I can just make out the park at the end of the street where I met him, at a barbecue. It’s one of those body language memories—never learned English. All I get is this: The sinking of the sun into my skin, my first introduction to the easy settle of East Coast heat. Hot dog juice dribbling down my chin, a trail of shame tickling up my spine, wondering if anyone saw. A slow empowerment spreading up my shoulders, straightening my neck with every younger kid I meet. The double recognition that tightens my face as we lock eyes, that we’re the oldest kids here, and that this is a fucking small town. My toes, pressing against the top of my boot, stretching to fit the feeling that everyone here is going to know me. I remember liking that feeling.
The library has a red roof now. It started off gray, and it stayed that way until halfway through freshman year. At that point, I had already been friends with him for a year, best friends for six months, girlfriend for one week, and best friends for six more months. Getting drunk had just discovered us. He had dared me to climb the big tree, so I dared him to climb the lamppost, so he dared me to hop the fence, and then he had to follow me because I called him a pussy.
The bird was big enough that after it smashed into the plastic/glass/whatever that school and dentist bathroom windows are made of, there was a crater of cracks going all the way to the next pane. Its head was gone, and it was bleeding, more than either of us had ever seen anything bleed before. He took out the Reds, our first pack, from two days before, lit both, and handed me one. I was grateful, even though I was already feeling nauseous and knew this wouldn’t help. The smoke filled the space left by our thoughts. He puked, then I puked. We decided even if every life doesn’t have a meaning, every death should send a message.
As the single coolest word we knew, we figured that the kids would laugh when they saw “ennui” spelled out in bird’s blood all across the roof, in that reflexive I-should-get-this-joke way. At least the moms still freaked out—every bake sale that year was dedicated to making the roof “bloodless,” raising over $5,000 by the end of the next summer. Even after they painted the shingles crimson, they could still afford a hundred anticruelty posters, one for every mailbox.
He did it way out in the fields, same place his dad did. The day’s fading, but I can stare until my eyes adjust. He always left me to deal with his mom. I just wish he would have told me, first.
I can see the wall where we tagged “Ride the Bull” in permanent marker, our first foray into public art; and the town’s first-ever graffiti problem, the principal informed us the next day. The wall is blank now, all white—but I can tell the spot because it’s the only wall downtown with paint that’s not peeling.
Riding the bull is when you climb on the windshield, set up your legs like you’re about to give birth, and let it rip. It was the second thing that we tried after he got his permit, after ghost-riding, which sucked. We needed to redeem ourselves, so we thought of the most dangerous thing we could do, and did it.
He called out the speed as we started.
“Five miles an hour.”
“Ten miles an hour.”
Speed pulled my head back, my hair up, my arms out, even my fingers to extension, but something else yanked my eyes open and left my mouth flapping in the wind. It was the closest we ever got. We were so full, we couldn’t wait to spill over.
I see the houses lighting up. It must be five o’clock. The sun isn’t even halfway gone, but the wives only need to see the dog start to circle the front door, barks brewing, and it’s nighttime. And sure enough, barely five minutes after the first dining room light started to compete with the sun, I can see the husbands getting in their cars. The class divide is on display as the Camrys from downtown fight to relinquish their right of way while the Fords from the Subaru plant race around the outskirts. It’s like watching your fish fight the new friend you just bought to keep it company, and you wonder if it knows it’s in a fishbowl.
My legs dangle over the edge.
All rights reserved to Samsun Knight.