Saturday, October 24, 2015

Skulduggery

Now Playing: The Smiths - Asleep and Well I Wonder

"I'd want to go to Seattle. I like grey skies and rainy days more than I like sunny ones. I love the rain."

"Yeah, I agree. I get energized by the mist and the rain."

"Ah! Me too!" I could hear myself--energetic little girl, throwing her hands over her mouth, stopping short of a squeal.

"Then you know what that means, right?" She leaned in and grinned. "We're secretly witches."

I don't remember the entire conversation that well. I don't really even remember those words all that well--their order, the turn of the phrase--but I remember the witches part. I thought it was the sweetest thing I'd ever heard.

Silly thing, but my outfit probably indoctrinated me: I was wearing a black lace dress, a black-and-blue striped blazer, black tights, and pretty belted flats. With me I had a black leather journal and a fountain pen. Briefly I'd wished I'd had some kind of moon necklace or dark make-up on. Even without the proper accessories, it felt like a stealth witch costume as summer came to an official end. The outfit, the grey sky, the smell of coffee grounds--it was a little too much for me.

Some background. Well over a month ago, I sat in a cafe talking to a woman who told me I should go to New York while I was still young. Who told me to travel there in autumn and winter, for the cold and the snow. Who told me to do it because she'd first seen snow at age eighteen, and she'd loved it. Who was happy to hear that, despite my day job, I identified and still wished to be known as a writer. Who wondered about my blog and asked if I ever tried out poetry because that was the kind of thing she wrote. Who found it amusing when I stole her brother's cigarette pack and joked about caffeine addictions.

I keep wanting to write "girl" here despite the fact that she's--as she has reminded me twice now--a thirty-two year old woman. I thought she was a tad younger when I saw her for the first time through the little receptionist window. I'd guessed twenty-eight or twenty-six.

When her brother came up to talk to me, she smiled at me briefly--this short girl with long hair and really pretty brown eyes. She stood behind her brother, watching the doors for a familiar face. My first thought when I saw her was simple: she's pretty. I got a better look and proper introduction in the elevator ride. All three of us ended up in the same cafe.

Now technically, I was interested in her younger brother and he was interested in me. I'd met him earlier than I'd met her. By this point, we'd already exchanged phone numbers. But at the end of that afternoon, it felt vaguely like I'd had a twenty-five minute first date with this lady. Probably because her brother went outside to smoke a cigarette while she and I sipped coffee and talked.

I figured she'd liked me well enough, though I couldn't yet decipher my opinion of her. I'd just met her. All these pre-judgments were running through my head and I tried my best to keep them contained. Okay, so, she hovered over her brother and tried to chaperon him despite the fact that he's a legal adult--older than me even. But maybe he needs it. He seems more boy than man at times, in those brief exchanges we've had. She drove him around, at one point asked if I needed a ride somewhere, bought him coffee, reminded him to drink fluids and stay inside because he was sick, told him to remember to borrow cab money for his upcoming trip to New York, and told me to please eat something, I can't just run on coffee all afternoon.

Motherly is the word that sprung to mind, but not necessarily in a wholly positive way. I thought it was sweet, but also briefly confusing. After all, I knew she was a sister to this boy, not a mother. I briefly imagined chaperoning my seventeen year old brother to an appointment or scolding him for not taking better care of himself, and it felt wrong. Like if I even tried to put on a motherly act around him, Mateo would stare at me blankly and then tell me to piss off. Especially now that we're older. I took care of him when I was twelve and he was ten. Now--soon to be twenty, soon to be eighteen--we're more equals. One shouldn't take care of the other, but if it's needed, we should take care of each other. There's only so much I can do for him as a big sister. Only so much I should do, especially as he nears adulthood.

But Mateo and I are different people, therefore our siblinghood is different than anyone else's. We're closer in age. We haven't had troubled lives or a family possibly struggling from within. Maybe it's not comparable.

My impressions went in a list: she's pretty. At least that's more objective fact than subjective impression. The rest were all the latter. She seems sweet. A little overbearing. Overprotective? Or just motherly? Interesting. Mature, of course. Amusing. I need to use that witch line for something. I don't know why I find it so cute.

First impressions are tricky. They linger or are quickly discarded. They get turned on their head, more often than not. When we guess a person's character off an early glance or interaction, we'll inevitably be wrong.

Those first impressions feel stretched out sometimes. A first impression isn't just that first second you see someone. It isn't just that first conversation you have with them.

The way it worked for me was like this: I saw her. I watched her for a bit. I spoke with her. A day later, on the phone with her brother, I heard her in the background. White noise until her words became clear. Angry and elevated. Throughout the week, I heard little things about her in passing, things her brother told me--the way she was acting, the things she was saying, her angry, disapproving glare. "I don't know what her problem is," he said, "I think she thinks I'm leading you on." And then one day she grabbed the phone from him to speak to me. And that first impression kept warping. My opinion of her kept warping. It was all in a week. A week solidified a picture and yet it blurred that opinion all the more.

When I saw her, I thought she was pretty. At the coffee shop, I thought she was sweet. When she fought with her brother while he held a phone to his ear, I thought she was a little frightening. By the time he admitted she'd warned him to be careful with me and maybe grow a little distant, I thought she was acting a touch too domineering. When she took the phone from him, said, "Rebeca, I need to talk to you," and then spent five minutes listing all the ways I and her brother were in the wrong, messing up, acting like petulant children, my opinions disappeared. I couldn't explain it. Mostly, I was confused.

I remember bits and pieces of that phone call. I didn't really speak--I said two sentences, maybe, and she didn't hear me all that well. Mostly, I just let her go on. She said she knew better, after all, she's "a thirty-two year old woman," and we were being immature, this isn't going to go anywhere, we can't be together, he's not in a good place, I need to be more mature and leave him alone. "I know you're sweet, I can tell you're sweet, but you're doing him more harm than good. You need to back off."

When he finally got the phone back, he sounded upset. Maybe she's right, he said. Maybe we wouldn't be good for each other. I told him to calm down. That in the end, it was up to us and only us. If we crash and burn, then, well, it happened. We'll move past it.

When we finally hung up, I felt a little annoyed. Where had that come from? Who grabs their brother's phone and spends five minutes straight yelling at a girl?

Somehow, he and I kept talking. We're not dating, per say, but not strictly platonic either. It's a safezone greyzone--everything without the silly label of a romance and brand of exclusivity. We're friends. For complicated reasons, it's all we'll ever be. And so far, we're okay with it. But at times it feels like we're the only ones who are.

Now all I hear is the negative. That's the peculiar thing about this boy--he lives far enough that we spend most of our time together on the phone.It takes hours on bus rides to see each other, so the rest of the time, we have to use that phone.

And he keeps me on the phone even as he runs into neighbors, as he bikes down a hill, as fights erupt in his household. So I hear his sister screaming, and his mother, and sometimes his father. His youngest brother talks very quietly, but I've heard him once or twice too.

And because his sister's voice is the loudest, I try and remember how she looks like. When she argued with him and kicked him out of a car in the middle of the night, I remembered how she looked when she asked me what I wanted to do, how old I was, what I thought about our city. When I hear her tell her parents she hates them, when she throws a "fuck you!" their way, I think of her Mature Woman Voice when she reminded me her age mid-scolding.

But by far the most confusing thing enveloped during one quiet afternoon at Bayfront Park. It happened the day before she grabbed the phone from him to talk to me.

Downtown is our in-between. I bus there, he buses there, we don't go anywhere too nice because we're both broke, and we just hang out. In that afternoon, in view of the ocean, I sat on his lap, my head on his shoulder. I was tracing patterns on his chest, moving up, when I saw scratch marks on his neck. Little scars that would fade away eventually, but which were deep enough to carry a short lifespan over his skin. He said his sister did that to him.

Like an idiot I asked him why. Why would she do that to you?

"I don't know. I don't know why she does anything."

All the while, I kept thinking, what happened between you two? What's happening now?

Two days before, she'd taken him out to karaoke. The week after, to a movie. She cares about him, wants him to get better.

But she screams at him. She kicks him out of a car in the middle of the night. She tells him who to see, who to be friends with, even tries to threaten a 19-year-old girl through a phone that isn't hers. And she scratched him hard enough to mark him, but not enough to have it be a big deal in most people's eyes.

I don't know now what I think of her. That initial impression keeps coming back to me. She tried to grab the phone again so she could talk to me and he didn't let her. Now, whenever he calls and she's home, he goes outside or into his room. Better to put some distance. But her voice carries. And I'm still listening to her, even if I doubt she'll ever hear my voice again.
~Becky

P.S: Whilst writing this post, he called me just to talk. Halfway through our conversation, I admitted I was writing about his sister. He replied with this: "Only mean things, right?"

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