I can see by her eyes she’s been waiting
Nineteen is the year I seem to revisit most often. It was the year that I found things, lost things and began to carve out a “me” from things outside of my upbringing, things that didn’t come from book pages or classroom settings, nor from anything I perceived as “expected” of me.
I used to wander aimlessly through Fullerton College, the junior college I went to just out of high school. With my eyes slightly glazed over, I would turn in another paper, memorize a new monologue, or switch out the mandatory math tutorial tapes for cassettes of The Cure and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing.
It was me and “Luka” in those math labs, and sometimes “Charlotte“ as I scribbled numbers and graphs into workbook pages.
Those afternoons felt like a slow-moving purgatory. They kept me a prisoner of my own design until the buzzer would ring, classes ended for the day, and I would walk zombie-like to my Honda Civic.
I never named that little red car, though she meant everything to me. She was my first. My confidante most days. My partner in crime. Sometimes the two of us would skip classes and study labs all together – my car and me – driving to the beach and parking for hours by the sand.
I rarely got out. No, at the time I preferred to roll the windows all the way down, recline the driver’s seat as far as it would go, leaving the keys at half-mast so the music could still play. The Cure’s “Lovecats” meowing me into an afternoon nap.
The three boys who had been my sanity in high school called me up one night, in the early part of my nineteenth year. They’d been spending most evenings in Hollywood and were determined to get me to come along.
I’d pulled a disappearing act since high school had ended. Two days a week taking classes, and every other day I worked in the mall, at Jay Jacobs.
I wasn’t sure what I was doing, where I was headed, or who I was. I was just going through the motions, numb to most everything.
Back in high school, we’d all obtained identities, even if we didn’t choose them. We were part of groups, or we were excluded from groups, our identity the accusation, or the solution.
But now, well, no one put me anywhere. No one knew me as anything except “the girl behind the counter”, or “the girl cleaning out a dressing room”, “or the girl who did a Carrie Fisher book excerpt for her first monologue”.
I was becoming “Solitude Standing”, staring out windows, or rolling them down to let the salty air in. Squinting at my reflection in the dressing room mirrors wondering who I was becoming.
Was I becoming anything at all?
I was lost.
I was waiting for something.
“Solitude Standing” by Suzanne Vega
from the album, Solitude Standing (1987)
My best friend from Senior year was still in school. She had plans to move out as soon as she could, and asked me, over and over, why I hadn’t left home myself. My mother was more lost that I was then, staying out late with her friends, calling to have me pick her up from random locations. I’d find her some mornings standing in an apartment complex parking lot, last night’s heels in her hand, looking like she didn’t know who she was either.
Feeling lost has no age limit.
I had lost my role as a daughter, trading it in for a makeshift caretaker and hall monitor for her, and a surrogate parent for my little brother.
We were all still shattered by what had happened the year before. Still stumbling around like a family of zombies; infected, actually dead, but not yet aware of it.
Those three boys, they saved me again, just like they’d done during that nightmare of a year. It was that phone call – their invitation that they wouldn’t let me refuse – that would end up defining nineteen. My nineteen.
I climbed in the backseat.
They handed me a bottle of Strawberry Boones Farm, one dollar a bottle.
It tasted like Jolly Ranchers with a bite.
I took swig after swig while “Shake the Disease” played on the car stereo. I was wearing new shoes and as we drove I could feel the not broken in faux leather stiff and restrictive, causing my toes to sting.
I just took another drink straight from the bottle, one of the three taking my hand in his in the backseat.
The boy who was driving caught my eye in the rearview mirror and winked. He then proclaimed to the car, and everyone in it, that we should kiss Marilyn before going to Ground Zero.
“Lore, you’re wearing just the right shade of red.”
None of it made sense, not yet, but all of it sounded amazing.
I felt the alcohol buzzing in my head and the throb in my toes, and something more. I felt like I was finally waking up.