In the Car, By the Curb

Me and Mel-nee; Mel-nee and me. We’d sit in the car by the curb. The lights of her parent’s house glowed out at us; curious, luminous eyes. We talked endlessly, ate Doritos, Starbars, and drank Diet Coke. With full voice, we roamed creation from the comfort of that plush interior. Sometimes I let the engine idle, but eventually I’d cut it off. We’d slide our shoes off and stretch our bare toes to the dashboard. Freedom of speech would commence. We’d laugh about everything, from our moms to burps. The ritual PTA (pits, tits and ass) shower before a trip to the gynecologist; how totally creepy and adult. The Rahs, the Pot Heads, the Techs, and the director of every musical, Hutz the putz.

We took the long way home. There was no hurry, our parents’ trust was a given. We shared teenage questions; the hunger of nations, and the lopsidedness of it all. How could people be born without lungs, arms or a mind? Milly the no middle Murtle. There were so many ignorant people; stupid bigots. What of our souls? Weren’t we fortunate to have it all figured out. We empathized the pain of others as best we could in my parent’s Toronado with the power windows. Seventeen. Time sat in the back seat and waited. We didn’t want to leave the car or one another – ever.

There was a running joke, how people probably thought we were lez-beens. All the time we parked, watching the neighborhood, voyeurs of the curb. A Rah came home from a date three houses down. We watched them kiss and talked about that. I’d been kissed; not lately though. I could tell only Mel-nee that I kissed my pillow when there was a lull. She kissed her hand, and said it’s more real that way. At home I tried it, and she was right. It’s more real, except you can stop when you want to. Better than real.
I never asked to touch her hair. I was at least that smart. Whitebread kids with dim wits asked. They’d marvel at the softness. Fro looks like Brillo, and feels like velvet cotton. Grin and say, “cool”. God, she was patient. Do you sunburn? She explained it all. Mercy on ice. But the ice melted in the car by the curb and I never asked to touch her hair.
We talked about what they expected. They; everyone but us. Mel-nee was smart; there would probably be a scholarship to the University of Virginia. So, they expected grades from her. They expected her to be brilliant on stage like Solomon, her older brother. He was accepted to Julliard. He was beauty and talent wrapped in thin bronze skin. So much was expected of Solomon. He never made it to Broadway, or off Broadway. He quit Julliard. He works at the 7-11 on Rt. 100. Mel-nee says he loves it. If he doesn’t, then at least he loves the role. Middle America diva, cheerful checkout, no milk expires on his shift. He is brilliant still.

They would expect Mel-nee to be funny and she was. She was funny for those who listened and liked wry cynicism. One clown asked her how she got so cynical at 17.

“Do you think I’m cynical?” she asked me in the car, by the curb.

“No!” I answered quickly, not quite sure what cynical meant. I know now, and yes, she was … we both were. We still are, even more cynical. Still funny if you listen.

Late nights in the car we mulled over the boys at school. They were all toads. All but one, and years later we learned that he was gay – figures. We were picky. We had standards. Jackson Browne; now he was slightly hot. He had a conscience and great hair. If we couldn’t have him for a boyfriend, then we decided in the car by the curb, that we would be his back-up singers. That seemed totally do-able. So, I turned the key and we would play the radio. We’d sing harmony, just for practice. Screw college, we’d just hit the road! We sang loud and together. One night we sang back-up for the Doobie Brothers but it was a short gig, because the battery was low and I didn’t want to get in trouble. Time lay napping.

The giant, luminous eyes would go out eventually. Her parents would not wait up again.

“I’d invite you in,” she’d say, “but it’s filthy. There’s some leftover lasagna though, you want me to bring some out?”

“No.” I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to whisper. I wanted to be saturated with the warm silhouette of her face, in the blush of suburban street lights, yammering on about everything and nothing. Together we hashed out the issues of the day. That damned Farrah Fawcett poster, gas lines, abortion and the clothes her mom would buy her. “Sick! She expects me to wear this?”

Senior year, screw the play. If they keep me as lead dancer again, I’m out. Hutz the putz was pissed, which made it still sweeter.

“We need you,” he begged. Tough shit. Mel-nee agreed; tough shit. I’d only cuss in front of her back then. You wonder what we’re doing in the car by the curb, you freakin’ Rah? We’re cussin’ and singing back up for Jackson Browne. There were no grades, no expectations, and as the tempo accelerated, time yawned and tapped me on the shoulder.

We turned 18, we graduated and left behind the car on the curb. We married, had children and live on opposite coasts. Still, on some cool, clear nights, I’d love to press my thumb into the stainless steel handle of my parent’s Toronado. To climb in and relax in its sofa soft, and cranberry seat. I’d stretch my toes and my mind. Mel-nee would be there to unfold the layers of adult understanding and coax me out of what I have become to a time of plain belief and innocence.


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