His face was pock marked, the divets in his cheeks glinting in the moonlight. He wore skinny jeans before skinny jeans were in and his dark windbreaker hung loosely on his gaunt frame. His frizzy hair was cut into a mullet after mullets were in style.
Were mullets ever in style?
He sauntered up to us and we froze. The still night air thickened and for the first time we questioned our decision for coming out. It was 1:00 am and our group was comprised of eighteen year olds, all of us wearing our newfound freedom like a superpower.
We were in college, man. Why wouldn’t we go out at 1:00 am?
We were standing right in the middle of a field where history and tragedy had met only three years earlier. Where crazy met the FBI. We were standing on David Koresh’s burned down Branch Davidian compound, a group of 8 or 9 college freshman who decided at the last minute to tour the compound…in the middle of the freaking night.
As we walked through what was mostly an overgrown field we saw him walking toward us and we froze. “What the BEEP are you kids doing out here?” he asked, the butt of the cigarette stuck between his lips dancing in the dark like a firefly.
We didn’t answer because we didn’t have a good answer. What the BEEP were we doing out there?
Finally someone spoke. “What are you doing out here?” he inquired.
“Aw, I was a reporter when everything went down here a few years ago.” And that’s it. That was his explanation for visiting this site of horror at 1:00 am. His reason was worse than ours.
“C’mon,” he offered, puffing smoke into the already thick Waco air, “I’ll show you around.” And with that we followed him. Why didn’t we decline and turn away? I don’t know. Why were we there in the first place?
For the next 30-45 minutes we were taken on a fascinating tour of David Koresh’s compound complete with the most colorful tour guide I’ve ever known. His name was Michael. I don’t think he was a reporter. My first clue was when he took us to what looked like a fox hole in the ground and regaled us with tales of David himself hiding there. He showed us bullet holes in the back of a burned out bus and told us about the children and wives hiding throughout the compound.
He knew more than what an average news reporter should have known. And suddenly I knew more than an average eighteen year old should have known.
There were a couple of voices of reason who were persistently trying to convince us to leave. Girls who were uncomfortable with this man’s in depth knowledge and offensive language. Maybe we should have listened to their reasoning and left, but the rest of us were so intrigued that we squelched wisdom and followed curiosity.
We all know what happened to the cat who did the same, right?
At one point, one of these voices of reason spoke up as Michael set forth an obsenity filled rant on what went down on the land on which we stood.
“Um, sir?” she said, her voice small but defiant. “Could you please watch your language? I find it very offensive.”
Insert very awkward pause.
And on we went, Michael not toning down his color and no one else daring to say another word. Finally we were back where we started and we stood huddled together, a group of foolish youth who had just had an unexpected adventure.
“It would probably be best if you kids didn’t come out here in the middle of the night again,” Michael said. “Sometimes people come out here to defend the land and the people in the house over there have guns.”
He gestured to a house a few meters from the property. For the first time it dawned on me that maybe we weren’t even supposed to be here in the middle of the night. I do believe we all suffered from freshman brain – you know where common sense flees for a period of time and that which once seemed crazy now seemed perfectly normal.
We nodded, thanked him for showing us around and quickly drove back to the Baylor campus, all of us talking a mile a minute. Was he really a reporter? Was he a Branch Davidian? How did he know all of that?
I never visited Koresh’s compound again. I’ve never seen it in the daylight. I’ve heard that they have since built a museum on the grounds and that it is better protected than it was back then.
But I saw all I needed to see that sticky Texas night. It was night that I can honestly say was not one of my finest life moments…
But what an adventure, huh?!