Impressionable (2006)

When Loraine came to get me we would ride in her car, a mustard yellow MG convertible sports car. We’d travel East and West on Route 460, never speeding, but thrilling all the same. On warm days we’d put the top down and venture to the Wagon Wheel for orange popsicles or orange sodas. These work best to cool you off on a hot afternoon. Loraine taught me this. We’d sing jingles from ads for fast food restaurants. And we’d never, ever, stare at people passing by in motorcycle gangs – because they will kill you. Loraine taught me this, too.

When Loraine came to get me we would play scrabble on one of the octagonal shaped tables in my mother’s classroom. We’d pass the time between 2:30 and 3:15, the difference between when a student’s day ends and a teacher’s day ends, playing games but never keeping score. Sometimes, if the conversation between my mother and Loraine turned to that of another student, I’d have to leave the room. But that was seldom. More often we just played games.

When Loraine came to get me she’d take me to the teacher’s lounge where I was able to enter without knocking. I’d get a Pepsi and peanuts for myself, a Dr. Pepper for my mom. I’d pour the peanuts into my Pepsi, like Loraine did, and watch the salt make the soda fizz up. Some of the peanuts would float, while others sank to the bottom of the bottle, sticking there even after the last gulp.

When Loraine came to get me we’d go to Richmond to watch the professional tennis players. I saw John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and John Newcomb. We watched Billie Jean King, Martina Navritalova and Virginia Wade. I slept over at Loraine’s house, spending the night in a red flannel sleeping bag on the couch and riding in to school the next morning with the other teachers in her carpool. Others were my teachers too, but somehow, some way, they were transformed into something else in that car. They smoked cigarettes. They listened to music on the radio. They told jokes. They called each other by their first names. I was told I could call them by their first names, too, but only outside of school.

When Loraine came to get me we went to lunch at the Clover Room on Broad Street where I had a chicken salad sandwich on toasted white bread, quartered, but in triangles not squares, and a side order of French fries and a vanilla shake. It was her way of apologizing for an April fool’s trick that had gone badly. I’d not noticed the note in my locker, the one sitting where my lunch was supposed to be. I was too embarrassed and shy to say anything. Feeling ashamed, thinking that I’d lost my lunch, I’d gone without. She felt awful for playing such a trick.

When Loraine came to get me she spoke with a stern voice. My brother and I and our constant bickering was about to give my mother a nervous breakdown. We needed to stop it, and stop it now. It was time to grow up.

When Loraine came to get me I was in the middle of my sixth period science test. A voice from the principal’s office came over the loudspeaker, telling Mrs. Barnes to excuse me from class. I quickly finished up, gathered my things and headed out into the hallway in time to see Loraine bounding down the stairs. She’d come to take me to see the high school girls’ softball tournament. “Does my mother know I’m with you?” I asked. She said “of course” and off we went.

When Loraine came to get me she came from across the field, from the other team’s dugout. She was coaching the other team, another school. We kept score now, but I knew she still cheered for me.

When Loraine came to get me no one else was home. I’d called her the night before, told her I needed to talk to her. It was summer – a god-awful summer. I’d managed to both fall in love and have my heart shattered all in the course of one semester. When Loraine came to get me I came out for the first time.

When Loraine came to get me our house was overcrowded with people. Mourners. Everyone in shock. The sadness was palpable. I said I had to get out of there and she took me to a local restaurant where I ordered two bourbon and Cokes and drank them in quick succession. No floating peanuts this time. She told me not to deal with the situation in such a way. It was perhaps the best advice she’d ever offer, but it went unheeded, until years later.

When Loraine came to get me I had the older sister my parents never gave me. The one I always wanted. I smoked Merit Ultra Lights and wore K-Swiss tennis shoes. I prefer Pepsi to Coke, but Orange Nehi in a longneck glass bottle over everything. I dream of going to Wimbledon. And one day I’ll own an MG.

When Loraine came to get me, she left a lasting mark.

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