On grad night we were third-rate earthbound astronauts. We were driving our rusted-out rockets, navigating beneath icy galaxies. In our protective suits of Buzzcocks T-shirts, naiveté, and vague aspirations, we free-floated around the light of campfires on secret party beaches. Beyond the top of the dunes, on the edge of our mental horizons, a future of shopping malls and product placements and terrorist alerts flickered with a faint radioactive glow.
This one girl, Mandy, was drinking lemon gin straight from the bottle. She had a necklace of cowrie shells and dirty-blond hair and a bright red scar across her face from when her dad hit her with a table lamp at the beginning of the school year. We walked off a good distance from the others, and she told me things she had never told anyone else, and I promised to keep them in a safe place for her. I don’t remember what we talked about. Let us say we talked about French-Canadian meat pies and where to buy the best pot and pen-and-ink drawings and her crippled cat and the mushroom cloud we both saw in a documentary in Social Studies when we had sat side-by-side in ancient wooden desks, scared shitless for the fate of the world. We passed a bottle back and forth between us. We made love in zero gravity. We were, for a time, almost weightless.
Two weeks before Christmas, I cheated on her with someone whose name escapes me. The last time I saw Mandy, she drove up to my door on a John Deere snowmobile. She had a toque on her head, and she was dressed in a parka with a fur-lined hood, impossibly bulky like a cold war fallout suit. She stopped about 20 feet from where I was digging through my pockets looking for my car keys. She took off one glove and gave me a one-fingered salute, then gunned the machine off across a wide-open field.
She was beautiful that night when we had gathered around the fire prying open oysters and searching for pearls, the girl with the cowrie-shell necklace. We were all beautiful. In firelight, with the flaring embers falling down around our shoulders, burning tiny holes in our clothes, we listened to Elvis Costello and London Calling. We were horny and idealistic and ignorant and filled with a wonder that we would never again be able to recapture. We had only the vaguest notions of betrayal and absolute zero. We imagined that this moment, these hours, were the beginning of some bright new alien thing, instead of just a bright place on the edge of an immensity of frozen darkness.