Driving Kayla home
by Matt “Naj” Najmowicz
The year was 1997, I was 19, and working fulltime for a guy who owned a Domino’s Pizza in my local neighborhood — Mount Pleasant in the central part of Providence, Rhode Island. I had my first car, which was a hand me down from my father — a 1988 Buick Somerset with 88,000 miles on it. The car had a silver exterior, red interior, and an LED display for the dashboard. The car screamed the 1980s. Who wouldn’t love that?
I worked my little job as an inexperienced shift supervisor at the local Domino’s Pizza, underline the world “inexperienced,” and it can be imagined how successful I was at my job. As always, I knew everything and no one understood what I was talking about. This made for some volatile confrontations that were needless to say the least. Eventually, those relationships appeared to become more manageable the more I stopped acting like a reactionary ass to ever little situation and problem.
Time passed, and my boss hired a young woman to be the nighttime manager. As the owner introduced me to her, she shook my hand and said with a smile, “Hi, I’m Kayla,” with a slightly nervous and yet enthusiastic tone.
Kayla’s accent in her raspy voice was a dead giveaway that she was a girl from the neighborhood. She hailed from the Silver Lake are which was about six minutes away from where I lived in Providence. She was slightly taller than most women, standing about 5’7” with a slightly curvy frame, had these deep green eyes, and slightly fair and freckled skin. Kay, as I called her, was streetwise, always direct when she spoke with someone, and joked around like one of the guys while she was working with us. She was incredibly funny and always a blast to be around. People would come into the restaurant and ask for her, the phones would ring and ask for her specifically, and everyone at the workplace simply adored her. Kay and I had an instant chemistry together and constantly worked shoulder to shoulder all the time.
A month or so goes by and someone at work told me that Kayla thought I was cute and had encouraged me to ask Kay out. This really came as a complete shock to me — I knew nothing about how to date someone. I was never a lady’s man, or as the kids say these days, had any game. Women always made me slightly nervous. Her beauty and personality made me feel like a deer in headlights constantly. What in the world did she see in me?
I asked my dad what I should do about dating Kay. He assured me this would be my poison pill; dating someone you worked with would be extremely stressful and problematic. Everyone would be nosy about us, gossip about our relationship, and or take sides in our fights. I didn’t care. If Socrates had the courage to drink his hemlock, I was going to swallow this pill with a smile on my face. She was too captivating to simply brush aside. I had to try.
We quickly fell in love. It was a tragic teenage love filled with rampant hormones and a fatalist narrative. Everything that was inappropriate at a workplace happened every day. Every boundary that was assumed and understood was breached. Our relationship was equal parts confusion and attraction that never seemed to cease. It was much like diving deep into an ocean where you aren’t sure if there is a bottom and you know you don’t have any oxygen to find out where you are going. Was there a bottom to this ocean?
The best part of my days with her was nighttime driving. Anywhere she wanted to go, I was her willing and happy chauffer. After work, we would hit the late night Bickfords, a restaurant that was open 24 hours that was on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick and I would meet her clubbing friends. We would drive all over the state at 3 a.m. until sometimes 6 a.m. The sun would tell us that we had been driving around too long, but I didn’t care. I had an absolute Goddess in the car. I wasn’t giving that up for anything.
Driving Kay wherever she wanted to go was my baptism into how to act like a boyfriend despite the awkwardness and utter fear I had of this arrangement. Despite how my self-esteem was trying to sabotage the situation, her beauty and personality pacified my anxiety and coaxed me to try new things and to have new experiences. Kay provided that adventurousness I needed on those long, warm, and humid summer nights. I needed to be pushed outside my comfort zone.
Kay introduced to me what it was like to drink a beer while cashing out a driver. She introduced me to my first cigarette and laughed at me when I was actually getting a buzz off of a Newport 100. Her kisses were intoxicating and I savored them in a Dionysian malaise that was equal parts pleasure and insanity. She dragged to Lincoln Greyhound Park to do slot machines until 5 a.m. She knew how to party. One time she convinced me to take her to Foxwoods casino in Connecticut; we just had fun together.
It occurs to me that I don’t have enough pen and ink to give a list of the good times I had with Kay. Sure, there were bad times, but I refuse to write about them. We often make the mistake in thinking that our memories need the ballast of cynicism. My generation does that too often and I think it’s a mistake. I think it cheapens and dulls the good vibes and feelings of a genuine memory.
There was nothing quite like driving Kayla home.