“I don’t really understand that expression.”
The confession hung sluggish in the sticky air and nearly caught itself on my lips as it tumbled clumsy off my tongue. I turned my face and looked at him. As I squinted into the stifling glitter that filtered through the trees, the backs of our hands brushed and the caffeinated butterflies sent a ripple of nerves up to my chest.
I had a crush.
(An all-out, middle school crush—complete with notebooks filled with my first name scribbled next to his last and an AIM password that paid homage to his dog.)
Our evening walk was half spur-of-the-moment and half-last-resort. It was mid-August – 2003 – and the entire northeast was black and powerless.
No air conditioning.
Though the late-summer sun besieged our backs with no relief in sight – we were 14 and stir crazy.
So we walked.
Six, seven, eight times around the block – we walked.
“What don’t you get? Kill time. Pass time, ya know?”
We turned the corner onto West 21st and, again, our hands kissed. The butterflies were consistently skittish, but this collision infused them with so much kinetic energy that I thought I might combust.
“I understand what it means. I just don’t get why anyone would want to kill time.”
The conversation fell silent and our tacky legs sauntered along the asphalt as car after car fussed by in the summer fever. With each syrupy lunge toward New York Avenue, I tried to wrap my head around the logic.
As much as I tried to defend him, I couldn’t.
Just under two years before I watched daughters lose fathers; wives lose husbands as 220 stories of smoldering metal tumbled down onto our City’s heroes. A rayless red sky hovered over our island and an Armageddon of grief lay like a pit where twin Goliaths once stood watch. For days we wore red, white and blue – for weeks we held out hope that our heroes would be found alive in the rubble.
I saw mothers, fathers, friends, teachers, cousins wail in disbelief when a beloved 13-year old boy was snatched from their hands. By a coward in a sedan who didn’t even stop. I watched the flowers be placed week after week in front of that cross on the corner of West Hills and Lockwood – and I watched in disbelief as I, too, mourned an abbreviated future.
Together, we would grow a few years older, and together, we would watch friends say goodbye to parents, grandparents and cousins. We would watch them dress up in tuxes and black dresses and give final farewells to the cheeks they used to kiss, the knees they used to sit on and the hands they used to hold.
Together, we would put on caps and gowns; maroon and white polyester cloaking us into adulthood. Together, we would file into an auditorium, line up in alphabetical order and march onto a football field with 470 of our friends. One by one by one, we’d shake the hand of a man we made fun of for four years, walk across a stage and look for our parents in the bleachers. Together, we’d throw up our caps, celebrate a milestone and eyeball a future we were all eager to reach.
Together, we’d go off to college, be separated by 700 miles of America and make new friends and new memories. Together, we’d come home on Christmas break, drink around our friends’ dining room tables and play Would You Rather until our giggles became fits of alcohol-infused hysteria.
We’d get grown-up jobs, move off to different states, and have committed-grown-up relationships with the grown-up man/woman of our dreams. We’d go through break-outs, break-ups and break-ins and, apart, our lives would change together.
When we got to New York Avenue, the traffic thickened and, like the air, it was impenetrable.
“Slurpee?” he asked. “I can hear the generator… they’ve got to have ‘em.”
“Okay. But wait.”
“I don’t want to kill time. I don’t want to be a murderer.”
“Okay, Diana. Let’s just get slurpees.”
Photo: Creative Commons // Dani Mettler