By Whitney Jackson
On Tuesday mornings I go 70 mph on the road behind my house. I leave at 7:25 a.m. and make it to school in record time. On the way, I pass a school bus on Falcon as it rounds the corner and stops in front of a driveway, waiting for little feet to climb up the thick, black steps and join the other sleepy occupants as they grip their lunchboxes, backpacks plump with unfinished homework.
I pass the old man in the brown jacket and baseball cap, shelling out a wave as I zip by. I pass a cornfield, a church, and an abandoned house, falling apart from the inside out. If I’m lucky, I will bypass the school bus on Falcon, and the old man, as they cause me to slow down and remove my foot from the gas pedal, watching the little arrow on the speedometer as it falls and falls and falls.
The Cosmic Perspective
On Monday nights I sit in the back, half-listening to various lectures on black holes, comets and dwarf planets. A thirty-something new mother stands rows below me in a lumpy sweater the color of fluorescent mold. She draws diagrams of the solar system, giggling as she asks us to pretend that the planets are orbiting the whiteboard. Instead, I imagine them stiff and platonic among the stars she has forgotten to draw.
Every Tuesday I take an hour nap at 8:30 am. I sit in the front row and lean my head against the wall as the rest of the class watches people with British accents talk about schizophrenia and the differing stages of OCD on a screen pulled down from the ceiling. On the days I stay awake, I internally celebrate with a grown man as he conquers his fear of riding in elevators, and picture life as the mother who washes her hands every couple of minutes with the hottest water she can stand, while her young child sits idle, staring intently at the raw, leathery layer of skin his mother has become.
During longer lectures, the ones about the cerebral cortex being gray matter inside our dewy brains, a boy with one missing tooth gets us both in trouble as he talks over the professor to me about doing Ecstasy. People call him Steve-O, for his uncanny resemblance to a member of the Jackass crew.
“I hate when people call me that,” he tells me, and then asks for me to refer to him as Steven James II, after his father.
This girl and I receive notes from the row behind us, sideways scrawl bluntly telling us to be quiet. I want to write back and tell them it’s not my fault, but instead I listen as Steven James II tells me about passing out drunk in the woods behind his house last weekend.
During lunchtime I eat a granola bar and bologna on white bread. I listen as the girl with the white-blonde hair tells us she grew up in Sandwich, Illinois, and I laugh because I think she’s kidding. A friend and I joke about the school having a turkey as its mascot. On the TV behind her head, I can see a guy watching Animal Planet, the one who will later be known to us as Animal Planet because of how often we see him here.
Another day we meet Twitter Guy. He is twenty-six and skinny, with long stringy hair and a wide range of long-sleeved flannel shirts. We talk about geometry and then he tells us how he used to skip classes in high school so he could smoke marijuana in his car instead.
Eric teaches us about the origins of music in a class they call Rock and Roll History. He shows us videos on the internet, and my notebook becomes filled with dates and names. I learn about the electric blues, country, and gospel music. Later, we are quizzed on the singers of Rockabilly, Buddy Holly, and the influences of MTV.
Dave comes in humming every Tuesday and Thursday night, ready to teach us about polynomials. He wears glasses and takes his time writing problems on the board for us to try. He switches to whistling while we work in silence, and when the cute guy in front of us turns around to ask for help, the girls and I scramble to show him which number is the coefficient.
Later, my friends and I meet Chase, who will soon be referred to as Waste, after a night of drinking. In the living room of the house on the hill, he and I will pretend to fist fight, only to move outside so we can roll down the grass until our clothes are matted and stained green. All of us sit on the front step, sweaty with bloodshot eyes, and inhale the fruity scent of his Swisher Sweets. When the sky is good and dark I’ll sprawl out on the driveway just to feel the cool blacktop under my skin. I can see the “For Sale” sign at the end of the driveway from where I lie, the moon gripping the edge of the white plastic, and reflecting itself off the red letters.
Some nights, when my friends and I leave campus, Waste sits at the stoplight until I slide my vehicle in next to his. We stare at the red circle that tells us it isn’t safe to go. I hang my arm out the window and imagine it stretching itself like a long, pale noodle in the moonlight, all the way to the other side of the street, and I watch as my own fingers reach up and touch the green circle, as if it were a button that needed to be pushed.
During my shift at Tim’s Country Cupboard I turn the radio in the back up loud enough to drown out whatever music is playing in the front. I’ll get orders for pepperoni and sausage pizzas twenty minutes before we close. This will cause me to rush around in too many directions so that when I leave, I will have forgotten to switch off the oven, and I’ll have to turn around and come back to shut it off.
By the time I get home, everyone will have helped themselves to the bottles I have chilling in the fridge. We play beer pong in the carpeted dining room on the marble table that will crack open the skull of whoever retrieves the weightless ball from between the chairs. I take long pulls from a large container of red, syrupy looking liquid that I learn later comes up the same way it goes down.
A few hours later, I will hear a deep voice ask me how much I’ve had to drink.
“I don’t know,” I reply, snotty but truthful.
The next night we’ll do it all over again, but this time people will ask me how I’m doing since the break-up.
“His friends are going to come for a while,” someone tells me, and they do. Then, after too many pulls, his friends will be lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. One has his head in a toilet, and another one passes out in someone’s bed. There is nowhere soft to sleep, so I curl up with a blanket on the floor and cry about how I’m doing since the break-up.
My throat hurts from yelling so much but I don’t let that stop me, although I am surprised when you scream back. My hands shake from confronting you about the truths I already know, the passwords I’ve cracked. I think about all the gas we waste, sitting in silence in parking lots and driveways. I stare so hard at my reflection that I am unrecognizable.
One afternoon I step inside your house and leave a box in the entryway. I am so quiet your dad doesn’t even turn from his place on the couch.
Brendon comes over whenever you and I are fighting. We play Monopoly in the kitchen until it’s late.
Some afternoons, when the snow isn’t falling, we walk the loop around the park at the middle school. Years before, we did endurance training here. I think back to Mr. Savage as he stood in the trees, blowing his whistle as each wave of kids would line up, take their marks, and then run, and run, and run, until they were little dots turning corners and attempting to bypass one another. The rest of us would hang lopsided off the swings as we tried to make out who was in first, focusing our eyes on the blurs of human flesh.
When the weather is abnormally warm and sticky I step into the cool, air-conditioned gym and stay there until my long hair is frizzy with sweat. I absorb meaningless information about which swimsuit is right for my body type, and why my eye shadow isn’t turning out the way I want it to.
When the treadmill reads sixty minutes complete, I get off, wipe it down with a mixture of what could only be Windex and spit, and run directly into Jimmy Juntunen. We talk meaninglessly for ten minutes, acting like we are old friends and ignoring the truth.
“I thought you were going to go to Mankato—” he starts, and I cut him off.
“Yeah, I had a heart attack instead,” I joke, but he doesn’t get it.
The color drains from his face and sympathy sets in. His shoulders droop and he reaches out a hand as he opens his mouth to say, “I can’t believe you actually had a heart attack.”
At a party I meet Ian. He calls me Sweetheart and always remembers to call. One night, as I lie in bed, staring at the intensely pink color of my bedrooms walls, he tells me he is in charge of body-guarding Rob Schneider, and I lie and say I’m impressed.
I watch as a guy everyone calls Steiny leans closer and closer into the fire before someone turns, notices, and grabs a handful of his shirt, pulling him upright. Beside him, someone else hands me a warm beer with a cheap label, sliding off slantways against the humidity. I open the bottle and take my first big gulp, hiding my disgust as I wonder how someone could drink that god-awful shit.
Through blurry vision, I throw the air-filled ball from between my thumb and forefinger directly into the sink. A smiling face beside me wraps his arm around my waist and looks into my eyes. I can see the words forming in his brain before they reach his tongue.
“Ohkay, whatcha gotta do is just frow it right into that cup dere, ohkay?” he says, and I giggle stupidly.
Later, when standing becomes too hard, I lean backwards against the balcony railing, looking up into the stars. I take small sips from a red cup, wondering what that sweet taste is inside, and when the sky becomes one giant star, I decide to tackle the four steps leading down to the fire.
I stumble once, twice, and then a boy with brown hair and brown eyes cradles me in his arms, leading me in the direction of my destination and making me feel safe.
The new house has three levels and sits on a hill adjacent to the water. My mother lets me claim the bedroom on the first floor, and I vow to paint it blue. Like the water.
Families of three and four and six come and navigate around boxes in our shell of a house. My mother tells them to keep their shoes on, but I know she doesn’t mean it. They pad in and out of the bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen, out on the deck and back in again. Zoey, our black and yellow calico with the one black paw, scurries out from under the marble table in the dining room, her eyes wide, and makes a dash out the sliding glass door, dodging legs of the intruders.
The house is all packed up on a Sunday, but we stay until Monday and eat out three times because the refrigerator has nothing but a container of sour cream and a package of shredded Mexican cheese blend sitting on the lonely shelf. On Monday evening, I go 70 mph on the road behind my house because I still have two whole hours left to learn about black holes, comets and dwarf planets.
Whitney Jackson is a double English major and double minor in electronic writing and psychology. She also works as editor-in-chief for The Northern Student and is an RA on campus. She is glad to be back to BSU this fall to finish her degrees.