Hot July

We’re with K in Camden, sitting on a bench waiting for the PATCO westbound to Center City.

“I’m afraid I’m going to get raped,” says a brown-haired girl, who has suddenly, immediately, appeared in front of us.

“Are you okay?” I ask. “Do you need help?” She says she doesn’t know how to get home and asks me if I’m going to the Berwyn area. “No,” I say. “But I know how to get there. That’s where I’m from.”

She’s wearing converse and cut-offs, an over-sized black t-shirt, with her long hair straight and parted to the side. She looks about twelve, but her bloodshot eyes and smattering of whiteheads on her forehead says otherwise.

No one has a pen. I start giving her directions out loud. She looks nervous, leans in and shushes me. “I don’t want anyone to hear you. I don’t want anyone to follow me.” I take her phone and type step by step into her Notes. PATCO westbound to Center City. Get off at 8th Street. Walk three blocks west on Market, you’ll see Market East Station. Walk downstairs and look for the TV that says Paoli-Thorndale. “Thank you,” she says. “Thank you so much.” Her two friends, a quiet boy with mousy brown hair and a loud girl with blonde curls gravitate toward us.

“Were you guys at the Wiz show too?” asks the blonde-haired girl. She looks tired, older than her friend. Wearing a crop top and high-waisted shorts.

“Nah, we were at the WXPN festival.”

“What’s WXPN?”

“A radio station.”

“Oh. That’s cool.”

The two girls are giggly now, no more anxiety. The blonde-haired girl starts flirting with Zack. He reaches into his pocket and hands her his trusty bottle of Visine.

When we discover that the blonde-haired girl goes to Conestoga, and that the boy is a new step-sibling of a family I used to babysit when I was fourteen (?!), I feel ten times my age.

“Oh my god,” she says. “What teachers do you know? Wait, how old are you?”

“26,” I say.

“28,” K whispers.

“Oh my god,” she continues. “Are you guys like real adults? Are any of you married?”

I point to Zack. “We’re getting married in a month.”

They balk. They want to see my ring. “I thought you guys were like, 21. In college,” says the brown-haired girl.

K beams.

The train comes. “Will you please stay with us as long as you can?” They ask. “Sure,” we say. We shuffle on in pairs: me and K, the teenage girls, then Zack and the boy, who’s gangly and awkward and looks way in over his head.

“I want to give the brown-haired one her first pap smear,” K, the CRNP,  says longingly when we sit down.

I take out my phone and bring up my own Notes, trying to type up a few things before it’s all a blur tomorrow.

“Are you writing this down?” The brown-haired girl calls out to me from across the aisle. “I feel like you’re a storyteller.”

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The train lurches forward.

“You know when you take the Amtrak around Disney World?” She asks out loud, this time to no one. There’s definitely no Amtrak at Disney World, but I know what she means. “That’s exactly what this feels like.”

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