That fall we were allowed to bring our own music to art class which was obviously the most spectacular thing that could’ve ever happened to anyone. There was a boy who stenciled “In Bowie We Trust” on a black canvas. It was like turning over a rock and finding feathers, sea glass. That little startling.
One night, the art teacher probably lied to his wife, and took me out to the restaurant under the bridge, the one an hour away. As we waited for a table he put a hand in my hair at the nape of my neck and pulled. The hair was all frizzy and thick from the rain. He said, “God, you got a lot of hair, kid.”
I made a little sister face.
I thought, call me kid again. Try it.
He passed me Mickey’s Widemouths under the lip of the bar and told me about the time he was high at a party. Jesus appeared and warned him to grow up, to stop sleeping around. I asked if he did. He said, “Right after I hooked up with the girl sitting next to me on that couch. Right after that, I did.”
We drove around the West Hills before he took me home—the only place high up in the valley—going forty-five around a never-ending curve. He said, “Marry up. You gotta marry rich.” He also said, “I’m a fantastic drunk driver.”
But let me get something straight. I didn’t do anything with the boy in art class other than complain about the cheap tempera paints and let him hold the door for me when my canvas was wet. And I didn’t do anything with any of the boys that tapped on my window at night and walked with me through the wet grass in canvas sneakers. Didn’t do anything except hop the chain-link fence of my elementary school playground and sit around on the cold metal bars of the jungle gym, watching them smoke.
I skipped lunch in the art classroom. I spent three months painting the inside of a piano. I refused to buy cigarettes for the freshmen on principal. I read Frankenstein in one night and thought maybe I will do something important without any of these people.
Though just the summer before, well, I don’t need to explain what it means to be seventeen.
Madeline Stevens is from Boring, Oregon. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and her work has been published in Blunderbuss and Nailed Magazine. She hosts and curates Brooklyn’s Sundays at Erv’s reading series. Visit madeline-stevens.com or follow her @madeli63.