By David-Matthew Barnes
Josie and I would get really stoned and listen to Diana Ross records on my turntable. We would play them on a faster speed, mimicking the chipmunk squeal of a dying diva. We would crank call people we hated (like that bitch Amy what's-her-name) and we drank generic beer and thought we were cool because we were Seniors.
Josie was in love with this guy named Larry and he was in my English class. I tried to get them together, but he had a girlfriend. Josie never let on, but I knew she was devastated that Larry didn't like her. When his girlfriend dumped him, she looked at me with beer buzzed eyes and slurred, "Serves him right."
Josie used to run stop signs and one time she drove up on the curb in front of my house, until she wrecked her Mom's car when these two guys in an El Camino tried to race her. We were listening to The Clash when the accident happened. I ended up pinned in the backseat, the engine fell out of the car and Josie got knocked out by the steering wheel.
We worked together at an ice cream parlor, but neither one of us could ever decide what our favorite flavor was.
Bridget and I wanted to be rock stars in the worst way. Like crack-addicted canaries, we would sing until a neighbor would threaten to call the police on us for disturbing the peace. We wrote songs at coffee shops, harmonized together in the rain and passed each other song lyrics in between classes. I still remember the first song we ever wrote. It was called "Party Love" and it was about a guy and girl who fall in love at a party and then they get separated forever and spend the rest of their lives looking for each other.
Bridget and I were separated when we both had to move. I got sent to live with my Dad and Bridget had to live with her cousins in the suburbs. Our musical careers were postponed. I hope she is still singing.
Mara was my best friend and she was Jewish and she dated a black basketball player at school. She was the best dancer and she knew Swahili and sign language. I met her in English class when the teacher reprimanded her for being "snide". We spent the rest of the year with wine coolers on our breath, hip-hop in our souls and a common quest for true love.
Shortly after she graduated, Mara got engaged to a man from Brazil and moved to Africa and I never got the chance to say goodbye. But I will always remember spending nights at her house and the day she painted a map of the entire world on her bedroom wall. I studied the shade of every vivid color and secretly, I plotted my own escape from the doldrums of mediocrity and the pre-destined parental expectations that I would never leave the shadow of my own black-and-white misery.
Donna was the Homecoming Junior Princess and she was the epitome of everything that I wanted to be. We cut class on a Wednesday, drove to a park and got stoned out of our minds. And even though we thought it was funny at the time, Donna told me that she hated everyone in her life. She was fed up with ski trips, French Club and college applications.
When we went back to school, no one could figure out what we were laughing about. But Donna and I understood. Nobody else did, but that was okay with us. When I made the cheerleading team, it was Donna who understood the permanent sense of sorrow that stood before me. She knew that to be everything they wanted you to be, it was best to be as numb as possible.
Natalie and I rode the bus home together everyday. She was the best actress in school and the most beautiful black girl I knew. She had parts in The Crucible and South Pacific and the audiences would cheer and stomp and scream her name. I knew she would go far.
Sometimes she would cry and tell me that no matter what she did, her mother would never love her. They lived in an apartment in the hills that had become a loveless prison for my friend. Each day that Natalie took that final step off of the bus, the dread in her eyes was greater than any of her performances. To comfort her, I told her about my own childhood and my mother's blatant thievery of my youthful optimism. We were connected because we were both seeking approval from mothers who hated themselves more than we could comprehend at the age of fifteen.
When someone came to get me out of the school assembly to tell me that Natalie had tried to kill herself, by taking a bunch of her mother's pills, I felt proud of her. It was the best vengeful guilt trip I had ever heard of. I applauded her performance and allowed her to bask in the glare of her teenage angst, knowing that one day she would be a star. And the world would love her.
Anastasia and I drank all of the Vodka out of her mother's cupboard and then we filled up the bottle with water. We never got caught. We staggered in the inebriated rain to the movie theatre on University Avenue in Berkeley to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and I let her read all the letters I wrote to a boy that I liked and she told me "to love life freely, you have to freely love your life". I think she was from Canada and life was effortless for her and I envied her freedom. Although we had a lot of friends, she and I were just kind of sad and we never really knew it. Until the night we shared a bottle of champagne in a scare-the-piss-out-of-you cemetery, surrounded by our own ghosts, hauntings and grave realizations that we could fool anyone, even ourselves.
Raymond was the brave one. He was the protector, then lover, of my fifteenth year. We lived in a bad neighborhood, surrounded by liquor stores, failed attempts and the thundering echoes of gunshots and the misery that follows a permanent sense of loss.
Raymond was Mexican and he was in a gang and everyone thought that he liked girls (even me). He drove stolen cars without a license, smoked marijuana and talked of guns and scars and fights that began when he was eleven. He took me to a Madonna concert, told me that I was beautiful (and I believed him) and slow danced with me to my favorite song. Raymond had soft hands, a rough heart and the habit of kissing my innocence with his rebellious edge.
Love was rare in our neighborhood, but across the bridge from where we lived was the ocean. It was in the eye of our first tender moment, that I finally saw belief. I saw it for what it was. Someday, my experiences and recollections would just be memories that with a stir would invoke a smile or a longing for what could have been. But at that second, they were thresholds for me. They were barriers that I was crossing as the loss of my innocence burned and the unwelcoming glare of adulthood beckoned like a sinister drought. I would be left thirsting for happily-ever-afters and the thrill of the unknown.
Raymond's vision quest was infectious. He convinced me that someday we would make it out. That there was a life beyond the love ghetto we had been subjected to. But, in the end, I left him for the rich, viewless urchins from the hills and their class rings, country clubs and complicated lies. They never gave me water.
Raymond (and to all of those I have recreated here, not in vain but in celebration), I have kissed regret and I have bathed in shallow ends. In the tidal pull of my heart, I find myself swimming over these thresholds that will not be buried with my youth. If you feel the ache of what is missing, I will meet you there.
Barnes recently wrote and directed his first feature film, Frozen Stars (adapted from his stage play), which will be released nationally this fall. In addition, excerpts for Barnes' critically acclaimed stage plays Are You All Right In There? and Threnody are featured in both The Best Womens Stage Monologues 1999 and The Best Stage Scenes 1999 (Smith & Kraus Publishers, Edited By Jocelyn Beard). Barnes is the recipient of the 1997 Eleanor McClatchy Award For Theatrical Excellence (The "Elly" Award) for Best Original Script for his dramatic teen play, Somebodys Baby and he was recently recognized in the National 2000 CNW/FFWA Writing Competition, receiving Third Place for his poem "Volatile". He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright 2000 David-Matthew Barnes
*A portion of this story was originally published as a poem titled "South Shore" in the magazine "Backspace" (Volume 3.03, 1995).
The author has retained all rights.