Four weeks ago, our Soldotna town paper printed a story about some local girl who set a record for the one hundred meter sprint. Three weeks ago, it was a woman who made doll houses from tin cans. Two weeks ago, a boy who, at fifteen, managed to navigate a ten mile stretch of the Kenai river in a traditional birch bark canoe.
Last week, I had had enough of all this, skipped the front page article completely, and looked in the ad section for a way out of this town.
Small town life is easy. You wake up, go to school, go home. When you get home, you finish your homework, maybe spend some time outdoors. If a friend calls, you can go to Sal's, because it's the only place that's open past ten at night (except for the strip club, but I have breasts of my own, thank you, and I'm guessing it's different for me because I know someone who works there, which is kind of sad... for both of us). And other than that, it's stare at the mountains and wonder why you feel so... stuck.
Anchorage. That's where I wanted to be this summer. Just thirty miles as the crow flies, but a two-hour drive through a mountain pass just to get into the outskirts. Jenny brags that she can make it in one hour and forty-four minutes, but I don't think I have the stomach to be in her car while she makes that kind of a trip. Truth be told, I almost don't think I have the stomach to move to such a big city. When I told Jenny about it, she was excited. But it wasn't the 'I'm so happy for you!' kind of excited. It was more like the 'I'm in too!' kind of excited. And having her there might make things a little less scary.
My boyfriend wasn't nearly as keen on the idea. Mark and I were seeing each other all through our senior year at Skyview. He's a lifer here, and I guess I can't blame him. In a town like this, you don't even really have to try.
He came over to my place while my parents were gone one afternoon, and that's when I told him. We were laying on my bed, he was kissing me, and I feel this rush of guilt, like I shouldn't lead him on any more. So I told him. And that's when he sort of pushed himself off of me and wondered if it wasn't some kind of joke.
"No, Mark, I'm serious."
He goes into his usual speech about how dangerous city life is, and how the Anchorage paper said that some girl had gotten raped there a month ago, and how prices are so much higher in a big city than in Soldotna. He talks about the crime and the corruption as if we were back in the moonshine era.
I hate it when he does this. It makes me feel like I'm five again, trying out a bicycle for the first time.
He ran his hand through my hair to demonstrate how delicate I am, and tells me that he doesn't want anything bad to happen to me. "I don't want anything bad to happen to me either," I tel him, "and maybe the worst thing that could happen to me is staying here."
He gets even more mad, and says that there's no way a small and skinny girl like me could possibly defend herself if she got attacked. He's probably right, but to prove his point, he sort of play wrestles me on the bed. I could fight back if I wanted to, but he instead rolls me into a spooning position and wraps his arms around me. I let this happen because I realize with a rush of blood that this may be the last day he ever touches me, and the worst part is that I'm okay with that.
"I'm moving in May," I said finally.
Through the next ten minutes I can feel his mood through his breath on the back of my neck. It goes from disbelief to frustration, then downright anger. He's not the angry type, really. He'll yell, pull at his hair a little, maybe throw a pillow against some empty wall, but that's about all he's capable of. A few minutes later the anger fades into surrender, and then a sort of desperation. I know what's coming next.
He asks, not in words but in the way guys ask. I pull his hands away. He says if I'm leaving then we should make the most of my last days here. It's almost pathetic, but cute in a way. But I don't relent.
"We're broken up now, Mark," I tell him. I pull a blanket over me while he gets up to leave. And not once do I look at him as he walks out my bedroom. His car starts up in the driveway, idles for probably longer than it needed to, then roars away. I imagine he was hoping I'd come out and welcome him back, that I was foolish and naive, and that going to Kenai Peninsula College this fall is okay with me, and that I never want to see what life is like past the Sterling Highway, but I don't. I lie in bed for hours, and when I finally think of getting up, the sun is low over the horizon.
I call Jenny. Jenny already knows, not because she heard elsewhere but because she heard it in my voice. I'm lucky to have a friend like her. Nothing is holding us back now, she says. And I agree.