When she was four years old
Her mother made her go to a church group
Because her colleagues at work called her a sinner
When she was five years old
Her mother made her wear a cross to pre-k
Because she worried her daughter would be the only one without one
When she was six years old
Her mother made her go to a Christian school
Because the neighbors said her daughter didn’t pray enough
When she was seven years old
Her mother bought her a purity ring
Because her boss at work said all sinners turned out to be whores
When she was eight years old
Her mother made her carry a blue bible around in her pink backpack
Because she worried a teacher would go through her daughter’s things
When she was nine years old
Her mother made her attend Sunday school
Because someone from church showed up at their door to say hi, and saw her daughter playing with the dogs
When she was ten years old
Her mother placed a cross in the window
Because the neighbors down the street had one too
When she was eleven years old
Her mother turned on the religious radio when she dropped her daughter off at school
Because she wanted the teacher opening the truck door to hear it
When she was twelve years old
Her mother made her sign “I Hope Your Holiday Is Blessed” on all the Christmas cards
Because a clerk at Walgreens had said it to her when she was picking out the cards
When she was thirteen years old
Her mother made her attend an Easter gathering with family and scolded her when she didn’t say the prayer with the rest of the family before they ate
Because she didn’t want the relatives to think badly of her daughter
When she was fourteen years old
She asked her mother why
Because she was tired of blending in
And her mother had no other reason besides doing just that
So this is it?
That last memory I had of you, the one where we’re laughing about something, and how you actually look into my eyes with a look of hope and trust.
I think about how we used to sit on the bus together, fighting back against the bully we always loved to hate and how you would listen when I talked about my philosophy of beating her at her own game. You were always surprised when I talked of smiling instead of getting angry if you were ever insulted.
I loved how you ate up my words about how that one girl who always bothered us would live in Magnolia for the rest of her life while we strolled through the streets of New York, and because of that, you stopped hurting yourself for a bit.
Every day, back when I rode the bus quite often, I would check up on you. I would give you some wisdom, and you would always listen. We would exchange smiles when those girls with the side ponytails glared at us, because we knew that they didn’t matter.
And one day when I rode the bus I asked if that one girl bothered you after I got off and went home. I knew you were stuck on there until you also went home and that made me sad. You nodded saying it was much worse without me there. And I remember feeling so damn depressed because I couldn’t help.
We were a team; you and I. Everyone knew we were the terrible two. We were inseparable.
Now I’m sitting here, watching your back as you talk to that girl. The girl who told us we were going to Hell. The girl who laughed when you tripped when you moved seats. The girl who glares at me at lunch. The girl who told you she hoped you would rot with the devil.
Now she’s telling me to go away and I ask why. And she says you told her that I’m annoying. You refuse to look at me. I swear you sneak a glance at me, a look of guilt… of something…
Where did my friend go?
Now you’re sneaking words to me at the back of the bus, words we used to whisper when paper and gum were thrown at us. Now you’re pretending to look out of the window while you tell me about your day. Like we used to. Like the old days. Like the time we would have actual conversations.
Now you’re rushing to the front of the bus to talk to her, barely glancing in my direction unless she’s distracted by something. In that case, you quickly smile at me before she notices.
I’m sick. Startled. Shocked. And a hundred things I never thought I’d feel about you.
So this is it?