Kudzu is a soft leafy green plant that grows like a monster in Atlanta. It keeps the air warm and soft at night. It’s impossible to catch a chill in a place where night air breathes in your ear, where the earth is dark green. Here, in the late hot nights, there is just enough air to let you run out into a dark green field and talk with your hips.
Lorna and I were old friends the second we met each other, the last week of our freshman year of college. That’s why we could have times like these; trade friends like baseball cards, and keep on playing. She convinced me to come visit her, and here I was finishing the bottle of wine I brought her. We drank it in one late afternoon sitting, right after we got back from the bus station. We drank it out of juice cups, sitting on the floor of her bedroom, with our backs flat against the window wall. We tossed our college-girl cigarette ashes out the second floor window. It was late August and both of us were pretending that summer would last, ignoring the dark shadows and the breezes that smelled like school.
She had planned the weekend out entirely. This is how we did things together: we kept moving, overdid everything, and tired ourselves out so that we’d have something to talk about over chocolate milkshakes on Sunday night. Lorna flung the last cigarette out the window after dipping it in wine and then picked me up by my hands and we ran to her closet. We worded on our outfits until our ride showed up. Peter seemed early. He honked three times. Lorna stuck her head out the door each time and said we’d be right there. Then she came back in and rooted through the closet for her green cowboy boots that she was determined I should wear. He honked again and Lorna sent me out barefoot, carrying one boot in my hand. She said she knew where the other one was, and that she had to find her keys.
I climbed up into Peter’s green pickup truck. I was stuck sitting in the middle of the front seat, straddling the stick shift in my green short skirt with Lorna’s one green cowboy boot in my lap. Peter told me it was very provocative. I rolled my eyes at him because I could already tell that Peter was too nice to get away with saying things like that.
There was a pile of people in the back of the truck. People I would have to put off meeting because suddenly we were in a rush and introductions were not nearly as important as getting there by eleven when the free beer was cut off. I could see them still getting comfortable out of the rearview mirror which was now directly in front of my face. I fixed my lipstick framed by the crowded pile of hipbones. When we got there, Lorna came around to the front of the truck and met me with the second boot. I hopped out on one foot with one hand resting on Lorna’s shoulder as I jerked on the tight boots.
Introductions were short. Jenny was a giggly girl who moved her whole body when she spoke. She had short black hair and was wearing a simple red cotton dress. Britt was rough and funny, he shook my hand twice and laughed when I said something nasty under my breath about how tight Lorna’s boots were. Then Lorna introduced me to Chris, who was quiet but smiling and looked down at the end of each of his sentences. I spent most of the party talking to him. He was wearing a red football jersey with a big white number and somebody else’s name on the back. His small frame leaned on the sink while we talked. Then a Prince song came on and we three girls met on the dance floor. As the song came to its end, I looked back toward the sink and some large grinning man with a goatee had replaced Chris. I went to the bathroom and when I came out, Chris magically reappeared. He smiled behind his red plastic beer cup and laughed at my freshly spiked hair under the paint-splattered bandanna. It was, after all, an ‘80s party and Lorna and I had decided to be authentic.
“What?” I said, knowing I was being coy and drunk.
“You look funny,” he said and went back to his beer. I did. I was wearing all green, including the cowboy boots. And my T-shirt had sparkly iron-on letters that spelled out “Olympic Lover” in rainbow colors. He looked delicate and calm and his smile made a high-pitched squeak as I moved toward him. Like a soft bite into an overripe peach, feeling the hairs tickle your bottom lip, I kissed him right there at the bathroom door and we fell inside each other and waited, watching from the corner of our eyes for our surroundings to fall away. Time turned into muffled crowd noise and there was no movement in the room until Lorna interrupted with a serious but intoxicated look.
She told me to get in the pickup truck, go to her house, and let everybody in. She gave me her keys and explained that some socially tragic situation had erupted at this ‘80s party because her ex-boyfriend did show up after all. She wanted us all to leave immediately. She’d catch up later. She smiled, “I can’t believe I look this dumb and he’s here. Peter is in the truck waiting for you two.” She didn’t look dumb. Lorna never looked dumb. She had a body that asked to be touched, and then smiled at you as it walked away. We left with Lorna’s keys safely nestled in my hand. I kept opening my fist to make sure they were still there: one responsibility.
We piled into the back of the Southern summer pickup truck. I let my legs lay the long way to keep the little green skirt from kicking up. Chris and I sat across from each other and talked in night-air howls. We let ourselves be driven through summer green air. We drove conversation around in a truck, following each other’s mouths with nods at three or maybe four o’clock in the morning. As he talked, I watched long green vines of kudzu grow behind his eyes, twisting as they went. I swallowed each word as he said it, and stared at his widening lush eyes, which by now had green night shadows inside them. He had no idea this was happening.
I unlocked the door with the help of the truck’s headlights and everyone came inside. It seemed like there were more people now, or we were louder, or something. Chris went to the upstairs bathroom and I ran up a few minutes after him. I met him and he followed me to Lorna’s room. Then we danced on our knees on her hardwood floor, convinced that we could not bruise.
Photo courtesy of Tomasz Ługowski