I love Vonnie.
In a dizzying moment — I had spray-painted my infatuation in huge loopy letters on the side of a crumbling train trestle when Vonnie and I were in high school.
Thirty years later, walking along the rail trail — now bougie and filled with young families, cyclists, and Athleta-clad runners — I turned the bend and saw that my declaration of love had outlived Vonnie.
Vonnie was a pressure-cooker. I remember the day he lost it like it was a hot minute ago.
I promised myself I would tell his story so that other kids wouldn’t die the same way Vonnie did.
Part 1: Superheated
“Hey, hey, wait a minute, come here,” he whispered as he pulled me toward him with both hands on the small of my back. We were hiding out in a circle of old cement kilns, clearly marked, “No Trespassing.”
His tongue traced my neck, as it had hundreds of times before.
“Vonnie, let’s go,” my whine drowned out by a groan because his tongue made me crazy, but I was already late — and had the only dad on the planet that insisted on a 10:00 pm curfew for his 15 year-old son. WTF.
“I’ll take you back on my bike,” he said moving his way up to my mouth where I could taste cigarette and the cherry sours he popped.
Arching my back, I pressed myself into the front of his grease-stained jeans.
“My dad’s gonna kill me,” I sighed. “Last time I was barely in the door and he shoved me up against the wall and slapped my face like 15 times until my mom finally came halfway down the stairs and said, ‘Gus, that’s enough.’”
I rolled my eyes at Vonnie. “I was like, thanks Mom. Perfect timing.”
Vonnie popped a sour into his mouth, balanced it on the tip of his tongue, and held my face with both of his hands to transfer the candy to my mouth.
“How’d you get so sweet?” I laughed — feeling the rush of heat over my entire body.
“Kissing you,” he grinned.
It was right then, at 10:30 on a Saturday night, during one of the hottest summers on record, that I thought:
“I’m okay with getting slapped, beaten, burned by a lighter, whatever my dad doles out. I love Vonnie.”
Part Two: The Meet
It was awkward.
I had run away from home, for the millionth time, and was slinking my way into school entrance wearing the clothes I’d worn for the last few days.
I felt a whisper of movement as I bent down to lace up my Doc Martens and lost my balance, “Jesus Christ,” I muttered as I straightened up, and there was Vonnie.
Earbuds nestled in his slicked back hair; he was one of the boys from the wrong side of the tracks that every girl at Portland High School lusted after. Super hot.
“Hey, need some help?” he asked.
I felt my face flush and shook my head, “Thanks, I got it.”
Did I even speak?
I couldn’t tell because he didn’t say anything else, just brushed my arm with his and walked through the school’s double doors, lost in his music.
I felt like I had just stepped off a cliff.
Part Three: School’s Out
“Good morning, Mr. Elias!” chirped the obsessively cheerful front desk receptionist. “Do we have a note from mom or dad?”
I wanted to punch her in the face. “No, we don’t have a note because nobody gives a shit,” I thought.
I haven’t been home.
I hate it there.
I hate my parents.
I hate my life.
“Nope. No note.”
“Nick, honey, you realize that this is your 10th unexcused tardy?” Miss Chirpy asked with a concerned look.
“Yeah, well, guess I’m getting detention again.”
“I wish that were the case Nick, but after the 10th unexcused, I’m going to have to turn it over to the ‘authorities’,” she frowned.
Please just shoot me now.
I shrugged, “Whatever.”
“I’m going to meet with the Principal now, so you just sit tight,” she said motioning to the worn fabric chairs lining the glass-enclosed office.
As Little Miss Sunshine turned the corner, flipping her hair and teetering on ridiculously high heels, I flopped down into a chair.
“How did I end up with two fuck-ups for parents?” I wondered, tears burning at the corners of my eyes, when I saw Vonnie coming out of Principal Sawicki’s office. I quickly swiped my palms across my face.
“Hey,” he smiled.
“Hey,” I barely croaked. Had I completely lost my ability to speak?
“You need help with your shoes?” he smiled again. My heart jumped.
“Nope, think I’m good.” I could barely look at him. WHAT. IS. HAPPENING?
“Looks like we’re going to be hanging out,” he said.
I looked around. Was he talking to me?
“Hanging out?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’re both getting expelled,” he smirked.
“Oh my God, my parents are going to kill me,” I blurted out.
But my thoughts were overtaken by the thrill of hanging out with the hottest guy at Portland. I would give anything to share the same space with this creature.
“Well, at least you’ve got parents,” he said right before he put his ear buds back in.
“Later,” and he ambled his way down the hall and out the front door.
Little Miss Sunshine was back from the principal’s office, managing to frown and smile at the same time.
“Am I expelled?” I asked.
She slowly nodded and said, “Please take this home to your parents and have them call the school,” handing me a piece of paper:
“Nicos Elias is expelled effective immediately for 10 days and may be readmitted upon review and approval of the Portland School District.
Signed, Principal Michael Sawicki.”
There is a God.