My high school sweetheart died at 32 of a head wound. Her mom found her on the living room floor of her childhood home. It was concluded she fell. The circumstances were mysterious, but no investigation was done into foul play. She and I hadn’t spoken in years. I found out via Facebook message from a distant high school friend. I googled her name and the obituary in the paper of our small hometown confirmed it.
I was a high school junior when we met. She had green planet eyes. Her birthday arrived a week after we started dating. I gifted her a brown sweater from Old Navy and a Chinese Water Dragon. She hated both. The sweater was lumpy and two sizes too big. The Water Dragon kept escaping its cage and hiding under the bed. After a week, I owned a Chinese Water Dragon and the sweater was lost.
“You lost a sweater?”
She nodded, but couldn’t hide a mischievous grin.
Our first kiss, my first kiss, was awkward. We were two weeks in. I’d dropped her off at home in my turquoise Mitsubishi Mirage. She was walking away.
“Hey,” I said, “Maybe we should get this first kiss thing over with.”
She stopped stiff. I don’t know if she found me corny or bold, but her cheeks reddened as she turned.
“Okay,” she said, walking back. She wore a bookbag and carried other books in her arms. She leaned into the car.
The kiss was short and wet, and I didn’t initially understand the appeal.
But it didn’t take long to figure it out.
We’d drive out to the satellite parking lot of the high school around dusk and sit in my car listening to music, getting to know each other. Maybe there wasn’t much to know about a pair of small-town Carolina kids like us. Or maybe we didn’t know ourselves, and the result lent charged tension to silences and giddy excitement to minor confessions.
When Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” was released we had no idea it was a cover. We listened over and over. One night, she suggested we make out for the song’s duration. I found the idea strange, but we stuck with it, and halfway through, we learned what chemistry was.
Our first time wasn’t long after, same parking lot, same time of evening. The sky burnt pink, our libidos electric. Excited and clumsy, our hands fumbled. Our lips missed. Our clothes clung. When nothing existed between us but air, our fingers trailed goosebumps across each other’s skin.
The windows fogged as night fell. We shivered when headlights flashed across the frosted glass. A car parked beside us. A door slammed. I jumped in the driver’s seat and drove away wiping the windshield.
The car followed.
We slid to a stop sign by the highway and I rolled my window down to see. The car pulled beside us. Two older kids in a truck laughing and drinking.
“Guys, it’s fine,” one said. “We know a better place. Follow us.”
I glanced at her, embarrassed and covering up in the passenger seat, then she laughed and rolled her eyes.
“It’s up to you,” she said.
The older kids peeled out toward town and we went the opposite direction.
We soon found better places while driving around. Far out behind the baseball fields where we placed a blanket under the stars, hidden by shrub grass. An overgrown four-wheeler path off Kingsbury road by a tiny creek where crawdads splashed. Our eyes forever scanned for dirt roads off state highways, poorly lit areas behind closed businesses, anywhere we might conceal ourselves in darkness to hide from the world.
About a year into our relationship, she got her driver’s license. Her first car was a white Geo Metro. A ridiculous bubble car everyone made fun of. She didn’t care. She carted her friends all over town. She started smoking pot. Not knowing where to get it, she drew the attention of other guys more than willing to help her locate it. One was a friend of mine, a dropout I’d met for the same reason.
Maybe boredom crept in, or the new freedom she found in her own car replaced that which we’d shared together. We saw each other less, we fought and so began a period of breaking up and getting back together. She started spending more time with my friend. They sat in her car in his driveway smoking. She insisted they were just friends, but one day he showed me naked Polaroids taken from inside her car.
After we had broken up for good, her father returned from prison and a successful year in a sober living facility. She fought with her mother for letting him back into their lives. She fought with him for coming back. She left my friend and the town we grew up in for the big city and found a new boyfriend whose need for possession led to physical abuse.
For years, we continued to meet up sporadically. Engaged in pleasantries and small talk, before giving in to an overwhelming physical connection that never subsided. In spite of other relationships, we wore the first we shared as protective armor against the truth of our infidelity, using the only act which remained at our disposal to reach into the past and briefly glimpse what we’d left behind.
Once, she invited me to her apartment in the city. The abusive boyfriend came over and beat on the door. He screamed about knowing I was inside. She started to giggle, which I’d learned she did when scared. He could hear her and it made him madder. She never opened up and he never broke through.
I called her a few days later and he answered. I was driving around with nowhere to go. He said I’d never see her again. He could have been holding a knife to her throat for all I knew. On and on he talked until I couldn’t take it anymore and tossed my phone out the window. I realized that was dumb and doubled back. The phone rested on a patch of grass in the middle of a dirt lot where a house was being constructed. Only the wooden frame was up. Not far away, surrounded by overgrown grass was a ramshackle shed waiting to be torn down, the last remnants of what had previously existed.
The son of a bitch was still talking.
I didn’t know him and didn’t care to. We’d never spoken until that moment. I wondered if she held in screams watching him speak for her. I wondered about the deafening silence that punctuated our history.
I hung up on him and never saw her again.
For years, I thought of her when passing the same models of the cars she drove in high school.
After the Geo Metro she saved up to buy a brand-new White Mitsubishi Galant. I don’t know if she got another car after that.
As I got older, I stopped noticing the cars. The highways filled up with newer models.
With her, a memory has lingered, though it’s been so long I can’t be sure it’s real. She’s driving the little Geo into her driveway and I’m already there. Like I beat her home from school, or she was coming back from the Triangle convenience store. Her window rolls down, she glances at me and blows a kiss. One of those glances you can only share with lovers, like we were the only two in the world. Because we did have that one thing that keeps people alive, inside your head long after they’re gone.
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work has recently appeared in Pembroke Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Ghost Parachute, New World Writing, (Mac)ro(Mic) Maudlin House, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.