By the time the Summer of 1993 arrived, I was obsessed with the 1960’s. I read everything I could get my hands on, and that was quite a bit. Uncle Fred was sending me books to add to my collection about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Tom Wolfe’s Acid Test. I read No One Here Gets Out Alive a few times and was well versed on acid trips. I grew my hair long, searched for bell bottomed jeans and watched the Woodstock series on repeat. At the time, I was unaware of my pull towards wanting to belong to something, a community. I was unaware of the amount of shame I carried and unaware that I was searching for trust and acceptance outside myself. I didn’t know that approval from others is what made me feel safe. That my worth was based on others opinions. It would take me thirty years, failed relationships, motherhood and a therapist to realize that the person I needed to trust the most was me. Going into my Jr year in High School, my fear of people spray painting swastikas on my locker had pretty much disappeared, but I would always be on high alert. I was still running ahead of my friends to get in my house during Chanukah so that I could hide the menorah before they saw it. I still wished we could have Christmas lights on our house like everyone else. I hated it when people told me Happy Holidays and not just Merry Christmas. It seems so silly now, of course they knew. In small towns everyone knows everything. There are no secrets.
I meet him at the garbage dump the summer before my Junior year. It's my first job. I am 15 and my friend and I are the first girls and first teenagers to be hired. Jerry is our boss and looks like a bearded Jim Morrison had he made it to 50. We sit with him in the mornings across from the garbage trucks and make coffee in the Bunn coffee pot. It is stained with the kind of soot you will only see at a garbage dump. Everything is tacky and soiled. We smoke cigarettes and I drink my coffee in a beat up plastic thermos, red and white, that says Sullivan Redskins on the side. I add enough non-dairy creamer to make it beige and use a plastic red stick to stir in 5 sugar packets. Sometimes when we arrive to work in the morning Jerry is passed out in the front office with an empty fifth of Jack Daniels at his side, having never gone home the night before. Within the year Jerry will die of a heart-attack early in the morning, in his red Chevy truck, just outside the landfill.
The building is made of steel with cement floors, the sound of rain is intoxicating. I work the conveyer belt in the recycling section, which is up plywood stairs on a landing with plywood windows cut out to see below. He runs the baler and I watch him from above. He stands atop the heavy hydraulic machinery, his legs straddled over the top while he uses a big stick to push down the plastic or aluminum or cardboard. A sign warns him of death. The minute I see him, I want to know who he is. I tell my guy friends and they laugh. Really? They are friends with him and knew him from school. Within days we have our first date. He is 18 and our birthdays are one week apart in the fall. He earned a GED last year. I tell him that my dad also got a GED because it’s true and I want him to know that we are not different.
We don't really date. We are just together. I am his woman. I go with him places. To buy weed in Decatur, to his Aunts house to pick up his hemmed jeans. We smoke weed, trip and drink with our friends. One night his ex-girlfriend shows up at our friends house and yells at me from her car. She calls me a bitch, a slut, a whore and tells me I am nothing but a rebound. I stay hidden inside the one room apartment with my friends. I am confused by her hatred and her anger. I do not know her and I am scared of not being liked.
He lives with his parents in a small white house on Harrison Street. He tells me his parents conceived him in a tent in California at the end of 1973 and I am instantly convinced we are soulmates. His bedroom walls are wood paneled and covered in posters. Fear the Reaper, Pink Floyd and Jim Morrison gifted to him from his ex-girlfriend. Soon he will give them to me and they will cover my walls, reminding me of him when he is gone.
The ashtrays are cluttered with the butts of Kool menthols. Empty cans of Vess Soda and Coke dot the room. Sitting on the shelf of the waterbed is a half empty 2 liter of RC, an empty 24oz plastic cup from White Hen Pantry, cd cases, incense, a yellow bic lighter and a purple ceramic candle holder I made in art class. On the brown carpet sits a glass from the kitchen with white geese, blue bows around their necks, filled with sweet tea, ice cubes floating at the top.
We sit on the edge of the waterbed, his legs, long and lean in stone washed jeans, fold over the brown vinyl cushion. Mine are curled up in a pretzel, the ends of my bell bottoms gathered at my feet. There are only sheets on the bed. Dark blue and stained with our sex. The tv console sits on the floor next to the bed and we watch MTv. Blind Melon's Rain followed by Tool's Sober. He taps the hitter on the side of an ashtray and it makes a clink clink sound. He packs another one for me, digging the brass hitter into the side of the little wooden box packed with weed. Sticks and seeds roll around on a blue and white corningware saucer, balancing on the waterbed. I stay here almost every weekend now. I tell my mom I am staying at my friend’s house and I call her to check in. I am always checking in.
I smell like Sunflowers perfume, cigarettes, Canadian Mist, weed and sex. The world has stopped and it's just us and I don't want it to ever end. I tell him that I will have his baby and we will name him Ozzy. He calls me his woman and he smiles at me and tucks his beautiful dark brown hair behind his ears. He has all of my trust.
Within a few months a few more teenagers work the belt. I bring in my tape player and we listen to Danzig and Metallica, Primus and Black Sabbath. My work gloves become stiff from old milk, soda, a resin that cakes everything. The recycling gets dumped into a pit from one of the trucks and comes up the conveyer belt to be sorted. In the heat of summer the stench of sour milk jugs takes some getting used to, especially when you take off a lid and the putrid stench heads straight to your face. I am now in charge of the conveyer belt. My friend Adam works at the pharmacy in town and he writes me notes HI NATALIE on plastic bottles and I find them traveling up the belt. The belt is covered in the same resin as our gloves, our boots, the floor, our coffee mugs, under our fingernails. I collect old glass bottles to burn candles in. Little trinkets we find sit collected on the plywood ledge.
When school starts in the Fall and I turn 16, my dad and uncle give me a Harley Davidson leather jacket for my birthday. An eagle embossed on the back, the shoulders still a little too big for my skinny frame. I am a cheerleader and on Friday’s I meet him at his parents house during my lunch break in my uniform and my leather jacket. We smoke weed and I go back to school. The principal of the school will scold me for wearing my leather jacket at football games and tell me I make the squad look bad. I know that it is me and not the jacket that he does not like.
He breaks up with me and I am devastated. There is no fight. He is very matter-a-fact. He tells me that I do not fit in with his friends. I quite my job at the garbage dump and I work at McDonald’s for two weeks. I insist on remaining friends and I will soon be hanging out with him and his new girlfriend. They pick me up one night after my shift and Fleetwood Mac Dreams is on the radio and it’s like I am hearing it and feeling it for the first time. I tell him I hate working at McDonalds and he tells me to come back to the garbage dump and I do.
That winter we have unseasonably cold weather. At work our gloves are frozen stiff and we stand in front of the huge kerosene heater that will catch our gloves on fire if we are being stupid. We take pulls off the big plastic bottle of Calvert Whisky that he has hidden behind a bale. Eventually we are all sent home because it’s too cold and we can’t move our hands. Our cars are cold and cough exhaust and our tires crunch on the gravel parking lot, which is the same color as the sky.