Note: First appeared in Seattle Daylight Writers in 2011.
When you are a teenage girl, not a single person on earth understands the depth of your thoughts or the intensity of your longing. Not a single person on earth, that is, save one, your best friend. She knows you inside and out. Knows your thoughts before you think them, how you feel the moment you wake in the morning and the secret things you think before you manage to sleep each night. She’s the one that manages to always call just moments after a fight with your father. Her first love lost hurts as though it’s your first love lost. Her things are your things and your things are her things and all the money between you belongs to whatever adventure you both can dream up this weekend. When your limbs pile over each other on some couch where you both lounge to watch movies late into the night you reach to scratch the itch behind her knee. Closer than sisters. Than lovers.
It’s been 15 years since that time of terrible intimacy we shared as teenagers. Despite that, she's never appeared in any inky lines I've laid before. Tonight is the first time I've ever been able to write about her.
On Thursday she had a baby. Her first. Boy. Ten fingers, ten toes, healthy cry. Perfect. Her husband sent out the text messages, posted the cell phone pictures on line. We all rejoiced, clicked and commented. Friday she went home. Happy family. So blessed and thankful. Then she started imaging smashing her baby against the wall. Dropping him out their Queens apartment window. Smothering him with the laced-edged pillow. Sunday night, she was admitted to the psych unit.
How do I tell her this is normal? How do I tell her, or anyone, that when I birthed my daughter, I begged the nurse not to give her to me. I had a bad reaction to the drugs, to life. How could I be trusted with such a pitiful thing? I was terrified that she would be placed on my lap and I wouldn't react like I was supposed to, wouldn't feel a rush of love like every normal new mother. Wouldn't care. Wouldn't be able to control my mind enough to narrow my focus and hold her in my grasp. Surely my arm would drop and baby would crash to the floor.
I couldn’t speak. The nurse put her in my lap. My mom undid my gown and positioned her to feed. My baby latched on and, thank God, I didn't sneer. I just sat there, my right breast hanging out, hair falling everywhere, gazing confused at my entire extended family standing all around. Mom and dad both watching me intently, but also shifting left and right. Before that moment, I’d never seen them in the same room at the same time. Life had been a perfectly choreographed dance of entrances and exits. This thing I’d just done had royally fucked the dance.
Mom said I was doing wonderfully. My baby ate. Everyone saw me half naked. I didn't make a face or swear or puke. Mom never knew the nurse was discretely holding my arm up on the other side of the bed the entire time.
Or maybe she did.
So now my best friend is in a psych ward in New York. Her four-day-old baby is at home with her perfect husband. I am in Seattle, drinking spoiled absinthe and searching the internet for cheap last minute flights.
Except, she isn't my best friend. Not anymore. Not since we were twenty-one and she let me walk the walk of shame alone. I'd just been raped. I was quitting our grand volunteer experiment called AmeriCorps to move to warmer state that held absolutely no memories. Everyone in the dorm knew my story, saw the police car drop me off, knew why I was packing boxes into my little Mazda truck. Each trip dragging my belongings up and down the hall meant seeing the entire story play out in their eyes. She could have helped me. It would have taken half the time. She didn't. She had email to check. I heard her laughing in the computer lab. We caught eyes once, just as I passed the door. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a helpless look. I promised myself I would never love her again.
So now, how is it that I can feel her hurting as though it were my own heart panicked and broken? Why do I feel my breath come too fast, my skin crawl, hear the hospital sounds all around me?
We did not invent betrayal. My mother once told me the story of the scorpion and turtle. In the middle of his ride across the river, the scorpion stung the turtle, causing them both to sink. Why, asked the turtle. It’s what is, said the scorpion.
I promised her husband that I'd wait for him to talk to her before I fly out—make sure it's the best thing for her. I’m deferring to his judgment. He has known her less than four years. I knew her when she was thirteen and stood a head taller than all of us and couldn’t get anyone to dance with her at homecoming. I knew her at seventeen when her father failed to visit her, again, and she pretended it had nothing to do with her. I knew her at twenty when she followed the alt rocker to a hot southern state and lived in his bed hoping the sex she gave him would make him love her for really real.
What difference will it make if I go? How could I possibly fix her in all the belated togetherness we can cram into two visiting hours? What stand can two little girls make against the wrongs done to us by our fathers? We grew up, got lovers and jobs, had children. But we are still seven and watching the road for cars that will never come--or doors that never open when things go too far and reveal a protective figure bathed in light come to swoop in and rescue us just when we need them.
We have thirty years each. That's sixty between us. Scared children on our own, but suitably wise women together. We create the world now. Now we make the love we hungered for as children. Right? What can one woman say to another to erase the abuse caused by men of ridiculously great importance to our youth? Maybe simply showing up on that side of the continent will make an impact.
After scouring ten sites glutted with overblown plane fares. I finally find a ticket in my reach. Only, I must wait until next week for this steal. Phone calls are made. Messages sent. My daughter will stay at her grandmother’s. Work projects can simply suck it.
There are a great many ways to waste time between what must be done and may be done. I can stretch the space between into virtual years. I run the river trail. I watch a movie. I climb Mt. Si after dark. I make love, then fight with my boyfriend. Make love again. I write a letter and don’t mail it. The first black president is sworn into office and an entire country vibrates with pride and pleasure. I forget to meet with my lawyer and he sends me an angry email detailing how valuable his time is. I forget to call and apologize. I take a long walk in the poor part of town, wearing Gucci heels and a Target dress. I don’t sleep. I stare out the window and feel her skin crawl.
In waiting to get to her, it a lifetime has passed.
Will I even be able to fix her just enough to go home to her newborn babe? Can pain be passed from one woman to another? May I hold it for her, just for a moment? Did the turtle ever forgive the scorpion?