“Different how?” I ask. My palms are sweating. I look like a murderer, that’s what. But what does he see? Can he see the blood on my hands?
“Like you don’t give a shit anymore,” he says.
“I remember watching you walk to school. Every day. First grade through twelfth. You reminded me of a rat.”
“Whaa?” I spin around, and he pretends to flinch like he’s afraid of me. He’s laughing when he says, “You scurried around like you were afraid of everything. Hiding behind the hood of your raincoat, sneaking looks at the world like you expected it to take your cheese.”
“It did take my cheese, fool.” I laugh.
“Well, you don’t do that anymore. You’re gangsta now, with your Groceries & Shit bag, and your blue Docs, and your defiant walk.”
“You’re dumb,” I say, though inwardly I wonder how right he is, and when exactly I stopped being a rat?
“I like this new look on you, Margo the lion,” he says.
What Judah doesn’t say is how much weight I’ve lost since I broke up with Little Debbie and her crew. Fat rat lost a few pounds. And I stopped chopping my hair off every time it grew past my chin. So, now it’s shoulder length, and it reminds me of dying grass—pokey and yellow.
I wonder if he saw those changes, and not just the ones that happened on the inside. The fact that my lips aren’t buried in the dough of my cheeks, or that I actually have long legs once the cottage cheese deposits melt away. Or maybe he’s one of those saintly people who only looks to the inside of others and doesn’t see their doughy arms and freckled double chins. He’s just a cripple kid, I think. Who cares what the poor, cripple kid thinks of you? But I do. Because pot-smoking, Judah Grant is the best human I’ve ever known, and I can’t even pinpoint why. I listen to Alanis Morissette on my headphones all night and pretend I don’t have a crush on that smiling fool.
“You listen to white girl music,” Sandy tells me the next day. I’m singing “Uninvited” as I empty garbage bags in the stock room. “And on top of it, old white girl music,” she says.
“I am a white girl,” I say, putting an ugly ass shirt into the ugly ass shirt pile.
“Yeah, but you have to stay current and shit. Listen to some Miley Cyrus or somethin’. That bitch is a ‘Wrecking Ball’!” Sandy cracks up, and I frown. I don’t have a radio, car, or television. I use my mother’s old CD player and listen to my mother’s old CDs.
“And why you singing anyway? You in love or something?”
“Ugh, Sandy! Go away and manage something.”
“I’m managing you, girl,” she laughs. “You’re different lately. I like that.”
I stare at the wall after she walks away. Why does everyone keep saying that? And yet no one … NO ONE has said anything about the fact that I’m not a walking Honey Bun anymore.
I make it two more weeks, covering Lyndee Anthony’s shortcomings with Judah’s words. Everyone grieves differently.
But it’s her laughter that changes everything for me.
I no longer see her as Nevaeh’s mother, because, after all, Vola Fields was Mo’s mother, and that didn’t give her a minute of pause when she beat him. I see her instead as a possibility. Is there a possibility that she is tied to Nevaeh’s death? Her boyfriend? Her negligence? Her hands?
Nevaeh looked at me with years in her eyes. She had the young, fresh face of a child, the kind that should always be suntanned, and dimpled, and kissed, but instead her eyes held all the years of a seriously damaged adult. I hated the world for her. I wished someone had seen the years in my eyes when I was her age, and loved me for them. I hate that her father didn’t claim her, not even when she went missing, and then only when he could get something out of it. I hate that nothing can be done about the suffering of children, and that most of the world blocks out their suffering to cope with their own inability to help. The few who carry the burden, like social workers and teachers, become weary, burning out after only a few short years, forced to carry the weight that should be shared by a society. Children are vastly overlooked. Their importance underestimated by their size.
In my eighteen years I’ve heard the phrase children are resilient in passing, half a dozen times. But in books they tell you that a child’s personality is set by the time he is four years old. That gives parents a four-year window to mold and love accordingly. And thank God that my mother still loved me when I was four, that she only kept her distance later in my life, with the sum of who I was already set like a wobbly Jell-O mold. I can be shaken; I can have a mother reject me over and over, and still I remain someone who is accustomed to love, enough to still seek it out. I desire a deep connection because I have had a deep connection. Reject me, and I’ll look elsewhere. I’ll just cast less and less of my pearls before swine each time.
THE POLICE ARREST LYNDEE ANTHONY on December 27th. Delaney saw it all go down. She says that when they brought Lyndee out of the house—handcuffed and in a T-shirt with her daughter’s photo on it—her face was as peaceful as if they were escorting her to Sunday lunch. Her arrest sent the Bone into a rage. Lyndee had already lost her child, now the police were bringing murder charges against the bereaving mother. The Bone was sick of the persecution of the poor. Sick of not being seen, then being seen for the wrong thing.
Within hours of her arrest, someone had graffiti’d the side of the Wal-Mart that faces the highway with ‘Lyndee is innocint!’ I cringe when I see it. I have my doubts about her innocence, though no one else seems to. I remember what Knick Knack told me about the sleeping pills. And there’s something about her face when no one is watching. But to everyone else, she is a representation of the system trying to hurt you, and all of those who have been hurt rally behind her. Sometimes I wonder if half of her supporters even know what she is being accused of, or if they are just looking for a reason to be mad. Either way, T-shirts pop up all over the Bone. Green ones that say ‘Lyndee is Innocent!’ I am relieved that someone got the spelling right this time.
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