At recess, in Roanoke, Virginia, we play freeze tag, only the rule is you don’t tag the person, you kiss the person, and once you’re kissed you’re frozen forever until somebody tags you. I’m a fast runner, but I always let Carrie Wallace catch me. She has bangs and white plastic boots. She kisses me and goes, “You’re frozen,” and I go, “So what?”
Carrie’s basement and we’re fifteen years old. Her parents have gone to Aruba for a rebirthing workshop, and her big sister is upstairs, shaping her eyebrows. We are high on green pot and the jug of Mogen David wine I lifted from Garland’s Drugstore. It’s summer and I can taste the heat in Carrie’s skin. Huddled together we smell like fruity wine, spearmint gum, Lark cigarettes, pot, and Herbal Essence shampoo. It’s not as awful as it sounds.
“Make it last,” Carrie whispers in the dark. But I don’t.
Downtown Boston, in my dorm room, and we’re listening to a Poco record. Carrie’s down for the weekend; she goes to school in Vermont. Tonight, she’s wearing a yellow T-shirt and my flannel pajama pants. A pot of coffee is brewing on my hot plate, but right now we’re eating cookies and drinking beer. We pretend that we’ll be grown-up and stop drinking beer any minute now, but it won’t happen that way.
It’s snowing outside. It snows all the time up here. My dorm room is on the tenth floor of a converted hotel. In the hallway, this insane guy from Texas dribbles a basketball and sings a song about cheese. In my room, Carrie and I sit on the edge of my bed and look out the window. She loops her arm around my shoulder. People are skating on the Charles River, under artificial light, and the snow swirls everywhere.
Carrie is in love, she tells me, with someone she met in school.
I look at the window. I want to jump, but I don’t want to die.
I just want to float.
When I see Carrie again, it’s by accident. She’s in town for the weekend; she’s helping her mother move into a new place on the river. We meet in a bar, back in Roanoke. I moved back here, after my divorce. I live in an apartment complex popular with young singles. They smile at me. The women ask about my daughter, and the men go, “Hey, big guy, how’s it hangin’?”
When the bar closes down, I offer to drive Carrie home, but she wants to go for a walk. It’s April, but it feels like summer tonight, so we walk. She talks about her kids, her mother’s ancient Cadillac, and her adult ballet class. She doesn’t talk much about her husband.
“He’s OK,” she says. “He’s a wonderful father.”
I nod. It’s getting late and Carrie needs to get back to her mother’s house.
It’s hard to explain the luster of certain ordinary nights when everything works together. When you’re walking in your old hometown with Carrie Wallace and her new, complicated haircut; when the moon ducks under the mountains, when the song you hear on someone’s passing radio is one of your favorites, when Carrie walks beside you in her blue sneakers and a yellow dress, and neon crosses flare over empty churches and it’s the exact middle of the night and for a little pocket of time your life seems perfect and without memories, and so quiet.