Joyce Carol Oates was inspired to write “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” after reading an account in Life magazine of a charismatic but insecure young man who had enticed and then killed several girls in Tucson, Arizona, during the early 1960s. The story begins with Connie, a fifteen-year-old teenager growing up in 1960s suburbia. She is preoccupied with typical teenage concerns: her looks and popular music. She argues with her mother, makes fun of her older, plainer sister, and hangs out with her friends in restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping malls. During these summertime social ventures, she and her friends try to attract the attention of the older high-school boys. One evening, while on a date in a restaurant, Connie notices a boy with black hair and a gold “jalopy”-a beat-up sports car-staring at her.
One Sunday, while her parents and sister attend a family barbecue, Connie, contemptuous of family gatherings, elects to stay home and wash her hair. As she sits in the backyard letting her hair dry, she thinks about the boy she had been with the night before. Later, while listening to the radio inside the house, she hears a car coming up the driveway. Thinking that her family would not be home so soon, she goes to the window and sees that it is not her parents’ car, but the gold jalopy from the night before. Her heart pounds, she rakes her fingers through her hair, and when the horn taps several times, she goes to the side door to meet the visitor.
There are two men in the car, and Connie watches them from the screen door. She now recognizes the driver as the one who had stared at her at the restaurant. He asks “I ain’t late, am I?” as if they had a date. Connie makes small talk with him while deciding whether or not she likes him. He introduces himself as Arnold Friend, the other boy as Ellie, and he shows off his car, which is painted with words, pictures, and numbers. He invites her to go for a ride.
Arnold Friend seems to know many things about Connie: her name, who her friends are, and the fact that her family is gone for the afternoon. Connie notices that a phrase painted on his car-“man the flying saucers” is outdated; it was popular the year before. She also realizes that, though he wears the right clothes and talks like a teenager, he seems older and out of place. His hair appears to be a wig, he wears lifts in his boots, and his face looks as if it is caked with makeup. Though he claims to be eighteen, Connie suspects that he is at least 30. When Arnold’s friend Ellie turns around, Connie thinks he looks like a 40-year-old baby.
Realizing that something is wrong, Connie tells them to go away, though Arnold refuses to leave without her. Connie warns them that her father will return, but Arnold knows that he will be at the barbecue all afternoon-he even knows where it is and what Connie’s sister is wearing. His talk becomes more intimate: he calls her “lover” and describes having sex with her and holding her so tightly she won’t be able to get away. Frightened, Connie backs away from the door. She threatens to call the police, but Arnold, who has pledged not to enter the house, says he will come in after her if she touches the phone. Ellie asks if he should pull out the phone lines. Arnold tells him to shut up and urges Connie to come outside, threatening to harm her whole family if she does not cooperate. When Ellie again asks about the phone lines, Arnold becomes irritated and shouts slang phrases from different decades, trying to find the one that is current. He continues to threaten Connie’s family and implies that he has killed one of her neighbors. Connie asks what he will do with her, and he answers that he has a few ideas in mind, but that she will learn to like him. In fear, Connie stumbles to the phone but is unable to dial; she simply screams into the receiver. When she stops, Arnold is standing by the door. Her fear is replaced by emptiness, and she understands that she will leave the house and never return. She approaches the screen door and watches herself opening it, feeling as if she no longer inhabits her own body. She walks out into the sunlight where Arnold waits, assuming a mocking gesture of welcome.