Junior High Girls
That’s how it was then: five junior high girls in a friend’s mobile home without any supervision, beer in the fridge, dusk coming on and all of us drinking too much, too fast. A few boys lived in this trailer court, too—classmates of ours, and we were giddy with the thought of those boys sneaking towards us in the dark. I can’t remember now if the boys ever showed up. What I do remember is how the prettiest girl leaned out the open living room window and puked, her whole body shuddering, the charm bracelet on her wrist glinting in the moonlight like a knife, like a wish. We pulled the girl back inside and laid her down on the carpet. One of us put a soaked washcloth across her forehead and someone else wrapped a blanket around her. We tried to cure her the way our mothers would when we were sick as schoolchildren. We treated the girl’s illness like any other. We sobered up quick from the responsibility. We slept and were eager for the clarity of dawn, the crunch of cereal in our bowls, the sound of tires on the gravel road out front as our parents came to get us in the morning.
When I was 16 my boyfriend and I tried to bleach my hair using a box dye from Wal-Mart. We applied the cream with our hands and then combed it through, careful not to get it in my eyes or on my skin. I took a shower afterwards to find my hair was various shades of orange with yellow leopard spots near my scalp. I tied it back and put on a sweatshirt with a hood. My boyfriend laughed and said we’d have to shave me bald. My mom had to pay close to a hundred dollars to get it fixed the next day at the salon. Nothing to do but dye it dark, the hairdresser said. She trimmed a few inches of damage off the ends, too. I left the salon with shiny chestnut brown hair down to my shoulders, which suited me fine. But when my boyfriend saw it, he laughed again, said I looked like one of the girls from Little House on the Prairie. It was his idea to bleach it blonde in the first place. If I could go back to being the girl I was, I’d tell him to fuck off. But at the time, I didn’t say anything like that. Who knows, maybe I didn’t say anything at all. Maybe I just ran my fingers through my dark hair and laughed, like a good girl.
He ran away back when we were in high school. I hardly knew him—he was a few years younger than me. We all learned his name after he was gone. It was early spring, sometime in late March. The snow had melted except on the mountains, and glacier lilies were in bloom already. A whole week passed, and his picture was printed alongside details of his disappearance in the local paper: a 17-year-old boy of medium height and build was last seen near the entrance to a campground north of town. He was wearing blue jeans and a dark gray sweatshirt. We studied his picture out of curiosity: wavy blonde hair, rectangular glasses with thin silver frames, braces. He looked like anyone. That is, he looked normal. Is this the portrait of a dead boy, we asked, or the portrait of a hitchhiker who made his way to Canada or down south to California? Nobody knew. A search and rescue team brought bloodhounds to scour the campground. Divers swam to the bottom of the inky pool below the waterfall. Months passed with fundraisers and campaigns and news articles with nothing to report. We all tied yellow ribbons to our door handles as reminders of missing children. Some hikers found his body at the bottom of a steep ravine the following July. Hundreds of people showed up for his funeral, and a stranger donated a handmade casket. “There are angels all around,” his mother told the papers. We believed her, this woman who was now a mother to death, to loss and decay. She wore a yellow ribbon in her hair for a long time afterwards.