Voices: I Hated the Grateful Dead

Puppy love lights up, one puff at a time.

We were mall rats. Half an hour after school let out every day, we’d settle into the steps outside the movie theater like dirt into sidewalk cracks, and stay there until curfew. Sometimes we’d see a movie; most of the time we wouldn’t. Having friends at the theater afforded us certain benefits. Stephanie worked behind the snack counter: popcorn. Kyle and Robbie manned the ticket window: free shows.

Image via Toby Dickens/Flickr

The day I met Antonio, he had taken over Stephanie’s snack counter shift. I had seen him from a distance before but we’d never talked—he was older than me, and too cool. I was awkward. I wore pink and black plaid bondage pants cut into long shorts, a burgundy Bad Kitty rhinestone tee shirt and Doc Martens. It was the late '90s. My hair was short and heavily gelled. I had braces and pimples. I lined my eyes with Sharpie.

Antonio wore a movie theater shirt with jean shorts, tall socks and a Grateful Dead belt. His hair was a little too long and fell into his eyes in a charming way. He smiled as I stammered my order, and we made eye contact a second too long. My face went red.

“Nice pants,” he said, taking my money. “Are those Dogpiles?”

“Yeah. Nice belt.”

“You like the Dead?”

“They’re one of my favorites,” I lied. I hated the Dead.

Antonio has always said that he liked me from the beginning. But that day, I was sure he’d forget me immediately. He was in a higher social echelon. All his friends were older and some of mine didn’t even have driver’s licenses. He was confident. He had a car and went to shows in Tampa. His friends were in a band and he smoked weed and was half-Cuban, therefore beautiful. Maybe we could be friends but he would never want to date me.

That summer, I worked for my dad at his advertising agency. I would go to the office with him in the mornings, file all day, and be done around five. It was boring, but he paid me and I used the money for cigarettes and weed. I’d inherited my mom’s car, so would go home and change after work, and meet Stephanie at the movie theater as her shift ended, then we’d hang out. She had started dating Robbie and Robbie dealt weed, so the summer was going splendidly.

Image via Kevin Jaako/Flickr

I’d gotten a cell phone and had begun to put my friend’s numbers in it. Mostly I just used it to talk to Stephanie until one day, as I was arriving home, I saw a number on the screen that I didn’t recognize. When I answered, it wasn’t Stephanie. It was Antonio, asking what I was doing.

“Getting ready to go to the theater,” I said.

“I’ll come and get you. I’m on break.”

“I have a car.”

“I’ll get you, anyway. Be ready in ten minutes.”

Hanging up, I had the distinct sense that something was going on that I wasn’t privy to. For one thing, I’d never given Antonio my number. We knew all the same people but we weren’t friends—I just stared at him longingly across the movie theater lobby, while he hardly noticed me. What could this mean?

I got changed and fixed my hair, brushed my teeth, and touched up my Sharpie eyeliner. When Antonio pulled up in his white Volvo, I was waiting on the porch, smoking a cigarette. The sun was starting to set. Weezer was blasting on his car speakers. He turned it down as I got in.

“How’s it going?” he said.

“Great. What’s going on?”

“What do you mean? I just wanted to give you a ride.” He winked. I briefly wondered if he was flirting with me but pushed the idea aside. That was impossible, right?

We drove with the windows down and the music on low, talking easily, though I’d never been so nervous talking to anyone. When we got to the theater, Antonio parked behind the building, where people smoked on their breaks. No one was there. He turned to me.

Do you smoke weed?” he said.

I nodded. “Do you have some?”

He reached across my lap to the glove box and took out a small, green pipe, and a velvet bag. I watched as he packed the bowl. His fingers were long and slender.

“Ladies first,” he said.

I hit the bowl and coughed, and kept coughing, and coughing. My eyes filled with tears. After some seconds, I forced myself to inhale. I wiped my nose and handed the bowl back to him.

“Sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay, don’t feel embarrassed. You want a shotgun?”

My heart started racing. He hit the pipe before I could answer. I closed my eyes and leaned toward him, and waited nervously. His lips touched mine and he exhaled into my mouth. As I pulled away, he started to kiss me. I kissed him back, holding my breath as long as I could. Finally, I exhaled.

“This is why you picked me up, isn’t it?” I asked.

He grinned. “Is that okay? Stephanie gave me your number.”

Image via Leo Hidalgo/Flickr

Antonio and I dated for a year—a long time for teenagers. We still hung out at the movie theater, but less as we settled into our own routine. One of our favorite things to do was sit on the beach at nighttime and smoke, looking at the black ocean, talking about our lives. We shared a lot of ourselves with each other that year, grew up a lot together. When we decided to separate, it wasn’t because one of us betrayed the other, but because we realized we were better friends than lovers. We’re still best friends today, though he lives in Asheville and I live in New York. When we’re back home in Florida, we always see each other, and hit the bowl together like nothing has changed.