Why I Stayed – Part 18

As I sat on Trevor’s swing and waited for him to come home, I got really cold and I felt like I was going through Walkman withdrawals. Music was such an important component in my life that I hardly went a moment without a song to accompany it. Music was a passion I shared with my cousin Nessa, who lived in Seattle and had an amazingly cool job at a radio station. The station specialized in rock and alternative music and when a new song or a new group came up on Nessa’s radar, she would pass it along to me. It started as cassette tapes that she bootlegged off of promotional copies that arrived at the radio station on a daily basis. Eventually she started sending me CDs and I had to save up to buy a boom box with a CD player. But I could not give up on my Walkman.

The Walkman was a present from my Grandpa Bill when I was seven years old. He was my mom’s father and I loved when he would come to visit. He would sleep on my bed and I would put a sleeping bag on my floor. We would go to my room after dinner and talk about books and music. He would tell me stories about growing up on a farm in the Midwest and serving in the army in World War II. He would tell me stories about my mom when she was little and how much I looked like her when she was my age. I had a really old tape deck stereo in my room and sometimes I would play tapes that Nessa sent. Sometimes he would bob his head with the music and sometimes he would make a face and I would change the tape. I told him one night how great it would be to listen to this music while I rode my bike or while I walked to school. The next evening after dinner he said he had a present for me. My birthday wasn’t for another month so I was surprised and curious.

I ate my dinner as fast as I could and Grandpa Bill left half of his meal on his plate so he could meet me in the living room to open my gift. It was wrapped in the comics page from the Sunday paper. I tore through the newsprint and at first I didn’t know what I saw. I recognized the brand Sony but I didn’t recognize the device right away.

“It’s a thingamajig so you can listen to your tapes anywhere you want,” grandpa said.

My eyes widened as I realized what I had in the box in front of me. I hastily cleared away the rest of the funny pages and pried open the box. Grandpa handed me a four-pack of AA batteries. I unpacked the portable cassette player and carefully put the batteries in the compartment. I unpacked the headphones and carefully placed them on my head. The orange foam of the ear pieces were soft. I unraveled the cord and plugged the headphones into the jack. I looked at my grandpa and saw my happiness reflected in his eyes.

“Go get a tape, let’s try it out,” my mom said.

I jumped out of my chair and ran up the steps to my room. I rummaged through my tapes, looking for the perfect album to break in my new toy. I wanted to find one that my grandpa had enjoyed in case he wanted to try the headphones on. As I was digging through my tapes, I could hear my parents talking with my grandpa. I didn’t think much of it until I heard my father’s voice take the tone and volume he used when trying to win an argument. I grabbed my copy of Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” and popped the cassette into the player. I donned the headphones, left my room, and started walking down the stairs. I did not hit play but instead waited until I was downstairs.

The adults didn’t notice me come down the steps. I stood on the landing and listened to them talk as if I wasn’t there.

“I just think it’s too expensive,” my dad said. “She’s just a kid. She’ll break or lose the thing in a week.”

“Honey, you know how much she loves music,” said my mother. “And you know how much she loves her grandpa, you can’t really ask her to give it back.”

“It doesn’t matter,” my grandpa spoke up. “I’m not taking it back. Did you see her face when she realized what it was?”

“She was pretty excited,” my mother said hopefully.

My father took a drink of beer and shook his head. “If you won’t take it back, let me keep it in the closet until she’s old enough to be responsible for something so expensive.”

My grandfather stood up and pointed his finger at my dad. “You pretend like you’re acting in her best interests. I think you’re jealous. You’ve never made that little girl as happy as she was about that tape deck and you know you never will.”

My father but his beer down on the end table and stood up. His shoulders, which normally slouched forward, were pulled back and his fists were clenched tight.

“I will not be spoken to like child in my own house, Bill.”

“Then quit acting like a child!”

“Please, both of you settle down. She’s gong to hear you,” my mother pleaded.

I pressed the play button on my Walkman. The brand new, never used mechanism made a sharp click. The sound fractured the silence and all three adults looked over to where I stood on the landing. All three were shocked to see me standing there.

“Thank you grandpa, I love it,” I said. I turned around and walked back upstairs and into my room.

From the day my grandfather gave me that Walkman, I rarely let it out of my sight. I didn’t want to give my dad an opportunity to take it away. Even worse, I didn’t want to prove my dad right by losing it or breaking it. Over the years, I have bought hundreds of batteries and more than a few replacement foam pieces for the headphones. When I started getting CDs from my cousin and bought the CD boom box for my room, I made sure to get one that would allow me to copy CDs to tape so I could still take the music she sent with me.

I wore my headphones to pass time. I wore headphones to block out annoying sounds or even more annoying silence. But sometimes I would put my headphones on and neglect to push play like that night in my parent’s living room. People would talk around someone wearing headphones as if they weren’t in the room. It was almost as good as when I was smaller and invisible to most of the adults around me.

I heard the familiar sound of Trevor’s car and soon saw headlights reflecting off of the trees near our street. A giant station wagon turned in to our cul-de-sac and slowed to pull in to the driveway of the house next door. The driver killed the engine and switched off the headlights. I could see Trevor’s shadowy figure moving around as he collected his stuff to carry into the house. The driver’s side door opened and the dome light illuminated my best friend in a yellow light. Trevor stood up out of the car and carefully shut he door so it was sure to be locked. Our neighborhood was generally safe but some of the bored kids in our area weren’t above climbing into unlocked cars to look for smokes and loose change.

When he turned and walked towards his house he saw me on the swing and smiled.

“Hey Nic,” Trevor said.

“Hey,” I replied.

Trevor walked up the step to his port and up to the swing. He turned around and plopped down onto the bench seat next to me. He smelled like He had just taken a shower and I could feel the heat and humidity coming off of his skin on my cheek.

“You look cold, have you been waiting for a while?”

“I guess,” I answered.

“I see, he said and nodded his head.

We sat for a while, neither of us sure what to say next. The car, which I named “Woody,” ticked and pinged as the hot parts cooled to the temperature of the chilly evening.

“So,” Trevor started. “Did you get a ride home from Dave?”

I rolled my eyes.

“I waited at the flag pole for like fifteen minutes. I was just about to give up and walk when I heard his brother’s tank barreling down the street.”

David Morneau’s big brother owned a Ford Bronco that looked like it had rolled over a couple times and put back together with duct tape, which it probably had.

“Oh man, I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” I said and punched him on the shoulder. “I had to ride the whole way home with my head out the window to avoid the pot smoke and the shitty music.”

“What was it this time, Dr. Dre?”

“No, he’s had that Sublime tape I gave him on constant repeat for months now. I can’t tell you how much I regret giving him that fucking tape.”

Trevor laughed. He always laughed when I cussed. He told me he thought it was cute. I thought he laughed out of irony, like he had some sexist idea that girls weren’t supposed to talk like that. Whatever it was, I used whatever words I deemed appropriate and I almost never said bad words just to make him laugh.

“Seriously,” I continued. “That album was pretty good, I’ll give him that. But move on, for crying out loud.”

“You could give him a copy of the new album.”

“The new album sucks. I’d rather listen to 40oz to Freedom over and over again than hear ‘What I got.’”

“I kind of like the new one.”

“That’s because you’re not very smart,” I said with a sympathetic look on my face. “It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”

Trevor tipped his head back and laughed. The swing lurched in response to his movement. He put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. His body radiated warmth. I let him pull me against his body and tipped my head so it laid against his chest.

“You’re freezing,” he said.

“I’m warmer now, thank you.”

The swing creaked as we rocked slowly back and forth. I felt secure and warm for the first time all evening. Trevor never failed to make me feel that way. We had been friends for so many years that I took for granted his company and his conversation but lately I felt something more developing between us. When I would sit on the swing, he would often do what he just did. His arm would encircle my shoulders, he would pull me up against him, and I would lay my head on his chest and listen to his heart beat.

There were no words in those moments. A cocoon of heat and comfort would envelop me and I couldn’t think of a reason to speak. To be completely honest, I was afraid to speak. I was scared that whatever I said would ruin the softness and warmth. I was afraid to say anything that might cause Trevor to move his arm. I would sit there with my head on his chest and I would hope that nothing would interrupt us. I would close my eyes and wish that I could stay there forever. I knew this was impossible.

As a last resort I would take a deep breath and make a wish. I would wish that if the world was going to end, that it would end right now. I was complacent with the idea of being vaporized in the white flash of nuclear Armageddon as long as my life ended like this. If my existence and that of the entire planet disappeared in the blink of an eye, there would be no better way to go than with Trevor’s arm around me.

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