Pick Up by Michael Webb
It was funny, I thought. I could actually go for a long time-15 minutes, maybe-and completely forget about it. It wasn’t until I had to reach in a certain way, or stretch backwards, or until my stomach growled, maybe, that I realized again who I was, and what I was, and what was happening to me. Those moments, those sudden spasms of forgetting where none of it had happened-were blissful, but brief.
I was driving to pick up my sister after soccer practice. I had the radio on, tuned to the hits station she liked. I really didn’t like it, but leaving it on that station was easier than fighting about it once she climbed in. I just let it play-the insipid tunes, the mindless chatter from the DJ-giving me background music for the movie of my life. Ever since my life blew up, raining down burning pieces of existence like the climax of a buddy cop film, simpler has been the goal for me.
It was a simple, stupid mistake. Not made out of sloppiness, really, or total self centeredness, just sort of a mixture of both-a mutual loss of control. I could blame him, rant and rave and curse my lot, but I was there, too. I could have insisted. And I didn’t. Blaming is pointless at this juncture, anyway. Someone on the radio was singing about how they think they are in love. Good for you, I think, turning the wheel to make a hard right turn, feeling the seat belt press against me. There’s my reminder, right on time-a routine, instinctive motion, that is suddenly less comfortable. .
Not that my mother fails to remind me of my status. I love my mother-who doesn’t love their mother, right?-but I really don’t need to be reminded. I know it was dumb, poorly timed, a burden on everyone-I understand it. Besides the routine tensions of living in a house with two other women-a notion that gets harder as my sister gets older-there is the insistence, by both of them, that I be constantly reminded that I messed up. I appreciate all that my mother does-really, I do, but still-it was an error, I get it. I felt a twinge-not a pain, just a lurch, sort of-to emphasize the point-somewhere in there.
I eased our van into line with other parents’ vehicles, waiting my turn to pick up my charge. I saw Angie at a distance, recognizing her easily among the ponytailed horde. Being an older sister, I have been picking her out of crowds for a long time. She was standing with two other girls, a taller one I knew and a shorter one I didn’t recognize. I wondered if they were talking about me, then discarded the thought almost as quickly. They have their own little trials to worry about-rumors and fears and scandals and the thousand little slings and arrows of girl life.
I felt a wave of sadness-I knew what troubles she had coming, generally speaking-not the exact source of drama, but the type would be the same-betrayals, breakups, boys-passions without reason causing heartache that feels eternal. I still wanted to protect her, as annoying as she often was, from this sort of hurt-from any sort of hurt. I knew it wasn’t possible.
She had guitar tomorrow, so I was going to see him. He wasn’t like anyone else I knew-he looked, but didn’t stare, he listened, without judging, he heard without my having to repeat. In a different world, with a different me-sure, I could see it happening. He wasn’t devastating, but he was nice enough looking, I supposed, and he was sweet and had really good taste in music. And despite what they thought, and despite what had happened, I was still a girl, and–
Just stop it, I ordered myself. Don’t even go down that road. You know you can’t. So stop. Don’t. You’re not doing that, period. You have too much on your plate. I pulled up to the curb, and, after a pause, Angela broke off from her friends and brought a pair of bags to the car door. I hit the button to unlock it, and she climbed in, shutting it behind her. I could smell the air change-mown grass and exhaust fumes and sweat.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” I answered.
“What’s for dinner,” she asked. It was a lot of work to prepare dinner and clean up, but someone had to do it-she was too young and Mom was too tired. I sighed quietly.
“Chicken, I think.” There was some chicken thawing, and I had about 11 minutes to come up with something to do with it. My feet ached with the thought of 60, or more, minutes standing in the kitchen.
“I’m sick of chicken.” She sounded pouty-tired and hormonal. I hated the sound, but I sympathized too.
“I am too,” I said quietly and pulled away from the school.