Our Son’s Skateboard
by John Domenichini
The day our son died I noticed his skateboard in the house, by the front door. When I saw it, I was frustrated. I didn’t touch it. That was the way my wife and I had decided to deal with such infractions of his. We would wait until he came home, point out his oversight, and tell him to take care of it right away.
However, he never came home again, so the skateboard stayed where it was. And stayed. And stayed. Neither Janice nor I had the wherewithal to move it. We didn’t even mention it. The truth was that I liked seeing it there somehow.
For the next week, things were done by us or to us; it’s hard to tell which. The funeral preparations came and went and Justin was buried.
A week after that, Janice and I returned to our respective jobs because you’re supposed to move on.
That Monday night, I got into bed a few minutes after Janice. I was lying on my back, hoping for a dreamless sleep, when I heard movement near the front door. The sound was clearly coming from inside the house. Through the mattress, I could feel my wife’s body tighten. I’d checked the doors and windows before I came upstairs. It was my routine. They were all locked. I had no doubt about that. Then I heard Justin’s skateboard roll on the wooden floor.
Janice and I just lay there not speaking. Since Justin’s death, we hadn’t spoken much. I don’t know why. Even at that moment, neither of us was willing to break the awkward silence. I knew it was Justin on the board. He rode smoothly. Of course, he wasn’t allowed to ride in the house at all, but that didn’t seem important now.
He rode from the front door, through the family room, to the dining room, to the kitchen, to the living room, and back to the front door. He made the loop again and stopped. A comfortable silence followed. A heavy weight lifted off my chest and I fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, I asked Janice how she slept.
“Wonderfully,” she said.
That evening, just after I reached the bed, I heard Justin on the skateboard again. And again, he made two loops through the house and stopped. I fell asleep immediately and slept soundly.
That became the routine. Every night, Justin made two loops through the house. Janice and I never talked about it and I never mentioned it to anyone else. We didn’t move the skateboard. Sometimes, I caught Janice looking at it wistfully. I assumed she was thinking what I was thinking. Should we move it? Put it in the garage or his room? Maybe we should clean out his room.
One day, I came home from work before Janice. I entered the house from the garage. I took a few steps in and literally jumped in fright at what I saw. At the bottom of the stairs was a man, a complete stranger, bleeding from his head and face. He was dirty and smelled awful. Justin’s skateboard lay bloody on the floor next to him along with a pillow case filled with stuff.
I walked around him and looked up to Justin’s bedroom door on the second floor. It was open. Janice and I never left it open.
The man moved his arm, then his eyes opened wide in terror. “No, don’t please.” His words were slurred. “I’m sorry. Stop. Please stop.”
“Did you go into his room?”
I grabbed the pillow case and looked in it. There were a lot of things in it, mostly Janice’s jewelry, but Justin’s tablet computer was in there, too. It had been in his room.
The man’s eyes slowly shut again, but he was still breathing.
“His room!” I yelled. “What’s he supposed to think? He sees you in his room? After he stayed behind for us? Not for himself.” It was the first time I admitted to myself that I wanted Justin to stay behind because I needed him, not because it was good for him. In fact, it was painfully clear to me then that it wasn’t good for him at all. My guilt overwhelmed me.
Justin was only 13, but he was a swimmer, an excellent swimmer. He was strong. He could do a lot of damage if he wanted to. Of course, until then, he never wanted to. But he was forcing himself to stay here, where he didn’t belong. I could only imagine the confusion and pain he was in. I wondered how well he understood what was going on.
On the day of Justin’s murder–I say “murder” because that’s what it was–he was riding his bike to the swimming pool on a Saturday at two in the afternoon when an extremely intoxicated man struck him with his car. The man had two prior DUIs over a twelve year period. His blood alcohol level was .31, on a Saturday afternoon. The system failed. It failed my son.
Then another man, who looks like a drug addict, breaks into the house and goes into Justin’s room. The system was failing him again. What was he supposed to do?
I looked at the burglar, a foul human being. A pool of blood was forming near his head. It was staining our wooden floor. I looked at my clothes and noticed that they were splattered with blood. My hands were stained with blood, too. That’s when I realized that this incident, itself, was a stain, a stain on Justin’s memory.
I couldn’t allow that. I couldn’t have this man talking to the police about Justin. I couldn’t have him talking to anybody about Justin. I couldn’t have people thinking Justin was violent or evil. He was a good kid, a gentle kid. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. He didn’t deserve to have this man stealing from him. He didn’t deserve to have his reputation tarnished. It was my fault for not letting him go, for making him feel that he shouldn’t leave us. I had to take the blame.
The drunk driver who murdered Justin was out on bail. Even if he did jail time eventually, it would be minimum security for a year maybe. Now, here was somebody else trying to take from us. If you let people take from you, they don’t stop. They just keep taking. The next day it will be somebody else taking something else, until you have nothing.
I looked down at the man’s face.
He opened his eyes suddenly and yelled. “No!”
“That’s right,” I said. “No… I can’t allow it.”
I put my hand over his mouth and pinched his nose closed. His eyes were frantic. He tried to fight, but he had no fight left in him. He lost consciousness quickly and, after a short while, died. I sighed in relief and took my hand away from his face as Janice walked through the front door.
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John Domenichini is a technical writer living in San Jose, California. He has a background in both education and journalism. His writing has appeared in The Quotable, Bartleby Snopes, and Defenestration.