I don’t know how I got there, other than that is started with beer.
However it happened, there I was at about 2 am, standing at a bus stop in San Antonio with two guys I’d drunkenly met a few hours earlier.
One of them was a visitor to the city, like me. He was from Seattle (I only remember this because it came into play later). A bit on the shorter side with big ol’ shoulders — built like a wrestler. He wore bifocals. We’ll say his name was Lee.
The other guy was a local. He was a tall, skinny guy with red hair sticking out from under his green cap. He would have looked exactly like that cereal mascot leprechaun if that cereal mascot leprechaun was six-foot-tall and smoked two packs a day and had a hangover. We’ll say his name was Lucky.
Somewhere in the drunken blur of the evening the three of us had struck up a sort of friendship. We were still thirsty after the bars closed, so Lucky called his people to come pick us up so we could party.
Everything leading up to the moment is a blur, but the moment itself is captured perfectly in my memory.
We were on a side street, sitting on a bus stop bench, illuminated by an orange streetlight.
Lucky asked where we were from.
“Seattle,” Lee said.
“Bullshit,” Lucky said.
This was 1996, when Seattle had become a cultural mecca for 20-somethings. With grunge and MTV and Singles, Seattle was a kind of mythical Shangri La for young people.
The whole thing was so stupid, but Lucky and Lee started arguing about whether or not Lee was actually from Seattle. I shit you not. What’s about to happen really happened, and it really happened over whether or not some dude was misrepresenting the town he came from.
They shouted louder and louder and then somebody pushed somebody and somebody pushed back. All routinely stupid stuff from a night of drinking with guys, until Lucky front-kicked Lee.
Lee caught Lucky’s foot and held it so Lucky was left balancing unsteadily on one leg.
I never saw Lee draw his knife. I have no idea where it came from. I didn’t even realize it was in his hand when he lashed out with it. I thought he was throwing a hay-maker, but it was no hay-maker.
Next thing I know, Lucky stumbled back with his hand to his face and blood running out between his fingers.
Lee turned and ran off into the night.
I watched Lee until he disappeared around a building, then said to Lucky, “I’m going to find a payphone to call you an ambulance.”
Lee’s eyes had been glazed, like he didn’t know where he was or what happened, but when I spoke his eyes fixated on me and cleared, as if having me to focus on helped him anchor back to reality.
His eyes went from glazed, to clear, to enraged. He lunged forward and grabbed me by the shirt and yelled, “You’re not going anywhere!”
Dropping his hands to grab me revealed a wide gash running clear through his left cheek. The wound hung open like a gruesome smile or a fish gill.
“I’m trying to help you,” I said.
He didn’t seem able to process this, drunk and in shock from having his face cut open. He must have thought I’d know Lee and was in cahoots with him or something.
I’m not sure, but he wouldn't let go of me, and he was getting blood all over my shirt and that gruesome smile in the side of his face kept glistening in the streetlight.
So, I hit him. It was the heat of the moment, too, so I hit him with my right hand, landing on the same side of the face he’d just been cut on.
Lucky stumbled back upon a steps and clutched at his wound again.
I ran across the street and half-a-block to a payphone I’d recalled seeing on our way to the bus station. I called 911. In the middle of talking with 911, Lucky had caught up to me.
In between explaining to dispatch where we were I was holding out my hand and telling Lucky to stay away from he. He was jawing and jawing, hand concealing that gruesome fish-gill smile.
Finally the ambulance came. The cops took me aside and asked me what’d happened. I told them everything, but about halfway through the conversation I saw Lucky walking away.
The EMT and cops were laughing and shaking their heads. Turns out Lucky had refused treatment and gone stumbling off into the city with one half of his face cut open.
That’s how it ended. I walked back to my hotel and threw away my blood-stained shirt. I hoped Lucky didn’t have any diseases. I wondered where Lee went.
Most of all, I looked forward to getting the hell out of San Antonio the next morning.
Copyright 2018 Jeff Suwak