It was the eighties but we wanted it to be the sixties, those of us in divided Boulder who claimed Pearl Street, “the mall” as opposed to “the hill” where the University of Colorado students fratted or whatever they did besides look down on us through their Ray-Bans. They thought of us as out-of-touch hippies, which was fine since we thought of them as soulless. We, in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, were writers. Better than that, we were poets. Of course they couldn’t understand our value and our depth. Few could.
I thought of the button candy I ate in childhood, scraping the sugary dots off the paper backing with my teeth … The real sixties. Angie singing Yummy Yummy Yummy in my ear and calling me Baby.”
That summer, I was nineteen. At the start of the year, my wild runaway older sister, who’d finally settled down with a sweet-natured bear of a guy, was murdered along with him and their one-year-old son. But I didn’t want to think about that, the latest and last of Angie’s countless departures that broke my heart. I wanted to write stunning poems and make my friend David, a classical guitarist with green, basset hound eyes, fall in love with me.
“He looks like Picasso’s blue period guitarist,” I told my good friend Kate, pleased with the artsy reference, but also believing my words. David defined lanky. When he played Bach, he leaned with his ear tilted toward the curved wood of his Yamaha like it was whispering secrets.
“It’s an old man in that painting,” Kate pointed out. “It’s called The Old Guitarist.” She was worldlier than I, better read, a year older than my sister who was now trapped at twenty-five. Kate thought of me, I knew, as boy crazy, which wasn’t exactly true. It was more that the hope of being loved, like any hope, kept me from fading.
We had another friend named Dave that summer. Actually, there were several. But this particular Dave—bearded, burly—resembled my dead brother-in-law enough that my eyes slid away from his face whenever he stopped me on my window-shopping, jotting-in-my-notebook strolls down Pearl Street.
“You know it could be great for your poetry,” he said one time, holding squares of blotter acid in his palm.
“Great for my poetry how?”
With spit and breath Dave made the sound of an explosion. “It will expand your mind. Open you right up.”
I, a girl who’d guiltily smoked pot twice in high school, stared at the tabs, considering.
No way my angel of a sister is gonna do that, Angie would’ve said, mouth twisting into a wry smile. She who did it all. Heroin. Meth. But that was before. Before marriage, motherhood, being murdered. Now that she was the angel of the family, who should I be?
“How much?” I asked, pulling crumpled bills from my fringed shoulder bag. The acid looked like nothing, like lost bits of confetti. It would be good for my writing.
Days later, Kate and I sat by the creek in our wraparound Indian print skirts and swallowed the tabs with swigs of water from a suede canteen. I thought of the button candy I ate in childhood, scraping the sugary dots off the paper backing with my teeth. This made me think of wax lips. Candy cigarettes. The real sixties. Angie singing Yummy, Yummy, Yummy in my ear and calling me Baby.
Kate was my one friend who knew. Still, I felt an urge to say aloud, She’s dead. They’re dead. Even my nephew with his wet grin and chubby baby legs. Would hearing it make it finally seem true?
“Should I feel anything yet?” I asked instead, then saw my watch begin to spin.
A boy we knew from a class called The Integration of Art into Daily Life—another Dave?—came across the footbridge. I waved and my arm rippled like creek water.
“Hey kids,” he said, licking a Dairy Queen cone. Rainbows flowed from his mouth.
“Amazing ice cream,” I drawled, a record on too slow a speed. Kate’s laugh echoed canyon-like around us.
I watched Maybe-Dave’s word rainbows for a while, then he and Kate swapped heads. That’s when I grew scared, wanted my mind back, felt fear carbonating in my knees.
When you play, you pay, Angie used to say. She used to say a lot of things.
“Cut it out,” I said now about the head-switching. It’s what I’d shriek when my sister tickle-attacked. I’m just playing, Baby.
Again I gazed at my swirling watch, unable to read it, unable to make time move in either direction.
Ona Gritz’s essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including The Utne Reader, MORE magazine, the Bellingham Review, and, most recently, The Truth of Memoir: How to Write about Yourself and Others with Honesty, Emotion, and Integrity by Kerry Cohen. She is the author of two children’s books, two collections of poetry, and the eBook memoir, On the Whole: a Story of Mothering and Disability.