"Did you turn my steak?”
Those were my first words to her.
She had been walking on the rails trying to ballance when she looked up and saw me for the first time. She gazed at me with a questioning innocence and I could see she was young, not too young, but fresh young, with soft blue eyes and curly black hair that gave her an exotic look.
She cocked her head to one side in a questioning manor, eyes intent on me. “Steak?"
I had a milk jug in my hand that was full of water; we stood on the railroad tracks that cut into a little stretch of forest.
My friends and I would meet in this little span of forest neatly surrounded by urban developement and occasionally sit around a fire pit and smoke weed and talk. I had never met another soul there wandering around.
We were about ten feet apart, she was going south, and I was going north.
I always had a tough time figuring where to leave the tracks and head into the forest. It wasn’t a dense wood, but it was confusing if you didn’t know exactly where you were. It was full of wild locust trees with clusters of sharp, strong, two inch needles that would pierce your flesh leaving you with that prickly feeling that always seemed to culminate in the back of your neck just before the pain hit.
My friends and I dug out a fire pit in the center of the forest. The forest was protected from the greedy steel bulldozers by a railroad track on one side and the deep cloven creek on the other. I remember Case and I had dug out steps in the steep creek bank so we could cross it on our way back out of the forest which we called Fangorn.
The railroad provided some good wood for our fires when we didn’t have time to scavenge for dried wood. I would go there some days by myself and haul some of the old eight inch timbers from the railroad track to the fire pit area, and stack them up for the weekend’s festivities. Other times I would spend the entire day pushing over dead trees that had stood for decades unable to fall over due to the closeness of the surrounding trees. I would find the center of the fallen tree and lift it over my head and hurl it at a living tree and it would snap in half, then I’d do the same to each half until I had a good pile of wood for a fire. We’d meet there in the evenings; I’d usually had a fire going before the others got there. Sometimes we’d have five or six friends show up.
Today was Saturday, and Case and I had planned to go there that evening and roast some steaks over the fire and get high. I set out early after visiting mom and dad’s giant Whirlpool freezer and getting a steak out. It was a monster steak too, at least two inches thick and as big as a platter. I didn’t know much about steaks back then, I was only sixteen, but I thought brisket would likely be a good cut.
I got there early and started a fire of railroad ties, and put the partially thawed brisket on a sharp stick and propped it near the flames. I had smoked a bowl earlier, and my mouth was dry, so I decided to go along the railroad tracks south to the next major street where there was a Dairy Queen, and fill a jug with water. I had to walk about half a mile in both directions and I was worried that my steak might burn up before I got back.
It’s on the way back that I met Jenny, Jennifer Chetaum actually, half French, half German, wholly beautiful.
“Yeah, I have a steak on the fire”, I said, motioning to the forest, “some friends and I are partying in the forest tonight, you’re welcome to join us if you like”.
“Sure,” was all she said.
I led her into the forest to the fire pit and checked my ‘steak’. It hadn’t burned up.
We didn’t have long to get acquainted before Case and Rick showed up, neither had brought a steak with them, which was good because you can’t really eat a brisket the way I cooked it, and I was in no mood to eat anyway, I was much more interested in Jenny.
After everyone arrived and we got high, Jenny and I strolled off into the forest where she told me about herself. When the boys got tired and went home, I followed Jenny back to her house, which was a condo in a neighborhood just across the creek from Fangorn.
We snuck into the lower level which was her rec-room, and talked in hushed voices. Her parents were out for the evening and her grandmother was in charge of watching her. She was upstairs watching television, and likely fell asleep on the sofa.
We’d run for the sliding glass door every time we heard a noise upstairs, until finally she heard the sound of the garage door opening which signaled her parents return. We ran to the door, and stood for an awkward moment, not having planned a next meeting yet and suddenly realizing it.
“I’ll meet you in the woods tomorrow”. She hurriedly said.
“Okay”, I returned in a hushed voice, then grabbed her and kissed her mouth hungrily.
Leaving her that night was the single most difficult thing I had done in my sixteen years of life.