The kiss was alarming. It was wet and way too fast. The way Parker moved his tongue around in her mouth reminded her of the way he’d recklessly spun the handlebars of his bicycle as she’d ridden on top, when he’d met her up at the corner behind her parents’ house a few hours before. She’d agreed to come to the party over the phone, and painstakingly tip-toed down the carpeted stairs, easing the back window open, reaching first one leg out and then another. She then absconding into the bushes by the soccer field through the backyard, up the hill to the road—nothing but a teenage shadow in the night.
And for what?
Doug Ryan wasn’t having a party at all. It was all a set up. She felt it even as she entered the house. The way she was the only girl. The way they were all pouring themselves large glasses of Skyy vodka and shoving each other, wrestling each other to the ground, administering headlocks. The way everyone had been hanging out in Doug’s room and then, almost as if it were scripted, it was just her and Parker—the contents of Doug Ryan’s bookshelf still shaking from a sudden mass exodus and slam of the door. There were murmurs in the hall. Then the door opened just a crack, just enough for someone to reach his hand in and flip off the light, setting off a trick switch. One painfully obvious choreographed dance. Darkness. A tongue muscling around in the cavity of her mouth.
Finally it ended. She gasped for air. Parker moved his suction cup lips from her mouth and breathed heavily in her ear and then put his sweaty hand up her shirt, palming her breast.
“You,” he said. “Should take off your pants.”
She could feel his boner—is that what she should call it? His penis? Oh God. He was wearing corduroy shorts and her eyes were adjusting to the dark and they were in Doug Ryan’s room, on Doug Ryan’s bed, and he was pushing her backwards the way girls got pushed backwards onto beds in soap operas when the men they coveted delivered them passionate kisses. Only, she didn’t covet Parker Kane. His kiss tasted like Cool Ranch Doritos. And his hands felt wrong, the way she was told they might in an after-school special—though nothing is ever so cut and dry—because still, even with all the disgust of it, there was the simple rush of the fact that it was happening.
“You should take off your pants,” he mumbled again.
Her pants? They were shorts. Levi’s button-fly cut-offs. They were too broken in. The buttons, regrettably, yielded with just a tug.
What time was it?
There was a digital alarm clock next to Doug Ryan’s bed. Red lines and a colon. 3:46. A disembodied voice saying, “Soon we will all reassemble ourselves.”
But what did that mean? Where did the electron come from that pulsed through the chord and robbed the 6 of its fat bottom and gave the 7 its back-turned hat?
His wet hands left her chest and grabbed her hair and then—what?
You know how the order of these things goes. And you know that the skin on the surface of you is always on its way out. That with a good strong scrub from a loofah, that with some lavender body wash—
But life is stubbornly inconsistent. You know the sky sometimes is just the ceiling, just a dull entrapment of stepped-over grass.
You know Doug Ryan looked at that ceiling after he’d finished his history homework. You know he turned the pages of those comic books and put the poster tacky on those swimsuit pages. She felt Cindy Crawford’s evil eyes stare blankly from the wall.
You know Doug Ryan set the alarm each night on that digital clock.
She didn’t kiss back. She timed herself. This will be over in—
She closed her eyes: A self-inflicted blindness—or a knowing of sorts. An understanding that somewhere, in some other time zone, in a distant universe even, a digital alarm was waking somebody up. She could hear it the way she could hear her organs in her own ears—from the inside. A ghost voice inside an old quiet room whispered,
“We will all reassemble ourselves,”
Happen, Or Did,
And then a starburst—the pink kind. A funhouse slide out Doug Ryan’s window to the ball pit where the Double Dare studio audience bites their nails as she smashes cream colored pies into four brave volunteers before the final buzzer. Slime, delicious as vanilla pudding, everywhere. Streamers and birthday confetti. A celebratory lap to cheers and a recap of the prizes she’s won:
• A one way ticket
• A new pair of
• A backpack, the
kind that hobos
they own to.
The host asks, “Where will you go?” and the audience all has their own suggestions. They yell them at the top of their lungs so that all the places together sound like one place, “Gawasshingoty.”
Yes, she thinks to herself. Gawasshingoty. That is where I’ll go. And the way your dreams transform it happened. Suddenly she stands on a corner she’s never been to before. She wears a backpack full of things she has never really owned. There is a hot cup of soup in her hand. She wears a man’s tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbow and in the pocket near her heart she hears a faint whisper, “Love.” She takes a sip of soup but the noodles are long and there is no spoon. Other people stand around her but they are shadow people. People with no eyes. People who wear headphones so they never have to hear.
A bus pulls up. The driver is a grown-up version of herself, though she doesn’t know this, nor does she recognize the woman as someone she could be. The driver knows, of course, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it. She remembers. She knows she wants to play like everything is A-OK.
“How far is Gawasshingoty,” the girl asks the driver.
“Well,” the driver says. “You can’t run there. You can only go by bus.”
The girl shrugs. She tries to hand the driver her ticket, but realizes with a heat wave of embarrassment that everything—the ticket, the notebook—all her prizes are gone.
“Please,” she starts to say to the driver. But then, looking into her own eyes, she experiences a jolt.
(What Did Happen,
With Eyes Closed)
face not shaved,
air-conditioned air that made a dull ache in areas of the body under no particular watch
(ex. the heel of the left
the backs of the
the pear-shaped mole
on the crook of her
Humid mouth air that made for one moment of warm body thank you shiver that starts at the neck followed by an eternity of sticky mist.
Murmurs and shrieks of laughter from another room.
Parker’s voice saying stupid rotten lies like,
“You are so hot.
I think about you all the time.”
Outside the door voices go, Dude. Fuck that. Dude fuck thaaaat.
The distant call of Pearl Jam:
Jeremy spoke in,
spoke iiiiiiiin, Jeremy spoke in
And then lights suddenly on. The door suddenly open. Doug Ryan, Pete Corbitt, Todd Bogen. All those other junior boys.
“What do we have going on in here?”
“Whoa, Kane, whoaaa.”
“It only takes a minute to reassemble yourself.”
Who said that?
Flood lights on a football field.
“You don’t have to stop on account of us.”
Her skin had all the tan lines of summer. Sometimes when she stood naked in front of the mirror before getting ready to run she wouldn’t even notice the pink pucker of her nipples or the hair of her crotch—it was camouflaged by the whiteness of her un-sun-touched skin. But here, on Doug Ryan’s bed. Here under Doug Ryan’s ceiling fan lamp, surrounded by Doug Ryan’s pile of summer reading for A.P. English, with Parker Kane’s still wet slobber on her neck—
“Get me out,” she began to murmur, over and over again. “Get me out, getmeout, gemeout.” She pulled down her shirt. Buttoned her cut-offs.
They all just stood there. They all had on the same vodka-dumb face. She looked for whipped cream pies. The universe provided none. The house was stone silent. Where was the music? Had the DJ fallen asleep?
The digital 3 became a 4. A structure collapsed, then returned as its new self. But tomorrow, at the same time, where would she be? What could happen? Who could believe in a tomorrow when it was now, now, now?
“If you tell anyone about this,” she said in a baritone wobble—was that really her voice? “If you tell anybody at all about this I will kill you.” Was that her ripping off the front cover of Doug Ryan’s A.P. History book? “I will cut your fucking throats in your fucking sleep.”
Doug Ryan laughed, his eyes as glazed as a gas station donut. The sound of it crushed her.
She wanted a vodka-dumb face too. She wanted to feel stupid enough to not feel stupid.
Her voice said:
“I should probably kill myself. But that’d be giving you morons too much credit.”
Can you believe she said that? She was 15 years old. She’d had her period for only 2 years, and sporadically, maybe only 15 times.
It took her less than 15 seconds to kick the front door of Doug Ryan’s house before she opened it widely and slammed it shut, running down the street and around the corner to some stranger’s house where she collapsed into a heap onto their manicured lawn. She thought of the bus ride and wondered, have I gotten there yet?
The ground was dewy. It was cold and wet. But it wasn’t, and would never be, Parker Kane’s hands.
Even in New Jersey there are a few wayward stars. She fixed her eyes on them.
Is there such a place, she asked those distant time machines. And if so, will I ever make it? And what will it be like if I do? Will there be boys there that really think I’m pretty? And if they tell me that they think so, how will I know if it’s true? Can Cool Ranch Doritos be banished from all records of history from here on out? What about Wheaties boxes? What about Mountain Dew?
Can we do away with rain and just let the water come up the color green from the complacent grass?
And what about curfews? How about a moratorium on questions posed by parents to their poor delinquent daughters?
Please, can school be optional? Or can you do away with certain days? Certain moments at the very least?
Does time ever assemble and reassemble itself around one single point, the way a solar system exists around a star?
What is entropy? How long will I ride a moment until I can be sure that the moment no longer exists?
“I want a hobo backpack,” she said out loud. And then she fell asleep for an hour or so.