Where there used to be a McDonald’s playplace, there’s now a place to draw blood. One time, a girl named Jay and I sat in the slide that connected the two spires of the plastic castle. It was late and I don’t think the McDonald’s was even open. We sat, looking down at the ball pit, speculating about the rumored needles in ball pits that nervous mothers warned their kids about. This was before heroin had become a real problem there, so I imagined it in the way that kids imagine a boogieman beyond the line of a shadow. And I suppose we were the kind of reckless youth that mothers imagine might trespass into a McDonalds at night to leave needles where children play.
Or maybe we didn’t talk about that at all. I don’t remember. Maybe we just thought about each other’s bodies, and the romance of two teenage strangers trespassing together. We barely knew each other at the time, and we don’t know each other at all now. We wore the same kind of shirts, shared a taste for violent music, and sometimes a table in the back of the smoking section at the Mountaineer. I don’t remember what we said, but I remember the green hue from street lights coming through the plastic playplace. I remember the way it looked on her black hair because it reminded me of the Christmas ornaments carved out of coal that they sold in the front of the Mountaineer.
In November, I went back to the Mountaineer for the first time since I’d returned. I wanted to see if teenagers still sat in the back. I wanted to see what kind of shirts they wore, and if I’d recognize any of the bands. But the smoking section was gone. The lines in the parking lot had faded and letters were missing from the Mountaineer’s welcome sign. No one was there because their friends had a table in the back. Everyone just looked like they were at the Mountaineer because they didn’t want to be wherever they should be sleeping, including myself. As I left, I noticed they still sold the ornaments made of coal, but like the rest of it, each had lost its luster over time. Faded and chipped away from patrons handling this little bit of Parkersburg charm, then deciding to just pay the bill without adding it to their tab.
I hear the Mountaineer is closed now. And the playplace is a blood bank. And the less I can remember, the more it was always just that.