When We Were Seventeen


We drove fast in cheap cars. We wanted more than anything to stay friends until we all died. We wanted to do everything we could to make ourselves feel like that was going to happen. None of us knew what we wanted after we left. We all knew we wanted to leave. But there was no career talk, or even real talk of college. All we wanted was to live as much as we possibly could. As much as we possibly could before we got old.

Phonecalls picked up by a mother, who would call out a name, and then we would meet at Mike’s house, or somewhere else, and make phonecalls to other groups of friends until we had a place to meet everyone. There were buyers. There were ditchbanks and rocks to throw at the sky. There were flashes of thunderstorms in the east. And “what time do you have to go home?” Talk about not liking girls, but still always talk about girls.

It was us against everything. Against the adults. The older kids. The younger kids. Against age. Against time. Against not having enough money and not being able to really work for it, but not really wanting to work. Always music and always loud. If we couldn’t change the landscape where we lived, we could change the way it sounded.

When joy turned to hostility one of us would fill up with enough angst to infect the rest and then we became vandals. If we couldn’t choose where we lived, we could choose to destroy it. The less power we felt we had over our own lives the more destructive it got.

When we weren’t smoking cloves or breaking things we were playing driveway basketball or video games in someone’s basement when the winter forced us in. By then homework was only done when it couldn’t be avoided. Those with understanding parents didn’t have to lie to hang out. At least not as often. We got f-cked up. We got caught. Some of us were better at running from busted parties than others.

Whenever I was alone I wondered if anyone else felt the way I did. Then we got together and worked it out until we all felt the same for at least a moment. That’s what we were always trying to find — that moment when we were all feeling the same thing. It wasn’t the only good time in our lives, but it was one we went through together. We were hopeful. Idealistic. Sure we could do a better job with the world if they would give it to us. We’re all different now, scattered around the planet, but we’re also still alive in that place — every time any of us go back, we go back to what we were when we all lived there.

We were young enough that friends still meant play. Before real failure. Before big relationships went bad. Before anyone quit, or got killed. No one had done anything yet they couldn’t take back or fix. We tried on bigger ideas like loyalty and honesty, but what we really meant was solidarity — we just didn’t know that word yet.

When it was the best it meant the rumor of a party, a lucky shirt and hat (girls were so unknowable to us then we resorted to superstition) all of our friends in good humor. Then the party came together with enough alcohol and our people and no cops. It was good to the point that everyone, even the nice ones, stayed out past curfew. No one was going home. No one wanted to miss it. The party was home, the world we wanted, and the people we needed were there.

We didn’t want to go to heaven, we’d have to die first. The world wasn’t anywhere we believed in or wanted part of, not with all of its messed up adults and real problems we knew we’d have to deal with anyway — we were smart enough to see that coming. We just had now. We had the houses of friends whose parents were out of town and left them to us. That was as close as we would ever get to building another world, and for a few hours when we were seventeen it was enough.

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