Neglect meant we were spared from the sanctimony of attention.
Behind a line of parked cars, we built a fort to stay forever. Our parents were at the bar. So this is how we lived.
For all we knew we were born there. We learned to speak through the barroom songs. We sang when we spoke. Her favorite song was “More Than a Feeling” by Boston. She sang/said that the rapid arteries of the song coursed through languid guitars from abandoned stadia.
We fed on the bar’s leavings for sustenance. Salted peanuts and mostly empty cans of Schlitz were our meals. We were drunk all the time. We sang together in the cold fort, built of forklift pallets, wallpapered with discarded beer ads. We sang, “The way-ay-ting is the hardest part.”
We learned to read from the TV in the window. It had on subtitles and always played Breakfast Club. We used to play pretend that we were the Breakfast Club at the fort. She was Molly Ringwald, and I was Judd Nelson. One day she wanted to be Ally Sheedy. I couldn’t stop her.
I still thought of her as Molly, and didn’t make attempts to correct myself.
A great static came over the sky. The firmament was set to a canceled channel. And with it a tornado of grey fuzz.
It was a tornado of grand design, held in place by the infinite knowledge of weather. It stood in place, a category 5, just stationary, static, about a Hail Mary throw from the bar we called home. It stood there for days.
Molly was transfixed by this by this meteorological anomaly and its televisual glow. She sang/said that it was something more powerful than gods, a TV paradise, a gale force passage to something better.
One night she snuck out of the fort and on into the night. Nobody was able to find her. Though nobody looked very hard. I knew exactly where she’d gone because the tornado was gone too.
I sang “More than a Feeling” to myself in the fort for the long nights after, dreaming of dead television.
One day I woke up and I was a teenager working at a fast food establishment. Molly was always at the back of my mind, feeding my entropy. I was hard now. The years at the bar put years upon years, and I had an optimistic scowl about the world.
Mick was my manager at the hamburger store. He had rhymes associated with work ethic. I learned that leaning on surfaces was akin to theft, and I learned to be alert for human cues at all times, catering to the every whim of the customer and her kin.
I learned that I should be efficient with food, until closing time, when the day’s leavings were thrown without regard for stomachs cringing naked throughout the zip code. My justice was expressed at seven dollars an hour.
I was engulfed in my own youth. Nothing hurt yet in awful ways. What hurt were fantoms: the shakes of what could be better, the slow numbing of indifference, and the smack of loss.
I worked the grill mostly. Sometimes the fryers. I preferred the grill. The slow retreat of pink to brown made sense to me. The grill had a certain logic. The deep fryer was a more mysterious contraption. It had strange alchemy. What processes turn a frozen potato into a fry? Who are we to question its magics?
I slept on a cot at the back of the store. I spent my money on finding Molly. I put it in the paper. “Molly: Remember the bar? More than a feeling.” And I set up a P. O. box in the somewhere of Texas I lived.
In the nights at the hamburger shop I’d get drunk and read the weird responses from unhinged strangers and bored pranksters. None of whom were evidently Molly. Some letters were touching. Some were sad. Others were hilarious.
The most important package I received in the P. O. box was an old beat up guitar with a note attached that read, “put your pain into this, young blood, and maybe you’ll find her.”