All the Signs
“Later that week as I was packing, slowly getting organized and ready to move, Noah was scheduled to stop by to help. It was the first time he’d actually visited my parents’ house, rather than simply picking me up or dropping me off outside. I was excited and slightly nervous to invite him into my childhood room. It was a mess with all the tiny trinkets one collects throughout the years as a kid and young adult. I’d been doing my best to get everything cleaned up before he arrived, but I had barely made a dent, and soon my phone rang. It was Noah telling me that he was outside. I met him at the front door and led him quickly past my mother, down to my room in the basement.
“It’s kind of a mess. Well, no, it’s a wreck, but y’know. I’m too busy working to clean. Sorry,” I explained with embarrassment as I opened the door and revealed my piles of laundry. The walls were plastered with posters, art and just about anything else I could think to tack up, including the stop sign and license plates my grandfather had given me.
“Good God, how do you find anything in here?” he exclaimed as he peered around me into the room.
“Yeah. It’s a mess, which is why I needed your help,” I laughed nervously.
“You don’t need my help. You need a dump truck and a shovel,” he said as he took stock of my mountains of laundry and cluttered mess. “Where did you get that stop sign?”
“My grandpa found it behind a dumpster up in West Salem. He used to work at a shopping center as a janitor/custodian person,” I answered casually, not thinking too much about it.
“Just the stop sign?” he asked, staring at the sign as if he were mesmerized by it.
“No, there were a few other signs. Some street names, a speed limit sign and a no U-turn sign, why?” I asked.
“A shopping center? In West Salem?” he asked, still entranced by the sign.
“Yeah. There was a closeout store, a pharmacy and a fast food place right around there. I know where it is, but I don’t know how to tell you where it is unless I show you,” I answered. “Why?”
“I think I might have been the one who put it there,” he said, still seeming either entranced or perhaps even shocked with the sight of the stop sign.
“Seriously?” I asked with a small snort of laughter at the irony of the situation. “There’s a number on the back.”
He stepped over several piles of clothes and pulled the sign from the wall, peering behind it to read the serial number on the back.
“I don’t remember. You’ll have to show me where he found it,” he said with a distant, sad tone in his voice.
I was about to inquire as to why he was so distant and distracted, but the moment was interrupted by my mother poking her head into my room to ask how the cleaning/packing was going, making some remark about my clutter and lecturing us about leaving the door open while we were in my room together so we didn’t do anything she deemed inappropriate.
We finished packing my clothes, loaded as many as we could into his car and headed to my apartment. After dropping off the load of boxes, we then continued toward West Salem, where my grandparents had lived most of my life. For some reason he really wanted to know where my grandpa had found the sign, and without directions from me, he arrived in the nearly abandoned shopping center.
“Is this it?” he asked as he pulled into the parking lot, made his way behind the building to the dumpsters, pulled up to one particular dumpster and paused.
“Yeah, it is. How’d you know?” I asked.
“I knew I left them here! We were running from the cops and had to stash them somewhere so I put them behind the dumpster and hopped the fence. I got away from the police, but when I came back to get them they were gone. I needed them. I got the shit beat out of me,” Noah said quietly, more to himself than to me, as he pulled back around to the front of the store and found a parking spot near the edge of the lot. He’d not really answered my question, but he’d not exactly evaded it either.
“Why did you need them? Who needs street signs?” I asked.
He had mentioned his involvement with one of the local gangs, but at the time, I was too young and naive to put the story together, just as I was too young and naive to equate the damage on the stop sign with a bullet hole.
“Back in high school. It was a challenge. I had to get certain signs from certain places and bring them back to prove that I did it,” he said, sparing me most of the details and leaving my ignorance fully intact.
“A challenge in high school?” I answered with a laugh. “For the football team? Boys and their displays of manhood.”
“It wasn’t exactly for the team, but yeah. It wasn’t the best idea in the world. After those disappeared and I got the shit beat out me, I had to get ten more,” he answered, still not correcting my ignorance. “I was successful the second time.”
“What did you earn for your efforts?” I asked with a disapproving, sarcastic tone in my voice.
“Respect,” he said simply as we both got out of the car and walked into the close-out store to look for a few things I needed for the apartment.
“So you broke the law, got chased by the cops and beat up, and all you got was respect?” I asked in disbelief.
“They said it couldn’t be done, and I did it. Technically twice, but thanks to SOMEBODY’S GRANDPA, we’re the only people who know that. Do you know how hard it is to get those signs down without getting caught? Not to mention carrying them,” Noah explained. “And I spent all that time in the wrong territory. I was basically a sitting duck. Had I been caught by anyone other than the police, I would have been dead.”
It was then that I understood what he was talking about. I made the connection with his mention of territory to gang activity.”
To read more about Rebecca and Noah’s relationship you can purchase Candy Apple Butterscotch: A Memoir on Amazon. Kindle and Paperback editions available now. Audiobook coming soon!
Copyright R. MacCeile 2018
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