I rarely notice Jason Patrick and Michael Jordan on my wall anymore. These posters were tacked up when I assumed their regular appearance in magazines meant they were meaningful men I should know more about. Having them up there created the illusion of popularity, of normalcy after my parents divorced, of knowing things beyond Fraser, Colorado. The latest best thing. What to listen to, how to roll pant legs, how to curl and tease my hair.
My gym teacher sends me to the locker room during every gym class. I talk and laugh too much. I can’t do pull ups, push ups, and have no grasp on the mechanics of basketball. Michael Jordan was one of the only black famous people to choose from in the poster section at Target. Michael Jordan and Bel Biv Devoe. I chose Michael Jordan because he seemed like less of a pervert, more focused on the art of dunking a ball into a basket than rubbing up against ladies in tight mini skirts. There are no black people in this town and I miss the sweet musky smell of my uncle’s afro. His cherry pipe tobacco, his beautifully mixed kids all versed in the orbital language of Sun Ra. Michael Jordan will do.
White carpet, stained by orange soda, makeup, and bongwater pillows my feet inside polka dotted socks. I sleep in the bottom bunk of a bed my mother and I thought went well with the zebra bedspread and wallpaper. From outside, the room reeks of innocence, a place where young girls dream of future husbands while doing biology homework or dancing to The New Kids On The Block.
Black Flag blares on a boombox while I smear on another layer of red lipstick. I share this bedroom with my stepsister and a friend who isn’t really much of a friend at all, more of a nemesis, more of a turd. My friend and her mom recently moved in with us to help pay bills. She’s a whiny, vapid girl who has an odd habit of making herself pass out by wrapping her hands around her neck.
A year ago my stepsister and I introduced her stoned, jobless father to my newly divorced, bitter mother. Before they moved in with us, they lived in a dumpy two bedroom apartment next to the railroad tracks. Their dog ate trash piles and vomited khaki foam all over their chewed up furniture. The apartment smelled intestinal. It was decorated to look as though it had just been robbed. My stepsister’s dad was always out, playing music, teaching kids how to ski, mostly getting stoned, and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted. We roamed the streets and ate frozen foods doused in soy sauce. We stacked bologna high onto sweet white bread, with Miracle Whip. We dressed like cheap prostitutes and listened to hair metal. We invited criminally inspired boys to come over and get us high. We smoked cigarettes and took trucker’s speed to keep fat from melting through holes in our jeans.
My nemesis puts on Enya. I used to appreciate this music, but now it’s cloying. I blow smoke out the window into the winking night stars. My stepsister and nemesis parade back and forth in my clothes, their bodies fill out the seams better than mine. I’m fine with sharing, but I’m beginning to think everyone in this house is leeching the life out of my mom and I. My stepsister stands behind me, puckering lips in the mirror, watching herself talk, boys versus men, Elvis, Guns n’ Roses, James Dean. Her large green eyes rimmed with black eyeliner and bright full lips are in demand amongst the older guys in town. She’s smart and ambitious, but most of the time hides behind her pretty. This dumbs her down considerably.
But we’re all dumb. Vapid new teens slurping cherry Slushies and smoking whatever cigarettes we can get our hands on. We steal Pop-tarts and lipstick from the grocery store. Lie to our parents and sneak out of windows to get stoned and soak naked in hot tubs with older boys. It’s always about boys. How to get one, how to look good for one, how to keep one from knocking us up. These boys are even dumber than we are. They hit and spit, twist tits and testicles, point loaded rifles at each other’s faces, and after long drunken arguments, abandon each other in the woods for prideful mornings alone, chain smoking, and sulking in the parking lot of 7-11.
Later I would consider their Facebook pictures. In abandoned laundromats, they would buzz demon clown tattoos onto leftover patches of drug-poked skin. They would wear ankle bracelets and have contemptuous relationships with parole officers. They would find God and meth then God again, without teeth. Their brothers would die in prison violence. Their cousins would become vegetables in drunken car crashes. They would find solace in wood carvings of eagles and soften their edges by playing Pantera covers on acoustic guitars.
One of them lives next to the high school in a trailer park, Granby Jones. Like the occupants inside, the homes are crooked, beaten, faded. He’s lived there his whole life with his parents, grandparents and cousins. Two bedrooms and a kitchen stocked full of value chips and dip, beer, diabetes medication and jugs of diet soda. His mom knits polyester blend blankets in a recliner while watching Spanish soap operas. She calls him her nino even when he comes home drunk at 4 am or breaks his hand punching another hole in their trailer wall. When he laughs his teeth shine, his uvula shakes, his hand hangs onto his belly. He laughs when the cops handcuff him, when they call him a fence fairy, a bean eater, a spick. When they tell him he won’t ever amount to anything, not here, not anywhere, he laughs.
If it weren’t for the ripped jeans and leather jacket, the other one could be mistaken for a half-Mexican Ken Doll. My stepsister melts alongside his baritone sentences. She swoons as his fingers grip the base guitar. She swallows his ginormous penis that one too many Grand County girls have also swallowed. He has a subtle maturity to him. He’s polite and doesn’t indulge in mundane chatter. He’s been in and out of jail for selling weed, for domestic fights with his stepfather, for stealing cars, but he doesn’t hold the grudges of his jail days like many of the other boys. He sees opportunity despite being a poor kid without a dad, with an alcoholic for a mom. He sees his future beyond the high desert of Colorado as a welder or a cab driver somewhere in the suburbs of Gainesville, Florida where he will one day die on his motorcycle, hit and run.
The other one is a pretty boy with flaxen hair, Caribbean eyes, lips like grapefruit. Emaciated from too much speed and a teenage metabolism, he wears baggy jeans and boxy shirts to cover up his bones. He’s wicked despite his good looks and gentle kisses. He’s a serial date rapist, a brute, a thief, an inveterate liar. Three girls in town have all sadly chosen to keep his babies growing inside them even though he’s assured them he will never call the babies his own. I wonder if he’s ever known the shape of goodness, the guts of love. His family, people I’ve never met, two lawyers living in a mansion on the edge of Grand Lake must have forgotten how to care for their child, or maybe they were too busy doing other things. But then I think he could be one of the few people on earth who may have been born bad, someone who would later run over his pregnant ex-girlfriend, killing her instantaneously and do nothing more than drive away.
My boyfriend comes from a long line of brothers, all giants with Roman noses and felonies. He is my first official boyfriend. Like many teenage relationships, nothing was said to make this happen, we just started hanging out and fucking wherever we could find a spot to do so. Closets, graveyards, friend’s couches. Now we’re inseparable. He grew up in Kremmling, a forlorn mountain valley town speckled in cattle, devoid of kindness, saturated in booze. His dad doesn’t beat him every day, when the mood strikes, mostly when he’s inebriated and disappointed in his wife and job and himself. His mom smokes crack and shows up only when she needs her sons to steal something to buy her next fix. My boyfriend dreams of more. I show him a postcard of Hawaii then Costa Rica. Easter Island. Places I’ve been but don’t remember. In jeans and boots he sludges through snow with a hunting rifle his father left in the closet. He’s tried to end things before with the phone cord in jail, with knives along his wrists. This time he will be successful. I carry the postcards, reassuring us both that this isn’t all of what we can know.
These boys hang around all the time. We let them smoke us up, fuck us, spend our allowance, eat our food. They don’t say please and thank you and always forget to remove their muddied boots after slipping into our bedroom windows. They dump cigarette ash on our clean sheets. To them we are bitches and babies. To each other they are dudes and pussies. We don’t protest the slapping of our asses, the gripping of our breasts or waistlines. We cut their hair and light their cigarettes. Do their laundry and fold their pants and shirts into perfect stacks. One day we will go somewhere, most likely Mexico or Cuba where people seem free from parental restrictions and institutional harassment. Everywhere is better than here we say. And in these dreams we’re always stoned, or ready to be stoned. We live together and love in the way we think we want to be loved. We chase dreams down the railroad tracks and into hot tubs, through spilling semen, inside trash cans where babies lie unborn. These are our new best playmates. We giggle when they come. We snicker when they bark. For them, our beloved stuffed animals are now fuck cushions on closet floors. We shed our last threads of childhood through their smoke-stained fingers.
I trip acid. I smoke weed all day long and gain weight as the munchies take hold. I eat things I’ve never eaten. Fast food from the drive through. Microwavable meat products. Funyuns. Party Pizza. Clothes don’t fit me anymore and so I opt for leggings worn under large flannels to mask the swell. I sour in the face and forget about all that ever interested me. I forget to dance. I forget to laugh. I don’t write or draw or read. School becomes a bore. Life becomes tedious without a hit or two of something.
Jason Patrick high fives my boyfriend on the way to the 7-11. Dude, you got any weed? Dude, can I grab a ride? Dude, you have a couple of dollars for a Slurpee? Michael Jordan throws the ball and one of them catches it, dribbles the ball into the dry Granby ground, tapping into the buried skulls of gold miners and poor Mexican immigrants who lost their way years ago trying to get into horse farming, dishwasher brawls and slow-rise bakeries. Jason Patrick lets one of them give him a blowjob, comments on his soft ruby lips, pets his blonde hair until it’s oily in his palm. That’s just the right amount of right. One of them hangs out in Jason’s trailer, watches actresses glide across pavement from a peep-hole in the door.
Sensing she may lose me to a drug accident, my mom invites my boyfriend to live with us. She thinks having both of us in her house will keep us from getting into trouble. She can feed us lasagna and talk to us about the root of our problems and how to get help. She knows. She’s seen this stuff before. She’s popped downers and felt addictions. She lived through the 60’s with boyfriends who chose heroin over the Vietnam War. Who can blame them? It’s devastating, this world.
My boyfriend can stay upstairs in the extra bedroom. The caveat is that I have to go to school and he has to work (since he refuses to go to school). He is 2 years older than me so he can get a job anywhere. He works at Kentucky Fried Chicken for a day, then quits because the boss is an asshole. He tries Maze and Burgers (a local restaurant where you have to find your way in and out of a maze before ordering your food) for a couple weeks then decides he’d rather get stoned than go to work. He launches a small window cleaning business called Crystal Clear. My mom helps him buy squeegees and a used pickup truck, a Mazda. This lasts maybe a week then he and I disappear with the truck.
We run to cheap hotels after selling bunk bags of weed. To parties where angry boys hide out in closets, threatening to shoot themselves, others, or cats with hunting rifles. We stay up for days wearing the same clothes. Rummage through my mom’s stuff for money or things to sell. Strange older men just out of prison let us sleep on their floors. My boyfriend breaks into my dad’s house, other people’s houses. And I let him. I sit there and watch him do this because I’m afraid he’ll leave me if I protest. I’d rather have nothing than spend my days without him.
When I’m hungry and in need of a shower, I go home to Jason Patrick and Michael Jordan, fresh sheets and my mom’s always forgiveness. But today there are black trash bags piled up on the porch. My stepfather explodes out of the front door shaking his head no, no, no. I grab the bags and start tossing them into my friend’s car. My stepfather grabs a handful of my underwear from one of the bags, then snatches a bag from my hand. He’s right to think I’m breaking my mother’s heart and yes, I don’t deserve anything she’s ever given me. It’s easy to leave the trash bags, but I’m quick to grab the underwear from his stumpy little fingers and shove them into my pockets.