“The Trouble in Washington County” by Sarah Panico
I was taught at a young age to stay out of trouble.
But on a stifling night, when the crickets were too humid to chirp,
Trouble found me, his last cigarette clinging to the shirt
he wore with long hair and a scowl.
I let him sweet talk me while we got high
and barreled down deserted roads.
They all said he had no business with a girl like me,
But we knew better than them.
I convinced myself he loved me
while navigating backseat trysts.
On nights that I should have been home,
I was in his bed fantasizing about a life not meant for me.
Mama’s ring sliced my cheek
when I said a man was the only way I’d not end up like her.
Bitter and trapped; my devil waited in the road,
I slipped from my window and we disappeared.
We made it a hundred miles before the car choked.
Stranded us at a decades-old motel off 44
with more cracks in the ceiling than in the owner’s face.
A month later, a pissed-on piece of plastic
branded me with a scarlet letter.
Then he was the one to disappear.
I never got out, just traded up
at the expense of my body and dignity.
I still see Mama sometimes,
But now I’ve got a small creature clinging to my hip
with her daddy’s long hair and scowl.
I tell her every day not to go looking for trouble,
And I pray it doesn’t find her.