“Yes, I am fine.” I muttered softly, “Sherry said she was coming to get me.” ”Well, she left six minutes ago. She should be there in about 13 minutes.” ”All right then. I just wai—” ”Are you all right?”
“Ya. Let her know I’m waiting…”
”Do you want me to call the police?”
I paused. Waited. It was not long, but I lingered in the safety: the silence sat between us on the phone. I held on to it. I didn’t want to hang up the phone; I wanted to be protected by Sherry’s father. I longed momentarily for the silence in the background of their home while he waited for me to decide. The police had already been to our house once that night. Finally, I said, “I’ll just wait for Sherry. Bye.” I looked down on the floor as I hung up the telephone. The phone had a long –maybe ten-foot chord—and it was curled up in a tight tangle between my fingers. My mother was sitting on the floor, cross-legged with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. The ash was almost the whole length of the cigarette and curled over like the fingernails of the ladies in the Guinness Book of World Records. Her hair was graying, dried out and wiry. I couldn’t help but think of how much I hated her. She wasn’t looking at me and I stared at the phone. Who should I call next? I remembered that Sherry was coming to get me in eight minutes. I thought her father had said eight minutes although I couldn’t imagine how long eight minutes was. I turned to walk out the front door. I was thinking I could walk down the street and Sherry might see me as she drove up. Just as I turned to leave, my mother started crying audibly.
“Donna, Donn. Donn?”
When I looked at her, her eyes became dark and fierce.
“Mommy?” she whispered. “Mommy,” she said, then she smiled at me and started to laugh. “Mommy don’t go,” she said and she took a drag from her cigarette. Finally, the ash fell and it hit her thigh.
“Fuck!” She shouted and then lay down on the floor. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” she shouted louder and she smashed the cigarette on to the linoleum. I saw the plastic brick linoleum square melting into the form of a smooth circle as it smothered the life out of the cigarette.
“Mom,” I said calmly. “It is Donna.”
“Mom—mmmm---mmmyyyyyy?” she pleaded. She stood up, swayed for a moment and then walked towards me, the whole time staring into my eyes. I felt naked and awkward as if my body were shamefully ugly; as if I was shameful. I wanted to say, “Stop it you stupid fucking bitch!” instead I said again, “Mom its Donna.” I meant to be calm, but my voice was shaky and the words broke off.
“You know the secret,” she said to me. She stood up and walked towards me and then stood right behind me. I turned so that I was facing her. I didn’t like my back to her. She leaned close and whispered into my ear “lets go die together.” She grabbed my arm and tried to usher me into her bedroom where she had pills she had stolen from the hospital. She also had her own stash of antipsychotics and anti depressants. I knew she wanted me to take the pills. I didn’t exactly trust that she would take them too. I didn’t believe she wanted us to die together. Somewhere inside I knew she was acting, pretending. She was acting like she was crazy in order to trick me. I knew this intuitively, but I knew how to hide my intuition. She could read my intuition. She could practically read my thoughts.
“Stop it mom,” I said urgently. “Stop pretending.”
She laughed and leaned closer “lets go die together” she whispered.
The house was a disaster and the kitchen, where we were standing, looked as if squatters had been living here. Every inch of counter space was covered with dirty dishes, old cans of tomatoes, pans with dried rice, dirty dishes. The tumblers of half drunken whisky and orange juice had separated into layers of amber and yellow. For some reason there was a rolling pin on the counter. We have never baked in our house and it struck me as crazy that it would be laying right there amongst the rotting cans of Spam, shrimp cocktail and congealing apple jacks and milk. A garbage can was in the middle of the room because earlier that night my mother had vomited repeatedly from her whiskey and OJ. After many clean-up attempts, I had finally dragged the can in for her to lean over as she gagged up and vomited her cocktail.
“Stop it mom,” I said again, but this time more urgently. The house was a time warp and she and I existed together in that moment and no one or nothing could penetrate that reality. I took a deep breath and for some reason I began to scream. I screamed so loudly that I knew that all of the neighbors must have heard me. The scream was a kind of abandon for I had completely lost my mind. My mother stood on the other side of the trashcan and her vomitous garbage took up the space between us. I continued to scream and she continued to whisper in a soft hushed tone “lets go die tighter.” After a time, she began calling me by her sister Betty’s name. And so she whispered, “Betty, lets go die together.” I continued to scream. I held my hands on the rim on the garbage can and I stared at her, still screaming. Suddenly I noticed the rolling pin. I looked at it and she watched me and smiled. I decided I would pick it up. I would pick up the rolling pin and I would beat her on the head with it. I would beat her until she stopped whispering for me to follow her and swallow down a handful of pills. I would beat her until she was dead.
My mother smirked because she could read my mind.
By that time of night everyone and everything smelled like Budweiser. The keg was pretty much empty; it only sprayed foam from the nozzle. All the kids were leaving: tired, drunk, throwing up. To me, everything felt happy. Someone had strung white Christmas lights all around the back yard and the feeling was exotic. The yellow lights created a canopy beneath which there was a picnic table strewn with half empty cups, cigarette butts floated in most of them. Some of the cups had red lip stick stains on them. The party was over. The summer air was cool and fresh and if you weren’t close to the picnic table --which smelled from the cigarettes, rancid beer and vomit—the air was refreshing. To me this was a first. The first “end of a party.” So, even though it was a sort of let down for a lot of the partygoers, especially those who wanted more drinking and fun, to me it was amazing. It was the first time I had been to a keg party. The seniors were there, mostly popular kids. The football players were there and the party seemed to move around them. Some of them stood together in groups of three or four; some of them were making out in bedrooms in the house or in a dark corner of the yard; one or two were out by the road rambunctious, howling and drinking heavily.
I imagined that this was what Mexico looked like. I don’t know why but I kept thinking of Mexico and how exotic things must be there. I was fifteen and a sophomore and earlier in the night I wasn’t noticed. I moved around like a little sister at a wedding taking sips of beer and running around with Kathy who was also going to be a sophomore next fall. I thought of what a big deal it was to be there. How Kathy had told me this was a party for the popular kids, that there would be seniors there, football players. It was really cool to be invited and, to still be at the party when most people had already left felt even more privileged.
It was late, but I didn’t even think about time because I thought everything looked so pretty and festive; and I was very drunk on Budweiser. I sat down on a bench and leaned back against the picnic table. I closed my eyes for a minute and felt a curious dizziness like centrifugal force on the round up ride at Lincoln Park. Instinctively I opened my eyes again. I knew that enjoying the dizziness might make me throw up. So I opened my eyes to stop the spinning and when I did I noticed that again, Billy Cavenaugh was looking right at me. He kept on talking with his buddies but he was smiling at me while he talked.
It was hard to believe that Billy Cavenaugh would notice me. Just a year before I was so lonely at New Bedford High school. No one had known that I existed. No one wanted to be my friend except one kid named Chip who was in the band and whose attention made me uncomfortable. For weeks in English class he had watched. Finally, he asked me to “go out” and when I said “no” he looked at me, puckered his lips oddly and then lisped, “well then, bye-bye cookie.” I was stupid because I didn’t know what “go out” really meant.
I was so lonely the first half of my freshman year. The school was so big and I didn’t know anyone. I had never felt so alone before: being around so many kids and having no one to talk to. Finally, after Christmas last year, I decided I would try harder to make friends. I sat at home and wrote down my school schedule. I wrote down every period and whom I wanted to talk to in each class. I made a plan for talking to someone every period. I planned out what I would ask or say such as: “Hi Phillip, did you do your homework?” or “Kathy is someone sitting here?” Finally, I made friends with Kathy and Sherry. It was near the end of the year before they invited me to go out with them. But, once we are all friends they invited me to go to parties that they got invited to.
Before Billy, I had only kissed one person before: this kid Frankie. That was a year ago. It was last summer when I still hung out with my friend Beth, from St. Mary’s Elementary School. She had told me that Frankie liked me. She had pointed him out from a distance and introduced me once at the mall. I remembered standing awkwardly near an Orange Julius stand. He had stood there looking at me. I had looked at him and I didn’t like him. Part of me didn’t like him because he liked me. I had thought, “What kind of loser likes me?” The more Beth told me he wanted to hang out with me, the more I grew to hate him. I thought his leather bomber jacket looked too big and was too stiff. I felt that he was conspicuously foolish. I was embarrassed for him. Still he kept telling Beth to tell me to meet him. Reluctantly I would agree then at the last minute I wouldn’t show. Two times I didn’t meet him at the park when I said I would. Finally, he told my friend Beth to tell me to stop being a “Dick Tease,” which I vaguely understood and which had left me with an uneasy, kind of guilty shameful feeling. But, then one night when I was at the park with Beth, he appeared. He grabbed my hand and he led me alone with him into the woods near Buttonwood Park. When we got near a large tree in a secluded part of the woods, he leaned against me, pressing me into the tree. I had looked at him in his eyes and he had a serious look. He seemed strong and his leather jacket didn’t look so stupid. He was staring at me so hard that it felt like he was pressing into me. I had felt a surge of electricity run through me. Finally, he really did press his lips against mine, firmly but not hard or mean. Then his tongue entered my mouth. It was warm and at first, I think I felt his taste buds. It was curious, then suddenly my whole body had exploded in that second. It was a fainting, sweating, feeling that I wanted to last forever. Abruptly he had pulled away and backed away from me. My heart was beating strongly and I tried to swallow but I couldn’t get air. He turned his back to me and kept walking. That was when I realized that his kiss was his revenge for me not liking him, for standing him up…except I wanted to scream, “I changed my mind! I actually DO like you!” Because after the kiss I did like him. I loved him. I wanted him to keep kissing me that night. I think I wanted him to probably kiss me the next day and maybe for the whole summer. I wanted what he had wanted. I wanted to “hang out” with him; but I didn’t know how to explain that. I was frozen. I had made a terrible mistake. It was true; he kind of sickened me before. I had found him annoying, disgusting even. But, how was I to know? I hadn’t known any of it. I didn’t know about kissing or that feeling; or, that you can be mistaken about hating someone only to find out later that you love them after they kiss you. So he kept walking back to the playground where the other teenagers were and I held that feeling, a secret, inside of my body and I had a sense that this was the beginning of a mystery: a glimpse into information that until now I knew nothing about. And despite the times my mother had called me a slut and a whore, and talked about her own sex, it was not something that she could have driven out of me because until then it hadn’t belonged to me yet. I had no idea about the mysteries of love. To me a whore was the same as the other names she called me. To me a “whore” was the same as a “fucking parasite.”
Frankie was a year before. That was when I was fourteen. Since then there had been almost no other boys except that band kid Chip from my English class who asked me to “go out.” I had known all along with Chip that he wasn’t going to be like Frankie. Somehow through the softness of Chips hands, through the mole of his cheek, he wouldn’t ever make me feel like that. He would never kiss me like that and I would never feel that way about him. Even then, I knew I had lost something powerful when Frankie walked back to his friends in Buttonwood Park.
Now, the night air was full of Budweiser and people were bustling, figuring out rides. And there was Billy Cavenaugh sort of leaning, kind of falling onto a fence post. He was laughing with the other football players, but his dark eyes kept scanning me. Wherever I ended up in the yard, his eyes would find me and land on me and stay there. I knew from what had happened with Frankie, that somehow it felt the same with Billy's green eyes looking across the yard into mine. Except that it wasn’t the same either. Firstly, Billy was a senior. He was so handsome and kind –I think he was the kindest football player at New Bedford high school. I don’t know how I knew that. It was his reputation, I guess. Or the picture of him in last year’s yearbook, leaning against a locker, shoulders hunched, kind of shy. Billy was different from Frankie because he was like a movie star and every glance he paid me painted a brush stroke of beauty over my awkward body. That night I was lucky because my sister had let me wear her sleeveless peach shirt that buttoned up the front. It had cream lace around the edge. It made my skin look tanned. I had my hair down around my shoulders and I didn’t wear my glasses and although my eye crossed a little without them, I thought it made me look prettier somehow. I also thought I looked older than 15. I was sure Billy didn’t think I was a sophomore. He may have thought I was a junior.
Kathy had left a long time before and so had Sherry. That left Erica DeMontigue who was not nearly as nice as Kathy or Sherry. She was a big girl, a bully who was kicked out of the Catholic High School for beating up another cheerleader on her squad during a game. She was walking towards me with her keys jangling in front of her. Her long blonde hair was sprayed stiff and curled around her face. She had heavy mascara on that had clumped around her squinted, stoned eyes. Her high-heeled sandals poked deep holes in the wet grass as she walked towards me. I could smell her channel no 5 as she approached. I would have to ride home with her.
Just as she got near to me, Billy Cavenaugh rushed over. He was staggering, but he was rushing with urgency and he was smiling at me. And, so I smiled at him.
“Let’s go,” Erica DeMontigue said. Something about her was like my mother and she made me feel bullied and embarrassed. But then Eddie stood very close to me and kind of whispered, “Can I give you a ride home?”
“She’s with me,” Erica interrupted, pulling my arm, tugging me away from Billy.
“I can go with Billy,” I said quickly, pulling back.
“No. It’s fucking one in the morning.” Erica acted as if she knew something I didn’t. Or, maybe she was jealous. She was trying to make this seem bad when really it wasn’t.
“Fuck you,” I said.
“Fine, see if I fucking care,” Erica yelled and stormed off and stumbled to her car which was a big Cutlass her father had given her when he got his new Cadillac.
“That was good,” Billy said softly laughing. ”Fuck you. That’s funny.” He looked down for a minute. “Do you want a ride?” He was standing so close to me and he was so handsome. He had dark, short hair. He parted his hair in the middle. He wore a leather chord around his neck with a couple of beads on it. He had dark green eyes and tanned skin. He was looked intently at me.
“Sure.” I said. I could hear some of the guys Billy had been standing with saying something and laughing. I felt sort of embarrassed but mostly I felt protected. I felt honored and chosen.
As we left the party, he reached for my hand and I felt myself growing warm and I thought for a moment I was becoming dizzy, like I might throw up from the beer. But, it wasn’t that.
We didn’t say anything on the way to the car but when we got inside his father’s station wagon, Billy turned to me and asked, “I know a cool place, do you want to see it?”
“What kind of place?” I asked.
“It’s a baseball field, except you can drive into it at night.” He sounded as if this was a very unique thing to do. As if this was a secret privilege. Maybe it was, he played a lot of sports. Maybe he had special permission to use the field.
“Ok,” I said. I was relishing this time with him. His attention made me feel like a famous person, someone to notice. Someone special.