I’d seen her do that before.
The gun aimed at me.
And them something happened. Like a plug finally connecting into a working outlet. At first it was just a sputter of light and images. But then it grew into a steady flowing stream that once it got started developed into full fledged rapids, that once you floated into them, there was no getting out. Wave after wave flooded into my mind.
It was the very first.
It wouldn’t be the last.
“Just one more time, Ray. I promise. I won’t ask again, but I have nowhere else to go.”
It’s the third time in a month my best friend has come to my bedroom window in the middle of the night and asked me to sneak her in. It breaks my heart, but this time I’ve decided I have to tell her no.
“I can’t. Not this time…and not anymore. What if my dad catches you? He said he’s going to call the cops. Besides, you can’t keep climbing up the tree and coming to my window in the middle of the night. What if Sammy was here?”
“Sammy is here?!” she exclaims loudly. She looks past me into my dark room. Sammy is at Tanner’s and once again she was listening to every other word I said. “Sammy loves his auntie! Hey Sammy! It’s me! Your auntie is here!”
“SSSHHHHH! No, he’s not here, but you’re going to wake up the whole house!” I don’t want to scold her like she is a toddler. I want to talk to her like we used to. I want to have a regular conversation with her like she is still the girl I bonded with when I was four years old. The girl I went to preschool with, the girl I got my first detention with because we talked too much in class. But that best friend, that girl I’ve known my whole life, no longer exists, and in her place is a person I don’t recognize.
Her once auburn hair is now some strange shade of reddish purple. Her once bright green eyes are glazed over and unfocused. And for someone who used to take ballet very seriously and who moved around with ease and grace, she is now as jittery as if she’d downed several pots of coffee. Her nails look as if she has chewed them down to the cuticles.
“So, you don’t want me around your son now?” She crosses her arms over her chest but sways. Reaching out she grabs onto a tree branch for support so she doesn’t topple to the ground. Part of me wants to let her in just so she doesn’t fall and break her neck.
“No. I don’t.” Usually I dance around the truth with her and normally I would say something like ‘Of course, I want you around him, but…’ and make something up. But I’d danced that dance and sang that song for too long and I’ve been watching my best friend withdraw from me more and more, sinking lower and lower into drugs and sex.
It started out as just another teenage girl rebelling against her strict parents. Our freshman year of high school she’d sneak out in the middle of the night and go to parties the seniors were throwing. She’d get drunk. She’d get high. She’d hook up with boys in our school.
I don’t want to cut her out of my life, but I remind myself that this girl isn’t the friend I’ve always known, the one who was more family to me than my drunk of a mother or my controlling father had ever been. But nothing I’d done has worked. She’d been to rehab three times already. During the third time, she didn’t even bother completing her ninety-day stint, and on the day she turned eighteen, she’d signed herself out and walked out.
That’s when her parents cut her off for good. That’s also when she started disappearing. I wouldn’t hear from her for weeks at a time. Then months. Sometimes I thought she was dead and then she’d appear out of nowhere, looking thinner and thinner. Her clothes shabbier. Her hair more brittle. Her skin covered with pock marks and scratches. Dirt caked under her nails. She’d confess to me that she’d been living on the streets. By the time she disappeared again with whatever money I could scrounge up, she’d just appear again at another time, even worse off than before.
“Fine, I won’t come in,” she says, “but I’m starving. Can I have some money? Just enough to last a week or so. Maybe a hundred?. For food.”
“If you’re hungry I can make you some food and bring it out to you, but no more money.” I am so close to cracking, but I hold strong.
“But…” Her lower lip starts to tremble. “Skinny will kill me if I don’t have money for him. I’m supposed to give him fifty bucks tonight, but I don’t have it. I spent it on a cab to come here…to see you.” There it is. The guilt. And it works because I am about to tap into the last of the birthday money from the great grandmother I’ve never met and hand it over to her.