Palookaville

The other day, I had the garage open, the garage where we keep all the outdoor crap. Clooney was playing in the alley with the kid across the street. I went back inside, and by the time I came back, they were starting to play frisbee with this HUGE disc. The thing is like an enormous 30″-in-diameter plastic ring covered in sheer stretchy fabric. So, I was coming through the back gate when Clooney started his swing, and BAM! He let go of the Pete Pumathing right in front of me from about a yard away, and in the straightest throw this kid has EVER made, he nailed me square in the jaw, and the world exploded in stars.

The feeling reminded me of when I was 15 years old.  I was down at the beach with a couple of girlfriends, and we were staying with Calista’s parents.  I had to leave earlier than the rest of them, work, or some other commitment, and the plan was for Calista, who had turned 16 in February, to drive me home.  This plan didn’t sit too well with Calista’s parents because at the time, Calista was dating this guy who was twenty-two and worked as a mechanic at the garage where they’d recently had their tires rotated.  They weren’t too happy about their sixteen-year-old taking a near-three-hour drive in the first place, but they were even less enthusiastic about the prospect of their daughter having their empty house back home to herself and all of the opportunities that might afford her and her current interest.

I had known Calista since the first day of kindergarten, when she walked up to me and introduced herself in a fashion that was uncharacteristically assertive for a five-year-old.  She said, “Hi, my name’s Calista.  It means beautiful in Greek.” To which I likely retorted something characteristically five-year-old like, “My cat’s breath smells like fish sticks.”  Somehow we were inseparable for years, though by sophomore year of high school, the writing was on the wall.

We were out late, two of the girls were chasing their future boyfriends, guys from the football team.  I’d always been on the fringe of that group.  My friends were cheerleaders, cheerleading being something I was genetically incapable of doing.  They’d tried in vain to get me onto the squad, but I just couldn’t do the jumps without landing in a pigeon-toed stance.  I didn’t really mind.  Being pigeon-toed kept me from being pigeon-holed into any particular clique, so I could float around between the jocks as well as the theater crowd, the nerds and the dweebs.

They were the kind of crowd that had fake ID’s at fifteen, who tried, sometimes with success to get into bars and sneak beers.  That weekend, I had tried as well, and was disappointed to be turned away for looking too obviously underage.  I took one step into the crimson light of that little dive when the bartender stopped me cold with his shrill whistle.  He said nothing, simply glowered and pointed at the door behind me.  I dropped my chin, turned on my heel and made for the exit, the mocking laughter of my friends ringing in my ears.

Today, I still look like I’m in my thirties while some of them look like the leather chair my father-in-law’s been pressing his ass into for the last twenty years, so who’s laughing now?

Anyway, we were out late, two-o’clock-in-the-morning late, and as soon as we came in the door, Calista’s mom was ready to pounce on her.  In my memory, I see her mom standing there in a full length housecoat and fuzzy slippers, a pink haze in the middle of June, her hair in curlers, hands on her hip, with steam coming out of her ears.  In reality, we likely never saw her though.  She probably just called Calista’s name from down the hall in a tone that didn’t make it sound like it was beautiful.

While Calista was with her mother, the rest of us took turns making our evening toilets, and by the time I got back, Calista was already crying on the others’ shoulders.  As I closed the cheap hollow door of their newly manufactured house, the wood touched its frame and went click. And for some reason, this set Calista off.  She came toward me, obviously hot and angry, her face red and scrunched, her fists clenched.  She said something about the noise I’d made waking her mother, and I pointed out that her mother was already awake.  The ensuing conversation remains a bit of a blur, but I do remember clearly the fist gaining altitude, momentum even, and thinking Oh wow, Calista, what are you going to do? Hit me?  And then she connected with my jaw and the room exploded in stars. 

I didn’t hit her back.  At the time, I felt that the violence was beneath me, too contemptible to retaliate.  I’d spewed a few expletives, and made it known that she’d crossed a line, but it was the end of Calista and me.  The next day, I hitched a ride home with one of the football players, a nice guy who was a bit iconoclastic in the clique department.  And then, we all drifted apart.

As it turned out, when I got home, my father was waiting with a letter from school basically asking me not to return (another story, for another post….)  I don’t think I spoke to Calista three times after that.

Recently though, I was sitting alone at Panera, reading a trashy magazine and knocking back a latte, when Calista slid into the booth across my table.  It was good to see her.  As much as that moment is frozen in time for me, everything that came before it was what I thought of that day, the sleepovers, playing pool in her parents’ basement, the way she tried so hard to teach me those cheerleading jumps and the laughs we shared over my lack of coordination.  Calista and I have lunch now on a regular basis, catching up on our lives now, sharing stories of our kids.  There are no hard feelings, though we have never really discussed that night.  It’s so vivid for me, so fixed in my mind, perhaps because it did kind of mark an end of that time in my life, with those people at that school.  I wonder, does she even remember it?

 

 

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