We thought we were so cool. Every Friday and Saturday night, we would park right here with my car facing toward the street so we could sit on the hood and watch other cars full of kids cruise back and forth yelling out their windows and playing music. It was kind of lame, but what else are you going to do as a teenager in a small town with nothing to do?
We’d get all dolled up and wear what we thought would make us look cute but not too eager or desperate for the guys cruising who were trying to act cool themselves. We all knew each other anyway but sometimes kids from neighboring towns would show up to cruise and we had to put on the image for them just in case.
I always felt like it was boring to sit there waiting to be noticed when I would have rather stayed home and read a book. But Kelly…Kelly needed to be seen. She needed attention so bad. I never understood why because she was such a cool girl. Smart, pretty, and funny. The way she talked about parking on the weekend was like it was going to be her only ticket out of here.
Here wasn’t so bad, just small and claustrophobic the way everyone knew your business the from the moment you were brought home from the hospital until you found opportunity somewhere else.
Kelly found opportunity every time someone new came through. Those opportunities never went anywhere but at least she tried she said.
Let’s just get through high school and then we’ll be out of here I would say. Kelly was like a big colorful kite blowing in the wind with her hair flowing like kite tassels and I was the one holding her by the hypothetical string grounding her until we got to a safe place where she could fly safely away from power lines or trees itching to take her down.
I took a long drag of the cigarette. The tip glowing intensely as the burn of menthol filled my lungs and the minty freshness filled my mouth. Like smoking a spearmint candy cane, except these will kill you someday. Menthol wasn’t my first choice; but it was all Kelly could get her hands on at the time. Her mom kept cartons of menthol cigarettes in the door of the freezer which Kelly would steal from on a regular basis. I’m sure her mom knew but probably thought there were worse things we could be doing, so she didn’t call us out on it. I blew the smoke out of my mouth in a steady stream, clouding my vision of the life before me. I could understand why she wanted out but there had to be a better way of going about it.
“My turn.” I heard her say. Without looking, I swept my hand to my right and held out the cigarette. We only had a few cigarettes on us and somehow, they lasted longer if we passed one back and forth instead smoking a full one ourselves. Plus, passing it back and forth felt like we were passing a joint, which of course we weren’t, but still gave us a feeling we were rebels right out in the open. Nothing to see here, officer we would imagine ourselves saying and then laughing our heads off as if we had the guts.
I was smiling to myself thinking about it when my vision came into focus and I noticed a couple of guys hanging out of the car windows looking our way. Me, smiling to myself looking indifferent, and Kelly calling out to them while waving her arm in the air. The car stopped and the two guys on the passenger side of the car got out and came walking toward us. Great. Can’t a couple of girls just hang out and have a good time looking cool without being bothered?
“Kevin!” Kelly squealed. Boys liked that for some reason.
“Kelly.” Kevin responded coolly as he walked up.
“Who’s your friend?” Kelly asked as she passed me the cigarette and hopped down from the hood of the car.
I turned my head as if I was looking down the street at something else. Truth is, I didn’t want to look at Kevin or his friend. I wanted to be left alone doing my duty keeping Kelly out of trouble and now it just walked up without permission.
“Kelly, meet Dermit.” He said sweeping his arm as if he was performing some formal introduction. “Dermit meet Kelly.”
“Pleasure to meet you, kind sir.” Kelly laughed while performing an awkward version of a curtsy.
“The pleasure is all mine, my lady.” Dermit responded while taking a very deep bow.
I could tell this was going to be a long night.
“Dermit’s here visiting from LA. His mom went to high school with my mom and they came up to see how country folks survive, haha. You know, since we just got our indoor toilets and all.”
I looked out of the corner of my eye. Kevin’s sarcastic humor was one of the many things I liked about him. But that was over. I knew it and he knew it.
“LA!” Kelly squealed again. “I’ve always wanted to go to LA!” I heard her say as she moved in on Dermit. He didn’t stand a chance. If he wanted a small-town experience, Kelly was the right girl to give it to him. He would never forget it, that’s for sure.
I felt Kevin’s energy as he climbed up and sat next to me on the car. He didn’t say anything. Just sat there gazing ahead. I took another drag off the cigarette and stuck my hand out as if to offer it. It only had about one more drag on it anyway. He took it without saying anything, finished it off, and flicked it to the ground blowing smoke out of his nose.
“Menthol. Gross. Should’ve warned me.”
“What’s the fun in that?”
“I don’t know how you smoke those things.”
“Keeps my breath minty fresh.”
We were only 17 but fought like seasoned pros going through our second divorce. Every line had a double meaning cutting each other to the core trying to open a new wound.
“How long are we going to do this?”
“Going to do what?” I wasn’t going to make it easy for him, that’s for sure. I don’t even really remember what we were fighting about this time but as graduation grew near, I knew I had to make a break away from him. If I didn’t, every choice I made after would be because of him and his plans. I wanted to make my own decisions. My own choices. My own plans.
It hurt to be apart. I wanted to smoosh myself into the nook created when he put his arm around me on those nights we would sit together looking up at the stars up on the peak. I wasn’t wild like Kelly but I still wanted to see the world, or at least, the world outside of my town. He was on track to graduate, go to college on an agricultural scholarship, and then come back and run the family farm. It wasn’t the life I wanted and I knew if we stayed together, I would find myself trapped with a handful of kids hanging off my apron wondering if I had missed something better out there for me.
The resentment I felt for a future that didn’t exist yet nagged at me. It left me angry at Kevin as if it was his fault. I didn’t want to be my mom. Grow up in a small town, fall in love, get married right out of high school, have kids, and work the land. She seemed happy enough but there were times when I would watch her sit on the porch in the mornings, sipping her coffee, gazing into the distance as if she was dreaming of a different life. I was afraid to ask what she was thinking. I don’t think I could have handled the truth if it was anything like I had imagined. I didn’t want that for me.
“It isn’t fair.” He said resigned to the knowledge I was already gone in my head so it didn’t matter what my heart wanted.
We sat for a minute not looking at one another. It felt like an eternity. The energy between us felt like those fuzzy magnets where everything sticks but nothing really holds. It was all I could do to keep my head focused and my heart at bay.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for, Meg.” He says putting his hand on my knee leaving it there to see how long it would be before I brushed it off.
I wanted it to stay there forever. The thought scared me more than anything I could imagine. He doesn’t know how hard this is and I don’t want him to know. If he did, he would look at me with those deep green eyes and hold my hands in his, comforting me and reassuring me he would take care of me and love me forever.
And it’s true. He would. But would I? Could I? I can’t look him in the eye and say the same things. I love him, yes, but is the life he’s offering enough? I don’t know and I don’t want to complicate things with wishful thinking and teenage promises.
As he slowly pulls his hand away from my knee and gets down off the hood, I feel the urge to say something but I shove it down as hard as I can. It’s better this way I tell myself. Before I can get too melancholy over it, Kelly bounces onto the top of the hood all happy and full of energy.
“Dermit is sooo cute! He invited me to come over and meet his mom! I’m so excited to hear about LA and where they live. Maybe I can go there and visit them?! That would be so cool… Hey, Meg…”
“Yeah?” I say turning towards her. “That would be cool, for sure.”
“He loves you, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know. I love him, too.”