Petit Biscuit.

Silas and I got into my Jeep and headed out for a drive to bring my husband’s truck to the mechanic.  My younger son Sam wanted to ride with Jon in his truck because he loves him more than me and reminds me everyday.  That left me and Silas riding together, following them in my Jeep.  I prepped him before we left.

“Okay, so listen, I just bought this new album on iTunes and I was thinking we could start listening to it on our drive into town”.  Silas buckled himself into the back seat and pushed his glasses further up on his nose.  “Okay, what is it called?”.

“Petit Biscuit”.  He’s a 16-year-old teenager from France.  Do you know what the word ‘petit’ means in french?”

“No what?”

“It means small or tiny or little”.

“Oh, so his name is Little Biscuit?” Silas asked, dubious.  “I guess so!” I answered.

We started out the driveway and I hit Play. Petit Biscuit falls into the Electronic/Ambient genre I’ve been drawn to the last several years.  The first track I wanted to hear was called “Sunset Lover”.  I told Silas that was the title and was relieved when he didn’t ask what “Lover” meant.  Buying a new album for me is a process.  Especially if I really love the artist.  I have to slowly listen to one song at a time, over and over and over again until I’ve digested it enough to be able to move on to the next song.  I kind of have to become good friends with one song before I can move on to the next.

Riding in the car with Silas is much like riding in the car by myself.  Neither one of us does much talking as we’re both too much in our heads.  We  usually just sit there looking out the window, swimming around in our own thoughts, emerging every now and then to ask a question.

“Hey Si, what do you think of this song?” or “Mom, why do we have to have gravity?”.

There are times when I run across a picture of the boys when they were infants, looking almost nothing like they do now.  I reminisce about nursing them, being needed in such a fundamental way.  Being their world.  And for a moment I feel a bit sad that they have gotten so big and so much more independent.

But then, there are moments like this, when Silas and I are both loving the same song and talking about the different instruments and how the song makes us each feel, and I am reminded about how equally awesome it is to connect with him in this way too.  He’s going to be 9 in a few weeks.  He’s almost to the double digits.  He’s only 25 pounds away from weighing as much as me.  He’s up to my shoulders already.  Sometimes, if I can’t find any socks to wear, I’ll just dig through the clean clothes in the dryer and pick out a pair of his.  I sometimes look at him and can’t fathom that he came out of my body.

The song comes to an end and for a brief few seconds, the car is filled with silence.  If I were alone, I’d just put it on “repeat” the entire time, but I try to take into account that other people in the car don’t necessarily want to hear the same song for 35 minutes.  When abruptly, from the back seat, Si asks, “Mom, can we hear that one again?  And, can you please put that on my Boyz Jamz playlist??”.

I hit play again, turned up the volume just a bit more and enjoyed the ride with my Little Biscuit.

I would highly recommend putting some ear buds in and listening to this guy:

 

Accidental Felons

One early, Autumn afternoon on a Sunday, I went over to Tami’s house for the day, glad to have one more day of leisure before we went back to school on Monday. The air had that back-to-school feeling to it that wasn’t quite the end of summer, but also not quite the beginning of fall. The in-between place where the leaves were changing color, but you could still wear shorts; where you still spent most of your weekends outside, but the evenings were slowly getting shorter and cooler; where certain trees were already half-bare, while others had no intention of changing for another several weeks.  It wasn’t summer and it wasn’t fall. It wasn’t hot anymore, but it wasn’t cold. Everything seemed to be holding its breath and waiting for a clear line to be formed. Waiting for that moment when you no longer tried to stubbornly hold on to lazy summer days, but turned your head up, fully, to take in the sound of dried leaves bushing up against each other in the breezes. When you finally said goodbye to long shadows and sprinklers, and listened for the sound of geese flying south. The in-between places always hold the most change in them, and it’s uncomfortable and necessary, simultaneously.

For most of the day, Tami and I had found things to do inside, but kept getting into trouble. We had both decided to crank call old ladies. We’d look up names in the phone book and pick ones that sounded old like Helen, or Eleanor or Joan, and then call them up.

“Hello?” they would answer.

“There is an emergency involving your husband and you need to go to the hospital immediately!” we would say into the receiver. Or, “Something terrible has happened and you need to get to the emergency room right away,” then we’d hang up, vibrating and giddy with adrenaline. Until one time, one of the old ladies called us back and reamed us out, demanding to speak to our mother, so we frantically hung up and tried to act ignorant when Tami’s mom asked us, “Girls, who called?”

We also tried to play one of our favorite games that we called, “1800s,” where we pretended to be Colonial Women living on the Plain, tending to each other because we had contracted some deadly disease like Typhoid Fever. We lit a candle, placed it underneath a cleaned-out ash tray in an attempt to fry an egg “the old-fashioned way,” and ended up getting wax and egg and broken glass all over her bedroom carpet.  Our imaginations were rich, but our planning was poor.  Her mother knelt on the floor with a paper bag and her iron trying to get out the wax and clean up the mess, and hollered at us to get outside.

Unfortunately, that only transferred our trouble-making from inside to outside. We walked around the trailer park bored and looking for adventure. First, we took an old coffee can around to the back of her trailer and started throwing a bunch of stuff into it, like leaves and random pieces of paper and cigarettes, and small twigs, and then lit it on fire for fun. The two of us sat huddled over the coffee can and watched the small fire we had created like two little budding pyromaniacs, until her mother spied us from the kitchen window and hollered at us to put the fire out. We were on a roll though, and so from there, things only got worse as we transitioned from crank-calls, to arson, to inadvertently committing a federal offense.

Making our way to the back of her trailer, we climbed up one of the tall fences in her backyard separating her from her next door neighbor, Heidi. Heidi was an upper-classman with a muscular, stocky build and a shag of blonde hair with black roots that sat atop her head. She rode Tami’s bus. She was the kind of girl in whose direction you never looked for fear of her posturing and yelling, “What the fuck you lookin’ at?” We didn’t know Heidi, we just knew of her, which was plenty. We perched our feet on a slat near the bottom of the fence, grabbed on to the tops with our hands, and with our eyes slowly coming up over the fence in wonder, we looked through the nearest window and spied her gnawing on a piece of fried chicken at her kitchen table like a cave-man.

“Look at the way she’s eating that chicken!” Tami whispered in awe and horror.

“Disgusting!” I conceded, “She’s got it all over her mouth.”

Someone was sitting across from her, although we couldn’t quite make them out, and there was only the one light hanging above their heads, illuminating very little, except the ferocious way she devoured the chicken leg on her plate. She seemed either starving or very angry. We stayed on our tiptoes, grasping the tops of the fence and quietly giggling, when suddenly she turned her head our way, the mangled, half-eaten chicken leg poised in the air in her left hand. Hurriedly, we jumped off the fence, landed on the ground, ran away giggling, and made our way back toward the main road that led out to the country and a few farms. We came upon a mailbox.

“Whose mailbox is this?” I asked innocently.

“I have no idea. Maybe it’s the Shepherds’ across the road, or the Fitsimmons’ next door?” Tami said, continuing to walk.

“Let’s look inside,” I said, and we huddled over the front of the mailbox and opened the latch. Before we could even peek into it, we heard a, “Hey!” coming from behind us. Whipping around, we realized it was coming from Heidi’s trailer. Slamming the mailbox shut, we bolted back toward Tami’s trailer as she continued to yell at us from her screen door.

“I saw you guys lookin’ in my mailbox! I’m gonna get you!” She stood on her front steps, half-way in, half-way out of her trailer, eyeballing us and seething like a bull ready to be let out of its pen. We stood holding our breath and trying not to make eye contact with her, until we heard her slam the aluminum door shut and, presumably, went to get back to her chicken leg.

Time to call it a day. My mom would be by to pick me up soon as it was, and it being Sunday afternoon, I’d probably have some homework to finish. Sundays at home were somber. It wasn’t really the weekend anymore, but it wasn’t a weekday either. My parents were neither fighting, nor particularly chipper either. There were no long silences, but a sad contentment in the air. I would be glad to be home, I guessed. I could close myself in my room and organize things.

However, Heidi stayed true to her words, “I’m gonna get ya,” and didn’t soon forget about our illegal peek inside her mailbox. Only a few days later, Tiffany, Tami and I, all three of us, were hanging out at Tami’s house. Tami and I had not told Tiffany of our previous run-in with Heidi, but the both of us certainly felt a bit more cautious being out in broad daylight with a bull’s-eye on our backs. Maybe she had forgotten about the mailbox incident? Maybe she wasn’t home? We weren’t sure, but loitering around outside, we turned right and headed up the road yet again. And that’s when it happened.

Walking up the road toward the countryside, Tami and I were nervous, our eyes darting left and right as we neared Heidi’s mailbox. Tiffany chattered away, oblivious to the potential dangers that lie in wait. Just as we were walking right in front of Heidi’s trailer, we heard them.

“There they are!” Two figures hurriedly jumped up from the kitchen table and emerged from Heidi’s trailer, the screen door slamming shut behind them. Tami and I immediately took off in a dead sprint down the road in the opposite direction of her trailer. We had no idea where we were headed other than away from Heidi and whoever she had acquired in her hunt for our heads. Ahead of them both, I looked back and saw Tiffany, who lagged behind, completely oblivious as to why we were sprinting down the road, past the railroad tracks.

“Why are we running?” she hollered, confused.

“Just run!” both Tami and I yelled back, seeing Heidi and her accomplice gaining on us.  Tiffany looked over her shoulder, saw two girls at her heels and sped up the pace.

Tami knew the neighborhood better than we did, and quickly pointed to a house of another much nicer upper-class girl who also rode her bus, and who she was sure wouldn’t mind harboring us for a while. The three of us made a sharp left, crossed the railroad tracks and bee-lined it for her backyard, putting a bit more distance between us and Heidi and her friend. Frantically knocking on her door numerous times, we realized the nice girl wasn’t home. Had Heidi and her friend seen us? Did they know where we were? Were they going to come scrambling around the corner any second now? Feeling as though we only had mere seconds before Heidi and the other girl came barreling around the corner in their fury, we noticed the nice girl’s garage door slightly ajar and quickly squeezed ourselves through.

Once inside the garage, we squatted down below the windows, taking peeks every now and then while we caught our breath to see if they had followed our trail. Panting, we looked around the musty garage. It was much darker and cooler in there, and served as a safe hideout for the time being. A workbench sat against one wall, a push lawnmower was nearby, and hundreds of other little odds and ends were all around: tennis rackets, old sneakers, a chainsaw, potting gloves. It smelled like oil and there was a grimy feel to the floor. But it was better than the alternative, and it also gave us the chance to fill Tiffany in. We explained how only just a few short days ago, we had peered through Heidi’s kitchen window, had then innocently peeked in her mailbox, and how she came after us and threatened us with her menacing looks and “I’ll get you.” We filled in each others’ blanks and made sure to describe, in great detail, the caveman-like way she had eaten the piece of fried chicken leg she’d been gnawing on for dinner. She was no one we wanted to mess with, and we needed to get home as soon as possible.

We noticed a front window facing the road and decided to take a peek to see what exactly was happening outside. With the three of us crouched down, we put our fingertips on the windowsill and dared raise our heads to see what awaited us. And much to our dismay and horror, we saw Heidi and her best friend, Missy. Missy?! Not Missy! Missy was everything Heidi was not: tall, skinny and with long brown hair that she feathered back on either side of her face. She had a pointy, harsh-looking nose and equally menacing eyes. Each of them stood guard on either side of the railroad tracks. Railroad tracks that had to be crossed in order for us to make it back to Tami’s front steps. Railroad tracks that were now being guarded by two upper-class bullies who were resting their hands on their thighs with their sleeves rolled up, clearly intent on waiting for our return and pummeling our faces.

The sight of them filled me with a new level of fear. What had we gotten ourselves into? If only we could have gone back in time and not peeked into Heidi’s window, and not have opened her mailbox! Was it going to hurt when she punched us? Were we going to be covered in blood? Would we have to be brought to the emergency room? I’d never been in a fight before, except with my sister, who I now thought of fondly and with immense love. Oh how I wish I was home, playing in the leaves with her, or at least, organizing my bookshelf by author. Instead, here I was, a 13-year-old who had accidentally committed a felony, running for my life, trying to elude the inevitable torture that awaited us at the railroad tracks. Maybe someone would see us and intervene as they drove by? Sitting in someone else’s garage, the owner of which could be home at any minute, we tried to wait out Death. We became increasingly hysterical and terrified.

Looking around the dark, dank garage for something…anything…Tami noticed a telephone attached to the side of the work bench. “Let’s call my house and see if my stepdad will come get us!” Tami picked up the telephone hurriedly dialed her phone number and begged her stepfather to come up the road and get us. “You don’t understand, they’re out there waiting for us!”

His reply went something like, “Stop being babies and get home…now!” Tami slowly hung up the phone, despair settling into her eyes. She didn’t have to tell us, we understood that her stepfather had just thrown us to the wolves.

Heidi and Missy were the toughest girls you could find at Missisquoi Valley Union High School. They were rough, they were mean, and they were always angry. They were the kinds of girls that got into fights in the hallways at school because someone looked at them the wrong way. They wore t-shirts with skulls on them and made out with random boys at the Highgate Skating Rink in the bleachers section. They were terrifying and could mangle us just like a chicken leg if they had wanted to.

After sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get home, we decided to arm ourselves. We each grabbed a rake, a shovel, and a pitchfork. Planning to make our way back to Tami’s house wielding our weapons, we looked out the window one last time and couldn’t believe our eyes. Heidi and Missy were gone. We had out-waited them.

As good as this revelation was however, that was only half the battle. Heidi’s trailer was just before Tami’s. So, even if we made it past the railroad tracks, we still had to make it past her trailer. After discussing our options, we decided that our plan would be to walk hand-in-hand until we got to the telephone pole on the corner, just past the tracks, but just before her trailer. We would simply have to run our asses off from there. Slowly emerging from the half-open garage door, one-by-one, we implemented our plan. Walking hand-in-white-knuckled-hand, we kept our eyes on the telephone pole, my heart-rate increasing with each and every shaky step. We walked in a straight line, our steps in sync, our hands losing circulation. We were a unified front as we saw the tracks and the telephone pole and Heidi’s trailer getting closer and closer. We were in this together. Until, that is, we reached the telephone pole.

The second my foot hit that mark, I let go of their hands and ran faster than I had ever run in my entire life and probably ever would. I was the tallest of the three of us and so the fastest. I remember looking behind me at the two of them, Tami coming in shortly after me and Tiffany behind her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two figures running adjacent to us through the almost-bare trees, clearly trying to cut us off before we reached her steps. “Get em!” I heard Heidi holler. With two blurry forms racing through the woods, I could hear twigs crack and dried leaves rustling as my own feet kicked up the gravel of the driveway in the trailer park. They had been waiting for us after all—just not at the tracks.

Thankfully, we again outran them. After what seemed like the longest 50-yard dash of my life, Tiffany, Tami and I reached the steps to Tami’s trailer where her step-father sat in his recliner, sipping a beer, watching t.v. and totally apathetic to our situation. Panting and gasping and looking all around, we stood there a minute to catch our breath and let the reality set in that we had actually made it home alive. The most menacing 45 minutes of our lives was finally over. We had escaped possible death. I felt like I had been given another chance at life.

I went home that afternoon and didn’t breathe a word of what took place to either of my parents. Glad to see my mom at the dining room table punching away at the calculator for work; glad to see my dad in his chair in the corner, watching a boxing match on TV. My sister was playing by herself in some of the newly fallen leaves on our front lawn, and I joined her, covering her whole body until all you could see was her giggling, freckled, little face. I remember being so happy to be Home.

Tacos and the subtleties of separation.

In the 70-plus degree, sunny, rejuvenating weather, I sat at the picnic table eating a decadent spicy chicken taco, stuffed with onions and peppers and avocado with a dollop of sour cream.  I had daydreamed of this taco all day long.  During our hike, while I lay in the sun afterward and while I folded laundry from the clothesline.  It was going to be the pinnacle to my day.  The perfect ending to a very fun-filled morning and afternoon of “Family Time” that I had planned for us all.

We’d taken a beautiful hike late morning, ate our lunches at the apex of Prospect Rock and then spent the rest of the afternoon toiling around outside and soaking up the much appreciated sun.  Like most mothers, I purposely and deliberately scheduled a “Family Hike” for this particular Sunday as I knew the weather would be beautiful and that all families need some good “Family Time” once in a while.  I orchestrated where we would go, made everyone’s lunch, packed the First Aid Kit and took all of the pictures.

So, sitting at the picnic table, eating the meal that I had daydreamed of all day long, it was the perfect ending to what I had considered a very productive and fulfilling day.

As I looked over across our beautiful view of Mt. Mansfield, chewing and savoring my long-awaited taco, I suddenly heard my oldest son’s wails of distress echoing from out front of our house.  Even over the 4-wheeler he was riding, I could hear the urgency and pain emanating from deep within, his piercing cries carrying across the lawn and in and around the corners of the house.

As I sat in the warm shade of the umbrella, the delectable juices of my taco swirling around in my mouth, I contemplated whether I really needed to get up and tend to him, or if I could just pretend the whole thing was not happening.

Can’t a mom just enjoy her taco in peace one time!?!?

After “chewing” on it for a minute (Genius, I know), I decided to pull myself away from the table and do the responsible thing and make sure he wasn’t either, A) at risk of death,  B) at risk of needing stitches or C) in need of a cast.  Because really, at this point in my children’s’ development (and my sanity) I have had to set the bar low.

Begrudgingly, I drag myself to the front of the house where I see he is slowly put, put, puttering toward me on the 4-wheeler.  He’s still cognizant enough to man a vehicle, so I already know he isn’t going to die.  I stand and wait for him to reach me as he wipes away his tears.  Since he isn’t limping or holding any body part in pain, I can only assume that he also doesn’t need stitches or a sling.

“Aaaaaaahhhhhh.   Moooooooom.”

I half-heartedly ask, “what’s wrong?”, thinking of my taco sitting on the picnic table waiting patiently for me.

“Sam smacked me with a stick while I was driving past him!!”.

Not twenty minutes before, Sam had broken out into sobs and sat writhing on the floor of the deck claiming Silas had “ripped off his skin” while they were wrestling.  I saw the whole thing happen from the kitchen window.  He was fine.  Remembering this, my response to Silas was something along the lines of, “Well, Sam smacked you in the face with a stick and you ripped off his skin.  Sounds like you’re even now”. And with that, I turned back around and headed back to my taco and rice.

I thought about my reaction as I finished my dinner.  How subtle our separations from our children can be.  Putting them on the bus for the first day of Kindergarten is a much more acute and somewhat traumatic separation, than the day-to-day, slow, incremental untangling of souls that goes almost unnoticed until one day, you realize the last time you were able to pick him up was months ago.  And now he’s just too big.

My boys don’t need me to fawn over their every injury now.  Maybe at two years of age, but not at 7 and 8.  And I don’t want to.  Not only because it is not necessary anymore, but because me enjoying quiet moments of bliss, like my taco, are finally being taken off the back burner.  They will learn that they aren’t really all that hurt.  To shake it off a bit.  And that mom really needs to sit and enjoy her taco right now.  But there is always the vague wonder if I should have shown more concern.

I ran all of this through my mind as I heard the 4-wheeler come barreling around the corner of the house 5 minutes later, both of my sons astride the ATV, squealing and laughing, the wind blowing their short light-brown hair waving to me and demanding “Mom, watch this!”.  I had, once again, held onto and dissected and questioned our subtle separation for far longer than they did.

They were already living again, care-free and totally, totally fine.

 

That what you fear the most, will meet you half-way.

There were pros and cons to living in Hilly-Billy Central, surrounded by what was largely known as “red-neck country,” in Northern Vermont. The downfalls being that Blowing Donuts was virtually a competitive sport, our local “hang” was a Mobile gas station on Route 78 right off the highway, that when you were really frustrated you said, “Jeezum Crow,” and that to get almost anywhere at all, you had to drive at least a half hour.

Except to Canada.

By far, the biggest upswing to living ten minutes from the Canadian border, was that we lived a mere ten minutes from the Canadian Border, where the legal drinking age was 18. When you’re a high school Senior, that one perk made up for all of the other drawbacks of living in and around Swanton, such as being nicknamed “River Rats” by neighboring towns.

Living so close to the border, it was commonplace to see border patrol vehicles pacing our long, rural farm roads on the prowl for “aliens.” It was a daily conversation in our house as my father had been working for the Border Patrol for over twenty years by the time I was in High School and made sense why Mary’s front lawn permanently hosted a few of their defunct vehicles.  I had learned about “aliases”,” running plate checks” and where certain hidden cameras were along remote areas of the border. It also made my treks across the border a bit more risky. I had to make sure I didn’t get into trouble, or it would not bode well for my father and his career, I’m sure. So, when we all began making our way across the border on weekends, I had to tread lightly.

First, everyone drove to the Mobile station on Friday or Saturday night to see what was happening. Whichever teenager was able to land the coveted position of Head Cashier at our local Mobile always knew who was having parties, where certain people were headed, who had stopped by earlier, and with whom, and where they said they were going. But usually, it wasn’t even necessary to check in with the cashier on duty because there was always a rotating door of Missisquoi Valley Union High students coming and going all night long.   Oftentimes, there were three or four cars full of us kids, just loitering around the store, smoking cigarettes and drinking Mountain Dew, passing along relevant information about who was headed where. When there were no parties to speak of, there was always Bar Le Max, and since you could leave the Mobile station, hop on the highway and be at customs in ten minutes, why wouldn’t we?

By my senior year, driving up to Bar Le Max had become a weekly adventure that almost always involved a bar fight, a parking lot brawl or a drawn-out disagreement that would sometimes originate and end at the Mobile station. I loved being a part of it all, from a safe distance away—-a.k.a., the Designated Driver.

I would say, eight out of ten times that I travelled to Canada with my friends for the sole purpose of drinking when we really weren’t supposed to be, I volunteered to be the Designated Driver. The other two times I probably couldn’t get my mom’s car. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t trust anyone to abide by the Designated Driver rules, which were that you were allowed one drink upon arrival at Bar Le Max, and then it was sodas from there on out. I also didn’t trust that people wouldn’t speed. Basically, I could only really enjoy myself if I knew, without a doubt, that I would get home alive.

I guess I just adapted a strong need to be in control over the last several years of my life as I tried to navigate my way through adolescence, figure out who I wanted to be, tried to understand boys, figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and watch my parents’ marriage slowly dissolve over the years. While we had all adjusted to the new schedule of every other week and who had us for which holidays, it was still hard.  And since I couldn’t control their marriage, well, being in control of everything else made me feel safe.

So, what better way to let loose than by traveling to another country and drowning my sorrow’s in a Seagram’s wine cooler while I watched Gary Bouchard and Kyle Menuir beat the crap out of each other because Kyle rubbed up against Gary’s girlfriend’s butt while everyone danced to Ace of Base. Truth be told, I watched the whole thing unfold from the sidelines and Marissa practically shoved her derrière right into Kyle’s crotch area and then acted like she had no idea what was happening. As I sat at a small table, gasping with some of my girlfriends, watching the crowd of people surround Gary and Kyle out in the parking lot, I saw Marissa come marching back into the bar, grab an empty beer bottle by its neck, hoist it up over her head and march back out to the parking lot, poised to crack someone in the head, before someone stopped her.

I’m ashamed at how much I enjoyed watching everyone’s antics while I sipped on my wine cooler from my seat.

Bar Le Max was a small dive that looked like it was made of plywood, located in the middle of yet another rinky-dink Canadian town called Iberville. After crossing the border, you drove down a straightaway, past numerous farms that boasted “Bertrand” or “Chevalier” on their tall silos. Then, you meandered your way through a couple of little towns, small one-story houses made of brick on either side, with a handful of “Depanneurs”, where you could exchange some of your American money.

Bar Le Max was on the left side of the road and would most certainly have been overlooked if you weren’t searching for it directly. It was the type of bar that had four people in it on a Saturday night: The bartender, the DJ, a middle-aged man sitting at one end of the bar with a camouflage vest and a pocket knife on his belt, and a middle-aged woman at the other end of the bar with sagging tattoos and frosted hair that reached the middle of her back.

To this day, I firmly believe that the past and present generations of Missisquoi Valley Union High students kept that bar afloat for years, and that the party never really got started until they saw a bunch of cars with Vermont plates pull up, one after another, most likely blowing donuts on their way in.

Once inside, people immediately made their way to the bar, where the bartender was more than happy to pour drinks, and the two patrons at either end of the bar perked up, excited that now there was some kind of action.   We would situate ourselves at the flimsy, round, wooden tables and let our drinks warm our chests as we took careful note of who was coming in through the door. The first half-hour or so was slow as everyone arrived, the DJ blasting dance music, the disco ball lighting up the room, but the dance floor a gaping, empty space—for the time being.  We were merely getting warmed up.

Fast-forward a couple of hours, and you’ve got a different picture. The bar would be packed with us red-necks.   Empty bottles and glasses and straws littered every inch of the table tops and often fell to the floor, and Little- Miss- Quiet- Cynthia Myerson—who always took such immaculate physics notes, had straight bangs and a stick up her butt—could be found toward the back of the dance floor, her legs wrapped around the waist of some guy, as he carried and bounced her around. Her right arm was wrapped around his neck and her left arm waved in the air as she belted out the lyrics to “Cotton Eyed Joe.”  Bar Le Max had the power to unleash the pent-up hormones of the most unlikely candidates.

Even on nights that I was the Designated Driver, I would sip my Pepsis and still be able to have a blast with my friends. I’d particularly go nuts when Madonna’s “Vogue” came on since I knew every single word and every single move from her Blonde Ambition Tour.   My dad had taped it for me years earlier and I had watched it so often I memorized the whole thing.

But eventually, all good things would come to an end.

Driving a car-full of eager teenagers on the way up to Bar Le Max was no big deal. It was driving them all back that sucked. First of all, when you’re the Designated Driver, you’re always ready to leave sooner than they are. There was always a good half hour of trying to find them, trying to round them up like a herd of drunken cows, trying to convince one person that they should not go home with so-and-so, or trying to talk another one out of punching his friend because he looked at his girlfriend the wrong way, and ushering them to the car knowing that getting them into the car was only half the battle.

It was on the way back from Canada that I asked myself, “Why? Why do I do this?”

Almost every car ride home from the bar entailed the following: at least four to five very inebriated underage drinkers (by America’s standards);  one obnoxious drunk guy from my class in the passenger seat, who apparently still thought he was inside the club, as he couldn’t talk in a normal-toned voice, but was yelling and still trying to grope people.

“Ochkay, may sure you puh on your seabel ochkay, Michelle?”

“Why don’t you make sure you put on yours and just be quiet, okay?”

“Yesssssir! Ochay, sssssshhhhh.” He would never be able to just sit there and be quiet and I would end up having to tell him to “shut up” countless times during the drive home. He would unabashedly flirt with me the whole time, to which I would always respond as though I were annoyed. I didn’t know what to do with flirting because I didn’t know how to flirt back, so I just acted annoyed.

The car ride home also always entailed one couple on their way to second base in my backseat. Sometimes, one member of the couple had shown up at the bar with another person but then left with yet another, which may or may not mean I’d have the jilted lover chasing me down the whole ride home. They’d take up the majority of my back seat while one lone girl, usually a good friend of mine, squished herself in the corner of the backseat, boxed out by the amorous couple, who would try to rest her head on the side of the window desperately trying to feign off “The Spins”.

Apparently, someone had taken out my Madonna CD and put in a Pearl Jam CD, probably because they were sick of hearing “Vogue.” Eddie Vedder sung “Daughter” while the token drunk guy in my passenger seat thought he was Eddie Vedder. The entire ride consisted of me telling the drunk guy sitting next to me to shut up every few minutes and having to continually turn down the music.  Checking my rearview mirrors for traffic was useless, since all I could see were the two heads of the couple making out bobbing up and down and swaying back and forth and completely blocking my view. Only occasionally did I ever have to stop and pull over so someone could puke. No one really talked to me since two passengers were making out, one was trying to sleep, and the other one wasn’t making any sense and was mostly talking to himself.

Looking back, I realize now how much teenagers suck at holding their liquor.

I got no reprieve from being the invisible taxi—until I saw the bright lights of customs and shouted for everyone to get ready and “stop making out for just a minute,” and to “shut up!” once and for all, so that we could pass through without any issues. Everyone would “come to” and hand over their IDs.

Smiling, I pulled up to the booth.
“Hello there,” the customs officer said, checking his computer and eyeing me with inherent suspicion.

“Hi,” I say sweetly, soberly, IDs poised and ready.

“Please roll down your back window, miss,” he responded, peering down as the window slowly sunk into the car door, revealing three glassy-eyed teenagers who began smiling and waving.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked, taking the pile of IDs from me.

“Bar Le Max,” the annoying drunk boy responded a little too loudly, leaning over into the driver’s seat.

“Shut up and sit back,” I hissed.

The customs officer rifled through the IDs, looking back toward all of us for a second time. “Oh yeah, Bar Le Max, eh? Did you all have a good time?”

We all cautiously nodded, unsure of what the right answer was.

“Are you bringing anything back with you today miss?” he asked.

“Nope!”

Thankfully, he handed me back the pile of cards, waved his arm to the left and said, “Okay, you’re all set, have a good evening.”

Another successful trip to Canada and everyone was alive, although tomorrow morning was really going to suck for most of them.

When the last of the tiny crowd fell out of my car and shuffled to the front door of their house, half asleep and still drunk, I slowly backed out of their driveway and headed to my mom’s. Pearl Jam was still playing, although much more quietly, and for once, I was not in the mood for Madonna. I never really cared for Pearl Jam’s “Vs”. album, except for one song toward the end. I loved the track “Crazy Mary,” and skipped all the others until I got to it and turned up the volume.  The gentle strum of the guitar filled my car, and Eddie Vedder’s raspy, sexy, voice came through the speakers. As odd as it was, I almost enjoyed the car ride home alone more than anything. I could be by myself, with my own thoughts, without having to put on any pretenses with people I didn’t know very well. I could let my guard down and decompress from the night. It’s not that I didn’t like people, I just often found them exhausting to be around.

I also wasn’t a thrill seeker by any means. I liked not getting drunk, not feeling out of control. I liked being behind the wheel of the car and having my wits about me. I don’t think it was too different from me arranging soup cans in the grocery store, or making sure I tapped my toes the same amount of times on each foot. I liked order, I liked routine, I liked being alone, and I liked feeling safe. I was scared to lose control and so did whatever I had to in order for that not to happen, which may have been why, since the 7th grade, I knew I wanted to be a Psychologist. What better way to keep from going nuts than to understand it and be an expert about it.  At 17, I already knew that I would major in Psychology and minor in English.  Maybe someday I’d even be able to combine the two.

Driving along the quiet roads in Swanton, at 2:30 in the morning, Pearl Jam beating through my chest, I came upon Mary’s house again, the border patrol cars as they had always been, her porch still rife with garbage bags up to the porch ceiling, blocking the windows. I pictured her sitting in that big house all alone, except for her dog. Was it as dark inside as it looked outside? Did she sit in an old chair, the TV illuminating her face? Did she see me staring at her house?  Was she sleeping right now, or was she a Night Owl?  Did she find people exhausting?  Is that why she made her house seem so uninviting?

Some people around our little town said she was “crazy,” and I thought again of the day I saw her and tried to say hello. How I was hurt that she hadn’t even known I was there, or worse, didn’t care. I don’t know if it was the late night, or the music, or what exactly, but I decided that night that I didn’t think anything was wrong with Mary like other people sometimes said. I think she just wanted to be left alone, that’s all. I wished that I’d never tried to say hello to her and had just let her be, like she probably wanted. Maybe she liked to feel safe and maybe she felt safe in that house, what with all the government vehicles and garbage blocking her windows.

Eventually, around 2:45, I pulled into my mother’s driveway and turned off the car. I was exhausted and so, so glad to be home. As I crawled into bed, careful not to wake my mother or sister, I nestled myself under my floral bedspread, Eddie Vedder’s words echoing in my ears, thinking of Mary.

I wondered if it was true, if the things we feared the most really did meet us half-way.