I remember last Veteran’s Day. How could I forget?
It was a Wednesday. We had no school. We had that playlist of songs we had made just for us, and I always thought how even if we weren’t together all the other girls would see it and be jealous. We played it in the car as we drove.
The car was crowded. We were squeezed close together. The air was humid from everyone’s breath.
This was only a few weeks after your birthday, when I got you a Mr. Potato Head toy. You switched the ears and the arms, you said, and you kept your other gifts inside him. You brought him with you when you left. I hope you still have that playlist too, and I hope they make you think of me. But I hope you think of me on your own.
It was warm in the car and I brought that box of Frosted Flakes, because back then that was all I ever seemed to eat. We shared it, but I ate the most of all.
Your brother was driving, and I was squashed in between you two. I liked it. You both smelled the same, so whichever way I turned it smelled like you. The windows were getting fogged up and we needed to let the air in so we could see the road. Your car was old, a white Chevelle- what was the year? The driver’s side window was broken. It had to be pushed down with both hands. Your brother asked me to hold the steering wheel while he tried to force it open. It made me laugh. I was a terrible driver. But I said Sure, I’ll do it. Come to think of it, we all could have died in that moment, but we didn’t. So many things don’t go wrong that could.
We sat and we played car games for a long time. I think we played the Food Game. You had never played before. Our laughter filled the car and fogged up the windows again. You kept saying how it was too sexy in here. We were all feeling silly. The silence finally descended, but the silence was warm and comfortable. My head was on your chest. I held your hand. I don’t remember if I could hear your heartbeat, but since then I’ve memorized the sound. A Beatles song we used to sing came on to chase out the quiet.
All of a sudden, from no place we could discern, a single hubcap came rolling down the freeway. It’s not like we were the only car around; we were in light traffic, at least. But that damn hubcap curved straight for our car. We watched it curiously as it moved. And then it was beneath us, making a huge crashing noise and causing the six of us to jump in our seats.
We were dumbfounded for a moment. But then we were all laughing hysterically. Couldn’t you see it was the funniest thing? But you were worried. You wanted to stop and make sure there was no damage to the car. You were always much more cautious than your brother. But when I think of all the things we used to do, I would never really classify you as cautious.
We pulled over to make you happy and everything was fine. You were wearing your blue sweatshirt with the stripes; I had that sweater that was so similar. We wore them on the same day once, and we took a picture. What ever happened to it?
When we finally got into town, we drove to your uncle’s house. You didn’t introduce me as your girlfriend. Randi gave me a look with eyebrows raised, like I should have cared. Was that a sign? But no, that was when everything was good. There were no signs to miss and I didn’t much care how you wanted to introduce me.
We played with your little cousin while you tried on a wetsuit, and we loved him like our own. Do you remember all our plans to move to Hawaii? And how we had already named our ten kids? We finally left, and we walked the dirt paths down to the beach. You and Nate went boogie-boarding in the ocean. It was so cold. I was annoyed; I wanted to go to the boardwalk. You never did anything according to plan. But we took a few sips of rum and we were warm and senseless.
We climbed rocks and I was wearing the wrong shoes. I kept slipping but you waited and offered me your hand. It was the same as when we conquered Mt. Diablo. I always wore the wrong shoes.
We met that man playing the tribal music. You looked it up and played it for weeks afterward. He was so strange. Everyone we met was so strange. Lonnie Campbell sang that song about the rabbit on his head, and we laughed and laughed. We tried to explain it to others later, but we could never tell it quite right.
You and the boys went in the ocean so the rest of us took pictures on the cliffs at sunset. You couldn’t see our faces but we didn’t look pretty anyway.
When you came back you were freezing. You shivered but you were grinning as you ran back to the car to change. I could see the steam rising from your body as you got out of your frigid wetsuit, but I couldn’t see you.
We finally drove home. I remember that part best.
I was leaning on you, falling asleep. Your brother was playing something loud. He used the steering wheel as his drum set and his fingers were the sticks. I was getting a kink in my neck from leaning that direction, but I didn’t care. It felt even worse after Mormon Prom a few months later, when resting my head on your shoulder felt like breaking my own neck, but you rested your curly head on top of mine and all I wanted that night was to be close to you. You were drifting so far away.
It was dark, dark and warm. Your brother couldn’t figure out where to turn. You told him at the last second. He jerked the car to the left so suddenly, and we all woke up from our half-sleeps. Something tumbled into my lap from the dashboard. It was about half a carrot cake your aunt had given us, but I didn’t know that at the time. She gave us so many snacks, all healthy and organic. We didn’t want most of them but we took them anyway. She even gave us forks. But the cake fell in my lap and we were all wildly confused for a moment. When I finally figured out what it was I yelled “CAKE!” so loud. It was just an instinct. But then the whole car was in hysterics again. It was so goddamn funny.
The cake was everywhere. We threw it out the window but the laughter stayed inside. We laughed and laughed until there was only the occasional chuckle. Everything was fun. You were fun. Even nothing was fun. When did you stop being fun? Or was it me?
We were still driving, our playlist still playing. I watched the cars go by and their headlights left light trails in my eyes. I was leaning on you and your arm was around my shoulders. I remember thinking I’d never felt so close to anyone before. I wanted to do everything with you.
We stopped at In-N-Out because In-N-Out is wonderful. I ordered a milkshake. You didn’t have any money. You never had any money. Sarah and I went to the bathroom and you asked Randi why girls always go to the bathroom together. She told you it was because they had to talk about things they didn’t want to say in front of the boys. She said she was probably missing something good. She was right. We ran into Marissa and Marybeth and we talked about watching Practical Magic because we always talked about that but we never did it. You and I had so many friends, we shared them all. It seems to me they all left town with you. Who are your friends now? Why don’t they know me? We finally went back to the car.
We brought home a plastic spoon for some reason, and I was chewing on it. I said I would keep it forever and you nodded and smiled, humoring me. You were always humoring me. I took it as a challenge. Still, I lost the spoon in the car before we even got home. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t a sign, there were no bad signs yet.
You dropped me off at home and I went to bed. I dreamed I was in the car leaning on you. I dream that still.