When people point at a teenager and say, “That girl is crazy!”; there are a handful of things to which they might be referring. They could be condemning her choice of fashion, hairstyle, piercings, and/or tattoos. They could be praising her willingness to drink a lot and dance topless on furniture. They could even be editorializing on the way she drives. They’re not talking about any of these when they say that Lisa Green is crazy.
For a good example of what I mean, we need to look back onto the morning of my fifteenth birthday, when I was supposed to be asleep. I wanted to stay that way, but the hand slapping my face didn’t seem to care. “Get up!” it yelled.
I tried to ignore it and drift off, but that hand slapped me again. “Get up!”
“I can’t,” I replied. “I’m dead.”
After another slap, I opened my eyes to a set of swollen lips spread out over an excited grin and a pair of dilated pupils peeking out from a curtain of stringy brown hair.
That woke me the rest of the way up. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Lisa bounced off of my bed and landed on her feet on the floor. “I broke in!”
I sat up and scratched my head. “You did what?”
“I broke in,” she repeated. “Hakim told me how. With a screwdriver and a ruler. I’ll show you!”
“That’s okay,” I mumbled. “I’m the one who taught him.” Okay, that wasn’t even remotely accurate; but it was my word versus Hakim’s, and my lies were way more convincing than his truths. Oh, and: “Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to break into someone’s house when their family might be home?”
She impatiently blew a greasy lock out of her face, crossed her arms, and leaned on a nearby wall. “Your parents are at work, and your sister is doing whatever she does.”
I sighed. “So what are you doing here?”
“I’m going to cook you a birthday breakfast!”
With a laugh, I asked, “You know how to cook?”
“I’m learning,” she said. “Come on!”
“I need to get dressed first.”
“Nothing I ain’t seen before.”
“What did I tell you about that word?”
She rolled her eyes. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
“Better,” I replied. “And you haven’t seen it on me before, so turn around.”
She rolled her eyes again and obeyed. “Ready?”
“It’s been two seconds.”
“How about now?”
“Go wait for me in the kitchen.”
She sighed and left. I sighed in turn.
Unwashed, untidy, and uncouth, Lisa Green was seven years old and feral the day I met her. And so, even though we were the same age, I made it my mission to civilize her. It took a lot of work, for three main reasons.
First off, we were both trailer trash, so if I was going to teach her some class, I was going to have to learn some myself.
Second, she was a slave to her id. In the third and fourth grade, this meant she ate anything she could forage and beat up anyone who looked at her funny. As she approached high school, she smoked, snorted, drank, and fucked anything or anyone she wanted.
The third reason presented itself a moment later, just as I was pulling a wrinkled rugby shirt over my head, and something metal clatter to the floor. I winced. It occurred to me that my mother tended to pack the kitchen cabinets a little tightly, much to the surprise of anyone who wasn’t prepared. The crash was immediately followed by a howl of rage and a solid thump.
I charged into the kitchen to the sight of a huge, fresh hole in the faux-wood-paneled wall, the frying pan lying beneath it, and Lisa, her teeth gritted and cheeks stained with furious tears.
“What the fuck did you do?” I yelled.
She took quick breaths, and the rage began to drain out of the room.
I groaned. “How am I supposed to explain this? Papa’s going to kill me.”
Behind me, she let out a little squeak. “I’m so sorry.”
My eyes still on the damage, I sighed, “I know you are.”
She began to sob, “I don’t know why … I’m so … So …” When I did turn around, she had backed into a corner and had begun to sink to the floor, trying to disappear into herself. “I didn’t mean to …”
I know she didn’t. And I wanted to tell her it was okay, but it really wasn’t.
I sat beside her on the floor and scratched her back. She lifted her head and rested it on my lap. As I’d done since we were in the fifth grade, I stroked her head and rocked her back and forth.
“What’s wrong with me, Fuentes?”
We used each other’s surnames because our relationship had begun with a business transaction; i.e., I’d hired her to beat up a bully. Even during raw, naked moments like these, and even though we were as close as people could get without one having given birth to the other, we still stuck to our professional monikers. It was our thing. “I don’t know, Green,” I replied, because I really didn’t.
“Am I going to be like this forever?”
“I don’t know.”
“Like the other boys.”
So we were having this conversation again. “Because I don’t think about you like that.” And that was true. Admittedly, I did check her out, but I was a teenager, and she was a cute girl; although her oversized clothes made it difficult to tell.
“Because I’m in love with my girlfriend.” I was young. I didn’t know what love meant. Still don’t.
“She doesn’t know you like I do, Fuentes,” she said.
I chose to ignore the implication.
Taking a deep breath, she sat up, wiped the drying tears out from her cheeks, and got to her feet. “Let’s see what we can do to fix this.”
“We can’t fix it, Green,” I told her. “You broke the wall.”
“I said I was sorry!” she snapped.
A moment passed, and she sniffled. After returning her attention to the damage, she concluded, “I can’t make it perfect, but I can make it not look so bad. Maybe easier to explain that way.”
“I need some duct tape, a claw hammer, and a couple of rags.”
And I’ll be damned if she didn’t make it look almost like nothing had happened. I still got in trouble, but I only had to explain a little ding as opposed to a fist-sized hole. The only thing we got for breakfast that morning was a pair of bagels from my refrigerator and a shared cup of coffee from the May’s Cafe down the street. That episode, like the dozens before it, was never spoken of again.
Being her best friend took a lot of endurance. It was only a matter of time before it would run out.