It was the summer of 1982. She had just moved to Florida from Alabama, and was hoping to make a fresh start. At 14, she had spent most of her life as a nobody. She was a fair enough student, had no friends and blended into the walls of the school corridors. This move, she decided, was her chance to become a normal teenager, maybe even make a few friends.
Kara walked around the neighborhood of her new home in Ruskin, Florida, hoping to meet some of the other teens that lived close by. There was a park a few blocks away and a gameroom about a mile away. She figured, if this was to be her home for a while, she may as well learn the area. Besides, school was to start in a couple of weeks and she needed to figure out where the bus stop was. After finding the park, the bus stop, and the gameroom, she headed back to the run down house her mother had rented, and finished unpacking her meager belongings.
A couple of weeks later, Kara started her Sophomore year at East Bay High. She spent most of the first morning getting class schedules, fighting with a locker that refused to open, and finding classrooms. She was used to being the new kid, and ignored the stares from the other kids as she walked into her first class, late, as usual. She hated having to introduce herself more than the stares. All the teachers want her to introduce herself and tell everyone where she was from, and what brought her to their school. Kara was so tired of this routine, it seemed that her mother moved her to a different state every year or so. By the third class, she told the class that she didn’t know why she was there and she really didn’t care. She told everyone that she wouldn’t be there that long anyway since she moved around all the time.
That afternoon, as she was getting off the bus, there were a couple of other girls getting off at the same stop. They introduced themselves as Brenda and Diane, and offered for her to meet at Diane’s house in the mornings, which was across the street from the bus stop, and catch the bus with them. Kara introduced herself and, friendships were born. They didn’t care that she had never really had friends or that she moved around a lot. At last, Kara began to feel like she belonged. She began to feel normal.
The first few weeks of the school year, at yet another new school, went quite well thanks in part to the friendships with Brenda and Diane. Kara felt her confidence growing, and made even more friends at school. She was asked to join clubs, and eat lunch with people and asked to hang out after school and on the weekends. Life was starting to look up for Kara. For the first time in her life, she was truly happy. Little did Kara know, things were about to change.
One day, while fighting with yet another locker, a group of girls came walking down the hall in her direction. There were three of them and they were looking for trouble. Kara had seen their type many times before at the many different schools she had attended over the years. She didn’t look at them, and tried not to attract their attention. All of her efforts were in vain. They spotted her and set out to fight with her. She didn’t know these girls, had never seen them before, had no classes with them. It didn’t matter though, they had set their sights on her. She was to become their target of violence.
Kara was 5'6 and weighed maybe 80 pounds soaking wet. Each of these girls were about 5'8 and doubled her weight. The leader of the pack, a girl with long, curly brown hair, a round face to match her round figure, and big arms, looked at her and asked, “What the hell are you doing trying to open our locker, Bitch?” Kara had just been reassigned that locker, locker #168, and was trying to get it to open. She told the girls she had no idea what they were talking about, that she had just been assigned that locker by the office because her old locker wouldn’t open. The smaller of the three girls, also about the same description as the first one, except she had shorter, straight brown hair, walked over, pushed Kara to the side, dialed the combination a few times, opened the locker, and took her jacket out of it. The girls told Kara, if they ever saw her around their locker again, she would regret it. Not knowing what else to do, Kara went back to the office and reported the locker she had been assigned had someone elses belongings in it. She was given yet another locker on the other side of the hall from locker #168. She hoped that would be the end of that.
Later, on the bus ride home, Kara told Brenda and Diane about the incident. They all laughed it off and didn’t give it another thought. The girls went about making plans for the weekend. Diane had strict parents but, Brenda’s parents were cool. They didn’t have too many rules and let Brenda do as she pleased, as long as she didn’t make a mess, went to school, and didn’t get knocked up, she was allowed to do what ever she wanted. This was great for Kara because she had someone to hang out with after school and on the weekends. They had a lot in common and enjoyed each others company. Kara was free to be herself around Brenda and Diane, and Brenda’s little sister, Kim.
Mid way through the next week, the group of girls from locker #168 found Kara at her locker on the other side of the hall. Kara had forgotten about them until they slammed into her, pushing her against the lockers. They looked at Kara and said, “We’re gonna kick your ass, Bitch!” The halls were pack for class change so, they walked away, leaving Kara shaken and confused. Who were these girls and why were they out to get her? It had to be more than an office screw up over a locker. But what could it be? She didn’t know them, had never met them before that day last week. She didn’t want any trouble but, she wasn’t one to fight either. She had managed to survive this long by blending into the woodwork. She decided that the best thing for her to do would be to avoid them at all costs. Even if that meant changing her routine at school. She would go to her locker only when necessary, start taking a different route to her classes, and find a different place to sneak the occasional smoke between classes. That would have to work, at least until she could figure something else out or her mother decided to move again.
After that day, it seemed that, no matter where Kara was, those girls from locker #168 were always around the next corner. If she wanted to go to the restroom for a quick smoke, they were there. If she walked down one hall, they were there. She started making a habit of darting into the library or the office or another classroom whenever she saw them, just to avoid a confrontation. This only made things worse. It’s almost as if they were stalking her to bully her. There didn’t seem to be any escape from them. Kara signed up for early release, hoping to avoid them and throw them off her schedule. It didn’t work. They stalked, bullied, and tormented Kara for the entire school year. At least, until the last three weeks.
Kara didn’t talk to her friends about the stalking or bullying. At first, she didn’t want them to think she was a coward. Later, she didn’t want them fighting her battles for her or feeling like they needed to protect her. For the first time in her life, she had friends, and she didn’t want anything or anyone to jeopardize that. No, she would handle things herself.
Kara knew some less than honorable people in the neighborhood. People that knew how to get things. She asked around and found Huey. He was a small time, neighborhood pot dealer. She had met him a few times with Brenda. She went over to his house and asked him if he could get her something to protect herself. It was coming up on the end of the school year, and she feared the girls from locker #168 were planning something, something bad. Huey asked her what she was afraid of and what she needed protection from. Kara told him the whole story from the beginning. He told her he knew just what she needed, that he had dealt with those kinds of people before. He told her he would see her the next day, Saturday, around 11:00 PM, at the beach, and he would have something for her. He told her she also needed to bring $25.00 with her. Kara left his house feeling a little better. She went to Brenda’s house and chilled out until late that night.
Saturday morning, Kara lifted up the mattress on her bed and counted out the cash she had been stashing from her meager pay check from her part time job. She had $23.00, mostly in singles. Kara was pissed! She knew there should have been more money than that hidden under her mattress! Her damn piece of shit, thief of a mother must have found her hiding spot again! She was missing $40.00 dollars!! She stuffed the rest of her money into the back pocket of her shorts and headed to Brenda’s house. She knew she could borrow the remaining $2.00 from her with no questions asked. Besides, they were going to the beach later for a bonfire. Push come to shove, Kara knew she could pick up enough returnable soda bottles for the $2.00 she needed.
Huey was at the bonfire that night, and as promised, he had something for Kara. He pulled her off to the side, away from everyone, and made the exchange. She gave him the money, he gave her a dish towel with a .38 revolver and 5 bullets in it. Kara told him she wasn’t sure about a gun, that she was thinking more along the lines of a knife of something. Huey explained to her that, with a knife, she might be able to defend herself against one or two of the girls but, with three of them, she needed something a bit more certain. He told her that her best bet to protect herself was the .38. He also told her that, no matter what happens, she did not get it from him. If anyone were to ask, she found it on the railroad tracks. Everyone knew Kara and her friends walked along the railroad tracks all the time so, it would be believable. Kara stuck the gun in her shorts and went back to the party.
The next week at school, Kara was careful to wear long shirts to hide the gun stuffed in the waist of her jeans. Huey had shown her how to hide it and had taken her down the tracks to practice shooting it. For a Saturday Night Special, it was easy to shoot, and Kara was comfortable with it. She didn’t want to have to use it but, she felt safe knowing she could protect herself against the group of girls from locker #168.
Kara had managed to avoid the group of girls for almost the entire week. It was Thursday afternoon and, Kara was about to walk out the front doors of the building for early release. She had planned to sit against the wall and smoke a few cigarettes before everyone else got out and loaded onto the buses. She had walked about 20 foot from the front door when she heard the three girls come out behind her. No one was around and they were charging on her. Kara reached behind her back, grabbed the .38, pointed it at the leader of the group, and fired. The first girl went down followed by the other two, as the three rounds fired from the gun hit their targets.
Kara looked around quickly, realizing she was alone, she ran across the parking lot and around the fence to Eisenhower Middle School. She was safely hidden between the buses and the middle school when the first person came out of the building. Finding the three girls dead on the front walk of the school, the woman ran back inside screaming. Kara quickly ran to the back of the middle school, into the wood line, and made her way parallel to Big Bend Road. Once she was almost to US 41, she crossed the road and hit the railroad tracks she was so familiar with. She still had the gun in her hand as she began jogging down the tracks, deeper and deeper into the cover of the woods. She was about half a mile down the tracks when she heard the first sirens heading to the school.
As she walked along the tracks, Kara kept replaying the events of the last thirty minutes over and over in her head. Was there any other alternative to what had just happened? No, quite simply, there wasn’t. There was no way for her to make it back into the safety of the building, and there was no one to hear her cry out for help if she had. No, she had no other choice but to defend herself against her tormenters with deadly force. As she walked the tracks, she placed the gun back in the waist of her jeans, lit a cigarette, took a soothing draw off of it, and slowly exhaled.
As she walked, Kara began to feel the weight of the gun in the small of her back. Remembering what Huey had told her, she didn’t want to be caught with it, and she didn’t want anyone else to find it. As she walked across the train trestle going over the Alafia River, she pulled the gun from her pants, wiped it clean with her shirt, took a piece of paper from her pocket to hold the barrel of the gun, and threw it into the deep, murky waters of the river, never to be seen again. Though she was hot, sweaty, and dirty from walking the tracks, Kara continued onward. She knew what she had to do.
Growing up, she had enjoyed reading old copies of her Grandmother’s Ellery Queen Magazines. They were detective magazines, and Kara had learned a lot about forensics, and what the police looked for when trying to solve crimes. For starters, no one knew she had the gun. Well, no one but Huey, and he certainly wasn’t going to say anything. No one had seen her or what had happened, especially since the school had no surveillance cameras. She hadn’t spoken to her friends about the bullying, and the school counselor she did talk to about it, wouldn’t remember the conversation. She had already gotten rid of the gun, and as soon as she got home, she would throw the clothes she had on into a trash bag, and take a hot shower. She knew to use Lava soap and a scrub brush to clean her whole body to remove any gunshot residue.
When she got home, several hours later, she let herself in through the back door, took an empty trash bag from the shelf, went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. As the shower warmed, she stripped off all her clothes, being sure to put each item into the trash bag. First, her shoes and socks, then went the jeans and T-shirt, then her bra and underwear. After all her clothes were discarded, she tied the bag closed and took a shower, scrubbing herself with Lava soap and a scrub brush. When she was finished, she slipped on a clean tank top and a pair of shorts. She went into the kitchen, got a fresh trash bag, opened it and put her hands inside it, went into the bathroom and, using her trash bag covered hands, picked up the bag filled with her clothes. She tied the second bag shut, slipped on her flip-flops, walked out the back door, and headed towards the tracks.
Kara had walked about a mile down the tracks, She was hidden from view of anything or anyone by the woods. She Quickly gathered up some small pieces of dry tree branches, cleared an area about six feet in diameter, started a small fire from the wood she had gathered, and began to place each piece of clothing into the flames. Once the last article of clothing was burning, Kara pulled out a cigarette, lit it, took a long drag, exhaled a steady stream of smoke, sat down on the ground and watched the fire slowly consume all traces of the crime. It was as if it were all a bad dream, something that never happened. Something she hoped to one day forget.