Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Early May, 1977
The shade was a relief. This had always been a shady driveway, and there were always leaves of some kind scattered on and around it. The Crepe Myrtle barricade down the right side. Yeah, the shade was a good thing, spring was hot early this year. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, wondered why the hell he was there, what he expected to find.
He’d dropped by his mother’s before driving to this shade covered memory. He’d been homeless by choice, in that band guy way, since Christmas Day, but she’d gotten word though a network of his friends that he had some important mail waiting.
His divorce was final, that was what the mail was about. The Judge had asked him a month ago if he was sure, his ex hadn’t bothered to show up for court or contest anything, so he’d said “yes.” Bang. So granted, so decreed, and now final. Not that the girl who belonged to the leaf-covered driveway would care.
They hadn’t spoken in three years, but here he was sitting in the driveway where’d they’d gotten up to more shit as teenagers, Jesus. Last-minute gropes before curfew, arguments, make-ups, make-outs, getting their stories straight about why she was late. All the tire chirping in the driveway that she’d had to clean with a bucket and brush, and more in the street that netted him a ticket from a waiting cop. Probably her mom. Maybe her dad or her smirking brother. Maybe a pissed off neighbor. Somebody had set him up. He saw his own absurd testosterone driven stupidity and grinned. Too much sex and not enough dinners. The world’s worst high school boyfriend.
That was one of the reasons he was here. There had never been a clear cut end, just a fade out. Her mother had broken up with him at least twice for her. “Get out, shut up, don’t talk like that in my house.” But her? She’d called him, said they should see other people, no more “just us.” She’d played him, let him make ‘love ya miss ya’ long-distance phone calls when she could have cared less. Let him hang around to make several of the stupidest, most embarrassing young guy mistakes on his record. At the end were the embarrassments, the arguments, the car wrecks, all the things she let him get up to with her while she shagged her way through her senior class. The grand finale being where she’d said “help out, see you tomorrow” knowing full well she’d have a minion or two to do her dirty work in this very driveway “tomorrow.” Behaviors as predictable as the themes of a three-minute pop song. What a lousy way it had been to start his nineteenth summer.
Later she’d even shown up on his twentieth birthday with an offer he couldn’t refuse, but he had, mostly. And been an asshole about it in the bargain. Arrogance. That’s why he’d gotten angry that night, why he’d been angry. That was the other thing he was looking for. The girl he’d known before the arrogance. If he could see that one more time he could close the door on everything. He was three gigs and less than two weeks from beating it out for good and he wanted to see her, the real her, one last time. Not the arrogance, not the girl who turned and ran the other way when she saw him. He thought he might be the only one who knew her before all that set in. Before she started believing the smoke that got blown up a pretty girl’s dress. He laughed to himself, sure that she hiked that dress up a little now and then to help some of that smoke find its way.
It was too damn hot to sit in his aircraft carrier without the air conditioner running, and he knew he was stalling. He hoped what was wrong with the transmission hadn’t leaked. That was a lie, sure he wished it had leaked, just a little. He knew she wouldn’t be out there in a tank top and shorts to clean it like the tire marks he’d left in her driveway years ago, but it was worth the memory. He’d stopped by the day after leaving a serious set of those marks, seen her working, told her she was cute when she was sweaty.
“Girls don’t sweat,” she’d told him. “Cows sweat, men perspire and women glow.” That was the tell, right there. Who she was, where she was headed. And he’d missed it.
The spring sun stumbled through the southern windows of her mother’s kitchen, casting awkward, partial shadows about the room. A metaphor for the two of them. She’d let him in, hesitantly, and walked herself into the corner, behind a chair, behind the table. Away and barricaded from the wrong man. Fully grown now, wearing a conservative woman’s suit, he saw in her face for the first time in years a flash of the schoolgirl he’d known. Her tension palpable, her gaze wavering, defensive, vulnerable.
He told her he’d stopped to take her temperature, that was all. How was she? She sidestepped. Him? His lost years spiritually and legally behind him. Telling an old friend his baggage was light before setting off on an uncharted life. It didn’t matter now if she had never cared for him, he was on his way. He wanted her to know, that was all. Wanted to wave goodbye, to say things that didn’t matter anymore. He saw the universal side of their old friendship. She did not.
His short tale told, their small talk came like an unwanted tooth extraction. Difficult. Forced. Painful. Good for you. That’s nice. Really? Congratulations. The wrong man still standing in her mother’s kitchen, his wrong shadow thrown against the wall beside her. She sparked them out of it, smiled, exposed an instant of her old self again, relaxing slightly to rest her hands on the back of a chair, engagement ring teasing the sun.
“What would you…I dropped an ice cream cone…a white couch on display… how would you…Never mind, it doesn’t matter.” The wrong man, the wrong questions incompletely asked, the wrong almost sharing. Something old and now unnecessary had opened slightly and slammed quickly shut.
Almost questions posed to the wrong man truly irrelevant. Her own life, unlike his, mapped and before her, staring her down. Enveloping her. Owning her. “I’m getting…we’re going to be…I’m not sure if I can do this.” Her eyes took her face away. Tangible uncertainty replacing postured composure.
He walked the table’s barricade until her face and cast down eyes were in front of him. He hadn’t touched her in years yet his first two fingers appeared, lifted her chin. “Hey…” Spoken as though he’d breathed it. His eyes found hers. Soft, moist, frightened, guarded against the wrong man. They were the color of the spring sky, and were momentarily filled with clouds of lost. His eyes studied hers, her right first, across the bridge of her nose to her left. Neither of them blinked. They might not have breathed.
“You can do whatever you need to do.” He searched her eyes again, they dropped their guard, opened. “You can do anything. You know that.”
Silence danced with the sun on the dust motes that floated in the wrongness between them. The angle of the sun, the wrong man’s shadow. His fingers, his touch, his eyes. The strong, frightened, unsure, determined little girl in the guise of a woman.
“No one ever talks to me the way you do.” she said, barely audible. “No one.” He held her eyes a moment longer, turned away.
“Of course they don’t,” he said silently through a shallow exhale that might have been a sigh before he thumbed the once familiar latch, closed the door on a long yesterday, rejoined the rest of the leaves that drifted across her driveway.