In high school, he was cool every day. Not stupid cool, like the ones who were stoned all the time. Stoned often, but not always. Long hair, blond and dirty, tied back in a ponytail. Too thin, jeans belled at the bottoms. Didn’t participate in SDS, or theater club, or any of that stuff. I was in the band.
Each day I watched him walk down the hall in his sexy way, sliding to the rock music in his head, or swaying back and forth, pelvis thrust out while strumming an imaginary guitar. He cut classes and slouched off down the street alone. Once I followed him to the ugly little house where he lived with his brother and their grandparents. I stood outside, waiting for a shade to move.
I tried to be like him, sad and aloof as a flying ace. I sat alone in the lunchroom, hoping he would notice. But we only spoke one time. That day he was in the cool section of the cafeteria, eating lunch with a slender beauty; a deer of a girl with brown eyes like mushroom caps. I was sitting as near as I could get in the uncool section, watching him slyly as usual from behind my paper bag. He and she were flawlessly high. They laughed and she shoved him. Something dropped out of his pocket and hit the floor. It didn’t shatter; it just lay there white on the dirty tiles, a hash pipe carved from a seashell.
If one of the cafeteria ladies saw it, she would take it away. Maybe he would be expelled. I waited. Then I stood up. I walked myself over. I picked up the pipe, and held it for a moment; it was smooth as sea glass and warm from his skin.
“Hey,” I said, my voice surprisingly strong, “you dropped this.”
He turned his head and looked at me for the first time. Up close, his green eyes had dark shadows under them, and his thin lips turned down at the corners. Then he smiled, and the shadows vanished and his eyes incandesced neon. He laughed, a wild high-pitched laugh.
“Man, what a dope I am.” He reached out his long-fingered hand. As I slid the shell onto his palm, our fingertips touched for a second and static electricity sparked and burned between us. This made him laugh more and jerk his hand back, but I would have kept mine there until it blistered.
“No, wait, Babe, keep it. I can’t take it where I’m going anyway.”
“Really?” I wanted to say, Going, going where? Don’t go. But I had no right.
He placed the pipe carefully on my hand, touching it again briefly with a soft goodbye stroke of the finger that did not stray onto my palm. Then he turned back to the deer girl.
Babe, I thought, he called me “Babe.”
He had gotten a low draft number and, out of sadness I guess, he went. I was in his younger brother’s class. The brother was everything that he was not: popular, tall, in student government, good at sports, and not cool at all. This younger brother was not old enough for the draft. He came to see me and asked to look at the pipe.
“He gave that to you?”
“Yeah.” I nodded slowly, in a cool way, as if it was no big thing.
He started hanging out with my friends and me. He came to my dumb band concerts and sat in front of me while I played. One day he came out afterward to the Dairy Queen with us band kids and sat down beside me.
“Would you go to prom with me?”
“Oh, Man, you must be kidding. Proms are so lame. And, why would I go with you?” His face slumped then, disappointed as a box of love-letters at a yard sale, a look I was going to see on that face for years, waking and sleeping, though I didn’t know it then. “Please, just come with me.”
The prom was not cool at all, but anyway, we went. We danced; he was a good dancer, actually. We snuck outside and smoked in the parking lot. He tried to kiss me but was nice when I said no. His brother wouldn’t have been so nice about it, I thought. It would have been “put up or shut up” with him. We went out together for three years and he was always nice when I wouldn’t make out. I waited for his brother to come home. We graduated. Then, one night, he took me to a fancy restaurant with red velvet curtains, and white tablecloths, he got down on one knee and told me that he loved me.
“I want us to be together forever.” Not cool at all. He offered me a shiny gold ring. He placed it on my palm and stroked it with one finger, a soft goodbye. I had his brother’s pipe in my pocket that night. I keep it with me still. But in the end, because he had noticed me, because he was kind and still around, and because he stroked that ring goodbye the same as his brother had stroked my pipe, I married him.
We have been married for twenty long years. Now and then, when his face slumps into disappointment or I finger the pipe in my pocket, I wonder if I did wrong by both of us, going with him to the prom and all that followed, when I loved the other one. But without all that, I wouldn’t have my youngest son. He has long dirty blond hair, lonely green eyes, and that sad, cool way about him. I love the other children, of course, I do, but not like I love this boy. This one looks and acts just like my husband’s older brother; the cool one, still missing in action over there.
Read Amy’s story, and many more, in Pangyrus VII
image credit: The Destroyer by Weedporndaily, under license CC 2.0