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The Misfits blared as I laced up my boots. Tonight was the rally on 8th St. and I was meeting Chelle at Blaring Bands around the corner. I grabbed the signs and my bag and got in my hearse. We called it “the death ferry” because of its haunting look. Then again, maybe the car doesn’t haunt Washington DC, but rather Chelle and I do. We were rallying against toxic sludge and other gunk being dumped into a local lake. A few years ago, we decided it was a waste of life if our voices weren’t heard, after hearing about some people putting dogs down for no reason at the local shelter. We were so against it we went to our first rally and felt like we were standing up to everyone, which was an awesome feeling at age sixteen.
I pulled into Blaring Bands as soon as Chelle walked out from her shift. Her spiky hair was neon pink this week. She was wearing a black shirt with an anarchy insignia on the front in white. Her jeans were ripped and her boots came up to her knees. She was awesome. “Hey Penn”, she screamed over the blaring music emanating from the car. She hopped into the car and took out my Strokes CD and replaced it with some screamo band called the Black Veil Brides. Ugh. I shot her a look and she took it out with a smile and put in American Hi-Fi. I relaxed when the lyrics float through the car. “She’s just the flavor of the week”, we sang loudly and completely off-key. A few songs later we got to the JW plant and joined the masses.
As we chanted, the police came to bring peace. We chanted louder. The manager came out where we were. “Cut the sludge or we won’t budge! Cut the sludge or we won’t budge! Cut the sludge or we won’t budge!” It went on for hours until the crowd started to retreat for the day. Many would come back tomorrow and the next day and so on until the unjust dumping finally ceased. I wasn’t a big environmentalist, but I wasn’t going to sit by and watch this happen. Chelle and I left around eleven and went back to my house to crash. I had a shift at Rippin’ Records outside of town in the morning and I wasn’t gonna be late. I refuse to lose the most awesome job in the world and, although my boss was a pretty cool dude, he was pretty strict about arriving late. I also had to get the money to pay off some of my mortgage bills.
I wiped of my heavy makeup and went to go to sleep, when I heard Chelle on the back porch. I looked out and saw her yelling into her phone. Her parents, like mine, were pretty non-existent, but when her mother had a sober moment, it usually ended up with Chelle being mad. Usually, her fuming lasted for about an hour before she ended up taking the Coke cans out my recycling and smashing them flat to chill out. Thank God I didn’t have to deal with that since my shift started at 9:00 a.m. The latest Chelle ever woke up was 11:30. I headed to bed and woke up at what seemed to be a few minutes later.
I threw on a Friday Night Boys tee and some ripped jeans before I headed downstairs for some breakfast, which consisted of a Coke and whatever I could find in the pantry. Luckily, I remembered to pick up some protein bars, so I won’t be starving by my lunch break.
I headed out to my car and saw a note on the windshield. It said “Meeting today at 7:00 pm against losers like you!” It had an address and other information at the bottom. I knew just who did this, too. Sarah Summers with her little clique of clones with their perfect pink nails and expert nose jobs who are so closed minded, I wonder if they even have a mind. I figure they all share one. I open up shop and a few regulars came in and bought whatever new Three Days Grace album was out and left. One girl came in looking for, save for the gag, some pop CD. I rolled my eyes and pointed to the “junk” section. Chelle called me an hour or two after getting to work and told me about a rally tomorrow against JW again. It was only 11:45, so I knew she had just woken up. I consented and hung up.
I looked up, my Sarah radar going off. I was like I could sense evil. Maybe it was the cold wind that followed her entrance. As soon as Sarah walked in, I did nothing to hide the scowl on my face. “I had no idea they hired trash here.” Her smirk made me want to puke. I rolled my eyes went back to reading The Rolling Stone. “Well aren’t you supposed to assist me in finding my music?” Right now was when I so wished John Hughes directed my life. Unfortunately, I have to help a total brat instead of telling a cute guy how an album is “white hot”. I sighed. Molly Ringwald had it good.
“What are you looking for”, I asked, gritting my teeth. “I don’t know”, she said in a high voice. “What do you usually listen to”, I asked, about to explode. It was so hard to not scream at her to just go away, but I held my ground. No way was I going to let Sarah Summers get the best of me. “Well… Do you have any Avril Lavigne?” I smiled a sickly sweet smile. “To your left on the third shelf.” She sneered. “Thanks.” She scanned the shelf and then turned back to me. “Not what I was looking for. Sorry.” She then swished her way out the door and I silently prayed that the door hit her on her way out. My lunch break came and I ran over to grab something from whatever fast food chain looked less covered in grease. I worked for a few more hours and practically clawing my way out the door, chomping at the bit to just get out of there.
I got home and met the pizza man at the door. I paid him and entered the house and ran into Chelle in her bathrobe. “AAAAHHHHH”, she screamed to the top of her lungs. “Omigosh chill!” She instantly stopped and looked at the pizza. “What kind?” I laughed. She went from screaming to asking questions about pizza in a matter of seconds. How I love Chelle. “What do you thin? It’s pepperoni, as usual.” She frowned. “No pineapple?” I crinkled my nose in disgust. “I don’t think so.” She giggled and then dove into the pizza. “How was work”, she asked. I told her the whole story about Sarah. She scoffed and performed a perfect eye roll. “Nice.”
We ate our pizza in silence after that and got ready for the next rally at the JW plant. Little did I know what was really going to happen. We got into my hearse and I rode to the plant. We got out and grabbed the signs. We ran into the crowd chanting and waving our signs.
A simple non-violent rally would transform into a brutal riot. All chaos broke loose when the police came. They opened fire after the violence broke out to the point of insanity. It was during the craziness Chelle and I got separated. I was looking for her when it happened. The bullet bit into my skin with extreme pain. My vision sparkled. Through the pain and tears, I smiled. I had done what I had wanted. My life was fulfilled by my death. My voice had been heard. I had taken a stand.
Michelle “Chelle” Chasse
“Now, explain what happened that night Michelle”, my new psychiatrist asked. I didn’t want to tell him about Penn. What happened that night at JW was nobody’s business and I was not about to spill. I scowled at him. “Why do you care? This job probably pays to little for you to actually worry that my friend, who by the way, was the only one who cared about me, got shot!”
“I understand you why you feel that way, but truly? I do care”, he said “concerned”. I almost laughed at his false worrying. It was ridiculous. What was I doing here? This guy just made me want to puke. I stood up and left. I just walked out. I couldn’t stand this garbage any longer.
When I got outside I went to the bus station. While on the way home, I thought about Penn’s hearse that would have been driving me home, were she alive. I thought about the music blaring and sounding completely and utterly terrible with our off-key singing. I felt dead.
How could I live without her? I suddenly filled with depression and guilt. I was the one that called her about the assembly. It was my fault we got separated when she was shot. I had gone to help a girl who had fallen and was about to get trampled by the masses. I was the one she was looking for. She wouldn’t have gotten shot if she hadn’t moved. I then got angry. Why didn’t she just stay put? Why can’t she be here now when I need her the most?
I had too many unexplained question filling my brain to maximum overload. I felt… awful. How could I think this about my friend? She was watching my back when she needed me to watch hers. I gave up trying to answer the numerous questions running through my mind. I got off the bus and went home. When I got there, I decided something. I was going to leave this place. I was going to run, fast and hard. I dashed up the stairs and shoved anything worth any value into a giant duffel bag and left. I hopped the earliest train to somewhere I can’t even pronounce in Ohio. I left Penn and the rest of my life behind.
Deputy Sherriff Jackson Triste
I was new on the job. The riot in town at the JW plant was out of control and all of us were called out. I packed up and headed out ready to corral the insane crowd all by myself. I had this. I had it until I pulled my trigger. We were told to try to maintain peace without violence as long as we could. Some shots had already gone off, but that was the protesters who shot, not us.
Suddenly, without my brain fully processing the thought, my gun went off and I saw who I hit as they went down. It was some girl, about nineteen, who got hit. I was ridden with guilt and self-hatred for days. It was my fault the people close to her were suffering. After a week of being at home, thinking my deeds over, I turned in my badge. I went to her gravesite after getting her name from the obituaries. Her tombstone was a plain, dull, gray thing with only her name carved in it and the dates of her birth and death. I glared at it and walked away. No one would have gotten hurt if they hadn’t gone insane over a few stupid fish.
My dad was mad at me for quitting, but he didn’t shoot someone who wasn’t even the worst part of the riot. She was probably just trying to get out. They found the main rioter, who when pulled in for questioning, called himself “The Angel of Life”. I didn’t if he called himself The Lorax. All I knew is that it was his fault anything happened. He and a bunch of other loonies decided to involve a huge crowd in a crazy riot. He should be in for life.
I gave up and went on a vacation. I had to. I was dying here. I felt awful and I needed to forget this. I needed to live life without a veil of death hanging over it. I packed up and left for my sister’s house in Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio. I hopped in my car and headed out. I didn’t even look back.
I got a job in Cuyahoga Falls at a diner. The pay was awful and the hours seemed to drag on. It was wonderful. I rarely thought about that night when Penn died. It seemed like it was a million years ago. Maybe it was. I stopped keeping track of the days. I wore the same kind of shirt everyday. It simply read “JW Plant Riot Survivor”. I rarely got a comment on it, other than a look of knowing or confusion. I came in on Tuesday and started going around my tables. I was about to ask this one guy’s order when he asked, “Did you know her”. I looked at him confused. “Did I know who?” He looked up just as sad as a person could look and said “Did you know Penn Sustantivo?”
Her name brought tears to my eyes. All I could do was nod. He asked me outside, crying hard too. I followed and he turned to me.
“It was my first day on the job. I was careless and stupid. I felt like I could bring down an army, which is close to what the crowd that day. I could barely think and my gun fired. It killed her.”
I could barely speak, if at all. I hated this man, but I didn’t. I could see he was riddled and hollowed with guilt. I went back inside and left to go back home. I got rid of my “survivor” t-shirts and skipped town. I never saw that man again and I didn’t want to.
I left town after talking to Penn’s friend. I moved to Seattle, WA to get away. I also moved to San Francisco, CA and Las Vegas, NV. None of the places I went mattered. I lived the rest of my life in a blur. I never saw any of the places I went. I could only remember a few names of all cities I visited. I don’t know what I did during those years, most likely because I refused to remember. I put up giant mental blocks. The jobs I did, the food I ate, the people I met, none of it matters. All that matters is that I was weak. I could have lived my life and at least tried to remember that life can go on even if you messed up. I never really paid attention to that though.
Penn Sustantivo and twelve other people are recognized in a memorial in Washington DC. It is visited daily and is recognized in Washington DC as “The Riot of 2010” every May 13. Michelle Chasse later founded a national organization called Functioning Families Inc. It helps families who had relatives and friends who were killed violently. Jackson Triste spent the rest of his life traveling across the States. He never married and died in 2080 of a heart attack in his sleep.