We Built This City
He never liked rock and roll. He didn't like much music at all, really. He would listen to the notes come crackling out of the radio of his clunker of a car, whose seats were duct taped and sunroof was permanently open, and he would ask me what the point was. He said it only gave him false hope.
Despite that, every time he took me riding in his car, (we later decided to name her Lady,) he would roll down all the windows, turn on the radio, and raise the volume the way he'd seen it done in the movies, simply because he could. (He always smiled when he saw me throw my head back and laugh. I always loved imagining us onto screens.)
Even though his dad bought the car for him on his sixteenth birthday, a year before I met him, he called Lady ours. Her blue paint was rusted and the air conditioning never worked and we loved her more than anything. When we were speeding along the deserted backroads and holding our breaths as we crossed those countless wooden bridges, when I had my feet up on the dashboard and he flicked the ash off the end of his cigarette out the window, we were invincible. Lady was our escape from reality in which we could be anyone. The world was ours. At least, the town was. We both knew we'd not be able to leave. So we made the city our own. We knew everything and we were in charge. We ruled the streets and they belonged to us.
He had five freckles splatter painted across his nose, and his eyes were as blue as his night-wind. He kept his hair cropped short, hoping no one would notice his fear of what happened when he let it grow. He wore bandanas around his head in the summer and green v-necks all year. His white canvas sneakers were decorated with black sharpie doodles and he always told me he didn't mean anything by them.
On the days we didn't
have go to school, we went to the park and watched people sunburn by the pond. Once, when the heat hung over us like the ominous clouds that threatened us with thunder, we both took off our shoes and socks and freed our feet. He told me he liked the color I had painted my toe nails. When he unwrapped his arms from around his scuffed-up knees and stretched out his legs, I saw the tattoo on the bottom of his foot: one thin, black feather that curved with his sole. I told him it was lovely; he told me he hated it. I didn't ask him why and he didn't tell me.
Months later I discovered the note folded to represent a bird. It was the note that told him his mother had flown away from him.
The first time he told me he loved me was in a note. It was different from the others he'd written to me. It was not elaborate or particularly eloquent. It was not a poetic description of waking up moments before sunrise or a verse about the beauty in asymmetry. It did not give me goosebumps and did not cause me to sigh in lieu of its elegance. It was simple and honest, and the smile it evoked could have been described as a mere twitch of the lips. Those who didn't know me would go on to believe that it held little meaning to me at all.
When he died, I shed only three tears before I remembered the weeks he spent convincing me that crying was a waste. That night I locked myself in my room and played my rock and roll CD's as loud as the stereo let me. As much as he didn't like the tunes, it was something I knew he'd understand.
A week later, I met his father. There were tears in his familiar blue eyes and on his rosy cheeks. His lip quivered as he told me that he never really knew his son. He handed me Lady's keys and turned away, and I think he knew him better than any of us gave him credit for.
On the day I left town, I put on his favorite pair of vintage sunglasses. I walked up to Lady and slid into the driver's seat, thinking I'd drive around one last time. I stopped myself. The places weren't what mattered. I turned the key in the ignition and pulled the last cigarette out of his emergency pack in the glove compartment. I held it up to the flame that flared up from the lighter he gave me, but didn't put it to my lips. I watched in slight fascination as the thin white cylinder burned and dwindled until all that was left was the orange filter. I flicked it out the window the way I'd seen him do dozens of times previously. One deep breath, and my foot was on the gas. I rolled down all the windows, turned on the radio, and raised the volume all the way like they did in the movies, just because I could.
We built this city on rock and roll...