He was reaching for the top shelf then stopped. He moved his eyes to the next, lower shelf down and chose a jar. His hair was sheet white and his body frame resembled my father, tall and heavy set ... [+]
I stare at the sky and all of its colors and shades, lights and darks, reds and yellows within its deep blue. The sun elongates the shadows created by my body and my black ‘77 Trans-Am parked on the dirt road beside me. Almost no one came down this road until a drag race was held here a few years ago. Now every high school senior boy with a car tries to impress a girl by doing donuts in the same haunted dirt that I sit in now. I lay down abruptly on the hard ground and a puff of dust comes up from under me, disrupting the donut-shaped skid marks I left there earlier. The dust tries to escape gravity, but fails and lands on my face, clothes, and in my hair.
k.d. Lang’s smooth, sad voice is the only sound that fills the warm end-of-summer-air from the tape player in my car. I look up at the hill overlooking the dirt road and, thinking I can almost see her dancing with me, and I reach out to touch a ghost. Nothing there. I close my eyes, so deep in memories that I don’t even register the fact that I’ve started to make angels in the dirt.
She laughs and it sounds like a sound I had recorded and re-recorded in a studio, edited, perfectly cut together. I can’t believe that she’s here, on this old dirt road with me and that I was brave enough to ask her to come here with me in the first place. I wonder how she laughs like that, the same every time, like it was practiced. And I want to ask her, but when the crowd, all students from our high school, disperses, she stops. The feeling of electric excitement and euphoria from the drag race dies down, her face relaxes and she looks like a different person. And then I just want to know why her face has changed, so I ask her that instead.
She just smiles at me and finally takes my hand, leading me to my dusty car, her long, straight, dark hair whipping my face. I drive up to the hill overlooking the road where I had just won the drag race and she smiles at me proudly, her already rosy cheeks turning a darker shade. Before I can tell her I love the constellation of freckles that fall across her nose, she turns on my tape player and raises the volume so that k.d. Lang is playing softly in the background. “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” starts to play, she tells me she loves the song, and I ask her to dance.
When we get out of the car at the edge of the hill, she turns her full body to me and I do the same. I place my hands on her hips and she wraps her arms around the back of my neck and rests her head on my chest. I wonder if she can feel my heart drumming like I can feel her eyelashes fluttering as we sway. During the last few notes of the song she pulls back and looks at me with that pleading look in her eyes that people get when they’ve really messed up and they need you to forgive them. So before she can even say a word I tell her that it’s okay, that I’ll forgive her whatever it is.
Tears well up in her eyes and she gives me a sad smile. Reaching out to stroke my cheek, she tells me that today will be a wonderful memory; she’ll never forget the look on that boy’s face when I stole victory from him, when I proved myself. But, she says she can’t do this anymore because her parents won’t pay for college if she stays with me. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, “I’m so proud of you for telling your parents, our friends, our school.”
“They can shove it if they can’t accept me for who I am—” I pause hesitantly, suddenly unsure if she is in this with me, “—if they can’t accept us, right?”
She stops swaying and quietly says, “This is why I didn’t want you to burn all your bridges down.”
She kisses me and tears begin to heat her face as she tells me that I am the only girl she will ever love. We let go of each other and then she steps away, taking a breath unsteadily. Without turning around she says that we’ll meet in another life, when it is ours to control, when we don’t have to be tethered to our parents.
She walks away. I reach out into empty space, as if to stop her, but I just let my arms fall instead. She leaves and I let her.
The lights and darks, reds and yellows shine around me and I feel like I am sitting in the ashes of everything I’ve ever known.
When I open my eyes I can still hear her laugh and when I sit up I can still see her walking away. I stand. Shoving my hands into my bomber jacket, I look at my New York University Steinhardt Music acceptance letter and then at my acoustic guitar in the passenger seat.
I smile up at the setting sun in the red-yellow sky and walk around my car to the driver’s seat, patting the large firebird painted on the hood. I dust off my jacket, open the door, and drive out of my ashes into the city, into another life.