"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines."
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Nice Boys

            Kevin pursued her the summer after ninth grade. A year ahead of her in school, he spent those three months before junior year riding his moped to her house on warm afternoons. They would talk and kiss on the swing in her parent’s backyard before he rode away again to his job at the music store.   
            Kevin was unfailingly polite whenever her parents were around. He was friendly. He invited her over to his parents’ house for dinner, and she immediately made a friend out of his mother. They spent the 4th of July together in his backyard. He shot off rockets and tried to impress her with his daring. She rewarded him with kisses and hugs. 
            She’d never really had a boyfriend before. In junior high, she and a boy held hands on the bus for a school trip, but this was the first time she could claim a real boyfriend. Her parents would not let her go on a car date with a boy by themselves yet, but his mother would give them rides to the movies. She hated scary movies, but she watched them with Kevin, so she could grab his arm and his shirt and squeeze close to him for protection. 
            They would call each other late at night and talk until one set of parents or the other finally yelled for them to hang up and go to bed. But even that didn’t keep her father from pulling her aside one day and telling her,
“Kevin is a nice boy. That’s the kind of boy you need to go out with. He’s a nice boy.”
            At the end of the summer, she used the babysitting money she had saved for two years to fly to Washington State to visit her favorite cousin and his family. She promised Kevin and his mom that she would take pictures of west coast sunsets and the Pacific Ocean. She sent him a postcard each day while she was gone. But when she flew home, something was wrong. Kevin didn’t return her phone calls. His mom told her she would have him call when he got home from work, but he never did. One afternoon, just before school started, he rode his moped up her driveway and told her that it was over. He didn’t want to start school with a girlfriend. There was just too much for him to do. It was better this way, he assured her. 
            She spent hours in her room crying along with every sad song that poured out of her radio, wondering over and over again what she had done wrong. Finally she got tired of crying and sad songs and found her way back to normal again. 
            But Kevin was still around. They ended up in Ensemble Choir together. She ignored him. He ignored her. Yet by her junior year, they had reached a truce. They were not exactly friends, but they didn’t hate each other either. She looked at him one day and realized she didn’t care if he liked her or not. It didn’t matter. She was in love. As she declared to her friends every day, she was really, really, really in love. Liam went to a different school. He was two years older. He was rebellious and funny. He smoked cigarettes and loved motorcycles, rock and roll and her, but not in that order. She wrote his name over and over on her jeans; the ones with the holes in the knees. Her mother never got mad at her for doing this, but the jeans were washed more than usual. It didn’t matter; she would just write his name again. 
            Her parents didn’t like Liam as much as they liked Kevin. Her father never pulled her aside and told her that Liam was the kind of nice boy she should date. Instead, they laid down unprecedented rules. 
            “If you’re only going to date one boy, then you can only see him once a week.” 
She was defiant and found a million reasons to sneak off and see him anyway. Finally, her parents gave up and let her date him. But she knew they thought he wasn’t the nice boy Kevin was. 
            Just after her 16th birthday, the school had a blood drive. You were supposed to be 17 to give blood, but she wanted to so badly, she lied about her age and gave blood anyway. There was a choir concert that night, and the nurse advised her to go home, rest, eat a healthy dinner, and she would be fine for the concert. But something went wrong. At rehearsal, as she stood on the front riser in her stuffy choir dress with the lights shining down on her, she felt dizzy and weak. Spots did gymnastics in front of her eyes. She grabbed her friend’s hand and said,
“I think I’m going to faint.”
She did. She dropped like dead weight. The strength of her friend’s grip on her hand saved her face from being smashed into the floor. She woke to find the panicked worried faces of her choir staring down at her. Even Kevin looked scared.
            Some of the choir members helped her up and dusted her off. Her dress was brushed clean, and the other girls clustered around her and helped to redo her makeup and smooth down her hair. The concert went well, without any more shocks or fainting. She didn’t realize, though, that her body wasn’t going to be back to normal for a while. The next night a friend threw a choir party. No parents, no supervision, and plenty to drink. She drank two beers, then giving blood caught up with her again. She was drunk. She felt dizzy, and her legs shook. She tried to walk to the bathroom, but she stumbled. Kevin caught her. He helped her. He took her to the bathroom and held her head while she got sick. He wiped her forehead and the back of her neck with a cool cloth. When she finally stopped throwing up, he led her upstairs to a back bedroom, took off her shoes and told her to lie down on the bed.   
            She had never been so grateful to this nice boy she had once cared about. But why was he lying down next to her? Why he was putting his hands all over her? Why he was trying to kiss her and roll her on her back and hold her down? He was touching her and pulling at her clothes. She was so drunk and so sick, she couldn’t make him stop. She couldn’t fight him off.
She tried to say, “No. Please. Don’t do this.”
But her words slurred. She wanted Liam. She wanted Kevin to leave her alone. Just leave her alone. The door opened and someone poked her head inside. 
“Oh, sorry.” 
            She opened her mouth to scream, “Wait! Don’t leave me!  Help!”
Her voice seemed to have abandoned her; no sounds, no words. Yet maybe the door opening, maybe the fact that there was a witness pricked Kevin’s conscience, because he stopped touching her, pulling at her. She rolled away from him and cried into an uneasy sleep. The next morning Kevin was gone. She drove home, still sick and now so scared. Should she tell Liam? Should she tell anyone? 
            One of Liam’s friends called her that day, and she started crying on the phone. He picked her up to go for a ride. Finally, her words rushed out. She told the friend what happened the night before. What should she do, she pleaded with him? What should she do? He grimaced and told her to try and forget about it.
“Never tell Liam,” he warned. “Never!”  
She never told Liam. She never told her parents or her other friends. She was ashamed and embarrassed. She was convinced that everyone would blame her. It was her fault for giving blood and drinking. She didn’t remember leading Kevin on. But maybe she did. Maybe she did.
            In choir practice on Monday, Kevin would not meet her eye. She glanced over at him once only to see him staring at her. He turned away when he saw her looking back at him. She wondered how she ever liked him or willingly kissed him. She could not imagine ever crying over him again; never again. She heard her father’s voice. 
“Kevin is a nice boy. That’s the kind of boy you should you go out with. Kevin is a nice boy.”

No, Dad. He is not nice. He is not a nice boy at all.