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The five of us stood in the fountain in the center of the quad, our view of the police presence and news crews surrounding the crowd unobstructed from our elevated height. Signs and a constant uplift of sweet smoke were the only things obscuring our view of the entire campus as we sat in our wet abode beneath the bronze-colored statue of some horse-riding American revolutionary adorning center of the fountain. Though it was unusually hot, I wasn’t particularly happy about having to strip down to my underwear to keep my clothes from getting soaked by the fountain. I wasn’t too thrilled either about being one of the leaders of this massive student occupation of the center of the school, but there I was, being incredibly hip with the people that had been my friends for most of the time I had been at college—Luke, his girlfriend Emily, Charlie, and Anna. Like me, they had all stripped down to their underwear for the occasion, and Luke, the organizer of this event, was sporting a megaphone through which he shouted incendiary remarks towards our school’s administration. I had the unshakeable feeling, however, that today was going to come crashing down upon our heads.
Before I continue, you have to first understand the type of person Luke was, since he was the cause everything that happened that day. I’d known him since high school actually, and he hadn’t changed since then—he always had the tendency to try to make everything he did came from some grand, historic precedent, to make it seem as if he was the inheritor of the legacy of every avant-garde movement that had ever existed. However, the real problem with this was that he wasn’t just naïve enough to view us all as counterculture iconoclasts; he thought himself to be the leader of our revolutionary force, the Kerouac of us Beat poets, the Lenin of our Bolshevik Revolution. Until today’s demonstration, Luke’s revolution hadn’t really done anything, which I found funny of course, because in that regard we were truly like his idols—shooting the prime of our lives away preaching to others and doing drugs while the rest of the world continued being as screwed up as it always had been. Understandably, the fact that he was the leader of the hippest kids in school and amazingly attractive made Luke the object of many a girl’s fantasy, and whoever had him as her boyfriend was the object of both admiration and bitter envy among the girls of our class. As for me, all I had ever been to Luke in the time I’d known him was loyal follower more than friend, and that was why I was here today in the fountain with the privileged elite leading this protest against administrative injustice.
But really, what the hell was I doing sitting in this fountain, protesting? It wasn’t like I cared immensely for any of the other four members of our revolutionary group—they were just like me, all of them: far too willing to do anything Luke desired. Emily used to be my best friend until she started going out with Luke, after which she started to grow more and more distant from me on all real levels though paradoxically began spending more time with me than ever before, always in the context of Luke and his radical schemes. It struck me how I barely knew any of these people I swore to be best of friends with—I really didn’t know anything about Charlie or Anna besides the fact that they professed to share the same love as the rest of us for passionate resistance to mainstream society. Charlie was the member of our group who perplexed me the most, for I knew it couldn’t be Luke’s good looks and funny jokes that was keeping him devoted to the cause like was the case for Anna, Emily, and me. Though I’ve heard of straight guys having almost obsessive relationships with male idols, I couldn’t really envision that being the reason for his being in the group. Could Charlie actually have the same crazy politics as Luke?
“Zoë!” Hearing my name shouted at me from outside the fountain awoke me from the comatose state in which I’d spent the majority of the day just sitting in the fountain as backdrop while Luke and Charlie shouted out angry rants against the school and the government. I stopped my reveries and tried to focus my smoke-blurred vision on the man outside the fountain intently trying to get my attention. It was Charlie.
“Luke says we have to move. They say the cops are pushing their way through our front lines.” He spoke authoritatively, as if we were military generals commanding an actual rebel army, his words frightening me. I scanned his face, trying to read his expression. His hazel eyes were looking at my face, which I appreciated in my barely-clothed state, but overall his whole face looked distinctly worn out, as if he had just completed a grueling marathon. What was most troubling, however, was the swollen area under his right eye.
Before I could inquire about his injury, he resumed his talking, with an increasingly present sense of panic in his voice. “Zoë! We have to go. This place is getting hot—we’re going to fight. Luke, Emily, Anna, and some guys are getting some Molotov cocktails ready.” At this point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to burst out in laughter or scream in panic. First of all, why hadn’t I noticed that everyone had left me by myself in the protected fountain while they went off to prepare some improvised incendiary devices? Secondly, and far more importantly, why were we preparing Molotov cocktails? It seemed like we had suddenly entered one of Luke’s favorite anarchic revolutionary cookbooks or some Beat poem—Molotov cocktails? Such ridiculous explosive bottles were the stuff of a seriously violent, pissed-off, or oppressed group of people, not a bunch of peaceful hippie college students that had finally decided to organize a massive protest for no real reason in their final year as students. I opened my mouth, going to raise a serious objection to this matter, but right then a massive banging sound rang throughout the smoke-filled quad and I faintly saw in the distance something burst into flames.
“Let’s go!” Charlie pulled me the hand and quickly led me out of the fountain, and then we began to force our way through the crowd toward the flames and shouts in the distance. Screams and shouts began resounding through the air as we ran to where more and more flaming masses began to sprout up into the sky, undoubtedly caused by Luke and his damned Molotov cocktails. As we began to reach the edge of the students, I could make out Luke and Emily withdrawn from the front groups of underwear-clad students openly clashing with the police, their attention directed at the ground, presumably at someone who had been injured. Charlie and I reached the two of them, and we gasped when we saw that it was Anna lying on the ground in front of them. She was still alive, that much was certain, but she had definitely been beaten badly by the police. Her long jet-black hair was strewn wildly around the pavement surrounding her head, and it was impossible to clearly make out her facial features through the blood and dirt congealed around the multiple cuts on her face. It was a terrifying sight, her body, as it lay on the ground as if it were a taunting, ironically comic illustration of just how far over our heads we were.
I could see the anger boiling up in Luke’s blistering red face, which marred his handsome features. Charlie and I touched him lightly on the back, trying to keep him turning this situation into more of a train wreck than it already was. It didn’t work—he drew violently away from us, spewing enraged comments about fascists and neoconservatives, and withdrew a shiny black handgun from the bag he had been carrying with him the entire day. Charlie and I backed away from Luke and Emily, utterly confused by the preposterous happenings unfolding before our eyes. I began to seriously wonder I was hallucinating this entire day’s ridiculous course of events.
“Put it down, Luke.” I was surprised to hear my voice be the one speak up in objection to his actions. The attractive features that had for so long kept me captivated with him had turned into ugly, violent things—his constant carefree smile was now a bitter scowl, his dark eyes now yearned for revenge. A change had come over Emily too, seeing one of the group maimed in such a way; the same anger that had found its way into Luke now crept into her as well, it looked she finally believed in the cause Luke had had us fighting for all along. Luke ignored me, and, pulling Emily along with him, pushed his way back to the fringes of the crowd again. Charlie and I exchanged fearful glances, and then I heard a gunshot ring among the clang of glass bottles breaking.
Screams everywhere, our protest began pushing back out against the police lines, overrunning the gate at the entrance of the crowd and spilling out onto the streets of the city. Charlie and I had lost sight of Luke and Emily as we were swept up along with the charging students overwhelming the cops that had been expecting a peaceful protest. We were trapped in the stampede pushing out away from the fountain and the quad, coming to a halt as more screams and yells began to pierce the air and riot control emerged on the scene and pushed the student force back. A new smoke began to fill the air, as people screamed and scattered from the perimeters of the mass. I wanted to run far away from this place, wanted to purge myself of the toxic smoke now in my lungs and replace it with the sweet scent of this morning’s innocence that made everything so much clearer. I lost my grip of Charlie, my only anchor against the pushing tide of students, and found myself swimming amongst the crowd, a nameless fish a school of protestors fleeing from the police. I had lost all sense of where and who I was, everything was so hazy now and there was no Charlie or Luke to hold onto.
Our swarm finally pushed past the fountain, its revolutionary horse the first sight to register with me in midst of all the chaos throughout the quad. I saw it beckoning me away from the terror everywhere, and I struggled to break apart from the stampede and then jumped into its waters. The temporary calm the wetness induced my senses as I sunk beneath the surface of the water couldn’t flush away the terrible feeling reverberating through me louder than any sound of the police that nothing was going to be okay.