Friday, September 30, 2011

Just Tell Me. Why Not?

We’re in a tavern, the only one within walking distance from the college we graduated from last year. The Blue Bird.  The Bird to anyone who knows anything about Chestertown. Dean’s over there, with his buddies, drinking beer. A George Straight song, something that probably went gold before we were born, is lulling in the background. He’s upset. I know it, but he can’t really blame me. He just can’t.

I’m not sure why I’m even here. I’m allergic to alcohol, cigarette smoke, and bullshit. But Grace is here, Dean is here, and it’s The Bird.

 Dean’s apparently finished hustling the freshmen who think they know how to play pool. His head is rested on the bar, and his maroon and black baseball hat is tipped upward and to the side. He doesn’t drink often, and the closer I get, the more apparent it is that he’s definitely going to feel this in the morning.

I place my hand on his shoulder and he doesn’t sit up, but he turns his head to the left to look at me. His cheeks are flushed pink and I’m not sure if it’s from the beer or because he’s face planted on the bar.

“Want me to drive you home?”

“No. I hate that car.” He pulls a face.

 “You love driving my car.” We both know it’s true.

“You drive like my grandma,” He protests.

“You love your grandma,” I reason.

“Yeah,” Is all he says.

His eyes are sad and glazed over. “So, can I drive you home? Or what?”
            “I’m not done.” His face scrunches up again, and without sitting up, he waves his hand across the bar as if this grand gesture will explain everything.

“You look done.” I lean on the bar and straighten his hat, and he tilts his head into my palm. He’s not as mad as I’d thought.

“Nope.” Instead of sounding petulant, he sounds so tired. “I’m driving far away from this town.”  

I’m driving far away from you, is what I hear.

We both know it’s an idle threat, coming from the same boy who rejected MIT so he wouldn’t have to leave the Eastern Shore or me, his best friend.

I roll my eyes and pocket his truck keys from off the bar. “Oh?” I say anyway. “Where’re you going?”

“I’m just gonna get in my car and keep driving until I run out of road.” If I didn’t feel so guilty, I’d make some comment about how melodramatic he sounds.

His palm is cupped over something rested on the bar, and I eye the protective grip he has on whatever it is.

“It would’ve been good,” He says, sitting up now and his palm gestures toward his chest. “Ya know?” With his palm off the bar, I see what he’d been clutching. The same black, velvet box he’d given me this afternoon.

The same one I’d said I couldn’t accept.

And I really don’t want to have this conversation here, with everyone pretending they’re not listening to our every word. So I say, “What’re you going to do when you get to Florida?”

His face contorts in confusion for a moment and then a sad smile graces his lips, “I’ll trade my truck for a boat.”

 I feel my own lips twist into what can only be a sad smile. I know things won’t be this easy in the morning. When he’s sober and I’m still not ready to risk our friendship like this. But I help him to his feet anyway, and he waves goodbye to our friends. I’ll make sure he gets home safe, and worry about tomorrow when I have to.

            I’m pushing his tall frame onto the passenger seat of my extremely low-to-the-ground car and he looks up, doe eyes and all, “Just tell me; why not?”

            I hold my breath, focusing on anything but the boy in front of me.

            “Dean, name two people who have been together for any amount of time and haven’t hurt each other beyond repair,” I finally say.

 I’m only trying to protect our friendship. Besides, shouldn’t people date before they get engaged?

            “Us.” Comes his definitive answer.

 And really, what can I say?

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Know You're a Virgin if You Can Light Magical Candles...Apparently.

In the words of Art Linkletter, and later Bill Cosby: “Kids say the darndest things.”

But what do you do when they ask you the darndest thing and you have to come up with an answer that is appropriate, true, and won’t get you in heaps of trouble with their parents? And I’m not talking about the age old “Where do babies come from?” conundrum, either. That’s easy.

 My little brother was twelve before he realized that a rousing game of rock, paper, scissors did not result in his conception. I forget how long I was grounded for that one. Not nearly as long as when he was eight and I convinced him that if he ate Peter Pan peanut butter and then leapt off the breakfast bar, we’d then be able to glean whether peanut butter was as potent as fairy dust.

 It wasn’t.

And apparently the parental units didn’t think “Well, now we know.” was a sufficient apology.

Because of last night’s events and the fact that my, now twenty-two-year-old, brother still twitches whenever I hum the tune to Peter Pan’s You Can Fly!, I think I’m being paid back for my creativity in my younger years.

 Dean and I are babysitting his nephew, Ryan, and the little girl who lives on the property across the street from my parents’ farm.

Daphne is all geared up for Halloween so she chooses the movie Hocus Pocus. It’s an awesome choice, and Dean and I reflect on when we first watched the movie as kids. I comment on how Bette Midler makes one creepy witch. He grins and says Sarah Jessica Parker can curse him anytime. I’m preparing to make him cry, using only my words (and mild physical violence) when I hear:

“Megs, what’s a virgin?”

I slowly lower the futon pillow that I’m about to smack Dean with and shift my attention to Ryan. He’s sprawled out on the carpet, crayon still in hand. My eyes have to be as wide as saucers and I glance back at Dean whose mouth is gaping practically down to the floor.

“Where did you hear that?” I ask cautiously.

Ryan rolls his eyes as if I’m just some incompetent adult who doesn’t know anything. “The movie.” And I’m certain I can hear the DUH he adds silently. “Only a virgin can light the candle to kill the witches.” He’s sitting up now, staring me down when he asks again. “So what is it? Must be something pretty cool.”

“Yes. Yes, it’s very cool and you should be one… always.” I hear Dean blurt out, and I rub my hand over my neck. I’m getting hives. I can feel them festering.

“How do you know if you are one?” Ryan looks confused.

I look at Dean who is tugging on the bill of his camouflage baseball hat. The one I hate, with that ugly orange goose sewn on the front. It’s a nervous tick, and I understand because I must resemble a deer caught in the headlights of a Mack truck.

How do we answer this without Ryan’s next question being “Megs, what’s sex?” I cringe at the thought. Do I lie? I mean where do you go? Where do you hide?

“You know you’re a virgin if you can light magical candles.” I say lamely and I hear Dean’s snort and his unsuccessful attempt to conceal his chuckle.

“So it’s like a super power?” Does this kid ever run out of questions?

Before I can form a coherent sentence, Daphne tears her attention away from the flat screen. Her voice is cheery, and her red ponytail swings with her over exaggerated movements. “Oh, I know what that is.”

Oh, this is not going to end well.

“Boys are virgins and girls are lesbians.” She states in a matter of fact tone. “It’s just another way to tell girls from boys.”

I hear the unmistakable sound of Dean’s palm slapping against his forehead in defeat.

I can actually feel the blood draining from my face and I’m fairly certain my soul is being sucked out of my body. How am I going to fix this? I offered to babysit and this is what I get in return: the single most awkward conversation of my life.

“Yep, that’s right.” Dean finally says, and interrupts my strategic calculation of whether the jump from a third story window would really be worse than my current predicament.

If only I had some of that peanut butter.

 Dean stands up and walks toward the stairs that lead down to the kitchen. “Who wants ice cream?!”

“ME!” Both youngsters call out and follow him. It seems they’ve forgotten all about their ponderings.

I watch as Daphne teaches Ryan how to play some weird game—probably their generation’s version of rock, paper, scissors—in between bites of strawberry ice cream.

 I gently elbow Dean in the ribs.

“We can’t just let them think all boys are virgins and all girls are lesbians.” I whisper as he plops a spoonful of ice cream in his mouth and then shrugs.

“They’ll figure it out eventually.” He pauses for a moment in thought. “All we can do is distract them with junk food and hope that when they do figure it out and they have questions, we’re either really old,”  He breaks off to hand me a spoon, “or dead.”

I can only nod in agreement and dig in.