au: teenage

Nighthawk

I was fifteen when I realised that my imagination was the strongest force I would ever feel.

My mum knew too and she knew I was up to something. I scrambled around pulling on jumpers I owned and then threw them repetitively back onto the floor of my bedroom with an audible angst. I hadn’t eaten any dinner. I had pulled straighteners through my thick curls over and over and filled the room with plumes of smoke as they singed through my tangled hair.

“Sophie has fallen out with her mum again and wants me to meet her in the field behind her house.”

“It is cold, why don’t you just invite her here and we can all talk it through?”

“She’s been crying, she is too embarrassed”

My mum smiled and I blushed.

“I am pleased you girls look out for each other”.

She knew I was telling a lie, she had witnessed the tell tale signs, my wavering shoe gaze and freshly made up face at 22.00 on a school night but having once been a teenage girl herself she kindly ignored my lie and told me to “be careful”, her own sort of blessing.

It was cold. This far into the countryside the stars shone like they were at a party in sequined dresses. The lack of pollution prohibited any heat from the day from lingering and I shivered feeling a direct closeness to the universe. I was fifteen and at the center of it.

I had asked him to meet me four doors down from my house, which I told him was “the one with the most flowers”. I spun a few more lies for fun; I told him I was with friends behind the wooden stile drinking wine. I wanted him to think he flowed into my sociable evening, not that I had been cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom for the last hour reading Anais Nin thinking of this moment. The night was so full and heavy, I smiled knowing I had yesterday eaten all my carrots in preparation but I knew the trees and the brambles like I knew the crack in my bedroom ceiling and so could enjoy the woozy mixture of bravery and fear, which I guess they call rebellion.

I stood in the alleyway in silence and I waited.

After five minutes some headlights slowed and my phone vibrated. There he was in a car on the other side of the road- my future. I climbed over the stile with my hood up; the single strand of hair fell down on purpose. His tall frame was hunched over in the old mini cooper; I couldn’t see his face, just his luminous BFG silhouette in the single street lamp. I tried to open the door but couldn’t seem to get the latch right. He lent over and opened it for me.

“Hi”

“Hey”

I shrank into my hood and turned my gaze to my 15-dernier tights, which I picked at with devout concentration. He didn’t say anything but he didn’t need to, there was music on and we started to drive out of my village towards the town. He’d said he needed to fill up his car so I guessed that was where we were headed. I was so full of awe. I stared at his curled hands on the wheel of a vehicle that could move foreword at a rate of 30 mph or more, a whole vessel rattling along with us enclosed. Driving was the best way to get to know someone, both concealed in the foreword gaze, gaining distance if nothing else. I turned my face to study his, lucky that his eyes must stay fixed on the road giving me a moment to study the corners of his jaw, where the headlights hit his nose, the shaking human hairs that covered it like lit up grass and in its shadow, caved his eyes into darkness. I was trying to take a picture in my mind of the beginning of the rest of my life. I guessed he was thinking of something wild and serene like a renaissance painting or a Keats poem. He looked kind and nervous. In short I was in love.

I had imagined all these scenarios about what might happen if we were to meet. Words would tumble out of our mouths and erupt into bursts of laughter, we’d drive, taking it in turns with no regard for the law to a coastal town where we would crack open a pink lobster on a sun warmed step, the sea water licking our toes. I would write letters to my friends back at school, who would writhe around in jealousy while we discussed real questions that exceeded my age group, good and evil, the teachings of Freud… I had taken everything I wanted out of life and encased it all in his image, the ones I had clicked repetitively over on Facebook. I decided that I would fill him with ideas and polish all of his lacking thoughts so that he could be perfect, and I could be his. Young girls in love were selfless.

We were still driving in silence; I was feeling calmer now and in tune with my thoughts. I took down my hood and hummed along to ‘when the sun hits’. Why wasn’t he saying anything? I wanted to surprise him with my adaptability, my ability to compliment and to laugh. The car pulled up at the petrol station and he swung his long limbs out to pour petrol into the car. I felt it flowing into the engine and giving me courage. The petrol station shone in artificial light like the bar in Nighthawks. I thought, “I will tell this to him and he will be impressed”. I got out of the car and propped my arms onto the roof with my hair falling down my back, I was shaking like a cat in fur. He looked at me and walked in the opposite direction.  I would have done anything for him.

When he came back to the car I compared our scene with the painting. He said he hadn’t seen it and that he thought art was ‘pretentious’. I pondered the word, which I have never liked. Then he smiled with his teeth, put his hand on my head and said:

“You shouldn’t attempt to understand things that aren’t useful’

I smiled back and the corners curled down. If I were a painting I would be wielding a weapon. As we started to drive again I felt a strange new feeling cloud my previous awe it was like disappointment with a backbone. Had I made him up inside my head? I wanted to watch his face say something that would inspire me in the same way the idea of him had so unfairly moved me. I stared at him, like I might look at the taxidermy dodo in Tring museum whose feathers were rotting and frowned. The lights in the road rolled away under us, cat eyes winking with a knowing nod. We were getting closer to my house, my favorite trees a canopy of lit up leaves and I was almost grateful. The music started to interest me, it’s floating shoe gaze words cut through the scene.  A wash of carefully selected notes played on instruments somebody looked at and loved. I came back to myself. We pulled up onto the curb. He looked over with questioning eyes and was different. I smiled and got out. The night seemed warmer now, my vision focused and my head clear and full of wonder.

Through the window in the kitchen I could see my mum, reading in the corner with her glasses on and wild hair tumbling around her face and felt all that awe settle on her in her simple solitude. I went to read with her and felt my heart get stronger.