We called it the Tri-Y, either in reference to the anomalous intersection or the little lot of land it sat upon: a church and less-interesting meeting hall owned by the same. And an gas station long since ditched for nefarious reasons I no longer remember, except my first fantasies of muckraking were of printing up the secrets of that town, like knowing what was wrong with the oil and the soil that so many filling stations had been ditched, and printing it.

The kids in my town hung out at the Tri-Y a lot, and still do, dragging cigarettes and brown-bottle liquor, toking, tweaking, often parking and meeting up in Pintos and monster trucks, in the rare event they were old enough to drive. The Tri-Y was actually for the younger set - 13, 14, 15 at the most - and signalled, in the minds of my parents, the beginning of the end. I saw there the rapidly-aging faces of my old friends from elementary school, the ones I had dissed, or who had dissed me, aging unnaturally under the streetlights, wrinkling and sprouting after so many drags and drugs and slugs of Hostess snack cakes. I never went there myself.

That station - rather, its skeletal remains - will be torn down in a short matter of time; they're gonna make sense of that intersection, currently strips and bits of nothing and something; it's typical of my hometown that none of the streets would match up proper.

I'd have to go downtown for milk late at night, or dessert sometimes, and see those kids, former friends, acquaintances, others who'd slipped through the cracks and out of my limited circles, young and out so late without supervision and always, it seemed, in a stupor of some kind - induced by chemicals or anger, self-pity, self-destruction or desperation. Usually more than one of the above, I thought, frequently all. I was already too far away to wave, and I wouldn't have anyway. I was looking at them from further than across a parking lot or two, and the darkness was only the first perceptive block. I burned too many bridges in those days, I think; at the time I was wary of the self-destructive trappings of youth, and denied myself an adolescence, maybe for those reasons only.

Two of my best friends from fifth grade now are married, the other attending a Mormon junior college and much, I think, closer to marriage than I. The youngest among us married first and had a baby, and that in the wake of nearly dying from an overdose of meth (and in eighth grade, too; the Life Flight flew right over me; she went into intensive care). I'm nearing on 20 now, and only becoming curious about all the things I missed - the opportunities for love (or a close approximation) and altered consciousness that might have existed in a town of 5,000, which seemed to have invisible walls and presented to me only the option of scaling them. I don't know that it would have worked. I don't know that I can milk any regrets out of staying celibate and straightedge throughout high school, since I fear the alternative so gravely. All those kids ran headlong into adulthood and will instead suffer a kind of perpetual adolescence, at the Tri-Y 'til it goes down and moving a little when it does, drinking, smoking, clambaking the babies.

I've worked myself into another rut entirely: an adulthood for which I am not prepared. Imagine going to high school for the rest of your life, and keeping the same friends and aesthetics and dirty habits you had as a freshman, 'til you were 50; I've seen as much happen in the rural ghetto, and I imagined the only alternative was to skip altogether, and show up for the test. I'm full of nightmares and close to hitting bottom, and suddenly, I wish I'd had more practice.

Yeah, I remember the girl. Name was Icy-Hot, I think. Used to hang out up there with all them freaks and queers. I had me a damn fine little fillin' station around here. Fed my three kids and sent 'em to college on that fillin' station. Then Icy-Hot done to me what college done to them kids: Fucked 'em. Screwed everything up.

Hell, I didn't care if they sat up there and smoked that mary jane and got all drunk on whisky. I'd go up there and shake my fist in the air at 'em sometimes, and yell, "Get outta here, you whippersnappers!" But I's mostly just amusin' myself. I used to be a kid; I know what happens.

But when that Icy-Hot started putting those flyers around telling folks that my pumps were foulin' the nests around here, that's what done it. I shoulda seen it comin'. She weren't never no good for nothin'.

Now I sit here and watch 'em tear down my old station. I rub the tattoo on my arm that's wearin' off and wonder if it's even worth it to get upset any more. Hell, I didn't know them tanks were supposed to be buried so deep.

Damn Icy-Hot and damn the EPA. But just damn me, too, while I'm at it, I guess.

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