birdshot into the drywall by the teller’s station. He never once asked for money. We watched as black FBI vehicles rushed across the bridge and sealed the state line and SWAT officers stormed across the roof. The helicopter blades scattered fresh cut hay, so that later it would have be threshed and winnowed again before bailing. The storm broke before they dragged him out. Rain first, big drops on the pavement, washing the dirt from our arms. I could taste the charged air in that water. Lord, I revisited this day so often. How, the next morning I read the paper, and there was the story of the boy and my chest grew heavy. How we still couldn’t help ourselves from going to the bank at lunch to finger the holes in the wall. They took him out as thunder broke over town. Dragged him really. Two SWAT officers carrying him, his feet dangling as they swept him away. We turned around then. Weather moves fast that time of year. We pedaled hard but the storm caught us before we reached the farm. Inside the barn we drew the heavy sliding doors shut against the wind and rain and stood there in that potent darkness dripping. I began to shiver. The rain was so loud on the tin roof that anything we might have said to each other was lost. The boy’s sneakers dragged through the mud. We might have cheered with the others when he was pulled out. I think we did. I think we all cheered.

Read more CNF | Issue Thirty-One

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