My friend had just acquired the latest posthumous Tupac CD from Sam Goody. It said ‘EXPLICIT’ in large letters on the front and we played Thugz Mansion on repeat in his SUV. We didn’t know anything about being thugs, of course. We attended a suburban high school and were both editors of the school newspaper. Still, the album title, Better Dayz, gave us a potent sense of premature nostalgia.
We were still accustomed to repeated lyrics, singles discs that played just one song, maybe two, until it was fully imprinted on your brain. Years later, we’d realize we could still recall every word, every millisecond pause. We’d continue to sing these songs at karaoke, hum them getting our kids ready for school, scream them alone in an attempt to feel something.
But, back then, we were sixteen, seventeen, full of potential, and on our way to the high school football game. My face was painted red and blue. I wore red leggings, a school shirt, and Adidas slides. My boyfriend played wide receiver and I’d painted his number on my right cheek. We were primary-colored warriors in search of a battle.
We pulled into the parking lot of our town’s Taco Bell. Other fans were already there, ringing cowbells so loudly they drowned out the passing traffic. The back windows of their extended cab trucks were painted with shoewhite, emblazoned with Good Luck!, names of friends, our school’s winning game record.
I’ve never been to Taco Bell before, I confided to my friend. Why, he asked. I shrugged, my parents don’t like it. Well, this is going to change your life, he assured me.
Truthfully, my parents went through great lengths to keep me away from fast food, including telling me it was poisoned oatmeal filled with glass. I was too embarrassed to say I sort of believed them. And, sitting in the car with an older boy who had offered me a bite of something that could tangibly change my understanding of the world, well, they wouldn’t like that very much either.
I followed him inside.
Back in the SUV, he hit repeat again and I sank my teeth into my first Chalupa Supreme. I made the rookie mistake of neglecting to protect the chalupa’s back end with the folded, paper wrapping, something akin to fast food origami. As a result, sour cream dripped onto my leggings. We laughed. It felt like the first time I’d said a curse word, when I whispered it to myself and discovered the world wouldn’t end.
After my second divorce, I received a box of photographs, returned to me from a shared storage unit my ex and I had agreed to stop paying for. In a post-Facebook world, these physical objects, survivors of another life, felt ever more precious as I turned them over in my palms. One photo is of me on this night, face painted, boyfriend long forgotten, Baja Blast raised in a mock toast. Did we even win that game? Why haven’t I spoken to my friend in almost ten years, allowing us to drift and drift until it seemed impossible to come back together? Will anything ever taste as good as Taco Bell, Tupac, and freedom?
Abigail Stewart is a writer from Berkeley, California. She lives in an apartment filled with plants and books and breakable things. Her poetry has appeared in literary magazines, but mostly on bathroom walls. She writes a blog about books and dungeons & dragons: http://www.ageektragedy.net. She tweets at @abby_writes.