The meadow was farther than Turner remembered. In the growing night he was also different than I remembered, also more distant, a little less defined. He still walked with a strange rigidity, but his movements were more liquid than before. I was trying to remember what it felt like to be alone with him in the dark or when was the last time I had been alone with him in the dark. He parked the car in the shade of a tree, just on the edge of the unpaved road.
Once when I was seventeen, my friends and I had driven out onto a state park just before midnight, and gazed at the sky. It was just us, just three girls. It was a clear night, bright in the distance for no particular reason, and the stars had kindly declined to show. We saw something which we still debated—a comet, a shooting star, or a plane? The grass was prickly beneath our summer skin. One friend said, “I feel like this is something out of a teenage novel.”
I remember telling her that things happened in novels—unless it was Virginia Woolf—and that nothing, well, nothing had happened out here in the state park. Nothing ever happened in our lives, really. We were still on a curfew and when I got back home my mother’s study lamp would still be on. She would ask me, where have you been? How was it? Is so-and-so alright?—is so-and-so’s mother alright?
What wasn’t out of any teenage novel I had read so far were the three police cars which trailed us back out onto the road afterwards. “Holy shit—” was the common consensus; “Maddie, why the hell did you think tonight was a good time to blast Kanye West? Nobody even fucking likes Kanye West!”
“I knew this was going to happen, I knew this was going to happen,” I kept saying while they took our IDs and we waited, in hot-faced shame and silence filled with cricket chirps. “I knew something was going to happen the second we talked about nothing ever happening in our lives.”
“That’s not how it works,” Maddie had reminded me, still chewing her gum with feigned confidence. I could see her hand shaking slightly on the wheel. “And besides, let’s just shut up and not say anything ever again. There’s people worse off, isn’t there? We could live in Camden, or the Bronx.”
There had been no arrest. Just a warning. My mother’s lamp was off when I got home, and the three of us sat giggling in relief in my driveway, our temples cold with dried sweat.
In the field with Turner, on our backs and with the wild country grass tall around us, I had the same feeling I had in the state park just before we drove out. I felt a deep and comforting sorrow in the lowest part of my stomach, so heavy that my chest and head felt light. We did not speak for a long time. Later he turned to me so that our heads fit together like puzzle pieces. He mumbled, “Are you wearing glasses today?” I said, “I never wear glasses.” He kissed my hair. I put my hand on his chest. I told him, “You’re still breathing, which means you’re still alive.” I had said that to another boy before—in response, the boy in my anthropology class had said, “You’re so silly” and proceeded to kiss me profusely—but Turner simply laughed. His laugh sounded almost embarrassed. For a moment our eyes met, and I think we were both ashamed to be alive. A plane, clearly visible with blinking lights, passed overhead, making hardly any noise. It was so, so small. Something inside of me lurched towards it, and I felt the thousands of feet between us like a gaping wound.
After a while I asked him if he heard that. What? Couldn’t he feel it? I asked. No, he said, what?
“The ground is rumbling,” I said. “I feel—I feel like I hear something.”
He kept kissing my head, and nothing more. “This isn’t like. Lord of the Rings.”
“No—” I pressed my hand against his lips, partially to know what that felt like, and partially to make my way into a sitting position. “Turner. I swear there’s something going on.”
The sound was louder now. We sat up, listened, and smiled faintly at each other in the darkness. I started to remark that the stars were out tonight, unlike the disappointment of my high school adventure. Then we knew what was coming through the field.
He looked at me with wide eyes. We scrambled to our feet. “This is the country,” he said, “This is rural Mass, man. What the hell is a car doing driving through the field?”
“There’s a creek down there, isn’t there?” I said. We looked around to locate the source of the sound. The grass was so high in some places that I could not see more than a foot ahead of myself. He said yeah, there was, but both of us swallowed our words, doe-eyed while scanning the field. No headlights were in sight yet.
In the final moments of that night I am pretty sure he yelled. We were flooded with high beams when he shoved me aside. For a time afterwards I thought it was the car that had pushed me, but then I remember the way his hands felt against my bruised ribcage.
The kids in the car yelled out loudly. The bump of machine against human was even louder. A few minutes later I heard them crash through the rocky creek. In my stunned state, back against the flattened blades of hard grass, I imagined the state of being in the car down at the creek. It must have been a boy driving. Surely girls wouldn’t be so careless. But definitely a girl in the car, or they wouldn’t have chosen to pass through a meadow.
In the movie I watched last week with my family, the scene cut short after the accident and then the boys were all in the hospital, being lovingly accosted by their parents. The audience spared a double suffering. My family had accepted it, laughing with relief that everyone was okay but then I reached Turner in the field—he felt miles away—and I kissed his face and he cried because he was sure his ribs were broken. They were. I accidentally pressed too hard and felt something off. He cried and told me to go fuck myself, before laughing in relief. “I’m glad,” he managed, “that you’re here with me.”
I narrated my actions. I said, “I’m calling 911.” I called 911. “They’ll be here in less than twenty. I’m going to hold your hands.” I held his hands for eighteen minutes and we did not say much. My hands were shaking up to my arms and I kept thinking about Momma and Trevor.
We must have heard the car doors slam, and the approaching of footsteps from a little distance away, but I did not notice until I heard loud breathing—and a little cry—from behind me. I started. Turner whispered, “Who is it? The 911 people?”
“Oh my God,” said the girl. “Oh my God—oh my God—oh my God, I’m so…we’re so sorry. Are you okay? What’s wrong…should we call the ambulance or something?” She had skinny, bird-like legs, and I kept waiting for her to snap in half at the sight in front of her.
“Are you seriously hurt?”
A boy with jungle red hair stood at an awkward distance away from the girl. I was sure this was the driver. “Yeah. His ribs are broken.”
Turner moaned. “Is it not the 911 people?”
“Not yet,” I said.
Turner cursed. “I think I’m going to pass out, Tamia.”
The girl sobbed all of a sudden, catching us all by surprise. “I can’t believe this. We’re so, so, sorry. We didn’t mean any of this, ok? We weren’t trying to hurt anyone.” The ginger boy said, “Amy, calm down,” and put a hand uncomfortably on her bare arm.
“Yeah, well.” I was shivering hard. I had always thought that, in moments like these, I would talk for ages, just like I had when the police surrounded us in the state park four years ago. Instead I felt slippery. As though any moment I might find myself in a different place. Maybe, I asked myself, I was in shock? Was this what shock felt like? Terribly indifferent but wonderfully in control? I looked down at Turner’s grimace and ran my hand over his brow. “Don’t touch me,” he said.
Two things struck me. The first one dawned on Amy and her friend at the same time, I was sure of it. I didn’t need to look up to know. I heard the rustle of their feet on the crushed grass, and knew they felt the same way. That this was absolutely the stupidest thing that had happened all summer and nothing else after this, far into August and September, would ever compare in terms of stupidity. If Turner had died and this was in the news, parents all over Massachusetts would say at their coffee tables, “Young people,” and shake their heads past their adolescent children. Acutely, I was aware of the absurdity of this situation, and then of the entire fucking universe.
The second thing happened a few minutes later when the third boy walked up the creek and the weeping sirens of the 911 team simultaneously arrived. They found us in the grass, three high school students, including one hysterical Amy, and two undergraduate students, still hoping they were in love—they asked, “What happened here?” and I sat in the back with Turner with a nice woman who smelled like soap. The woman said, “It’s okay, now, love, it’s nothing too serious. You can let go of his hand.”
So I let go of his hand and I looked at the silver contour of his face in the starlight coming in through the little back windows. I thought about my hypothetical again: if Turner had died…what then? What then, besides the disappointed parents, quickly turning our case into a case study? I looked at his face, barely visible, and pretended that he was dead. It was like looking at the night sky all over again. I felt like I had wings.