My first airplane ride
, and the shortest, maybe 45 minutes. Touchdown and then a long ride to Kerri's house, or rather, her mom's new husband's house
. She went through them once every four years or so and having grown up with Kerri as my best friend whether I liked it or not, we had both gotten used to it. It was either Kenneth or Greg or Mike, and none of them seemed to care whether Kerri got to know them or not, like they were there strictly to be with her blonde mother
The house was like a dollhouse, all tall and painted pale. In the night drive it looked like it was in the middle of nowhere, and so even in the daylight, I remember it this way. Kerri had the whole attic to herself like I did in my parents' apartment, but hers of course was bigger. I lugged my bags upstairs and smelled bread baking that some woman in a turtleneck was tending to. The insides of the house had lots of winds and turns.
They had a hot tub out back, and it was cold enough to snow, so fat patches of it lingered on the grass. Kerri told me that if you ran and jumped in, you wouldn't even feel the cold; the same could be said were you were ready to come inside. So we sat out there in our 14 year old fashion of swimwear, yet one more thing that noted the differences between our bodies; Kerri was always bony and gaunt and I was always curvy. I could feel the wet hairs piled up on my head hardening with little shells of ice. I saw my breath while we talked, my body fooled into an envelope of hot water that steamed up around my nose and eyebrows like a warm fog. When we finally got out, we leapt up and ran to the door of the greenhouse that was connected to the house, steam lifting off our bodies like mist. She was right; I couldn't feel the temperature change.
Kerri now had a new, older stepbrother, but thinking back I can't remember his name. It was something boring like Alex, so we'll use that. Alex had a friend over, Blaine, that Kerri was positively gaga over, so naturally she tried to pair me up with Alex. He reminded me of the older boys who attended the same private school with me and lived in my neighborhood. They were a few grades ahead and very mischievous, and their dads usually owned some business that allowed them to drive Ford Broncos and skip school to go duck hunting. They attracted me because they always seemed to be having more latent fun than I was and repulsed me because they made me aware of the economical lines that divided us in invisible ways. Alex was no different, in one of two living rooms in front of a massive television set, stuffing his rough hands down my pants with no real interest in whether or not I wanted them there.
The next morning, Kerri and I got up early to make the trek into town. She had been telling me about a neat used clothing store called SoHo's that took exchanges for store credit. I brought with me this rose colored, crocheted dress and jacket outfit that was just too dressy for me at the time so that I could trade. Kerri got this awful canary yellow pleated skirt that she wanted to "free from its cheerleader inbreeding" and include into some melodramatic punk ensemble. I can't even remember now what I got, but I know it wasn't worth nearly as much as that dress. It was handmade, and I had not yet learned the value of such things.
We plugged on from there in the snow, sipping from our bottles of carbonated water and munching on a loaf of French bread we had bought at a local bakery. I felt like a miniature adult (which for me meant being 20) walking the streets of a town I had never seen before without a hint of parental supervision. Our fingers were numb and our stomachs growled under the lack of more substantial funds, but it didn't matter. We felt like we were really alive in that moment.
Back at the house, bread was baking again. I filled up a lot on bread there; I think the woman (I suppose a maid) was vegetarian. No matter whose house she lived in or which stepfather it was, the family always ate things that were weird to me, like oatmeal with honey instead of sugar or beans and vegetables instead of meat. We walked from room to room with bread slices as thick as books, topped with marmalade, looking for the boys again. I remember at one point walking by the maid's bedroom and seeing her and her husband in bed, apparently naked under the blankets, judging from their shoulders. He was plump and pale and losing his hair, and I think it was the first time I had seen a grown man's bare chest that close up besides my father's. These people knew an intimacy with their bodies that I was still unfamiliar with.
Around this time, my mom bought me a scrapbook, and I devoted a page to this trip, my first true escape. On it, I taped my flight stubs, a wrapper of gourmet chocolate I bought, the receipt from SoHo's. If I could imprint smells and feelings onto paper in this way, I wouldn't have to remember. I'm kind of glad I can't.