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Nothing to Lose
I wasn’t in school the day Hunter Walkman rushed into the cafeteria and shot twenty-nine people, but my best friend Sarah Lee Douglas was. She saw the whole thing unfold through the glass lens of her ancient Nikon camera, hiding under the water fountain in the corner.
Apparently, Hunter – an almost eighteen-year-old senior at the high school – came trotting into the school cafeteria at about 11:30, wearing a heavy black overcoat that hung down to his ankles like a cape. Sarah Lee remembers thinking that was odd, because although it was only April, the day was surprisingly sunny and warm.
But before she or anyone else really had time to think about his wardrobe choice, Hunter pulled out an enormous machine gun and started firing. Sarah Lee managed to dive off her seat and tuck herself out of sight beneath the leaky water fountain, but most of the other kids weren’t so lucky. Bullets flashed through the air, spinning like pink-clad ballerinas, almost invisible to the naked eye. All around the cafeteria, students tried to flee. Some screamed; some cried; some only made a quiet thud noise as they hit the linoleum, the life already gone from their bodies.
Sarah Lee recorded it all. I’ve seen the video. It’s shaky because her hands were trembling the whole time, but she still got it on tape, and in the end that was the main evidence proving Hunter Walkman’s guilt.
He was locked up three months ago, and since he killed twenty-one people and wounded another eight, he’ll be locked up for the rest of his life. That means every second Tuesday of the month for the rest of my life I’ll be sitting in a chair across from him, wishing he wasn’t my older brother.
“Oh, Hunter, you wouldn’t believe how beautiful the azaleas in our front garden are! Such a gorgeous shade of blue…”
I cross my arms and shift my gaze to the wall. Like all the other walls in this prison, it’s made of two-inch thick concrete. Up at the top, near the ceiling, there’s a spider web of cracks that looks kind of like the Eiffel Tower if you squint your eyes really tight and stare at it for a while, like I do every time we visit.
This is the third time we’ve come to see Hunter in jail, and each time only gets worse. He talks to us about the weather, about animals, about sports – but as soon as the topic of the shooting comes up, he turns to stone. He refuses to say anything about it, and it drives my parents crazy. They want to know why. Everyone does. None of the investigators could figure out his motive: he was going to graduate in two months with a 3.7 GPA, he played lacrosse, he had a long-term girlfriend named Kelly…he seemed like a successful high school senior. So no one understands, and Hunter himself isn’t telling anytime soon.
“Jake, don’t you have anything to say to your older brother? It’s been a month since you’ve seen him. Surely you want to tell him about your lifeguard job, or the beach, or - ”
I silence my mother with a glare and turn back to the Eiffel Tower cracks. I begged her and my father to let me stay home today, but they insisted on my presence, so here I am with my criminal brother.
My mother sighs, a shaky sigh that means she’s gotten to the point of thinking about it too much, and now she’s going to ask Hunter about the shooting.
“Hunter, I can’t stand it anymore! Why, sweetheart, why on earth did you do it? That’s all I want to know! Why won’t you tell us?” She slams her hands on the table as she finishes her outburst, and tears sparkle in the corners of her eyes like tiny diamonds.
As I expected, Hunter’s gaze immediately turns cold, and his whole face tightens. My dad clutches my mom’s hand under the table, and they both watch him intently, hoping for the explanation they’ll never get.
I snort and almost turn away again, but something stops me. I keep staring at Hunter, and suddenly his eyes meet mine. I see a new emotion in them, something deep, dark, and sad, that wasn’t there before, and the sight of it stirs a long-forgotten memory inside me.
Last December, we’d stayed in a hotel while our roof was being replaced. Hunter and I had been forced to sleep in the same bed, and around two o’clock in the morning, when I was only half-awake, he had abruptly whispered in the dark.
“Jake, I know you’re probably fast asleep right now and can’t hear me, but I need to say it out loud anyway. My life is falling apart, even though it doesn’t look like it. Kelly cheated on me, the new lacrosse coach hates me, and the only way I can escape is through drugs and beer. I know they’re bad for you, but oh God, Jake, I can’t stop. They bring me relief.” Then he was silent for a moment. I said nothing. I thought I was dreaming. “Oh, Jake, I don’t think I can handle much more. Things keep getting worse. Soon I’ll have nothing to lose.”
After that he rolled over and was quiet. I fell asleep twenty minutes later, and didn’t remember it in the morning. It’s only now, seeing that dangerous, terrible look in his gaze, that the memory has surfaced.
And so I finally speak. Sitting here in the prison, recalling the truth about my brother’s life, I speak. “I know why he did it,” I say, talking to my parents but keeping my eyes locked on Hunter.
I register their shock, feel them staring at me, but all I see is the dark, swirling pain in my brother’s eyes, the pain he hid for so long. “He did it because he had nothing to lose.”