I am in a drainage ditch, sporting velvet and pirate boots. Red lipstick and white geisha powder. Black liquid eyeliner, Camel lights and a bottle of cheap vodka. I am fifteen–the age my oldest son is to become in a few short months. My presence in this drainage ditch seems an accident of fate, a mistake. When one is invited to a party, one does not necessarily expect that it will take place surrounded with broken glass and cigarette butts and rat droppings. To the people I came with with, the only essential ingredient is the vodka. My friends are pushing the limits of my tolerance here. And there is a boy. He is a stranger. His bearing screams of streets as loaded as guns; his speech is razor wire. But he still has a face young enough to be covered with freckles and a touch of baby cheeks. He, too, is fifteen. I find this boy to be a fascination. He is not my sort of a boy. He is too rough, too cruel, too brash, too crass. And yet his eyes seem to see my soul naked.
At some point, the evening finds me sitting away from the others on a high place with this boy and we are talking. I am complaining about my parents or some other injustice I feel has been inflicted upon me. And he is listening. And then he says that our parents are owed our respect and are not to be complained of. It is such a strange view that I find myself respecting it, although I probably argue. I don't remember that either of us get drunk.
Some point later, as my life continues to run parallel with this boy's, I find myself with him on a bus to his house, in what I think must be the ghetto of our affluent county–the place I would dare not walk alone at night. He has to go home because his father will be ill. His father will be ill, he says, because it is his third day off of heroin. It is his responsibility to be there. He says it without a trace of resentment. At his house, his father is not home. The boy plays with two little brothers, his face alight with affection. His mother appears and asks, without having been introduced to me, if we need any condoms. I have been transported to another kind of a world–a world of hard lines and low expectations and despair–and yet this boy shows his parents a respect I certainly do not grant mine. He has won my admiration.
Time winds on. Drunken nights pass, and my hair is held back as I vomit up the insides of my soul into stranger's toilets. This boy continues to be there. One night, I lie on a couch, almost choking on my own vomit, and that is the night that we decide that we will be boyfriend and girlfriend. Our lives are made rancid by addiction, by the inability to live as would be appropriate for young teenagers to do. After threats of physical violence are made by parents, this boy is allowed to move in with me and, at fifteen and then sixteen, we live as married people, but under my father's roof. He stays for a year. It is a situation that no one would think could last. Except me. I believe that it will. Because I have learned to love this boy with my whole heart. I am loving him and watching us die, and I am doing it with the emotional resources of a teenager. My heart is breaking and I am playing tea party and pretending we will grow up and have a yellow house with a white picket fence.
When, in the end, I lose him, it is because I end it. I end it and I can hardly walk away. I never feel as if I am sure that I have not given up the other half of my heart, but I know that it is an organ that, if not cut away, will kill me. For a time we see one another sometimes in the passings dictated by proximity and then, someday, we don't. Old friends, when I see them, tell me he has faded away and the person I knew is gone from the world. Although I have moved on and my life is happy and sober, my heart is sick to hear this. And then, one day, there he is on Facebook. And he is OK. He, like me, has survived. He has a wife and a child. He has a good job. He was not broken like a stick upon the rapids of the world, but instead, was made stronger, as smart and as crass and as insightful as I ever knew him to be. We can now be friends.
I learn that you can love in all sorts of ways. I love my husband and know in him a partner that is by my side, day after day, a person to walk the world with. I love my children in a way that almost hurts. I love my parents and, finally, I deeply respect both of them in the way that they both deserve. And, too, I will always love this boy, for who he was and what he meant to me, for the time we shared together in the darkness, which was also funny and loving and fun. I love my present. I love my future.
And I love my past, too.