If I had to pick a sport I’d pick gymnastics or track, something you can do alone, maybe tennis because even though you play it with other people, you’re responsible for your own success or failure. I guess this doesn’t make me much of a team player, or that’s what a coach would say, and I’d have to say, “Okay I guess maybe you’re right, so maybe not everyone is meant to be on a team.” One thing people do say about me is that I have guts. Like, if you ask me to climb a really tall tree to get some kid’s balloon, or run an obstacle course and climb a really high wall, or walk across a lake on a monkey bridge, I’ll do it in a second and I won’t back down when the going gets rough. That’s one thing a coach once said about me that was true, that I could be counted on when the going gets rough. In some ways though, this is a problem, because I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility (my therapist says) and I should probably just let people take care of themselves more often.
I don’t really get why guys are supposed to be all sporty just because they’re guys. I don’t think that should make people wonder about someone, like Sam or some other boys, just because they don’t like what other people like, sports, or say they like. I know it’s not what most people think, or are supposed to think, but there are lots of things I think that other people don’t. Like about eating lunch alone, what’s so bad about that? I prefer my own company to most people so why would I want to eat lunch with someone I don’t even necessarily like just to avoid being alone? It doesn’t make sense, except for maybe some people don’t like themselves that much and so they need constant company to keep from thinking about it. Sam has a different lunch period than me, so I eat alone a lot. I would say I am an expert on the subject.
Sam really is kind of beautiful. He’d be mad if he knew I was saying so, but it’s true. I, on the other hand, could never imagine myself growing up to be beautiful at least not until I met the drifter and she convinced me I was “exotic” and that it was much more interesting than “standard” beauty. Sam confirmed it and now I almost believe it, almost. I have a very well defined nose; that’s another way of saying “not cute”; that’s another way of saying “big.” My mom says I will grow into it, but I heard your nose keeps growing all your life, what a nightmare. I also have really dark red hair, which I hate, but I guess I shouldn’t, or don’t anymore, because if I didn’t I might never have met the drifter.
I was standing at the corner of Medau and Moraga Boulevard waiting for the bus home. This is in front of the liquor store that doesn’t sell alcohol to kids. The one on Mountain Boulevard does because there’s a twenty-one year old there who will sell it to you through the back door if you give him a few extra bucks, or if you’re pretty enough. I know all this because my brother’s girlfriend always gets it for them. I’m never going to drink alcohol because my mother does and it’s really made a mess of her life, but that’s off the subject.
I was standing there and I hear this woman say, “Where’d you get your pretty red hair?”
At first, I ignored the voice, even though I knew she meant me (nobody has redder hair than I do) because I’ve always been taught to ignore strangers who talk to you on the street. But, when she walked around and stood right in front of me so that I couldn’t ignore her, I really had no choice but to at least acknowledge her presence.
She was stunning. She had really long black hair, all kinky and falling down in ringlets to her waist. It shined in the rain like the polished black Japanese table in our living room when the sun comes in the window. Her eyes were big and dark green. Her skin was tan and she was so thin and delicate. Her mouth was wide like mine and she had really big front teeth like a horse, but they looked good on her even though there was a big gap between them. She wore army fatigue pants and an olive green tank top and a black leather aviator jacket. She was flat-chest-ed, almost completely and the bones in her neck were very sharp, causing the thin silver chain hanging there to jut out over her collar bone. Her skin was smooth and flawless, unlike mine, which gets red blotches whenever I make the slightest move toward exerting myself, like if I pick up a pencil or something. She carried a brown leather rucksack and the only jewelry she wore was that long thin silver chain around her neck with a medal of the Virgin hanging from it. I recognized it from First Communion, they gave them out – cheap, silver colored metal with a blue plastic oval covering a pressed image of the Virgin Mary. Her stomach, of course was wide and flat as a pancake and her hips were wide and flat too. Mine are already round (womanly, my mother says) I hate them! And I already had to start wearing a bra in sixth grade, which is a real pain, but I had to because my old best friend, from like the third grade on, stopped talking to me and wouldn’t tell me why and I had to find out from another friend that it was because I needed a bra and didn’t know it.
Judy was one of those goddesses I knew I’d never be and I couldn’t help looking at her and wondering why she would ever be talking to me. I think maybe my mouth was hanging open because she said,
“Hey, be careful, you’ll catch flies in there.”
I shut my mouth and swallowed.
“I was wondering,” she said again, “where you got that gorgeous hair?”
“You think it’s pretty?” I figured she was just being nice, but then, why say anything at all?
“It’s like a sunset on the Nile River.” She said.
“You’ve been to Egypt?”
“Thousands of times.”
Well, I knew she couldn’t have really been to Egypt thousands of times. She wasn’t very old. Maybe twenty, but I said, “Wow” anyway, like I was totally buying it, the compliment about my hair, the Nile River, all of it.
“Yeah, Egypt’s pretty cool, so where’d you get it? Is it Clairol?”
“No,” I said, and couldn’t help running my fingers through it, like I was actually proud of my ugly red hair, “it’s natural.”
“Wow,” she said, “the boys really must go for you.”
“Not really,” I said, “but I’m kind of young to have boyfriend’s anyway.”
“Sixteen isn’t too young to have boyfriends.”
“No, I’m thirteen.”
“Get real.” She said, as if she was really surprised, “Thirteen, no way, you look like you’ve been through way too much to be only thirteen.”
Well, I wasn’t sure how she knew this or what she meant exactly, but she was right. I had been through way too much stuff for a thirteen year old, due to my family and all, but that’s off the subject again.
“My name’s Judy, want to get some coffee?”
“Sure.” I shrugged. I didn’t know what else to say, so…
Next thing I knew we were at Round Table Pizza and having coffee, only Judy was actually having a beer and I was actually having a coke and I was paying for it because she had no money.