by Rebecca Fremo
Crouching low in my rented Malibu, I cry in the Mills Godwin High School parking lot. I am 47. “Love My Way” plays on the oldies station, the same one that played the Beach Boys in 1982. Back then I cried all the time in this parking lot. And in the gym, the locker room, backstage. Mostly I cried in my pink bedroom with the green carpet as I listened to his blue Volkswagen beetle sputter its way out of my driveway after rehearsal.
I’ve been trying to find the high school on Pump Road for an hour. My hometown streets, once navigable even after guzzling two Sun Country wine coolers, baffle me now. To the west, strip malls line every road, each a fantasy of Fro-Yo franchises and Starbuck’s and Walgreen’s, places where Stepford wives might shop if they run out of valium or nail polish.
I remember when Mrs. Hollins would take Driver’s Ed students west on Pump, a quiet, curvy road where we couldn’t see what was coming around each bend. Soon the rolling hills of the Virginia piedmont showed us more pastures than people, more cows than cars.
Afternoon sun filters through the pines. It’s 3:00. Students in flip-flops and Bermuda shorts trickle out into the April heat. I try to pull myself together. I’m here to walk my high school halls, to tap that precious mind-body connection. I’ve been stuck writing an essay about trauma and memory loss. I check my smeared make-up in the car’s tiny rear-view mirror, step out of the car and head for school.
But I can’t enter through those glass double doors by the flagpole out front. Instead, visitors to Mills Godwin must use a separate entrance. The main office lady is tucked away behind glass. Like she’s a gas station attendant and I’m there to stick her up. Like she has money in her drawer instead of lunch tickets.
Then I remember: people shoot people in schools now. Besides, my kids use lunch number codes in Minnesota. There are no more lunch tickets. I add money with a credit card through the Parent Portal.
But this is Mills Godwin High School, home of the Eagles. When I lurch in late, half drunk on my parents’ Kahlua, I should enter through double doors, turn left at the Commons, and grab a hall pass from the lunch ticket lady. It should be 1982, the year I fell in love with a (almost) man who kept showing up in my dreams until my third child was born. It should be 1982, and the Psychedelic Furs should play on the radio in his VW. And I should get to kiss him. I mean really kiss him, not like when our drama teacher made us do the “Oklahoma hello” kiss once for an audition. Then he cast the (almost) man’s real girlfriend, making me the understudy in my own suburban Greek tragedy.
On Saturday nights my husband and I watch 80s videos. The mood stays light for Madonna or even The Thompson Twins. But anything by the Psychedelic Furs, and my chest tightens until it aches. “Love My Way” and “The Ghost in You” take me back so fast, I grip the chair to keep from falling out. This puzzles my husband, who prefers Huey Lewis and the News but genuinely loves me. He’s also an auto mechanic. He finds me vexingly complicated, like a Saab.
My husband never heard the Psychedelic Furs on rural Minnesota radio in the 1980s. But I grew up in the suburbs of Henrico County, Virginia. I grew up in a John Hughes movie.
Once I wore my Fleetwood Mac T-shirt to the local co-op in Saint Peter, Minnesota. A chillaxed worker in a stocking cap said, “cool shirt.”
“They’re playing St. Paul in October. But Lindsey Buckingham isn’t on this tour. They hired Mike Campbell from The Heartbreakers, plus some guy from Crowded House.”
Back home, I unpacked my organic groceries and caught a glimpse of my own wrinkled hands. I’d become some weird old lady accosting strangers in the gluten-free aisle between the Nut Thins and $7.25 almond butter.
I’m not sure who visits Mills E. Godwin High School, that weird old lady or the crying girl from the parking lot. But we both expect to walk through those double doors and invite some sense memory to take over our bodies, so we can re-inhabit the hallways, possess the building, move through its walls like ghosts. We’ll glide from haunt to haunt along the grooves our feet once wore into the carpet tiles.
Instead, the girl from 1982 ditches the old lady. She heads to the parking lot, looking for her dad’s Datsun. She stashed a joint in the glove-box.The old lady goes to the auditorium alone.
Like a homing pigeon, I fly down the center aisle to the front row. The chairs are now gray, not brown, but everything else looks the same — the orchestra pit, the light booth. Muslin flats line the walls upstage, the theater’s history painted in layers.
I want to sing again in my Pink Ladies jacket. I want to sweat through West Side Story, Velma in a pumpkin orange dress, jealous of the Shark girls twirling in pink and purple. I want to take the stage, finally, no longer an understudy, for my Oklahoma hello. And then the (almost) man I (used to) love will open his mouth and say, what, exactly?
I am crying again, this time because I can’t remember his lines. It’s just like in West Side Story, when I wept for Tony as he fell to the ground, dead, his face illuminated by a single spot.