Lopez and I began walking back to the car. As we slid in and started the engine, he swore softly. “So do we know any more than we did at the beginning of this shitty day?”
“Yeah, actually, I think we do. Didn’t you hear everything that was being said in there?”
He looked over at me, his eyebrow climbing up his brow. “Were we in the same room? I don’t remember hearing shit, and if I don’t remember it, it didn’t happen.” Slumping back, he stared out the window for a bit, brooding. “I just don’t get it. After hearing all of her friends and coworkers talk about her, I figure that she’s either in a shit load of trouble or is going on the rebellious streak of a goddamn lifetime.”
Aimlessly scratching at his cheek, he said, “The problem is, I’m having trouble buying the idea that she’s in dutch. She’s smart, and there’s obviously about a million people that would jump in front of a fucking bus for her. It’s not like she’s in a strange city with no one to go to for help. How tough is it to get to a phone, and let your mom know you’re still sucking oxygen? I just don’t get how she can treat Karen like this.”
“I think I can.” My voice sounded a bit odd even to me as I began to voice a thought that had been scrabbling up my thoughts, gently pushing aside everything else and standing at the forefront. I glanced over, and said, “This is her life, but she hasn’t been living it.”
“What the fuck are you babbling about?”
“Look, everyone we’ve talked to paints the same picture. She has done every single thing that she was supposed to at every turn of her life. She was supposed to do well in school, so she did well in school. She was supposed to get a job and help out Mom, so that’s what she did. She’s every parent’s dream of what kind of teenager they want their kid to be.”
Lopez was staring at me like I had confetti shooting out of my nose. “And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?”
“Hell yes it’s a bad thing!” He still looked confused, so I barreled on. “Teenagers aren’t perfect. They sneak out late at night. They drink too much and puke on the doormat. They have sex with their pimply faced boyfriend in the back seat of a Kia while listening to shitty music. They fail courses, yell at their parents, and hate their siblings. They fall desperately in love in days and view the end of a two month fling as the greatest tragedy in the entire span of human civilization.
“We all go through that shit; God knows I did. And after hearing the way Katie has lived her entire life, I’m damn glad I did.” I paused for a moment, sorting through the thoughts in my head.
Miraculously, Lopez was silent. I think he realized that I was figuring something out, and I needed a moment to decipher it. Arriving at his apartment, I pulled into an empty space and put the car into park. After a few moments, I continued.
“Look,” I said. “I’m not saying I know everything about teenagers. Hell, I don’t know all that much about this particular teenager. But I do know what it’s like to have everyone watching you expectantly after they hand you the script for your life, just waiting for you to fuck up your lines. All you’re trying to do at that age is figure out who the hell you are, and how you fit into this world that seems to be piling itself against you in about a thousand different ways.
“All I’m saying is that Katie spent every waking moment turning away from doing anything that didn’t fit perfectly into the expected script of her life. No rebellion, no misbehaving, no arguing, just toeing that line. And I think that every time she sacrificed something she actually wanted instead of something that let her fit the perfect caricature of the ideal daughter…” I paused and shook my head. “Each time was a tiny deposit into this huge reservoir of pent-up rebellion and bitterness. Eventually, she couldn’t hold it in, and it poured out of her in a flood. That kind of release feels right at first, like you’ve been holding your breath for years and finally let it out. Despite the fact that she’s smarter than this, I think she looked at this as her opportunity to break out of the mold that had been poured around her. After doing everything that she was supposed to in high school, she looked up at her future and just saw more of the same damn thing. Walmart, school, helping raise her brothers and sisters. I think if she had been praying for a change, and saw that her future was just a rerun, she must have wanted to scream.
“Maybe Katie decided that what she had been doing was taking her to a future that she didn’t want. Maybe she felt that she had to do something different, something so out of character that it would have to lead her elsewhere. Harris shows up, and with all of his flaws, he’s the opposite of what she’s known for her whole life. But if she thought that she was going to be trapped, trying something different might have seemed the only way out.”
We were both quiet for a few moments, listening to the sounds of squealing, laughter and splashes from the apartment’s pool around the other side of the building. In the wake of everything that we were contemplating, there was something unnerving about the sound. I sat there and wondered how many of the children caught up in the simple joy of splashing in the cool water were facing a future like Katie’s.
“Hell, I don’t know. I know a lot, but people are your deal, not mine.” He opened his door, and began to get out. “We need to sort through what we learned today. You want to call it a night, each of us noodle over this thing for a bit?”
“Yeah, I think so. How about I come have breakfast and we’ll hit it from a new perspective?”
Nodding, he slammed the door, and began walking towards the apartment stairs, hunched over. In that moment, it struck me that in all the years we had known each other, I’d never seen him look so helpless and lost. It was a sobering thought.