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Peripheral People

by Trudi Wood

Casey Kistner is dead. I'm shocked and saddened and horrified. Casey was one of the friendliest, most outgoing, most audacious of my son's circle of friends. She was bright and full of laughter. She was outspoken about things that mattered to her and a ferocious defendant of her friends. She had a wide circle of friends too, but therein lies the most horrifying aspect of her death. Casey was murdered--most likely by one of those people she'd trusted.

My son Jef and his friends are what I call--in my mind at least--peripheral people. They fit together, but they don't fit in anywhere else. They hang out on the periphery of life watching the rest of society, waiting for something to happen. They go to work and earn their pittance, spend it on food and fun, go to sleep somewhere, and get up and do it all over again. They don't plan for tomorrows; they don't live for yesterdays. They simply exist.

The common denominator among these folks seems to be the search for a good time. That's what they live for. I look at them and wonder how in the name of all that is considered holy I could have created a child who grew up to become a peripheral person. I'm not sure of any single answer, but I'm willing to bet that Casey Kistner's parents are asking themselves the same thing. How could this have happened to their little girl? They loved her so much and tried to give her everything she needed for a good, healthy life. Casey and Jef though, live by a different set of rules.

Peripheral people understand each other. They aren't rebelling against society. To rebel would mean that they considered some aspect of society important enough to rage against; they don't. Instead, they've watched various social gatherings through the years with a jaundiced eye. What they've seen has left them cold. The peripheral people see many of society's institutions as shams. They are often brilliant students who hate school; choirboys who laugh at the priests behind their backs; tomboys who refuse to be decked out in dresses and paraded before family and friends. They'd never be chosen as student of the month or homecoming queen because they laugh at school functions created to inspire spirit. They see the real spirit in the hallways and parking lots, and it isn't pretty.

The peripheral people are the watchers. They know who is a closet bigot and they know which popular student of the month is snorting cocaine between classes. They know which teachers smoke weed, and which janitors sell it. But peripheral people never tell. They keep it amongst themselves, and that knowlege is a heavy weapon and a heavy threat. In a small, tight community the peripheral people are surprisingly respected.

Casey lived in the same neighborhood all her life. She went to a local high school, worked at a local sports bar and attended local junior college. She had friends everywhere. I remember seeing her while Christmas shopping and not being able to finish our conversation because people kept stopping to say hi to her. Still, she never fit into any social slot; she just floated on the outside of most social circles, except the one with the peripheral people. Peripheral people can do that, move among different social circles, because they know from observation how to act. They know the style, the walk, the lingo, and they know it to be pretty much an act. But they can act along with the best, and they sometimes do. Casey did.

Sometimes she did it with panache. I once saw her dressed for an evening out. She was gorgeous with her wild blonde hair and short, short skirt and long, long legs. She wore subdued makeup and looked nothing short of a fashion model. A few weeks later I saw her dressed for a different occasion in torn jeans, a multicolored tee shirt and her hair was painted red--not auburn--bright Crayola crayon red. Her feet were bare and dirty and her makeup was black. She could dress up anyway she wished, but she was still Casey underneath it all. I liked that about her. It probably helped that as she passed through my kitchen she snagged a fresh chocolate chip cookie from the cookie sheet and said, "Damn, Trudi! I could smell those cookies all the way down the road!" That was the Casey I knew--the kid behind the mask.

I loved that kid. We talked philosophy once in a while and she asked me about vegan recipes. Sometimes she just stopped over to talk with Jef and his friends and they'd all sit on the porch drinking beer and solving life's little problems, one of which was Casey's mouth. The more she drank the louder she got. She had a deep rich voice that carried through the night like thunder and more than once I told her to be quiet before I stuffed a sock in her mouth. After a night of drinking and partying, she ended up at in bed with her boyfriend's best friend. That was the end for Casey with this particular group of peripheral people. While they may live for a good time, they also demand fidelity and loyalty. Casey had broken that silent code, and she knew it.

I saw her at the library the next day. I knew all about the incident in detail. The kids don't keep much from me. She saw me and walked over, tears streaming down her face.
"I screwed up, huh?"
"Well, yeah, you sure did."
"Will they ever forgive me?"
"Eventually, but first you have to forgive yourself. It's time to evaluate your drinking when it interferes with your friendships, Casey."
"I know."
That was the last conversation I had with Casey.

She went on living her life fast and furious in search of fun. She made new friends, but still stayed in contact with the old ones. She didn't belong anymore, but by association to their shared past she would never be completely removed from their rosters. She'd been one of them for five years, so when Jef and his friends went to her funeral, they came home sad and angry and frightened. It hadn't slipped their notice that in all likelihood whoever had beaten Casey Kistner to death wasn't a stranger. It was someone she knew, and therefore, possibly someone they know as well.

Now, the peripheral people are afraid. Life has intruded on their search for a good time. They've withdrawn into themselves and they aren't talking much. I can't help but wonder what they're thinking. Has it occurred to them yet that partying isn't a realistic way of life? Will they ever understand that responsibility means more than making sure you drag into work on time? When you spend your nights partying to escape life, are you really escaping anything? The peripheral people see themselves standing along the edges of society looking on, but they don't realize that their very presence makes them a part of the whole scheme of things as well. They are just as much a part of the social structure as the jocks and the rockers and the brains. They aren't any better or any worse. They're all looking for good times, good friends, and good fun with no strings.

Casey Kistner loved to party. Her house was open to all and all came. One of them, maybe more, left the party last. I hope Casey had a good time that last night; I hope with all my heart that she was thoroughly drunk before those last partiers beat her to death. I hope she didn't know that it was her last good time, because now Casey Kistner, age twenty, is dead.

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Trudi Wood is a misplaced Hoosier living in Florida who has been married longer than she was single. Trudi has three basically grown sons, a sweet old dog, and a terrorist bunny rabbit. She has a degree in criminology with a focus on history and juvenile justice and wants to save the world, but is still trying to figure out from what.

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