Being back on Vintage Lane was like no where else in the entire world. Vintage Lane was my childhood, my adolescence and so much of the foundations of my life, that being back is less like being on a neighborhood street than it is watching a slideshow of my life. There is one element of Vintage Lane that stands out above the rest though; one part of it that has never truly left me, even when I tried to leave it.
The first thing that always springs to mind is of course my friends, two of them in particular; Steven and Rae. A picture that was never taken except in my memories sums up what Steven and Rae were to me. We are all out on his front porch. It is summer, twilight, where the sky is a subtle shade of violet as the sun struggles to stay up in the last seconds of the day. Steven and I are thirteen and Rae is twelve. We are all laughing, frostys from Wendy's dripping all over the steps and our clothes. I am wearing blue jean shorts and a white tank top with my hair up in a ponytail on top of my head, one of my feet in a clunky platform shoe I have been wearing since the last day of school. Steven is holding the heel of the other shoe that has fallen off, halfway to putting it back on my foot. He has a line of freckles that sprinkle over his nose, and is currently wearing a loose red shirt with long khaki shorts, barefoot. Then there is Rae, sitting between us with a frosty mustache and tie-dyed camp shirt with the sleeves rolled up, her red hair held back with a thin purple headband. She laughs at Steven as he goes to put the platform shoe back on my foot. She is calling me and Steven "Cinderella and Prince Charming" and we are telling her to shut up.
The next night we are playing basketball on Rae's driveway. Our parents are all on foldout chairs on Steven's driveway next door, a tiny glow emanating from a bug-killing candle in the middle of their circle. Steven gives us ten points to start out with because we are that pathetic. We take on Steven and Rae's younger brother. I attempt to shoot the ball in the hoop, using every inch of my five foot seven stature; I miss. Rae's five foot two frame steals the ball from her brother and tosses it toward the hoop; the ball barely touches the netting. Steven dribbles, shoots, scores. Rae's brother passes to Steven who does this again and again until we have lost. The score? Twenty to ten. We laugh and agree Rae and I are pathetic, but it is an affectionate kind of pathetic that only occurs between neighborhood friends.
The summer ends. Suddenly I move to Nevada, and say goodbye to Rae, Steven, and Vintage Lane. Soon the month of August is officially over. I am in a suburb five minutes outside of Las Vegas and feel like I am in Hell. I am missing my friends and my house and my life back on Vintage Lane.
It is September 11, 2000. A year before 9/11 officially becomes a day of loss and sadness. I get out of school and pray to either die or miraculously move back to Vintage Lane. My entire family is in the car when I get picked up. My father pulls into a drugstore on the way home and gets out "to run in for something really quick." We are in the drugstore parking lot and I am sweating in my black tank top, my hair frizzing slightly. I am oblivious to the world, hating my life and hoping with every fiber in my being that my parents bring me back to Vintage Lane as fast as humanly possible.
My mother suddenly asks me about Steven. Do I know him? Like the way you say "You know so-and-so…?" before you tell someone something about them. Flashes of basketball and frostys and summer flash through my mind, but immediately I notice an uneasy edge to my mother's voice. I nod and ask what about him?
My mother tells me he passed away.
In that moment I feel a part of myself die. Vintage Lane, home, childhood, innocence—it all dies.
I sit in shock, my mouth forming the words "what happened?"
My mother swallows, her face contorting in sadness, holding back tears. She tells me he…he killed…he killed himself.
I stare at nothing out the dusty windshield.
I hear my voice ask "how did he do it?"
My mother's voice shakes as she responds "He took his father's gun and he…he shot himself."
I say nothing. One month ago I was on Rae's driveway as she yelled across the lawn to Steven that I was moving to Nevada. I watched his face, his expression in a state of shock and confusion—unsure of what to do or say. I vaguely think that my face must look something like that now.
My brother's voice flows from the back seat. "Wow, she's taking this a lot better than I expected."
That's when it all hits me. The tears come. Gut-wrenching, painful sobs. Rivers of water flowing down my face. Vintage Lane. Steven. Summer. Freedom. Innocence.
I cry, but no tears bring him back. I pretend I'm dreaming, but I always wake up. I call Rae and that's when it becomes real. That's when I hear the story. The gunshot Rae heard during dinner. The terrified scream of his sister who found him on the floor of his parent's bedroom. The funeral plans. Rae had skipped school that day. It was real. He was really gone. And I wasn't there. I wasn't on Vintage Lane. I didn't get to see him on his last day alive. I didn't get to ride the bus to school with him that day. I didn't get to wait with him and Rae in front of my house for Chuck the bus driver to pick us up. I didn't get to see him in the halls and wave, or crack jokes on the back of the bus as it pulled up to drop us back home after school. I didn't get to see him before I left, and now I would never see him again.
He's been gone six years, and still I see him whenever I'm on Vintage Lane. That house. That driveway. That life. The girl who had it all and knew nothing. The girl who laughed with her friends and spent countless summer nights goofing off and making bonds with people she thought would be with her forever. The girl I was before I realized how easily life can slip through our fingers, and how much of an impact one person can have on others around them.
Vintage Lane will forever remain as the best summers of my life with some of the best friends I've ever had. But the formerly laughter-filled streets now hold a certain somber air that has been that way ever since Steven died. The people out on their driveways, talking, playing, enjoying life and living every minute of it, all went with him. Walking back along the cracked sidewalks and freshly manicured lawns, I stop dead between his house and Rae's, just standing still for a moment. My hair is shinier and more styled than it was six years ago; I have much more confidence and carry myself as more of a woman than a girl. I have gone through high school, am going through college and have had many boys come into my life since him. I've grown with Rae as we laughed, fought, cried, talked, and obsessed our way through our teenage years. But even now, with my almost-twenty year old stance and secure confidence, I shrink back into my thirteen year old self here. I'm back to being insecure and unsure and having more fun with this one boy and this one best friend than I've ever known to have in my entire life; a vintage feeling on a vintage lane, still shaping my life everyday.