The story so far: We’ve just met Brian’s best friend, Eric, a bit of a goofball and a dreamer. The kind of guy who throws a huge house party just to attract the attention of the girl he pines for. Over a game of Horse, Eric is frank with Brian and tells him that he’s being unfair to both Allison and Kate by being indecisive about his feelings. As much as Brian appreciates the honesty, he’s not sure he is ready to make a decision between the two. The year is 1987.
The Family Truckster barrels down the road, coughing smoke behind it. Eric turns up the car radio, as the Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains” begins to play. We get stares, but Eric thrives on the attention his rusting station wagon brings him.
“Hey, you know what we should do?” Eric asks.
“After we’re done at the mall, we should drive down to the Metroparks and get Jack.”
He looks straight ahead, the sun and oncoming traffic reflecting off of his sunglasses, a slight smile across his lips.
“I think that’s an awesome idea,” I reply.
We listen to the Satellites the remainder of the ride to the mall. Eric coasts the station wagon into the parking lot and parks the car. We hurry to the mall entrance. The automatic doors open and the smell of pizza, tacos, burgers, some kind of Mongolian food, grease and overall human sweat hits us like a wall.
“I hate this place,” I mutter.
I wouldn’t step into the mall except that all of the department stores and book stores are located in the place. Sure, there’s a great book store three towns over and nice clothing stores in downtown Cleveland, but who has the time or the money to drive all the way out there? Eric and I make our way through the rush of people in the food commons.
We reach an intersection of the consumer highway. Sears is to our right and the Footlocker, where Eric works, is halfway through the mall to our left. In the air is a hum. At first I think that it’s the music playing over the mall P.A., until I realize that it’s a hum caused by the hundreds of conversations all going on at once.
“I’ll run to Sears and buy the tickets, while you get your check,” I tell Eric.
“See you in fifteen,” he replies.
We part ways. Entering Sears, I take the escalator to the bottom floor, where Ticketron is located. When I step off, I find myself in the middle of women’s lingerie. Facing me is a headless mannequin wearing silky, turquoise bikini panties and a matching bra. The way the tall mannequin’s legs glide up to the genital free mid region, the way its flat, perfect, plastic stomach connects to the lumps that represent breasts, I think about… Allison wearing them.
I’m dying here.
Okay, here are the facts: In mid-March, a special delegation of student council members representing all of the schools in our district was chosen to attend a conference in Washington DC. Allison and I, plus two other girls, represented Cuyahoga High. We flew out for an extended weekend in the nation’s capital. The moment we stepped off of the plane we were handed a long itinerary that included a trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
At the Memorial, Allison wanted to search for the name of her mom’s uncle, whom Mrs. McKenzie had never met, as he was killed the year she was born. Together, Allison and I walked the long black wall with the names of fallen soldiers etched in stone until we found the uncle’s name. The two of us stood staring for a solid five minutes, speechless.
The gravity of the situation was so heavy that a response was pointless. The wind picked up and swirled its way through my coat sleeves, under my shirt and to my core. Allison shivered, too, and then she clutched my hand. Suddenly my body warmed; I felt safe. The two of us stood reading the names on the wall, neither of us acknowledging the hand holding. From that moment on, we acted like a couple for the duration of the trip, sitting next to each other, stealing glances during boring seminars, and exploring the city together during our one free day. Not once did Kate come up in conversation.
On our last night in the city, my hotel roommate, a surfer dude from L.A., asked if I’d find a way to occupy myself until the midnight bed check. He was looking to score with a “bodacious honey” from North Carolina. Through an administrative mix-up, Allison was assigned a room by herself. At dinner, I mentioned my dilemma to her, not thinking that she’d suggest I hang out with her, alone, in her private room, which she did, and I did.
Around eight o’clock, I knocked on Allison’s hotel room door. My stomach was spinning. She answered wearing a Born in the USA tour shirt and running shorts. Her face was a mixture of giddiness and nervousness.
“Can I help you?”
I snap out of my reverie, surprised to find myself standing at the Ticketron window. An uninterested, older woman is staring at me through bifocals, chewing gum and picking frizz out of her graying brown hair.
“Uh, yes. I’d like two lawn seats to the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert next week.”
With gnarled fingers, she takes my twenty dollars and retreats to the back room of the ticket office. As I wait, I do my best to retrace the last five minutes, but I have no recollection of walking through the store. I have to stop this; I have to stop thinking about Allison. Kate is my girlfriend, and I’ve made a commitment to making our relationship work. I love her. I do.
The woman returns.
“Enjoy your concert,” she says, and she hands me the tickets. At that moment, two hands cover my eyes.
“Guess who,” a familiar voice asks.
I don’t have to guess. I’d know that shampoo fragrance anywhere.
Today’s artwork was by Greg Justus. Greg, or “Starving Artist Greg,” is a fine artist out the Toledo, Ohio area receiving his BFA from Kent State University. Also a 1988 North Olmsted Graduate, his art supports his bacon eating & coffee drinking addictions. For more information about him, visit his “Starving Artist Greg” Facebook page, or his go to his website www.starvingartistgreg.com. You can also follow him on Instagram @starvingartistgreg or Twitter @starvingartist4 .
Georgia Satellites’ song, “Battleship Chains” is found on their 1986 album, Georgia Satellites.
Read Chapter 8 of Legendary