Storytime: Riding in Cars with Boys

Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: my delinquent youth and a lesson in love.

I possess a kind of easy charm. I’m only 14 and I know this about myself. Charm has gotten me through the tough spots in my life. It makes people easier to deal with if you’re charming to them because if you give them what they think they want, they don’t demand anything of you. I’m starting to worry that my charm is a game I’m playing with other people, a game I’m playing with myself, but I console myself that it is just another means to an end. It’s a way to keep myself safe from letting other people in. It’s a way to keep calm and agreeable. Charm at this age though is turning in to flirting which seems much more decisive, crueler and sharper somehow. I tell myself it’s just a new tool I have. A tool that matches hand and hand with my new secret: I want to be loved.

I suppose everyone wants to be loved but at 14 I have decided that I want to be loved in a specific way. I want to be loved the way I charm and flirt. I want to loved without being touched or looked at. I want to be loved as an idea instead of as a person because a person is complicated and an idea can’t be hurt. I know that type of love isn’t really love. In fact, that sort of love isn’t love at all, but I want it anyway. I want to be loved unconditionally because I find myself a jumble of conditions. I want to be a real person but instead I know that I am just a trap set to go off when loved incorrectly.

So I suppose that’s how I seem to always end up in these situations. In a car, at 2am, endlessly traveling along side the ocean with a man 10 years my senior who doesn’t love me. Who I don’t love either.

It’s fine by me that I’m not the one he loves. It’s preferable even. I know I am able to love others because it’s happened a few times by mistake but so far, no one has bothered to try loving me. I don’t worry about it. I push it down as easily as I push the car seat back. I stare out the passenger side window, catching glimpse of the handful of bright stars as we coast silently side by side in the dark.

These nighttime cruises have been going on for a while but I don’t know what to make of them. This man is too old to be interested in anything I have to say. And yet for some reason he comes and picks me up in the dark whenever he’s free. Sometimes this involves sneaking me out of the house, but more often then not it’s just knocking on the door when my mother isn’t there. There is nothing really new about leaving my house at night. I have been an insomniac my entire life and like my sister, I find it difficult to stay put, especially when told. Unlike my sister I’m not violent and I’m uninterested in the usual teen vices: no heavy drinking, no drugs, and no sex. For me it’s much more banal, I merely want to escape. I want to be someone else, somewhere else, doing something else with my life. I don’t want to be fun, I want to be gone.

We drive aimlessly most of the time. We go to a lot of all hours diners in a lot of far away towns. We sit in the booths, under the glare of neon lights and mirrors, starring at strangers who stare back at us. Maybe they wonder where their lives went wrong or maybe they wonder how my life is going so wrong so quickly. Their eyes seem to want to warn me about something dangerous but I am safer here under the lights with a stranger then I am alone. When I’m with someone else, I can so easily play pretend. I can order a hot drink, kick my feet under the table, talk philosophy, and laugh charmingly like nothing is wrong. I can even flirt with the idea that everything is okay.

Sometimes my friend comes along with us. Sometimes they make out in the front seat while I stare at the sky and wonder what use being loved is if someone can see all the jagged edges of you. I feel like if you’re not perfect (and nobody is perfect) you’re just inflicting your pain on some unsuspecting sucker. I figure it’s much better to be unloved and alone. Maybe it’s even better to be fake, to be a charmer, a charlatan, and a flirt. If you can at least give the illusion that you are worth being loved, maybe the person loving you will be happier. Maybe you’ll be happier.

Most of the time though, him and I, we’re alone together. We sit in parking lots with the seats down, laughing at nothing. We stare at the ocean during storms from the safety of a metal beast. One time we get pulled over by a cop and he pretends I am his sister. I cry on command and the cop tells us to have a good night. We don’t speak for a long time after that because it feels like we got caught.

Another time he drives through an abandoned airfield and stops the car in the middle of a long concrete strip. Even in the dark I can tell that the field around us is overgrown with tall, looping weeds. I suddenly feel it in my skin and I get out of the car, run 40 feet, drop to my knees and scream at the top of my lungs for 10 minutes straight. When he asks me what I did that for, I tell him I don’t know. But I think he knows.

For a while I think he might love me. I grow restless with the idea of it. I hate him a little. I tell him not to come around anymore but after a week I give in. Wanting the freedom and the pretense too much. That’s how I find myself starring at the waves, next to him but not touching him. Listening to the sound of my heart breaking against the rocks.

He tries to hold my hand sometimes or touch my shoulder or hug me. I rebuff all of these. I tell him it’s because of our age difference but I’m lying. The truth is I don’t want anyone to touch me. I want to be loved, but not like this. I want to be idolized and worshiped. I want to bless someone by being alive and force them to never gaze upon me. I want my name to be a holy spell from their lips that reaches my ears but doesn’t seer itself on my skin. I get angry at him when he doesn’t understand that but I’ve never bothered to explain either. After so many hours sitting next to me, I feel like somehow he should know how I feel. If love is a real thing, I reason, he should just understand.

Eventually he comes right out and tells me he doesn’t love me. It’s halting and shy, like it’s a revelation he’s having just then. Like the words are simply falling out of the side of his mouth. A digressive bomb he is dropping in my lap.

I smile against the dark because there is a kind of victory in this defeat.

We’re laying side by side, seats reclined in the parking lot a shopping mall. The lights overhead are blinding. I can’t see anything beyond the windshield, just the florescent glow making the car seem suddenly claustrophobic. I feel the itch run up my spine and I worry I might run out of the car and scream again. Instead, he grabs for my hand but I pull away just in time.

He drops another bomb on me.

You are not now, but someday will be, the brightest star in someones sky.

Why he says this to me is unclear, even now. I’m not sure if he is trying to comfort, absolve, or hurt me. The words grow more biting with the silence of each passing second. He adjusts himself in his seat, turning away from me, and in that moment I realize despite my cool charm he’s become everything I have ever wanted.

He doesn’t love me but he loves the idea of what I could be.

I thought I wanted this. I wanted it to feel good, to make me feel strong and powerful but instead it feels like ash in my mouth. It feels like a poison inserted directly into my skin. I want to scream and thrash at him. I want to shove each of the individual words and syllables back inside of his throat because I don’t want to be understood like this.

I don’t know what love is but it’s not this. This man is just a torture of my own design. A trap built for a trap. Lies exchanged for lies. Charm for charm.

So we drive through the dark, alone, together.

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