The atheist that goes to church. The lady that won’t fit in the airplane seat. The good father that got taken away in a crash, the drug dealer who won the lottery, the innocent incarcerated, the guilty that walk free, the genius with OCD, the neighbors whom you have helped who then steal from you, the raccoons I didn’t mean to run over, the plastic bags that kill the fish, the paper bags that kill the trees, rescue volunteers lost at sea, the idiot savant musician, water with no land, deserts with no water, mountains with no air, that not every dwelling can face south, gifts bestowed upon the ungrateful or gifts given with an agenda, false-flattering con men, people who got in on quotas while your stellar test scores meant nothing, the lonely that cannot reach out, the ones who want to be alone but never have any peace, the rich girl who still put gum in your hair, those born too early, those born too late, the good people watching people they love suffer while assholes never notice or care yet then inherit a fortune, babies that get shot in the face, where is it, tell me where exists this equality? Is equal fair? Is it even possible?l If it were even possible to find some splinter of joy, would she have to steal it? Or would it even be stealing if she had paid enough in pain along the way? Was it natural to be suspicious of anything or anyone actually at least mostly good? If there were any way to ‘steal happiness’ she would do it while she still could. She had done it, and would do it again.
These people she was thinking of, from so long ago, why were they reappearing now when they had been sucked into the vortex of unmemory, why had they arisen now, unwanted spectres telling their not funny jokes, singing along with every song from every band she didn’t like, hordes of them, young ones with their rock concert t-shirts and way-too-old press-on attitude “life sucks then you die” “the one with the most toys wins” older ones with their endless girlfriend- placating/reassurances “I wouldn’t even know what to do in a strip club” or “I didn’t even know I was at a nude beach, really these days you can’t tell.” The first was awful because they believed their world-weary stoner cliches, the second was awful because other people believed them.
It was a long bike ride and while it was great, if one stopped, within minutes the cold sea air would set in, making one’s clothes damp and freezing. It wasn’t technically all that cold at between 40-50 compared to other places so why did it feel colder than when she was in the mountains at much lower temperatures? The dry, crisp cold of six thousand feet was preferable. Even when one did keep moving, the more one sweated, the worse the recovery from warmth back to cold was. How could it not be freezing yet steam was coming off her indoors and she could see her breath more often than not. On the coast, wool was one’s friend, as bulky and uncool as it was, it stayed warm and didn’t get soggy with the dampness.
With the advent of the internet she did find out what had happened to one of her childhood friend, the one with this skin disease, impetigo, which made all the other cruel little bastards treat her like a leper. She worked for some health-care giant and had turned into a very big girl, but not in the way her mother was, likely almost 6 feet tall with sensible, blunt-cut hair and a gap between her teeth and heavy tweed skirts, beige shirts, things that looked like a cross between a camp counselor and a prison guard. She knew her friend’s family weren’t actually Officially Poor, though no one who lived in that same modest tract-home development had much. Not like now. Her father vaguely resembled the father that killed himself on that show ‘bewitched’, Darren.
During the time her friend’s parents were splitting up, the parents came up with some kooky plan to take us all on some field trip of their own to somewhere ‘fun’ – a place that I can’t remember now, some amusement park type place, or maybe it was just pee-wee golf. I don’t remember any fun, I don’t even remember what it was or what we did there- only that some of us got to go with the mom on the ride back and some of us had to go with the dad. Those of us that went with the dad did not have a fun trip back. I heard the mom’s bunch didn’t get back till hours later and had stopped somewhere for food. We didn’t stop anywhere, we just listened to the dad swear under his breath while driving and telling us to shut up and feeling somewhat afraid and wishing we never went. He had that same slicked back creepy hair as Darren too.
Checking out, checking in. She wouldn’t believe what the head-shrink said. Just because she thought the sound was coming from somewhere else and asked ‘are you hungry?’ when her stomach growled, just because she sometimes used ‘she’ and ‘I’ interchangeably, just because it took a second sometimes for her head to catch up to her body didn’t mean she had lost it, that she indeed was ‘dissociated’ or had some unfixable ‘disorder’ . And just because she had dodged a few bullets doesn’t mean she saw them coming. If the bullet was big enough, there was really no way to dodge it.
A bullet like the secrets that had been kept from her for so many years. Secrets she had never learned directly but that she had figured out. Sure, things made more sense now, but they still sucked. She was not like them, and actually had now not spoken to them in years. There were parents out there who kept promises, parents who actually got up in the morning with their kids so they wouldn’t OD on Flintstones and baby aspirin. There probably were parents who didn’t think it was ok if their 12 year old daughter went up to the middle school after hours to talk and smoke with the 30 year old janitor who had other ideas. They probably wouldn’t have let that go on a week, let alone for two years. There were parents who didn’t stay up all night getting drunk and parents who let their kid’s friends come over. There were parents who didn’t drag their 16 year old out of a high school dance , screaming about them being ‘on drugs’ because there were a couple of no-doze in their teenager’s purse.
Some of their friends she now disliked retroactively, not because they were annoying hippies who talked about astrology but because of the things she had figured out about them and what their various connections were to her parents. Now little comments, and even digs they took at each other made sense. Now she knew why they had to drive up to the farm in Petaluma and sit in the car for hours, while her parents took turns going into the house. They were friends,then they weren’t friends, then they were friends again. The guy with the plate in his head from the war that lived with us, the schoolteacher who was always patting her hair and looking uncomfortable. She looked back and hated the effing 70’s. Long jean jackets, floppy hats, feathered hair, big combs sticking out of the back pockets of bell-bottoms. Awful fringed vests.
Another friend,not the one with the skin condition- had older, boring parents that she coveted. Her friend’s mom watched lawrence welk. Her dad wore a mechanic’s blue coverall thing and hung out in the garage and smoked. He used this stuff called wildroot to grease back whatever hair he had left. They had a certain food for every day of the week. The friend spent every sunday from 10 am to 2 pm writing down the top 40 which then went into a binder- she had been doing this for years. Calling her on the phone during that time period would elicit a panic every time the commercial break was about to end and the next song would be announced. This friend was somewhat like a girl she knew now, whom if asked a difficult question, answered it in a somewhat sing-songy way, as if the preschool teacher tone of voice made up for lack of content.
This one, the younger version of the first would say things like “Are you judging me?” if any kind of debate arose. We had to be in total agreement. I was willing to be wrong, to not have an opinion if I didn’t know enough but this seemed silly to her. She seemed to have this middle-of-the-road pat answer for all the ills of the world that often started with “people should..” She often seemed to try to work at finding things that she said she liked probably because I did but somehow it didn’t feel real.It could have been she just needed a ride somewhere and didn’t have anything better to do, but I didn’t really care. I believed she did like me, at least as much as she could. There was a certain quality of relaxedness about hanging out with her because it was just so predictable.
Friend one, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time, my own fault- maybe I felt like I didn’t want to burden her with my life, or didn’t have it in me to try to live up to hers- and friend 2 were very into brand-name things, and just like on the commercials, both said it was because they trusted them- like accepting anything else would somehow be demeaning. How was it that both of them routinely would go to parties, and report back they got so drunk they dyed their hair blue and puked and passed out, yet if anything slightly deviated from their routine, or was even questioned, they would get all snippity – as if somehow part of their life they had sort of shellacked into place, endless memento collages and photos and cutsey clutter, like fluffy cat phone holders and framed rock album covers and best friend half heart necklaces and and the other part was like playing Russian roulette with a wasted dr kevorkian while telling him you didn’t care if tomorrow came or not. It wasn’t equal, these friendships.
Nothing was ‘equal’ in actuality, and likely, nothing was ‘fair’ either. Because of this recognition that usually accompanied that ever-present sense of mortality, when the scales even momentarily tipped in her favor, she would notice, she would appreciate, and she would reciprocate and then some even if it meant doing without something else. For now, the down blanket on some other neighbor’s discarded leather sofa meant warmth. The pervasive sense of calm would usually last a few days and she would sleep deeply in the quiet wake of what had started to feel like a protracted exorcism.