When Judah Grant offers his friendship in the form of his porch, talking about books and listening to music, I take it. I feel dizzy at first, confused about why. But, then I fall into the routine of it, and forget to overthink. On the days I don’t go into the Rag, we make a day of living. We trade dog-eared paperbacks, reading them in the sun while Delaney carries out Bagel Bites and mini carrots on her chipped china.
“She loves this,” Judah says to me one day. “She’s always wanted me to bring my friends home, but my real friends are too sick to come, and the people here are too sick to be invited.
“Sick from what?” I ask, thinking they might have the stomach virus that has been going around.
“From life, Margorita. Walk into any school or aftercare program here and you’ll find a bunch of sticky-faced kids wearing clothes that are either too small for them, or so rough from the wear that their knees and elbows are falling out of the holes. But, if you go to their parents’ house, you’ll find them well stocked with their coping mechanisms: weed, alcohol, drugs…”
“So what’s your point?” I ask, thinking about my own raggedy wardrobe, the holes in the elbows of my favorite sweater. My mother’s medicine cabinet stocked with Seroquel, Opana, and jumbo bottles of Ambien, which she’s hoarded.
“It’s not about the clothes,” he says. “It’s the principle. The excuses and the selfishness. People want a different life, but they get pulled down by the same life their parents lived; same town, same poverty, same struggles. They have their own kids and remember the promise they made to themselves to get the hell outta Dodge. But, they don’t get out of Dodge, because it’s not that easy. So they take it out on themselves, their kids, their neighbors. It’s an excuse, sure. There are plenty of opportunities, scholarships, grants. All you have to do is be brave and jump. It helps if you’re smart, and well spoken, and well dressed. Because no one is going to hire someone who uses too many double negatives, or speaks through their rotten teeth, or is wearing a dress they bought at Wal-Mart. Not if you want the job that can change your life. ”
“You smoke pot,” I point out.
“Yeah, I do. My mother grows it.” He shrugs. “She never took from me to feed herself. She wanted marijuana, so she grew it instead of shortchanging her kid.”
I don’t believe him right away. The people from the Bone were stepped on; the younger ones, not yet bitter from the world, have a steely determination in their eyes to live a better existence than the ones their parents lived. They are trying to be better.
“Listen to their conversations,” he says. “They want something more, but they don’t have the courage to try it out. Plus, I’m going to have to stop soon; I got into the teaching program at UW.”
I make a squealing noise and throw my arms around his neck.
On my way home I think about what Judah said. The problem of clothing your kids is an epidemic in the Bone. Most of the families are on government assistance. My mother refused the little blue card with her name on it, and made me fend for myself instead. I faked ADD through most of middle and high school, so I could sell the Adderall they prescribed me to the upper classmen. I needed lunch money. When I found my mother’s hidey-hole in the eating house, I was miraculously cured.
I remember the woman who tried to steal the six dollar Jordan’s, so filled with liquor she could barely form a coherent sentence, yet she was determined to put shoes on the feet of Zeek, even if she had to steal them. And that was her choice, not Zeek’s. Judah was right.
A week later I hear two women talking in the Rag. One is complaining about her boss refusing to give her the raise she deserves. Her companion clicks her tongue in disgust, assuring her that she’s been with the company long enough to deserve one.
Their conversation suddenly turns when the first woman tells her friend: He did say that if I moved to the branch in Seattle, I would get one. But I can’t leave Meemaw, and all of my friends are here…
No, no, her friend assures her. Leaving would be stupid. How could you afford to live in Seattle? Those people have money to begin with.
I want to scream out and tell her to take the risk. Go!
I feel a stirring of hatred for what we are forced to become here in the Bone, and what we are too weak to escape. I’ll get out, I tell myself. As soon as I can.
And so will Judah, who is too tall for this place, even in his wheelchair.
JUDAH AND I outgrow the rest of the Bone and cleave to one another. Nothing is better than the discovery of another living, breathing human, who fights the same as you do, loves the same as you do, and understands you with such clarity that it feels erotic. A friendship between the fat, ugly girl and the crippled, handsome boy. It is a friendship that we both had waited for. One we both needed.
We unite our strengths and make plans to leave the Bone. We have inside jokes, and movie quotes, and foods that neither of us like. And isn’t that the best thing—to not like something together? Our days are revelations, filled with talk about studio apartments and going to Pike Place Market on weekends to buy fruit that actually tastes like fruit, and to walk along the Sound and watch the ferries. Judah has been to Seattle many times, his school just a short drive away. I question him about the sights and the sounds, the people with their tattoos and multi-colored hair. The people in Seattle are accepting and liberal. They don’t judge you—he tells me. A crippled man is just another human with valuable ideas. I wonder if an ugly girl will be valued. If I can make something of myself without using my looks or body to do it.
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