Sometimes I wonder if we wrecked each other for life.
I didn’t tell very many people about her. I could just say, “We were fast friends since third grade” and they would fill in the rest, without asking. “Oh, you were high-school sweethearts.” When I got to college, people would sort of screw up their faces at that. “Oh, I didn’t know people still did that.” Some people would say really stupid things like, “Oh, they still do it that way in North Dakota, huh?” Like we’re those Japanese soldiers who they find sometimes in the jungle in New Guinea or wherever it is, hiding in their bunkers and waiting for the invasion by the American army, who don’t know that the war is over and the world has moved on. It frankly used to piss me off when people would say stuff like that, just assuming, never asking. Of course, we don’t pry, at least here. We don’t ask, at least not about people we know. But that felt like a door slamming shut. Like someone saying, “I’m going to be polite and bring it up and then get off that topic as soon as possible.”
Maybe that’s best. I never got anything but criticized about it from anyone, even Kate. I’m sure Kate’s thinking, no wonder this all fell apart. He was a broken person, messed up. Now that the word is out everywhere, thanks to her mother, even my parents don’t bring Laura’s name up anymore.
When I was in college, I had this joke. I’d say, “I was the last guy she slept with.” I didn’t say it a lot. Actually, I probably only said it if I was drunk and somebody was pissing me off. I guess it wasn’t a very macho thing to say, that after me, someone switched to girls. Some people would snicker and say stuff, but fuck them. Most of them weren’t doing anything more than pounding girls, like some middle school boy fantasy. Useless, if you ask me.
Kate wanted to know how it started. Did Laura change after we were together? Did she figure it out later?
That question seems weird to me. Isn’t everyone figuring it out? All the time? Or maybe that’s just why I’m here, all confused. Even though I’m not gay, I fell off the train somewhere, too.
She was always different. When we were in third grade, she liked to hang out with the boys, at least at recess She played all the sports. She could pass a football better than most guys. Some guys wouldn’t let her play. I was tall and so I had a team and I’d let her be the quarterback. We’d beat the crap out of the other teams.
She was a farm girl, so she didn’t do much else. I wanted to work on our farm. She had to. I rode my bike over to her house a lot, because her mother and father would let me help with things. I wanted to learn. So we were together a lot. She liked to talk. We’d work and then she’d stop and wonder about something. “Did you ever wonder what it would be like to live by the ocean?” Or, “Did you ever wonder what it would be like to live in a big city, where you had a house but no land around it, not even a yard?” She was always wondering about how other people lived somewhere else.
She had this friend, tough. One friend. A girl. Probably about sixth grade, until maybe eighth grade. Dahlia, her name was. Nobody around here has a name like that. Her father worked at the missile bunker, out southeast of here. I don’t know why he lived here to work there. Anyway, she was from somewhere else, Florida I think it was. She was different, just like Laura was different. She was from somewhere else. She didn’t help on the farm, so Laura and I still had a lot of time together, and she wasn’t much of an athlete either, like Laura was. I was starting to play basketball then, too, so I was busy, at least in the winter. I was jealous, too. Dahlia had a lot more of Laura’s attention for the years she was here. Laura was intense around her. Like when Dahlia walked into the room, Laura would drift off, even if she was in the middle of saying something. Like she couldn’t pay attention to anyone else.
I think we were in eighth grade when her dad got moved away and she left. Laura was a wreck for a long time. I felt bad for her. She didn’t really talk about it, but I could tell she felt badly. What I remember happening, how we got started, we were talking about sex one night. Some kids were having sex then, or at least fooling around pretty far. I said it seemed like everyone said they weren’t going to have sex until they got married. When Laura was busy with Dahlia, I had been hanging around with another girl a little, Melissa Olson. She was kinda boring, but she was nice. She had told me once she was never going to have sex until she got married. I think I was trying to kiss her, or touch her boobs or something. I was pretty sure I would have sex before I was married, if I could. So I was talking to Laura about that, how girls said they weren’t going to have sex until they were married, and she said, “Married? I can’t even think about that.” I remember that, because inside I sorta knew that maybe she wasn’t. That maybe this was going to be different for her. This is hard to explain. I knew she was different. There was no girl like her. But at that moment I realized that I knew her life was different. It was not going to be the same life that everyone went into, going away to the Cities or somewhere farther, getting married, have a big career. Or coming back, getting married and farming. I think I even knew that she would have to leave. Because she would want to be with a woman. Like Dahlia.
Kate said, “So if you knew that, why did you sleep with her?”
I said, “She was my best friend. Who else would I want to sleep with?”
She said, “You don’t sleep with your best friend.”
I said, “You don’t if it’s a guy, maybe. Unless you’re gay.”
She said, “That’s not what I mean.”
We had this argument a whole bunch of times.
She said, “People get married. They become best friends. But it starts different.”
I guess. I don’t know that there’s a certain way that everything is. People say there is. Out here, especially. People are as different as anywhere, but we don’t talk about it so much. There aren’t so many people, and you know everybody you see. You’re connected to everybody. So we talk about what’s different so much as what’s common. It’s how we get along. But that doesn’t mean that how we talk every day is how things actually are. You get screwed up if you think what people say is how things are.
But don’t take my word for it. Like I said, I’m as screwed up as anybody.