Johnny America


Tur­tle Power


This Ar­men­ian kid I knew in col­lege, Aram, would spend most nights play­ing video games and watch­ing movies. We’d try to get him out to a bar or some­thing and he’d say I’m just go­ing to stay in my shell tonight. He was big in­to Teenage Mu­tant Nin­ja Tur­tles then, even long af­ter they were pop­u­lar, and a lot of the words he’d use were tur­tle-re­lat­ed. Some days I’d come over to his place and hear the theme mu­sic from be­hind the door — “he­roes in a half shell” — and when he opened up he’d be wear­ing a mask and the game would be go­ing. And then oth­er days we’d go to the gym to­geth­er and he’d show me some of his nin­ja moves; he called his sen­sei Splin­ter. One night he told me how his fam­i­ly did­n’t speak any Eng­lish around the house and TM­N­T’s how he learned the language.

All his grand­par­ents had come over in the geno­cide with his par­ents as ba­bies, spent the first few years liv­ing in a flop­house while the grand­fa­thers went to work for Ford un­til they had enough to buy a small house in South­field. They all lived there, Aram and his four grand­par­ents and his par­ents and his broth­er and sis­ters. Every night the grand­moth­ers would tell sto­ries at din­ner about the death march­es, the camps, the things they tried to do to help each oth­er, to pro­tect any­body they could, any­body that even re­mote­ly looked like them, their es­cape. There were on­ly so many sto­ries and they all got re­peat­ed and af­ter a while got more de­tailed and ug­ly and prob­a­bly ex­ag­ger­at­ed but al­ways they end­ed with his fam­i­ly on the run look­ing for a place to hide. He said maybe be­cause of it he felt like he was al­ways run­ning. Once, he asked if I knew how hard it is to pro­tect peo­ple when you’re al­ways hid­ing and I said I’d think it would be very hard.

Any­way he was tough and shy and he ma­jored in Crim­i­nal Jus­tice be­cause he want­ed to go in­to law en­force­ment. Ex­cept he was­n’t big in­to study­ing, just play­ing TMNT over and over and go­ing to the gym, and so af­ter his third year he failed out or dropped out or was kicked out or who knows. We were friends but not close friends and some­times it’s hard to keep up with peo­ple, es­pe­cial­ly when se­nior year was so busy. Which is to say when sum­mer came he just kind of went away and none of us saw him again.

On­ly thing is, there was an ar­ti­cle in the News a year or two lat­er about how some big drug deal in one of the worst parts of the city was bust­ed up by what they called a vig­i­lante. They had a state­ment from one of the king­pins, who said the guy ap­peared out of nowhere, like he’d come up out of the sew­er, and he dis­ap­peared the same way, did­n’t leave any­thing be­hind they could use to prove he was ever there. And I liked to think it was Aram, that he’d found a way to stop run­ning, to hide, and to pro­tect oth­ers at the same time.

Filed under Fiction on January 24th, 2014

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