Risk Management

Adrienne Rivera

Do not start fights. Do not start fights with your mother. Do not start fights with your mother about her drinking or her boyfriend. Do not covet your mother's boyfriend. Do not kiss your mother's boyfriend. Do not kiss your mother's boyfriend on your sixteenth birthday, where she will catch you, even if his eyes are big and blue and he's closer to your age than hers. Do not tell your mother he kissed you back. If this should happen, run away. If you run away, make sure you hide your mother's car keys before you leave so she can't follow. Do not take the car keys with you. Their jingle and silver bird key chain will only remind you of your mother. Being reminded will make you sad. Being reminded will remind you of your fight, which will make you angry. Do not get angry. Getting angry means you'll never go back.

Do not go back. Do not go back, but don't hitchhike either. Do not get into the cars of strange men. Do not trust bumper stickers. A Jesus fish on the back of a gray Chevy does not mean the driver is safe. Do not get in the car with Jesus fish men. Do not get in the car with Jesus fish men even if they remind you of your math teacher. Do not let them touch you. If they touch you, hit. Bite. Kick. Get out of the car and run, but do not leave your backpack behind because then you'll have nothing. If you end up with nothing, start walking again. Do not hitchhike again. If you hitchhike again, only ride with nuns, families, women.

Avoid strange men. If you can't avoid strange men, at least look for strange men driving pick-up trucks. Look for a man driving a pick-up truck and wearing snakeskin boots. This man's name is Nathan. Don't call him by name. Create distance because he will be nice to you, pay for everything, for the most part will expect nothing. Do not give him a reason to expect anything. Do go for breakfast with him, but do not fall in love. Do not ask him to take you home with him. Do not dream of a home in the desert with him. You will not fit and neither of you will think of it at the time.

Try to think of it. Be aware that you are sixteen, a runaway, that he is grown. Be aware that he is irresponsible if he thinks he can be with you. Do not want him to be with you. Do not sit close to him in the truck. Do not sit close to him in the truck and wrap your arms around him. Do not wrap your arms around him and kiss him because he will kiss you back. Do not want him to kiss you back. Do not kiss him again at the truck stop next to the hotel. Do not go into the hotel. Do not get into the bed at the hotel. Do not ask him to get into the bed with you.

Do not want it, do not want him, do not let all of it make you happy. Do not enjoy his weight above you, his tanned shoulders, narrow hips. Do not let him touch your hips. Do not lift your hips. Do not ask him to make love to you. Do not think of him as beautiful. Do not be grateful for it. Do not be grateful for every angry, miserable, misspent, terrifying, regrettable moment that came before because it led you to him. Do not connect those moments like dots, like stars. Do not excuse your mother, do not excuse your mother's boyfriend. Do not excuse the Jesus fish. Do not excuse any of it because it will make you excuse yourself and Nathan. Do not think of yourself and Nathan in those terms.

Do not think for a second that any of this is excusable, is lasting, will end any way but badly.

Do realize that the only one left hurting will be you.

Author Portrait

Adrienne Rivera received her MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Her short stories have appeared in Copper Nickel and New Madrid Journal.