Coming of Age High School Drama

“You wanna do something fun?” he asked me.

Responding, “no,” would be the last time I ever spoke to him.

We met at my summer job. I served ice cream at the Dairy Queen, and he stopped by every night until I said yes to a date with him.

That should have been the first red flag. His persistence and ignoring my refusals. But I liked it. I thought maybe he knew I was shy and wouldn’t say yes until the 20th time he asked me to dinner. 

He had said he wanted to take me to the nicest restaurant in our small town, but we went to mini golf instead. It was one of those old, broken down courses that hadn’t been updated since it opened 20 years ago. He’d told me there was a friend he needed to meet, and that friend lived nearby. Two birds, one stone.

He winked at me, and I missed this second red flag. Who needs to meet a friend for two seconds at a mini golf place on the side of a highway? He was older, so I didn’t question much of what he did or how he was.

He had been jittery when he picked me up. I thought it was just nerves from our first date. I knew I was painfully nervous, so why wouldn’t he be? Now looking back, it’s silly to think he’d have been nervous. He was 32 to my 16. I guess I should mention that.

We joked about how he was exactly twice my age. We shared a birthday. 16 years apart.

The age difference wasn’t necessarily acceptable at the time, but there was no reference. No social media where a young girl could learn about grooming. “She seemed old of her age” was still a valid defense.

Even if it felt weird, I wasn’t going to say anything. A boy, let alone a man, had never paid attention to me before. There hadn’t been time really. I’d just hit puberty earlier that summer and only recently became what teenage boys friend attractive.

But he noticed me. And immediately. Again, no I can see the red flag of a man being interested in a child. At the time it just felt good to be wanted. The fact that he was older made it all the more validating.

All the nerves he’d had when he picked me up disappeared after he met his friend. I only got a glimpse of him. It was this kid who went to my high school. But graduated years before I even started there. I recognized his face from the school’s “Hall of Fame.” He had been a record-setting quarterback. He never went to college and never moved out of town.

My friend and I didn’t drink. Drugs weren’t even a consideration or something whose existence we really knew about. The only people I saw outside of school, Tracy and Millie, were just like me. Awkward, quiet until you got to know us. I was the first to hit puberty, and they still hadn’t gone on a date.

The whole time at mini golf I was focused on committing everything to memory. Everything I wanted to tell them about after. Replaying it for them until it felt like they had been there too.

The way he called me “Em” instead of Emily. The way he smelled like cigarettes and how that made me feel more mature. To be with someone who smoked. The way my heart hurt when he smiled at me. I wanted to take them on the adventure with me. Recreate every single moment and feeling.

I have a hard time ascribing the term “bad guy” to him because he never did anything intentionally to hurt me. He just brought with him destruction. Wherever he went, chaos followed. I couldn’t see how he found the destruction and chaos and let it take over his life. That he had a part in all of it.

I tend to romanticize the past, as most people do, but I can see now that he was a predator. It hurts me more to pretend he wasn’t at this point in my recovery.

He let me win mini golf and drove me home. He owned a car. Another sign of maturity. He dropped me off a block away from my house. He said he wasn’t good with parents. I probably shouldn’t even tell them about him.

He was my first kiss. And my first everything else.

He would drink every time we went out. He was of age, and I was not but that didn’t discourage him.

We spent more time together, and he enveloped me in his love. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t suffocating. It was comforting. It was everything I had ever wanted. After watching other kids, because that’s what I was, get their first kisses and couple up.

I was finally one of them. What did it matter that I couldn’t take him to the Homecoming dance? That he had never met my parents or my friends? He wasn’t good with friends either, he said. I barely saw my anyone but him anymore, so what did any of that matter?

What we had was more mature and special than a silly high school relationship. No one would get it. We’re too real. That’s what he’d tell me when I asked why we cold never go to the diner or anywhere else in public.

Pretty soon my only option was to join him. I couldn’t stand to just sit on his motel bed anymore and watch him get drunk. That’s where he was living. A motel off of the interstate. Actually just down the way from the mini golf course.

I knew his last girlfriend had kicked him out. What I wouldn’t find out until later was that he and this girlfriend had a daughter together. She’s only four years younger than me. But I wouldn’t know that until the funeral.

He had me start with a beer. I used to always smell my dad’s beer, but he never let me try them. The beer he gave me was a Budweiser. Almost too cliched to be real. I liked it. After the shock of discovering that beer was fizzy. You couldn’t tell that from just the smell.

Since I had never drank before my tolerance was non-existent. I felt a buzz after two beers. I was air. This was the feeling I wanted for the rest of my life. I had another and one more and one more. Until I drifted out of my body and floated away. The last thing I remember before the world slipped away was his smiling face looking down on me and him whispering in my ear, “you’re perfect.”

  I became addicted to that. To him. To the feeling of being enough. The feeling of being nothing and everything. I started cutting school to see him.

When things began to unravel, it wasn’t everything at once. It was a bunch of little things first, so it was hard to even tell what was happening. The looks on Tracy’s and Millie’s faces when I cancelled on them for the hundredth time. The constant irritability I felt that made me snap at my parents. We didn’t have the perfect relationship, but we never yelled at each other.

I was viscous. He formed me in his image. He could be so sweet one moment and biting the next. Telling me I was his beautiful flower, and in the same breath calling me a stupid little girl. He never hit me though, so it didn’t seem that bad. He always apologized after raising his voice or throwing something. Never at me, just near me. I hadn’t been in love before, but even I knew love wasn’t perfect.

The worst he got, the harder it became to ignore it. Being drunk helped, but as my tolerance grew, it was harder and harder to get that high. It does always feel like I”m chasing that first time. The feeling of floating. I never touched the drugs. I saw how they made him, and besides, he never offered them to me.

I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t going to end it. I didn’t really know how. At that point, I didn’t know I was allowed to leave people who hurt me. I didn’t learn that until much later long after he was gone.

There was no real reason to turn him down when he came to my window that night. When he asked me, “you wanna do something fun?” A voice in my head said no for me.

He had started showing up to my house late at night, already drunk, asking if I wanted to go for a drive.

“You’re such a fucking goody two-shoes,” he spat at me.

That’s the very last thing he said to me or maybe to anyone.

He drove his car into a tree. There were no skid marks. He didn’t even hit the brakes. They don’t know if he did it on purpose. I don’t know that it matters. He was killing himself one way or another.

I wish I could say I stopped drinking once he was gone. Part of me wanted to keep him in my life, and drinking was the most natural way to do that. It took me eight more years to admit I had a problem and another four after that to quit.

I blame him for how he treated me, but I don’t think it’s his fault that I turned out the way I did. He just brought to the surface an inevitability. But in the end I took back my power and decided I didn’t want to kill myself one way or another.

October 06, 2021 21:22

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