“‘Does your partner ever bite, scratch, or otherwise cause you physical harm?'” Jeannie looks up from the school-mandated domestic abuse assessment, “Does it count if I’m into that?”
My cheeks color and my classmates break into laughter. We are draped across couches and narrow chairs in the tech lounge, all slightly abuzz with anticipation for our show tonight. It is closing night, we are having a cast party afterward at a senior’s house – one of the lead actors.
At fifteen years old I have a crush on him because I have a crush on most of the senior boys I meet.
“Just put no,” Elijah tells Jeannie, “You know what it is they’re asking – that’s not abuse.”
As a freshman on the marketing team, I’m more or less a gopher at this point. But it’s a job I like, doing little things to lighten the load, being useful in the small areas of a production.
The lights are turned off and Panic! At the Disco is playing on Elijah’s speakers. The lights aren’t out for the purpose of illicit high-school-theatre-kid-activities, they are out because Elijah’s speakers light up in every color of the rainbow and shoot water against the glass.
It is beautiful, with the lights out and the speakers dancing and the music playing and all of us speaking in low voices.
I sigh when my phone buzzes in my pocket. It is the leader of the marketing team:
Can you get a staple gun from Ron?
Ron is our stage manager.
“Guys I’ve got to get up,” I say and wait for my friends to unwind from one another so I can stand. I leave the tech lounge and wince in the fluorescent lights backstage. I go to the pit and find Ron on a ladder, fixing part of the stage. Last semester someone dropped a chair into the pit during a show and hit one of the tuba players.
It was funny, once everyone realized he was okay. But it messed up the edge of the stage, I think it is funny that Ron is fixing it now, on closing night of the year’s last performance.
“Hey, do we have an extra staple gun?” I ask.
Ron sighs and leans back, holstering the hammer he is working with. He glances at me and his lips twist up in thought.
Finally he says, “yeah, hold on.” And climbs off the ladder. I follow him back to the woodshop where I am surprised he opens the locked cabinet of new supplies – they never open new stuff if they can help it. He pulls out a brand new staple gun and starts to open it.
“Have you used one before?” He asks.
I shake my head.
“Okay,” he loads it, points it at a plank of wood and pulls the trigger. It shoots with a crack and he holds it out to me, “Simple as that. Don’t point it at faces, bodies, or penises.”
“Has that happened before?”
Ron is already walking past me and grumbles: “we don’t discuss past shows on closing night.”
Christ, I think as I hurry to find our producer, public school is so weird.
My heart lifts when I hear her voice and I turn eagerly toward Charlie. She is already in costume, ripped jeans and a worn white shirt. The makeup team has half of her fake blood applied.
“Hey!” I skip toward them, “Are you excited?”
“Yes!” Charlie cheers. She is a freshman too, only has one line in the whole play. Three years from now she will be stage manager, will be drum major to the marching band, will win state competitions for clarinet performance. We don’t know that now though.
Now she is just Charlie, the first friend I made this year. Charlie, who introduced me to my favorite bands. Charlie, who got me involved in theatre. Charlie, who I think is beautiful in a way i haven’t really thought about before – with girls, at least.
The show goes by in a blur. The marketing team runs the lobby and closes the doors, then we sit in the back and proudly watch our friends and none of us think about the fact that this is our last show of the year. None of us think about the seniors graduating or me moving.
It takes a little configuring, but we finally lock down rides to the party. I know our director and a number of parents will be there, but I figure out pretty quickly that there is an unspoken rule going on: the adults are upstairs where the food is. What goes on in the basement is between the students.
In the basement the lights are out and upbeat music plays and a strobe light is flashing. My friends and I dance and laugh and occasionally break upstairs to get a snack or some water.
I don’t know what time it is when I realize I really need to pee but the dancing has died down. Soft yellow lights are on in the basement now and we sit around with cups of soda and bowls of chips and just talk (jn retrospect, I am sure many were not only drinking soda.)
“Hey?” I ask Charlie, who is leaning against me. I am hesitant to move because I don’t want my spot to be taken, sitting so close to her and feeling her against me makes my skin feel electric. Makes my lips burn with a desire I don’t quite recognize, makes my chest scream with frustration at the fact that in two months I am moving – again.
“Is there a bathroom down here?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Charlie frowns and sits up just a bit, “Around that corner.” She tells me and I stand.
This basement is huge. I lurch through two other rooms and then bend around the corner and freeze where I am.
Three boys are sitting in this space, and the smell in the room is unfamiliar. It smells sour and I don’t know why but goosebumps slide up my arms because I am sure this is a smell that is for some reason considered bad.
“Hey,” One of the guys looks at me. They are all seniors, one successful in the band and the other two lead actors. I have a crush on all three of them.
My eyes go to the white roll of paper in the first guys’ hand and he holds a lighter out to me, “I’m so fuckin’ drunk – can you light this for me?”
“I – I uh -”
That’s weed I have finally pieced together, and my mind begins to race. I worry Mom will notice the smell on me when I get home tonight. Mom already doesn’t like my theatre friends because so many of them are queer (at least, I think that’s why. I’ve never been real clear on why my mom didn’t like them.) She is going to kill me if I get home tonight smelling like smoke.
“Y – yeah,” my voice wavers and I cross the room and take the lighter from him. It is a multi-purpose lighter, which in retrospect makes it a little sadder that he couldn’t figure it out himself.
I light the joint for him and throw the lighter on the table and start to flee the room.
“Hey!” He calls after me, “You want a hit?”
“No thanks!” My voice squeaks and I shoot out of there. I hurry back to the corner of the basement my friends have claimed but I know they will see I’m upset – when my face colors there’s no hope.
“Hey,” Charlie sits up and smiles at me, “what’s up?”
“N – nothing,” I say, “It was … occupied.”
“Oh, there’s one upstairs.” She offers and I nod.
I take the stairs two at a time and finally pee.
When I come out, Charlie is standing outside the bathroom door.
“You okay?” She asks.
“Yeah,” I laugh, “Just – ran into the guys. They’re smoking weed down there.”
“Gross,” Charlie’s nose wrinkles.
“Come on,” Charlie wraps her hand around my wrist and takes me out to the backyard. We sit on the edge of the deck and look out at the yard. Charlie plays Bad Blood and puts her phone between us.
“The show was really good tonight,” I tell her.
“Thanks,” She says, “But you know you had a part too.”
“Well,” I laugh, “that’s how I got into the party.”
We are silent and my legs swing off the deck. I tilt my head toward her phone and listen to the music,
“This was really fun,” she says, “Theatre this year – I mean. I can’t wait to keep working on this.”
“I bet it looks great on a college app,” I say. Ours is an award-winning theatre program. It won’t be ours soon, but theirs.
“Definitely,” she says, and then adds “Grace … don’t do this.”
“Huh?” I start a little, and lean away from her. I worry maybe I was doing something without thinking about it. I have learned a lot this year about feminism and LGBT rights and Black Lives Matter and other social justice matters – most of it thanks to Charlie and my other theatre friends. I wonder if I said or did something wrong.
“Sorry – I meant the song.”
We are both silent, listening.
You put up your defenses when you leave
You leave because you’re certain
Of who you want to be
You’re putting up your armor when you leave
And you leave because you’re certain
Of who you want to be
“That’s what you were doing when we met,” she says, “In August. When you moved here. I don’t want you to do that when you move this time – don’t just close yourself up so you don’t get hurt.”
I blink and water has filled my eyes. Oblivion is playing now and I think: how fitting.
“I do that because loving people hurts,” I say, “and loving when you know you’re just going to leave again hurts.”
“But don’t you think it’s worth it?”
I look at Charlie, Blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. A heart that loves and fights, freckles and dimples and the kindest smile and a courageous brain and a phenomenal talent for music.
I think of her teaching me how to put on makeup, of pointing out all the smallest details of the Captain America movie, of eating too many chips and tearing apart the lyrics to every Bastille song there is. Of going to the mall and making the walk to that flower festival at the local private school, of filming varsity lacrosse games in the cold for a little extra cash, of accompanying me to church because I hated it there and her presence made it a little more bearable.
I would give up the world if it meant not moving in May. If it meant I could stay with Charlie.
And I want to tell her I’m feeling things that I know I’m not supposed to feel about a girl. And I know it’s wrong but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. That doesn’t change how you have changed my life. You have given me my friends. You have given me a love for music and for theatre and my passion for justice. You have built so much of me in just one year and I cannot fathom leaving you.
Finally I choke out: “for some people, yes, it’s worth it.”
And my thoughts fill with fantasies of kissing her. Of touching her hand or her waist, of running my fingers through her hair. Of whispering an illicit confession that may or may not be true. Of telling her she saved me when I was broken, expressing that she is everything I have ever wanted and will ever want to be and more.
But feeling those types of things for a girl is wrong.
I swallow hard and put my feelings away.
I ask, my throat dry and my chest sore: “what do you think the musical will be next year?”
-Grace T, April 2018
-As of the time of this posting, Charlie is doing well. She is studying Environmental Science in New York. We’re still friends but more or less only through Facebook. That being said, it doesn’t change the impact Charlie had on me in 9th grade and how she shaped the person I’ve become today.