I'm not telling you this stuff to brag, nor am I trying to use my young foolishness to say how much I've grown. I have grown, but not because I learned the lessons. More like, having lost those opportunities has given me the ability to step out and see it all from the other side. I ended up treating Candace with the callousness of a guy who thinks he deserves something new every day, but at least with X I shared the aloofness. With Y, it was more like I was attracted to what I should have wanted, what I have long since realized matters more than having a good time or becoming "experienced". She wanted someone stable. If I had known in midsummer `89 that in less than two years I'd be flat on my ass with a bullet in my back, I would have held onto her like my life depended on it. But hindsight's an unforgiving sonuvabitch.
July in North Texas is hot. Walking all day on tarred blacktop in polyester and trying to keep your temper while you're surrounded by forty-thousand kids screaming and running around like they're the Princes and Princesses of the world can seem like the seventh level of hell. That's why we of Park Services were glad for the lemonade stands dotting the main streets of Six Flags. We weren't supposed to stop at them, of course, and getting a lemonade without paying was a Pinkslip offense; but, if the right people were working, some ice water could be had. Y was one of those people, and glad I was that her stand was smack in the middle of area Five. When I was a buttwalker, I only had the chance while the stand was on my round; but, after I got the red tag, I had the run of the area. If our manager was off tending to something else, I'd hit the stand at any opportunity. During July and August, such opportunities are also necessities.
Y was first year, so it was really her stand manager who was the generous one. But Y was always ready to shout a, "Hi!" from her window when I walked by, and had a cute habit of asking in a conspiratorial half whisper whether I was coming in. The first few times, I'd just look down my nose with my trademark smirk and say, "You know we're not allowed." Then, of course, I'd do it anyway. After a couple weeks of this, however, I was stopping more often to talk to her by her window than to go in the back door. When you're a nineteen year old guy and a pretty girl calls you over, you go. Screw Management.
For once, I could tell she liked me by the way she became shy when I'd saunter up to her window. It was probably the first time in my life I recognized someone else's interest before mine. It set me off balance, and that translated into feigned overconfidence. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, a peon with a red tag is still just a peon, but I wore it like a gold-plated stupid-visor and believed my own illusion. Her smiles were always accompanied by lowered eyes. I thought that mask of vanity was what she was responding to, and so my ego was fed from all sides. Coy, demure? So little I knew about girls. Thus was the spider caught by the fly.
Besides the unofficial perks of working there, like the easy availability of girls and drug networking and the everpresence of the party scene, was the #1 official perk; having free access during our off-hours to the park and to Wet'N'Wild across I-30. Those of us who based much of our social life at Six Flags spent an obscene amount of time at both. In July and August, especially, a sizable percentage of the guests at the water park were Six Flags kids. My own enthusiasm for the place was only limited by my time spent back in Fort Worth with the punkers and stoners of Southside. One day, while I and another grubby enjoyed a couple of air-conditioned minutes in the back of Y's lemonade stand, she heard us planning a weekday excursion to Wet'N'Wild and asked about it. Well, of course we invited her along. The more girls we got to see in swimsuits, the better; and, if they had come with us, that meant that they'd leave with us. I only had the scooter and, as it turned out, she didn't have a car either, so we both decided to catch a ride at Six Flags from one of the other guys. For her it was a bit of rebellion because she normally worked weekends, being only seventeen, and would be telling her parents she was just taking an odd shift that day. I doubt she really had to lie about it, but the youth are often more paranoid about their parents than is warranted, n'est pas?
When it came around, the day was as hot and the sky as clear as one could want, heading for teh wet. I rode up on my blue Elite 150 and waited for Y at Six Flags' employee entrance with a gaggle of grubby friends who'd already arrived. Most times, when we were heading off to points out-of-park together, we'd meet up at the convenience store nearby on Copeland, but for Y we made an exception. Soon enough, and still early, she was dropped off by her mother and pretended to chillout with us before going into work. As soon as her mother left, we divided up into three cars and were off.
Never underestimate the importance of causing a little mischief in youth. It does wonders for one's self-confidence and prepares her for the time when all decisions will be her own responsibility to make. I could see in the brightness of Y's blue eyes what I'd felt the first time I'd gone out to Benbrook Lake to get drunk with friends. She was giddy with it, and told us how she'd never been able to do anything like that until leaving her father and moving in with her mother and step-father. For me, the real liberation had had to wait until I lost my personal hangups nineteen, but, for her, working at Six Flags was enough.
Despite sitting in the back seat with her, I was the oldest person in the caravan, and I felt every inch the Ben Kenobi. I can laugh about it now but, doing it all over again, I wouldn't change anything, on that day at least. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and by the time we got to Wet'N'Wild I had forgotten all about acting cool. In her one-piece, she was short and as thin as paper, but I've never gone for the amazons. The whole group was skinny and pale, except for forearms and foreheads. Anybody else there from Six Flags would've recognized us from a mile away. At play, Foods people and grubbies were like siblings, so we quickly fell into the moment and relived every recess from grade school. We bobbed around in the wave pool like five year olds, the lot of us, and screamed like babies going down the slides. Even when we'd gotten tired and cruised down the Lazy River, it was in a bunch, and teasing each other and screwing around was the rule.
As for Y, she stayed by me the whole time, like we'd planned it that way. My red tag facade was totally blown and her quietness had given way to volcanic bursts of laughter, but every look between us was private. We held hands while standing in queue lines and brushed against one another with impunity. At times, I felt alternatively five years old, then ten, then fifteen, then back to five. If there's a heaven, it had better be like that, or I don't want to go.
Like everything else, it couldn't last, and with the pruning of our skin came the realization that we had to go. Some of us had to work second shift back at Six Flags, including me, and Y had to get back to be picked up by her mother. Everyone was quiet in the car, but Y and I couldn't stop smiling. The devil wasn't in those smiles, yet they were worth more than words. For once, I hadn't even thought about pot or alcohol the whole time, but my true years of conspicuous consumption hadn't arrived. She and I parted at the Six Flags employee locker rooms without a word beyond, "See you Friday," but I was already laying plans. On Friday, while routinely stopping by her lemonade stand window, I asked her out on a more formal date, and she squeeked, "Sure!" O happy day, I thought, and stumbled over my broom.
Don't you know the news travelled faster than I was walking and, by the time I'd made a circuit of area Five, we'd already had a dozen dates and broken up, as far as the social scene was concerned. That evening, at the trash tub "round up", I got the cold shoulder from X. Well, she had a boyfriend; even trash piss smelled like roses to me. Y was already gone by the time I got out to the employee gate. Because we had to run trash, Park Services was always the last group out besides the third shift grubbies and Security, and Y was at the mercy of the `rents. There was a note from her on my scooter's dash, though. I still have it, but you'd have to kill me to find out what it says.
The next two days were spent teasing each other at her window, ironically, the only place we could get anything like privacy. Our date was set for Wednesday, my only day off that week, but we both had the whole day and meant to make the most of it. On Monday night I called her and we talked until her mom put an axe to it. On Tuesday, the same. If I had worked second shift those days, I'd have missed out on even that much. I can't remember the dreams I had then, but I bet they were good. Come Wednesday, I was running on jet fuel.
Waking up earlier than usual, I had an agonizing wait until she called me after getting home from school. She knew I only had the scooter, but, unlike Candace, she wasn't afraid of two wheelers. She'd been one of the girls who regularly bugged me to drive it around the parking lot at work. I'm telling you, chicks dig'em. When I rode up to her humble house in central Arlington, only six or eight blocks from Six Flags, she was ready and waiting at the curb in a smart windbreaker and faded jeans. Those were the days of acid-washing, donchano? With a hoot and a delicious laugh in my ear, we bugged.
I've gone on interminably about my insatiable quest for sex and mentioned my personal fetish of sharing a toke one-on-one with the lovelies, but until that date I wasn't really conscious of how great it felt to have a warm girl wrapped around me on the back of the scooter. The ones who I'd given rides to before had all had a destination in mind, and I wasn't getting off there. This time, I was the only one who knew where we were going, and Y had given herself up unquestioningly. To be fair to my younger self, I have to say he was more romantically minded than I when the occasion demanded it. I had no flowers or candy for her, as I had nowhere to put it, but I had what I thought was a decent night set up for us. Not knowing Arlington as well as I should have and Dallas having mostly bars we couldn't get into, I gave her a poor-man's cultural tour of Fort Worth. Starting in the museum district, we went to the Kimbell, the old Modern, and the Amon Carter. I played the gentleman all the way through, and we talked up a storm about what all of it meant and marvelled at the persistence of creativity over the ages. She really was a very interesting person, and I had the advantage of having visited those museums at least a hundred times apiece.
Next, we had an early dinner in the "cave" of Sardine's Italian restaurant, at that time still across the street from the museums. I've got respect for a girl who won't flinch away from a full plate of tortellini, but, from her figure, I guessed she had the same high metabolism as I. In any case, we were both famished. From there, it was a leasurely ride through Trinity Park down along the river to watch the sunset sparkling off the buildings downtown. Oh, I was good, my long-suffering readers. A peck here and there, a few well-placed compliments. Nothing innappropriate. I even told her two of the old Six Flags ghost stories. The breeze, the fountain, the ubiquitous ducks; I couldn't have paid someone to get it all so right. As far as romance movie magic is concerned, I was at the height of my powers. Either that, or she had a low tolerance for the age-old art of bullshit. It was pluperfect. So, in the tradition of every romance movie ever made, I proceeded to screw it up.
After the sun was down, there was nothing to do but take our date indoors, and for this I had picked the Axis Club on South Main Street. That would've been cool for X, I'm sure. But this was a place of smoke, monkeys with drumsticks, and crowdsurfing. I could tell from the moment she got off the scooter that this wasn't Y's kind of place. It was Wednesday, so it wasn't that crowded, but the floor was trashed; the kids were sporting pins, pink hair, and liberty spikes; and, all of the sudden, Y's date was being assaulted bodily and called "Shrubber". She shrank before my out-of-park friends like a sea anemone and started sneezing from the smoke. It didn't help that Badger was there, a huge guy resembling a buff Ramone in head-to-toe leather and steel. We stayed for a couple of songs of Lickety Split or Hunger Artist or one of the other locals who all run together in my mind now, but Y's discomfort was obvious, so I drew her out. I'm sure that if I had asked her rather than nudged her, she would have given me something like, "No, it's fine," and that was the last thing I wanted to hear from her. Outside, I did ask her what she thought of the place, and she answered with the question, "Why do they call you 'Shrubber'?" No argument, no disloyalty could have shown me as surely as that that the worldwind romance I'd hoped for wasn't going to happen. They called me Shrubber because they were my closest friends; sluts, druggies, rock&rollers, suicidals, street fighters, and all; and I couldn't ask her to go down that path just to be with me. On the drive back to her house, I imagined ways I might bring her in gradually, but every memory of that day just screamed too fucking innocent.
The night wasn't over yet, my disappointed idealists. I'd misread girls consistently until then, don't count out my ineptness yet. I still had plenty of willful ignorance to spare.
As a result of my choice of nightlife, I got her home much earlier than I'd expected, and, for a bigger surprise, she asked me in to meet her mother and step-father. I was glad to do it, hoping to save the mood, and her mom rose to the occasion for me. She was an old hippy, like so many parents of Six Flags employees, and had retained the look, if not the grunge. She and I got along immediately while Y's stepfather mostly sat to the side and watched TV. We talked about Six Flags, of course. From her mom's first times going there in the early seventies to some of the PG-rated moments Y and I had seen in the last two years. She considered it a good way for Y to "get out of her shell." Indeed. She seemed genuinely impressed with me, although I didn't hold back from disclaiming my age and general loserdom. Y, for her part, was mostly embarassed at her mother's tales. The time passed easily, and Y's step-father turned in before we were half through Y's life story. She had been with her father most of that time, and I got the idea she was a victim of the All-American game of parental volleyball.
Eventually, the Big Lull ensued, and I mentioned for the third time that I had to work in the morning. Shock of shocks, Y's mother said that I should stay there on the couch rather than ride back to Fort Worth. Y tried not to stare. I was rather tired, but this was surreal. I've met many liberal parents, but not parents of the girls I'd dated. Before I could think of a reason not to, and I wasn't trying, she'd brought out a pillow and blanket. Well, I was no stranger to couch surfing. In fact, that spring, I'd spent many a night on Keith's or Shawn's couches before getting with Candace and piled up with me droogs in the back room of the Axis when my legs were too wobbly to carry me to the scooter. So I tucked in while mom and daughter went their ways, thinking how lucky I was to have come up even for the night. I usually had no problem getting to sleep in a strange place, but the situation was weird enough that it took a while before I drifted off.
And woke to a tap on the shoulder from Y. Oh, yes, my nodding accomplices, it was near two in the morning, and she wanted to "talk". She sat, and we chatted very quietly about the day at Wet'N'Wild and our date. Almost immediately, it was, "Do you like me?" and, "You can kiss me, they sleep like the dead." Before long, she was pushing her fuzzy slippers off and I was lifting up her nightshirt. No sizzling on the grille here, to be sure. It was slow and silent. So slow, in fact, it would be hard to say when it really began. We became too warm under the blanket, but didn't want to lose even that much cover for fear of the `rents. I was visualizing shotguns and hangman's nooses, but Y was so soft I wouldn't have stopped if someone had dumped icewater on us. When I finally lost it, she stayed long enough to look into my eyes in a way that was haunting, then eased out and tiptoed to the bathroom carrying her slippers in her hands. I waited for a half hour after she'd gone to bed to go to the bathroom myself. It was a bizarre ending to a mindnumbing date, and I think I got all of fifteen minutes sleep because of it.
In the morning, Y went to school and I went to work. Simple, yet absurd. Her mom even gave me some eggs and toast for breakfast. I dreaded working all day, but that went by fast. I dreaded talking to Y on the phone that night, but we laughed about it all. I dreaded seeing her at work again that Friday, but we ended up setting another date. Cool.
I was beginning to think everything had come out all right, but our next date wasn't as good as the first. We stayed in Arlington, cruising Cooper Street and hanging out with her friends at a teen club. The traffic was horrendous for riding on two wheels, and I had to walk us through the smog and dodge drunken yahoos who thought we were there for their entertainment. It scared Y to death and pissed me off. We both became cranky and ended the night on a sour note. Our third and last date was almost identical, except this time in South Arlington trying in vain to find a Foods house party. We couldn't work anything out for another week because it was the height of the season at Six Flags, and by that time she'd found another guy at school. In two more weeks, she quit.
At the time, I rationalized it as a comedy of errors. Bad timing compounded by bad choices. Was it the sex? Was it my "secret life"? Was it just the notorious ghosts of Six Flags playing their little games? Does it matter any more? Like with X, she didn't get pregnant. Unlike X, we didn't stay friends. Y had been quiet when I met her. After our last date, we hardly spoke at all. She never seemed angry at me for anything, or afraid, for that matter. Still, when it was over, it was gone.
I know she liked riding on the back of my scooter, though. I heard her laugh.