When I was 20 I got a job at the Red Cross in Florida, 1,300 miles away from anyone I’d ever known. I met an ex-marine named Jake there and we started dating. We were like two strong magnets, forever being pulled to each other in whatever we did, and it made me happy that I didn’t get sick of being around him. We worked together, hung out at night, slept in the same bed, woke up, and repeated the process over and over. We always wanted to be around each other, and I think about it now with fondness.
He thought I was goofy, and listened to my ramblings of the difficulty of being a religious person whilst also being immersed in the punk scene there. He was not religious nor into punk, but he was suddenly immersed in it (as well as involuntarily becoming a vegetarian, since we usually made food together). We were such opposites, which made it all the more surprising that a buff military dude who drove a Mercedes would be so enamored with a smelly punk girl with blue hair who rode her bike everywhere. I was surprised to feel such a connection with him, when typically i’d avoid someone like him back in Michigan.
After the year of working at the Red Cross was up, not knowing where our futures would end up, Jake drove me to the airport and we shared our last embrace in the departures line. I remember crying and feeling so torn apart.
It was easy to fall into our old routines once we got back to our own states (he lived in Connecticut) because neither of us ever existed in each other’s hometown. We went back to hanging out with our old friends who had only heard mention of this other person in conversation when asked friendly questions about our time in Florida. It was heartbreaking to feel Jake’s absence but knew that he could never exist in the Michigan I knew. I know someone like him wouldn’t fit in my punk world, and I couldn’t mix with his college buddies in Connecticut.
After a year, I was dating someone who had the opportunity to drive an Italian punk band around the US on tour (foreign bands toured the country and play shows but always preferred to have someone from that country drive them around). He asked me if I wanted to accompany him on the New England leg of tour and I jumped at the opportunity.
The tour was a lot of fun and I got along well with all the Italian guys, cramped into an Old Econoline Van, hitting the road every morning to get to the next city.
We decided to leave right after the show in Boston to get to New York City to sleep at a friend’s house so we had more time to hang out in the city the next day. As we were driving through the night, my boyfriend told me we were very low on gas. It was 3 am. We were in a part of Connecticut where we didn’t know how long it’d be until we got to a gas station. He was worried that we’d run out of gas before that. I pressed my forehead against the window and stared at the black trees speeding past the van.
“If it comes to that, I know someone who will help us.”
It’d taken me some time to get over Jake. It was surprisingly easy to pretend it never happened because it only existed in Florida, but he always crept back into my mind in those moments right before sleep took over.
We past a sign announcing the single digit number of miles until we’d get to Jake’s hometown, as if the state of Connecticut was trying to bring us back together. I breathed slowly in and out, glancing to the back of the van where the Italian guys slept. I wanted to sleep too.
I didn’t know how i’d explain any of this to Jake, after i’d call him. I wanted to believe that he’d laugh and understand completely. “Of course Karen and six strange Italian men and her new boyfriend would call me at 3 am from the side of the road after not seeing me for a year,” I imagined him thinking. “Oh that Karen!”
Instead I knew if he woke up from the phone ring, he’d need a few minutes to process who he was talking to, and then a couple more to understand what was happening. And then one more minute to understand that I needed him to buy gasoline and bring it to me. Part of me wanted this to happen. Of course I wanted to see him again. I would make out with him in front of my boyfriend standing next to me if I knew Jake wanted to kiss me.
We passed the exit sign for Jake’s town, and shortly after, my boyfriend saw signs for a gas station. “We’re gonna be alright, I think,” he said.
Jake was tucked under his blankets, asleep in his bed, breathing lightly in the quiet dark of his room as the camera panned out on a brown van driving towards the distance glow of a 7-11, him none the wiser, but me a little melancholic.