The farmlands are alternately emerald green and saffron yellow; patchwork squares that glisten in unadulterated sunlight. The morning sun: a buttery white disc afloat in a sea of clean cornflower blue. When we drive past, the squares shoot by and seem to blend together. Green, yellow, green, yellow. Every now and then, a clump of healthy trees, a wooden farmhouse, a billboard emblazoned with Bible verses.
The rock star sits in the seat in front of me. He has toured in Japan. His very presence seems to speak to me of black jeans, electric guitars, cigarettes, booze. Hours later by the campfire, after my clothes and hair have dried, he will say to me, “Cool jeans,” and my heart will skip a beat. For now, it is hard for me to picture such a character on a canoe in the river. I am silent, in the back, watching flatlands as they pass, content to study the back of his head, the nuances of his voice as he converses easily with the other people in the car.
“Look at that house,” he says, pointing at a neat construction of blue- and white-painted wood, tiny in the distance. A long white gravel ribbon cuts its way from the black of the highway to the fluffy golden swath of cornfield. “That’s what I’d like.”
“A house like that. That’d be great…get a wife, move to the country, live on a farm. Just get away from it all, you know? That’s what I need, man.”
I do not understand him at the time. I cannot think of anything I’d want less. I am in high school and scrambling to grow up. On weekends we trek into the city and giggle our way through the thrift stores and fetish shops around Belmont and Clark; at nighttime we drive aimlessly around the thick black woods of Barrington and take midnight repasts at Denny’s and IHOP; on Friday nights we go to suburban teen clubs, clad in skimpy polyester and adorned with glitter, and dance to pounding music with young Marines in training–all out of the searing desire for something more exciting, more glamorous, more independent, more grown-up. Every day I feel myself reaching for something indescribable. I can’t help but feel that somewhere in the world is a more memorable way of life that I am missing out on.
To me, the rock star encompasses everything I want at sixteen: the cachet of urbane coolness and the lifestyle of an international troubadour. In my head, I see the rock star navigating his way through a swirling world painted entirely in gritty blacks, grays, silvers, and neons. Why would anyone want to exchange that for a static life colorized in Crayola?
But I am just sixteen. I have yet to feel the heartache of being utterly alone in a metropolis of millions. I have yet to know the soul-crushing weight of starting each gray day before dawn and returning home each day feeling ten years older. I have not yet learned to yearn for sunlit air, wide plains, breathtaking vistas. I have not yet grown to appreciate certain qualities. Stability. Security. Simplicity. Serenity.
In time, I will know. In time, the fetish shops around Belmont and Clark will be replaced with fast food franchises; the gutter punks will wander off to some other soon-to-be-gentrified enclave. In time, the woods of the Northwest suburbs will gradually ebb, making way for McMansion developments with generic, bucolic names and status SUVs. In time, Club X will be shut down, and stretchy black pants and body glitter will fall out of fashion. In time, I will find myself halfway across the country, on a schoolbus at an age way past the normal schoolbus-riding age, sitting across from ____________ from Indiana. He looks too young and too sheltered to be moving to the gritty city to teach foulmouthed children. Like me.
We sit across from each other on the bus home from summer school. The grotty vinyl of the seats sticks to my legs; my face is coated with a fine film of oil and sweat; wisps of hair are glued to the edges of my face, neck, and scalp. The windows of the bus are open, letting in the oppressive humidity of a mid-Atlantic summer and all the offensive smells and sounds that come with it. But the look on ___________’s face tells that he is miles away. He leans his head against the seat in front of him in a way that is effeminate and boyish all at once. “I miss the cornfields,” he says to me.
It’s all he says, but between two Midwestern transplants, it’s all he needs to say. And in time, I will miss them too. I will realize that my mind keeps coming back to them at the strangest times. And by that time, _______________ will have already left the city.