The spring I am seventeen, I love a boy who drives a 1972 Thunderbird, a relic from a decade before. We blow off afternoon classes or cut school entirely, wandering upstate. We’ll get away with it, he says. We’re honor students, mathletes and Most Likely to Succeed, only an idiot would challenge us. On those days, we park at the top of a ridge, the Thunderbird’s beak peers over a lake into the woods, only a snarl of roots keeping us from overtaking the shale. We crank down the windows to whistling breezes and winking sunlight and rarely budge from our nest. Deep in its split-bench seats, through our smirking, herby haze we dissect Kafka, nukes and whether Stairway to Heaven is the greatest fucking song ever written. It is.
One time, he tells me that when he was eight his dad drove his mom to the emergency room in the Thunderbird, her wrists shackled in dripping dishrags barely up to the job. She didn’t come home the next time he brought her there. The floor mats still bear the scars of her suicide.
One time, suspended from the track team for missing so much school, his fists slam the three-spoke rim-blow steering wheel, his rage accelerating with each blast of the horn. He swears he’ll kill that asshole coach and the whole worthless pack. They’ll never make it to the championship without him. My heart thumps in my ears as the Thunderbird pushes closer to the edge.
We carve an elegant plan to backpack the world and conquer it, youth hostel by youth hostel. And definitely, he makes me promise, as he holds and kisses my clammy hands, we’ll die young together. We are just beginning and have an endless supply of days to throw away. Death is nothing I dread. That spring I love a boy who kisses my hands and is passionate and deep.
We kiss for the first time in the car. It is here we wrestle naked, sticky, sweet. It is here he loves me until he doesn’t, and laughs while tears trail my sorry cheeks and fog the tiny opera windows.
In late June, the Thunderbird escorts him and someone not me, to prom.
In August, it delivers him to Cambridge.
Ten years after, a state trooper finds the car as it peers out over a lake into the woods, only a snarl of roots keeping it from overtaking the shale. Deep in the velveteen seats, he has chugged whisky and exhaust. There is no note. There is one witness.