Path for The Lost
“You can’t find yourself on a path for the lost,” Jenna’s dad used to say. Misty Cellars sat thinking on the edge of the dilapidated Biccamore bridge last Sunday, knees muddy beneath her torn jeans. Real torn, not store-bought, like she’d be able to get her hands on a pair of those anyway. Jenna’s dad was a security guard at Townes, the state home for boys over in the next county. Toying with her homemade bracelet, Misty thought about how wise Jenna’s dad had seemed. How protective. How unafraid. He was a big man who always looked you in the eye. Did what he said he was going to do. That kind of thing. Misty could use more people like that in her life. Jenna and her dad moved away before Misty started senior year at North County, and Jenna felt farther and farther away each time Misty checked her phone. She’d watch Jenna and her new friends dance with effortless cool on TikTok. She’d never felt more alone, watching them on the busted screen of the old iPhone that Dave had scored over at Real Appliances, the pawnshop near the old junkie’s bin, which is what they called the empty storefront next door. It was August, and the air was dense with black flies. Misty had practically showered in bug spray but still swatted in annoyance at her bruised and bitten ankles. She swore other girls didn’t have legs like hers, which looked like they’d been through a war, maybe even two. She seemed to memorialize each nick from shaving like a permanent emblem of graceless femininity. Blue and black dots scattered her upper thighs, remnants of a time she’d rather not remember. Still, she longed to wear the cutoffs of the other girls, instead of sweating hand-me-down Levi’s just to avoid the smack talk of her new stepdad.
With late August came the start of the school year and Misty rode her old trick bike up and down the sloping hills to the east side of town. Didn’t bother asking for a ride. She knew better.
Jenna had been Misty’s saving grace at North County, where the hoots and hollers of the self-proclaimed “proud rednecks” echoed throughout the halls. According to North County logic, a redneck worked hard. Tough as nails. Never gave up, lest they become the dreaded alternative: White Trash. White trash meant you took money from the state, you were fat, lazy, and your parents probably smoked cigarettes outside. Everything in current society was the fault of the folks that birthed you, so why were you even here? “You’re probably retarded anyways,” they’d jeer kids like Misty when they fumbled in the classroom. The irony of proclaiming rural wokeness whilst still using words like “retarded” didn’t escape Misty, but words like that never escaped her lips, either. If she tried, she’d just end up frozen, like a deer in headlights before a hunter’s pickup truck.
Things were different on the weekends now. She’d get picked up and go to church teen retreats that were held all over the state. There, she could be anyone. It didn’t matter that she didn’t believe in God, right? She’d gotten dragged once by Jenna, and automatically was given approval by the girls who wouldn’t give her a second glance at North County. When she was there, she felt like she glowed with confidence. “A totally new me,” she thought. Plus, she’d gotten close with a guy named Tobi, who even played the guitar. He looked at her with so much awe and admiration that she imaged that she, too, could look at herself in the mirror and see what he saw. At least, sometimes. That’s what she was banking on carrying her through the testimony she knew she’d eventually have to deliver. It was bound to be tough considering that she didn’t even believe in God and she’d never actually given a public speech without totally choking. The truth was, she had found solace in the group’s gatherings. It was something to depend on, which she desperately needed. It was friends. A place to count on, no matter what else was happening in her life. She couldn’t let a testimony get in the way of that.