A little chunk of my brain cells died recently, I'm certain of it. And when they did they went out with a big fiery explosion, red and hot, loud like a freight train that rumbled through, shaking the windows and leaving me with a distinct palpable image in my mind.
It was the image of Fresca. For no reason at all, except that perhaps I have a big tumor like John Travolta in Phenomenon, a tumor caused by the gamma rays that my alien neighbors shoot through my bedroom window at night.
The image of the Fresca was followed quickly by a memory of my mother working in a greenhouse shortly after my parents divorced. She worked for a dirty old man that one time slapped her on the butt when she bent over to pick up a flower pot. Except what Mr. Sexual Harassment didn't know is that getting slapped on the butt is something my mother wouldn't tolerate from ANYONE including the husband she had just divorced. He figured it out about five seconds after my mom turned around and punched him right in the jaw and said, "You won't be doing that again." I asked her later if she got fired. She said, "No, but I did get a raise."
For some reason men really dig my mom.
After school I would get off the bus and walk to the greenhouse. There were two other girls my age who lived nearby and would walk with me for a little while. I was ten and still learning the ropes of social adeptness. I was ten and learning to live without my father and my brothers. I was ten and riding a new school bus with new people and walking to my mom's new job.
The bus door creaked open and we three climbed down the stairs too big for our legs and watched the bus drive away. We walked and chattered 10-year-old girl chatter. We passed one house and Maria waved goodbye and went home. Jill walked further with me and as we walked she asked me if I liked her better than Maria.
Even in my 10-year-old social ineptitude I understood on a primal level the question was a dangerous one. I also sensed it wasn't a fair or appropriate question. What I didn't know was how to answer the question, because the problem is the answer was NO. I didn't like her better. I found her shallow and annoying. But I cared about her feelings despite her character flaws.
And because I was ten... I lied. Maybe it was weakness, maybe it was fear, maybe I just didn't know how to answer the question gracefully. The simple fact is I told her I did like her better and the lie laid so heavy on my shoulders that my mother could see the ghost that haunted me and gave me a quarter to go buy a Fresca from the Coke box -- the kind where you open the glass door and pull the bottle out.
The next day Maria approached me with confusion on her face, saying Jill told her I liked her better than Maria. Traitorous bitch, I thought. Well, not really, because I was only ten and I didn't know yet what a traitorous bitch was. But it would have been something like that. Or it might have just been, "Oh man, my mom is right, lying DOES always catch up with you."
I don't remember how the story ends (because I think this is right about the point those brain cells did actually take their last breath before screaming away into the night), except I'm pretty sure I confessed the lie. If she were sophisticated she would have realized not only that I was a liar, but also weak of character.
But it was also a pivotal moment because I learned that a lie is unsatisfying and the fruits of a lie are poison. And I also learned that fear is unproductive. Months later I proved that when I organized an uprising of all the girls in my neighborhood to stand up against a boy bully. Like a little Norma Rae, I stood up on a rock and incited the girls to riot, to stick together, to say "from this day forward you are not the boss of us". For a 10-year-old girl it was a darn fine St. Crispin's Day speech before we were off to war.
A friend of mine once said she never liked the term "best friend". I think it's because it indicates some hierarchy where ultimately a friend who is good and loyal and true is somehow labeled less than "best". Until my friend remarked on that term I'd never thought about it before.
I'm not sure there is such a thing as a best friend. Isn't it just the best friend for that particular job? The best friend to complain to about your boyfriend or your family life? The best friend to complain to about your job or your parents or your dog who just ate the cushions of your new couch? And the friend who helps clean you up after you got drunk and puked all over yourself may not be the same friend you call to help you weigh your future life options. Is one of those best or just different?
I think my friend's observation is keen (and wise) and worth thinking about. Which might be why some of my brain cells died.