We’re screaming down the highway in a VW bug and I’m sitting in the back seat, my ass burning. Will driving. Martin shotgun. Me doomed.
“Um, guys, I think there’s something wrong back here,” I stammer.
“What’s up, dummy?” Will, always the charmer.
“My ass is starting to burn,” I say.
Will pulls over, I bail out, and he yanks the back seat off, waving smoke away.
“This happens sometimes. The engine is in the back…. Fixed. Get back in.” Will bends a knee and rolls out his hand like he’s the grim reaper of chauffeurs.
We’re on our way to see Fred in Nanaimo, a guy we met skateboarding when his family camped in our town last summer. We’re here to skate Nanaimo.
We’d hit it off with Fred because we liked the same things as him. Slayer, cheap beer, and skateboarding. And hated the same things. Glam metal, jocks, and cops.
Fred lives in the suburbs at the top of a hill that looks like a Double Black Diamond ski run.
“That would be a wicked downhill skate run,” says Martin. He’s the riskiest skateboarder I know. Will and I exchange nervous glances, take a sneaky vow of silence as the bug lumbers up the hill, and hope to hell Martin doesn’t ask us to pull over.
Fred meets us in his driveway, which is crammed with broken-down cars, stoked to see us. He welcomes us inside, ushers us to the fridge, pulls out a carton of milk, swigs from it, and offers us some. We pass.
“Well, fuck, let’s go skate,” he says. We jump in the bug and head down the mega-hill to the mall, pulling into a 7/11 like skate rats out of hell. Fred runs in to grab a Slurpee. Through the store window, I watch him clumsily shoplift a magazine. I don’t think much of it. I’ve stolen magazines from my fair share of corner stores. One of my regular haunts closed last year. I’m convinced it was because of my nimble fingers.
Fred hobbles out with his Slurpee, doing his best to stop the magazine from slipping out of his shirt. He’s followed by three guys who look like stars on the rugby team.
“Hey, skate loser! We saw you steal that magazine.”
Fred grabs his board from the backseat as protection. “Fuuuuck off,” he says.
Things escalate. Fast. One of the rugby dudes wrenches the board from Fred and slams it over his back. Fred goes down like a boulder dropped from a balcony and the dudes pounce, raining kicks on him in a flurry. Then one of them brings his full weight down on Fred’s skull.
We’re horrified. If I scrunch my eyes tight enough, I can still see it, hear the sickening thud.
The dude-bros jump in their truck and flee the scene as blood leaks from Fred. We lift him from the curb and Martin grabs a towel from the car to wrap around his head.
We drag him into the backseat and have no idea what to do next. These are simpler days, before GPS and Google Maps, before anyone carried cell phones.
I run into the 7/11 and ask the clerk for directions to the hospital. Who knows why I don’t ask him to call 911 — maybe he does? It’s all a blur.
I’m in the backseat with Frank, stomach churning at the combination of Will’s erratic sprint and Fred’s bleeding forehead and temples. I stifle a gag and pray I don’t chuck my breakfast cereal all over him.
We screech up to the hospital and Fred is rushed into the emergency room. Will, Martin, and I slump in waiting room chairs, shell-shocked.
“I’ve never seen anything like that…” I say.
“Me neither,” says Martin, still clutching his skateboard.
Will looks green.
Faster than we can gather our wits, the cops are here. I guess the hospital called them. I don’t know how these things work.
One of the cops, a real tough guy with a dumb moustache, grills us with questions about what we did to “instigate the incident.” We can’t believe we’re getting pegged for this.
Martin steps up for us.
“Look, we didn’t do anything. Our friend got attacked by three dudes, like, twice his size. You should be questioning them, not us.”
“Well, that’s enough for now, boys,” the other cop says, the word boys soaked in sarcasm. “We’ll follow up and let you know.”
I have no idea what that means. Follow up? We never hear from the cops again.
As an ex-skateboarder pushing 50, I think of that trip often. We were excited to travel — new terrain to re-inspire our constant need to skateboard. We never even got to touch the ground.
We were small-town troublemakers who found a healthy outlet to focus on. We didn’t deserve the crushing weight of conformity on our chests — boots to our heads.
Years after that trip, skateboarding became mainstream, part of the collective conscience, another sport monetized and consumed. For us, it was a way of life. It was our life.
My lasting image of Fred is him lying in a hospital bed, fresh bandages wrapped around his head, red stains peeking through. He’s smiling at us, flashing the devil horns, the universal sign of heavy metal.
I see Will and Martin from time to time when I’m in the city. It always makes my heart swell. There are pangs of sadness as well. And guilt. I left them behind with the drinking, drugs, and petty crime that followed our Nanaimo trip. I still skateboard on those rare days when my plantar fasciitis allows me.
I’m sad to say I have no idea what happened to Fred after that day. I think Martin stayed in touch with him, but I never ask. I like to think he’s out there somewhere, pushing 50 like I am, buying a Slurpee for his kid. I like to think the kid has a skateboard tucked under their arm.
Jason Schreurs is a writer, punk rocker, mental health advocate and host of the podcast Scream Therapy. The podcast and his forthcoming book, Scream Therapy: A Punk Rock Journey to Mental Health, are about punk rock as a catalyst for mental health. He writes narrative and literary nonfiction and enjoys dabbling in short fiction. Jason lives in Powell River, BC.