Part of the reason I wanted to hitchhike was that anyone who picked me up did not know me, didn’t know that I had no friends, didn’t know I rode a school bus to a high school and sat in classrooms. When I stepped into a car or up into the cab of an eighteen-wheeler I could be the adventuress I was sure I was supposed to be.
I told Joseph I had older brothers. Not true. I didn’t mention the two actual younger sisters. Older brothers at least put me in the company of men. It implied that I hung out with them and their friends. I liked the idea of older brothers.
Days later when he was still with me and now we were going to my house where my mother and two little sisters were waiting I explained that well, now that you’re actually coming to my house you might as well know that we don’t talk much about my brothers at home, they’re kind of in trouble right now, mumble, mumble.
Joseph did not prod me, just nodded okay. Joseph in his dark beard and hippy hair, his overalls and dark eyes, his short working-man’s body that I had wanted so much to be mine from the first night when with such deliciousness he had shown me how we could sleep on the concrete ledge under the overpass of the interstate, here on the roll of cardboard we’d picked up from the side of the road in the afternoon because Joseph had said we would need it, and he was right, the cardboard made a difference, a little bit warmer than lying on the bare concrete – and Joseph saying, we have to lie close together, our body heat will keep us warm, and I am more than eager, a man, finally, to lie beside at night, I have wanted one for so long and there has been no one except dully pimply high school boys.
Joseph does not kiss me. He wraps me in some kind of bear hug in the dark on the cardboard above the lanes of traffic.
I have been hitchhiking for a few days by myself, but here has been no one interesting, and now there is Joseph and we are only in Nebraska so there are miles more to go before New York and we are traveling together, on the road, a couple, just like I wanted, and Joseph is not a kid who doesn’t know this world. He knows this world.
“You need better shoes,” he says and we get off the highway in Milwaukee and go to a Salvation Army where I get lace-up men’s shoes for free – I am so happy – and in a field he shows me how we can eat ears of corn right off the plant – we don’t have to pay or ask anyone – and best of all he takes me to a friend’s house somewhere, an old farmhouse, almost no furniture, pot growing outside, the friend picks some, spreads it on a cookie sheet, bakes it in the oven so we can smoke it. This is all exactly as I had hoped – drugs and hippies.
But I cannot talk. Even now that I am where I so much wanted to be. Joseph and his friend talk late into the night. We are in a plain room with a couple of old armchairs and we pass a pipe and the boys talk, but I cannot find a way in, and stay silent, and this I fear will give me away – that I am not at ease the way I want them to think I am.
Alone with Joseph he can make me laugh. I feel connected. He is my friend. He waits for me when we go to the bathroom in the rest stop and then get into the big tractor trailer. But even Joseph says, “You don’t talk much, do you?” and I have been discovered and must do all I can to get him off the scent. Bluff fast.
It is almost perfect. If he would kiss me at night it would be perfect, but he does not. He says I am too young, that he could go to prison. What is he talking about?
And we stop in Buffalo for the night at a house on the street, a woman comes to the door, his wife. “Oh,” she says, “come on in. I was just going out on a date.”
His kids are there – two or three of them – and when the mother leaves Joseph and I babysit and when the kids are in bed we sit on a couch in the dark and now he kisses me, finally.