**The next 12 days I'll be posting 500 words a day as part of a creative writing challenge. You can join the FB group here.**
When I was fourteen I was shipped off to live with my grandmother in Streamwood, Illinois. I had been caught, on the last day of ninth grade, bumming beer from a bunch of twenty-one year olds who really had no business hanging out with teenagers. There was a girl in the mix of them. Her name was Kris and I will never forget her because she was pretty and cool and she didn’t belong buying beer at a Circle K in Kent, Washington for three underage kids.
It wasn’t as simple as being caught and shipped off, as it were. In actuality, my dad overheard me talking on the phone to my gay best friend, who wasn’t officially gay at the time. The moment I realized my cover was blown, I sprinted down the stairs and out the front door, the receiver still dangling from its hook*.
There is running away figuratively, and then there is literally running away, for what you believe in the moment to be your life. I stayed away for two whole days until my friend’s mom negotiated my safe return, after which I found myself on a plane to the middle of the United States.
My grandmother had married a giant troll of a man who would watch Wheel of Fortune from the couch in his underwear. His long, veiny legs extended on the marbled coffee table, while he rubbed his scaly feet together. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the rhythmic swish of dry skin colliding.
One weekend, George and my grandmother went out of town. In retrospect, I can’t believe they allowed a teenager who had just been busted for pilfering beer, free reign of a house for forty-eight hours. During that first summer in Streamwood, before sophomore year in a new school began, I had made exactly one friend—Lisa. In time I would betray her.
Lisa taught me how to drive. By “taught me how to drive,” I really mean that she convinced me to sneak out my grandmother’s 1984 tan-colored Bonneville. (For reference, when I finally applied for my driver’s license at eighteen, I failed the driving test THREE times.)
Anyway, I don’t recall how far Lisa and I had made it before I drove my grandmother’s car over the curb and into a tree on the sidewalk easement around the corner from my house. The front bumper had detached from body of the car, save a tiny, fighting parcel on the left side.
I believe teenagers have a default decision tree woven into the fiber of their being, which is only exercised when something really big has happened. It is comprised of a singular question—Is there physical evidence?—and the answer determines whether you will simply lie to avoid being caught, or whether you will really lie to avoid being caught.
In my fear-stricken state, I could only mutter, “I am so fucked.”
Seconds later my neighbor walked out of his house. He had heard the impact. I don’t know how the conversation started, but it ended with him telling me he was a welder. He would fix the car like nothing had happened.
The next day he returned the car to my grandparent’s garage, bumper fully intact. Later that evening, my grandmother and George returned home. On Monday evening, they asked me if I knew why there was a tree branch stuck in the passenger’s side window.
“Probably the neighbor kid,” I told them.** ***
*It occurs to me that this is an anachronistic detail that, over time, will be completely lost by future—nay, probably current—generations.
**Not to be confused with Neighbor Guy, who basically saved my life.
***Dear Neighbor Kid, I am a fucking horrible person, and I really hope you suffered no consequences from my teenage deceit. Ugh.