There wasn’t much I thought about during the summer I was fourteen and basking in the glory of living in 1993. What I did think about that summer, I really thought about; so that I made sure there was no room to think about the other stuff. I stuck my tongue through endless blobs of pink bubble gum to get just the right amount of pop in my fading pink bubble. I would lie out on my chair at the end of our lawn in Apple River, Illinois enjoying the fact that my figure was beginning to attract attention. I let Marshall Ponce, older than me just by a little, walk by me five or six times in an hour without stopping my Discman to tell him to scram. Man on The Moon by R.E.M would be on constant replay in my ears. I would think about what “the game of life” really was, as R.E.M. sang about it. I thought about what ice creams my dad would bring home that night after his managing duties at the pharmacy ended for the day. Because my dad worked a lot I thought about different meals I could plan for the two of us if he wasn’t up for cooking. Sometimes over that summer I thought about the guy in the news whose wife had cut off his penis and thrown it on the road. I read about it in the paper after Marshall Ponce shoved it in my face during one of his trips by my lawn chair.
That was also the summer that I thought a lot about changing my unfortunate name. My name stirred up comments such as ‘What the heck?’ because of the effort it would take to say it. It’s one of those names that you have to consciously think about while you’re trying to sputter it out. I asked Marshall Ponce more than once what he thought about my name, and all he could come up with was, “Meriwether MacGinnis, you better not change that name of yours.” He really had a way with words, that one. But not really. He was always all awkward and greasy but he had a nice face. He was also the closest thing I had to a friend after that other stuff I was talking about happened; the other stuff that I tried to avoid thinking about.
That was also the last summer that the pack of girls, who Marshall Ponce said were just jealous of my “smokin’ hot bod,” would make up stupid rhymes about my name. A lot of times it went like this, “Meriwether Macgi-MESS, what a mess, she can’t even wear a dress because of her big fat chest.”
These girls were so stupid they couldn’t even come up with a proper rhyme. I also had plenty of dresses that fit. Whenever they would walk by my chair on their way to the community pool, Marshall Ponce would stand by my side all puffed out like a guard or something and covering his crotch just in case the girls decided to pounce.
So I was fourteen with a pervert for a friend who wouldn’t stop staring at my “big fat chest,” and a few thoughts to keep me company. Those thoughts were a pretty dark at times, so I should probably tell you a little bit about that other stuff. By now when I say “that other stuff” you should know that it’s the stuff I tried to avoid thinking about but couldn’t really completely avoid. Before Marshall Ponce came along as a stand in, I had a friend named Allen McGee. He was the one person who offered to let me ride on his bike’s handlebars home from my mom’s funeral so that I didn’t have to ride in the ugly, stale smelling limo again. That was the summer when I was nine and he was ten. He was at the funeral because our school had sent out some big announcement and his mom was big on “community,” whatever that means. Allen McGee was soon upgraded from “friend” to “real-close-best-ever friend.”
Anyway, he was fourteen the summer before I was, and that summer he decided to blow his brains out with his dad’s stupid gun. I walked home from that funeral and didn’t speak even a single word for a month. I started speaking again when I found some brochures for a children’s grief support group in my dad’s room. No way was I going there to be forced share my feelings. So that’s that other stuff I tried not to think about the summer I was fourteen and was really missing Allen McGee.
That summer is really important because that was the summer that something kinda happened. Besides for meeting Marshall Ponce, I mean. I had seen him around in the past; he was one of Allen McGee’s baseball buddies. Whenever Marshall Ponce would pick Allan McGee up from my house to go to baseball, he would always politely wave in his quiet little slimy way. I guess he kind of felt responsible for me after Allan McGee had given up on everything. The summer of 1993 was the first time Marshall Ponce had made his own trip by my lawn chair. So what happened that summer was that I was sitting on my lawn chair like usual, halfway through my fourth piece of gum for the day and listening to some other songs by R.E.M, when Marshall Ponce showed up. I hadn’t seen him in four weeks. Apparently his parents had banished him to summer camp for a session. And let me tell you, Marshall Ponce looked different. In that month he had turned fifteen and lost all his awkwardness and greasiness. It was weird; he actually looked about as good as Allen McGee had looked last summer before he fed his brains to the yellow walls in his parents’ living room.
So my pervert friend, who didn’t look like such a pervert anymore and wasn’t even sneaking peeks at my boobies, was standing in front of me kind of looking like a god. I don’t mean he was sexy as all that, I just mean he was blocking the sunlight so it was glowing all around him. And he wasn’t so bad looking anymore. That’s all. I’m giving you all these details so that what happened next makes more sense. What happened was those stupid girls who didn’t know how to rhyme walked by my lawn chair right at that moment on their way to the pool. When they saw Marshall Ponce, they did something so unbelievable. One of them tapped him on the shoulder and asked, while twirling her stupid blonde lock of hair, if he wanted to go to the pool with them. They were so stupid! How could they expect my pervert friend to go to the pool with the same stupid girls who made up stupid rhymes to make fun of me? I’m the girl he stood watch over for goodness sake! They never paid him any attention then! What was so unbelievable was that Marshall Ponce actually said yes. He said yes!
I was so mad silly that the rest of the afternoon I sat in my living room on the dumb yellow couch. I was so mad that I even took off my headphones and stopped listening to Man on The Moon. I didn’t even pop a new piece of gum in my mouth after the piece I had been chewing started to taste like plastic. I felt like dismembering Marshall Ponce in his crotch region and then throwing it on the road. But realistically, I debated about whether or not to run to the pool and grab Marshall Ponce by the neck and drag him back to the side of my chair. I wondered what his neck would feel like, now that he wasn’t awkward and greasy anymore. Then I told myself to shut up and stop being attracted to Marshall Ponce’s traitorous neck.
About twenty minutes after Marshall Ponce deserted me, I heard an incessant knocking at the door. It was Marshall Ponce! And you know what he was holding? A huge bundle of everything the stupid girls had brought to the pool, including their bathing suits! I walked outside and saw that he had pulled another lawn chair right next to mine. Marshall Ponce was brimming with excitement. After I came outside again, he made a trail of the towels and clothes that stretched all the way down the street. When he came back he was all flushed but in a nice sort of way and I was still standing idiotically on my front stoop.
“Meriwether,” he said as he dragged me over to the lawn chairs, “come sit down, you’re gonna miss the show!” I let him touch my wrist without even slapping him. An hour or so later, after I had given Marshall Ponce a piece of my bubble gum and he had started telling me all about summer camp, the angry girls walked down the road. The three of them were trying to cover up with some gross towel they had found in the corner of the pool house. They gave us nasty looks and called us names as they picked up their belongings all the way down the road. I guess I should tell you that they weren’t the only ones throwing out the name calling. I told one of them that she was the queen of cankles.
For the rest of that summer Marshall Ponce left his lawn chair next to mine and he would sit by me during those summer afternoons. We talked about music, life, cooking, and that guy’s severed penis. At one point we even talked about Allen McGee and we were able to miss him together. We talked and talked and it turned out he really did have a way with words.