“So, what’s your deal?”
Such simple words, yet they changed the summer break of 1992 forever.
They say you always remember your first love. I’m not sure how true it is for others, but I do. For all the wrong reasons.
I was a lonely kid. After my parents’ death, I’d lived with an uncle and aunt. Now, they weren’t bad people, but they never wanted kids, especially not a teenager in the middle of puberty.
I guess we were all happy in our own ways when I proposed that I’d live on my own a few years later. They provided me with enough money to scrape by, and so I moved into a small apartment complex at the edge of town.
It was Thursday evening, one week into summer break when I first saw her.
Memory is a strange thing. So much of my life is nothing but vague blurs and half-guesses. Yet, I remember this evening as vividly as if it happened yesterday.
For the past few days, I’d wasted away inside my apartment. Eating microwaved meals, watching TV, and reading books. Eventually, the heat and the stuffy air of the small one-room place drove me outside.
I didn’t have a destination in mind; I just wanted to go on a simple walk.
The day had been hot, but now that the sun was setting, the air was comfortably mild. I walked along the small path that led around the complex, and before long, I settled down on a bench.
I leaned back and watched as the deep red sky slowly turned dark.
The sounds of the town had quieted down. The bustle of people and cars was replaced by cicadas and the chirping of a lonely bird nearby.
I inhaled the evening air deeply before I took out my small notebook and scribbled down a few awkward lines.
I had aspirations of becoming a poet one day, but of course, all I wrote was terrible. I was sixteen after all.
I’d just jotted down another pretentious musing about the night sky when I noticed her.
She was riding on a simple, old skateboard, speeding down the path towards me.
She wore dark shorts and an equally dark long-sleeved shirt. It seemed to be far too big for her delicate frame. Her short auburn hair was waving in the slight evening breeze. A hint of a smile played around the corners of her mouth as her big brown eyes stared at the night sky above.
She didn’t talk to me that night, didn’t even acknowledge me. She sped past me, leaving me staring after her, mouth agape.
It felt like I sat there for hours, thinking about her. I guess I secretly hoped she’d return and ride past me once more.
Eventually, I gave up and returned back to my small apartment.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her, much less sleep. Skater Girl, I came to call her. In my mind, I conjured up stories of how the two of us would get to know each other and fall in love, knowing even at my age how silly it all was.
I think when my parents died, something broke inside of me. Some essential part that makes you a normal, functioning human being. Something that could never be fixed, and that drove me away from people and society as a whole.
Skater Girl changed it all. From the first time I’d seen her, I was driven back to that same bench every evening.
She wasn’t there every day, but every other and that was enough for me.
I never mustered up the courage to call out to her, and it was more than a week before she finally acknowledged me.
“So, what’s your deal?” she called out to me from afar and stopped a meter in front of me.
“Oh, eh, I’m writing,” I blurted out, holding up my notebook.
“Well, what are you writing about?”
“N-nothing really, just poems and silly things.”
“Wanna show me?” she asked, pushing herself closer to me.
My eyes grew wide in embarrassment. That whole damned notebook was filled with lines about her auburn hair and her deep brown eyes. In a panic, I tried to quickly close and hide it, but it slipped from my hands, falling to the ground in front of me.
She giggled at that. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.
“Guess that’s a no,” she said, still laughing, and a moment later, she pushed herself onward.
“Wait,” I wanted to call out, but my voice had all but ceased functioning.
From that day on, the two of us started to talk more often. It was never more than a few lines at a time, but this tad bit of interaction was enough for me.
“Can I read one of your poems?” she asked me one day.
“No way, they are all terrible.” I answered, holding up my hands as if to block her.
“Well, once you write a good one, be sure to let me read it!” she called out over her shoulder as she rode away.
A few days later, she greeted me with the same, warm smile that always made me blush.
“Still terrible?” she asked in a joking manner.
I nodded, and when I looked at her, I saw a huge dark bruise on her thigh.
“Guess I’m not the only one who’s terrible at what they’re doing,” I replied similarly joking, thinking she’d crashed down with her board.
For a moment, she eyed me questioningly before she realized what I was looking at. She quickly put her hand over the bruise as if trying to hide it. There was a hint of something else on her usually happy face. She was quiet for a few seconds staring off into the distance before she smiled at me again.
“Seems like we have something in common then.”
These small interactions soon became the most important part of my lonely summer break.
Nothing ever happened at the apartment complex. It was mostly populated by the old, those forgotten by society and a few more sinister figures.
I’d returned from the library a few days later, borrowing a massive stack of books about poetry, when something actually did happen. There was a commotion in front of the complex.
I hurried over to the group that had gathered and pushed myself to the front. A group of police officers dragged a cursing, middle-aged man to their police car. I’d seen the man before, often lingering around the complex, his eyes wild and dangerous.
The people around me talked and whispered to one another. Between the dozens of voices, I was only able to make out a few bits and pieces: A public disturbance. Her again. Domestic violence.
Someone must’ve called the police, and the man seemed to be furious. He was furious, struggling against the grip of the officers and rambling on incoherently. For a moment his hate filled eyes wandered over the onlookers, and I almost cringed back when they came to rest on me. I caught the word bitch multiple time, but not much more before they threw him into the back of the police car.
I watched the whole ordeal, curious as I was, but a day after I’d already forgotten about it.
It wasn’t important. The only important thing for me was spending time with Skater Girl.
Half a week passed before I saw her again. She was still wearing the same sloppy clothes, and her hair looked as wild as always.
She smiled at me as she approached me.
“Any luck yet?” she asked, giggling.
“None,” I said, shaking my head.
“You know, you spend an awful lot of time on something you aren’t good at.”
I shrugged. “Guess I’m enjoying it.”
Well, I was kind of enjoying, but I was really only out here because of her, something I couldn’t admit, of course.
“Hey,” she interrupted my thoughts, “you wanna to give this a try?” She picked up the board and held it out towards me.
I stared at her, taken aback, but found myself nodding.
I awkwardly got on the board and pushed myself forward.
“Hey, this is pretty-!”
The word easy never left my lips as I lost my balance, fell onto my hands, and propelled the board forward.
I was greeted by bursting laughter from Skater Girl.
“Oh my god,” she pressed out, “you really are terrible!”
I stumbled to my feet and gave her a weak smile before I went to get the board.
She was still laughing when I handed it to her, but she wasn’t mocking me, and soon I started to laugh as well.
“Alright, I’ll teach you,” she said with a big smile.
My face felt hot all of a sudden, and I felt my heart pounding heavily in my chest. “Sure,” was all I could say.
For the next half hour, she tried her best to teach me the basics, but it was futile. I fell down half a dozen times, scraping up my knees in the process. I was content to keep going, but she finally took the board from me.
“This is hopeless,” she giggled, shaking her head.
I sighed and sat down on the bench again, and for the first time, she joined me. For a while, neither of us spoke.
“Do you ever look up at the sky?” she suddenly asked.
“Sure, what are you-?”
“No, I mean, do you ever really look? At the stars! Aren’t they beautiful? You know,” she started in a voice quieter than usual, “sometimes I wonder what it’s like up there. To be a star in the sky, you know?”
For a moment, I looked away from her and up at the sky, at the countless stars above us.
I saw that she, too, was looking up with her wide, deep eyes. There was a sad smile on her face, and she appeared to be deep in thought. For a moment, I thought she’d start to cry.
“Life’s strange, isn’t it?” she finally asked, turning back towards me.
I was too surprised to say anything.
“Maybe you should write about that!”
“What do you mean?”
“Life, the stars, the sky, everything! There’s beauty everywhere, even in all the small things around us.”
I was just staring at her.
“What are you staring at, weirdo?” she asked, now laughing again.
“Oh, sorry, I was,” but I broke up, awkwardly turning away from her.
“I was joking!”
Then she got up and stepped back onto her board. “Come on, follow me!”
With that, she led me down a small path, away from the complex and to a small hill.
“So, why do you sit outside all day writing terrible poems?”
As I sat down next to her, I was quiet for a while. Then I opened up about everything. I told her I was out there because of her. I’d wanted to see her again and even that most of my poems were about her.
She listened without interrupting me, her hands gently caressing the grass.
“You know, you really ARE a weirdo!” she said, looking at me.
Her eyes seemed like endless pools. I gave her a weak, embarrassed smile, but before I could do anything else, she leaned over and kissed me.
It was an awkward, sloppy kiss, but it felt amazing. When our lips parted, I must’ve had the biggest grin on my face. I leaned back on the grass, wishing that this evening would never end.
We kept sitting on that small hill for what must’ve been hours. We didn’t talk much, we just sat there next to each other. I don’t know when, but at one point I found her hand holding onto mine. All the while, she stared up at the stars with her big, brown eyes.
“It’s gotten late,” she finally mumbled and got up. I nodded. It had to be almost midnight.
She put the board down and then slowly pushed herself forward.
“Hey, hold up, Skater-” I started but broke up in an instant, embarrassed.
“Rebecca,” she said.
“Stephen, I live down in apartment 7.05, so if you want to come by,” my voice trailed off.
She giggled and took my hand as she rode on the skateboard next to me.
As we made our way around the complex, I felt her holding onto my hand harder, almost clutching it. The smile had vanished from her face. It was replaced by worry and apprehension.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, but all she did was shake her head.
“Life, I guess.”
Before I could ask her what she meant, she kissed me once more.
“Thanks for tonight, Stephen,” she said before she hurried away.
I was left standing there, speechless. She’d already opened the door when I saw that her board was still on the ground next to me.
“Hey, your board!” I called out, but she’d already vanished.
Once I was inside myself I contemplated hurrying after her, but then I decided that I’d take the board with me and hand it to her tomorrow.
Back in my apartment, I couldn’t sleep. My teenage brain was too active, too confused. Was that what love was like, what it did to you?
My eyes wandered to the board again and again. What should I say to her when I saw her the next time? Should I tell her I was in love with her? What about the board? God, everything had been so perfect tonight, and now it all seemed so complicated.
I tried to sleep, but I was just lying there, throwing myself this and that way as minutes turned to hours. Her face was all I could see in my mind. Rebecca – even her name was beautiful.
Then I heard something. It was quiet, a rattle, a turning of a doorknob, then silence again. It was followed by some sort of… clicking?
I lay in bed and listened. Had to be some neighbor. Probably someone who was out drinking and forgot how their door worked.
Somehow though, it was too close, too audible.
I slid out from under the blanket, got out of bed, and tiptoed through my small apartment. There it was again: click, clack, quiet rustling.
Once I was at the front door, I listened intently. There was another sound, and suddenly my front door popped open.
Standing in front of me was a giant beast of a man. For a second, he was as surprised as I was. Then he grinned.
“You little fucker,” he pressed out in a whisper before he stormed at me. He was holding something big and blunt in his hand. It became a blur as he hurled it at me.
It was pure, dumb luck that whatever he’d been holding missed me and crashed against the wall next to me. Another curse, this one more audible.
Once the initial shock passed, I turned to run. My flight-or-fight response was all flight. I stumbled forward to get away from whoever this madman was.
I’d barely taken a few steps before a large hand reached out and covered my mouth. Another soon followed, taking hold of my body.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the man whispered into my ear.
His voice was deep, yet strangely scrawny. There was a hint of a giggle behind each of his words.
Where. Do. You. Think. You’re. Going.
He was enjoying this.
The hand over my mouth pressed down hard, making it impossible for me to scream. The man’s breath was hot and heavy on my neck, stank of alcohol and tobacco. His massive body was soaked in sweat. I felt a bulging, wet stomach pressed against my back. I’d have gagged if my mouth hadn’t been covered.
“You made a big mistake, you little shit.”
This time there was no joy in his voice; there was nothing but cold, hard rage. Worst of all, I had no freaking clue who this guy was or why he was here.
I was shoved forward. For a moment, he let go of my body, and I was struggling, squirming under the hand covering my mouth. I tried to get away, but he was so much stronger than me. I tried to scream, but all that escaped my mouth was a quiet, inaudible yelp.
Then his hand returned, this time going for my crotch. Pain shot through my whole body as he began to squeeze.
“Was it fun? Did you enjoy touching her?”
What the hell was he talking about? I shuffled my feet, tried to press my legs together to get him off me, but it was futile.
“You shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have. Oh, but you won’t ever do it again.”
As his giant paw of a hand closed, I was nothing but pain and panic. Then I felt something hot between my legs. For a moment, I thought he’d ripped and torn something apart before I realized that I must’ve peed myself.
His hand jerked away.
“What the fuck,” the man called out in disgust, and in that short moment, I bit down on his hand as hard as I could.
There was another scream, this one short and strangely high-pitched. A moment later, I was free, stumbling away from the man.
The few meters between me and the front door felt like the longest distance I ever had to cross in my entire life.
“Oh no, you won’t!” he yelled, and I heard his heavy footsteps as he rushed after me.
One more meter. I was outside. The hallway. Down, just go down, I told myself. I opened my mouth to scream, but it was too late. Once more, his giant hand covered my mouth.
“I’m going to enjoy cutting you up!” he laughed into my ear as he dragged me backward.
Someone, please someone, I pleaded as the tears streamed from my eyes.
It was no use. No one was coming. No one.
I struggled once more. It was a last surge of energy before I gave up exhausted.
Futility took over. This was it. This guy, whoever he was, was going to kill me.
And then it happened. Gravity’s hold over me stopped, and I was thrown up into the air. For a blink of an eye, I was entirely weightless. Before I could understand what was happening, I crashed down again.
There was a sickening crunch below me, and a moment later, the hands holding onto me let go.
I pulled the man’s heavy arms off me and crawled away from him.
That’s when I saw it. Skater Girl’s board.
The wondrous coincidence was cut short by a groan from the man behind me.
That’s when I ran. I didn’t get far before I stumbled into one of my neighbors. The old man started to belittle me about the ruckus I was causing at this time of the night, but when he saw the state I was in, he knew something wasn’t right.
It wasn’t long before the police arrived.
The man was still there, still on the floor of my apartment, the skateboard he’d tripped on still next to him.
He was knocked out cold.
It was the next day that I learned who the man was and why he’d come to my apartment. And that day, I also learned a lot more about Skater Girl, about Rebecca.
The man who’d appeared at my doorstep had been the boyfriend of Rebecca’s mother.
Joe, that’s what I think his name was, was an abusive, drug-addicted piece of shit. He was the type who preyed on weak women, precisely like Rebecca’s mom. A woman who had her own share of problems and a habit of taking to the bottle.
It had been too dark that night, but when I saw the picture, I knew that it was the guy who’d been taken in by police half a week ago.
Neighbors had called the police after yet another fight between him and Rebecca’s mom. Scared as she was of him, she refused to give a statement and eventually Joe was released. Once he was out, he wanted revenge. It didn’t matter against whom.
That night, he returned, flipped out, and murdered Rebecca’s mother in cold blood.
After that, he’d waited for Rebecca… That’s when he’d seen me with her, and that’s why he came after me.
Once he was done with Rebecca.
I don’t remember how I made through the weeks and months following her death. Life was nothing but vague blurs, apathy, and depression.
It was later that the statements and rumors of neighbors painted a fuller picture for me. Joe had come after Rebecca’s mother, but soon he’d been more interested in her teenage daughter. No one knew, of course, but many had their suspicions about what happened during those nights when her mom had passed out from drinking.
Rebecca hadn’t been the manic pixie dream girl I came to call Skater Girl. She wasn’t a mysterious and dreamy girl, no, she’d been a troubled, torn and abused soul.
She was so at wonder with the outside world because her own was filled with nothing but terror. I still remember her eyes when she stared at the stars. I’d never realized that it was desperation and hope that filled them.
Those few words she’d said that night, what it would be like to be a star in the sky…
The moment I knew everything, it was so obvious, and I realized how dumb and ignorant I’d been. I never bothered to ask who Rebecca really was or what was going on in her mind.
Instead, I’d made her into Skater Girl. Not a real person, but the cute and mysterious girl of my dreams. A girl who did nothing but ride her board in the evenings, wore but ill-fitting oversized clothes and stared at the night sky.
I often wonder what must’ve happened that night. What Joe must’ve done to her before he came to me.
And sometimes, during those worst nights, when the guilt eats away at me, I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d gone after her. If I’d decided to return her board then and there.
It’s been so long since then, yet I still think about her.
The skateboard, her skateboard; it’s still with me. A memory of this lonely summer break, of things that might have been and an endless number of regrets.
I still sit outside during those mild summer nights. Just a lonely guy sitting on a bench in a park writing his poems. They’re still terrible; rambling messes about life, the sky, the stars, and of course, auburn hair.
With each passing year, though, I feel that they get a little less terrible. I hope that one day, I can finally get one of them right.
After all those years, her words still ring in my ears as if it had been yesterday.
“Well, once you write a good one, be sure to let me read it!”
Sure, Rebecca, I will.