Most of time I don't remember, at least not consciously. At first it was always there, omnipresent, I couldn't forget it at all. Every thing I saw, every word I heard reminded me of them and their faces in those last moments. But death isn't a rarity on the streets. Pretty soon there was another person to miss, a face to remember. And Johnny and Dally just became another one lost because of the Socs. But sometimes, sometimes I remember. I see Dally's face - that last look of resignation, the complete hopelessness so prevalent - and I hear Johnny's raspy voice - "...stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold..." echoing around my head - and I'd wonder why it happened to them, to them instead Two-Bit or Steve or anyone, anyone but them.
Okay, I'm lying. Not 'them.' Just Johnny. Dally - I couldn't even think this consciously for years after - was lucky that he had survived as long as he had. Sometimes I don't even know how he made it out of New York, with the stories he told us. Darry once told me that half of those stories were lies, but I can't help and still believe them. That might make me a fool but I knew Dally, better than Darry did. Darry didn't even like him - I never heard him say one good word about anything to do with him. Soda said this had something to do with 'Dally's choices.' I didn't know what that meant at the time - I was, after all, fourteen - but in retrospect, things are a little clearer.
It's hard to remember them and not remember Johnny's switchblade he carried in fear or Dally's ring he lifted and used to mark people's faces when he'd beat them up. Sometimes, though, when I remember Johnny and Dally, it's the good things: Dally when a favorite song of his would play over the radio and he'd croon along or Johnny as he read softly matching the beauty of the words. One time in particular, I remember, it was right after Johnny got jumped. Johnny and Dally and I went to a double feature - we were supposed to go with Soda and Steve but they decided to go pick up their girls and go driving. We jumped over the fence and snuck in and Dally lifted somebody's wallet and bought Johnny and I cokes. Halfway through the flick, Dally thought it would be clever to start talking back to the actors on the screen. At first, it bothered me but soon it became kind of funny. What I remember most, though, was Johnny's laughter. I hadn't even seen him smile since we found him bloodied and bruised and here he was, laughing.
I never liked Dally much, but when I did, it was because of Johnny. Dally was able to make Johnny smile or forget better than the rest of us. At the time, I didn't know how Dally did it. He wasn't as funny as Two-Bit, not by far, and most of the time, he wasn't funny at all. But Johnny smiled anyway. I always thought, at the time, that Johnny was supposed to be my friend. We were closest in age, after all, and we both liked the same sorts of things (except hanging out with Dally). One time I asked Soda why Johnny was friends with Dally, why he followed Dally around even though Dally was so crude and Johnny would never be, and Soda looked at me, pondering an answer. I'll never forget what he said next. "Well, Ponyboy, I can't say I understand, but I guess Johnny just sees something in Dally that the rest of us don't." That made no sense to me then - Dally was tuff enough, but mean. What was Johnny seeing that I couldn't? But, I admit, things make a lot more sense now.
I met Ben - he went by Shift though he never told me why - in my second year of college at Kansas State. He laughed at my greaser hair (one of the last things I had kept from my earlier years) and mocked the slang I'd been using since I remembered speaking. But his brown eyes weren't cruel; they smiled at me even as he was remarking on the poor state of my clothes. I found myself searching him out whenever I had a free moment. After the first month, we had a routine: beers and sneaking into drive-ins whenever we had a free night. Sometimes Ben would try and pick up a girl there, but I never did. I got so used to his joking that I forgot about it soon before long. That's why it surprised me when a girl in one of my classes that semester asked me why I even spent time around Shift. "He's so mean," she said to me. "He looks at you with those hard brown eyes and I can hardly stand it." Even then, I didn't understand what that meant about Shift, about me. It wasn't until the next Friday night when Shift started hitting on some bird at the drive-in, as usual. He smirked at her and shrugged his shoulders and I knew in that instant that I wanted him to be smirking at me, putting his arm around me, leaning in close and whispering in my ear.
I must've said something, though I don't remember what, because Shift turned to me, the look on his face strangely familiar. "What, Pony?" I sputtered out that I wasn't feeling too hot and bolted outta there. I had to get out, get air, get away from those brown eyes. I wasn't this person - I'd always liked girls, all through high school. Hell, I'd fucked girls. But some reason, when I closed my eyes, it was Shift and his goddamn brown eyes that I thought of and none of the girls. I walked for hours and hours in the chill, afraid to return. Who knows what Shift would do? He might ignore me - the least of what he was capable of and I didn't even want to imagine the worst. I wouldn't be able to look him in the face, anyway. Where had I seen that last expression before, I wondered. Either way I wouldn't be able to look anyone in the face; they might be able to tell. What would my brothers think? There's no way I'd every be able to tell them. During that night of wandering, I had resigned myself to never seeing them again, afraid of what Darry would say or how Soda's smile would just deflate. I returned to my dormitory after the sun had risen and as I collapsed on my bed, all I could see was Shift's face as I made my escape, and finally, finally I realized where I had seen it before. I had seen it on Dally. I had seen it on Dally again and again and again, whenever he looked at Johnny. I put up with so much from Shift and I couldn't even explain why; now I asked the same question of myself that I asked about Johnny years before. If Shift looked at me like Dally to Johnny, then I must look at Shift like Johnny admired Dally. Soda's words started rolling around in my head: "...but I guess Johnny just sees something in Dally that the rest of us don't."
Now, when I remember Dally and Johnny, it's not always blood and tears and pain. I remember Johnny laughing and actually smiling at one of Dally's wise-cracks and I remember Dally lifting Johnny's favorite candies from the drugstore for his birthday. I remember the way that Dally would take any insult thrown at him but if anyone intimidated Johnny, he'd attack without warning. I remember that Johnny could calm Dally or make him back off and shut up with just a look (and that none of us understood how he could do that). It's not like I've forgotten the bad parts; I still remember the switchblade Johnny never let out of his arm's length or the sound Dally's fist would make against a Soc's face. I can still see Johnny's face as the consciousness dimmed from his wide, dark eyes. I can still hear that last gasp of breath Dally drew as the police fired their weapons. I'll never forget any of those moments that kept me up at night for months. But sometimes when I remember, sometimes.