by MD Maurice
A short story about a woman dealing with the loss of a young friend
|You ask me, in the softest of voices, if I remember.
I wish with all my heart that you would not do this. I wish you would not ask me to go back, through the memories of us. I fear that if you force me to, I may discover the moment when I could have saved you and that it will haunt me forever.
In the privacy of my own recollection, I have often sought that place in our shared past where your salvation hung precariously over my head. Did I miss it? Did I ignore it? Was my inaction merely ignorance? When had I known enough truth and had it already been too late? The questions plague me. My heart aches with the weight of not knowing.
You look up from your bed and implore me with tired eyes. You take my hand, stroke it with frail fingers and ask me again if I remember...
I can see you clearly in front of the mirror, spinning slowly on your toes, just nine years old. You are checking your already flawless reflection while I watch with a mixture of jealousy and complete adoration. You are a child. A mischievous plastered on your delicate features as you modeled too-big shoes and your mother’s sagging dresses. You had already mastered the poses and postures far more suited for an older soul. It would not be long before you traded in those play clothes for the outfits cut to flatter and reveal curves I never possessed.
You were something of a wonder to me, wizened somehow, knowing things other girls did not. You would tell me delicious secrets under the covers at night and I’d cup my hands over my ears and squeal in mock disgust. We would laugh over the private, special things you knew about boys and men. Even as new anxiety pounded in my ears, I’d cuddle close and ask the urgent questions for which you always had answers. My sexual coming of age was born on your back. I delighted in your freedom and decadence. I was your mousy shadow, you my beautiful and vibrant friend.
Then there were the times that I burned for you. Moments came when I would catch a glimpse of the ugly world that gave you your depth. I would see the way you would jump when your father called to you from the back room. I remember the way your eyes would go dead when I would fawn over another new doll he had bought you. There were always beautiful new dolls. Those dolls would end up discarded in piles in the back of your closet, their fingers broken and their perfect porcelain faces marred by fist-sized holes. Years too late, I would come to understand the horrible price you paid for such trinkets. I realized too late how important those nights were when you would stay over my house. I failed to see the significance how deeply you slept and how gratefully you clung to me in my narrow little bed.
When we were older, I would hear the names they called out to you from dark corners of the halls at school. You always acted as if you had not heard, walking past your faceless assassins and ignoring their dirty labels with your beautiful head held high. It was only later and sometimes without warning, you would crumble into anguished tears and I could do nothing to comfort you. Those times when your misery threatened to consume you, I stood by anxious and aching for you. My lack of comprehensive rendered me impotent and useless.
Standing before another mirror, you looked back at me with anxious eyes. I gave you the approval you so desperately craved and fetched your coat like a faithful servant. There was a distant doorbell. You rushed to leave but stopped, turned back and drew me close. The honey-soaked scent of you filled my empty spaces. Our foreheads touched and your face was a perfectly painted mask with quiet, hungry hazel pools. I laughed at your gravity and pushed you out the door to the waiting boy with jet-black hair and brutal eyes. He took you by the arm and lead you out into the night. I pushed you forward into the secret pleasures and dark desires of our dangerous youth without ever once thinking, I might have saved you then, at sweet sixteen.
This is the worst part of our time line, thinking back to these moments when I knew I was safe in your shadow and reveled in stolen afterglow. I feed off your sin like a parasite for many years until I found sanctuary, love untainted and pure. You never knew the joy of this. Your loves were found in rough hands and heated whispers that carried no tender words or promises. You found your loves in the worn back seats of ugly cars and in heavy, smoke-filled rooms with ratty couches. Your lovers plied you with filthy needles and fistfuls of colored pills. I lost you to the world of broken dreams and that world chewed you up and vomited you back out into the void.
These are not the memories you want from me now. I know because your eyes are on mine again, wide with hope but shrouded with your pain. I struggle through the curtains of my guilt, to the time before.
Yes, my sweet friend, I do remember. I gently squeeze your hand.
There was the time when we were together in a world of puzzles and playgrounds, picnics and parties. I take you back to my sun-dabbled porch, the sweet smelling grass like a plush carpet under our bare feet. I take you back to the time of tea parties with dolls dressed in frilly pink dresses with painted china lips. You have my pretty white pet rabbit in your lap and we lick pink frosting from tiny vanilla cupcakes. We don the hats we made, festooned with ribbons, and dance with our imaginary princes at the top of the hill by the house. We make kissy noises into our palms and thrown ourselves down, laughing, our rolling bodies collapsing against each other at the bottom. You are far, far away from your painfully thin body, slowly dying between the starched white hospital sheets. You closed your eyes and I know you remember too, that you are there now in that rosy world of sunshine and smiles. You are six years old and there is an eternal smile on your lovely face. That same smile graces your face now as you quietly slip away from me at the age of twenty-six.