The man who picked me up somewhere in California, when I was still going down, before I had turned left to head across to New York, drove a cramped sporty sedan. He had cans of soda in the car and offered me one. He had dark hair and was a little older than me. Not a hippy. But he would do. He could be my boyfriend maybe.
“Why are you out hitchhiking by yourself?” he asked.
“Because none of my friends have any guts,” I said, giving him the answer that sounded best to me. I imagined my imaginary normal friends back in some imaginary homeland, a place where I talked on the phone a lot and raced around in cars with other kids.
Sandi was short and round with thick braces on her teeth. Cynthia was tall and heavy-boned with long red hair who wore a purple thick polyester dress at least once a week.
These were the two girls who liked me the most and came at lunch time to where I was sequestered in a wooden carroll in the school library, the place where I ate the thick liverwurst sandwiches my mother packed in a brown paper bag.
The cafeteria where everyone else ate I didn’t know how to walk into, didn’t know where to sit, who with. I pictured a noisy circus where everyone else had figured out their place, but I had come too late, that must be the reason, not arriving until tenth grade, but the reason didn’t hold water. Dino was a handsome easy boy who got absorbed quickly, and Nancy with her tidy long hair, arriving this year, knew just what to do too.
“Well, it does take guts,” said the man in the car with the soda, and he let me off at the side of the road, another possibility ending, because each ride was maybe the one that would give me a new road to follow, would be a man who would scoop me out of my life, fix it, or a group of kids who would love and absorb me into their life-on-the-go, their sleeping bags on the beach with guitars and a fire.
I get out of the car with the man who hadn’t been what I’d been looking for, but he had been a man alone, a man who had his own car, who drove freely wherever he wanted. If he had fallen love with me I would have stayed.