"This makes no sense to me," Scarlett says. She shoves the textbook across the table at me. "I mean, I'm reading it, but I'm not reading it."
I scan the paragraph she's pointing at. I can't say it makes a lot of sense to me either. It's written in this horrible textbook-ese, all these dry words not quite adding up to information about colonial assemblies in pre-revolutionary America. "I think it's just saying that -- fuck, I have no idea what it's saying."
Scarlett slumps down and rests her forehead on the table for a second. It's not really that bad, though. Actually, she's been happier lately than I've seen her in a long time. On Saturday, she moved into her new house. She borrowed truck from our friend Jessie's husband, and I went over to the place she'd been staying to help her get the heavy stuff. We moved the dresser and then the mattress, but the bed frame wouldn't go. It was too big. So we picked it up -- it was light -- and carried it. The new house is only blocks away, which is good, because I like having Scarlett in the neighborhood.
A few months ago she got hooked up with a doozy of a job, managing a small commercial kitchen, which is work she knows and is good at. Her bosses are already talking about a promotion and a raise. And now this history class at community college. If she proves to them that she's dyslexic she can take her classes self-paced, and maybe this time she can finish, but she has to get a certification of disability from a doctor on a list of doctors they gave her, and that could cost a few hundred dollars. There are other expenses, too -- unpaid traffic tickets, old warrants, defaulted credit cards. When you've been poor a long time your poverty starts to have this life of it's own, starts to grow and feed on itself. Getting out is not all at once. Getting out is tough.
Me, I need money too, like I always do. The project, the project, the project. In relative terms, it is almost done, which means it won't be done for months, and we'll get a little money by the end of the year, but not nearly enough. I don't really worry. The project has had it's own weird will to live this whole time, and one way or another it will get finished. But this month I had to dip into my own money to pay the project's bills. Just a couple of hundred dollars, but it scared me.
We've started talking about dancing again. So far, just talk. Niether of us is crazy about the idea, but we are both of us getting to the point where it no longer seems optional, if it ever was really optional. So, we talk. We compare notes. We've heard from this old friend or that one that this club is bad, and that club is bad also. We heard the good manager everyone liked at Sugar's is dead and we hear there is no money anywhere. But they always say that and the only way to find out is just to go. I tell Scarlett pick a day and we'll go together, and if there's no money, there's no money. We'll be the Cool Girls Club and hang out in the locker-room all day long.
Scarlett sighs. "I'd like to be feeling better when I go back," she says. "I want to go in feeling a little sassy, not all sad and used-up." Early in the fall some pretty boy blew through town and broke Scarlett's heart. Dancing with a broken heart is no fun. I'm not entirely sad to see it, though, because I remember a time when Scarlett wouldn't have unbent her heart to break.
I say maybe she'll find her sass again when she hits the stage. Maybe she'll find it because she has to. "Maybe," she says. She looks down, starts drawing her finger through a little pool of spilled coffee, making x's and swirls. "Do you ever feel like...you're done with dancing, but dancing isn't done with you? Do you know what I mean?"
I nod. Because yes, I know what she means.
"I think maybe," she says, picking her words out one by one, "Maybe, you have certain experiences when you're younger, so that, you know, you end up knowing things most people, maybe, wouldn't even want to know. But since you already do know, you think, I should learn from this. I should just go forward, because I can't go back. I can't not know."
I touch the back of her hand. My fingers are a telegraph. They say: Go on.
"I know I've put myself in a lot of bad places," she says. "I've done things that some of my friends don't even know why you would want to do. But, I..."
Yes. Go on. Yes.
"And then yesterday I started crying while I was in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables. I was just thinking, you know, I'm not ever going to have that. What they have, you know? That...I guess I mean innocence. I'm never going to be innocent."
I reach up and touch her soft cheek. She is crying just a little bit. I love my friend so much. She is one of the easiest people to love that I've ever known. I think it's because she loves you back so whole-heartedly, and because she understands how important it is to love your friends and to be loved.
Scarlett and I were waitresses together at the same little diner by the highway when I was nineteen and she was twenty-five. She was the new girl, and I trained her. One day she asked me what I was doing after work. It was fall, just turning cold. I said I was going home to bake a pie and warm the kitchen up. She said she'd come over.
We sat out on my big front porch with our coats on rolling cigarettes out of her pouch of Drum tobacco and she told me a lot about herself right away, like she knew it was a strange story and she wanted to get it all out of the way at once. I put that story away and some of it we've never talked about since, or only obliquely, like we're talking now. I don't know everything, but I know enough to admire the strength and will that hurled that small body forward through the maze of grim statistics that was her early life, enough to understand why anger was her only friend for so long.
When Scarlett and I were first friends, I was not talking to my family much at all. I must have told her this. I think I said something like, I don't know why I should feel disappointed; it's not like I've ever had any family other than the one I have, so I don't know where I got the idea that it was supposed to be something different; maybe from TV. And Scarlett said, "You don't always get all the love you need from the people that raise you. But if you're lucky other people can love you, later."
Scarlett and I have been mothering, sistering, brothering, cousining each other for most of a decade now. My wayward daughter. My wisest aunt. I love my friend so much.
On Saturday we carried the bedframe over to her new place down quiet streets through lemon sunlight and a rain of yellow leaves. Her new room is big and bright, with lots of windows. She bitches about the state of the bathroom and the color of the paint, but I think she's happy. She takes me outside to show me the garden which comes with the apartment.
The garden is beautiful -- a crumbling red brick wall and a little greenhouse with only a few panes broken. The remains of some flower beds, vanishing under weeds and drifts of leaves, but easily salvaged. In the far corner, a hot tub that just needs some of the copper replaced, and a trench dug to lay in the electrical lines. The sketchy outlines of what could be paradise. She stands there looking a little scared and a little lost. And innocent. As innocent as I've ever seen anyone look.
"It could really be nice out here if somebody took some trouble with it," she says, half-heartedly. Half a heart is better than no heart. "It could really be something. It could really bloom."