The cracked yolk of the sun has broken over the red brick path in the center of town, and it still remains early enough to be quaint. Most everyone is still sleeping, and the only ones out are the coffee-and-walk senior citizens, a few one-night stands gone wrong, the sullen employees hosing down the bar patios, and the stray bleary-eyed student accompanied by visiting parents. Jackie leans against a light post outside of a Wendy’s, burrowing her hands under her armpits as she peers down the street with puckered lips and a squint. A slight ring of black eyeliner encircle bright blue eyes that look out of place on her dark complexion, which is splashed with a few patches of imperceptible freckles and framed by the two jagged slits of dark brown hair that swoop down from the sides of her bangs. Poking out from behind them is a pair of elf-like ears studded with modest diamonds. She’s barefoot, holding a pair of heels, and wearing a hooded Michigan sweatshirt over a sleek black dress that clings halfway down her thighs. In the morning light her preparation for the previous evening looks somewhat pitiable.
“Thanks for coming,” she says, wiggling her pink toes as she glances down at them. I shake a cigarette from my pack and hand it to her before she can ask.
“How was last night?”
“Terrible” she mumbles, her lips clamped as she lights it. Jackie has been smoking for three years, but still handles a cigarette like a naïve middle-schooler. “I got raped.” Her bangs flutter upwards as she exhales. “Well, practically.” She says it as if getting raped were something akin to losing your friends at the bar or running up too high a tab.
“What does ‘practically’ mean?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She slides her arms around my pathetically slender hips and places her chin on my shoulder. “Can we just not talk about it?”
On Saturday morning the sidewalks around the houses off-campus are usually strewn with broken bottles and vomit, so I carry her on my back for the last two blocks back to her place, no small task given that I only outweigh her by about fifteen pounds. ‘Faster!’ she cackles, digging her knees into my ribs and tightening her grip on my neck. This is as affectionate as she’s ever been in public with me. Normally she won’t even hold my hand unless she’s drunk or her friends aren’t around.
I met Jackie during our sophomore year on a night she had walked into a bar to find a girl with a tattoo on the small of her back licking her then-boyfriend’s ear near the pool tables. She led her friend out the door by the hand and marched to a party she knew of across campus. She fucked two people there, in the same bathroom, two hours apart. I was the latter, and the fifth person she’d ever been with. I’d imagine she’s approaching the twenties now.
Somehow, I always seem to end up with her, or girls like her. There’s a myriad of reasons as to how this can happen: too many drinks, a lack of new music, the thrill of slumming, the notion of possibly being a muse of some sort, the stimulating conversation, the possession of drugs, pity in a few cases; sometimes I serve as nothing more than a break from the norm. We all stray from types every now and again.
I’m brooding and I’m heartfelt and I’m capable of giving the idea that actual caring exists beyond a mutual appreciation of beauty (not normally found amongst a crowd of suitors that sings “Born in the U.S.A.” with a patriotic sentiment). And she’s right to think that I care. And because I care, I’m not usually a part of all of what are considered the more glamorous aspects.
The Saturday nights of balancing on heels in slit dresses, flashing hollow laughs and smiles; none of that is reserved for me. I get the Thursday evenings in bars, the quiet evenings in, the hooded sweatshirts and jeans. I don’t normally get to animalistic groping in the bar bathroom by way of fifteen minutes of light conversation, I don’t get to drunkenly toss her over my shoulder like a dominated Neanderthal as everyone laughs, and someone makes a crack about sex. Instead I get to clean up the mess. I get solemn shifts to the bedroom signaled by way of hour-long, occasionally tear-filled conversation. And maybe she is spoiled and selfish and petty. But then again, if we were to fly over a gold miner from Uzbekistan and let him observe your life for a day, what do you suspect he would conclude?
“Do you have any pot?” she asks as her heels hit the concrete of her front porch with a thud. My back crackles like bubble wrap as I let her go.
“Back at my place.”
“I can borrow Anna’s car.”
Jackie wants to get high with me as often as she wants to sleep with me, which is about once every other half moon. The posing of the question is more of a direct statement that she’s ready, as she assumes that I am willing at any time (she is correct). She dashes in to change and grab the keys and twenty minutes later we’re cruising the narrow strip of road wedged between inert cornfields in an immaculate silver Honda that still smells like a new car, despite the fact that it has thirty-six thousand miles on it.
A gaudy sparkling disco ball hangs from the rearview mirror, along with a beaded necklace and a tassel from her friend Anna’s high school graduation. The backseat is littered with a pile of sweatshirts, some clothing catalogs, and a pair of cork platform shoes. There are three CD’s in the center console – Garth Brooks, Christina Aguilera and a mix titled ‘Slutty Songs’, but Jackie had asked me to grab 10,000 Maniacs from my room. Her mother used to listen to Natalie Merchant while she made dinner.
She wants to hear the one with the one with the ‘who-who-who’s’, and as she bobs her head along to it while taking a pull from the joint I smile at the fact that she’s singing along to Natalie’s warning against the spoiling of children.
“Play the one with the banjo next” she says, coughing as she hands the joint over to me.
“A lot of them have banjo in it.”
“The one about the boy named Jack.”
“That’s about Jack Kerouac.”
She just smiles and sings along with the ‘who-who-who’s’, pouting her lips and floating her hand out the window. I want to be her, the sun shining on my highlights, riding around with someone who adored me, singing along to breezy music with flamboyance a few hours after I’ve been (practically) raped.