Teenage Diaries is a monthly column on navigating the oddities, culture, and experiences of high school in the modern era.
Junior and senior off-campus privileges: Nearly every student jumps at the opportunity to leave campus, but it’s not the escape from the school grounds or class that’s enticing. Instead, we’re lured out by the vastness of the outside, with its quiet luxuries of hiding spots, unknown faces, and its fierce anonymity. We’ve adopted a Jordan Baker mindset of privacy: I like large parties. They’re so intimate.
My dear friend Grace drives us to 7/11 a lot. Did you know he sings chocolate instead of weed here? You know… My hair smells like chocolate. The four-minute ride to the gas station is life-giving. She rolls the windows down to let the heat out of her car, even when the orange smog of the sky descends upon our school like a sleepy, weighted blanket, a sign of the lethargy that infects the student body after finals. Four girls driving straight out of a Turner painting. It’s like Breaking Dawn, I said.
7/11 is a haven of sticky floors and plastic straws of hot-weather nihilism. Here, you can pretend to have abandoned the popped-collar, ruffled-skirt expectations you were blessed with at birth. You slip into new iterations of yourself when you trip through the metal doorframe. You’re prismed and split, each ray a pair of fresh stockings that have yet to be tried on or to be ruined, in the same way that you might feign a lilting British accent and adopt aliases from Monte Carlo as a kid on vacation, imagining what life is like for the carefree internationals you see in the hotel lobby.
Sure, everyone knows that we’re the girls from the school up the road, but we can Mad-Libs our lives with harmless lies and negative spaces of information. The owner of the store, a muscular, middle-aged man with a large bicep tattoo that says “Pickles & Skippy” asks us what colleges we’ll be attending in the fall, even though we’ve still got another year left in high school. I’m busy staring at the inked infant footprints on his forearm, wondering what children he goes home to in which car and whether he has a soft spot for dogs behind his toughened façade of calluses and white hair. Everyone jokes that he has a bad memory. I’ve told him like three different colleges. I don’t think he remembers. What the fuck are we going to do when we come back next year?
Here, you’re free to be as pseudo-nomadic as you want, following in the footsteps of your 2015 YouTube search history and the sloppy role models you picked up as a lonely tween along the way. Running your finger lazily along the snack rack? Dolores Haze, sleepy at a rest stop. Drinking Red Bull from a long straw? Dating a Formula 1 World Champion. Crouching longingly in front of the fridges? Starlet of the influencer/A24 order. In 7/11, we’re believers in the Barbie spirit of becoming everything and everyone, which makes us nothing—we indulge in the feeling. We drive here to disappear in a crowd of weathered hands and cold drinks, where no one knows whose arms you wish you were in or whose arms you regret being in.
It’s a masquerade ball behind the lenses of cheap sunglasses as we look over our shoulders in line at men who are older than us, whose helmets slung in the crook of their elbows stoke our curiosity about what lies beyond our exits of the highway. They smell like wildfires and oil, their grumbling voices floating down to the crowns of our heads when they pay in cash for their Powerade and Zyn. We always wait to see if they’ll hold the door open for us when we leave—we want to know if they’re different from the boys our age, whose reckless driving in glossy cars is a premonition of what’s to come: fraud of taxes and of character, fishing, and unhappy engagement parties in the Hamptons. They rev up their bikes with the heady, bold assurance of good fathering or no fathering, and we crane our necks out of the car window to catch a glimpse.
We were raised on the fumes of rose gardens and the desire for a life outlined by a line of bushes that were “planted for privacy.” But the stage of the convenience store, this fantasy of an unknown life, is tempting—we’ve always questioned whether we were born facing the right direction, traipsing from the womb towards American perfection in espadrilles and smocked dresses. I want to hear it all; the rush of watery rumors and kisses slamming against a cement dam behemoth, the No problem, sweetheart’s shouted as the bell above the door signals my exit stage right, and the hum of LEDs that frame our wind-fried hair in glinting halos of sweat and noise.
Since we’ll be gone all summer, we’ve left behind our trace, offering up measly tokens of our affection and dependence; lipgloss on the sharp openings of cans and on the wrappers of granola bars in the trash outside, the faint scent of vanilla or cherry blossom that lingers by the fridges, fingerprints on frosted cans, and state quarters on the checkout counter which we forgot.
Grace drives us back, rounding the sloping corners of the school driveway searching for empty spots to park, her car filling the missing tooth of a crowded, metallic grimace. Our cans and cups sit with us through Honors Physics and AP Art History, resting between our polished nails through our academically flavored conversations with teachers about vacation spots, poet laureates, and the stock market. We inquire about report cards and the progress of the school newspaper. The halls are foggy with smoke. We joke about our teachers’ celebrity lookalikes, recount the passing dramas of the week and the flimsy acetate romances lining the couches of our common areas. Our feet are back on the ground, our heads are on right. We know we can’t be the girls at the gas station all the time, but we try, ducking out quietly into exhaust-pipe dreams and roadside noise.