This is a small excerpt of a memoir piece that I have been working on, literally for decades. My bravery in submitting the entire work for publication falters at times, as it is rather revealing of a tumultuous time in my rather dysfunctional adolescence. I am well into revision #3 of the final product which is a little over 27,000 words. The tentative tittle is Valentines Day. While there is a teenage love story involved, the title is more representative of the date in 1982 that the event of which the piece is based took place.
Will there be more to come? Perhaps…
J. L. Johnston
Settling into the cramped quarters of my mother’s 1972 Ford Pinto, the smell of stale cigarettes and motor oil enveloped our senses as me and my friend John primed ourselves to embark on an adventure; the climax of which neither of us could have possibly foreseen nor could have ever been fully prepared for. With the turn of the ignition key the tiny ten year old four-banger sputtered to life, belching a cloud of black smoke into the frigid night air. “We got away with it,” I said with an eager nervousness in my voice.
“Yeah, we did, huh,” John said, lighting a cigarette and sending a smoke ring sailing through the cab of the car before disappearing upon impact with the rear-view mirror. The car was dirty, the ashtray spilling over with crushed out Moore 120 menthol cigarette butts. Mom said that she liked them because they lasted longer than the 100’s. The floor of the passenger side was littered with empty Styrofoam cups, fast food wrappers and a couple of old Tabloid magazines.
Thankfully the car was parked in the street. The only driving experience between the two of us was my recently completed 10th grade drivers training class, and backing out of a driveway was uncharted territory for both of us. I was 17 years old but I had yet to get my driver’s license or any actual driving experience outside of a joy-ride in a V12 Jaguar that we kind of borrowed from the parent of another buddy of ours one night. There was also the occasional pilfering of my father’s ’78 Pontiac Firebird. John was 15 years old, still two years away from being able to even take the written driving test. Nevertheless, we were off and running. The plan was to swing by John’s house, drop him off and then I would proceed to drive around the neighborhood for a while with hopes of being recognized behind the wheel by a friend or two before eventually returning the car to my mother.
Putting the car into drive, I made a U turn on the small dimly lit dead-end street and pulled up to the traffic signal at the corner. Pulses racing with anticipation of our forbidden escapade, we gave each other another glance and nervously chuckled. The light changed and we headed toward the neighborhood where John and I both lived.
That traffic light at the corner of my mom’s street turning green would be the last thing I remember of that cold rainy February night. Unbeknownst to either of us, something terrible was about to happen; something so sudden and so violent it would change our young lives forever.