“Fired Up Bowling Alley” by Joyleanne Santos

Posted: July 3, 2015 in Vol. 7: Spring Essays 2015




Squeals and thumbs up mix with the music at the Fired Up bowling alley in Aiea.

“Whatever we do, we can’t let Nat win, okay Ethan?” I whisper into his ear as I plot against my best friend. He chuckles. It’s nothing personal. I’m just a competitive person, whether it be in school, sports, or any situation where there’s a winner. Why is my best friend the person to beat in bowling tonight? Well, I like to provide a little resistance to her happiness because she gets everything handed to her. Natalie’s tall, tan, has big boobs, a sparkling smile, sings, and is such a friendly person. She’s also a little narcissistic, so I like to stick it to her sometimes. So it may be a little personal, but I’ve been a competitive person way before we became best friends.

“Yeah, yeah. Okay, Carol,” Ethan assures me, nodding his head. I give him a smirk and he reciprocates, holding eye contact for a second too long. “Shoot, that’s kind of depressing” he adds, pointing to one of the TV monitors with a latest news – a picture of a burned down house somewhere on the mainland. Ethan is a year younger than Nat and I (we’re both 20). He is this 6’ 2” cutie that is super smart, athletic, and plays guitar well. I love listening to his voice. I actually met him in Beginning Guitar. We clicked well, so I ended up introducing him to my friends. He and Nat started hanging out together without me when I got busy with work for a while. They came together tonight, but he’s not Nat’s boyfriend.

To Nat though, whether she openly admits it or not, Ethan is “the one.” She always smiles or giggles when she talks about him and is always saying how he’s the best guy she’ll ever get. She says she doesn’t feel like she needs another guy on the backburner, which is HUGE since she’s had backburners for the last three guys she was with, the second of whom she is currently living with. And I, Carol, have the honor of hanging out with these two tonight.

I look to see if Nat heard what Ethan said.


As each of us bowl – gutter ball, strike, split, whatever – we turn around and give high fives or thumbs up to each other. Nat, of course, bats her eyes at Ethan. Ethan checks out Nat’s butt. I clap at the gutter balls, being the graceful third wheel that I am. We finish ten frames in like 30 minutes.

First frame of the next game and Nat’s up. Grabbing her ball off the shelf, with one hand she chucks it onto the lane and knocks five pins down. Returning to the shelf and waiting for her ball to return, she doesn’t even turn around to shoot us a thumbs up in excitement as she’s done the past ten frames. The ball spirals back onto the shelf. She grabs it and bowls it down the lane once more. She does this for the next two frames that follow.

Slinking back to the nearest seat without checking how many more pins she knocked down, a concerned Ethan sits down next to her. Draping his arm around the back of her seat, he leans down and asks “Are you okay? What’s your problem?”

When I hear Nat sigh over the music, I glance up from my S5 as their hushed whisperings continue. “I’m happy that you and Care are getting along and everything,” Nat admits. “But I’m kind of sad that you guys are like purposely trying to beat me. Like I’m not even trying to be competitive with you guys and trying to have fun.”

Ethan’s shoulders stiffen. “We’re just playing around. Why do you have to take it so personally?”

What the fuck is happening right now, I think to myself trying to stare at them indirectly from my seat. Shit, are they gonna get into an argument? Nat told me how they got into arguments about dumb stuff, but I’ve never seen them fight in person.

A little irritated Ethan continues, his arm now back by his side, “How am I supposed to have fun bowling if you tell me you’re sad?”

“If I’m being such a downer, we can just leave then?” Nat challenges, now turning to face Ethan. “Do you want to leave?

“I just don’t get why you do this all the time,” scoffs Ethan, his hand rubbing his temple.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now, Ethan? I’m just trying to tell you how I feel.”

“You know what? Let’s just leave,” Ethan demands. “Sorry, Carol.” He gives me an apologetic look.

“Yeah, let’s leave. Care take off your shoes.” I look at them kind of shocked about what’s going down. We haven’t even gotten halfway through our second set of frames. I do a double take at the scoreboard before I put on my shoes and by the time I have my second foot fastened in they’ve already rushed off to the rental counter. Nat just flings his shoes onto the counter without looking back and Ethan waves sorry and rushes after her. By the time I place my bowling shoes down on the counter, they’re already out the doors having a screaming match.

A blast of cold air hits me as I walk outside. I look to my left and tears are streaming down Nat’s face as she screams at Ethan.

“I didn’t mean to ruin your night!” Both of Nat’s arms are extended toward Ethan, palms up. “You asked what was wrong and I told you. How can you be mad at me for that?”

“How is that not supposed to ruin my night, Nat? We were all having a fun time and then you have to get so depressing. You always do this.” A frustrated Ethan throws his arms in the air.

“I’m sorry,” she sobs, wiping away her tears as “I’m sorry, okay! Geez Ethan!”  She rushes to her white sedan. Opening the door, she crumbles into the driver’s seat.

Ethan scrambles into the front and I get into the back and watch Nat’s crying into the steering wheel while he just stares at her.

“Look, I don’t know if I’m fucked up because of my dad and all the shit he’s done and can’t have a relationship and blow up like this, but can’t you just say you’re sorry, Ethan?” Nat blurts. “Like honestly that’s all I want. That’s all I want.”

I think of my fighting parents. My mom, her body firing with shooting pains because of the fibromyalgia, begs my dad to carry her to the bathroom. Lost in the World Wide Web, his focus is broken by by her yelling. Crossing from the table to the couch, he stands in front. He reaches his left hand behind her head, supports her shoulder with the other one, and he attempts to lift her up from the couch.

“Support my back!” Mum yells. “Slowly. Pick me up slooowly!” Her pain not subsiding, she twists in pain, falling back onto the couch like a dropped doll. “Owwww!” she cries. “Why you gotta do that for? I’m talking so nice to you. I’m telling you what to do.” Her crying continues as Dad silently stares. “Why are you just staring at me? Take me to the bathroom!”

An unsympathetic response from Ethan snaps me back to the car. “No, I’m not gonna say sorry. I didn’t do anything wrong.” My eyes widen. Oh my gosh, he sounds like my dad. “You’re the one making me feel bad.”

“Why aren’t you getting it?” Nat says. “I’m trying to communicate. That’s what people in relationships do.”

“But you do this all the ti—“

“Didn’t we just promise each other last week?” Nat asks as she bangs against the steering wheel. “We’ve been at such a good point until now. We weren’t fighting or anything. Remember when we promised not to argue about stupid stuff?”

“You’re the one. Like how is you’re being sad not supposed to affect me?”

“Just get out my fucking car then, Ethan. Care will give you a ride home!”


She reaches over Ethan and grabs at the handle of the door forcing it open. “Get the fuck out!” she continues screaming. Pushing at his shoulders and his body, she shoves him out of the car.

“Dammit, Nat!” Ethan swears as he steps out. Hand on top of the car he peers back in. “Well, where’s my wallet, my keys, and my grandmother’s phone?”

“Holy shit, Ethan, just shut up!” Nat sobs as she searches the car for his things. “I don’t want to hear your voice right now.” She throws his wallet and keys out the window onto the gravel.

“Where’s the phone, Nat?”

“I’m fucking looking for it!”

He opens the back seat throwing all its contents around looking for the phone. Nat finds it and chucks it onto the gravel with the rest of his stuff.

“Nat, if you’re gonna be like this all the time and if you’re tired of fighting then maybe this should be it,” he says.

“You’re really going to do this to me right now! YOU’RE GOING TO BREAK UP WITH ME NOW OF ALL TIMES?!” she yells. “Care, please get out of my car.”

I step out and close the two passenger doors and step onto the sidewalk. I’m not gonna mess with her. Yanking the front passenger door open again, Ethan asks,“Wait, where’s my weed?”

Nat throws it at his face.

After picking up the bag from the ground, Ethan stands back up. Sighing, he looks at me. “Your friend’s fucking crazy, Carol. You need to get her help. She’s crazy. I don’t know if she needs meds or something. She needs help.”

Shut the fuck up, Ethan, I think to myself. My dad calls my mom that when tempers run high between them, too, and my mom tries to explain to my dad what’s wrong. I love Ethan and everything, but he can be such an ass.

A sobbing mess, Nat looks through the windshield at Ethan, the guy who was supposed to be “the one,” now standing on the sidewalk next to me. I wonder if she’s going to crash or something, I think to myself as I stare at her.

Suddenly, the car turns on and she shifts it into reverse. Her eyes unwavering, she pulls out and then – BANG! Before we can react, she smashes into a parked car 20 feet away. Red, yellow, and white glass now litter the ground.


Wails start pouring out of Nat’s car as she opens her door. “Oh my God! Oh my Gooooood! I don’t even have my license!” she exclaims in grief. “I was- I was looking right at you, Ethan,” she blubbers, one hand raking over her hair, the other hand pointing at him accusingly. “Why didn’t you tell me I was gonna hit the car!? I was looking right at you!” Ethan and I exchange looks along the lines of She’s joking right? “Why didn’t you tell me I was gonna hit that car?! I was looking right at you! Now, I’ll never get my license!”

I look at the damage to the other car. It’s bad. The right headlight is smashed in. The bumper is dented. The car that Nat’s driving…not a scratch. As Nat freaks out, I scan the parking lot to see if anyone went to get the owner of the hit vehicle.

Looking toward the entrance, a bunch of people are looking at us silently. All I can hear is Nat trembling. Near the entrance I see a man with the bouncer staring intently in our direction with a blank expression, hands interlocked on the top of his head. His red hat catches my eye. A woman stands next to them. Embarrassed at the attention the scene has caused, I turn back to Nat. Maybe the person whose car we hit is a nice person and won’t be totally mad, I think to myself. Nat always seems to be lucky that way…people letting her off the hook. She always gets herself out of the deepest of troubles. There were so many times when she told me that she got pulled over by the cops for speeding or swerving – she doesn’t have her license, and barely carries around her permit – and they just let her off with a warning.


“YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!” an enraged male voice explodes from behind my back. We all look toward the voice. It’s the guy with the red hat. He approaches his car inspecting the damages. Nat, hugging her arms to her chest, approaches him.

“I’m s-so sorry,” she says. “I’ll pay for everything, I promise.”

“I just got this out of the shop for the same exact thing!” the guy repeats. “It was in there for so long and now it has to go back! Great.”

“It’s funny,” the woman with him says, “because we actually moved the car here from another spot not too long ago.” At the mention of this, the cops pull into the parking lot.


Breaking away from Nat and closing the distance between me and him, Ethan faces his whole body toward me and asks for the keys to my car. Pulling my keys from my pocket, I try to hand them to him, but Nat butts in.

“Ethan, you’re really gonna leave me right now? Like I need you and y-you’re just gonna walk away? Don’t walk away, please, Ethan. Stay with me. Don’t walk away.”

“Nat, stop freaking out,” he says, taking my keys and turning toward my car.

Grabbing his arm, Nat sobs, “Pleeease, Ethan, don’t leave me.”

“Nat, relax. I’m just gonna go and put the weed in Carol’s car,” he assures her.

“The cops aren’t gonna frisk you, Ethan,” she whines. “Please just stay by my side.”

“Her car’s right there!” and with that he runs to my car and puts the illegal drugs in my glove compartment.


Starting the report, the officer asks Nat if she’s been drinking. No, she hasn’t. She just got into a huge fight and was emotional, she explains. Next the officer asks for her name, phone number, license, registration, and insurance. Nat admits that she doesn’t have her license, and that her permit’s not on her.

Overhearing her, red hat guy yells, “Great! She doesn’t even have her license. That’s just awesome,” for the whole parking lot to hear.

“Just ignore him, Nat,” Ethan says as he rubs the side of her shoulder.

“No, don’t tell her this is okay, man,” the man spews bitterly. “This is not okay.”

“Hey man, you see she’s in distress,” Ethan replies. “Leave her alone, okay? She said she’d take care of it.”

“He’s right, you know,” the cop says. “You could go to jail. You’re not responsible enough to drive yet, or else you wouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel when you were emotional. Licenses are needed for a reason.”


It’s 2 in the morning. The three of us sit silently in Nat’s car outside of Ethan’s apartment. I’m the one to break the silence and ask, “Well, what are we going to do now?”

“What do you think we should do, Care?” Nat asks. Her hesitance to not kick Ethan out of the car just yet makes me think she wants to spend the night with him.

“I think I should take Nat home because you both obviously have a lot to think about tonight.”

Nat glares at me.

“What’s with the attitude?” I say, puzzled. “You’re the one who kept telling him to get out of your car, and you were about to drive away from us. I thought you wanted space, unless you were lying.”

“Ethan shouldn’t be going home by himself and sleeping when I’m going to be up all night driving myself crazy about how fucked up this night turned out,” she hisses at me.  “C’mon Ethan, don’t you want to work this out?” She twists her body to face him. “Don’t leave me. Not tonight.”

Ethan looks away from the window, wipes his eyes with both palms. “Well, of course I want to stay with you. I want to work this out, but Carol needs to go home too. It’s getting late.”

Nat stays silent.

“Okay, how about this,” I’m thinking on my feet. “Ethan can follow us in his car to drop off your car at your house, and then drive with us back to the bowling alley for my car?”

Nat shrugs in defeat.


Back at the Fired Up Bowling Alley, I step out of Ethan’s car, grabbing my things. Closing the door behind me, I open Nat’s door and hug her. “Take care of her, Ethan,” I warn, giving him a stern look.

“I will,” he says. “See yah later.”

With that, I close the door, get into my own car, and head home.


When Care steps into her car, we leave the parking lot. Ethan’s been driving aimlessly for thirty minutes now, one hand on the steering wheel while the other supports his head, elbow resting on the window. We’ve both been quiet, both thinking. I’ve done a lot of screaming and crying in the past 3 hours trying to let out the pain. Overhearing Care and Ethan wanting to keep me from winning… why couldn’t I control myself tonight? People always do that to me. They try to beat me when I’m not even interested in winning, just wanting to have fun. Ethan… he wasn’t listening to me. Do I really want to be with a guy who flips out when I’m trying to share my feelings with him? He hasn’t even said sorry. But I love him. He’s amazing in so many more ways. His voice makes me melt. His smile makes my knees weak. His height! He’s taller than me, which is hard to find in Hawai‘i, the land of small people. On top of that, his family is so loving. I want that. I want him. I just love him so much. A tear escapes my cheek finding refuge in my cotton shirt.

Thinking about his family, about us, about my own, I just start bawling. Tears stream off my face like flowing lava.

“Hey…” Ethan says affectionately, taking his hand off the steering wheel and resting it on my thigh.

You need to tell him.

I look up at the beautiful boy in the driver’s seat, mustering up the courage of a lion. “Ethan, take me to my house,” I say, my voice shaky.

“You want to go home already?” he asks warily.

“No, take me to my parents’ house.”

I haven’t been there for a while. I only visit every couple of weeks or so to see my mom. Ethan turns left off the main road and my heart starts to accelerate like a plane taking flight, my fingernails digging into my seat as I stare straight ahead. He goes down the road taking the third right, the right that leads to my house. I become a vacuum, trying to suck up every molecule of air as we get closer and closer to the destination. Ethan looks at me out of the corner of his eye as he picks up speed.

Pulling up to my house there is silence all around until Ethan lets out a “What the fuck?” What the fuck is right. “Where is your house, Nat?! Where is it?!!” He gets out of the car and rushes to the fence, looking at the ash and rubble. I open the door, and step onto foreign land. Whipping his body around, pain in his eyes, he pulls me into a bear hug. “Wh-what happened?”

Although my throat is being squeezed by a snake, I take in deep breaths standing still with his arms around me. “My- my- my dad. He burned it down- burned it down a couple days ago.” And that’s when I crumble into his arms. “He told me he was gonna do it before…but I didn’t believe him” I sob into his chest. “Who the fuck would actually do this?! The only person I told was Care. I didn’t tell you until now b-because I didn’t want you to- to know how fucked up my family really is. And when you and Care were basically plotting against me, I- that was just the last straw. I’m so sorry!” My sobbing continues until my breathing settles.

Ethan holds me close to his chest. And we stay like that for seconds, minutes, hours? I can’t tell. It doesn’t matter now.

Eventually, I wiggle my arms free, head still resting on his chest, and trace the sides of his arms. He hasn’t said a word since he asked me what happened.

He makes sure I am standing firmly on my feet, and falls to his knees in front of me, grasping the back of my hands and placing them onto his closed eyes.

“I’m sorry too,” his voice sounds coarse, like he’s about to cry.

I free one of my hands as I lovingly stroke his forehead like I imagine I’d do to our children when they’re feeling sad.

“What are you sorry for, baby?” I sniffle.

Letting go of my other hand, he gets off his knees and stands back up to his feet. Lifting his hand to my chin and looking down at me, his eyes piercing my own with such anguish. “I’m fucking Carol.”

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Creative Writing


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