I recall meeting Kerri “with an ‘i’” when I moved to a new town for grammar school, but I did not befriend her until we were both shipped off kicking and screaming to the same Catholic girls’ high school in northeastern New Jersey. It was truly in shared misery that we found and sustained our connection. She came from a large wealthy Irish family. She had an alcoholic mother and a father who made his kids call him “Uncle Frank” when they went to the beach so girls wouldn’t know he was married. You could always tell where her mother was in their cavernous manse by the clinking of the ice cubes in her ever-present highball glass. It was the first time I had ever seen a bedroom with a wet bar. Her brothers and sisters were like feral cats who slinked in and out, surviving no thanks to, but instead largely in spite of, their parents. It should have been my first clue. But she was dazzling and bore no physical signs of the sharpshooter beneath her shiny blonde veneer.
There was one time, in the beginning, when she convinced me to go on a double date with her, though date seems like an anachronistic word for being picked up by two afro haired sleaze bags who honked at us from deep within a Trans Am outside her house. I can no longer count the number of times I felt my knees buckle on that long evening as they drove us at a crawl through a graveyard with metal music blaring after treating us to a ride down Route 4 at 90 mph. She sat in the back necking with the passenger sleaze bag while I was in the death seat with nothing to say, biding my time between hoping the car would stop and praying it kept moving so I would not have to face any of the driver’s expectations to make out with him. I dodged the bullet.
There was the time she invited a boy, she hardly knew, and his friend over to my house when my parents were away, without asking me. She then promptly disappeared with this boy into my bedroom, leaving me in the kitchen with the drunken jerk who kept telling me he just wanted to kiss me, “not make babies.” As I darted around his drunken staggers, I wondered if it was a matter of time before he overpowered me or if I would have to kill him with a kitchen knife first. Once again, I cannot recall how many times my heart leapt out of my chest that night, but I escaped his grasp and he eventually left with her “date.” Bullet evaded.
She began to drink during freshman and sophomore year and the hits kept coming. She was always so pathetically sorry, fearing that it was “kind of in her genes.” She would implicitly plead for help with French, the only class we had together. She looked at my tests as I pretended not to notice. She loved hearing Mademoiselle Monda say, “Tir direct, Kerri, tres bien” as she passed back the only tests Kerri ever did well on in high school. But it was not until junior year, when I left her behind in her uniform and I was finally sprung from Catholic school and put into the vast public system, when things really escalated.
I brought her to parties at my new school, and I dragged her home on a regular basis. Late one night, when I could not find her to drag out, I noticed that the guy I had just started dating was also missing. He was not a serious boyfriend, but he had struck me as decent enough. Are you getting a sense of the quality of my judgment? As I opened a random bedroom door expecting to locate her, I came upon the two of them entangled on a bed. The boy drove us home (once again to my house as my parents were yet again away for the weekend), and I departed the car as she proceeded to make out with him in my driveway for the next hour. Direct shot – bull’s eye. At least she didn’t bring him inside, I told myself. After that, I finally stepped out of the cross hairs, and we parted ways. I always figured she might not have made it.
Later when I was in my early 40’s, I opened a photo Christmas card signed by a Kerri something or other. After a few confused minutes, I recognized that deceiving white-toothed smile straight out of a Pepsodent ad. She wrote that her son was in the Marines and she feared for his life, and that she was divorced and glad about it. For a second, I looked at the return address from somewhere in Maryland written in a suddenly familiar handwriting. I crumpled the envelope into a ball and launched it perfectly at the center of the waste can.