I lived next door to Billy and his family ever since they built the development, so I suppose that gives me the right to be his chronicler. Like all of us Billy, (whose real last name was Cates) started life with a blank slate but as time and events would reveal, somebody had it in for poor Billy. Like all normal kids we played together and were in the same grade and class. Like all the rest of us Billy wore jeans and tee-shirts, however in his case he always came to school with that ensemble neatly pressed. Now who ever heard of anyone wearing pressed jeans and a tee-shirt? The other kids used to tease him about it but that was the kind of mother he had. Billy didn't mind, in fact he once told me he thought it made him stand out above the others. It was also my understanding that she always bought him two of any type shirt (just in case)
Billy was also the only kid I knew who went to church (or the occasional wedding and funeral) dressed in a suit. Mind you, it wasn't one of those "off the rack" kids suits that always made you look funny. No sir! Billy wore a tailored suit just like his dad wore. It really made him look like a corporate CEO in miniature.
Then when we were both around eight years old Billy's world came crashing down.
Billy and his parents were coming back from a day at an amusement park about a hundred miles away. About ten miles from home they were hit by a drunk driver. His dad was killed immediately, and his mom died the next day, Billy got off with a badly injured leg that caused him to walk with a sort of rolling gate, kind of like sailors walking a ships deck. Anyway, he would carry this, along with a scar on his right arm as "souvenirs" of the tragedy for the rest of his life. Billy was out of school for close to three weeks even requiring a tutor to get him back up to speed on his studies. However I always suspected he got shortchanged here because after that, he was never the student he could have been.
He also went to live with his mom's sister, who was divorced and had a little girl named Annie. Because they lived on the other side of town Billy finished out the term at our school, but started the fall at a different school. For a time I'd ride my bike over to see him and we'd bum around doing kid stuff but I noticed right away something had changed. For one, he never smiled anymore.
He also started swearing, and picking fights. One dark and rainy Saturday afternoon Billy did something that won him his moniker, "Billy Batts." It wasn't raining when I rode over to his house. His Aunt was at work but his cousin was there. Billy said that she had run down the street to the 7-11 to get some bread for sandwiches. Since it looked like it was going to rain any moment, we had no real idea of what to do, however, when Annie returned that all changed.
She was in tears, it looked like someone had hit her and her tee-shirt was torn. The upshot was that some boys from the neighborhood had been hanging around the convenience store and as she walked in front of them started making rather lewd suggestions to her. One boy who she identified as simply "Walt," even tried to kiss her and when she pushed him away, hit her and tore her shirt.
Billy just nodded but said nothing. Going into his room he returned carrying a baseball bat.
"C'mon Terry," was all he said. I followed him out the door and down the street. By now it had begun to rain although not very heavily. Walt and his two buddies were walking down the sidewalk on the opposite of the street and for one reason or another didn't pay any attention to us. Billy let them get just a little past us, then darted across the street slipping up behind them. I heard the crack of the bat clear from the other side of the street.
Walt went down like a sack of potatoes. By now I was in full motion trying to get to Billy but by the time I reached him the other two boys were on the ground as well. Billy was kicking Walt as hard as he could in the face. Whenever I think back on that event the first things that come to mind is the rain falling on Walt's smashed in face and Billy's bloody bat and shoes. After I pulled him away, Billy just stood there his chest heaving but not saying a word the rain plastering down his hair.
Down A Wrong Road
Well as you would guess, Billy killed Walt, one of the other boys suffered severe brain damage so it looked like it was going to be coloring books for Christmas. Billy's next stop was the juvie home in the next town. Dad took me over to see him not long after he was sent there. I found a completely changed boy. When I asked him if he had intended to kill Walt, he just looked at me and shrugged.
"What would you have done? Ya know Terry, there are just some people on this earth who just don't deserve to live, that piece of shit was one of 'em. They tell me if I keep my nose clean I'm outta here in five, small price to pay for cleanin' up the streets a little." It was very apparent to me that Billy had fully adapted to life at juvenile hall. I think I only visited him only once or twice more, as dad thought he was a bad influence on me. Eventually I started seeing Annie who kept me posted on Billy.
A Changed Man
Billy didn't get out in "five" as he had hoped, it was more like seven, but by then I had graduated from high school and was pulling a hitch in the marines. Upon returning home, Annie and I got married. Billy wasn't there for the wedding, of course.
"Something's happened to him," lamented Annie, ever since he got out of the detention center, he's been displaying a real hate for the world. Oh God I wish I had never said anything to him about Walt attacking me!"
"Don't beat yourself up Annie," I told her, Billy's rage against the world began the day his parents were killed in that car accident."
By now, Billy's metamorphosis was complete. He now drank and smoked, dropped "F-bombs" like rain and was on the hunt for any excuse to pound someone's head into pudding. He was now a full fledged member of the "Pipe-Hitter's union."
While I had been away, he had apparently joined a biker gang and always figured prominently in busting up rival biker bars and assaulting people. Being his cousin, Annie couldn't very well order him to stay away and every so often a loud banging on the door, always after midnight meant that a very drunk Billy needed a place to crash.
Annie and I were the only ones Billy treated with any civility. On the rare occasions he came over simply to chat and maybe watch a ball game on TV, he could always be counted on to reminisce about our time as kids. However he never spoke of life after his parents had been killed. I also noticed something else as well, even at this stage in his life he still wore neatly pressed tee-shirts and jeans.
Most of the time however Billy was either in jail or on the road driving a truck. Finally after too many fights in other towns and making late deliveries, he lost that job as well. As far as Annie and I knew, he never married or even had a girlfriend for very long. Billy did one more stint in prison, this time for literally stomping a man half to death, even though a baseball bat was still his weapon of choice. Annie and I were in Hawaii when he was released, and the next time we saw him was at the funeral home.
The Death of Billy Batts
It was a crying shame that his death drew barely six people to the funeral home including Annie, her mother, and me. As I stood staring down at him lying in his casket, Billy seemed to be finally at peace. All I could do was shake my head as a deep sadness came over me.
"Billy, you could have been a contender."
He was laid out in a brand new pair of pressed blue jeans and a new tee-shirt. According to Annie this was what he wanted. Billy had died doing what he did best, getting back at the world.
They found a ragged envelope in his pocket which when I read I for the first time indicated that he had known this day was coming for some time. As per his last wish, I read it aloud to the handful of mourners at the funeral home.
"Well Terry if you are reading this I guess I'm dead;
I never wanted this, but after mom and dad were killed what the F**k could I do?
As I look back on my life I have no regrets, they took mom and dad from me, robbed me of a chance to just be a kid and live a normal life, now someone has to pay, what can I say? Payback is a bitch! Terry, you've always been my friend even when I was down, and I've always counted you as my friend (even my only one) You were the only guy who never pissed down my back and tried telling me it was raining. Well old buddy I guess there isn't anything more to say. Hopefully I'll be with mom and dad again, Hell! Who knows? Maybe we can pick up where we left off…So long, and take care, your friend Billy Cates."
Although he never said, we buried him right next to his parents. On his stone we had carved a phrase he was often heard to say,
"I never got a chance."