When I first met Roxanne, I was twelve.
I was in middle school, and I forgot something in the classroom, but now, I can’t remember what it was. Maybe a pen or something. But whatever it was, it’s what made me met Roxanne.
Black construction paper covered the window since it was safety week. It tricked me earlier that morning when I showed up for class and I nearly left. Now it was lunchtime so I figured the room would be empty.
But when I stepped inside there was Roxanne, with Matt Johnson.
She was leaning back on Mrs. Carmichael’s desk, a steel mesh pencil cup on the floor by their floor with No.2 pencils scattered under students’ desks along with a ruler and a stapler, with Matt’s face close to hers, and I could hear this awful, disgusting sound that made me think of my Uncle Rob eating corn on the cob.
I was twelve, naïve, and thought it was gross when my parents gave each other small pecks to tease me. This was Roxanne, clinging to his blue polo shirt, and sloppy noises as their lips meshed, and Matt making a grunting sound.
His pants were down, around his ankles and slumping over his high-top Nike shoes, and left him exposed in his underwear.
At first, it was like they didn’t even notice me, or they didn’t care. But then, Matt’s glazed over hazel eyes rolled over to me, and Roxanne’s followed, and they pulled apart like two magnets.
I was still holding the door open, gawking at them, absolutely horrified. I never wanted to be kissed now, ever. I’d die a lonely, old lady before I let anyone kiss me like that.
“Who are you?” Matt asked as he looked me over.
Matt might not have known who I was, but I knew him. He was in our grade except he was fourteen with angry red pimples dispersed across his chin and forehead. He was already going through puberty, and the other boys snickered whenever his voice cracked during class.
I blinked, struggling to regain control of my voice. “I’m, uh,” I said then cleared my throat, awkwardly, “Amanda.”
By now, I guess the moment was lost because Matt pulled free of Roxanne and pulled up his pants, the belt buckle clinking as he shook them up his thighs, and only doing up the button, leaving his fly wide open.
“Next time, knock,” he sneered, brushing past me as he left, and as horrified and shy as I only nodded meekly.
And then I was alone with Roxanne.
She didn’t look at me, just sat daintily on one of the desks (one that wasn’t hers) and let out a sigh. “Well, that didn’t go how I planned.”
I didn’t want to know what that was. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
Shrugging sheepishly, she slid off the desk and walked over to the blackboard. Our school was too underprivileged for whiteboards I guess. And I watched as she picked up a stick of medium length white chalk, with pink and yellow dust on the tip.
I wasn’t sure what I expected her to do with it, but it certainly wasn’t lifting the piece to her lips, bite off the end, and then crunch it in her mouth.
She was still there, eating chalk.
Roxanne glanced at me then rolled her eyes. “Chalk doesn’t taste that bad, you know,” she said, and I nodded, as if I knew. “It has a really nice texture.”
I glanced at the chalk. It was dry, white, and dusty. I couldn’t imagine it tasting anything else besides those three words but I didn’t dare say that.
“Do you want some?”
Right away, I wanted to say no. Mainly because that was just gross—our teacher just used that to write an arithmetic problem fifteen minutes ago—and my mother would probably send me off to a therapist. But everyone loved Roxanne. She didn’t just talk to anyone, especially like shy nerds like me, or, I’m guessing, eat chalk in front of anyone.
“Um, okay?” I said, apprehensively, as I took a step forward. I didn’t really want to eat chalk, did I? It might have been lunchtime, but still. It was chalk.
But then I remembered my sister, the older popular one with the curly brown hair and hazel eyes that melted guys’ hearts everywhere and her twin, my mother. They both reminded me all the time that I had no friends, especially when I was trying to forget that.
And I thought maybe eating chalk could fix that.
So I ate the chalk, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t hold back the cringe when the dusty substance touched my tongue and grinded in my teeth, and I coughed. I was sure she’d hate me forever now.
But all she did was shrug nonchalantly and turned away, telling me, “It’s not for everyone.”
After that, we became friends, I think. She smiled coolly at me when we past each other in the hallways and loaned me her sparkly pink pencil (I got pink glitter all over my test). Maybe she was being nice to me so I wouldn’t tell her friends about the chalk thing, but then, I thought it was that she actually wanted to be my friend.
That was total bull, by the way.
Or it was until one night, the night she found out that her mother had a new boyfriend, the first one since her parents’ divorce. Maybe the rest of her friends weren’t around or answering their phones, but she called me.
I was lounging on my bed, on my back, staring up at the glow in the dark stars stuck to my ceiling with Sticky Tack. My room was partially dark, only my bedside lamp was on, so the stars were just barely green, hardly even glowing. My homework was by my side, not even half done. And then someone tapped on my door, twice, and the silver knob twisted before the door opened.
“Hey,” my dad said, glancing around my room with a frown, holding the phone in his hand over the speaker. “It’s one of your friends—hey, why’s your room so dark?”
I looked around, taking in my oak desk and neon green butterfly chair in a blur. “It’s not that dark,” I said, eyeing the phone. “Who is it?”
He shrugged. “She just said she was a friend of yours.” Then he gave me a thumbs up as he handed me the phone before exiting my room, probably off to tell my mother.
I thought it was a prank at first when a girl, choking on runny snot and tears, blurted out the words, “My mom has a boyfriend” before I could even say hello.
“Uh, who is this?” I frowned, pulled the phone away from my ear and glanced at the number but I didn’t recognize it.
“Roxanne,” she choked out, and then coughed, and sniffled, and asked, “Can I come over?”
I thought about my parents and what they would say. They would probably be ecstatic that I’d have a friend over, even if it was a crying, snotty one named Roxanne who ate chalk.
“Um,” I said, sitting up. “Sure. Do you know where I live?”
There was another sniffle. “Yeah, I know.” And then, just like that, someone rang the doorbell, twice, rapidly. “That’s me, by the way. Don’t freak out.”
I hung up after that and ran out of my room and down the stairs before my parents could reach the door, passing by all the baby pictures of me and my sister on the staircase. The first one was of Mikayla, of course, and so was the second and third. I was fourth and chubby, and bald. All the things baby Mikayla wasn’t.
When I opened the door, she was still cupping the phone in her hand, tears giving her flushed face a bright shine, and her breath caught in her throat.
Roxanne, at that moment, looked less and more like herself that she ever did. Her perfect blonde hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, flowing out rattily behind her head, and her brown eyes were rimmed red. With her hair pulled back, I could see three pimples that were beginning to form around her hairline. She wore an oversized blue T-shirt and neon green shorts and gold flip-flops with diamonds on the straps.
Maybe I should’ve given her a hug or something then but all I could say was, “How did you get here so fast?”
“I was in your driveway,” she explained, nonchalantly, like she always did that kind of thing and maybe she did. “I walked here. Can I come in?”
I nodded slowly, opening the door up further. I never had anyone over, let alone someone who was crying. I didn’t know if I should get her something to drink or something.
“This,” she said then hiccupped, her chest doing a little jump under the shirt, as she walked in, “is a nice house.”
I glanced around. We stood in the hallway, by the living room and the stairs. An inexpensive chandelier hung off the ceiling above our heads a few feet away and unused, dark red candles sat on a table under the stairs. Also on that table was the latest family picture. My parents were smiling and there was a halfhearted smile on my face but Mikayla just sat there, her crimped hair flowing over her shoulders and her dark eyes pierced through the picture.
“Thanks?” I said slowly, closing the door. “So, um, do you want to . . . do something?”
I wasn’t sure what to suggest. When my sister, Mikayla, went through a breakup, one she didn’t cause I mean, she ate, a lot. And then she’d sob over the pounds she gained from the Cheetos, ice cream, and Oreos.
She swallowed and looked at me, her lower lip trembling. “You have any ice cream?”
Ice cream, apparently, is necessary when upset.
Later, I watched as she piled scoop after scoop of ice cream into our ceramic, blue bowl before drenching it in chocolate syrup and dropping handfuls of M&Ms into the bowl, and then she looked at me. And my single scoop of ice cream, with just M&Ms, no syrup.
She blinked then blurted out, “Am I being rude?” I frowned. “Because my mom says I can be like that sometimes, but dating after your divorce isn’t, apparently.”
I just stared at her. “No,” I said slowly. “You’re not being rude.”
She glanced at my bowl, nodded, and then shoveled in a spoonful of ice cream to her mouth. “You should eat more,” she said. “You look like a twig and in an unattractive way.”
I glanced down at my body. I was small, yeah, but it was because I was picky. Lots of foods tasted awful, including chalk. But I never thought it made me look unattractive.
But Roxanne would know. As a thirteen year old, she already had curves, plus her breasts were starting to develop. Every now and then, I’d see a bright pink bra strap poke out from under her top on her shoulder and it deflated something in me. I wore a bra, sure, but it was white and had a green turtle on it, like it was for toddlers or something instead of an actual girl.
“And ice cream will make me look pretty?” I asked, doubtfully. If that were the case, I’d help myself to another scoop. Or four.
She shook her head, swallowing. “No, ice cream will make you fat,” she replied. “But before then, it’ll fill you out a little and make you look like a woman.”
I thought of Mikayla, standing in front of her full length mirror, frowning, as she pinched a barely existing flab of skin by her belly button, muttering about whatever junk food she ate that day, or yesterday, or even that week. And then, she’d see my reflection in the mirror, by the door, and yell about “friggin’ privacy.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, “but guys like girls with a good body, you know? Ample sized butts and boobs and that kind of stuff.”
A fiery hot blush burned under my skin. “They do?”
She nodded, spooning in another glop of ice cream into her mouth. Chocolate syrup dripped from the spoon, missing the place mat and falling onto my mother’s oak table. “That’s why they like me so much. I have good boobs.”
Glancing down at my chest, I held back a sigh. My breasts, unlike Roxanne’s, were barely just buds. Hers were full on bloomed flowers. I could hear my mother’s words to Mikayla echo from every break up over to me. Honey, you don’t want a man who only wants your body. He’s not worth this. I ignored the last part, however. Now, come on, put down the Doritos.
This was interrupted by Roxanne suddenly saying, “Okay, have you started your period yet?”
My head shot up. In some ways, I was more horrified now than when I saw her eating chalk. “What?”
As she licked her spoon clean, she shrugged. “You looked sad,” she noted, nonchalantly, grabbing a fistful of M&Ms. “When you get your period, everything changes.”
When my mother sat me down to explain The Birds and the Bees that was something she left out. “Like my body?”
For the first time, she smiled at me, around the M&Ms in her mouth. “Uh huh.”
I’m eighteen now, sitting on our couch, listening to my dad explain what happen but the words don’t register. After, Roxanne . . . honey, she’s gone. I stopped listening. It was like I was underwater, just barely able to hear certain words that floated over to me. I was submerged, without words, and with every word that made it through to me, the less I wanted to come back up.
Upset. I guess. Commit. Wasn’t a note. I’m sorry.
That was all I could hear, and it was more than enough.
My whole family was there; gathered around me, even Mikayla. Sitting on a chair across the room, barefoot, with her legs curled under her, and a red headband around her forehead, she stared at me with glazed eyes. She went out partying last night. I heard the window shutting last night and the sound of her heels scraping against the roof as she climbed over to the tree on the side of our house, perfect for escape purposes.
My mother sat beside me, and she reached over and clasped my hand. “Honey, do you want to talk about it?”
That question seemed to scream with irony. Roxanne didn’t leave me with anything to talk about. She didn’t leave a note, or an explanation, or even the feeling that something was off about her. She left nothing.
But that wasn’t exactly true.
I remembered last night, after I heard Mikayla sneak out, my phone on my desk vibrated on top of three of my textbooks. I glanced at it, and saw it was Roxanne. But it was late, almost two a.m., so I ignored. I figured whatever she wanted to say could wait until tomorrow.
I was about to listen to it when my dad knocked on my door, solemnly, and told me that they had something they needed to tell me.
Now, I took my hand back from my mother and dropped it in my lap.
My dad looked at me, almost pleadingly. I could see, with his hollow cheeks and the desperation in his eyes behind his thin framed glasses and flushed skin, that he felt awful.
“Do you . . .” He cleared his throat, glancing at my mother and sister, as if for help. “Do you want to get a burger? Two even? With anything you want on it?”
This was my dad’s solation to a lot of things. Burgers, I mean. Surprisingly, he kept his tall and slender figure anyway. But whenever someone was upset, instead of offering to buy them a drink, he offered a burger. When Grandma died, he must have bought Mom a dozen.
I shook my head, only once. “No.”
“Are you sure?” he asked and he broke into a nervous grin. “We’ll even get a large fry and you won’t have to share or anything. Milkshake—you want a milkshake? I can go get one, right now, if you want.”
Mom didn’t touch me this time, but her green eyes pierced me anyway. “Honey?”
Instead of saying anything, even though my father was already scrambling to find his keys, muttering to himself, I stood up and headed for the stairs. Burgers, milkshakes, and large fries weren’t about to change anything.
They couldn’t change that I was still here, trapped, forever, without her.
The church’s parking lot was practically full when I pulled in. Cars of all different colors perfectly parked in each space, even the handicapped parking space. One car, a red convertible, even had the window cracked halfway, despite that it was only March. In the dead flower gardens by the staircase leading to the entrance, little green stubs of tulips began to poke through the dead debris of withered plants and crunchy leaves from last fall.
I parked beside a black SUV and the red convertible and took the keys out of the ignition. I wanted to come alone (which made my mother frown and purse her lips, ready to protest before Dad stepped in) and while I watched people in black, some women even wearing hats, I dreaded the moment where I’d actually have to leave the safe haven of my Smart Car and step into reality, my best friend’s funeral.
For a few minutes, I just watched as people entered the church at last minute, some clutching a tissue or a hankie already, and some with their heads ducked. A few I recognized from birthday parties or Roxanne’s ever changing, poor quality Facebook profile pictures.
Earlier that day, I checked and saw that her Facebook profile was still there. But now, instead of message like the rents r away. party 2nite?, it was filled with messages like RIP Roxanne, love you or I’ll miss you! See you again someday in Heaven. But the one that stuck me the hardest and left me breathless was one from a girl Roxanne barely knew and I guess, somehow, that gave her the courage to write what she did.
Roxanne! What happened?! You were so happy when I last saw you L
For maybe hours, I just sat there, staring at and rereading that message over and over. A part of me felt compelled to answer her but I couldn’t. I couldn’t answer a question I didn’t know the answer to. Then, a forever later, my mother called out that the funeral was in thirty minutes and I closed the browser.
The clock on the dashboard switched from 12:56 to 12:57 and I sighed, my heart beginning to pound when I realized that I’d have to go in there, now. I couldn’t put it off any longer, like I had with listening to Roxanne’s message.
I was speaking.
Little raindrops began to pelt onto my windshield just as I leaned back and shut my eyes. For one minute, I tried to pretend that none of this was happening. I could be anywhere but here but the picture wouldn’t form in my mind. It was grainy and faded, and looked like the church that stood in front of me.
I opened my eyes, immediately noticing that it wasn’t just spitting anymore but full on pouring now. I let myself believe that the sky was crying for Roxanne as I pushed open my door and took every reluctant step closer to the church.
When I walked into the sanctuary, wet with little dark droplets on my shoulders, wrecking my dress, everyone seated in the oak pews turned to look at me, like when a bride walks down the aisle but this was worse. Much worse. Since, although, they’re the ones with red, watering eyes and running noses, they pitied me.
I ducked my head down so that all I saw were my black sparkly flats (they were the only black shoes I had), and I walked past every pew, packed with people wearing suits and dresses, sniffling and crying, as quickly as I could until I reached the first pew.
It was almost empty except for just her parents, grandmother, and her stepfather, who Roxanne didn’t even like. There was a respectable distance between her mom and dad, with her mom’s new husband stuck in between them. On either side of the pew were two hymnals and Bibles, stacked on top of each other. Beside Roxanne’s dad, lying limply on the pew, was a pamphlet for her funeral.
It was six inches long, rectangular, and blue. Written under her oval picture, in cursive, was her full name (I could hear her voice in my head, “Alice. Why did my parents name me Roxanne Alice?”) and her birthday, and then, the day she died three days ago. March 19th 2012. The letters screamed out at me, like flashing lights.
Pushing the pamphlet aside, I sat beside Roxanne’s dad. Sometimes, I felt just as close to him as Roxanne. He always had a giant grin on his face and when he’d knock on Roxanne’s bedroom door and pop his head into her room, he’d ask, “Are you decent?” A long time ago, it made me giggle, but now it only made me smile. And he was always playing pranks on us, like dumping half a salt shaker into the lemonade or randomly making the water run cold when Roxanne took a shower.
But today, it looked like all that silliness had melted off him. The giant grin was gone, possibly for good, and he kept blinking, like he held everything back. His thick hair was combed back, which was weird to see, and his cheeks sunk in, and altogether just looked drained. As I sat down, he glanced at me and offered a sad, pathetic smile but when his chin started to tremble, like it took on a life of its own, he turned away.
Seeing someone, as happy and cheerful as Mr. Jones, look like this, it made everything feel wrong. It twisted my stomach into little broken pieces and then clenched around my throat. Something in me told me that swallowing enough times would make this feeling go away.
To right, in front of us, was her casket, big with polished oak, something that looked like handles on the sides, and the lid laid open. I could see the white cushioned padding inside but not her body. My throat grew even more constricted when the realization hit me, really hit me.
She was actually in there, dead.
She was actually, really, completely, totally dead.
I’d never see her face light up whenever a Michael Jackson song would come on the radio or hear her laugh when I’d accidentally say something stupid. I’d never see her lean over the sink in her bathroom, applying her lip-gloss and smack her lips together. I’d never hear any of the words she told me that I began to cling to. There were so many things I’d never see or hear again.
When the pastor walked up the podium, everything started to swirl. I could barely hear his somber words over my heart racing in my ears—Thump-thump, thump-thump—and shaking breathing. Tears began to prickle my eyes, blurring the pastor, and before I could even think about what I was doing, I shot up and walked down the aisle.
I didn’t realize until I was almost out of the church that I was clutching Roxanne’s pamphlet in my fingers.
When I pushed open the heavy, metal door that made a cling-clung noise when I did, the scent of rain smacked me in the face and flooded my nostrils and almost instantly, I was drenched in the falling raindrops that slid down my bare arms and my neck.
As the door fell backward, closing itself, I took a step forward into the rain. Although his voice muffled, I could still hear the pastor talking, but I couldn’t make out any of it. And I didn’t want to anyway. What they had to say about her, I didn’t want to hear.
My heart started to hammer, again, when I thought back to her casket. I tried not to, thinking of any other little thing, like kittens or rainbows, but there it was. That giant, oak casket with her laid to rest inside. She’d never leave that box. She’ll be trapped in there forever.
My chin started to tremble, like Roxanne’s father, and when I tried to swallow the feeling away, a strangled, tight noise left my lips that didn’t even sound human. It sounded painful and moribund.
I gave into it, that overwhelming feeling to just break. I slid down against the bricks of the church, not caring about the pain of it scraping against my neck, and just broke. My shoulders began to shudder uncontrollably, and I didn’t even try to stop it. More ugly, awful sounding noises slipped out of my mouth and I couldn’t tell the difference between rain and tears. But my eyes burned, flamed even, and left fiery, wet trails down my cheeks.
My knees were pulled up to my chest, probably exposing my seashell pink underwear to whoever walked by me, but I was in the rain, sobbing, exposed. It wasn’t like any of that mattered anyway.
After a few minutes or maybe even a few hours, I heard water splashing under someone’s footsteps. It took me a second to realize that they weren’t coming out of the church but up to it. And then, just as I bit my lip, thinking how insane I looked, they stopped.
For a moment, I thought whoever it was just disappeared or vanished in thin air, if that could magically be possible. But then, quietly, as if not to stun me, I heard, “Amanda?”
I lifted my head up, and slowly peeled open my still burning hot eyes. I probably looked awful: wet, crying, red eyed. For a second, all I saw was a blurred figure, with a black and white body, and as I blinked, my vision adjusted and began clear.
But when I did, I realized that this wasn’t someone I wanted to see clearly, ever.
And I did the first thing that came into my mind. With the clutched funeral pamphlet in my hand, I began to smack him with it.