Back when I had a blog I took it very seriously. I found it immensely satisfying to write an entire thing and publish it instantly.
Theater and TV are not like that. In theatre you labor over a thing for months, maybe years, and sometimes no one sees it. In TV the thing continues forever into the future (or at least that’s the desired effect), even after it’s been cancelled. In both cases you get haunted; either by what never was, or by what wasn’t enough.
But blog stories are gumdrops. Chomp, swallow, sigh. Gone. And another pops up right when you crave it.
That’s how I felt at the time, anyway. I forgot to write plays for a bit. I wanted gumdrops. Sourballs. M&Ms. Anything that dissolved too fast to get sticky.
This particular blog story is a kit-kat. You can break off pieces and eat ’em one at a time.
DOLING THIS OUT IN PARTS WAS A SHITTY IDEA. HERE’S THE ENTIRE VERSION.
(Originally published on February 5th, 2005 at 11pm.)
When I was eleven years old, my parents decided to take us on the only family vacation we would ever have, to Downingtown PA. They got two rooms at a motel for a week, one for the three kids and one for just them. I have no real memory of why they decided this would be a swell place to take the family. I remember them asking us to run off and amuse ourselves in the attached recreation center, or in the lobby, or with our new Colorform set, while they stayed in their room. I remember we never left the motel the entire week. It was raining.
I remember being profoundly bored. I would go to the rec center and see how many weird ways I could run on the treadmill. The Commodore’s “Night Shift” was playing on repeat the entire time, and no one was ever there. I would go there by myself most times, leaving my brother and sister behind in the room to watch TV.
On my third day there, I was surprised to find a girl standing by the Pepsi machine outside the rec center, drinking from a can. She was skinny, face full of tan freckles, reddish-brown hair that came down to her shoulders, and a green terry tank top. She looked me up and down. “My parents stopped here for the night because of the rain,” she said. She asked how old I was. “Eleven.” She told me she was fourteen. She asked if there was anything fun to do around there. I told her about the rec center. She wasn’t impressed.
“Do you smoke?” she asked.
I was many years from smoking, constantly living in the shadow of my parent’s disapproval. But I was desperate for her favor. So I told her yes indeed, I smoked. At eleven years old.
“Can you get us some?” she asked.
My parents were furiously dedicated smokers, buying cartons of Vantage 100’s and lighting up first thing in the morning before their bowls of Special K. I ran up to their room and knocked on their door, waited a moment, then walked in. They were each lying side by side beneath their covers, looking sheepish. I said I needed toothpaste, walked into their bathroom, retrieved two cigarettes from the pack they kept in their toiletry bag, and exited.
My new friend seemed pleased. “Marlboros?” she asked. I nodded, wondering if she could actually tell the difference. She pulled out a disposable lighter. The color matched her shirt.
It was her idea to sneak into the maintenance closet, since there were “no smoking” signs in the lobby and she didn’t want to stand outside in the rain. The closet door wasn’t locked. We slipped inside. I remember metal shelves, a bucket, a mop, an industrial vacuum, and no place to sit.
We lit our cigarettes.
She laughed at me as she watched me inhale. I knew I wasn’t doing it right, but I couldn’t bring myself to imitate my parents. They held their cigarettes high up in their knuckles and gestured casually with their hands, never ashing accidentally. They sucked slowly and deeply. They talked with it in their lungs, breathing it out slowly as though they were underlining their words in thin gray sheets.
I balanced my cigarette low at my finger tips, and when I raised it to my lips I took shallow puffs and held the smoke in my cheeks for only a few seconds. Like a douchebag. She, however, smoked like a real smoker, with pleasure, releasing silvery streams from her nostrils. This would have turned my stomach if my parents had done it, but from her it was the picture of sophistication.
We must have been talking, but I can’t recall any topics. I do remember shit-talking my family, my friends, my school, hoping this was how one established coolness with an older girl. At any rate, she didn’t leave. She listened. She smoked.
We finished our cigarettes, me stubbing mine out half-way through, she smoking hers right down to the cotton. She dropped it on the floor of the closet and pressed the tip of her plastic sandal down on it. Then she flicked the lights out and I felt a hand on my breast, or what was struggling to become a breast.
I was so shocked I couldn’t do anything, not move, not breathe. I remember feeling embarrassed that I had not yet begun wearing a bra.
She kissed me, and I tasted the ashtray of her mouth along with some candy-like residue, possibly the sugar from her Pepsi. Then she flicked the lights back on. She was laughing. I thought I must have looked terrified, and was certain I had kissed her wrong and blown my coolness cover.
Then she said, “Thanks for the smoke.” And she left.
I didn’t follow her. I stood in the closet by myself for maybe ten minutes. Then I picked up her cigarette butt and exited, throwing the butts out in the garbage outside. I walked to the rec center and sat on a broken treadmill and listened to The Commodores over and over and over, my chest burning, my mouth tasting like cinders.
She must have told me her name, but it is lost. All the smaller details I’ve retained unmarred for twenty years like a bug in amber, but this one item is completely wiped out. Perhaps on my deathbed a synapse will misfire and I’ll wheeze out her name. If you happen to be there, please write it down for me so you can tell me about it in the afterlife.