Liz was the first one, really. The one that came closest to happening. And the one I regret the most.
The science classrooms in my high school didn't have typical desks. They had huge thick black acid-proof tables that seated two students apiece. You didn't have to scratch your name in, you could just write it with the moisture from your rested hand. A quirk of the alphabet paired me with her in the ninth grade.
Liz had straight chin-length blonde hair and clear blue eyes
that were nonetheless hard to get behind. She hated wearing her glasses, but I thought they only increased
the sexiness quotient. She had a knack for surprising me with a deadpan comment, repressed with all her jaw
strength. I could make her laugh, but could never predict which remark would do it. I would tell her bizarre stuff just because she'd listen, like that my dad had a birthday on 8/8/88
, and she'd remember.
Something like a year later. My sister is Having a Party While Mom and Dad Are Away. Meanwhile, the much larger, much noisier one across the street is being busted up by the cops. So my Student Council sister is freaking out, driving folks home buzzed just to move the debauchery away from the danger zone.
When my sister and I were little, we shared bunkbeds. When she got her own room, we took the bunks apart and I used the spare as a mess platform. Tonight, I find Liz sitting on it after I get home late from babysitting and wander upstairs. Ellen knows Jack whose sister is Karen who's friends with Liz. That's how she's here, sipping a wine cooler and doing her best to look disinterested.
If this happened today, it would sicken me. I've got a whole different ethical code and I try to search for commonalities outside of consumer culture. But back then this was serendipity, this was worlds colliding. We quote the same moronically moral Mormon commercial and I fall to the floor laughing, though I'm sober, like always. I crouch under my desk, not hiding, just seeing the world in a new way.
The phone conversations lasted for hours more often than not. We weren't interested in debate, or even disagreeing. Just bands and TV and stupid, stupid teachers. That magic thing where I can't tell what you're going to say next. Then you say it and it's so you I should have known. I like it this way, though. I like not being able to fit you in my head.
So: Driver's Ed. Most kids did it after school, but my sister had a bad experience with the teacher and Mom said we're going somewhere else this time. We picked Harry's, in Derry. Liz calls me up one day to say her mom got her signed up there too. Sweet! We will be the only two kids from L-Town. Rite of passage, together. Just us.
I maintain the opinion to this day that fifteen is the worst age to be in America. Pissed off all week and horny as fuck but you can't go anywhere. So this is The Plan: On my 16th birthday, I will take The Test, then I will get The License. (Harry's is good like that, with the scheduling.) Then I will make The Call. Because you can't ask a girl out and then have your mom pick her up. That's just sad. And I can't let her know how I feel because I don't have the courage. (Looking back, she must have known; I'm always so transparent.)
Now I'm in the blue Plymouth Reliant with the extra brake pedal on the passenger side. There sits Harry, with long gray nose hairs and a clipboard. I'm doing well. Duh. It's easy. I drive slower than a dead rhino.
I'm at a stop sign by Dave N.'s house. Coming toward me is a driver I recognize as Lisa R., in my grade. She's got her turn signal on, and there's only driveways between us. Weird, I didn't know she lived up here. I pull out. Slowly.
"What are you doing?" asks Harry, sharp, his New England accent thick like a bone in his throat. Lisa is right behind me and Harry believes we narrowly avoided a collision. I've failed the test. She must have left the indicator on. Don't tell me it was simply still blinking from her turn up the hill. I saw what I saw.
Long story short, by the time I get the license two months later, Liz is seeing this college guy. Tall, jock, party animal. I can't compete with that. So I become the sensitive friend who listens to the problems. Yeah, that sucks. Uh-huh. The guy was clearly no genius. And this never occurred to me at the time, but now I can safely say: college boys who go after high school girls are slime. Weak, pathetic slime.
We still hung out, but it never got to the point where her circle of friends intersected mine. She hung with jocks and I was with the drama club geeks. Don't think spoiled rich football players, though. These were bony middle class runners who'd always been nice to me. Not easy to hate.
Even though we could now head anywhere we wanted, there was so nauseatingly little to do. I showed her the coolest record store in the state, Relax in Manchester, a title held primarily through lack of competition. We discovered the real-life Easy Street which disturbingly (for the metaphor) ended in a cul-de-sac after a few hundred yards. We sang along to the radio so loud we both got hoarse, for just one song and then nothing else. Sometimes the worse your adventures turn out, the better it is for you in the long run. It ups the in-joke ratio.
In New England we have these stupid things called rotaries, serving the purpose of four stop signs for folks who hate to slow down. Even deep in the housing developments. We are driving around and around one late one night, and we don't even live near here. We are that bored.
She says, "Let's run." The good ideas are never mine.
Twice around the orbit. She's always just ahead of me. We're not in shape for this. But it's what we were looking for. It's something.
We collapse back into my dad's Honda, panting, and Oh God I wanted to kiss her. She's not looking at me, or smiling, but even in the dark I know about the color in her cheeks. By this time, the college guy (honestly, I can't even remember his name) was history. It was just me, and my fear, and her. My hand is on the gearshift. It will not go any further to the right.
Eventually I just gave up, but I never forgot. She never stopped being what she was. I got with a few girls as school rolled on, but none of them lit up my brain like her. It's damned rare to find a chick that can make me laugh. And it's about the sexiest thing I know of.
So, now the glory of graduation has passed. My summer job at K-Mart has helped quash any delusions of having mastered my world I might have harbored. And realizations are starting to drop, like landing blimps: I won't be living here. I'll have way more homework. My friends will be five hours and forty dollars away. I am wondering why anyone wants to grow up at all.
But despite that, some things need to be resolved, dammit. While they still can be.
I don't remember what it was we did that night. I do remember driving her home. Her street was Rolling Ridge, which was right where the girl I'd never met and never would had hit the tree going 105 that same year. We're in my mom's minivan. She is saying things, decidedly non-romantic things. I am trying to come up with a sentence with a low idiocy quotient. The mood is all wrong.
As I park in her driveway, though, we say all sorts of things just so we don't have to say goodbye. And as she reached for the door handle I said it. "Hey Liz. I'm gonna say something that's like really crazy. But what would you say about like going out someday? Like, on a date. Or whatever."
I know it doesn't look, in print, like I knew what I was doing. But there was a calm, smooth undercurrent to my voice that was really saying: "Even if I get rejected for the forty-seventh time, I don't really care. I'm cool, and I know it." Which of course was miles away from what I was feeling. Somehow, I'd deduced the path to self-confidence: YOU JUST MAKE IT UP. If only anyone had told me that two years ago, I wouldn't be in this shit.
So she takes off her glasses, and digs at her eye with her finger. Then she looks me dead in the eye, for just a second.
She's crying. I'm pretty sure I've never seen that before.
"Why do you do this to me."
Note her use of the present tense. Apparently this abuse of mine is ongoing. I can find nothing to say. I don't know where to begin ripping up all my false assumptions, let alone get new ones.
Eventually she mumbles that she has been dating someone. Josh V., another jock. I see. So we can pretend my timing was off by one month, not dozens. She exits the car. Oh, that was a fun drive home. The radio never helps you out at times like that.
And now I know that right there it was my fault all over again. Because up until then I could legitimately claim stupidity and cowardice, but I took no for an answer. I never fought for her. I never said "Listen, dammit, you belong with me, and you don't mean to him what you mean to me, and he could never understand you like I do, and fuck this whole stupid town, because you and I are going to hike up a mountain right now, and we're going to talk under the stars until our voices go, and there's nothing left to do but kiss until we're dry and sore." It's a simple enough thing to say.
I talked to her on the phone a couple times after that, but I don't think we ever saw each other again. A friend who went to college in Boston told me he saw her there, much later, living with a jock (one we knew from grade school) and unhealthily thin. I believe the two of us would have grown apart years ago. Which doesn't matter at all.
And these days. When I feel that thing. You know that thing? You don't have to put a name on it. Just act on it. Yeah, I still get rejected. But at least I know.