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The first time I tried to kill a man, I was thirteen years old. I was a seventh grader at Oxford High School; he was a soldier, probably around nineteen or twenty, from nearby Fort McClellan. I don't remember his name now, though he must have told it to me. I remember little of what he looked like or the things he said to me. Mostly I remember how much I wanted him to die.
In 1985 in Oxford, Alabama, there wasn't much for kids to do. At night they'd drive around, looping up and down the highway between the mall and the Sonic, stopping for fries or burgers or to make out on Thrill Hill. They'd drink and smoke pot. Soldiers from the fort, making their own loops among the pawn shops and movie theaters and bars, would often intersect with the high school students and try to hook up. I suppose they were sometimes successful, though most of the kids I knew regarded guys from the fort as trashy, foreign, and dangerous.
At thirteen, I was too young and too straitlaced for this social scene. I spent my nights with homework and Stephen King novels, waiting for puberty (long overdue, by my estimation) and adulthood. I'd had a few crushes, but by and large, boys were still strange and often malicious creatures best avoided. As for the soldiers, I never gave them a thought when I noticed them at matinees or in the malls on weekends. They were simply another fixture of the landscape, like the red clay soil or Snow Creek or the World's Largest Office Chair next to the defunct furniture store downtown—something I noted as I passed by.
So this man, the one I tried to kill, I ordinarily would have passed by if he hadn't introduced himself. It must have been a Sunday afternoon, when the Sunshine Skate Center in town had a special rate and parents dropped off their kids for hours at a time. I had never really liked roller skating because I was tall and gangly and graceless even in tennis shoes, and the [End Page 99] additional element of wheels seemed to invite disaster and disgrace. I was there to chaperone my younger sister as she giddily circled the rink over and over and over. I was sitting on one of the carpet-covered benches, unlacing my rented skates and considering another game of Space Invaders, when he walked up.
He was taller than I was, but probably shorter than I am now, only about five-foot-seven or so. His build was slight but wiry, and he looked vaguely uncomfortable in his jeans and T-shirt. His hair had the standard military buzz, and he sported a thin, sandy mustache on his lip. He said he and his friend had been watching me skate, and pointed to the wall, where another buzz-cut stood smirking. "I told him I was going to come and say hey to you," he said.
I have no idea what, if anything, I said in reply. My ears rang with blood; I must've been blushing like a neon sign.
He looked over at his friend, back at me, and asked to sit. I must've nodded because he sat close beside me on the bench. He smelled like cheap snack bar pizza and cigarettes. He asked me my name, how old I was, and I told him. This is when he must've introduced himself, though I cannot recall that information, only what he said next. "You're pretty," he said.
Are there any words a girl more desperately wants to hear, yet fears hearing? I was tall, skinny, and freckled, with lank brown hair and crooked teeth still years away from braces. I was also smart and shy and was used to being teased by the boys in my school. This felt like a setup. Probably I said nothing and looked...