by Jackie Sizemore
From Fall 2017
Summer in the suburbs meant Tamara and I spent a significant part of our free time mowing our parents’ lawns, leaving hidden pockets of long grass. I kept asking for a pool, one of those giant plastic tubs that sit in the yard. I dreamed of all the grass I wouldn’t have to cut. My mom said a pool was a waste of money.
“Marni,” she would sigh. She always sighed my name, dragging the ‘a.’ “Summer is what, two, three months here?” Then she’d give me a dollar for the pool at the park. She’d switched to the hospital’s night shift so we’d have a bit more money, but that also meant she was always cranky. So I spent most weekends at Tamara’s because her dad worked for the county court and she had a hot tub and all the public pools were too cold anyway.
Tamara and I were eager for eleventh grade. At our school, junior year was the big divider. If it wasn’t clear already what people were going to do with their lives, it would be then. Vocational classes or college prep, those were the options. Tamara kept saying I should do the hair program but I was too scared to commit. I like dying my hair different colors, I’d say. Not those little highlights like Tamara did in her wide, curly hair. Mine was pink then, butI was thinking about trying purple next.
“Haven’t you seen Grease?” I’d ask Tamara. “I’d be like Frenchy, the beauty school dropout after fucking up some nice lady’s perm.”
Tamara said I pretend I don’t want things when I think they aren’t going to work out. Also, I’d heard the hair program kids spent a week learning different ways to part hair on their faceless mannequin heads. I was like, how hard is it to move a part from the middle of someone’s head to a zigzag on the side?
One night in July, I remember the streetlight was glaring in my bedroom window keeping me awake, so I texted Tamara all these crazy questions. The big ones of life. Like, what does it all mean? Life sucks and then you die she’d written back. Should I marry a rockstar? Only as a back-up plan. Want to go to Warped Tour at the end of the month? Let’s take the van.
Except it wasn’t really her van, it was her older brother Ryan’s.
If Tamara and I ever wanted to go somewhere, Ryan offered to drive. It wasn’t like he was busy with anything. But he could have blasted music in his room, or gone on his computer, or whatever else he did at home. Tamara said he did shrooms once but I didn’t want to believe her, so I didn’t. Drugs were another weird divider at school. There were plenty of people who smoked pot, or stole beer from their parents for parties, but anything beyond that was seen as pretty out there by most of us. I mean, I knew the guy who was going through his ecstasy phase, grinding his teeth through music class, or the girl who bumped into trash cans at lunch and said excuse me. I was a little more worried about her. Ryan didn’t seem like the adrenaline junky type, or the bored type. He was naturally chill. He didn’t need drugs to make him more interesting, and I didn’t want to imagine him swapping high stories with the teeth grinder.
Ryan had graduated from our high school two years before, which makes it sound like he wasn’t that much older than me, but he was a super-senior, and I was young for my grade, so we were four years apart. At Tamara’s house, I would always put my backpack by everyone’s shoes and listen to Ryan’s speakers vibrate the ceiling. In ninth grade I looked in his room when he was out back. The walls were dark blue with posters sticky-tacked around. There was one from Clockwork Orange, all artistic, a big eye with fake lashes and that droog hat.
Whenever Ryan said he could drive us somewhere Tamara asked if he was sure. He’d tell her not to be a brat. Sometimes he’d change to a better black T-shirt. But we’d all meet in the van, Tamara in the passenger seat and me on the far left side of the row seat. He took out the back row because there were never actually seven passengers. One time I said he should put a couch back there and he said it was a good idea. Whenever I rode in the van I was in charge of pulling the thousand pound door shut. It was sticky and I’d have to pull it back and forth until it finally came loose. Ryan always waited a bit before asking if I needed any help, but I wanted to look strong so I’d say no.
Sitting right behind him in the van, I was the closest I could be to him. I think he knew that. That summer, Tamara and I were on a horror movie streak, which was stupid because we spent half the movie with our hands over our eyes asking each other Is it safe yet? Is it over? Sometimes I’d catch him looking at me in the rear view mirror as we rolled down Main Street to the video store, or maybe he was just driving. It was hard to tell. I’d test myself with how long I could meet his gaze, feeling sick and excited and hungry all at the same time. He’d put his hundred CD book on his lap and flip through, like he was deciding what to play for us. The van only played tapes, but he had a tape that connected to a CD player. After a few sleeves, he’d slide a CD out and say, “I think Marni wants something angry,” or “I know what Marni wants to hear,” and it was always Korn. I know they got really cool a few years ago when nu metal was in, and their newer stuff doesn’t have the same punch, but it’s what I wanted to hear. In the light blue van with the sliding door that stuck and Ryan’s eyes looking back at traffic or maybe at me, I wanted it so loud that my toes bumped off the floor of the van. So loud that I could hold the metal rings in my ears and feel the bass buzz so low it wasn’t even a note.
But I was never alone with Ryan. Any time we talked Tamara was right there. Which was fine, I mean, he was her cool older brother. But what if he was looking at me in the mirror on purpose? At the time I felt like nothing could ever happen with him. All I know is, that summer, I found myself wondering more and more about him. Like if Tamara suddenly had to go somewhere and Ryan was in the backyard and he’d be like we should have done something sooner and then we’d tear at each other’s clothes underwater while the hot tub bubbled around us. I’d get these thoughts even when I was supposed to be hanging out with Tamara. What kind of friend was I, dreaming up alone-scenarios with her older brother?
The Sunday before the Warped Tour concert, I woke up early so I could mow the lawn before it got too hot outside. Then my mom woke up and got mad because apparently the grass was short enough already and now I might have killed it. The lawn was a war I could never win. My usual Sunday would have been hanging out with Tamara, but she was busy. Ryan slept in late on Sundays anyway. So I was wasting time on my computer, scrolling through a website of the world’s most elaborate pools when Logan, the thrower for the track team, messaged me asking what I was up to that day. I said nothing so I’d sound cool. His mom decided to go on a last minute vacation with her boyfriend so he had the house all to himself. I knew what he meant––if I went over we wouldn’t have to pretend-watch a movie in the basement. I was curious about what I might get away with without being watched by any parents, but there was only one thing I hadn’t done yet and I’d already decided I wasn’t losing my virginity to a thrower. For sure. I’d only hung out with Logan a few times after school. Nothing serious. Definitely driven by boredom. Definitely just hanging out, and certainly not my boyfriend.
Before that summer hit, Logan started finding ways to talk to me about homework. Then he asked what I liked to listen to, and ended up snagging concert tickets to the Deftones. After the show he slouched forward to kiss me and I couldn’t think of a reason not to kiss him back. He seemed like a quiet-weird guy, not someone who was going to give me any trouble with feelings and shit. All he did at the concert was the sway-and-grind dance. That’s what Tamara called it. But I made him dance behind me so I didn’t have to remember him being there if I didn’t want to.
He opened the door to his house wearing his uniform of black on black. Pink Floyd played in the background, and he was in this pseudo-depression because who doesn’t get a little sadder listening to The Wall? He led me upstairs by the hand, which was strangely sweet of him. His hand was sweaty and hot, but I didn’t want to pull away and get mopey. At his door, I danced my toes across the line of carpet separating his room from the hallway.
“You can come in, I’ll put on some other music,” he said. He put The Wall away and slid Dark Side of the Moon out of its cardboard cover. The record player clicked back on. His mom had written her last name across the rainbow shooting out of the prism on the cover, which kind of ruined it. The needle rolled across the scratches. I remember telling myself that I was there to hangout and not have to worry about someone’s parent walking in. Odds were Logan wasn’t going to get another weekend with the house to himself, so I figured after this my quota for messing around would be satisfied for a month or two, and I could ditch him, once and for all.
Logan was good looking, I told myself. I’d never seen him without a shirt on because he was self-conscious of his lack of abs, and I’d only felt him on the outside of his jeans. He sat down on his bed, patting a spot next to him. The whole bed moved in a wave.
“Yeah, it leaks. I change the towels out though,” he said.
“You sleep on a wet bed?”
“It’s good for me. Keeps me tough.”
It was weird, I’ll admit. But I’d already biked all the way to his house. I anchored myself to the wooden frame and tried not to lean on the mattress. A poster of four girls’ asses with each Pink Floyd cover painted across their backs hung beside me. My mind spaced out to Pink Floyd harmonizing about lines on a map when I felt Logan’s hand sliding down my waist.
“Oh, right,” I said.
He licked my neck and tried to bite my ear but he bit my earring instead. I said ouch so he’d know not to try that again. Back to my neck, then my collarbone, my shoulder. Improvement for sure. I stood so he could pull my jean shorts down. He left them around my ankles, which I thought was quite rude. I had one foot free when he tugged my hand back toward the bed. We sloshed back and forth, kissing. Cold water seeped through the green towel and into my shirt. I imagined how I would tell all this to Tamara later and smiled to myself over how funny it would be.
“I’ve got stuff,” he said.
“I’m kind of cold,” I said. But when I sat up he was holding a plastic grocery bag with a box of condoms in it. His smile was confident but his eyes looked about twelve years old.
“I figured, house to ourselves, you could stay the night and…”
“You think I’m having sex with you?” I’d already asked myself my standard question: Can I live with losing it to this one? Logan was a no, so it was a no. I pulled my shorts back up and buttoned the front quickly.
He wouldn’t stop moping about it, of course. He’d already told his friends, he’d bought the condoms just for me, he really liked me.
I compromised. “I’ll give you a blowjob, but that’s it.” I knelt on the floor so I could roll my eyes without him seeing.
Logan sat back into his leaking waterbed, his hands unstable against the waves. His legs were that sickly white that hasn’t seen the sun, even though it was summer. He rolled up his T-shirt at the bottom so it wouldn’t get in the way. It was a good thing he was so small, otherwise the waves might have popped him against the back of my throat and made me gag. I had a steady rhythm going but his thighs weren’t twitching, and his hands were busy balancing himself on a mattress made of water. Worse, he wasn’t making any noise at all. Like I was a mind reader or something. It’s got to be soon, I kept thinking.
“I can’t come from these,” he said.
“What?” I stopped and held him to the side like he was a cell phone and I was talking to somebody in another room.
So to recap, I was on the floor with rug burns on my knees, freezing in my wet shirt, giving some guy action that he hadn’t really deserved. Meanwhile, he was vacillating between showing how pissed he was that he wasn’t getting laid––like he even knew what that meant––and putting on a show of how much he felt for me.
I got off my knees. He stared at the ceiling trying to look dramatic as I fixed my T-shirt facing away from him. Walking out of his house, I thought of the perfect way to text Tamara about it: Have sympathy for my sympathy blowjob.
The next day was Warped Tour. Tamara and I consulted on our outfits via text because we wanted to look equally punk but not matching. I decided to wear white because most of the other people would probably wear black. Out-punking the punks. My hair was freshly blue due to a jolt of hair-spiration from the night before. My fishnets matched the dye perfectly. At some terrible morning hour, the van coughed a hello from the street.
“C’mon, sucker!” Tamara waved me over.
Goddammit, I thought. But I forgave her. Her hair was up in twisted-bun pigtails, and her best pink spike-studded bracelet popped against her golden skin. She never burned like I did.
In the car, I wondered if Ryan knew what I’d been up to with Logan. I didn’t think it was something a sister gossiped about to her brother, but I didn’t like this sudden feeling of worrying about it.
“Did you do anything fun this weekend, Marni?” Ryan said.
“Nothing worth remembering,” I said.
We drove out of the suburbs listening to slow electronic music, some DJ I’d never heard of. The world moved in slow motion, people drove to work at the beat of our music. Nobody talked, not wanting to break the spell. The houses got bigger and the space between them spread farther and farther apart. I remember a shell of a barn collapsed on one side with a red X spray-painted across the front. Lawns turned to farms and then back to grass plots with white “For Sale” signs shoved into them. I was glad to escape, fully ready to slam myself against other punks.
Ryan made sure the music played loud enough to give us a proper entrance to the amusement park. It was the only place big enough to host six stages of bands at one time. I could see lights flashing and roadies doing sound checks. Way in the distance, the rollercoasters launched half-empty cars and the pirate ship reached its highest point before swinging back down. I watched a bunch of kids pile out of an actual mom-van. They got in line without looking back. Their mom looked exhausted, and I pitied all of them. I swung the van door shut and hurried to the clustered line of people. Tamara and I stood close to each other and pointed out the best and worst outfits.
“Tight red pants, 11 o’clock,” I whispered.
She pretended to look at her phone in Mr. Red Pants direction. “Nice. Oh unfortunate goth dye job at four. See the stains behind her ears? She probably doesn’t even know.”
“Well, she’ll see it in a mirror at some point.” I laughed.
Tamara and I spent the morning kicking our legs and arms out at the small stages. The Canadian ska bands and punk groups looked like guys from our high school. By noon, a blue line of sweat ran down my neck. I wished I had washed my hair a few more times so the dye had set.
With hours of dancing to go, I figured we’d better rest up. We lay on an open space of grass outside a covered concert pavilion while a band set up, or broke set, it was hard to tell. All around us, small pockets of punks fixed makeup and adjusted boots. One of the morning stage bands wove through the grass, handing out pins and flyers. I remember they walked with the most attractive member in the lead. Marketing, I thought.
“Check out those dudes, hitting on twelve year olds to sell their CDs,” Tamara said.
“Ah fame.” I gestured theatrically. “Is it already too late for us?” I’d been complaining of break-out bands with ages closer and closer to ours.
“I don’t know,” Tamara said. “It’s hard to guess their age with all that eyeliner.”
“Well I hope they are really, really old.”
“They’re probably Ryan’s age.” Tamara assessed the band members, who had wandered downhill to play with a baby wearing Converse and a Ramones T-Shirt.
Ryan wasn’t that old, plus he’d only graduated high school a little bit ago. He had his own space in Tamara’s house and I knew he cooked dinner sometimes. I asked Tamara if she thought Ryan was still figuring things out.
“Figuring out that he’s kind of a loser?” She laughed. “At least you and I have plans. You’ll be a hairdresser who sells jewelry on the side, and I’ll go to high school part two and get one of those certificate things.”
“You mean hair artitste!” I shook my blue hair at the sky.
“Well Ryan needs to get going already. It’s like he’s never thought about what he wanted to do with his life. He even had an extra year to think about it. But my dad says as long as he doesn’t see him on the other side of the court room, he doesn’t mind supplementing his slug life.”
Tamara kept leaning forward slightly like she was expecting something from me. I knew what my role was. I was the best friend so I was supposed to join in. Tamara wanted to complain or have a mean-session against her brother, which I would totally understand. Except it was Ryan.
We wandered around looking for a band to watch. We thought we were pretty into the punk scene, but the truth was, we only knew half the bands. A Hare Krishna guy in an orange toga handed me their book in front of a slushie stand, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t want to carry it around the rest of the day. Then I heard a sound I couldn’t place. Tamara said it was bagpipes so we ran towards it. The audience was packed tight except at the very front where a group of beefy guys with fraying jean vests had formed a circle. But instead of a mosh pit there were three girls doing Irish step dancing. The crowd’s attention kept switching between watching the girls and watching the band, all while clapping in rhythm. The song ended in a flurry of instruments and I realized there was a woman playing a violin in the band. Cool.
The violin hummed quietly and another song began. A man sang softly, like how I imagine a pirate on a ship would sound as he was rallying the crew after they lost someone at sea. He was all “m’ boy,” and I was like “what?” but I loved it. The drumbeat sped up and the bagpipes got louder and I felt a hole in my chest fill up that I didn’t know was empty. The music burst in a crash of cymbals and guitar and mandolin. The girls in the circle started up again, their arms stiff at their sides and their fleet flying like fucking Riverdance. We reached the circle and one of the vest dudes let out a “whoop!” I spun circles and grabbed one of the Irish dancing girls who looked more Italian to me. Tamara bounced on her toes behind the edge of the circle but she joined in with the clapping.
We danced there until the sun cast a pink tone to the dust on everyone’s shirts and shoes. The last show of our day was Rancid, which seemed like the most old school punk we could get our hands on, but of course now I know better. Tamara wanted to get really close to the stage this time, so close that her pictures would show all the wrinkles on the band’s faces. The crowd was stacked along a slightly sloping hill. The smell of sweat and pot hit us in waves. We pushed through one person at a time. I’d had my fill of fun, and honestly would have been happy watching from somewhere in the middle. But we kept going. Sometimes I had to wait while Tamara squeezed between two sweaty guts to catch up with me. We’d just started descending on the hill when we heard someone nearby shouting “princesses.” I turned around and saw a giant meaty man in a cut-off shirt and cargo shorts. He had his hand wrapped around Tamara’s arm.
“The punk rock glitter squad! Such lovely, young. . . ”
A roadie walked toward the microphone and the crowd, launching the crowd into a sheep-like cheer. The roadie waved and spoke mic checks into the microphone like he was an actor in the Shakespeare movie we’d watched in tenth grade.
“Stop it,” Tamara said. The man ignored her.
“A little sticky, eh?” He squeezed her arm. “Are you excited for Rancid, princess?” The man howled like a wolf. “Yeah! Out come the wolves!” That’s when I noticed he was swaying. He steadied himself on Tamara’s shoulder. She froze. I could feel her leaving the crowd and hiding inside herself.
I tried to yell at him to let go of her, but the roadie’s self-indulgent guitar solo drowned me out . People standing close by threw sideways glances our way, but no one was going to help. I pushed my way back to Tamara.
“You fucking creep, get off her.”
“Ho! That’s some mouth for a princess,” he said. He uncoiled his arm from Tamara and reached for my face.
“Don’t touch me either.” I slapped his hand away. People turned towards the three of us. Someone yelled, “Yeah get him!”
The man stared at his hand like he was still registering the slap. He didn’t seem to have any friends around. I wished that they would show up and haul him away. Then I realized they might be as bad as him, and un-wished that thought. The man smiled, wrapped his arm around Tamara’s chest and cupped her boob.
I’m not sure what I did next. Tamara said I screamed a bunch of nonsense and threw my whole body toward him. When he fell to the ground, I stood over him pointing and yelling. “You think you can just get what you want? She’s wearing a T-shirt and that means you can touch her boobs? You’re a creep, a poseur, you probably don’t even like punk music!” This was the ultimate insult my mind could come up with. Our mini-audience agreed, and vocalized their support.
“My bad, my bad.” The man held his hands in front of himself, flailing like an upside-down turtle. He wobbled to a crouch before standing. In his drunken mind, he must have sensed the vibe turning against him. “Warped Tour, woo!” He shook his fist, “Oi!” Some cheers responded from a distance, but they weren’t close enough to see what was happening. He stumbled off towards the stage.
Tamara gripped her camera tightly. I pried one of her hands loose and led her back out of the crowd. We needed fresh air, a breeze, and an absence of drunk dudes. Four guys walked on stage, but we were so far away they looked like mowhawked stick figures to me. The crowd clapped, yelled, whistled, and surged to the front. We took refuge behind a waist-high wall separating the seated audience from those who wanted to stand and dance.
“Hey, we’re finally seeing Rancid. They’re all the original guys too. I know they’re going to play ‘Time Bomb’ for you, like, for sure.”
Rancid closed the show with an encore of our favorite song, which Tamara bounced along to. We followed the river of people out of the stage area and into the amusement park itself. We rode rollercoasters and gravity defying rides until Tamara felt like herself again. The park closed, and our skin shone under the fluorescent lights with layers of sunscreen, sweat, and anger. We knew we had it pretty good, but it was fun to be pissed. We people-watched from a stone wall facing the parking lot, the cement cooling our fishnet thighs while we waited for our ride home. Like an idiot, I’d forgotten to put sunscreen on my legs and had a crisscross shaped sunburn.
The bass line of a Korn song droned from the parking lot. I was buzzed on hunger and burnt-out on sun. I thought about wrapping my legs around Ryan in the front seat of the van. We walked through the row of other teenage punks waiting for rides back to the suburbs, or the city, or the farm, wherever they came from. We all looked the same so it was hard to tell.
“How’s my little anarchist?” Ryan asked Tamara through the open window.
“Less Than Jake was awesome this morning, so you were totally wrong,” she said.
“Did you see The Causalities like I told you? Wait you guys saw ska bands?” They bickered back and forth while I tugged the V-neck of my shirt down just right.
As we drove back through the one-lane roads, I felt our energy slip lower between the empty spaces of an electro-duo’s breakbeats. Ryan rested his arm on the door, driving lazily with one hand. Tamara fell asleep against her seatbelt. When Ryan noticed, he pressed the volume down, shaking his head at his sister.
Before I lost all my nerve, I wrote a message on the back of a receipt with a black marker from my purse: Call me if you want to do something about this.
At the street in front of my house, Tamara woke up and looked through the pictures she’d taken with her camera. I slid over to the middle seat.
“You need help getting out?” said Ryan.
I pressed my note onto his thigh and strong-armed the door open like I knew what I was doing. Tamara never even looked up from her camera screen.
Halfway through junior year, my friendship with Tamara fell apart. Turned out we each thought we were the one working harder to keep the other happy. After a series of handwritten notes and one final coffee shop sit-down, we decided to hang out in different circles. I got my guidance counselor to place me into the hair program starting in the spring. I figured it couldn’t hurt. It wasn’t like I was signing a contract to go to real hair school or anything.
Over winter break, I disappeared into my room and my computer. My mom was happy that I was finding direction, and probably pleasantly surprised I’d cut the umbilical with Tamara. I was digging through the state university art department’s program trying to figure out the differences between their degree options when Ryan called.
He didn’t stay on the phone too long. There was too much for us to say and finding the right words to begin seemed pointless. I told my Mom I was meeting up with some friends and drove her car to the coffee shop. His van was already in the slush-covered parking lot. Its tailpipe spouted a cloud of smoke into the night while the van shuddered. I parked a few spots away by a light post, unsure of my next move. I remember pushing my hands to my chest trying to tell my heart to calm down. I took one last look in the mirror to make sure my makeup hadn’t melted off my face before stepping into the cold.
The driver side window rolled down and I heard the faint noise of music. Snow settled on my coat and caught in my hair. My cheeks were hot and cold at the same time.
“You want to go somewhere?”
“Sure.” The confidence I’d felt on the phone was wavering. What was I going to say? What would he tell me? At the time I felt, whatever happened, nothing would be the same between us. A small part of me worried this would be a one-time thing. Another part of me wondered why I was even worrying about that.
“Cool, come on in,” he said.
I walked around the back of the van.. The passenger door opened easily. I tried to hop up into the bucket seat as smoothly as possible. The van was dark inside but I could see Ryan’s face from the faint glow of the tape player. The music was different from what I’d heard outside his window. I kept my eyes on the floor, concentrating on the rhythm. Then I recognized it, one of Korn’s slower songs. I looked up and Ryan was staring through me. He opened his mouth to speak then shook his head, smiling.
“What?” I said. Had I done something stupid already? There was nothing I hated more than seeming young.
He reached across the space between our seats for my hand. I jumped, hoped he didn’t notice, and then remembered I still had my puffy gloves on. I pulled them off and let his hand find mine. Sweaty hands or not I was going for it. I shifted in my seat and leaned toward him. His other hand brushed through my hair and cupped the back of my neck.
“You’re full of surprises, you know that?”
I jammed my armrest back and leaned in. “You know it.”