Part Five: About a Girl

There was a girl that I met a couple of months before being expelled, and I found myself looking forward to time spent with certain friends because she was more likely to be around those people than others.
She had dated a friend of mine for a short while, and she was in 8th grade at the time…so she was off limits to me, not because of the couple of years difference in age between us, but because she was a close friend’s ex. I had a girlfriend of my own at the time anyhow…but that certainly didn’t stop me from admiring her from whatever distance I had to maintain. She was beautiful and sweet, exceptionally smart and personable in such a way that it seemed like no one could conceivably dislike her, a way that I could never dream of being. I only talked with her occasionally, in part because she made me nervous but also because I felt like she would be more inclined to think well of me the less well she knew me.
If everyone does indeed have a first love, she was mine…that first girl to touch me in just the right way as adulthood approaches when emotional and psychological identity are developing us into the person we will become. I feel I may need to clarify that I do not mean that she touched me in anything approaching a sexual manner; I already established that she was off limits since you were clearly not paying attention. If life had turned out differently I might be able to look back on her as being little more than a crush, a passing fancy, but I don’t have the conviction required to believe that. As it stands, with the tragic way that things did turn out, she is etched into whatever passes for a soul in me as being the truest benchmark of what I could love. That girl is seared into my memory in a way that no other could be…so much so that, a few years later, I was accused of being in love with a ghost and there was no way anyone could compete against that.
I didn’t know it until later, but I had apparently made an impression on her as well…a bit of knowledge that, while comforting and flattering, served to make her loss all the more painful…but we will get to that soon enough, you impatient shit. I am having a difficult enough time writing all of this without you pressuring me to speed it along, let me get to it my own way.
During the week following my expulsion from school I reacted with characteristic lack of impulse control. One of my friends (the girl in question’s ex-boyfriend) had been expelled simultaneously, which stood to reason seeing as how he was frequently right there with me during those exploits that transpired while I should have been wasting away in the tedium and mind numbing monotony of the classroom. He and I took to the interstate with our respective thumbs out, knowing that returning to our homes after being removed from school was something that neither of us was willing to do right away.
He and I made our way to where a couple of my friends lived and we stayed with them for a couple of days after discovering our newfound freedom. During those days we ended up wandering through a residential neighborhood or two just checking cars for unlocked doors. One of those vehicles, a Dodge Caravan, happened to be the jackpot…not only was the door unlocked but the keys were right there waiting for us. As you can likely predict, we took the keys with us and took note of the location of that vehicle.
We were only able to stay with my friends one more night before we were left to our own devices again. If we’d had any common sense we would have stopped right there, called it good, and returned to our homes to face the music…but if we had been blessed with that sort of common sense we would not have been us and I would not have anything to write here, and we both know that you would be terribly bored without my words to keep you company.
That night, with nowhere to go that we were willing to be, it was damn cold…as November nights in South Dakota are known to be. We walked the streets of the town, the constant movement being all that was keeping us warm. Finally we got too tired to keep at it and we happened to find a boat beneath a tarp in the parking lot of an apartment complex. It wasn’t perfect but it was where we were able to obtain some shelter from the wind and fall asleep in what was still painfully cold temperature.
That night was a deciding factor in what was to become the biggest mistake of both of our lives. We had two paths ahead of us and we brazenly marched down the wrong one with the sort of idiotic lack of awareness only total dipshit could manage to exhibit.
The following evening we returned to where we had found the minivan a couple of nights before and we put those pilfered keys to use (with him behind the wheel because he was more comfortable driving than I was). We drove toward Sturgis with no real plan in mind, entirely unaware that we were on our way to crossing a line that would irrevocably change multiple lives for the worse.
I don’t rightly recall how it came about that we ran into his ex-girlfriend (the girl that I was secretly interested in) and her best friend. Similarly, I don’t know how it was suggested that he and I could take them across the state to where the girl’s mother lived…but that became the plan. My friend asked me to go along with a story he concocted about how we had borrowed our recently stolen vehicle from one of my friends. There isn’t so much as a week that passes, even now, almost 20 years later, when I don’t wish that I could go back and never utter that lie or that I could have spoken up and stopped the momentum we were building by simply telling the truth at any point over the following couple of days.
If I had the courage to be honest, all of our lives would have been quite different…and I am confident in saying that they would have been better. I was selfish though, and stupid, and I saw this as an opportunity to spend more time with this girl who I had adored in silence. It breaks my heart to know that, as her best friend informed me some time later, they only climbed into that minivan because I was there and because they trusted me.
It seemed like a good plan. He and I would drop the girls off and then he and I would continue on wherever the road and our continuing poor judgment led us. It started off quite nice, actually. That night we drove across the border into Wyoming, just to get out of the state since we suspected that the vehicle was reported stolen. We slept in the van as comfortably as we could and cut back into South Dakota briefly on our way South and into Nebraska the following morning. Without any money on us we shoplifted food, beverages, and cigarettes to get us by in addition to filling the tank and racing away from the fuel pumps.
Beyond my chance to bring this ill-conceived road trip to a grinding halt by being honest with the girls there was one other event that may have set us straight had our timing been better. We stopped at the college in Chadron, NE where a friend of mine was attending school but he wasn’t in the dormitory when we arrived. He would surely have provided a voice of reason and I wish that we’d had the patience to wait for him to return…but we did not.
We slept in the van again that night, in an isolated little town near the Eastern portion of the South Dakota/Nebraska border. That night is one that I remember with painful clarity, because it was one of the best nights I could have hoped to share with that particular girl. She came back to the middle row seat where I was attempting to sleep and fell asleep with her head in my lap. I spent a couple of hours watching her sleep and running my fingers through her hair. That night was a good one, it was a beautiful way to spend those hours and I was happy when I fell asleep, feeling the pressure of her against me. It was a good thing that I was so happy and content that night, because it was the last time I would be happy for a good, long while.
The next morning made a nightmare of what only that night seemed to be a dream come true…but I am not going to get to that yet, I want to end this on a high point for just a little bit. Maybe if I don’t document what followed, we can pretend there was a happy ending.

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