I wrote my boyfriend’s name on my stomach with masking tape and laid in the sun until I was burned. Then I peeled the tape off and there it was in bold caps — ED. It was the high point of my summer. I was 13, it was 1968, and no one had ever told me to stay out of the sun. Sun tans were cool, the souvenir of summer. Burning Ed’s name into my abdomen was the equivalent of getting a tattoo, just short of being engaged, a symbol of eternal love, a willingness to be owned by a relationship.
Ed was the older brother of a really cute guy I liked better. But the cute guy didn’t like me. So I flirted with Ed. They were from an Italian family, exotic people with black hair in white bread Illinois, swarthy boys with square shoulders who shaved before the others, and made wise cracks, and worked at the gas station. At 13, having a boyfriend with whiskers and a job was status. Ed was a man.
In our town there were good girls and bad girls. Riding my bicycle to the gas station to gawk at Ed was a first step toward being a bad girl. My mother would have been furious, but she never knew. Not about the sunburned letters under my shirt, not about my fizzy daydreams of Ed, not about me standing around the gas station with my babysitting money, buying a Babe Ruth candy bar from the vending machine and eating it one tiny bite at a time so I could have an excuse talk to him.
I remember the feeling of floating in that greasy room with the stained cement floor, shelves lined with motor oil, a paper towel dispenser on the wall behind the cash drawer, a jar of pens and a tablet of blank receipts on the linoleum countertop. Ed wiped his hands on his pants in black fingers of oil and gasoline. His sweat sparkled. In the mind of a 13-year-old girl trapped with her family in a ranch house on a dead end gravel road, Ed was excitement, defiance of the cookie cutter I was pressed into by my parents, my church, my school, my town.
Of course, I wish I could have explained to my 13-year-old self that the shimmering mirage of Ed and me had no substance, that pairing up, two by two, was not the goal in life. I can hear myself now droning on about achievement, ambition and independence, until my 13-year-old eyes glaze over, and my 13-year-old feet start inching toward the screen door. “There are other things in life besides boys,” I say to her.
“I know,” she says in a two note chirp. “I’m going for a bike ride.” And off she flies, alone, hair in the wind, eyes on the horizon, skin burning in the sun.