2010 PEN/Faulkner Winner Sherman Alexie's War Dances
I often wonder what would have happened if that bat had been made of wood. When Max and I had gone shopping for bats, I'd tried to convince him to let me buy him a wooden one, an old-fashioned slugger, the type I'd used when I was a Little Leaguer. I've always been a nostalgic guy. But my son recognized that a ten-dollar wooden bat purchased at Target was not a good investment.
"That wood one will break easy," Max had said. "I want the lum-a-lum one."
Of course, he'd meant to say aluminum; we'd both laughed at his mispronunciation. And I'd purchased the lum-a-lum bat.
So it was a metal bat that I swung one-handed at the black teenager's head. If it had been cheap and wooden, perhaps the bat would have snapped upon contact and dissipated the force.
Perhaps. But this bat did not snap. It was strong and sure, so when it made full contact with the kid's temple, he dropped to the floor and did not move.
He was dead. I had killed him.
I fell to my knees next to the kid, dropped my head onto his chest, and wept.
I don't remember much else about the next few hours, but I called 911, opened the door for the police, and led them to the body. And I answered and asked questions.
"Did he have a gun or knife?"
"I don't know. No. Well, I didn't see one."
"He attacked you first?"
"He ran at me. He was going to run me over."
"And that's when you hit him with the bat?"
"Yes. It's my son's bat. It's so small. I can't believe it's strong enough to—is he really dead?"
"Who is he?"
"We don't know yet."
His name was Elder Briggs. Elder: such an unusual name for anybody, especially a sixteen-year-old kid. He was a junior at Garfield High School, a B student and backup point guard for the basketball team, an average kid. A good kid, by all accounts. He had no criminal record—had never committed even a minor infraction in school, at home, or in the community—so why had this good kid broken into my house? Why had he decided to steal from me? Why had he made all the bad decisions that had led to his death?