Unwritten Rules Chapter 1: "Driftwood"

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"Welcome to Spokane International Airport…parking is restricted to the parking garage…there is no parking allowed in the loading and unloading…"
As much as that recording repeated itself, I was beginning to get extremely annoyed. Here I was, at the airport, at six-thirty in the morning, doing exactly what I said I would NEVER do: going after my lost girlfriend.
Well, she wasn’t lost...we broke up.
No, that’s only partially true...I became sort of a jerk and I never really said goodbye to her...at least not on good terms. It’s kind of hard to say you're sorry when she keeps hanging up on you, you know? Or when her mother answers the phone instead. Yeah, it’s that kind of hard.
Anyway, I walked into the terminal, knowing only where she was going.
And the departure time...kind of.
It was either six-thirty or seven and since it was six twenty-eight, I was praying for seven.
So, like the desperately-wanting-to-get-on-her-good-side-for-a-possible-reconciliation-at-some-later-time, person I was at the time, I walked as fast as I could through security and then stared at a massive screen of arrivals and departures.
She was going to Colorado...I had no idea if the city was Denver...
Or Colorado Springs...
Boulder...
Or...where the heck is Aspen located anyway?
With my eyes closed and my heart sinking fast I looked back up at the monitor and looked at screens again and picked the first one I saw: Flight 678 to Colorado Springs.
"Please be there, just be seated and let me find you as you're getting ready to leave. That's all I'm asking…well, I'll also hope I can talk you out of leaving...I can explain that there can be a way and I really can be a person who thinks of others before himself."
I darted past baggage carts and old ladies with yapping dogs in carriers, all in my mad dash to get from one end of the concourse to the other. One would think there would be less of a crowd.
"She'll be ready to leave...carry-on bag in hand...and perhaps I should have brought a rose?"
I looked back and forth at the gate numbers--not a one stated Flight 678.
The calmness that I thought I would have when I saw her again began to fail as I realized that I would not, in fact, be seeing her again.
"Excuse me," I asked someone wearing a Delta Airlines uniform, "where is the gate for flight 678?"
"Flight 678? It's out there."
She pointed out the large, over-sized, just-wants-you-to-walk-up-to-it-and-smash-it-to-pieces plate glass window.
Sure enough, a plane was going by, nose a bit in the air, front wheels off the ground.
"Was that it?” I walked over to the window and placed my hands on it...the temptation to slam my hands grew.
"Yes. It boarded and left the gate about fifteen minutes ago.”
"Thank you."

I. Driftwood

“There's no parking in the red zone..."
I walked out of the terminal and stepped into a car parked in the red zone.
It was hard to push back every intention of slamming the door--but, since it was not my car, I didn't and closed it in a calm matter. The seat belt did not receive the same courtesy.
"You okay?"
"Nope."
"I'll take your gracious treatment of the door as your way of saying: "Thank you, Jason, for driving me to the airport at o'dark-thirty to try and reconcile with my ex-girlfriend."
"Thank you, Jason. Can we leave now…have you been parked here the entire time?"
"No, I've been driving in circles.”
Jason shifted gears and raced into the flow of traffic to leave the airport. I took an envelope from my pocket: the last letter I received from Sam.
"Not to play devil’s advocate but didn’t I tell you this would happen one day."
"No, you just said that I'd get my heart and ass broken."
"The prosecution rests, your honor."
"I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to her."
"Now that’d be a weepy scene: Two teenagers professing their undying love to each other: 'I’ll never forget you…we’ll always remember how we feel in our hearts…' or some other romantic novel-like crap."
"You're not really helping me, you know?"
"Chill, Stradlin, it'll all work out in some way, shape or form, eh?"

Jason revved the engine and passed several cars. I appreciated him driving me to the airport, and to school, but there were times that his driving just scared me to death.
"I'm up for donuts. It's only seven...ish, we got time."
I just stared at the note and then closed my eyes.
"Come on, dude, buck up on it, will you? Let's go in, have a double shot cap, grab a cinnamon twisty or two and we'll drown your sorrows in caffeine and sugar."
"Fine," I answered with the energy of a freshman after the first day in the weight room.
"All right...girl problems be damned and let the doughnuts take your sorrows away."
"Whatever."

We parked near the front of the local grocery store. The same store where I had bought countless flowers for her. For some reason, I thought I should buy another one. Perhaps as a way to remember how things were, or what things might have been or maybe...just maybe, mind you, I was going a bit crazy.
The inside of the store was pretty much devoid of customers. Jason fast-tracked over to a cooler and grabbed a Mountain Dew.
I did not do my best to keep up with him.
"Like I said, unlike you--blinded from whatever you saw in her--I saw this day coming from the start my friend."
Okay, at that point I ran up to where he was.
"What?"
"Yep, ever since you gave her that French fry at McDonald's...that’s when this disaster--"
"Disaster?"
We walked to the self-serve doughnut case.
"Hell yeah, man. Did you ever notice that she had you leading on every word she said?"
I grabbed a glazed donut as Jason stacked several different types into a bag.
"No."
"Think about it: She went to another school and you were like her little, leashed puppy, her robot. She had you remote controlled so bad, she--".
"She did not have that much control over me."
"Go ahead; keep thinking that."
"Jase-"
"You know that freshman kid who’s pretty much blind? Even HE could see how whipped you were."
The flashes of the would-be stares around me--regardless of the fact that the only other person nearby was the lady in the bakery, who I think was either deaf...or couldn't care about teenage angst.
"We didn't do any--"
"That too, doesn't surprise me."

Jason Kowlozski, although I'm not exactly sure how it occurred, was my best friend. At times he was brash, a little uncaring and unpredictable, but he could put things into perspective. Sam never liked him...and I suppose it was for the aforementioned reasons. This is the guy who would come to school on "opposite day" in full regalia. He would also be the one to make sure a stressful situation became an awkward situation just by saying key words at "just the right moment".
"Uh-forget that. How do you-"
"I, Strad, have seen it all--"
"But, have never done any of--"
"Beside the point. I have been the project observer and have noticed every potential disaster in your love life."
"Please enlighten me, oh Cyrano."
"Your mind is like an engine stuck in fifth and running low on oil."
"You're going to have to explain that simile a little."

We ran out the door and back to the car.
"You concentrate too hard on things. Think about it, you caused her to leave you, man."
"Ow, ow...say, Jase, could you, be a real pal and pull your knife out of my back?"
"She just wasn’t the one for you. You two didn’t go well together and, you know, like you were both loner-like people…wait, no, she was outgoing you were the…I’m sorry, I’m right, it was your fault…"
"Thanks, would you mind if I laid down in front of the car and you drive over me? I think, I think, I want to do myself in now. I promise I will not damage the bumper.”
Jason unlocked the doors and we got in.
"You just need to forget about her, there’s no scoreboard thing. It’s emotion; it’s male PMS, whatever.
He then took two doughnuts out of the bag, passed the bag to me and, somehow started the engine without crushing his maple bars.
"So now what do I do?"
"You do what every idiot does: get back up on the horse and you go for the eight seconds again. I hear Nola's free."
"We have zilch in common."
"Marissa?"
"No."
"Umm, Aimee Hien?"
"Bad memories, let's not go there."
"You're not making this easy."
Jason screeched the tires as he pulled back onto the road, causing us to lean a bit on the turn.
"It's not supposed to be. I lost someone I cared a great deal about and not only do you decide it’s a great time to smack her down but you're trying to fix me up with someone else on the same day even?"
"Just trying to help."
"I would appreciate it if you’d let me decide when I want to get my hopes up again..."
"Speaking of getting things up...I know Sarah's free right now."

We drove the rest of the way listening to the radio. Jason drummed his hands on the steering wheel as I looked out the window at the passing fields and farmland. My school was located in a town thirteen miles away from home. Like Jason said, I went to a different school than Samantha, which caused a few problems for us. It was hard to prove that you were in a relationship to everyone else around you--they couldn’t tell.
Sure, you could show a picture, (“did you cut that out from a picture frame at the store?”) or you could tell about what you did on a date (“that’s like the plot from such-and-such movie”). Didn’t really matter; without the other side of the coin there to back up the story or offer their hand to you, no one would believe it was true anyway. Such was my life.
The other issue with my school was the small size. My class had about thirty-five people in it so everyone kind of knew who you were; or at least they had a small inkling about who they thought you were.
Jason’s car came to an abrupt stop in the school parking lot. I had spent the entire time lost in thought, most likely recalling the “French fry incident” and other events that meant a lot to me...and it would seem that, without Sam, they would fade into the past...or at least get combined as a musical montage in my mind.
“I really don’t feel like going to class today.”
“Just be glad you don’t have chemistry.”
“Why?”
“Try studying for a seven page test.”
“Sounds brutal.”
“It is. So if I have to try to survive Dr. Norby’s lectures, tests and countless mispronunciation--which I guarantee he’s doing on purpose, just to piss me off--of my last name, then you can handle the first day of being single again. However, if you’re going to stay in the car, moping, at least don’t forget to lock the door when you finally get the brass to get out.”

I nodded as Jason grabbed his stuff, closed the driver’s side door and headed into the school. At this point, I could sit in the car and have people stare at me, wondering why I’m sitting in the car with my eyes closed while leaning back with a look of despair on my face or I could go inside and blend in with everyone. I grabbed my books and followed Jason into the building.
To add further injury to my situation, it was Homecoming week. Why would that be an a problem? Because I was the ASB (Associated Student Body) President at the time. Yes, I had the title, but not a lot of power to go along with it. Yes, on the day I was appointed I wanted to re-invent the entire school. I was elected by chance though...we had lost the “elected” president and vice presidents due to their over-indulgence at a pow-wow over the summer. I was the secretary and was bumped up to my position. I’d like to say that I loved it, but then Sam left and well, I didn’t care anymore.

I walked into the school and as nonchalant as I could made the way to my locker, located midway down the hall. I opened the locker with a dragging yank at the lever, as hardly anyone ever actually "locked" their lockers and--as if right on cue--two pictures fell off of the interior door. I didn't really bother to look at them. I already knew what they were:
One was a picture of Sam standing on the front of my house with her hands behind her back. This was when she had a gift for me: a gold chain with a cross pendant....which I still had around my neck and never had contemplated taking it off. The other was a dance picture of the two of us together, side by side with the strangest smiles on our faces. Either we were crazy that night or the photographer just didn't give a care on how the picture turned out.

I reached down and without even looking began to rip both pictures into smaller and smaller pieces. The bite-sized fragments floated to the floor, which was not the best way to get of the "evidence":
“Confetti?”
I turned to see my English teacher, Mrs. Balum, standing behind me, pointing to the floor.
“Umm, no Mrs. Balum.”
“You might want to clean this up then, Eric, right?”
“I will.”
“Good thinking.”
I bent down and began cleaning up the ripped pieces, easier said than done as each fragment seemed to be stuck to the floor, unwilling to be put back together. A lot like how my heart felt at that time.
"Stradlin?"
"Yes, Nick?" I replied without looking up.
"Spirit week assembly, remember?"
"I know, I'll be on my way shortly.”

Nick Stephens was the ASB Vice President and the one who actually knew Parliamentary Procedure; unlike me, who had to learn it relatively quickly in order to conduct council meetings. Technically, Nick should have been ASB President:
-He knew Rob's rules of order
-He was a lot more popular and outgoing with "the people".
-He actually thought that being on the student council would help to "change the world"--or at least the situation at Reardan High School.
I was more of a realist (or a pessimist, take your pick) and thought of the ASB council as a way to make it seem like we were in charge but we really weren't. It was like running for a council position made you feel like you were an actual politician: Make all the promises you want and hope that everyone was too starry-eyed or just plain ignorant to tell you were lying about it the whole time and you have absolutely no power to bring forth any "change" whatsoever. Still, I took the job seriously, even though I still thought of it more like a "figurehead" kind of thing...and it looks good on college applications.

I followed Nick to the gym where most of the students were already gathered.
"I think we should change the midday event tomorrow from the water balloon toss to the egg toss." Nick stated as we rounded the corner.
"Why?
"Well, the day is also 'Wear White Day'."
"Why did we decide on that? Our colors are maroon and grey."
"Jamie made the suggestion and we all agreed."
"Yes, and we also agreed on opposite sex day. Did we get permission from the office?"
"I'm working on that still."
"So what do I tell the crowd? To be announced?"
"I'll get with Mr. Richards. Find Jeannie, she has the note cards," Nick replied as made an abrupt turn and ran to the office.
"What note cards?"

The gym was packed with the entire student body. I stared at the center of the floor, where a lone microphone stood. Sure, the other members of the council, cheerleaders and teachers were to the sides, but I was the one who was going to be at that microphone, with everyone looking at me. Could they tell that at that moment I wanted to douse myself in gasoline and light a match? Could they see that I was 'this close' to a flood of tears brought on because I was an idiot who did not try hard enough to bridge the gap and get back with his girlfriend of seventeen months, twenty-days, five hours, ten minutes and forty-eight seconds?
I knew what I wanted to say...I wanted to tell everyone that I just flat out did not care about spirit week, football, what they had for breakfast, what they were doing after high school and especially if they felt any form of love for one another, but:
"Good morning, Reardan High School!"

I carried on through the meeting, trying to use my "I'm a happy person" attitude as best I could. I succeeded, I was able to fool everyone that I was glad that we were going to have meetings to discuss hall decorations and that daily flyers would go out to tell what adventures were going to happen for that week. Yippee. I made it up until I turned the microphone over to Mr. Richards, the principal. At that point, I quietly walked out of the gym, under the eyes of no one.

The cloudless blue sky was a horrible sight to see. All bright and cheery, how I longed at that moment for a grey and somber, windy day: all the better to go with my mood. I walked down to the sidewalk near the parking and then to the trees near the center of the courtyard. If I only had a car, I could leave. If only I didn't give a care about being suspended, I could go.
I did all I could at that time: I leaned against a tree and closed my eyes. No, I didn't want to explode but I wanted one more chance to tell Samantha about how badly I screwed up, but I knew that wasn't to happen. I missed that boat but still wanted to swim after it. I had fifteen tons of emotional baggage on my shoulders but I still wanted to swim after it.

“What’s wrong?” A voice asked.
“Nothing,” I replied, with my eyes still closed. I could feel my face turning red from sadness.
“It might help, to talk to someone.”
“I doubt it.”
I opened my eyes, expecting to see someone who I could not care less about standing before me in an attempt to psychoanalyze me from their high and lofty social perch. Instead, I was face to face with a girl, I couldn't place her face, name or her age now that moment. A part of me thought: "well, she is talking to you, she may not know who you are so make this your first chance to make a great impression." The part in charge was still moping about Samantha and life in general to give her much thought.
“Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“I suppose so. What about you?”
“Probably.”
“Why aren’t you?”
She took a second to brush her auburn hair away from her face. She had a few freckles and it seemed like her hair wanted to hide them as it fell right back in like a curtain.
“I don’t want to talk about it, I-” I stated but the tone of my voice seemed to tell her to continue to probe.
“She’s gone, isn’t she?”
“What?”
“Some people talk when they’re hurt. At least I like to when I’m feeling...lost or abandoned.”
“Do you feel that way often?”
“Sometimes...I can’t control it, so I talk to people.”
“Misery loves company?”
“Not like that...I think it takes it away. Were you with her for a long time?”
“What?”
"The girl, or was it a guy. I'm sorry I'm not one to judge-"
"A girl, yes and yes we were together for two years."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she replied as she continued to look at me.
I tried to not look back at her as the expression on my face was one of either total disparity, anger or stupidity. She took a step back and again tried to move her hair from her face.
"Sometimes what we want is not what's planned for us. I hope you feel better."
I nodded in reply as she walked back towards the building. I took my cue to do the same, lest I get in trouble with my second period teacher.

At noon, Jason walked with me to the store down the street. Our school, at the time, had an open campus policy that allowed us to leave the grounds at noon, as long as we were on foot.
“Nice rousing speech. What happened to the one you were going to say that had the joke about Davenport?”
“Didn’t feel like it...just didn’t want to deal…”
“You need to deal with it and as soon as you do you’ll be thinking ‘whatever happened to ol’ what’s-her-name?’”
“It’s going to be awhile before I refer to her as ‘ol’ what’s her name’.”
“You want to break out of the funk? You can, you know. How to put this discreetly, yet firm: Forget about her!”
“I can’t do that.”
“Strad, one girl. One out of millions.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I’m not saying it like that. You let yourself get worked up too much. Remember when you bought her the earrings? She didn’t like them. Oh, that time you threw up in her parents’ van? That too, another keeper.”
“Is there a mark of “pathetic” across my forehead?”
“It appears you’ve forgotten how you looked this morning.”
“Jeannie’s free, eh?”
“Yeah, you should ask her out.”

Perhaps Jason was right. I could try to ask Jeannie, I mean, yes, we had a few things in common: we breathed oxygen, went to the same school and were both on the student council. The only glaring issue was I had no real feelings for Jeannie. Yes, I would be lying if I said I didn’t find her attractive. I’d be fibbing like mad if I said I didn’t glance at her sometimes. BUT-I’d be the winner in a Pinocchio look-a-like contest if I said that I felt any type of connection to her. The question was not: ‘would she go out with me?’ but ‘why would I want her to?’ That, and it would cause an issue with council meetings.
The rest of my school day went like I thought it would: dreary and never-ending. I kept a good front up though and appeared “chippy” to everybody. Nick and Jeannie came to me at every other class switch to go over rules and settings for the games that would start the next day.
I mused over every girl that passed by. I wasn’t looking at them, really…to be quite honest, I had to pull myself back a bit as I was looking at certain parts and not the big picture…and, as much as looks do count, if you determined who you're going to spend your life with based on how large their bra size is, well, you're going to have a bad time. With that being said, I was kind of ready to give up any hope. I wasn’t one to look for cupid’s arrow. In fact, I would have shot the chubby cherub myself with a high-powered crossbow...but I still wondered who the girl was from earlier.
I had never seen her before that day, I was not the one to go flirting and searching for someone else while they’re in a relationship, but I’d like to think I’d seen her at one time or another since the start of the school year. She wasn’t a senior, at least I never saw her in any of my classes…but she didn’t look like one either. Perhaps she was a junior? I would have to look on a day that I cared to branch out of my “funk” as Jason described it.
I wanted to feel lonely. I wanted to feel like it was the end of the world…because Sam was my world. I pleaded with my parents to allow me to attend her school but I had no way to get there on my own (no buses) and if I gave the reason I wanted to go there as being “I can’t live without being in personal contact with my girlfriend,” my parents would scowl me out of their sight. You can’t apply logic when raw emotions and hormones have taken over the discussion.

After school, I rode with Jason back to my house for our semi-daily study/video games/sparring sessions. It usually began with eating a pizza or two and then actually getting down to studying…or at least looking over History and English.
“So, you’ve thought about asking her yet?”
“Jeannie? Yeah, It couldn’t hurt to try,” I lied, as I opened the oven to retrieve a giant pizza.
“Okay, so, what are you going do?”
“I don’t know, write a poem or something.”
“Might work. However, it might freak her out though.”
“How?”
I maneuvered the pizza stone with a hot-mitt covered hand and moved it out of the oven and onto the kitchen island stove as Jason continued.
“What are you going to say?”
“Umm, I don’t know…like I love you?” I replied as I sliced the pizza in half, with each of us taking a side.
“Don’t say ‘love’.”
“Since when do you not say that you love someone when you love someone?”
“You do realize what dating is, right? I think you have a slight disconnect on the concept.”
“Again, enlighten me, oh Cyrano.”
“You never tell them you love them. The point is to be as fake as you possibly can so by the time they figure out who you really are then it’s too late.”
“I think it’s best to be honest beforehand…otherwise, how can they trust you later on?”
“You can have that war after you’re married.”
“Swell.”
We walked into the living room—our textbooks stacked haphazardly on the coffee table.
“What should I do with all of my pictures of her?”
“Dartboards?” Jason casually looked up to see the look of shock on my face and simply went on: “They’re not going to do you any good to keep them. Just going to make you depressed each time you see them.”
“Yeah, yeah.”

He did hit it straight on the head, but since I was still in my “woe as me” attitude I couldn’t bring myself to admit it.
Soon afterward, the front door opened and my parents walked in.
“You decided to eat without us?” My dad called from the hall.
“Where were you guys?”
“In town, checking on a few things.”
“One of them wouldn’t be a car for me, would it?”
“What would you prefer, Matchbox or Hot Wheels?”
My parents were very fluent in sarcasm, much to my chagrin. They also knew everything there was to know about anything—usually at inopportune times and about the wrong subjects.
“Hello, Jason. How was your day?”
“Ecstatic, Mrs. Stradlin; so much that I can’t wait until the end of the year."
“Where did you go this morning?” My father asked.
“Yes, why were you up so early?” Mom inquired as she picked up the empty plates.
“I went to the airport.”
“Why?”
I sat back against the couch and did my best to not sound too ‘mopey’: “Sam left today.”
“I didn’t know she was leaving. Were you two going out?"
Jason looked up from his textbook to see my response and then went back to reading as my parents left the living room and went into the kitchen
“Yes, mom, we were,” I called after.
“Well, I’m glad to see that you two were able to see each other one more time, she was such a nice girl.”
“Way to go, Strad” Jason whispered as he gave a thumbs-up.



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