paradise by the dashboard light.

We sat on the floor, stocking feet stretched out, long and lean. Backs against the bunk bed mattress. There was another set of bunks across from us; the space between the beds were narrow, so much so that our feet tucked in the space under the other bed.

We were more friends than we were romantic, although at the time, I had tried to see otherwise.

I remember the beds were unmade. My mom was always insistent that we make our beds at home, but there were nine kids here, so maybe it was tougher to stay on top of. I wouldn’t have made my own bed, had my mom not nagged on me.

My mom would have been pissed if she knew I was in his bedroom, but his mom, she didn’t mind.

The recording was warm – records were always so much warmer feeling than cassettes or CD’s. His car had an 8-track player, something that I gave him a hard time about. I could never catch a record at the right place to listen to the beginning of a song – skipping into mid-lyric. But he could catch this one perfect.

It was a single – we listened to it over and over.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

He told me how when he was younger, how much his mom loved this song.

I was seventeen and thought I knew so much, but I really didn’t. So much of life that I had been sheltered from.

I could never understand how something like that could happen to a little kid. I still can’t.

He was eight when he came to live with this family, who later went on to adopt him and his brother. A foster family had joined their seven-person household just shortly after I had gotten to know him,expanding their household to eleven – their house was always chaos.

But, at this moment, things were calm. The record played, warm and scratchy, filling the spaces where there were no words. We talked about finishing school and what would happen next year, once he graduated. He had wanted to be a graphic designer one day, but he told me what he really wanted was to find his mom. Now that he was eighteen, he could.

He was so young, at the time everything happened, that he didn’t remember the town where she lived, but that there was a grandfather who stayed with them. While he was around, things were okay. But then, he went away, and everything changed.

His mom’s troubles with alcohol and drugs; a boyfriend who didn’t want other men’s kids around.

Beatings. Being burned with an iron and boiling water.

Trying to protect his mom, but not being able to. Being a pain in the ass, so the he would take the brunt of the boyfriend’s anger, versus his mom or his little brother.

He was seven.

“If I saw him walking down the street, I would kill him,” he confided to me, in the deeper voice he still hadn’t quite grown into. “I wouldn’t even think twice about it.”

One of the foster brothers broke in. Flopped on one of the lower bunks. Teased me about something I can’t remember, anymore. They rough housed. I played awkward, although I was used to this sort of thing, having lots of younger brothers, myself.

It was enough to cut the tension.

Things were normal, again.

I have not seen him, now, for seventeen plus years. We stayed in-touch for a while, but once I was not interested in a relationship, anymore, it got weird.

There was too much need, there and, cruel as it was, I had moved on and wasn’t interested in helping a broken person, anymore.

He did find his mom and moved in with her for a time. I can’t imagine that it went well, but at least he now knew.

How hard would it be to have this one dream and to find out the dream you had wasn’t what you thought it would be?

I heard from my mom, a few years later, that he had been arrested for breaking into a house. It was reported in our small town newspaper. That’s how she found out.

The police report had said there was nothing taken – the house was empty for the winter and that he had broken in through a sliding door. He was inside when someone came by to check on the house.

His car was found broken down not far from there.

He was homeless. His car broke down. He needed a warm place to stay.

It was like hearing about a random person, not someone I used to spend time with. Not someone I knew.

I wonder from time to time whether he is okay. Whether he was sucked into the habits that his mom had – the drugs, the alcohol. I wonder if he is still broken, like he was, or if he finally was able to find some sort of stability.

I wonder, but I don’t want to know, at the same time. It’s an awful way to be – to care, but to not care.

But that’s how it feels. Numb. Like I had known of him, but hadn’t known him at all. Not really.

Never at all.

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