There was a phase years ago where I’d jump into a truck and go soaring down the highway, not so much worried about what would happen if I were to tumble out and splatter all over the road as much as what might happen if a cop pulled the driver over for having loose passengers in the back. They would ask me my name and call my parents, a much greater fear back then.
Julie’s brother was a truck driver who once picked us up from school as a special treat, driving the front of his semi. Seeing that huge monster just outside my place of education and realizing it was my ride home for the day, I climbed on with a rush of adrenaline and embarrassment. It was one of my earliest encounters with a friend’s double-sided life.
When she wanted to get away, Julie would drive out to the park and listen to her big brother hassle his muddied, foul-spoken crew. Within the comfort of a different future she could laugh at the jokes, admire the tattoo art, be there for the anarchic parties and back home whenever the sun left her brother’s trailer especially sweltering.
The whole thing was piss-my-pants frightening at first. I’d go from hanging out with a doe-eyed girl in name brand clothing to sitting at a picnic table with men who looked like they would break anyone in half who looked them in the eye for too long. Julie would be sitting across from me, eyeballing their cooler of beer cans like mystery elixir and I’d be thinking what the fuck are we doing here.
Their idea of fun often involved allegedly haunted sites and trespassing. I remember being driven out to a woody area, able to see no more than 10 feet ahead of me and one from the gang handing me a weapon at one point, telling me I might need it… It was some sort of decorative blade or sharpened envelope opener, perfectly matched to the role playing, Pagan overtones many of them seemed to have at heart.
I surfaced from the pool in her backyard and my eyes almost bulged out of my skull when one of the greasy men lept over the side and crashed into the water – jeans, leather vest and all. Sinking down to nose level, I watched Julie and her sister splash around without a care, creating the oddest harmony between their luxurious lifestyle and their older brother’s pack that I had ever seen.
There are a few scenes stored away, fuzzy and short like cell phone videos, of a black light-reflective arcade with an age requirement. Her older brother stands with one of his friends from the trailer park, partners as they aim and shoot at the House Of Dead machine that wasn’t old, yet. I remember him pitching several dollars worth of quarters into the battle but stopping after they had almost conquered it. There was some talk about holding out until next time. I can still see the “continue” numbers counting down and that feeling you get when you worry you might not be able to dive into your pocket in time to save the world.
Eventually I had a falling out with Julie and we went on in opposite directions. A truck would go screaming down my road and firecrackers would explode on my dad’s property, an indication to me that our feud meant war. Many shenanigans followed.
My last memory of her brother is one I regret – he had shown up to Julie’s graduation where I was performing and picked me out from the crowd. I could see his reflection behind me, shining off classroom windows as he silently followed me down a dead end near the choir room. Eventually I turned around to see that his wife had stepped up to confront me.
“Stop harassing Julie. If I hear of you messing with her ever again, you’re going to regret it.”
But this wasn’t Shady Acres. This was my ground, where there were no rebel flags to intimidate me.
“I haven’t talked to her in months. I’m sorry for everything that’s happened and I don’t know why she’s still mentioning me to people.”
Her brother, this huge, strong guy, was off to the side, seeming uncertain about holding my gaze. I had glanced behind his wife to read his face – where was the anger? Why was he frowning like that? He looked very sad and never said a word.
“Look. I don’t really know what you’ve been doing to her, but I’m here to let you know that it’s time to knock it off.”
“Would you like to come threaten me in front of my teacher? Cause he’s right through here and I can have you removed.”
Before the words had finished coming out of my mouth they’d turned and started to walk away. So I gave it up and stormed into the classroom, shouting out labels I thought I had repressed. I’d get word through a source, somehow, that the report was “Autumn was shaking in her boots”. It upset me, but I stopped retaliating.
Long after high school sagas and self-discoveries, I saw Julie’s brother in the paper. He had been in an accident on the road and died at the hospital. Something about seeing his photo influenced me to reminisce about the best of those scary times.
Julie and I have started talking again. Last weekend she took me out to her brother’s grave and I bent down in the snow to see his face etched on the black marble. I don’t know how many of her other friends were exposed to her getaway to the extent that I was, or who can best explain the importance of her hero. But I know that my time with Chris left a great enough impression on me to put our war to rest.