Yes, the events of November 12th, 2008. I remember well, how could one forget? I was a Junior at the high school when it happened.
People always ask about the event itself. It's only natural, it's what they know, it was the "shocker". Nobody ever asks what happened to lead to these events. The media glossed over the motive when it happened, but that all disappeared under a mess of tragedy and politizings, as such things always do.
It started at the beginning of that semester, when a new transfer student came to our school. His name was Sammy, and he was an armadillo. His family was from Tennessee, so he was already at a disadvantage.
Sammy was a quiet student mostly. When he spoke it was in a soft accent to ask questions of clarification. Nothing very enormous happened for a few weeks. Just the status quo, wandering between the halls for different classes, that was all.
About a month after semester started I caught wind of a rumor in the hallways that Sammy had been trying to join the swim team at our school. He had apparently been refused for the practice team because he was a special needs student. They had also suggested he wait until next semester for the handicapped meets we held.
More rumors flew that Sammy was breaking into the school at night to practice at the pool, solo. He had made the mistake of drawing attention to himself. Most kids at our school with special needs, they went by unnoticed, trying to making themselves unnoticeable, but now one of them had stood up and become a target. People would spook Sammy in the hallway, causing him to curl into his little shell ball. Then they would pick him up and roll him down the hall until he crashed into the trash cans.
Me? Do anything? Well, that's the thing, I couldn't have involved myself. That's just the way it is in high school. He should have been more quiet about his activities.
November came, and with it the big meet. It was an inter-school meet, students competed against each other for the right to compete against other schools in a wider and wider radius until you and your school got a prize for being really good at moving through water quickly. I was there, the whole school was watching. And Sammy was on the list of competitors.
Can't say I'd ever seen an armadillo swim before that, but he was a damn good swimmer. He held up his shelled body and kicked like a bulky, determined river turtle. He didn't place first, not even third. In most of the meets he placed a firm, solid last. However, there was one meet I distinctly remember. He raced against five players, and he placed fourth.
The guy who placed last was Jones Teevy, a name you already know, a name the nation would soon know. He was the son of an ex-banker and a lawyer. Rich parents, connected parents, able to pull a few strings, pave over as much of their son's road in life as they could. Their only requirement from him was submission to their plan for him, and maximum success at every curve they directed him toward.
So when their son's name popped up on the board beneath that of Sammy the Armadillo, you could hear their very souls shrivel, screeched out through their foul-crying mouths. His father leapt down from the stands to roar at the coach for an obvious fraud against special Jones. He claimed an injury due to sudden onset Affirmative Action, claiming Sammy was being handed the win out of pity for his species, and finishing with a "he's not supposed to be playing anyway, who let the armadillo in?" as a gasp. He was removed, still yelling.
After the meet I decided to talk to Sammy for the first time. He was sitting outside by the bus stop-not close enough to be noticed by the others. I sat by him and asked him if the rumors had been true, the ones about him breaking into the school, to which he silently nodded, his tiny ears twitching. As the bus pulled up I asked him one last question. I asked him what he thought of the sport of swimming. He looked at me with his little black eyes, his ears rotating forward, and he spoke.
"I like it. I think I'm alright with it. I'm gonna practice even more next semester."
That was the only statement I ever heard come out of little Sammy's mouth. It was also, incidentally, the last thing I ever heard him say.
Two days passed, with Jones oddly absent from the halls. He finally returned on November 12, 2008, with a big ol' black eye and a story about knocking into some equipment in his father's shed. The morning was normal, I remember Mr. Locked taught us about phospholipid bilayers. Then lunch came around, and lunch ended, and people filed into the halls to go to their next classes. I went to my locker to find a note from Persephone. I heard a crash, and looked up to see some dumb kid had knocked over a trash can at the end of the hall. It rolled around until it came to a balanced rest.
Sammy appeared out of his class. We had next class, English, together. He walked toward the middle of the hallway, a clear area.
The voice was loud and brash, meant to draw all eyes to it, and it succeeded. All grew silent, all turned to see Jones standing in a perfectly straight line behind Sammy. In his right hand was a small handgun, his mother's. The little armadillo turned, his wide black eyes welled with confusion.
In one movement Jones lifted the gun and shot Sammy straight in the middle. His body flew backwards and curled back in on itself. It began to roll, the bullet had passed through his shell leaving a hole from which spewed out a red blood trail on the tiles. His body fully curled and gained momentum, rolling faster and faster down the hall until it rolled right into the sideturned trashcan at the end of the hall.
Thus was the end of the life of Sammy the Armadillo, and the beginning of one of the nation's most poignant tragedy analysis of the decade. There was discussion about Jones, he was diagnosed with several different mental disorders by crack TV psychologists. Everything from the fact he played video games to the fact his mother owned a gun was held up as the singular, black and white reason for his murder. His face was plastered on every tabloid, every newspaper. Overnight he was a celebrity, in his own iron bar palace.
Sammy, too, was remembered. His parents, much like him, remained quiet, but his extended family grieved all over many well paying talk shows, as well as several new friends Sammy had magically gained post-mortem. I learned many things about Sammy – his favorite food was apples, he loved listening to The Turtles, he was learning how to speak Spanish, he planned on being a zookeeper someday…
Rarely did they talk about the events of the meet, however. Not once did they mention that small, annoying detail of the school not letting him practice with the main team, and his breaking into the school as a result. The bullying, once that was discovered, they ran with it. Several anti-bullying "Sammy Laws" were passed in several states, some still working today. But in all that they never mentioned how strong he was. They never mentioned him balling up in his shell as he bounced down the hall and how after the dust had cleared he unfolded himself and ambled to his next class. That night he'd be throwing himself in the pool to work, and even after losing miserably he only planned to do it all again in the spring.
Jones, when he was old enough, got the chair. Thus ended his story, and thus ends mine.