The entire way, you told yourself jump.
Because how could you not?
What would they say about you?
You’d never been to the quarry before. Certainly not with the coolest girl in school, who pushed a curtain of cascading hair from her eyes in the bucket passenger seat of your 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck. She sat on the lap of her boyfriend, the best skater in town. He worked next to you in jewelry class.
When you first met him, you waited for the other shoe to drop. You’d moved from your old town intent on shrugging off the daily hipchecks and epithets: a pair of Reeboks and an arsenal of Ocean Pacific would allow you to blend in.
But they didn’t.
Your first day was much the same as the last in your old town.
Over time, after you bought a Sex Pistols tape on the way to church, awestruck that this guy who couldn’t really sing was so fearlessly in command, your wardrobe shifted to Airwalk prototypes, skateboard graphics, band logos, baggy pants. These, somehow, rendered you mercifully invisible to the heckling hordes.
But your rural home had no pavement.
You skateboarded in an empty metal satellite dish rendered traditionally useless when your grandfather clipped it with a snowplow and worried that you couldn’t ollie high enough to warrant the gear. You couldn’t grind a curb. You were a fraud clinging to a life raft of signifiers. Because it was always something.
You spent school lunches in the library, poring over microfilm in search of facts about Dead Kennedys and Johnny Rotten, but you feared all the facts lodged in your head wouldn’t protect you from the label of poser you felt was an inevitability.
But this guy—who could do handrails, you’d heard—helped you as you floundered in jewelry. His rings, pendants were store-quality, and you could barely use a pair of tin snips. But this was no matter: you talked about bands and skaters and marveled, silently, that he wasn’t making fun of you for your lack of manual dexterity, or giving you shit for wearing a Cure shirt even though you never saw them play. He talked to you like you were equals, not like someone who could do kickflips and date girls.
Your contrasty photographs of decaying barnboard sheds hung in the school’s art exhibit, which you attended on your own, driving to school under an eerie overcast sky, the sun blotted out by scaled clouds.
You looked at your pictures, everyone else’s art, did your best to avoid your classmates.
The skater was there.
What are you doing after this?
Going home, you thought, and re-reading skateboard magazines.
I don’t know, you said.
Because some people are going up to the quarries.
I can drive, you chanced, if you know where it is.
The skater’s girlfriend appeared, as if from thin air. Of course you knew who she was: her Sid Vicious shirts and ripped tights were so cool, her half-shaved head. The way she told jocks to go fuck themselves when they made fun of the dog collar padlocked around her neck. She was terrifying and awesome.
Hey, she said. Mind if I come?
This cannot be happening, you thought.
The quarry, the company.
Something would go wrong.
Your truck groaned as they piled in. The skater gave directions, asking if he could put in a tape.
You apologized for your tape deck, which only played at twice normal speed. This made his Bad Brains sound like angry chipmunks. You all laughed.
Here, she said. Let me try.
She hit eject and pulled a tape from her army jacket.
Telltale windchimes, regular speed.
Wait, you said. How did you do that?
She smiled and shrugged. Just lucky, I guess. You have a Cure shirt, right?
I do, you said, even as you marveled that someone—anyone—had noticed something about you for purposes unrelated. But then not just someone.
The wind, blowing harder than any time you could remember, pushed your tiny pickup around as you drove. You made adjustments and waited for commentary which never came.
The skater navigated you to the quarry, on the outskirts of town. As you drove, you worried. You weren’t much of a swimmer, and had no love of heights. But you had to jump. Because the skater and the cool girl would. And you couldn’t—could not—chance their ire.
You parked at a metal gate, chained shut, spraypainted, surrounded by cars plastered with band and skateboard stickers. A paved path led up an incline.
Let’s go, they said.
The sun faded from the overcast sky, leaving a creepy glow behind ominous clouds. As you walked you wondered how you’d find your way back to the gate in the dark.
The sky crackled as you three walked.
What is that?
I think it’s heat lightning, the cool girl replied.
As you walked, you talked about records and bands. You’d seen five rock shows. The skater and the cool girl were impressed you’d seen Fugazi play, Public Image Ltd. All the while, the sky lit bright at irregular, soundless intervals, adding to the unreality.
You mounted a crest to find a loose knot of kids you recognized from school—skaters, girls from the darkroom, the jewelry lab—thronged around a campfire.
In the distance, a splash, which echoed far after impact.
Who was that?
One of the guys around the fire, with long hair—you knew both his names from studying your yearbooks—said Joe.
Someone offered a beer, which you were too scared to drink. You tried to sound as cool as possible when you said you were driving, braced yourself for abuse, received none.
Discussion of bands, skateboards, people you didn’t know.
The sky crackled like the end of the world.
You couldn’t bring yourself to walk to the edge of the quarry. Instead, you ventured as close as you felt comfortable, light fading from the sky, illumination only from fire and the crackling heat lightning. You couldn’t see the bottom.
Back at the fire, you sat next to the skater and the cool girl on a log.
A crackling from the woods. A figure emerged—Joe, you knew from your yearbook.
I almost got lost, he said. It’s so dark.
You turned to the cool girl. Are you going to jump?
She laughed. Oh God, no. The only person crazy enough to jump is Joe.
Now, all this seems so humdrum, almost cliché. But at the time, you wondered if you’d ever have the words to manage to make it all believable, the wonder and import, electricity flaring above you in a clotted sky, bringing things to light.
—Michael T. Fournier