How to Save a Life(2)

By: Emma Scott

But whether bombs dropped in distant desert warzones or in small towns in North Carolina, the carnage was much the same. Shit happens. Sometimes a lot of shit. Sometimes more than a girl can fucking handle. All this moving, from place to place, town to town. It felt like running away when I really wanted to plant myself somewhere solid and recover. Heal.

I touched my left cheek under the wall of dark hair I kept over it at all times. The texture of my skin changed under my fingertips.

Planerville, Iowa, population nothing, appeared on the horizon.

“Don’t look too bad,” Gerry said.

“Looks great,” I said. For a few weeks, anyway. When I turned eighteen this June, Gerry’s duty to my mother would be fulfilled. I’d be on my own, and then what?

Some people laugh at a situation and say, “Story of my life.” I didn’t have a story. Just a question.

And then what?

We arrived in Planerville on a Saturday, which gave me two days to explore before I started school on Monday. The dingy little two-bedroom Gerry rented felt like the same house we’d always lived in. It could’ve been airlifted straight from our last town: white walls that smelled like fresh paint, carpet that smelled like cigarettes, and boxy rooms. No personality. Gerry had no intention of settling in and making it our own. I thought he was a sadistic gardener in a past life—just tearing everything out by the roots so nothing ever had a chance to grow. After our fourth town, I didn’t even bother unpacking.

Sunday afternoon, with the sun beating at my back, I biked to downtown Planerville. One bank. One auto shop. One grocery store. A pizza place and a sporting goods store. That’s it. I’d later find out that all the action took place up in Halston, about a ten-minute drive north. I could see why.

I wrote poetry, and I usually wrote a few verses about whatever new town Gerry dragged us to, pinning down first impressions. For Planerville, a plain piece of blank paper would’ve sufficed.

Only one point of interest: the town had put up a new aquatic park last year. I rode by it on my bike, and it was no Raging Waters, that’s for sure. Only three slides—none of them huge or scary—a lazy river, a pool. One of those shallow areas with sprinklers and mini-slides where toddlers splash around, pissing in the chlorine to their hearts’ content. High bars kept people out after closing at 5pm and the whole thing shut down in winter.

While I had zero intention of ever swimming there during business hours, it looked like a good place to hang out at night, dip my feet. Maybe scratch out a poem. I made a mental note to test the security features of Funtown Water Park sometime soon.

As the sun was beginning to drop and the bugs began their twilight symphony, I biked to Wilson High School. It became immediately apparent this was a Friday Night Lights situation. Football was life in Planerville. The field was newer by a good ten years and better maintained than the shabby brick buildings of the school proper. I had images of raging pep rallies, marching band fight songs, and the entire fucking town cramming the perfectly maintained stands. Jocks were kings, the cheerleaders queens.

With football season long over now, the tiny school populace was desperate for the next big distraction. It was the end of May, so that meant prom, probably.

Or maybe the new girl in black, hiding behind a wall of hair, and who had a penchant for screwing boys she didn’t give a shit about and who didn’t give a shit about her. Uncle Jasper had ruined me; no guy would ever consider me girlfriend material. Those were the cards I’d been dealt and so I played them the only way I could. On my terms.

I mentally prepped for my first day at Wilson High School (population: 311), ready to take on the mantle of class slut or freak.

Turned out ‘slut’ was available, but the title of ‘freak’ already belonged to someone else.