[The Space You Take] Chapt. 1: Something Always Breaking Us In Two, Prelude
This is a true story based on actual events. It reflects my recollection of experiences during a particular time in my life, based on memories, personal journal entries, and saved letters/emails. Some names and characteristics have been changed, some events have been compressed, and some dialogue has been recreated in order to protect the privacy of others. With very few notable exceptions, all music listed are specific songs I listened to at each particular time..
In the words of Tobias Wolf, “…this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story.”
The sky looked like dread.
Sliding my hands over the studded arch of the tan leather steering wheel, I stared out at the sky from under heavy lids and tried to shove that thought from my mind. I used to love coming up with descriptions like that - hey, look how clever I am, did you know I secretly wanna to be a writer? - but now, thoughts like that were needling, annoying…like being reminded of a bill you had to pay, or an apology you still needed to make.
So I resented the thought.
Almost, but not as much, as I resented that sky.
It reminded me of a late spring day back in junior year of high school, when I sat slumped down in my brand-new seat, staring out the brand-new window of the brand-new Social Studies classroom in the brand-new high school building of Red Wing High. There was nothing particularly profound about that day, but I could still remember, with perfect clarity, every small thought that passed through my mind as I stared out that window. The sky was the color of dirty snow, like the kind splayed along the snowmobile trails on the outskirts of town. Glancing at one of the boys who was sitting in the row closest to the window, his hockey hair curling against the edge of his long-sleeved t’shirt, I thought about snowmobiling and hockey Away games on Saturdays, then of stripped corn fields dusted with snow; dairy farms and country songs; and boys in hooded sweatshirts that always smelled of fresh dryer sheets.
And then I thought of my Twin Cities friends, all of whom I had met at this thing called St. Paul T.E.C. (Teens Encounter Christ) that took place every fall and spring: the effortlessly cool and polished Katie Malone and Sarah Bigger, whose comfortable and assured futures shined on them like the sparkly pink Clinique blush they wore on their cheeks; Bree and Justin Yaeger, cousins of Winona Ryder, who lived in a huge house off of Grand Avenue in St. Paul where a whole secret fourth floor had been fashioned as a hang-out just for them and their friends; Phillip Schaffner, the kind and quiet skater boy from Minnehaha Prep with whom I exchanged almost weekly letters with; sweet, funny Tom Hooven, who I had liked more than a friend but also felt like I was maybe a little too loud and brazen for him; and Andrew Sterk. Always Andrew Sterk.
We had met at spring T.E.C just a couple of weeks before, and he was the most impossibly magnetic boy I had ever met; the kind you didn’t even need to go to school with to know he was popular. And he liked me. He liked me. I had never really felt all that pretty - if the boys at my own school weren’t teasing or mocking me, they were ignoring me - but with Andrew, I felt different. Like I glowed. I didn’t feel awkward or stupid around him, or like I was staring into the nexus of the sun (do you ever notice that it’s like that, with really hot guys? Like you can’t look them in the eye too long, or you’ll go blind). I felt smart and funny and interesting with him, and like I could actually talk to him, about anything. The night T.E.C. had ended, we had called each other the minute we had each arrived home…him first, being that his house in Forest Lake was closer, and then me calling him back when I got to home to Red Wing, both of us eager to keep the heady feeling of connection that T.E.C. had fostered.
For days after T.E.C., I cried and cried, my mom using the old Slumber Party threat of not letting me go “to any more of these things if all they do is make you this upset afterwards!” I didn’t know how to explain to her that coming home from T.E.C. was like having been on the other side of The Looking Glass…I had met all of these fantastically amazing and intriguing people who saw me for the person I had always wanted to be, and I had all of these incredible experiences that opened my eyes to the fact that the kind of intense, mesmerizing life I had always dreamed about actually existed. That I could have something sweeping and glamorous and intense and meaningful…I just had to figure out how to get back to there. But instead, here I was, rudely thrown back into my regular, ordinary life in my bullshit small town filled with a bunch of jerk classmates with whom I had nothing in common.
So I clung to T.E.C., and I clung to the idea of Andrew Sterk, this person who made me feel like I could do anything, like anything I wanted I was absolutely going to have. And the more I clung to those things, the more it made my regular surroundings feel totally and completely foreign to me. I wasn’t going to have a small life. I was going to go out and get the biggest one I could possibly find.
And right then, sitting slumped down in that seat in that classroom, staring out the window, I felt like it was already mine, that I was destined to it…that I had it all ahead of me, this great big life in amazing places. I just had to wait a little longer until I could get out of there, out of high school, to get to it.
So then what the fuck are you doing here, I found myself thinking now, as I pulled myself out of the memory and let my eyes glide up and down the dreary grey dome that hung over the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Bruce, Wisconsin. I could still remember the first time it had hit me: I was walking out of the local grocery store, swinging a plastic bag full of sandwich makings, and as I made my way to my car, the revelation slammed into me with the force of a mack truck.
I live here.
Oh my god.
I live here.
It was as if everything - deciding to move to Bruce, renting the upstairs apartment of the local fire chiefs’ place, moving my small load of belongings in - had been done in a daze, and someone had just splashed a cold bucket of water in my face. Wait, I live here? This is my apartment? This is the place I now belong to, that I have to call home?
At first it seemed like a comedy of errors, a hilarious mistake…haha, who would have ever thought I’d end up in this kind of town, huh?! And on a good day, I could convince myself to see the rural beauty of it, to think of all the good things one could love about this place, about this sky: Rural roads and gas station cappuccinos; long drives under full moons and lacy, grey clouds that scudded across the night sky, the windows down and the spring breeze thick with wet mud and growing grass. The sun hot on the top of my head as I walked along the verdant swamp teeming with life, crickets singing all around as a blue heron glided back up into the sky. The cold sky sparkling with stars in the winter; trudging out into the snow with a travel mug of hot chocolate to stare up at the northern lights that danced in the Blue Hills. Rainy days that made the surrounding farmland so achingly green that I could pretend, just for those days, that I was in some charming little hamlet in Ireland.
Pretend. My eyes flicked back up and I stared sullenly at the horizon as my thoughts caught on that word, on the dim memory of a fight. Pretend. “You always want to pretend you’re somewhere else when you’re here.”
Not for the first time, the sky reminded me of a bubble, a trap, an impenetrable prison that I could never leave. The thought made my breath catch, my heart beat harder. You have to leave, you have to get out of here…because if you don’t, everything good about you is going to wither and die.
There was movement outside my passenger window. Looking over toward the front of the gas station, I watched a tall, blond, handsome man walk out of the heavy glass doors and make his way toward my car.
He smiled at me.
I forced myself to smile back.
If you enjoyed this work:
1. Please share it with your friends!
2. Sign up for this slick new thing called “electronic mail”:
3. Check out my other literary work here.
Your friend, Amber