The only thing I knew about pickups was this: growing up, I always inwardly mocked the couples I saw who drove around in them. The girl would be sitting in the middle seat right next to the boy, and the boy’s right arm would be around her shoulders, and his left arm would be on the wheel. I’m not sure why, but there was something about my golf course upbringing that had always caused me to recoil at this sight. Why is she sitting in the middle seat? I’d wonder. Why is it important that they press against each other as they drive down the road? Can’t they wait until they get home? I looked at it as a sign of weakness--something pitiable. They need to get a life may have even crossed my mind once or twice, as if their specific brand of public affection was somehow directly harming me. But that’s what happens to people who, by virtue of the geography of their childhood, are deprived of the opportunity to ride in pickup trucks. They become really, really judgmental about otherwise benign things.
Still, every now and then, as Marlboro Man showed me the beauty of the country in his white Ford F250, I couldn’t help but wonder…had he been one of those boys in high school? I knew he’d had a serious girlfriend back in his teenage years. Julie. A beautiful girl and the love of his adolescent life, in the same way Kev had been mine. And I wondered: had Julie scooched over to the middle seat when Marlboro Man picked her up every Friday night? Had he hooked his right arm around her neck, and had she then reached her left hand up and clasped his right hand with hers? Had they then dragged Main in this position? Our hometowns had been only forty miles apart; maybe he’d brought her to my city to see a movie. Was it remotely possible I’d actually seen Marlboro Man and Julie riding around in his pickup, sitting side by side? Was it possible this man, this beautiful, miraculous, perfect man who’d dropped so magically into my life, had actually been one of the innocent recipients of my intolerant, shallow pickup-related condemnation?
And if he had done it, was it something he’d merely grown out of? How come I wasn’t riding around in his middle seat? Was I supposed to initiate this? Was this expected of me? Because I probably should know early on. But wouldn’t he have gestured in that direction if he’d wanted me to move over and sit next to him? Maybe, just maybe, he’d liked those girls better than he liked me. Maybe they’d had a closeness that warranted their riding side by side in a pickup, a closeness that he and I just don’t share? Please don’t let that be the reason. I don’t like that reason. I had to ask him. I had to know.