When I was 14, I wanted to be Troy. First of all, she had a cool boy’s name. She also had waist-length blond hair and had spent a year in a Swiss boarding school. Now she was back in Atlanta, living with her mom and sister, and though she was just a kid of 12, we became friends.
My mother was a cautious mother, shading on the side of overprotectiveness. Her need to provide comfort for life’s strays was her great weakness, however. That’s why she didn’t object when I started hanging out with Katie (not her real name), whose parents — hopeless alcoholics — left the girl to her own devices most of the time.
Katie was a Peppermint Patty kind of girl — rough around the edges but basically a good egg. She could have been a wanton terror given her home situation. Through her I met Troy. They lived in the same apartment complex, one of those sprawling developments of the mid-’60s, when all of Sandy Springs sprouted pools and club houses and beige, beige apartment units to accommodate the population explosion.
I remember standing in the parking lot with Katie one late spring evening when Troy strolled up. “Whatcha been doing?,” we asked her.
“Riding buses,” she said. Troy liked to get on a bus and ride it wherever it took her. She told us about the people she met, the bus drivers, the things she saw. I thought she was the most glamorous kid I’d ever known.
Troy’s dad — her parents were divorced, too — owned an ice skating rink. Troy, a cute girl with what we used to call a “cute figure,” twirled and pirouetted on the ice. She was graceful and free and fearless. Oh Lord, I was a mess. I knocked myself out once when I fell ice skating.
Fate was merciful to me. In 1968, when I was 15, we moved back to Knoxville. I went to Atlanta for a long visit that summer and found two essentially if not legally emancipated teenagers with unlimited access to a car running loose in Atlanta.
I tried to hang while I was there and ended up with a raging fever and in bed for weeks after I got back home. It was an incredibly heady taste of freedom for someone so young. No one ever told them what to do.
Still, they had jobs, they went to school, they kept the place straight. They didn’t drink, they didn’t smoke. They just liked to run around, as we put it. I was like a dog on a car ride, late at night in summertime Atlanta, cruising the seemingly endless city roads. We listened to Cream and Hendrix and sat up talking all night.
At the end of it, I knew I had a family to come home to, a place where limits would be placed and I could go back to being a kid. In a few years I would lose track of Katie and Troy. Still a teen, Troy moved in with her boyfriend, a young man from a socially prominent Atlanta family. Later I heard they married, but she completely vanished from my life.
Troy was a kind girl, sweet, funny and cute. She had style and pluck and charm. Here’s hoping those qualities have carried her through life, that she is alive and well, living her dreams.
Jan Hearne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.