It was another sweltering summer night in our godforsaken little town, the odor of cow dung and hay heavy in the air. My maroon Ford Escort was sitting in a dimly lit corner of the McDonald’s parking lot, a bunch of misfits standing around it, trying to figure out what trouble to get into. You and I were lying in the trunk next to a pile of scratched and scuffed skateboards. I turned towards you and smiled. You smiled back. You were always smiling, something I liked about you. We leaned into each other, our lips meeting for a brief moment. There was no tongue involved and you didn’t grope me, just gently placed your hand on my hip. We didn’t feel any way about each other, didn’t need to. We were just high on youth and rebellion. You were probably high on something else, too.
There was no exchange of awkward words after the kiss. You just gave me that sweet, childish smile of yours before everyone yanked us out of the trunk so we could move on to a party spot hidden in the dark outskirts of town, where only the stars could watch us consume all the beer we could get our misbehaving hands on.
That same summer, you walked to my house in the middle of the night. B and I were sitting on his skateboard, our sweaty backs against the stucco exterior wall of my garage. We quietly talked about everything and nothing, the crickets chirping along with us. Then you appeared out of the darkness, rounding the corner of the deserted street, your eyelids drooping, a crooked smile on your face.
“Dude, where’d you come from? How did you even get here?” B asked.
“I don’t know,” you said.
The three of us laughed our asses off, high on something or another, the moment perfect in its imperfect splendor. We talked for a while, the words spilling out of our young, urgent mouths. It was about 1:00 in the morning when we all walked down the quiet street and I watched you both continue across the empty dirt lot towards town; B, tall and thin, his shoulders slightly hunched, and you short, your head lowered. I stood there for a while as you became shadows in the distance, then I walked back to my house, picturing you wandering around town, concentrating on the ground in front of you because you were so faded.
Three summers after that night outside my garage, my sister called me at work to tell me the news. I walked out the sliding doors and sat down on a cold concrete bench in front of the store. The sun was too bright, the sound of passing conversations and laughter too loud. I thought about the shy kiss we shared in the trunk of my car. I thought about you wandering the streets in the middle of the night, not knowing how you ended up at my house. I thought about that mischievous, little boy smile that never seemed to leave your face. Then I cried, people staring at me as the tears and snot fell faster than I could mop them with the sleeve of my dress shirt.
I went back home for the funeral. Afterwards, a bunch of us got together for a house party. We drank and smoked as we shared the details of our post-high school lives. Later in the evening, a few of us gathered and shared memories of you, desperately trying to navigate our collective grief. At one point, B became overwhelmed.
“Fuck, I can’t do this,” he said as he stormed out of the room.
I was sitting on a medical bed that had been stuffed into the room, probably after it’s occupant had passed. S was sitting next to me, our hands touching. When everyone else walked out, he and I turned towards each other and kissed. We made out for a while, our hands all over each other in the darkness, both of us wanting to feel the heat of life, to escape the icy grip of sorrow.
As night turned into early morning, we all kind of fell apart, drinking until we could no longer stand. I stumbled around a few bodies on the floor towards an open spot on one of the sofas. I fell onto the soft cushions and closed my swollen, red eyes. I thought of your smiling face before slipping into the oblivion of sleep.
I think back to that hot summer night in the McDonald’s parking lot; you and I lying in my skateboard filled trunk. If only I’d taken your face in my hands, looked you in the eyes, and told you it would all be ok. But at the time, I was still trying to convince myself of that. I didn’t know about the fear and pain that was slowly poisoning you. You hid it so well, your smile like a star in our lonely desert sky.