512 Words

How I Got Started - A Lifer's Story

Michael Ross Stiteler

"How did you get started?" my cellmate asked. They always ask, eventually.

"Well, I'll tell you the short version," I replied.

I met Johnny when I was eleven and he was sixteen. Mom was marrying his dad, Big John Triplett, a leftover cowboy born 100 years too late. We were driving through National City on our way to Big John's trailer and spotted Johnny on a corner. He staggered over and squinted through the open window of Mom's '66 Plymouth. He was obviously drunk. His face was terribly pockmarked with neglected acne, and his eyes were ruby red slits.

"Michael, Johnny's going to take you and your sister to Louisiana on the Trailways bus," Mom said.

I won't tell you about the adventures on the bus. About the time I lost my ticket somewhere in Texas and Johnny decided we'd hitchhike the rest of the way. About the crazy, high-voiced man who pissed out the window on passing cars and carried a small revolver in his pocket. We'd tickle his nose as he tried to sleep in those unbearable seats. "Godddddddddddddddd damn iiiiiiiiiiiiiit," he'd squeal in his shrill, nasal voice, then reach into his pocket and flash the revolver. I'll skip the fact that all we ate was a bucket of fried chicken we bought before we left, and it was a three day trip. I won't mention Johnny and another guy robbing four liquor stores along the way, or sleeping over the seats in the baggage compartment.

But I will tell you this.

Not long after we moved to Minden we started roaming the streets at night. Big John and Mom would go drinking and dancing till two or three in the morning, so we were always on our own. One night, Johnny and I walked through a grassy field at Minden High School, home of the Crimson Tide. It was beautiful, with the moon shining bright. I really enjoyed hanging out with my new big brother, even though he was a liar and a thief and did drugs.

"Pull the fire alarm," Johnny said casually.

"No way," I laughed.

"Pull the fire alarm or you're dead meat, you little jerk!"

"No," I whispered, feeling a little uncomfortable with his tone of voice. Could he be serious? I was a good kid. I'd never broken the law.

"Mike, pull the fire alarm NOW or I'll beat the crap out of you!"

"No way!"

I started to run. But an 11 year old is no match for a well muscled 16 year old. Johnny caught up with me and tripped me from behind, cutting my right shin with a well-placed kick.

Towering over me he said again, very deliberately, "Pull the alarm now, godammit!"

I lay there weeping, hating Louisiana, hating my new life, wondering why Mom ever married Big John, wondering how Johnny could be such an ass, wondering what to do next.

"And that's how I got started," I told my cellmate.

"Did you pull the fire alarm?" he asked.

"That's the stupidest question I've ever heard in my life."

Copyright ©1999 Michael Ross Stiteler. All Rights Reserved.

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December, 1999
Issue #44

512 Words