Speaking of the Devil

Today I saw a friend of a friend. We chatted for a few minutes, and I learned that my friend is still working at the same donut shop where she’s worked since we were fresh out of high school.

I remembered writing about her, so I searched through my archives until I found the post.

And I’d only given her a paragraph.

I thought about my best friend from when I was 16. We lost touch, but I saw her again, intermittently, after I moved back here when I was 21. The last time I saw her was probably 2004, eight years after high school. She had a son, and a job, and a garage apartment, but she was exactly the same person. The same priorities. The same personality. The same first world problems.

I imagine that she’s still exactly the same.

But I am vastly different. Different from the person who wrote that post; different from the person she knew in high school. And even those two people were worlds away from each other.

Today, would I only give her one lonely little paragraph? Were I to write that post today, I can definitively answer no. I would give her much more.

But are my reasons sound? Are they acceptable? It’s easy to say yes and then abandon that line of questioning. Far too easy.

Yes, they’re my reasons; I don’t need to justify them to anyone. Their existence is justification enough.

And that could be the proverbial that, but it isn’t, because why stop there? I think, therefore I am.

***

As I write this, sitting here in my kiosk, she is here. She just walked by with two young men, young enough to be her children, but closing in on their own majority. If I hadn’t looked up at the exact right instant, I would have missed her.

But I chose the right time.

And I looked back down to resume writing, lips pressed together in silence tempered with the smallest amount of shame. Such a minuscule amount of shame. Hardly enough to be worthy of mention. Or–no. Not truly shame, only the sense that if I were an honorable, decent person, by society’s definition, I would feel shame.

The weight lifts.

I don’t need a mask of false shame to feel good about myself, or to justify my decisions. I don’t need to look up to be a decent human being.

And I’m not a bad person for not talking to her. Or for not talking to her even as I write about her.

It doesn’t matter.

Not in the grand scheme of things. That feels so freeing.

But oh, the world works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I meant to tell you stories of the girl who went on so many adventures with me.

***

Another twist from the cruelest mistress.

She came back.

We made eye contact, and I held out my arms. It was a good hug, a welcome hug. Why did I turn the other way when I saw her before?

And she looks exactly the same. I told her this, and she laughed and pointed out her wrinkles. But as I’ve watched my own face age in the mirror, day after day, so her face has aged in my memory. She does look the same, just a different hairstyle. She’s beautiful, and I still love her for the friendship we had.

Her mother died a year and a half ago, she tells me, and it isn’t false grief that I feel. Her sons are sixteen and thirteen, and both had a basketball game tonight, and it isn’t false pride I feel.

I tell her my parents moved in with us, that I’ve been married nine years, that I have no children.

And she tells me that she sees Jessica* all the time at her job. The light bulb goes off over my head. This is where the split is, the place where our lives diverged and will never rejoin. I am on the side of the chasm with Jessica’s husband, with my friends who stayed on my side. She is over there with Jessica and their friends.

On my side, we made the choice to grow and change and live our lives in a well-rounded way.

On her side, they made the choice to reject growth and change. They stayed the same.

I don’t regret not calling out to her the first time I saw her. I don’t regret welcoming her with open arms when I made that choice. And I don’t regret not asking for her phone number, or offering my own.

My life is full, and while my memories of us are a part of that fullness, I don’t have the room to spare right now to include her as a reminder of what might have been.

*Name changed, for the rare few who know me in real life.


Walking the Goose

girl and doveWhenever I’m feeling down, I try to take a moment to enjoy the knick knacks my grandmother left me.

She had such a collection at her house, and when we lost her, we learned how well she had paid attention to each of us over the years, and knew exactly which one to pass on to which grandkid and great-grandkid.

I always pretended I was the little girl, bringing my pet goose with me for a walk. Grandma remembered that, and it helps me to remember her. I miss her, but she still puts a smile on my face.

Pre-Picture Prompt Picture Prompt by LRose


Going On Seventeen

Today’s Daily Prompt:

Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen.

When I was sixteen…my husband was nine.

We always have such a laugh about the 80s and 90s because of our seven-year age difference.

But no, that’s not the topic at hand. 

When I was sixteen…oh. That’s the year I changed. I started out sweet and shy and studious and straight as an arrow. 

And innocent.

By the time my seventeenth birthday rolled around, I was still mostly shy. But I was also angry and apathetic and angsty. 

I was raped when I was sixteen, and that’s a pretty shit thing to happen to a girl. Or to anyone. I didn’t tell anyone; I didn’t have anyone to tell. My mother would have blamed me. She would still blame me, if I told her today. 

I was angry about that, about being raped and about how I knew I would be treated because I’d seen it happen to other girls. Even though I wore hoodies and jeans and off-brand Timberlands and not much makeup at all. I was a girl, and I went to the wrong school.

And then I didn’t care anymore for a while, but sometimes I wanted to care. 

We rolled the school once, and it was amazing. The cool kids invited me and included me and treated me like a person. I cared that day, and it felt good. I cared when we all got in trouble, because I was part of something, instead of just the quiet girl who slept in class. The principal called us all into the auditorium, because there was about thirty of us, and he saw me. I know it was because he had never seen me before.

That was a good day.

We got evicted when I was sixteen; that was my fault, indirectly. I used to be friends with a girl downstairs whose mother was friends with the apartment manager. We fought, and her mother complained about me enough, and lied about me enough, that we had to find somewhere else to live. She said I would walk up and down the street drunk.

I didn’t; it was still a few months before I started binge drinking. 

But the week of Thanksgiving we did not visit my stepfather’s family as planned; we moved. And we had Short Stop burgers for Thanksgiving dinner.

This sounds so horrible, but it wasn’t, really. Not as much as it sounds now. 

I had my little brother. He was two, and he was amazing. He was so adorable and wet-chinned. We were besties.

I spent three weeks of my summer at nerd camp, taking Expository Writing, typing up essay after essay to voluminous praise.

I don’t need sixteen back, though. Twenty-two was so much better.


Time to Write

I’ve been sitting her for probably fifteen minutes with a blank screen. I started two titles, but then they wouldn’t work, so I deleted them.

I haven’t the foggiest idea of what to write about today.

I asked Ian what to write about before I started; he said something happy.

I thought of several happy things, but I couldn’t make them into stories right now. It’s just not there in my brain. Also Ian’s watching Forged in Fire next to me, and it’s kind of entertaining. So I’m a little distracted instead of concentrating on the words.

But I can tell you about happy memories without telling a story.

When I was a kid, I spent summers in Michigan at my dad’s house. I had a lot of fun there. We went to farmer’s markets, we went to the park, we went to the lake, and we went on mini vacations. Mostly though, I enjoyed that my dad lived in the same place for several years, and so I had the same friend living across the street every summer. She had a huge yard, and we used to make tunnels in her sand pile. I really loved doing that.

Another happy memory is the first time Ian and I told each other I love you–it was in the back of a friend’s minivan, driving down the road.

I remember when I was eight, my sister and I received similar intricately embroidered dresses from one of my dad’s trips to Mexico. I wore my yellow dress to school one day, and the other kids made fun of me for wearing my nightgown to school. It hurt, but I really loved that dress, so it didn’t bother me all that much.

In fourth grade I caught a dragonfly and won a turtle at school.

I think it’s time for me and Ian to start planning another camping trip. That would be happy.

And today I found the picture Ian took of my x-ray from when I broke my toe and it was sticking out sideways. Weird thing to be happy about, I know, but I’m pretty proud of that break.

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Knowing the Stories

We hear all the time about knowing the whole story, or not knowing it. I read a book once in which a couple of the characters made a game of making up background stories while they people-watched. It’s something I think about sometimes while I’m cooling my heels at my kiosk.

I find that I’m not willing to make up a backstory for the people I see walking by. It was one thing for me and my coworkers to diagnose the patients walking into the ER when I was a registration clerk; it’s easy to deduce ‘cut herself washing dishes when a glass broke’ from a woman in her mid-thirties walking through the doors with a towel wrapped around her hand at 830pm. It’s something else when it’s just people, no clues, just shopping or mall-walking.

But there is someone in particular who catches my attention. The manager (I assume, from his demeanor) of one of the shoe stores I’m surrounded by. Because I’ll never forget him. I know him, but I don’t know him at all.

When I was seventeen, I went to the mall a lot. Duh, right? One night stands out in my mind, especially when I look through the shop window and see this guy working in his store.

My boyfriend and I went to the mall, and as we were walking to the entrance, a friend of mine was walking out. He was close by the doors, and we were still out in the parking lot, when I saw three guys running toward my friend. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t look like the type of people this friend would have known, although they did look like people I’d know. They ran up and two of them grabbed him so the third could get a good punch in, right to the face. My friend dropped, and they ran off, leaving my friend bleeding on the ground. I started running, and by the time I got there, he was seizing. Someone called 911, and before I knew it there were cops and paramedics pushing the crowd away so they could take care of him. What luck the mall is next door to the fire and police stations, eh?

The cops took a few statements from some people, and my boyfriend led me back to the car. It was hours before I could talk and unclench my fists.

The next day I called the hospital and got my friend’s room. He was asleep, but his mom told me about his broken cheekbone and jaw. She thanked me for trying to help him. I hadn’t done anything but keep any misled Samaritans from trying to shove a stick in his mouth while he was seizing, but she thanked me for that.

It was a few more days before we could visit him. I went with another friend who’d dated him a few times, and he told us he knew who it was, because they’d been bothering him for a couple of days. They thought he was someone else. It turns out the guy had a roll of quarters in his fist. My friend said the guy had been arrested.

A broken face for a mistaken identity. I don’t understand how someone can justify that. It was only a few weeks later that I started seeing the attacker at the mall again. I might have seen him a million times before and never paid attention, but now he was somebody. He was one of the bad guys, and I couldn’t help but recognize him. From seeing him so soon, I could only gather that he didn’t do much, if any, jail time for what he’d done.

My friend didn’t want to talk about it, and I can’t blame him for that. He moved away, and I lost touch with him. I moved away. The blood is long gone from the pavement. The hospital room is even gone now.

But some days, I am again staring at a man who severely injured a friend of mine. When he’s behind his register, it’s almost the same distance that we were apart that night.

When I stand there at work and think about knowing people’s stories, I can’t help but wonder if anyone he works with knows that one. Or if anyone in his life knows that one. I wonder what happened to him. I wonder if he ever even admitted to himself that he hurt the wrong person.

No one can guess a story like this from a casual encounter while buying a new pair of Jordans. No one.

But in the same way, no one can guess our story, mine and Ian’s and Abby’s, by seeing our debate over strawberries versus tomatoes in the produce department.

I’m left with an unwelcome feeling of connection with a person I wish had never entered my life in such a way. I wish he’d made a different decision. I wish his was a familiar face only because I’m in front of his store a few hours a week. I wish the story I know was a story that someone had made up, knowing nothing of the person they’d just caught a glimpse of.

I do appreciate that it’s me that has to look at him, and not my friend. It is hard to have to face the person who unapologetically knows they’ve caused you so much pain, and on a regular schedule.


Relativity

I have only one memory of a great-grandparent. My mother’s mother’s mother was named Gladys, and she let me have Frosted Flakes. I was probably four years old. That was a pretty big deal, because we didn’t have any ‘fancy’ cereal at my house, only Kix and Cheerios and Grape-Nuts.

She died when I was fifteen, and visiting my maternal grandparents. I felt so lost and guilty, because my aunts and my grandmother were so grief-stricken, but I could only cry for their pain, I couldn’t mourn someone I never knew. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel, I only felt that how I felt was insignificant compared to their sorrow.

I met my mother’s biological father when he and his wife came to my mother’s second wedding. They brought my sister and me gummy fruit snacks. I was eleven. He was never my grandpa. I don’t know how long it’s been since someone’s heard from him.

My grandpa was Grandpa Bill. He was an engineer, and I used to think that meant a train conductor. I have to admit, when I was a kid, that was way cooler than rocket scientist. He was a clown, makeup and all, and his favorite exclamation was ‘cheese and crackers!’ We lost him two days before my twenty-first birthday, in 1999.

His wife was Grandma Betty, my mom’s mom. She was such a short lady to have such tall daughters and granddaughters, and she loved to laugh. She was so hollow without Grandpa Bill. My husband got to meet her in 2009, not long before she died, when she came down to my mom’s for a visit.

My father’s father was Grandpa Jonas. He and my grandmother lived in St Croix for most of my life, until they decided to go back to the mainland in 2003. My father sent me to help them close the book on their island life. My grandpa and I went to beach bars to drink vodka and swim. I took care of the swimming, he drank most of the vodka. He was born in Lithuania, and when we lost him in 2010, his children brought his ashes back there.

My Latvian Grandma Inez is all I have left. Her whole life has been about her family. She’s probably racked up more frequent flyer miles than plenty of Fortune 500 CEOs. My sister and I saw her almost every summer we spent with our dad. One day my dad and stepmom were at work, and she walked my sister, our friend, and me five miles each way to the lake to go swimming.

I have so many pillows, and bags, and even a quilt she sewed. She’s made all her own clothes for as long as I can remember, and when my sister came down in December, she brought some pants Grandma had made for our daughter that she won’t fit in for probably two more years.

20120320-184734.jpgGrandma also made this placemat for her, because if you’re not eating five meals a day, you’re wasting away. Grandma’s explanation of how to use it: ‘She can eat her cereal on one side and look at these bears, then she can move her bowl to the other side and look at these bears.’ I can hear it in her voice now.

Three weeks ago we found out she has cancer and a lung infection, which are canceling out each others’ treatment. Today the doctors are sending her home to die. They gave her about two weeks. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to Virginia to see her. I love her so much, and I want her to know that. I just have to hope that maybe, since I haven’t gotten my miracle yet, it was being saved for her instead. But mostly I fear that it wasn’t.

I wish that my children could have met any of these wonderful people. I don’t understand why I got Frosted Flakes, and my children will only have secondhand memories.

At least I can guarantee that they get secondhand memories, and make sure that they know about the people who helped me be here today.

I miss my family.