Stay true to your forest 

That summer we posted ourselves at my bedroom window and watched the drama unfold across the street at the Meriwether's house.

My best friend, Cindy, lived there and shared a bedroom with her exotic older sister, Vickie. Vickie's hair was the longest we'd ever seen, hanging well below her angular hips in a silky, brown swath. She straightened it at night on orange juice cans.

She was different from the pack of friends who surrounded my popular brother, a contemporary of hers. She didn't attend the obligatory pep rallies and football games and rounds of fraternity and sorority parties that filled the out-of-school hours of "normal" teenagers in Jackson, Tenn. in the late 1960s.

She studied. She loved biology. And sometimes she pulled on skin-tight black leather pants and rode away on a motorcycle with her father, George, also angular and dark-haired. She was a vegetarian before we knew what one was. She was not ashamed to be seen without her clothes on by Cindy and her nosy friend from across the street. She gracefully tolerated the incessant trivia of our lives -- breakups with boyfriends followed by marathon crying sessions; ceaseless obsession over our skin, our hair, our clothes; fundamental cluelessness over what mattered beyond getting the right boy, the right sorority bid, the right outfit.

One week, a guy started showing up in the Meriwether's driveway every afternoon, driving a different Corvette Stingray each day. He'd lean up against the polished, low-slung, phallic hood smoking a cigarette until Vickie came out of the house. They drove off together then returned late at night and sat in the driveway, sometimes for hours.

The boys in our neighborhood were crazy for the cars. Harry and Jim, who knew the date of each model, could recite the contents of what lay beneath the hood. They would have killed for a ride.

I was more taken with the suitor's name -- Tigrett -- the name of the junior high school I attended -- Isaac Tigrett Junior High. Vickie's new suitor was the latest in the line of Isaac Tigretts who were richer than God, lived in a mansion on the edge of town, reportedly had a separate building to house their collection of Corvettes and loomed large in legend, towering above the pedestrian lives of the rest of us.

Isaac was a college boy, home for the summer. From my bedroom window, I watched as he talked with George while Vickie finished getting dressed. They talked cars -- I knew by watching their hands slide along the bodies of the impossibly gaudy, sexy Corvettes, cherry red, forest green, silver and gold. Vickie's daddy kissed her before she went off with Isaac -- a sign of implicit approval of this glamorous boy dating his daughter.

Summer ended, Isaac went back to college, and Vickie returned to high school for her senior year. She began listening to Jefferson Airplane, loud. She let her hair go naturally wavy and wore jeans with holes worn in the butt. Her T-shirts rose above the waistline of her jeans, revealing her flat, brown belly and a tiny tattoo. Isaac Tigrett returned briefly at Christmas, then we never saw him again until he became famous in the next decade and we occasionally heard his name on television newscasts. He founded Hard Rock Cafs and lived in London. Vickie eventually became a forest ranger and lived in the country with a bunch of big dogs.

The last time I saw her was in the Intensive Care Unit waiting room in Memphis where I huddled with the family while George lay dying in a curtained room beyond swinging steel doors. Cindy and I were still teenagers. A motorcycle wreck had left George broken all over, with a swelling brain and no hope of recovery. Vickie watched over her mother and Cindy, rubbed the back of her little brother Tim, and occasionally smiled thinking of George. Her eyes grew dark circles, like his.

I lost the Meriwethers years ago, after relocating to so many new places that Jackson became a faint memory. Their mother kept in touch with my mother, and I knew only distant stories of their lives. But I have treasured the image of Vickie and her hair, her quiet dignity, her journey to the forest, uninterrupted by her famous boyfriend. And when new neighbors moved in next door, recently, and showed me their silver anniversary edition Corvette, I was once again removed to my seventh-grade bedroom window, watching in awed silence as Isaac drove up and lit a cigarette, waiting for the lovely Vickie to appear.


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