I’m seventeen and the first girl I’ll ever ask to be my girlfriend is lying down next to me in the bed of her dad’s Ford Ranger. It’s an old truck, it must be three feet wide, and I’ve never lain next to a girl before, and every second the walls of the truck bed feel closer and closer. Just over the side of the truck, her mom and dad are in canvas lawn chairs with cup holders built into the arm rests, and they’ve got sweating cans of bubbling golden poison that makes them laugh when normally they’d fight or say nothing, makes them cry when normally they’d find separate ends of the trailer, makes them sing when normally they’d watch TV or read the newspaper or fold laundry or smoke cigarettes on the steps.
It’s the fourth of July and everyone’s parking on both sides of the road—two walls of cars leading all the way to Castleton, a town with no downtown, but somehow they manage a sizable fireworks show every Independence Day. It’s hot as hell with rainforest humidity, and dogflies are biting, mosquitoes are swarming, gibbons are shrieking, coyotes are howling, blue jays are cawing, and bats are circling, and in this gauntlet of motor vehicles, glaring strangers stumble along, automatons, poison spilling, psychotic and babbling. Cigarette clouds and her parents’ voices wash over us, and I’m suffocating and worried one will stand and see her hand on my thigh, and when she looks at me and sees I’m a corpse, she says, Why don’t we go for a walk? Find Jinny?
Jinny, her sister, is pale as a ghost with rings in her ears and eyebrows and nose and nipples and God knows where else, and she dresses like a boy who wants to be good at skateboarding, and when we find her she’s making out with a girl who looks more like a girl than she probably ever will, and I wonder how her sister, the one I’m holding hands with, ended up winning the family genetic lottery, and just when I’m about to ask if we should walk back to the truck, lightning flashes and explodes in thunder that vibrates our clothes and teeth fillings.
Purple skies descend and white and gray clouds come roiling from them, and all around, ants, grasshoppers, and lizards are gathering their coolers, uprooting their lawn chairs, hanging their sunglasses in t-shirt necklines, and swearing, and shouting children are bouncing around like electrons surrounding this atomic nucleus of rednecks and cousins and drunkards and sinners and cavorters, carousers, dancers, and demons, and we’re fireflies colliding, flying for the truck, we and her sister, and raindrops are bursting and plummeting downward. We’re jumping ditches more like canals; cups and potato chip bags are sailing along. Sirens are sounding, horns are blowing, and from a distant grandstand built from a trailer, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” sends us to the truck.
Inside it’s ashes and headlights passing, windshield wipers and Waylon Jennings, crashing heavens and wheels spinning. Soaked to our skin, our clothes are like nothing; we’re crammed together, five to the bench seat. Her mother is steering, crying, and pleading her husband to stop laughing, yelling, and screaming, and hanging halfway out the passenger window. Rain’s flying in and everyone’s nervous; I’m sandwiched between the sisters and sweating. Their boney hips, they bruise into mine; their hands and arms are all wrapped around me. Jinny is smirking and smelling my earlobe, and I’m not sure but maybe stealing my wallet. The girl I’m thinking I may ask out next Sunday is whispering warm words into my shoulder: I’ll never leave you, I’ll never leave you, I’ll never leave you, I’ll never leave you.