Josh and I saw each other every moment we could find. Crucially he had a car – a dark emerald green AMC Hornet, which had “FUCK AUTHORITY” spray-painted on one side and an anarchy symbol on the other. Inside there were usually a few cassette tapes strewn about the center front seat and on the floor. He always had a cassette playing something incredibly loud, and he screamed, not sang, along. He wore wifebeater tank tops year-round—something I found unsatiatingly attractive because I loved looking at his arms. He has the arms of a laborer and the hands of someone who knows how to get them dirty. I remember getting in the car and feeling this overwhelming sense of fortune and luck. I was dating my dream guy. Things like that—perfect things—didn’t happen to me.
I couldn’t go home with Josh as he still lived with his mother, so we took to sleeping in his car, out in Arizona wilderness, and on his friend Jimmy’s Lazy-Boy armchair. All of these places were so uncomfortable, yet worth it to spend any time alone together. I was still in high school, but Josh had a full-time job at McDonald’s, which I loved because he often brought me Happy Meal toys. His trunk was filled with them. If only he knew what some of them were worth today!
Life was simple and great, but my grades were decidedly neither. On all fronts, I was failing and flailing. I was not only hungry but also sleep deprived: my mind was reeled with boy thoughts. My school counselor – Mr. Chadwick – called me in to talk to me about my options. If I wanted a chance at college, I needed to go to summer school and get perfect grades in Geometry. The summer school was all the way across town and at another high school. I had no idea how I would get there, but I knew I had to find a way.
My mother had other plans, as she often did. We seldom talked, so these plans were dictated to me. She came home from work and me from school one day and announced that we were going to New Mexico for the summer. I explained that I couldn’t go because I had summer school and a new boyfriend that I liked very much. She didn’t care about either of these things and told me to pack my stuff. I didn’t have much because she was in the habit of throwing things out that were mine. I’d find stuff in the dumpster after school. So, I slowly rolled the whole process. I would work on some sort of plan. I couldn’t tell Josh about any of this stuff because I feared he would break up with me if he knew I was leaving for the summer. I had to stay. Or lose it all.
The end of the year and my birthday came around at last, so time was nearly up. I came home from school on my birthday, and my mother wasn’t home, but on my bed, there was a box of a brand new pair of 8 hole black Dr. Martens. The shoes I had wanted for many years, and next to the shoes was a Fossil watch filled with liquid and gears. It was cool, too, but not as cool as the boots. I couldn’t believe that my mother would get them for me, so I put them on and headed downtown to show my friends. I finally had everything I ever wanted. I had the look I wanted but, more importantly, the feel.
That night, I tucked the shoes under my bed, and I went to sleep with a big smile. Things would work out somehow. They just would. In the morning, my mother came in the door, and she didn’t wish me a happy birthday or inquire about anything other than to say,
“Cyan, have you seen my new boots?”
I almost threw up.
“Your new boots? The Docs?” I clung to hope.
And she dashed it. “Yeah, I broke down and finally got myself a pair. I need them for work. I have to walk around a lot.”
“I’m so sorry, Mom; I thought they were mine. For my birthday. I wore them out last night.”
I took them out from under the bed and scooted them towards her. Crushed.
“Oh, your birthday? That’s what the watch is for.”
“It is a cool watch. Thank you.”
“That way, when you wear it, you can remind yourself at every moment of the day what an asshole you are. That’s your ‘I’m an asshole’ watch.”
My mother has said a lot of mean things, but this, this hurt most. I kept that watch until about five years ago when I finally threw it in the trash.
I had to have the band remade for me several times. I wanted to remember this moment forever as a painful reminder of where I had yet to go in life and tell myself that I am not an asshole. It became my “don’t be an asshole” watch. I now wish I didn’t throw the watch away. I carried it with me for so long that I should have kept it, but it was like a black pit of despair. It didn’t conjure up good feelings. It ticked away but always kept me stuck in a moment I hated but needed.
Well, she could have the boots, but I had a boyfriend, and I wasn’t going to let her take him too. I told her that I refused to leave or pack for our trip and that I had to go to summer school. I fully expected her to prioritize my needs and to work with me on figuring out how I could stay, or she would figure out that she had to. Maybe she’d even figure out how to get me to school.
One can wish. Hope is the thing that is left to us.
On the last day of school, I came home to find my mother’s things gone, our furniture packed up, and my clothes still in the closet. On the counter were a note and a $20 bill. The note said simply enough: “Good Luck.”
I stayed in our little converted garage until rent came due, and the landlord came looking for my mother. I didn’t want him to learn that she up and left me because I didn’t want to get Child Protective Services involved, so I put my things in a backpack and headed for downtown. Not knowing what to do, I sat on the curb of a street somewhere and sobbed. I figured I’d cry until something became apparent for what I was supposed to do next.
A station wagon pulled up to me, and a woman rolled the window down. She was loud but kind and insistent that I talk to her. Her name was Ellen, and she was my friend Becky from band class’s mother. I managed to explain something to her through tears, and she insisted I get into her car with her. The next few days were a blur. Ellen took me to her house and put me up in a room that was bigger than anything I had ever had in my life. It even had its own bathroom, complete with a shower. It was so nice. I slept for nearly two days, and Becky and her mother fed me. Eventually, Ellen sat me down and said she wanted me to live with them until we could sort out what was going on with my mother. If only it were that easy.
Becky’s family seemed normal enough, but I didn’t know how to be part of a normal family. When I was there, I felt as if I were acting in a play of some sort. I had just turned sixteen, but I had a roof over my head and someone who cared if I lived or died. Oh, and I also still had Josh.
It was not to last.