He felt sorry for both of them.
He was out of breath, the night after Christmas. Mist hung to the small frozen mounds of snow alongside the curbs and slick sidewalks as each house’s decorative lights already looked sad and past due. It was time to tear it all down.
But now it was quiet except for the crushing salt and frost, even the front lawn sounding like broken glass under his heavy boots. By the time he got home his parents would be asleep, the kitchen light would be left on, leaving the rest of the home mercifully darkened. Now, above, the sodium lights burned a hazy orange lit up the hue of his plastic CD player.
Later the fresh dead air of December was suffocated by his Ford’s heating system, seemingly the only thing still working (by working too much) in the car passed down from his grandfather, dead not even a year. Somehow in the burnt dryness he could think more clearly. About her. About the night. His belt screeched and the power steering gave in in a sudden jolt midway through the first rolled stop sign right turn. The blank LED face of the CD player faded into view, and after its electric heart beat slowly back into life he skipped to 2, “Far, Far Away,” which he’d repeat by pushing the small circular button in the lower right.
“I’m so glad it’s you,” she had said, though he’d barely heard her, looking down and concentrating.
“Yeah, I can’t believe it. It’s so great. You’re so great.”
He tried kissing her to shut off the sound, one hand on the crushed cushion, the other between his legs. One by one their four friends had fumbled to bed or for their car keys. Parents’ folly of leaving their kids home the only difference between kitchen lights and the blackened vacation houses in the subdivision. It should have felt liberating, or anything other than lonely.
The golden ’83 Grand Marquis floated through the streets for blocks before he realized the lights weren’t on. His breath was beery, but no long visible in the warmed cabin. What did it mean? he thought. What now?
Back at the house, not hers, she slept on the same couch in Kelly’s oversized t-shirt. Kelly, as always, had supplied the booze, or at least opened her parent’s oaken liquor cabinet, and reveled in everyone else’s ability to pair up. She, more confrontational as she relaxed. She, with more pronounced crooked eyes by the time he showed up.
He had never felt guilty before. Never regretted the lies, averted his mother’s eyes the next morning. In hindsight it was all childish, children’s games–give or take the drunken driving. But now it was different. Now he’d crossed some sort of line, and he knew the racers (all of his friends, seemingly everyone in the movies) should be happy, self-congratulatory. And all he felt was emptiness, and wet jeans.
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t,” she’d said. “This is ours.”
“OK,” he’d said. “I have to go,” some time later. She closed her eyes much too early and forced her wet lips in front of him. He seemed to see her for the first time, and instantly felt awful for thinking what he was thinking.
School was a week away, but already he knew it was inescapable. The next two years of his life, inescapable.
Before going inside, after circling the neighborhood, he idled at the curb where he’d first learned to ride a bike, first caught a football. He felt nothing, and yet he wanted them to love him. He wanted them to not be asleep, to wake up, and make him not be alone.
This, a work of fiction.
This song, this album, this band seems to hint at something that I didn’t yet know in my teenage years, in the mid-90s, when I thought I knew what I didn’t know. It’s hard to read all of the hype surrounding this music and not be forewarned just a bit by similar praise heaped on Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes circle the beginning of the 21st century. Sadly enough their masterstroke (for me, at least), I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, can never be fully separated from the anger/malaise of the Bush era, (more) suicidal thoughts about a breakup, and shattered hope of escaping the winter grey of South Bend-Mishawaka. In other words, music is not out of context. I look forward to, and dread what may happen to, anything released or listened to during this current time.