It’s the first week of junior year at Virginia Commonwealth University, and my roommates Evan and Collin and I are having an apartment-warming party. They are inside and I am out on the front porch with Evan’s girlfriend Jacqueline, my friend Jake, and his friend David. If you’re familiar with the time and place I’m describing you’ll be right to imagine streetlights and brick sidewalks and night heat and Pabst Blue Ribbon and rampant sexual tension and rampant pedantry. It’s not very late at night. I am a minor character in this story.
Jake is tall and skinny, open about his feelings, witty but also with a penchant for pranks, and for the types of things that are unvaryingly, classically funny, like pies in the face and farts. If you picture a young, sideburn-bearing Jack Black in the role of David, you’re good. Jacqueline has long black hair and dark eyes and big scars on her arms, which she never makes a point to conceal. She is buoyant, gentle but sassy, and, like Jake, funny and openly emotional. A lot of people are attracted to her, her curviness and the confident way she carries it, and at least one member of our group of friends other than Evan will fall in love with her later on in the year, which naturally causes trouble for everyone (that friend is Jake.)
A young, white man stumbles down the street in our direction, a spattering of blood across his crisp, untucked shirt. I have just smoked some pot, and I say, “Is that blood on that dude’s shirt?” Jacqueline says, “No, it’s just the design.”
But it is blood, and he is bleeding from the head, too. Someone waves him down. We call 9-1-1. He says his wounds come from being beaten up by straight-edge kids, which is a viable concern at the time, and maybe it still is in Richmond: at least one other partygoer this particular night has a story about being attacked by a local straight-edge gang. The bleeding young man’s name is Lars and he has a Scandinavian accent. He is darkly handsome in the way you think of murderers as being. He says, “No, don’t call 9-1-1. No cops.” Jacqueline talks to him and tries to console him and get more information out of him. He says he’s had a poem published in the Atlantic Monthly. He says he hates his father. He says, “I’m the poorest rich kid you’ll ever know.” He says his wounds are from being attacked by a homeless man.
None of these overt warning signs deter Jacqueline from taking Lars upstairs to try and wash out his wounds in the bathtub. No one objects to this plan.
Study group questions: Do you think us four white college kids would have treated an older person of color in shabby clothes the same way? Do you think you would have? Would you have taken in Lars? What about after he made all those weird and contradictory comments? Are Jacqueline’s motivations beautiful, i.e. she has a Saint Francis-like concern for the wellbeing of all creatures? Or are they ugly motivations, i.e. she wants to make this about her? Can it be both?
The cops and the ambulance come, walk upstairs to the bathroom where Jacqueline is tending to Lars, and Lars flips out. Flails, stomps around, screams at the cops: “FUCK you! I’m gonna FUCK you!” The cops come back down, sans Lars. They say he refuses medical attention. They don’t seem to believe he’s not our friend. “You guys are gonna have to talk some sense into him.” They go back to their cars and get their paperwork started but stay parked outside.
Meanwhile, David makes his own subplot: he is very drunk, and decides he needs to drive home on his moped, which is parked right by the cops. We urge him not to, but he says something like, “If I’m going down and have to take you guys with me, so be it.” He stomps upstairs and starts making his own racket. He goes into my room looking for something and knocks over my weed stuff, which makes me worried about what will happen when the cops come back upstairs. The following excitement makes David forget his tantrum and me forget my pot-related anxieties:
Jacqueline comes downstairs. She can’t take Lars anymore. He’s been telling her he’s in love with her this whole time, that she was his savior. She finally left the bathroom when he started trying to compose love poetry for her in his blood on the wall.
Evan and Collin go outside to try and convince the cops to do whatever they need to get Lars out of the house. Jake replaces Jacqueline at Lars’s side, tries to relate to him.
More thrashing upstairs, and the cops march Lars down. They put him up against the wall just outside our front door and cuff him, wrenching his injured arm and his uninjured arm behind his back with equal force. He wails. Then they’re gone.
Jake stands in the kitchen and tells us, “Dudes, when the cops came up there, they told me that guy was a rape suspect. Then they told me it was possible he might have AIDS. I was sitting there with my arm around his bloody shoulder.” Jake just looks exasperated as he goes to wash his arm off in the kitchen sink. David, still a hero, runs to get soap from the other bathroom and squirts a ridiculous amount of it onto Jake’s arm. Lars stays in the VCU English Department and gets a lot of praise in his workshops.