The cans, filled with sand and heated on the makeshift wood-stove, had finally warmed and begun to give off heat. I placed a ceramic cup filled with milk on top of one of them, taking care that it was not the hottest one or the cup would crack and the milk would be wasted. She had arranged the refrigerator so that she knew what was what even without much light, so a gallon of orange juice would not be confused in the dark for the one full of milk. This is how the blind must do it, she thought. The glass being half-empty or half-full was a common saying, but how would the blind know when to stop pouring? The old microwave made the milk half-hot and half-cold and this neither/not she did not like.
She reached into the stove with her metal stick and stirred what was left of the crumbles of the fire-log, thus temporarily brightening the room. Looking across a long, narrow valley, there was nothing but an occasional streetlight. Well, it was the middle of the night. She imagined the good people of the town, in a kind of collective snoring and as she looked out at their dwelling, felt as if she were looking in on them, as one would a child. Sometimes she felt as if she could hear them cry, in a way, or rage, or sense their happiness, or worries.
She could always tell if someone was behind her or nearby, or even casting a glance on the rare occasion she was out getting supplies. Why then, when she stood in the window like a sentinel, did they never see her, whether in the full light of day or back-lit by the fire? How is it she could move right next to them, ride her bike right behind them and they did not sense her?
Sorting through a trunk that had some old clothes in it, she thought of someone that she used to know in college. How this person would trade in excessive superficiality and copycat-ism because likely she had not established enough of a real self. She collected all the accoutrements of the time, had big hair-sprayed bleach blonde hair, spiked wristbands. She didn’t care much about having all kinds of people she didn’t know that well at her apartment, or if she partied till sick or spent all her money on coke or the latest style of leather jacket.
The apartment seemed to be decorated with head-shop memorabilia, from elaborate colorful glass pot bongs to silver spoons strangely juxtaposed with girlie childish stuff, like black and pink stuffed kitties and assorted zebra-print seat covers. There were rock-fan books and concert programs, but no books in evidence.
Was all this even real or just the result of an unimaginative false and handy construction? Looking back from this far, she could see how her friend was perceived as much more ‘fun’. It didn’t make sense though. How could someone
only care about motley crue, boyfriend(s) drama, wasting money and drugs, yet be in these same classes and why did she even want to hang around me? Looking back, why did I ever want to hang around her? Maybe because it seemed she could do whatever she wanted. Her dad still paid the rent on her large 2 bedroom, 2 bath (plus walk in closet!) tower apartment near the college, maybe because it was rent-controlled, maybe because he didn’t want her to follow him to the outskirts of the east bay. Her mother was dead, some kind of illness. Though my own mother was creepy and cold-blooded, I still felt bad for her because of this, though it seemed as though she used the fact as a quick lever for sympathy rather than actually talking about things she remembered about her mom, or her qualities. I didn’t get this then- it was one of those things you can only figure out later, after one has lived more life and heard stories from more people.
The things we learn only over time. There were other people that came later- as ‘friends’ kind of well, similarly untrustable in the same way. Similarly indirect and weaselly in their approach to others, always angling to give out as little of themselves as possible. The inevitable pause when asked a common, innocuous question. The way they were selfish about the tiniest of things even after receiving much more “oh can I have my hair rubber-band back?” and much more concerned with arranging their rock/drug/mall memorabilia and keeping that in order than the well-being of their friends. How I actually believed at the time a phone call out of the blue saying “I miss you” actually meant ‘I’m calling to check where you are, I’m calling cause I want something, etc’.
Why then, when she had more money, more freedom, more ‘friends’ of whatever type than I did, why did she start to copy me, why did she want whatever I had, when I had so little? Why did she hear a terrible and true story from myself and then, later take the opportunity to make that story worse? She was awful and cruel and manipulative and fake but around the time I realized this was, I also realized all these things could easily come without a high degree of intelligence. She tole when she could have simply asked and received, or ‘earned’ most minimally. She lied when lying wasn’t necessary. Her lies were imitative, almost lifetime movieish in all their self-righteous, reproachful horror -“I’m terrified” “this is the worst thing/greatest thing I’ve ever done” Blah blah blah. I’m surprised she didn’t affect a British accent.
But for all the fake sweetness and continual lying, she didn’t get or perhaps it never occurred to her that one of her pawns could ever exceed her level of shining people on. Perhaps not in the same exact way that ‘friend’ did it, perhaps in a far more low-key, inscrutable way. ‘Friend’ went for the covert, yet spur-of-the-moment and hastily-slapped together. Even then, I looked at her betrayal as a kind of ‘art of war’ opportunity, though at that time I knew nothing of either Machiavelli or Sun Tzu. At that point, I hated her enough to accept that in order to avenge- it wasn’t really revenge, it was more complex than that- that I too, would bleed.