It’d been over 20 years and I wanted to know what happened to my wild, spiky-haired friend from high school. Married, three kids, two of them twins; still in great shape and dancing in an all-female revue, of the non-exotic variety, 40-something and strutting across the stage like she did in our show pop choir back in the late 80’s. I’d known all her boyfriends in high school, the one who loved her madly, the one she’d become obsessed with. I wanted to know what her husband was like. How they met, what he’d done to tame – or at least detain – her wild spirit long enough to marry her and start a family.
Facebook had reunited us and I’d seen photos of her new life. I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of her blond, spiky Billy Idol hair, each strand lovingly lacquered with Dippity-Doo, resulting in a cluster of platinum porcupine quills sticking straight towards the sky. We’d loved Billy Idol and the Outfield and she’d loved Prince, more madly than she’d loved my next door neighbor, the one she couldn’t let go even though he was ready to leave. The dirty Prince songs, the pop hits he rolled out like an assembly line, everything to do with his purple presence in the world; Heather loved it all.
We lived in the same end of town in Davis, California, a mid-size college town of around 50,000 which for some reason always felt much smaller. There wasn’t much to do or much mischief to get in, so we’d fancy ourselves drifters and dreamers and big-city girls only temporarily derailed by the cow pastures and rice paddies alongside those country back roads, which led out in all four directions towards what we hoped were exotic new vistas as opposed to just another bend of farmland.
We’d drive around in my grandpa’s 73 Pontiac, which he’d sold to my parents for a token $200. We called it The Bomb. It took up two parallel parking spaces and I became an expert at maneuvering the city curbs. We never worried about spilling anything on its vinyl seats or doing any damage to the faded, rusted exterior. In the trunk, there’d be a four-pack of Bartles and Jaymes, or a 15 pack of Stroh’s; those three bonus beers made it the teenage beer of choice, and my fake ID worked every time. I always looked much older than my years, and carried myself like someone just passing through that small-town existence.
My family had moved from L.A. to Davis when I was 12; Heather arrived at our high school in the 11th grade, from Lacrosse, Wisconsin. To someone raised in California, she was exotic. I’d never really known anyone from the Midwest. It would be many years before I’d drive across country, in search of more adventure, only to realize that it was Heather who’d been exotic, not the flat, hot, dust-filled borders of her homeland.
“Holy shit,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “Jamie Freakin’ Miller. How the hell are you?” I wondered what Heather was drinking in 2011. I’d traded warm Strohs rolling around the floor of The Bomb for microbrews; Dark and Stormies for Bartles and Jaymes. I pictured Heather holding a dirty martini by the stem, laughing. I smiled.