Here is what I am doing this summer:
2) Riding around in the backs of pickup trucks.
There’s not much else to do on this island.
Tonight me and Kate think we are the drunkest we’ve ever been. We are outside the bowling alley and looking up at the sky at this one star, which is chasing us all over the place and about to fall on Kate’s head. LOOK OUT, I scream and Kate covers her face and falls all over me, knocking me down, and we both lie in the wet grass and laugh like witches.
Hey what are you doing all the way over there, Riley yells, come back over here. So me and Kate fall to our feet and trip over there where everyone else—Sadie, Adam, Benjamin, Max, and Riley—is sitting outside this little house, I don’t know whose, across from the bowling alley, drinking the beer that Adam bought because he is twenty-eight. Sadie is getting really close to him, giving him a back massage. I look over at her to see if she is having fun because she found out a few weeks ago that her father has cancer and will probably die soon. Her little sisters are living on the mainland with her mother who is working an extra job there for the summer. And her older sister Melody who is only seventeen is pregnant and living with the man who raped her two years before, only here they don’t call it rape. Don’t judge her, Sadie always says, they’re in love and besides, every girl on the island does the same things that Melody does, except Melody is the only one who gets caught.
You have to be careful what you say around Sadie because even though she hates living on this island, she gets very offended whenever anyone says anything bad about it. Like if I was the one who said that about every girl on the island doing those things, she might never speak to me again. We are practically sisters though, at least we have been every summer since we were eight and nine, when Sadie’s family moved out of the house next to ours and Sadie basically moved in with me and my mother.
They’re summer people, Sadie always explains about us, carefully pronouncing the R at the end of summer, and it’s true: we’re not really summer jerks or as islanders say summah jerks, because my family has been coming here since before most islanders were born, and our house is just a small old one walking distance from town, not one of those ones down a private road that leads to the ocean, and we don’t have boats or parties or really much of a social life, my mom just likes to come here and read and go on walks and pick blueberries and I don’t do anything unless it’s with Sadie. Still, it’s like she’s saying mentally handicapped instead of retarded.
Kate lately has been saying retarded all over the place—like that’s so retarded, or whoops! I’m retarded—and when my mom tries to get her to stop, she rolls her eyes as if we didn’t both attend the same hippie private school our whole lives until we graduated eighth grade last year and Kate went on to public school as if it were her own superior idea, as if it wasn’t just because she’d been rejected by all the private high schools she applied to. It was lucky though because at public school she learned how to drink and smoke and wear eyeliner, so I learned those things from her, and Sadie apparently was busy learning them here at the same time, so that this summer minus the eyeliner we can finally all do them together, which is such a relief and exciting, like finding out we all speak the same language.
It’s a relief especially because the last time Kate was here, three years ago, it was a problem because she and Sadie did not get along. Specifically, Sadie thought Kate was a snob, by which I think she meant show-off, because Kate rode a boys’ bike and taught us how to play Red Rose, the game of pinching each others’ forearms until they were covered in bruises, and in Truth or Dare her dares were always things like: run down to the end of the driveway naked and stand there until at least one car drives by, which she couldn’t understand why Sadie refused to do, especially since Sadie, unlike Kate, was still totally flat-chested. But the truth is that Sadie probably wouldn’t have liked any of my friends when we were that age, because I was still pretty much her only friend then, and in the summer, unless someone was visiting, she was mine.
Now that Sadie has her own life on the island, though, she and Kate seem to have reached some new understanding. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s like they have something in common, something that I might not have in common with either of them. For example: this morning we were riding our bikes to the quarry and right near the swamp that used to be the town ball field there was this green snake in the middle of the road. It was pretty big compared to most wild snakes I’ve seen, and instead of slithering head first the way most snakes do, it was working its way peacefully across the road sideways, like a big S rewriting and rewriting itself, so that it seemed like by the time it got to where it was going it wouldn’t even be the same snake, but a new, refreshed version. Usually I’m afraid of snakes, and I won’t even look at the ones my mom finds under the rotting boards in the yard, but for some reason I liked this one. The way it moved was so cool and strange.
Hey, I screamed to Sadie and Kate, who had both biked on ahead without noticing. HEY! DID YOU SEE THIS SNAKE?! And then, just as they stopped and put their feet on the ground and turned their heads, a car drove by right over the snake and cut it in half, and all of the different snakes it seemed to have been while it was alive disappeared back inside that one cut-in-half body, and suddenly instead of watching a snake doing its weird sideways thing, I was staring at its guts or whatever snakes have oozing out onto the pavement and feeling like I might throw up.
Don’t just stand there looking at it, Sadie yelled back at me. Jesus fucking Christ! Get out of the road! Sadie has been saying Jesus fucking Christ a lot this summer, but she used to say Jeezum, a word I have never heard used anywhere except here.
And I knew, because I know Sadie, that what she meant was don’t just stand there looking like you have nothing better to do than notice a stupid snake that got cut in half, like you’ve never seen a snake before, and like no one has anything more important to do than swerve out of the way to avoid hitting you. Looking, in other words, like a summer jerk, the kind who thinks it’s okay to bike on the wrong side of the road, who thinks she can just walk down the middle of Main Street barefoot, who expects restaurants to serve breakfast until noon on weekdays, who pronounces frappe fra-PAY and laughs and asks what the difference is between it and a milkshake.
Kate didn’t say anything but I could tell by the way she turned and put her foot back on the pedal that she was on Sadie’s side, not for the same reasons as Sadie, exactly, which she couldn’t have understood, but for some reason of her own which amounted to the same thing.
A woman in a pink shirt leans out the window of the bowling alley. If you’re drinking alcohol, shame on you!, she shouts. And if you’re underage you’re going to have to take that beer somewhere else. I can’t have you kids drinking on my property.
Can’t have you kids drinking on my property, Max repeats, except he’s not actually saying the words, just echoing the rhythm of the sentence in high-pitched woman noises.
Well, we can’t be here anymore so we all get into pickup trucks. Adam and Benjamin have them. I like pickup trucks because you can sit in the back. I am the only one who thinks to do this, everyone else scrambles into the front and flips around with the radio.
Yessss! I love this song, I hear Kate say, because she is like that, even though it’s a country station and she hates country music and I’m pretty sure she has never heard whatever song this is before in her life. She’s just saying it to impress Benjamin, Max, and/or Riley—I can hear them all talking through the little sliding window in the back of the extended cab. Adam’s truck does not have an extended cab, which is why nobody is in it with him except for Sadie.
Let’s go, I say. So then we are streaming through the night and the air is cold hitting my face and my hair is flying around crazily. I look up at the stars and I can’t even see the one that was following Kate earlier, and I want to tell her but she is sitting in front and can’t hear me, I’ve been screaming this whole time and no one can hear me OH MY GOD SLOW DOWN I’M GOING TO DIE SLOW DOWN SLOW DOWN! I think of this accident that happened a few weeks ago and of the boy in a coma in the hospital on the mainland and how something like that happens here at least once a year, and I know Benjamin is drunk and shouldn’t be driving but at the same time I think this is the most fun I’ve ever had. I think it in exactly those words, a complete, self-contained sentence, which layers itself on top of itself in my head until I stop screaming and Benjamin finally slows down because apparently we are in town, or the village as summer jerks call it, or downstreet as islanders do, all meaning Main Street, which if I had thought about it is probably where I would have guessed we were going.
I can tell you everything on Main Street with my eyes closed, not just everything that’s here now but also everything that used to be here. There’s the tiny post office where Sadie’s mom used to work, with the eagles carved out of granite from the quarries in front. There’s the hardware store where two old men used to sit on stools by the door and smoke pipes and hand out brown paper bags to any kid who came in, and each bag had an orange inside and some perfectly stale ginger snaps, and the smell and texture of the orange peel and ginger snaps and paper bag all mixed together in this way where it was like those three things were meant to be together, always. There’s the IGA which is the island’s one supermarket, and next to that, the gift shop that used to be Gibson’s, which was sort of a general store that used to sell penny candy, with all the jars lined up on shelves that were built into the walls. There’s the bank and the store that rents videos and sells T-shirts, and the new fancy restaurant that I have never been to, and the art gallery, and two real estate offices, and the Pizza Cove where we sometimes go to play pool.
The Pinching Claw, at the end of the street, is one thing that hasn’t changed yet, where me and Sadie used to get ice cream sundaes literally every day after swimming from Melody’s old friend Christine, who works there, who we all used to play with when we were little, but who has a baby now and is so fat that you can hardly tell her apart from her mother, who also works at the Pinching Claw. We stopped going there last year not because the new place that opened down by the ferry terminal was better, but because we felt awkward ordering from Christine, whose fatness not only made it hard to recognize her sometimes but also seemed to make it hard for her to recognize us, and she glared out at us through the takeout window in a dull, impersonal way, which we thought was the same way she glared at all the customers but then sometimes we were afraid it was a special glare, just for us.
Anyway, all that is lined up on one side of the street, and on the other side is the parking lot, which is probably the most beautiful parking lot in the world, or maybe the only parking lot that could ever be called beautiful. There are benches facing the harbor and you can sit on them and eat takeout from the Pinching Claw if you want to, and throw french fries to the seagulls and watch the ferries come in and out.
It’s one of those places where me and Sadie used to go but where my mother would tell us to stay away from after dark, because even she knew that, like the playground and the frog pond, it would be taken over by smoking, drinking, swearing teenagers, except now we are those teenagers and we’ve taken over not only the parking lot but also the upstairs room with the pine cone wallpaper in my mother’s house, and the front yard where we have pitched a tent which is where we prefer to sleep so that we can smoke and make noise and come and go as we please.
My mother knows we went bowling tonight but she has no idea where we are now or who we are hanging out with—she doesn’t even know who these people are. She’s probably asleep by now anyway but if she’s not and she asks us tomorrow what we did we can always tell her we ran into Matt, this boy from Boston we met at the quarry last summer who my mother likes and whose mother she knows. We can tell her we went night swimming, which is something we’ve done before with Matt. My mother used to take me and Sadie night swimming once or twice every year—she would park on the road side of the main quarry and stand shivering on the rocks with a flashlight, watching us take turns diving off the low ledge.
When we went with Matt, though, we decided to go to the other quarry, the one invisible from the road, where some granola-y summer jerks swim naked during the day and island boys sneak around in the bushes and spy on them. We’d never been there before, and we thought night would be a good time to see what it was like without having to look at a bunch of naked people or be naked ourselves. It was obviously much better than the regular quarry. You couldn’t see or hear any cars, for one thing, and the whole thing was completely surrounded by trees. The water was so still and black you could not tell it apart from the sky, and there was a high, flat rock jutting out into the middle of it which me and Sadie climbed up onto in the moonlight to undress, and when we climbed back down to dip our feet in the water Matt had already made the mistake of taking off all his clothes, and I saw his dick for a second before he noticed that we were not about to take off our bras and underwear and then he quickly pulled his shorts back up as if nothing had happened.
Benjamin turns off the radio and stops the truck just in time for me to hear Riley yell: You faggot! I’m going to beat your ass! He is just joking around with Max but still, I’m shocked to hear him talk this way because the last time I saw him he was wearing a T-shirt with my favorite band’s name on it which made me think that he was different from the other island boys, sort of an outsider, more sensitive and aware of what was going on, and I thought maybe he dreamed of getting out of here and doing something, like maybe being some kind of artist or musician, and I imagined that it was similar to the way I feel about my high school, how different and superior I feel to everyone there, all the preppy girls who listen to the same shitty music and dress the same, and how I know there is something much better in store for me. And all of this sort of made me like Riley before, I mean sort of have a crush on him, even though his hair is long and greasy and he has terrible skin, but it occurs to me now that I know nothing about him, or any of these people besides Kate and Sadie, and this scares me and makes me feel suddenly homesick, not for my mom or our house the way it is now but for how it used to be here, the things me and Sadie and Melody used to do, like play poker with penny candy on the braided rug in the living room, and how the hairs from that rug would stick to the Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish, and the rug itself became sticky and dandruffed with sour sugar until finally my mom rolled it up and took it to the dump. It’s stupid because those things don’t even exist anymore but I still feel like I’m betraying them somehow, like the fact that they don’t exist anymore is my fault.
I jump down from the back of the truck and everyone else climbs out of the front and we all stand around under the giant seagull statue holding brown paper bags crumpled around cans of beer. What are we doing? I ask, because we all know it’s only a matter of time before the cop shows up and we have to go somewhere else. Kate starts telling me how Riley told her about a party he knows of at someone’s house not too far from here, and that lots of people there are going to be rolling, and if we get there soon enough we can probably roll too.
Rolling? I repeat.
She looks at me like I’m mentally handicapped. You know, like, taking ecstasy?
I know what rolling means, I say. I just think it’s stupid to call it that.
Why? Riley asks, but Kate doesn’t ask why. That’s because she knows what I’m talking about, how she once told me all the words people at her new school have for smoking pot, like puff and blaze, and we agreed that we would rather never smoke again than talk that way. We never specifically discussed the term rolling since neither of us have ever done ecstasy before, but obviously it’s the same sort of thing.
Never mind, I tell Riley.
It’s not really a party, he says, just some people hanging out. Not the kind of party you girls are probably used to, anyway. But they said they have some extra pills if you want to buy some.
I look at Kate like: What kind of party does he think we’re used to? But she looks so excited, it’s like she’s been waiting her whole life for this opportunity. So I go over to consult with Sadie about it, who is still sitting with Adam in his truck. I can see their faces turned towards each other in the dark, Sadie’s long hair hiding her expression like a curtain and the smoke from her cigarette drifting out the window.
I’m sorry about your dad, I hear Adam say when I get closer, and that’s when I remember that there is stuff going on in Sadie’s life that none of us have been talking about, stuff that has nothing to do with me or Kate or the fact that it is summer but that Sadie has obviously been thinking about this whole time. I hear her say awkwardly: Thank you, just as she sees me come up to the window and then I pretend that I didn’t hear anything they just said and I start telling her about the party Riley told us about and how people are going to do ecstasy at it.
That sounds fun, Sadie says. You and Kate should go.
I give her this look, like: Really?
What, Sadie says.
I think maybe it’s the ecstasy she’s not excited about, and since I’m not even sure I want to do it myself, I say: Well, what are you guys going to do, then? Do you want to go swimming?
We’re just going to stay here a while, Adam says. It’s the first time he’s said anything to me directly, and for the first time I really get a good look at him: shaggy dirty blond hair, small blue eyes, flannel shirt. I still don’t see what makes Sadie think he’s so cute, or how it’s even possible for someone that old to be cute.
You guys should go, she says again, this time like she’s actually trying to convince me. I’ll meet up with you later. Okay?
So now we’re standing in the kitchen with a bunch of people we don’t know, eating orange popcorn and gummy worms out of giant bags while we wait for the ecstasy to kick in.
Where the hell is Sadie, anyway? someone asks, a big guy with a red face and his pants still tucked into rubber boots from the haul.
Her and Adam are having sex, I say without really thinking about it.
Holy shit, they are? says a blond girl with glasses and a tattoo of a butterfly on her shoulder. She also has a black eye, but no one else seems to notice this and she is acting so normal I wonder if I could be hallucinating.
No, I say, I just made that up. But… it is a possibility.
Hmmmmmm, we all say and widen our eyes at each other, and I like this new way of talking I seem to have developed, this way of just saying whatever comes into my head. I see my reflection in the dark window over the sink and its beauty is almost obscene.
But oh my god I am so cold. My teeth are chattering.
My heart is beating really fast, I say. Is that normal? Does anyone else feel like their heart is beating really, really, really fast?
She’s rolling, the same guy with the lobster boots says, and it occurs to me that if I am rolling, there is nothing I can do about it, nothing that can make me stop rolling or roll back the other way, and that even if something is wrong and my heart is not supposed to be beating like this, there is nothing I can do now to make it stop beating like this because whatever it is has happened, it’s happening, and you can’t make things unhappen.
She’s freaking out, the guy says. He looks like he might be starting to freak out, himself. I clench my teeth hard to make them stop chattering.
No she’s not, says the girl with the black eye, she’s fine. Come with me, she says, and I follow her down a hallway and through a door into the bathroom, where it is blindingly bright and there is a mirror so shiny it makes me nervous, like at any second our wild faces could leap out and kiss us.
Close your eyes, the girl says, and give me your hand.
Our hands and arms are two icicles that melt as soon as they slide into each other and combine to form one slithery half-liquid creature that seems to have a whole life and feelings of its own.
Oh my god, I say, what are you doing, what is that?
She laughs and I open my eyes and see that she is holding a small pale green bottle of lotion in her other hand and that it is the kind that smells like cucumbers, and then I notice for the first time that our hands smell like cucumbers and I laugh too.
Are you okay now? She says.
I nod, and it’s true: I am okay, I feel great.
We go into the living room and I sit down next to Riley on the couch, I mean loveseat. Apparently I’ve forgiven him for the language he used in the parking lot. Are you rolling? I ask him.
Riley nods like a maniac and falls into my shoulder. But I thought you hated that word, he says into my ear. It sounds like I love you, the way he says it, and I’m kind of flattered but at the same time I feel like things are maybe moving too fast, and by things I don’t just mean whatever with Riley but things in general, everything.
I do hate it, I say. I just said it because I’m rolling.
On the other side of the coffee table, Kate laughs very loudly. I almost forgot she was here, but now I’m so glad to see her that I get up and move over to her side of the coffee table and sit on the couch next to her and lie down and put my head in her lap.
Kate thinks I’m funny, I announce. Kate, do you think I’m funny?
Sometimes, Kate says, looking down at me, yes.
Kate is looking very queenly and indulgent tonight, like a beautiful mother who thinks her daughter is even more beautiful than she is. I want to tell her this but I know it doesn’t make sense so instead I start telling her how happy I am that she is here, that we are both here, and how lucky we are, and how lucky it is that she and Sadie are friends this summer instead of hating each other, because I want them to like each other, because they are my two best friends and my two favorite people, and I’m so glad we’ve finally all reached this point together where it’s like we all speak the same language and it’s not just because I’m on ecstasy that I’m saying this, it’s really true, I’ve always thought it, I mean I thought it a long time ago before we took the ecstasy and nothing is going to change after it wears off.
Kate is smiling at me.
You’re talking really fast, she says.
Meanwhile, Riley’s eyes are practically bugging out of his head and he’s drumming a beat on his leg with his fingers like he’s been waiting and waiting for me to finish talking so that he can say what he wants to say, which is: Let’s dance.
No, say me and Kate.
Don’t you want to dance? He says.
No, we say louder.
Come on, he says, I have so much energy, and leaps up from the loveseat and starts blasting this terrible goth music or whatever and jumping and spinning around the room tossing his hair like a crazy person. Now I’m back to not liking him. I can’t make up my mind.
Let’s get out of here, yells Kate. She grabs my hand and pulls me up off the couch and we run outside into the backyard where it is quiet, and then we go around the other side of the house to the road and we walk slowly along it, still holding hands in the dark, until we come to a hill and I realize that it’s the hill that leads up to the playground so we go up there and sit in the swings. Kate picks a normal swing, low to the ground, but I choose the one that is shaped like a horse, where you sit in the saddle and pump by pressing your feet against a metal bar in the front. This horse swing is smudgy white with a blue mane in the daylight and I’m familiar with the way it is broken, like the horse is crippled and leaning onto one of its sides, and each time I pump my feet against the bar it makes a long, shrill, whining noise that you can hear from my house, which you would also be able to see from up here if it were light out.
We should have a house here, Kate says. After college. You, me, and Sadie. We could just live like this for the rest of our lives.
You mean, like, on ecstasy?
Noooo. Just you know, like this. And we could grow blueberries in the backyard and sell them at the farmers’ market.
And blackberries, I say.
Yeah. And raspberries.
We could grow every kind of berry.
But what would we do in the winter?
In the winter we could make pies.
We’re holding hands again while we swing and we twist our fingers into a tight knot that feels like a promise, and we agree to tell Sadie about our plan when we get back to the tent. Then after a while we stop swinging and lie down in the grass, and Kate puts her head on my stomach and I play with her hair while she softly pinches my arm, over and over, and at first we keep talking about what our house will be like and how great it will be to do whatever we want in it, but then after that we’re just lying there, and that is fun too. We stay like that for what might be hours.
Then something happens. It’s like a change in the light, although the actual light hasn’t changed yet. I don’t know how else to describe it but it’s like instead of being up there on this thing where everything is beautiful and amazing and great, you’re down here again and that feeling is washing over you in waves—or else the opposite feeling, which is like a terrible sadness, is washing over you in waves, it’s hard to tell which one is washing over which. But waves, literally, you can feel them in your chest, you can practically see them rolling up in front of you, cold and salty and gray like you are at the beach, the beach here which is not flat and bright with sand like other beaches, but sharp and craggy with gray rocks covered in barnacles that cut your feet and fog so thick sometimes you can barely see the ocean, only hear it. Which is not to say the beach here isn’t beautiful because it is. It’s maybe even more beautiful, it’s just a different kind of beach.
Do you remember that snake? I say suddenly.
What snake? Kate says.
It got hit by a car.
The sideways one, I add, and she nods like she knows what I mean. I’m not actually sure why I just thought of that snake, and there’s nothing I want to say about it in particular, so we just sit there for a little while longer in silence. I feel like I’m swimming, like a combination of being weightless and trying hard to keep my head above the surface.
Are you sad? Kate says finally, like she is reading my mind.
Kind of, I say. No. I just feel kind of weird.
Yeah, me too, she says. Let’s go back.
When we get back to the house where everyone was before, there are just a few people left smoking quietly on the porch. The girl with the black eye is there and it obviously really is a black eye. Riley is there too, and another guy and girl I don’t recognize. The guy mutters: What’s up. Everyone else just nods when they see us.
Sadie was here looking for you, Riley says. We told her you went home.
The sun is finally starting to come up now, but the fog is out too so it’s not like we can see the whole sunrise. The light, though, while we are walking back to our tent is pale and bright and more beautiful than any light I’ve ever seen. I can’t stop staring at it, as if the light itself is something special and specific to stare at, and not just something that is everywhere shining on other things.
So what happened? Me and Kate look at Sadie expectantly. She settles into her sleeping bag and fusses with the pillow. What happened?
What do you think happened?
Everyone thought you and Adam were fucking, Kate says. We laugh a little.
Right, Sadie says and closes her eyes. There is silence for a moment as we try to decide if she is telling the truth.
We digest this quietly. That’s weird, I say finally. Was it… fun?
Yeah, Sadie says, oh my god I am so tired.
I’m pretty sure I won’t sleep for the rest of my life, and I think of all the things I should ask Sadie, like did it hurt and is she going to see Adam again? But I can tell that Sadie is removed from us now, defensively wrapped in her sleeping bag. Me and Kate will go back to the city and our separate schools, and next year instead of coming here for the whole summer I’ll go to Spain with my dad and Sadie’s dad will be dead, and this night is something we will never speak of again.
What I finally ask is: Did you do it in the truck?
No, says Sadie, we went into a house. I can’t talk anymore, she says, I really need to get some sleep. And she closes her eyes and lies very still in her sleeping bag, but she’s still awake. I can tell by her face.