Saturday, January 17, 2009

childhood bystander.

Miss Kathy is dead in my dream. I am talking to Danielle. Sunny blonde Danielle, girl across the street with the round cheeks, ringlet curls, eyes blue and daring, a bear laugh that is fast to erupt, just like her temper. My first childhood friend, first best friend I ever had. Fair blonde girl and dark brunette, playing together. Three, four, five years old, on until we stopped. Just like that. Sometime in 6th or 7th grade.

We are grown now. In her house, talking, and I am staring out of the sliding glass doors at the swimming pool that I swam in so long before. It is a surreal moment. To be face-to-face with this friend, whose life turned so different than my own in spite of the ranch style homes that also stand face-to-face in the same 1970s subdivision.

Danielle is telling me her mother is dead. And all I can remember is how beautiful she was to me with her copper hair worn curled by large hot rollers. Listened to country music in the long white car, maybe a Lincoln Town Car. Maybe it was midnight blue. Smoked cigarettes while she drove, and used the little metal ashtray that pulled out of the dashboard. I think Marlboro’s.

I am talking to Danielle. Or she is talking to me. About how she took care of Miss Kathy all these past years. About her older half-sister who is divorced now. It makes me want to cry. To feel so distant from this girl and her life, and yet so privileged to it, a bystander. The swimming pool is out there like a big rectangle cube of sunken Jell-O. How many times did I dive in? Slide down the slide? Do headstands in the water, same blue as Danielle’s eyes?

Laura-the-sister grown and not here. No posters of Rick Springfield above her headboard. Danielle’s dad, Pete-the-plumber, is wherever he went to live after the divorce that happened around the time we weren’t friends anymore. Her mother dead. Tina, the big fat black cat who terrified me, dead too. Dead for years and years, died when I was still a kid living across the street. And all the other cats that lived here. Dead.

Danielle, herself divorced. Danielle-who-struggled-to-spell-right-in-kindergarten, and then Danielle-who-struggled-to-finish-college-and-never-did, the would-be-sports medicine-therapist, her-dead-mother’s-caretaker. Alone now, same exact age as I am.

I remember vaguely when her parents fought, shouts echoed throughout the neighborhood, or at least down our street. Maybe just across to my house. Then sirens and light, police cars and ambulances arriving. How many times did it happen? Once? A hundred? I never asked her about these nights.

It felt like I lived at her house and she lived at my house. Connect Four. Visits to her Nanny's house. Crawfish on her kitchen table. Arguments in my backyard, when she pulled my hair, and I pulled hers. Her peeing in my bed when she slept over. Knocking on our door during dinner time, an hour after dinner time at her house, so she could eat a second meal with us.

I want to know if Miss Kathy’s manicure room is still beside the kitchen, if it still smells like polish and chemicals. If her at-home business went on for years, or if she quit it when her legs quit. But I am quiet.

This is only a dream. I don’t know if it’s true. If the degenerative disease that took her legs and put her in a wheelchair has finally taken her. I think it was a disease. If I could, I would unwind time so her legs never went either.

Miss Kathy tried to get me to dance at a wedding reception once. Shy me. Don’t you know how to do a line dance? Want me to show you? Clarence Carter, Strokin’ is what plays in my head. Back when her legs were not rotten, she was a good dancer. I watched her that day. Sometime in the 1980s. Smile across her face, trying to tempt me to dance.

I used to peek out of our window, stare at the parked car when Laura’s boyfriend pulled up to drop her off after a date. They stayed in the car for what seemed hours. I couldn’t see much, but I imagined. Light of a street lamp casting orange haze around the car. Laura making out with her high school sweetheart, Frankie. The one she married after college. Big Catholic wedding.

I hope the dream is a only a dream. That they are not divorced. That Miss Kathy is alive, her face is still beautiful, her hair is still red with soft plump curls. Danielle is happy and not alone.

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