Kevin Camp, "Sleep Deprivation Road Trip"

The internet was young and so were we. In a strange, brief blip of a time, before widespread parental knowledge, before a sequence of alarmist headlines and pearl-clutching moralists proclaiming that young people were out of control, we were present. In those days, a few years before the end of the last century, news reports trickled out most slowly—story after story, anecdote after anecdote, sharing the narrative accounts of teenagers and even a few restless adults here and there who had run away from their home in order to be physically present with clandestine relationship partners or friends. Incomprehensible to many onlookers, neither party had met each other face to face before these impulsive, impromptu get-togethers.

 

People from all walks of life, all incomes, all political persuasions, almost every possible demographic jumped into cars and started driving. People booked expensive trips aboard airplanes with money that they’d saved from part-time jobs or put a strain on their personal lines of credit. Specifically for the younger set, when cash on hand was insufficient, understanding parents or close relatives often fronted them birthday or Christmas money. Much thought and care was devoted to departing flights, if you will, but not for the always underwhelming return trip.

 

I befriended a Minnesotan—a young woman, barely out of her teens—who decided that she needed to forcibly take hold of the steering wheel and fate at the same time. Her boyfriend lived eight hundred miles away, but she was convinced, as she always put it, that she would abduct him and bring him back with her. She planned this operation in much detail and was eager to talk to her online friends about the situation. She accomplished her goal, but this was only because her frightened mother was afraid that her daughter had run away from home. Had her daughter remained unaccounted for much longer, calls to the authorities would have followed.   

 

She even had the courage to move her new squeeze into her family home, to the complete dismay of her mother, who complained severely about the matter, but never did anything about it.  

 

I have to say, in hindsight, I met some incredibly dysfunctional people in those days. Many were incredibly outlandish and profoundly strange—to a degree that seemed impossible. After I logged off, every session, I often took five silent minutes to myself. Absorbing what I had been told could be challenging. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t simply made-up events like these completely in my head.

 

Some weeks later, my Minnesota friend shared that her new common-law husband had impregnated her while they fornicated on top of a washing machine. She didn’t seem particularly bothered by her current state of being, excusing his behavior because he would not or could not wear a condom. Around the same time, my third cousin fell in love with a man who lived ten miles away and left her husband for him. These were not isolated incidents.

 

Back in high school, one girl in my class transferred to another school district in the middle of the school year, a move that was unusual and infrequent. Following her departure, rumors and innuendo flew. The reality was quickly obscured by rumor, but it seems that, in the middle of lunch, having consumed her meal and then deposited her tray and silverware, she’d shown some other girls at the table a few choice pictures that had been taken with her adult aged boyfriend.

 

When informed about what happened, I admit that I was naïve. It didn’t make sense to me at the time as to why men even wanted girls this young. After asking around among many other girls, I received a suitable answer. I wouldn’t completely understand it for years, but I at least knew the basics. Men like this wanted to be in control at any cost. For them, it was a power grab, plain and simple.

______________

 

In time, I began to plan my own journey—as it was merely the latest one in a long sequence of trips that had come before it. Details were brought to the table for the benefit of all parties involved and were agreed upon months ahead. As a result, we planned for these excursions with the zeal, determination, and persistence many would have been otherwise expected to reserve for their weddings. As I surely had no wedding of my own in the plans, this might as well have been the best substitute arrangement.

 

The lines between reality and the online world were very blurry and poorly understood in those days. We were making things up as we went along, flying as we were by the seat of our pants. We were making a strange history of a sort, though our history was a narrative account that may never be told. And I think we knew that. Many of us left for other parts with poorly constructed and hastily realized plans. I will note that most of us made it back from their sorties entirely unscathed.

 

Such things could never happen today. Our attention these days, regardless of our age, is divided and directed in multiple concurrent directions. Once upon a time, adolescents clogged chat rooms and fed the ample bottom line of a particular company—one that would likely sue me if I mentioned its name, so I won’t. Like many similar enterprises in those days, the business peddled its services by obsessively saturating the country with its own CD-ROMs, imploring seductively by way of exhaustive ad campaigns that those not already initiated needed to give internet browsing a try.

 

In those days, bored and lonely teenagers like me routinely sought company with each other—but that much is not unusual for any time, really. Technology rendered distance and time far less of an impediment to communication and connection. No more waiting impatiently near brick mailboxes for expected packages and the latest lengthy letter correspondence to arrive. To this day, I retain in my company five women who I met twenty-five years ago or more. They are an active part of my life, and I am a part of theirs. I am happy for their continued presence; they are happy for mine.

 

The two of us, that is myself and my friend Ashley, found it surprisingly easy to attain female company and attention whenever we wanted it, which is precisely why we headed to a small town in the Midwest. Several weeks before, using a credit card my father had provided me, I’d booked a single hotel room with one bathroom and two separate queen size mattresses for the duration. Our parents, hers and mine, had been informed well ahead of schedule and had given their consent for this trip, albeit a little nervously.

 

I tried, as best I could, to reinforce my view to them that matters could always be worse.

 

“At least I’m not telling you that I want to get a tattoo or to pierce my tongue!”

 

At least, this is how I chose to bring the issue before my mother. She averted her eyes from me as she replied. This posture always meant that she was worried sick, but not willing to let me in on her private turmoil.

 

“Just promise me that you’ll be careful. Promise me, honey.”

 

She appeared to be close to tears. Perversely, her emotional response and resulting discomfort was a good sign for me. It meant that, though she had reservations, she would not stand in the way. If she dug her heels in, the phrase end of argument was often employed, or even I don’t think so, young lady, and discussion terminated right then and there.

 

“I promise, Mom. Everything’s going to be just fine.”

 

I tried my best sales pitch and it worked, though with time I learned that I really didn’t need to try as hard as I thought was needed to pull it off. Mom could easily drift into denial. All she really wanted me to do was to confirm the outcome she believed was headed my way—which was always the worst possible outcome of many. I always played along.

 

When I was a little girl, I’d been told because I say so on a consistent basis. By my teens, Mom trusted me to be rational and sought to speak to me like an adult. I was grateful for the treatment, though in hindsight I should have let her know even more often that I appreciated the regard she showed for me. At times, but not nearly as often was the case for many of my friends, we would argue over the clothes I wore to school, but that seems to be extremely common between mothers and daughters. Unlike my older sister, I did not test the parameters of the school dress code. Instead, I dressed not unlike a boy—which drew consternation from my parents for a very different reason.

 

Among my group of friends, I was the convivial, persuasive, and charming one. An excellent actress, I always feigned contrition and asked for forgiveness. I told adults exactly what they wanted to hear and, as a result, usually got my way. In my collected discourse with authority figures, I kept my head down and never copped an attitude. I responded in mannered, convincing ways that the adults around me (secretly, and not-so-secretly) wished that their own children did. But I did harbor a secret that I was always careful to conceal.

 

When it came time to book a motel for the trip, it wasn’t hard to pick between hotel chains because the town had exactly one and only one option for lodgings. Had it not been available, we’d have had to cross state lines into Indiana. Fortunately for us, ample space was easy to find. We might well have been the only occupants of the motel for our two-night, one day stay.

 

After I made my pitch for this new trip, both my father and mother were unusually and uncharacteristically understanding. As for Ashley, unlike my own, her mother and father had been divorced for years. She lived with her mother, nominally the person charged with making the important decisions for the family, but she wasn’t always reliable. In characteristic style, Ashley’s mother dodged the issue altogether. Her lack of involvement was hardly a surprise. She had taken off on yet another spontaneous church mission trip, lacking most of the money to even cover the cost of her plane ticket.

 

The Lord would provide. When she received a directive from God, His ways were always the most convenient and always expedient for her. In her way of thinking, His commandment was like a Papal bull, and just as binding. We could have been more sharply dismissive of the woman’s basic selfishness, as well as religious hypocrisy, and sometimes I admit that we were, but usually we used her lack of responsibility to suit our own wants and desires. Ashley had learned the hard way to feed herself and respond to imminent emergencies without the presence of any adults—she was a little more street smart than I was, but I was the one who always dared to push the envelope.

 

She and I were seventeen. The phalanx of girls we intended to meet were perhaps a year younger than us, sophomores when we were in our junior years. We were on our Spring Break, but not them. Bummer. They were still attending classes at school. Neither Ashley, nor I had any desire to head down to Florida, where most of our classmates usually set up shop for the duration. We were entirely uninterested in drinking too much, shortly before puking in the sand, as we were still several years underage, though age limitation wouldn’t have stopped us.

 

The plan we hatched was thought to be a reasonable one. We’d attend school with our friends for one full class day, going from place to place with them, situation to situation. Then, if there were no incidents, we’d spend time together after the final bell rang. Maybe if we were lucky, they’d even agree to go back to the motel with us.

 

The drive up had been largely unmemorable, notable only in that it had lasted eight hours from start to finish. We made up time massively whenever Ashley sat behind the wheel. She’d put the pedal to the floor when she thought there were no state troopers or cops to pull us over. The car was in my parents’ name, not my own. Had it not been, I would have otherwise been personally responsible for any roadway catastrophes her driving might cause us both.

 

Back then, I was at least reasonably thin and shapely. I was often called cute, but I never deceived myself. I knew I wasn’t gorgeous and never would be. These days, I am much heavier than I was, but I somehow don’t mind the extra pounds. The weight has become a defense against men who have consistently violated my boundaries. Sad to say, the tactic is a depressingly effective course of action, bettered only slightly better by a refusal to shave away armpit hair.

 

I am older now and my looks have faded to a large extent. Though I was surely not a knockout in my day, I was the most attractive one in my high school group of girlfriends. And, when I could still use my wiles and charms for my own benefit, I took full advantages of the liberties that boldness and confidence granted those willing to take them on. Or, to put it another way, I faked it well. I could compartmentalize with skill and somehow not let one issue bleed into another. I had confidence in myself.

 

Finally, we pulled into town on a direct beeline for the motel. I suppose there wasn’t much else to do in that tiny hamlet for fun, except perhaps to cruise and crisscross the few streets of downtown. They’d had been traversing the perimeter of the courthouse square for quite a while, God knows for how long exactly, from right angle to right angle, expecting us to arrive any second. Nowadays, cellular phones would have cut down drastically on the confusion. One of us would have simply sent out a pertinent text message or made a phone call asking them to meet us in the parking lot of the motel where’d we’d be staying.  

 

As a matter of fact, we were so intent on figuring out how to get to our destination that we completely drove right past them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw four girls in a purple car with Illinois plates flash surprised glances our way. Vicki, in the short black hair, an oval shaped face, a pale chin that came together at a sharp point—I recognized her easily from pictures she had sent my way—she was sitting shotgun. Sarah, her best friend, was behind the wheel. Though I remember that there were two other girls occupying the back two seats, I have totally forgotten what they looked like or much about who they were. With one noticeable exception.

 

A few minutes later, Ashley parked my car into the motel’s parking lot. We had been fully intending immediately upon arrival to retrieve our luggage from the trunk, then to swiftly and impatiently lug everything we had brought along up to our room.

 

The girls pulled alongside us in the parking lot. We momentarily paused from unloading our bags, in order to wave a few shy hellos, but before conversation and socializing really got going, I wanted to see for myself how clean (or filthy) our room was. Ashley started the introductions and I told her to please keep the girls entertained for a little while.  

 

Coasting on excited nerves and adrenalin, I swiftly ran to the downstairs office. A heavy set, middle-aged man with an extremely nasal voice and a huge walrus mustache didn’t appear to mind or be even surprised that two visitors from far away would have any compelling reason to visit. He didn’t even bother to make eye contact. A few details about that trip will remain hidden, I suppose. I’ll never be sure why the management of an otherwise empty motel didn’t give us accommodations on the ground level.

 

In haste, I secured two electronic keys, keys that were handed over across an old wooden desk. Then I jaunted up the stairs in great leaps and bounds to the second level. An auspicious sight was discovered shortly after arrival. After entering the motel room, poking around, seeking a brief, basic understanding of how everything was laid out, I stumbled across a pair of used dark green cotton panties. While familiarizing myself with the room and general living quarters, I found the underwear on the floor, to the left-hand side of what apparently was going to be my bed.

 

Not wishing to miss out on social time, I closed the door behind me, which locked it behind me, and clamored down the wobbly stairs.

 

The girls in the car never entered the motel room with us—if they had wanted to, they never gave a single indication. Instead, nervously, averting their eyes somewhat, they waited patiently for us to arrive within their earshot. One girl, wearing a blue cloth-covered headband in the center of her forehead like Hillary Clinton, circa 1992, anxiously lit a cigarette, still seated in the back seat. Her hair was dirty blonde and hung down loosely, touching her shoulders. The top of the expensive purple convertible was open, which dispersed most of the smoke and the smell.

 

Like much of this trip, I don’t remember more than maybe fifteen percent of what was said by anyone. I know that our anxieties made us inclined to speak in teenage hyperbole. In particular, the filler word “like” was employed liberally as a means of letting our hyperactive brains catch up with our mouths. Within thirty minutes, someone inserted a CD of Ani DiFranco into the car’s stereo system. The girls in the car began a communal sing along. I didn’t know the words. Ashley didn’t, either.

 

We weren’t fans, but neither were we dismissive. Her music was clearly important to them and the attitude we took is that it wouldn’t be fair of us to criticize it. Though I never brought this to anyone’s attention, I was amazed that a cult artist had coattails long enough to be appreciated by girls in rural Illinois. If we’d thought about it, we might have brought along an album of our own to commemorate the experience.

 

Thinking once again about the motel room, I knew that Ashley would immediately claim sole ownership of the mattress that was closest to the shower and bathroom sink. No surprise there. I usually let her have her way because it spared us having an utterly pointless fight about it later. By the time the girls in the convertible left, she also staked a claim to the bathroom sink, as well. As usually, she failed to understand why I found the sight of the knickers compelling enough to introduce in conversation.

 

Curiosity piqued; my inner forensic investigator switched on. I surmised that, yes, the underwear in question was not especially expensive or risqué. Likely, I deduced, it had been purchased on the cheap as part of a packaged set. Instantly curious, I wondered who in that little town was having an affair.

 

In addition, I was curious to know why a woman from housekeeping hadn’t removed them while in the process of cleaning the place up. As my imagination began to take me in a million directions at once, I worked out a full backstory in my mind. The two people involved, I concluded, were likely to be at least in their fifties, married already to other people, raising children of their own alongside their dissolving marriages. The couple had much to lose but were engaging in illicit behavior anyway. At least, that was my version of events at the time.

 

I felt personally privy to a story with potentially explosive repercussions to someone’s life. It was like being part of a great secret. I appreciated being privy to such a combustible, thorny situation. In hindsight, retelling this anecdote does sometimes embarrass me due to its intimacy and tawdriness, but I have always been something of a gossip. I knew this account would make for a good retelling later.

 

At the time, I was freshly out of the closet, forever concerned that, with every next step, I would finally cross someone’s line in the sand—finally draw entirely too much attention to myself. For the sake of protection, I had learned to be cautious about who I told, but among true friends, I received few homophobic, bitterly cutting insults. The tolerance I received in the company I chose to keep in those days sometimes provided a deceptive and false sense of security, as I came to recognize later.

 

Adults always say that teenagers think they are immortal. I’m not sure that is it, entirely. Even though brains haven’t reached full maturation, one simply never thinks about consequences at that age. It’s easy to blow with the wind and unthinkingly sign on to any endeavor that really seems like a good idea at the time. In keeping with that spirit, we dared to make plans, then doubled down, daring to follow up on them.

 

Excitement aside, one of the girls in the convertible nearly ruined the moment and the novelty altogether. I didn’t bother to tell Ashley. But what I will say is that girls can be gross, too. Upon arrival, maybe after ten minutes of enthusiastic, energetic, slightly manic conversation, one of the girls in the backseat asked if she could use the shower located in our room. It never occurred to any of us to bother to ask why, but we figured that whatever the issue, it wasn’t our business.

 

“I won’t be long,” she insisted. Her eyes, as they met mine, revealed a sort of humiliated desperation I had seen before in others, though I couldn’t quite place it. Wasting no time, short legs made their way two at a time up the wobbly stairs. I’d handed over one of the white plastic magnetic keys so that she could enter, but not before reminding her that it needed to come back to me.

 

“Go right ahead.” Ashley addressed the girl directly, a little less distracted by ongoing conversation than I was.

 

She then resumed her part of a group chat that was in danger at any moment of degenerating into complete silliness. I was reminded of the slumber parties I attended in a slightly younger year. In those days, I was usually the first participant to clamor to be taken home early. But on the times when I managed to keep my panicked state and anxieties at bay, I relished the free-form, riffing, sprawling conversations that sometimes lasted until very late at night.

 

The one with the curious request wasn’t gone long, maybe ten minutes at most. In her absence, I was mulling over the meaning and significance of something odd she’d said earlier. That girl (we were never told her name) mentioned rather strangely shortly after making introductions that she was completely incapable of caring for herself. I don’t remember exactly what prompted her to say that, or in what context it was spoken, though I thought at first it was nothing more than a self-effacing joke. It wasn’t, as it turns out.

 

Unbeknownst to everyone else, the girl entered the bathroom, then grabbed the first clean towel she could find from the rack above the toilet. She quickly showered and, in apparently long-practiced habit, hung the used towel up high to dry. As I discovered slightly after her departure, an hour or so later, she’d left behind plain proof of what she’d been up to in the form of two large, rust-colored, horizontal stains smeared onto the rough white cotton. She was evidently menstruating heavily and either didn’t notice it or didn’t care what evidence she’d leave behind.

 

Crinkling my nose involuntarily after discovering the mess, I held the towel limply in my hands before tossing it aside onto the white tiled floor. The cleaning staff would attend to this issue later. I folded the towel in such a way that the stain was effectively concealed from easy view and tried not to think about how the visual evidence would be received later.

 

She could have always asked Ashley or me for a tampon or a pad. I’m sure housekeeping found evidence like this on a frequent basis, but I almost felt like I ought to leave a tip behind. Anyone unfortunate enough to need to remove a particularly tenacious stain from an otherwise sparkling white towel needs extra compensation, in my opinion.

 

I suppose it would have helped if we had been told upfront that the girl was a bit unorthodox. In rolling up the pants legs of jeans to her knees to show off, it was clear that her decision to go natural wasn’t false advertising. Unfortunately for her, the leg hair that started slightly below the kneecap and ran down the front and sides of shins was extremely curly. Had it laid flat, instead, as was the case for most women, it wouldn’t have looked as peculiar as it did.

 

Later in life, I kept company with women who took the definition of the natural look very seriously. Facial hair that would ordinarily have been shaved or waxed off remained. Mustaches were not removed, nor offending and annoying hair follicles that sprouted from the areolas, nor usually blonde, almost translucent hair found across the surface of the tops of toes. I wasn’t brave enough myself to try the process myself, but I didn’t mind seeing it in others. I lived through their bravery.

 

The girls didn’t tarry long. Everyone who wasn’t staying at the motel (that meant the two of us from out of town) swiftly departed for their homes, most of which were well within walking distance. Though we were both enthusiastic that our dreams had finally come to fruition, the trip had been a lengthy one and we both quickly collapsed into slumber. Ashley and I woke up early the following morning, cursed the cheap plastic alarm clock that had stirred us, stopped for breakfast at a fast-food restaurant, and headed straight for school.

 

In my head was the promise of what the day would bring, along with my fanciful recall of the night’s dreaming sleep. In it, I’d taken an exotic trip out to northern California, a place I had never visited ever before in my waking hours, a locale about which I knew next to nothing. My intention was apparently to track down another girl—oddly someone who was a complete stranger. She was someone I didn’t know in real life or even online, but everyone in the dream was adamant and insistent that I knew more than I was letting on.

 

In my dream, upon arrival, I discovered that the main characters were undeniably, unabashedly white trash. Not only that, but the girl’s family were very proud of that distinction and applied it without shame to themselves. She lived in a small apartment with her mother, younger sister, and frequently her mother’s much younger boyfriend. The entire family worked at a local burger place, even the youngest child, who was barely three, though I knew even in my dreaming state that labor laws would have prevented a child from flipping burgers.

 

None of them bathed regularly. When they did, they used a shower with a filthy, completely hair clogged drain. It could barely do the minimum. Someone had recently dyed their hair cheaply with one of those do-it-yourself kits you can find at drug stores. Without the ability to be dispersed with on its way down the drain, the purple-tinted dye lingered in the half-inch of standing water that passed for a floor. When it came time for slumber, I slept in an adjacent, filthy bed underneath a sheet that was unlikely to have ever been washed.

 

When it was time for me to depart, a man in his early twenties, not that much older than me, really, drove me out to the airport. This was her mother’s boyfriend. He was friendly, eager to talk, and held few secrets from me. He had mistakenly knocked up the woman’s mother and, though they had no plans to marry, they were nevertheless in an intensely serious relationship. She’d always had a thing for long-haired, younger men. He’d always had a thing for much older women.

 

Due to some miracle of science, she discovered that it was still possible for her to get pregnant, even with her tubes tied. That fact embarrassed her deeply, which one could tell by the number of times she brought it up in conversation. It was clear that she had never thought she’d be raising small children again at her age. I felt for her, but at that moment, it made me grateful that, most likely, I never had to worry about having a baby of my own.

 

Dreaming still, I was halfway to the airport. The man confessed to me that he made extra money by stripping. Not thrilled with baring all for other men, he admitted that it nevertheless was easy work, and the money was good. I always took dreams on face value in those days—I could always manage to suspend disbelief. We were almost at the airport and then that damned alarm went off. Interesting reverie aside, I had something ­very tangible to look forward to today, something very tactile, which went well beyond another great, but nevertheless fleeting pure fantasy.

 

I’d had my eye on Vicki for months. We corresponded daily. When we weren’t communicating by direct message, we e-mailed each other lengthy letters. Like many maudlin teenagers, though I hate to say it, we shared terrible poetry and griped constantly about how no one understood us. On that memorable day, in real time and very much in reality, I smiled at her as she grinned back at me, cocking her head sweetly, slightly to the side as she did so. It was an endearingly warm gesture. Her look said, here you are at last, I see!

 

Ashley and I were to shadow Vicki and Sarah as they went from class to class. There had been some need beforehand to negotiate the details of the trip with administrative staff. This greatly abbreviated journey was one of the agreed upon parameters. It was a concession made to account for the private worries of parents. Initially, we’d planned to stay several days consecutively, if not the whole week. That first offering was nixed by the school’s principal, who worried about two of his students being too distracted to complete their homework and take tests.

 

Naturally, we did not want to court trouble or cause a sensation. This was, after all, a conservative high school in Illinois, not a liberal arts college in Ohio. We didn’t recognize it at the time, but the Midwestern nice we received from nearly everyone disguised the fact that the four of us were being closely watched. I knew it, of course. At our core, Ashley and I were not born troublemakers. I was a smooth character in those days, and here, miles away from home, I knew better than to raise a ruckus.

 

To this day, I retain the green paper pass that was written out in blue-inked longhand in the school’s main office by the school’s secretary. No questions asked. That was my ticket and hers to be able to tag along. No one asked any questions of Ashley and I that whole school day. What I did notice, as I made my way finally inside a slightly intimidating building was its dark, shadowy, ancient structure. It seemed far older than it likely was. Taking in my surroundings, my voice added to the low rumble of hundreds of students in the process of getting from point A to point B. There was something somehow wholly comforting about being there, even though there were few windows present, anywhere, really, which often made me feel like I was attending class in a bomb shelter.

 

I hurriedly strode past a series of faded blue lockers—worn and slightly rickety from years of use and found there a jealous ex-girlfriend who let her disapproval of me plainly show, glaring at us, though she never directly confronted me or Vicki about it. Later in the day, I was told that her ex played the snare drum in the band—band being where the two of them met. I wondered what Vicki had been telling her ex to make the girl react the way that she did. The recently departed was at least perceptive enough to know that she had been replaced, whether she liked it or not. I wasn’t sure whether I was being manipulated or being used here in order to prove a point. Hopefully neither.

 

The first predictable snag in our plans arrived early. While we were in the process of rushing to the first class of the day, Ashley revealed, unexpectedly, that she wanted to spend her entire time with Vicki, too. This move deeply hurt the feelings of perpetual ugly duckling Sarah, who wanted someone to tag along exclusively with her as well. Neither Ashley, nor I had agreed to this arrangement—it had simply not come up in discussion.

 

Later in the day we both would take a consolation trip to Sarah’s house and spend most of an hour in her company to soothe ruffled feathers and to smooth things over. She could not be consoled, and, while she was continuing to cry, we left her residence feeling decidedly guilty. I’m sure that a guilt trip was the trip’s intended purpose, but no amount of needless drama was going to ruin my big day. I know that I should have been much kinder, but I didn’t want to indulge the whims of what I saw was an overgrown baby.

 

As we learned later, Sarah’s lies were propping up our presence. Not wise to set her off. She took many trips down to the coast every summer and traveled very regularly. That is where, as the story went, we were supposed to have earlier met each other face-to-face. My parents didn’t mind that I was meeting in person with someone who had only been known to me as keystrokes on a monitor. But not theirs. I tacitly assumed that everyone had been granted the same basic freedoms, liberties, and responsibilities that I had. 

 

Sarah lacked Vicki’s spontaneity and yes, good looks. At times she acted like a spoiled child. Sarah came from money, and it showed, purple convertible included. She’d gotten almost everything she’d ever wanted, but had discovered, much to her disgust and frustration, that physical attractiveness is not a consumer item. It cannot easily be purchased and sometimes under no circumstance can it be obtained. The alibi held, for the moment.

 

When I think back upon that trip, my memories are scattered. I don’t recall what the lunchroom looked like, nor do I remember what I must have passively observed in walking the halls, my mind going a thousand miles a minute. I do remember being in history class with Vicki, sitting quietly in the back of the classroom, then following her to band practice.

 

She embarrassed herself in the middle of a lecture by carelessly resting her feet on the wire basket underneath the desk immediately in front of her. Losing her balance, along with her coordination, she inadvertently drew much attention to herself with that stumble, then momentarily flushed scarlet. It was endearing.

 

The bell rang and we were off again. For a good long while we were packed in tightly together, barely enough room to accommodate everyone and their instrument of choice. For some reason, percussion participation was not required that day. A snare drummer myself, I was used to these sorts of extended delays, often taken to properly tune up the rest of the band, instrument by instrument. Drummers don’t do well with this much free time. Instead, they get restless and often decide to destroy things.

 

Vicki nuzzled up next to me, seated cross-legged on the threadbare carpeted floor. I wanted to massage her back or to run my fingers carelessly through her hair. I refrained. We made a pretty pair. Or at least I thought so.

 

Ashley was, in many ways, along merely for the ride. If I hadn’t made the initial connection with Vicki, the visit never would have materialized. Using a regular, reliable sense of cocky charm I do not attempt today, I took advantage of several months of nearly constant attention and dialogue between Vicki and myself. And, as a result, I was half in love with her by the time we arrived. Though we never brought it into the open, I knew Ashley well. It went without saying that she also lusted after Vicki’s body, perhaps even more than I did. Ashley was a good enough friend to me that I knew she didn’t intend to steal Vicki away—or to at least make a play for her affections.

 

The school bell rang. No more classes for the day. News travels fast in a small place. An hour before our arrival, the day before, there’d been a minor traffic accident in town—a fender bender, really, between a large truck and a small car. Everyone around town was talking about it. Then we arrived, and our presence became the new scuttlebutt. I suppose people didn’t have much else to consume their thoughts, except to focus on these odd-looking girls from out of town.

 

After we’d left Sarah behind to pout, we headed to Vicki’s house. I remember talking a little to her very Italian father, who was appropriately swarthy and short. Even now, I can’t properly pronounce the family’s last name. I surmise that they must have felt no need or compulsion to Americanize it upon taking residence in the country. Even native Italians might have had a difficulty with the pronunciation, as well as the ability to spell it properly.

 

Back to the motel we went. I’m not sure what would have really happened next if Ashley and I had gotten it our way. We were so young–we might very well have chickened out entirely and not followed the persistent, though at times thoroughly confusing, intense direction of our hormones and bodies. Since that day, I have played an eternal “What If?” game with myself.

 

At that exact instant, as if it had been choreographed and practiced multiple times before, Vicki’s older sister deftly pulled in front of us in the motel parking lot. Interception. She did not look once at Ashley and me. We were not being held personally accountable. Instead, she wagged a disapproving finger at Vicki, a strong stare that said I don’t think so, young lady.

 

Then she shouted, loudly.

 

“Get in the car, now!”

 

Vicki, chastened, headed directly for the front passenger seat. She shrugged her shoulders at the two of us, a strange smile on her face, and in only a few seconds’ time was spirited elsewhere. I don’t recall what Ashley and I did to pass the time from 4:30 in the afternoon to bedtime in the evening. I do remember we both made sure we got enough sleep to be fully alert for the long drive home, which had been scheduled for the very next day.

 

That night, I dreamed again. In my dreaming state, I learned that a new girl was at least superficially interested in me, having communicated through back channels. Shortly thereafter, she totally dropped me, providing no reason why. As chance would have it, I became friends with her lonely mother, who coveted any attention or sympathy she could receive. She began taking my calls on a consistent basis. We both got something out of the exchange. And found love, though that love was never to be consummated.

 

Once again, it had all been a dream.

 

I do recall meeting Vicki at that same fast-food restaurant, minutes before we took off for home. Ashley took a picture that I cherish. It shows two people who are very enamored with each other. Vicki, who was at best five full inches shorter than me, appears to almost melt into my right shoulder, cocking her head over to one side, smiling contentedly. I stared back at the camera, serious and unsmiling, managing somehow to look wholly at ease.

 

Then it was time for parting ways. Before I did, I lingered in her company long enough to pick up an unmistakable magnetic force, drawing us close together, confirming how we felt about each other. The intensity, but not the existence of this emotional response took me by great surprise, as even then I was very perceptive and self-aware. At first, I wasn’t sure what this feeling really meant—it simply couldn’t be, whatever this was, but then all at once I got it, suddenly.

 

Clumsy as always, I’d stumbled slightly, accidentally pushed her body into a corner against a white painted, cinderblock wall, and in so doing entered her extreme personal space for around five seconds.

 

I haven’t forgotten that sensation. It kept my thoughts occupied through the duration of the entire drive back home. It had lasting power.

 

Upon arrival at my home, after the abrasive, angry sound of a connecting modem ceased and a stable connection was established, I checked for a reply. Nothing. This was a disappointment. I received one cryptic e-mail around a week after our visit, then heard nothing but dead air. My replies went wholly unanswered. This was not good. I proceeded to call her house and find out for myself what had transpired.               

 

The worst was confirmed. Her mother was polite but firm with me. As is sometimes my habit, I was knocked totally off my moorings at the response I received. As a result, I nervously started up a litany of desperate apologies, each more pleading than the one before.

 

“I’m sorry!”

 

And I said it again.

 

“I’m sorry!”

 

I must have apologized fifteen times in a row before Vicki’s mother lost patience and hung up on me. I moved on. I learned. Some dreams don’t come true in the form you expect. But we can always catalogue them for later.

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Kevin Camp began his writing career by focusing squarely on religious matters. He was first published in the 2010 anthology Quaker Rising, which included the written works of young adult Quakers across the United States and Canada. Camp has also been published in Friends Journal (2012), Amazing Gifts (2013), Daily Kos metablog, Cough Syrup (2020), and the Summerset Review (2021), among others. 

 

A proud member of the Religious Society of Friends, Camp lives in Hoover, Alabama.