She’s curled around her pillow, as far from my side of the queen size bed as she can get. She’s more than familiar with my violent sleeping habits, my snoring and my talking. Yet every time she visits, she still throws her overnight bag on my bedroom floor as if there is no guest room. I suppose to her there isn’t. We’ve been sharing the same bed since we were toddlers and, at almost 27, it doesn’t feel right to change now.
Last night we lay still in the dark, talking about random things and laughing. That’s my favorite thing about our relationship – the laughter. We’ve had fights I wasn’t sure we could recover from, months of silent anger, and personal tragedies that therapists salivate over. But no matter how bad it’s been, no matter how ugly the situation, we always laugh. And it’s not fake or hesitant or forced – it’s usually loud and obnoxious and over something everyone else in the world would find horrifically inappropriate or, simply not funny at all.
I need to get up and get in the shower, but I lay thinking and watching her instead. I always go first because it takes me longer. I’ve never quite figured out how she manages to bathe, put on makeup and blow-dry that horse’s mane of hers so fast. But she does nearly everything at warp speed and she does it hard, barreling through life like it’s a race. She works hard, plays hard, falls hard and, when she gets back up, she takes off running as hard and as fast as she can, determined to make up ground.
And me? I don’t run. I amble around looking at all the pretty colors, possibly jogging if I see something I really want in the distance, but rarely going fast enough to fall too hard. And if I do fall, I spend more time looking for detours to take my mind off the scrapes than accomplishing much forward motion. If “Doing Things Half-ass” was a highway, I’d Forest Gump that bitch on a regular basis.
We’ve a few things in common, of course. Some, I imagine, are due to being blood related and brought up in the same environment. Some are due to our age. And some, like the reason she’s here for this visit, are by chance and a choice.
She came to me because she knew I wouldn’t judge. How could I? There are three paths that fork off from this scenario, three possible choices, and I’ve taken two and walked a few steps down the third. She came to me because the choice she’s made can be intimidating – not just mentally and physically, but socially. We each have issues with worrying about what other people think, everyone does, and in this particular area, she’s the worrier and I’m the one telling people, “If you don’t like it, you can go fuck yourself”. She knows what she wants; she just needs me to support her. To hold her hand, make her laugh and drive her home.
I finally get up, get ready and pack the necessities: cookies, GPS, books and an attitude. I’ve been to these places a few times and protesters are always a possibility. I respect the right to say what you think and do what you want, but I don’t appreciate it being said or done with malice and a megaphone next to my ear. It’s possible to have an opinion and voice it without being a fanatic.
And this is how it’s done: If you want to save kids, go help a few already born and starving ones instead of wasting your time in a parking lot judging me. If you’d rather stand in the parking lot judging, then have at it, but don’t be surprised when the only difference you make is raising my blood pressure and my middle finger. That’s my opinion. I don’t shout it in anyone’s face and I generally only give it if I’m directly asked.
*****We’re ready early and I’m ok with that. My mother has been asking questions and giving us suspicious looks. We expected it, prepared for it with a story only slightly more plausible than the one we fed her before we took this trip as teenagers.
The first half of the drive is mainly country highways – long stretches of peach trees sprouting pink blooms and white clapboard roadside stands waiting to be filled. We talk about the peaches, we talk about summer and we talk about the father. She cares for him, but doesn’t love him. He’s comfortable and irritatingly doting, a good friend that she occasionally sleeps with that has much, much stronger feelings for her.
Listening to her describe their relationship is difficult. When I knew him only as the guy that’s obsessed with her, that she keeps telling it isn’t going to happen, it was much easier to make fun of him. Now, though, he just sounds pitiful and desperate...in love with someone that uses him without even fully realizing that’s what she’s doing. Now he just sounds like me, in the not so distant past. You can tell someone it isn’t going to happen all day long, but why should they believe you if you keep saying it with your pants down?
We attempt to lighten the mood as we transition from spring soaked countryside to busy highway. I tell her about an interesting message I received from an old flame and she tells me something similar, but in the end there’s no avoiding the subject at hand. The best we can do is make fun of it.
“Do you know what I hate”, she says. “I hate that pregnancy tests are so fucking happy. If it’s positive, you get a smiley face or a pink plus sign or, in my case, a giant YES with an exclamation mark. Don’t they think about the fact that half the people taking those tests don’t want exclamation marks?”
“Exactly”, I reply, laughing in agreement, remembering that there was no exclamation mark after the “No” the last time I’d peed on one of those blasted sticks. And I certainly felt like there should have been because I was so happy I nearly died.
It’s been a long time, yet the moment I take the exit ramp the scenery is so familiar I could’ve driven by just yesterday. As we approach the next stoplight she points. “You’ll need to turn there.”
“I remember”, I say, as the computerized voice from the GPS chimes in.
Our destination sits in the middle of a sort of business park, the buildings meant to look more like brick townhouses. It’s unassuming, the small white sign barely visible from the street and the tiny parking lot empty except for one other car. We pull to the left of the front stoop and sit, staring at the steps as though they might suddenly fill with protesting people.
They don’t, thankfully, but the owners of the other car do. It’s a couple, about our age, with a little girl. She can’t be more than two years old, toddling around their legs as he says goodbye to the woman, and she walks inside alone.
“Are you sure”, I ask, for the last time.
She watches the little girl wander up and down the stairs, around and around the parked car, braids bouncing as she attempts to shake off her adult follower. I wonder for a moment what kind of idiot would bring a small child here, of all places. Then it crosses my mind that maybe it’s a staged performance, a different, quieter, and even cruel for many, sort of protest. I think perhaps it would be a more effective endeavor than waving signs, in general. But not against someone like me.
“I’m sure”, she finally says. And her eyes confirm it. Staged or not, the show hasn’t worked on her either.
*****Several hours later, we’re home again.
We lay in the same positions as we did last night and this morning, as we always do, with only a few differences. Neither of us sleeps or talks. I read quietly, stretched out on my stomach, and she half watches TV, curled up on her side. From the other room come the slightly muffled sounds of cartoons and my daughter’s unintelligible jabbering. You’d never know, unless you looked very hard or knew us very well, that there’s yet another difference in our positions.
Hidden in the valley between our bodies, nearly concealed by the tangled mess and bright pattern of the quilt, two hands grasp each other tightly – connected by the past, compelled by the present and trying, for now in vain, to bridge the gap of very different futures.