Why I Stayed – Part 22

I stood in front of the closet in my bedroom. It was covered by two sliding door panels. When you opened one, it would either hide behind or pass in front of the other panel. One panel to my closet was always open. The hanger rod on this side of my closet held my many t-shirts and hoodies, a few pull-over sweaters, and a warm Army-surplus coat. The floor was covered with a few pairs of boots, all in black, and a couple pairs of Chuck Taylor rip-offs from the cheap shoe store in the mall in Coeur d’Alene. On the shelf above the hanger rod was a stack of old toys and the blanket I used to sleep with when I was a baby.

The other side of my closet was almost never opened. The only time this side of my closet saw the light was after Christmas or my birthday. On those occasions I would unavoidably get clothes from my mom and from her mother before she died. They always bought me “nice” clothes. To them, they were clothes that would look pretty on me. To me, it was clothes that would make me look like every other girl in my school. Every item was much too colorful, too tacky, or too trendy for me. Whenever I would unwrap one of mom or grandma’s presents, I would smile and say thank you. Later, I would take the clothes to my room, hang them carefully on a hanger, and put them into the side of my closet that I never opened.

I took a deep breath and started to slide the door panels to the left. The colors of the shirts hanging neatly on the right side of my closet all reminded me of the clothes I saw at the party earlier tonight.

As Trevor and I left our neighborhood, I sat and steamed in the passenger seat of his car. I was so angry at my father for leaving my mother alone that I couldn’t even talk to Trevor, who had tried to start up a conversation with me a couple times. As we made our way through the Fur Trap, it occurred to me that I had left my mother too. I had left to go drinking with my friend. The realization came to me as we passed The Old Mill, which was one of the places my dad would often go to drink beer and hustle tourists on the pool tables. I turned my head to look into the big windows that faced the street but I did not see my father. My anger turned to sadness and guilt.

Trevor saw my attitude change and he apologized for not being able to give me a ride after school. I told him not to worry about it and then I told him about my mom. I told him about her arm. I told him that I thought my father did it. Trevor didn’t really know what to say, but he asked if my dad had ever hurt me and it made me feel good to think he was concerned about my well being.

He turned on to the road that led up the side of “snob hill” and the engine revved with the effort of the climb. The higher we climbed, the houses got bigger and farther apart. When we reached the top of the hill, Trevor turned into a cul-de-sac that was packed with cars. There was only one house on the right side of the street and every window was glowing with bright light. I could see people walking up the street toward the party. The house on the left looked dark. Many of the people that lived here only occupied their houses in the summer so it was very possible the neighbors weren’t even home.

We drove all the way to the end of the street before we found a spot large enough for Trevor to park the station wagon. I grabbed the bottle of schnapps from the glove box, stuck it in the pocket in the front of my hoodie, and got out of the car.

I stood next to the station wagon and listened to the engine adjust to the cool night air. The pings and ticks of the cooling metal blended with the music and laughter that drifted from across the street. I had never been in a house that big and I marveled at the size of it. I knew from school gossip that Jerrad was an only child. That meant Jerrad, his mom, and his father were the only occupants of the house that was easily five times the size of my home. My parents’ house was a veritable hovel in comparison. I was struck with a sudden urge to get back into the car and go back to our neighborhood.

“This place is huge,” I said. “Are you sure you want to go in?”

Trevor was already halfway across the street. He turned, smiled at me, and said something back. I couldn’t actually make out his reply. My heartbeat had increased in volume and I could barely hear his voice over the thrum of the blood moving through my circulatory system. I didn’t need to hear Trevor’s words. I read the smile on his face and the look of excitement in his eyes.

For me, this party was an obligation. For Trevor, it was vindication. He was finally in the “cool guy” club and he could not wait to join the party. I jogged across the street to meet him on the curb and we both walked across the lawn towards the front step.

We passed a group of kids smoking weed and I couldn’t help but wonder if the dope they were smoking was bought from Tim Morneau, David’s brother. One boy took a huge hit and I watched his eyes bug out as he tried to hold it in for effect. The pipe was passed and the next kid held it to his lips and struck a Bic lighter. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those kids. They were desperately trying to be cool but they were more likely to share a respiratory infection.

We made it to the front step and Trevor exchanged hand shakes and palm slaps with a couple other jocks. I made a remark about how latently homosexual that stuff was. Per usual, it completely went over Trevor’s head.

As we walked up to the front door, I could feel the music in my chest. The music was accompanied by a constant chatter of teenage voices. I was reminded of the cafeteria at school. There was a collection of adolescent male voices boasting and fronting the manhood they desired to project. There was a chorus of piping female voices trying to be heard above the din, tempered with the attempt at sounding like they couldn’t care less. When Trevor and I entered the front door, we were slammed in the face with the sight, sound, and smell of a hundred teenagers trying desperately to fit in and stand out at the same time.

I looked at Trevor and I saw his face change from excited to nervous. I’m not sure what he expected to see when he walked into this place but I think his senses were bombarded with a sudden deluge of dancing, music, and perfume. I saw his eyes scan the room and I noticed they landed on the sliding glass door that led from the dining room out onto an expansive patio.

Trevor took my hand and began to lead me through the crowd of children and over to the freedom of the open door. As we passed the crush of bodies, I started to recognize classmates. It was difficult to reconcile the faces I saw to the people with whom I went to school. The women I saw dancing to the beat of the music were older. They wore makeup and revealing clothing that would never pass the dress code of Kiln Valley High School. The men wore the hard expressions of someone that had worked all day and had come to drink and compete with other men for the attention of a woman. It was like I had accidentally stepped through a time portal and arrived at my twenty-year high school reunion.

The tragedy was that these kids were not twenty years past their prime. They were in their prime. They were living the times of their lives and all they wanted was to look older. To be older. I smiled to myself at the idea that in twenty years, all of these people would be trying to look younger and would be wishing they had more thoroughly enjoyed the years of high school before being tossed onto the slag heap of adulthood.

We arrived at the back porch and the cool air was welcome relief to the press of humanity behind us. I had just started to relax when I realized the host of the party was right before us.

Jerrad Griffith leaned against the railing of his porch. His arm was around a girl I should know from school. Her face was unrecognizable beneath the makeup and the bored expression she wore. Jerrad was talking to an older man. I eventually recognized the older man as his father, Jonathan Griffith.

Jonathan Griffith was the richest man in town. He came to Kiln Valley at a time when the mine’s profitability was starting to falter and real estate values were low. He started an investment firm that bought up property around the town, including the mountain above the mine. When the mining business started to falter, Mr. Griffith was there to buy up the mine’s property for a song. The mountain above town was now the Silver Ridge ski resort and the property that Jonathan bought for cheap was developed into condos, restaurants, and shops that catered to the people that came to Kiln Valley to ski and snowboard.

The older man greeted Trevor and the men talked about football. I didn’t really hear a word of it. I gave Jonathan Griffith my best uncertain look and pulled the bottle of schnapps out of my hoodie pocket. I took the plastic wrapper off the neck and handed it to Trevor.

Mr. Griffith seemed to become uncomfortable all of a sudden and excused himself.

I opened the cap, took a swig, and turned my uneasy eye on the younger Mr. Griffith. Jerrad Griffith was wearing a tight t-shirt that showed off the musculature of his shoulders. His hair was dyed blond and spiked in a Californian surfer style. He on had a stylishly-loose pair of jeans that probably cost more then my family spent on groceries last week.

“Damn, homegirl,” said Jerrad. “I didn’t know you liked to party.”

I inwardly rolled my eyes. The bored girl encircled by Jerrad’s right arm outwardly rolled her eyes.

Jerrad introduced his girlfriend to Trevor. I was relieved when Trevor neglected to introduce me.

The bored girl said something about dancing and dragged Jerrad away to the crowded house. Trevor and I watched them make their way to the dance floor. We were having another conversation about the latent homosexuality inherit in football when I noticed that Trevor was still watching the other couple dance.

“Ugh, they might as well be fucking in front of everyone,” I said.

“They’re just dancing,” said Trevor.

“You call that dancing? You want to dance with me like that?”

Trevor opened his mouth to reply but stopped himself. He looked at me and I saw a confused expression momentarily flicker across his face.

“I don’t really like to dance,” he said.

“Huh,” I said and took the schnapps bottle from him.

I took another drink and then handled the bottle back to him.

“I have to pee,” I said.

I turned and walked across the porch. I entered the kitchen, gave a disdainful look at the dance floor, and turned right in search of a bathroom. The truth was, I didn’t really have to use the toilet. I had taken a few drinks of the schnapps in a short time and my head was swimming with the effect of the alcohol and the anxiety of being around so many people. I was also a little bothered by the look in Trevor’s eyes when he watched Jerrad dancing with that girl.

I have not worn anything as revealing as that girl’s shorts since that day in my parent’s front yard when Trevor and I were running through the sprinklers. I felt betrayed by Trevor’s interest in that girl’s butt, which was barely covered in her cutoff jean shorts.

I found a bathroom but there was a line of people outside. Since I didn’t really have to go, I just walked past and found myself in a hallway with doors on either side. These were probably bedrooms, although one was likely to be a linen closet. I found myself at the end of the hallway. I was shielded from the onslaught of the sound system and there weren’t any people here so I leaned against the door at the end of the hallway for a few minutes. After I collected myself, I decided to return to Trevor and hoped that he was still on the porch where it was cool and less densely-populated.

I wandered back through the kitchen and out onto the porch. Trevor was still there. He was holding out a match to light a cigarette for Jerrad’s girlfriend. She reached up and took his hand in hers to bring the match to the tip of her cigarette. They looked into each other’s eyes while she puffed the cigarette to life. When she leaned back, I swore I saw a look of yearning in Trevor’s eyes. He enjoyed her touch. He enjoyed her closeness. I was disgusted.

I walked up quietly in my imitation Converse and reached into Trevor’s coat pocket to find the pack of Marlboro Reds. I tore open the pack and handed the plastic wrap to Trevor. I snatched the matches out of his hand. I tried to light one of the matches but it died immediately after the white fuel on the tip burned off and I didn’t have time to get the flame to my cigarette.

Jerrad Griffith walked up to us and put a cold beer on the back of his girlfriend’s arm.

“Looks like we’re out of Diet Coke,” he said and smiled.

I tried to light another match, but this one wouldn’t even sputter to life. I angrily tossed the useless match over the balcony railing and got a third match ready. It sputtered to life and I managed to singe the end of my cigarette with it but I was unable to actually get it lighted.

“Here,” Jerrad said.

He reached into his pocket and produced a shiny Zippo lighter. He opened it and lit it with a flourish. I leaned in to put the tip of my cigarette to the flame and puffed until I felt the hot smoke erupt from the filter and into my mouth.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime,” said Jerrad.

I can’t say for certain, but I think he winked at me. If he didn’t wink at me, he looked like he wanted to. His smile was wide and his blue eyes looked into me in a way that made me feel simultaneously nervous and excited. Jerrad put the lighter back into his pocket and I saw that his girlfriend’s face had changed from bored to spiteful. I glanced at Trevor’s face. He looked sad or concerned. I grabbed the bottle from him and tipped it up as if I was taking a large swig. In reality I took only a little sip. This evening was proving to be more dangerous than I had assumed it would be and I needed a clear head.

Trevor and Jerrad talked about football. The bored, sneering girl and I looked everywhere but at each other. After the football conversation had exhausted itself, Jerrad excused himself for the the bathroom. I felt a wave of relief when I hear Trevor say we were about to leave.

“So soon,” Jerrad protested.

“Sorry man,” said Trevor. “I have to help my mom around the house tomorrow.”

“I hear you,” said Jerrad but I doubted he ever had to help his parents around the house.

Trevor and I left the party. We drove down from snob hill in silence and listened to the air rushing past Trevor’s open driver side window. When we pulled up into his drive way, he cranked up the window and sighed.

“Well, that was fun,” I said.

Trevor looked at me and smiled.

“Seriously?”

“Well, I didn’t have to deal with any cheerleaders.”

“Um,” Trevor said. “Jerrad’s girlfriend is a cheerleader.”

“Of course she is,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” I said.

I opened the passenger door and stood up into the cool night. Trevor got out of the car and carefully shut his door so it wouldn’t wake his mother. I followed suit and shut my door quietly. I walked around the hood of the car and approached Trevor.

“Did you want to sit on the swing for a while,” I asked.

“I wasn’t lying when I told Jerrad I had to work tomorrow. Mom wants all the leaves raked up before dad gets home.”

“I see,” I said.

We stood there in an awkward silence for a few minutes. Trevor looked at me like he wanted to ask me something but he never did.

“Alright,” I said. “Have a good night.”

I hurried away from Trevor and jogged to my front door. I opened it and walked into my house to find it dark and quiet. I shut the door and walked quietly up the stairs to my room. When I opened the door to my room, I walked up to my closet and kicked off my sneakers. I took off my hoodie and hung it on an empty hanger. I pulled off my jeans and stood in front of my closet in just my t-shirt.

I looked at the door panels that hid the other half of my closet. I lifted my right hand, pushed both panels open, and looked at the colorful clothes hanging inside.

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