I slowly open my eyes and realize it’s bright outside and that I feel rested, not the feeling of waking up early to an alarm clock. I roll over, check the time and then bury my face in my pillow. I’d been making this gesture a lot lately—hiding. Closing my eyes, shutting my mouth tightly, holding my breath and pulling the covers over my head. It’s my eighteenth birthday and I overslept. I had left my parents house about a month ago and was now living up on the south hill in my 22-year old aunt’s house, well technically, her rich boyfriend’s house. It was quite a distance from North Central High School, the place I should be at the moment. I knew Pete had come to pick me up. I wonder how long he sat outside the house. I wonder where he thought I was. I wonder how angry he is. I curl up tighter; I push back tears. I’m learning to swallow water through my eyes. How the hell am I going to get to school?
I finally get up and walk around the huge, quiet house. Even though it’s a wide open house with vaulted ceilings, the air is somehow oppressive. I walk quietly through it, looking for life. I find haze and signs of a late night. Of course, these signs aren’t necessarily from the night I had just woken up from. Sarah and Kevin don’t keep regular hours, and they aren’t exactly housekeepers. I sit on a stool in the kitchen and try to find a place to rest my arm. I think about Pete. Shit. I can’t believe I overslept. I can’t believe I missed my birthday. I wonder if my parents will remember. Will I talk to them today? Will this be the first birthday in my life that I don’t hear the happy birthday song from the lips of my mother and sister? I tell myself not to think about it. I’ve got to get to school. I can’t miss anymore school or they won’t pass me. I can’t fail out of high school. That’s just not something I can deal with right now. I want to go and smash my face back into my pillow, but finally I decide to call my grandmother. I whisper into the phone that I overslept and have no way to get to school. She tells me to go upstairs and wake up Sarah. She sounds as if she can’t understand why this was such an elusive plan. I timidly walk into their bedroom and try not to step on anything, but there are very few patches of bare carpet. I tap Sarah on the shoulder and quietly apologize and explain that I need a ride to school. She doesn’t make a big deal out of it, just rises.
I left my parents house for several reasons. The snapping point happened when my mother told me that I couldn’t stay out all night for prom and that if I wouldn’t follow the rules of her house then I could go and live somewhere else. Of course, that was just a tangible reason. The actual problems were much harder to name and to touch. Leaving had been scary, but so had screaming and fighting all the time. So was never knowing whether I would be coming home to my drunk mother, my sober mother, or my stoned mother. I had left because I couldn’t breath inside that house anymore, I just didn’t fit there. After my mom got remarried, I never managed to figure out the role of suburban teenager. I had been thrown into it too late, after too much.
I get to school between second and third period, the hall is buzzing. I just mix right in with hundreds of other students. My stomach is swirling, I’m trying to hold on. Heidi and Brianna find me. They hug me and tell me happy birthday. They want to know if I’m OK. They have balloons and presents back at their locker. They had been waiting for me to arrive in the morning, standing prepared to greet me with everything, but I missed it. I have to find Pete.
The bell rings and I leave for the auto shop classrooms. I walk outside and down the hill. I see him standing just outside the garage door listening to someone. I can’t see who because his back is turned. But then Pete notices me. His eyes leave the face of whoever he’s talking to and stare at me. His mouth slowly reshapes itself into a dry smile. He stands there stationary and watches me walk down the hill toward him. We share a mutual look of disappointment. My stomach continues to spin and my heart’s at the top of my throat. He had brought me a bouquet of white daisies this morning, but after waiting outside forever, knocking at the door, crawling into the backyard and knocking on my bedroom window, he had given up. He told me that I’d messed everything up. He had thrown them out the window as he drove back towards the high school. I wonder who found them. I wanted to go back in time. I wanted to greet my eighteenth birthday with the sound of his car and a bouquet of flowers. Those are the romantic moments that stick with you. I had missed mine. I wonder if I passed the flowers on the road. I hope my aunt didn’t run them over.