Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Never Gonna Survive

Lights blink in the city

Gina was crazy.

That's not a diagnosis. Or a value judgment. It's how she described herself.

In High School, she'd tell us all that she had bathwater running through her veins. But she really wanted ice water.

Gina hated the humidity. And every summer she'd complain about the weather.

"I'd rather be up north," she said. "Where it's cold. Where there's no light. No heat."

She was the first girl most of us knew who wore a bikini. Then the first girl any of us had ever seen who wore a string bikini. It shouldn't have looked good on her, but her attitude made it work.

She was also the first person in my High School to get a tattoo. Which caused a minor scandal and was the only subject at four complete faculty meetings. They wanted to discipline her, but they couldn't think of any rule she'd violated. So they agreed to keep an eye on her.

And the guidance counselor started "accidentally" running into her in the hallways so he could ask if everything was okay at home.

One night, she told us of her plan to hitchhike northwest. She was going to go to Saskatoon or somewhere in the Yukon Territory. "Just gonna pack my toothbrush. And a bikini," she said.

And we'd all swoon, even though we weren't quite sure what we were swooning over.

Junior year, she got sick two weeks before the end of school. It was 90 degrees out with 90% humidity. She was shivering, but didn't want to go to the nurse. "It's the first time in my life I've felt like the temperature was right."

When she collapsed in sixth period, they took her to the hospital.

She was in the hospital for a few weeks. Then, one night that summer, she vanished.

Her Mom said the only thing she took was her toothbrush. And the bikini.

The other day it was warm. For the first time in months.

There was a warm breeze blowing in through the mountains.

I was driving and I rolled down my window, enjoying the breeze. Enjoying the heat that was almost too much to bear, but still oddly enjoyable.

And I thought of Gina for the first time in years. Because my blood felt like bathwater. And I suddenly knew what it was like to crave ice in my veins.

I'd always imagined her in the Far North. Found frozen to death wearing only the bikini. Finally it would be cold enough for her -- a cigarette on her blue lips, maybe a needle sticking out of a blue vein.

And if it weren't for Facebook, I'd still imagine have that image.

But there Gina was -- older, heavier. But with the same eyes.

And in the course of several emails, she said she did hitchhike out of town. She made it 400 miles, to her Dad's house. And she finished High School there, went to college, got married, and settled into a suburban life with kids and a picket fence.

She didn't remember saying she wanted ice water in her veins. She didn't remember the bikini or how scandalous her tattoo was. She talked about High School as if it was another lifetime. Which, I guess, it is.

And, Gina added, "We were all a little crazy back then. At least I know I was."

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