Eleven years ago
Evaine had begun to ask me to read to her. I never thought much of it told her that I would.
She would smile at me every time I said yes and every time I said yes she would bring me either a very kiddish book or very hard adult book.
One day I asked her about her choice in literature.
“I can’t read, I-I just pick em cus they’re pwetty.” She told me.
We were nine at the time.
I asked her why she couldn’t read.
“I-it’s just hard I guess.” She said. “I can’t- I don’t know what those lines are- I can’t read.”
She looked at me as if for guidance, which confused me because she looked like she was expecting either praise or scolding.
“D-do you want me to teach you?” I asked her instead.
And I swear her eyes lit up. Her body lit up.
“Yeah! I love readin’- I mean, I love when you read.” She said. Her light dimmed a little.
“Okay well do you know the alphabet?”
She shook her head.
And right then and there, I know we had a lot of work to do.
We would sneak out of the house every day after I let out of school, and walk to a field that was not too far out away from our neighborhood. I would tell my parents I was going to a friends’ and she . . . well I think she would just leave.
One day I met her at the field and her arms were bruised.
I asked her about it:
“Ms. Ruby beat me for sneaking out.” She said, “She don’t know I go out so she hit me and tell me not to go no more. But I really wanna read so I go.” She smiled.
“Evaine if your mom doesn’t want you here you shouldn’t come.” Her smile was gone.
“But you said you was gonna teach me.” Her eyes were wet.
She was wearing a brown dress with white polka dots and her hair was mess. Her feet were bare as she stood in the tall grass field staring at me. Her eyes were questioning me and pleading for me at the same time.
I never knew how she did that, but it always worked.
A tear slid down her dirty cheek, and I slid my thumb over it to wipe it away.
“Stop crying, you’ll mess your face up.”
We would read for hours each day; each day she would forget what we learned and we would have to start all over again. I never lost patience with her, but sometimes I would tire and read the book to her myself.
“You read nice.” She told me while I read ‘CAT’ to her for the twentieth time.
I shrugged and told her it was nothing.
She scrunched up her face and lay down beside me. Our arms touched and I could feel the heat emanating from her body. She was such a pretty girl, I thought, she would be even prettier if she were fixed up.
“Why can’t I read?” she asked me.
“I don’t know. What does your dad say?”
“I don’t think he knows I can’t read, Ms. Ruby just yell at me when I cant.”
When I got home I asked my mom what it meant when a kid my age couldn’t read.
“It means they aren’t as . . . bright as the average child.” She told me.
“Bright?” I wanted her to elaborate.
My father walked in.
“The politically correct term is “retarded”.” he clarified.
“Frank!” my mom hissed. “I don’t like that word.”
He shrugged: “Just a word, honey.”
“It’s so . . . it’s like labeling. And it’s ugly. What’s wrong with “slow” or “underdeveloped”?”
“Underdeveloped? That sounds like someone born with no arms!”
I raised my hand before they could get into their argument.
They both exhaled heavily told me to sit down.
“Baby, some kids are born with . . . deficiencies- do you know what that means?” my mom said.
“Deficiencies . . . some of them can’t read or write or even take care of themselves in basic ways.” She continued. “Take Evaine, for example: Evaine can’t read, and I’ll bet you that she can’t write either. I’ve seen her wandering around outside, she looks so . . . lost.”
I didn’t want to hear anymore.
“She’s not that!” I shouted at her.
My dad held his hands up forcing back into my seat.
“Look I know she’s your friend, but, buddy, you’ve got to understand that not all kids are-“he stopped, but I knew where he was going. “Not as smart as you”.
“She is smart . . . she’s a genius!” I knew I was overdoing it but I was really upset.
“Blayke. . . just-“
“You don’t know her!” I kept yelling.
“Just forget about it, you’re just a kid you don’t understand.” My mother waved it away. With just the spasm of a hand movement, she waved the discussion away. But it remained in my head. I tried so hard to understand. I tried to tell myself they were wrong, but I knew Evaine was different; she was different not just in the way that made me like her so much, she was different.
The next day while I was reading one of the Dr. Seuss books to her under a cloudless, airy sky on a warm summer afternoon, I asked her if she could write.
“Nu-huh, I can’t write.” She lies on my shoulder, smiling at me.
“Why not?” I asked her, “Why can’t you read, or write, or brush your hair!”
I was yelling at her. She wasn’t smiling anymore.
“I-I-I, Blayke I don’t know!” she sat up. “It’s hard! I don’t know! I can’t I- I’m sorry.”
Her eyes were so big and frightened, she was so unsure of what I was going to do next. Hell I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was mad at her; mad at her for not being normal.
I was mad at myself for liking her so much.
But I was even more upset with myself for making her cry.
She cried waterfalls of clear liquid that seemed to be never ending. She was so hurt and so scared she couldn’t move.
I was paralyzed with anger and fear.
Then something happened that changed our relationship, turned it around and put me in a place that forced me to grow up; get over myself and my selfish embarrassments.
She peed on herself.
She was so upset and so scared her bladder failed.
I didn’t jump away and shout at her, or mock her and chastise her saying she was too old to piss on herself.
She was sitting there hiccupping with her hands lanky at her sides. She knew what happened and she turned red. She covered her face and kept crying; she kept muttering “I’m sorry”.
I sat on my knees directly in front of her. I pulled her hands away from her face; gently shoved her hair back, away from her eyes. Her eyes were red and swollen with tears.
“It’s okay.” I told her.
And she breathed as if for the first time; as if nobody had ever told her it was okay.
I took her hands in mine and helped her up, and kept on holding it while I guided her to my house. My mom worked at a pharmacy and my dad would be in his study all day so I knew we wouldn’t get caught there.
The house was silent other than the faint typing deep within the house. I lead her upstairs to my bathroom and slid off her dress, all the while stared at me, sniffling now and then.
I ran some warm water in my shower and told her to take off her underwear and get in. She did, awkwardly, and handed them to me before stepping under the pressing water.
“Can you wash yourself?” I asked her.
She nodded carefully, as if remembering when I demanded answers to her negligence.
I told her to stay there while I went to get a washcloth and tossed her clothes in the drier with a little soap and fabric softener.
I came back and she was rubbing the soap over her skin with one hand and washing herself with the other. She smiled at me.
I smiled back at her and nodded. I put the cloth down and let her wash herself with her hands.
Her hair was a lot longer when it was wet and when she was about to wash it with the body soap I stopped her and got my shampoo.
“I’ll do it.”
She watched me skirt the shampoo in her hair, her eyes never leaving mine, while combed through her hair like I would with my own long bright hair.
She smiled that warming smile at me and ran her thumb over my cheek, mimicking my gesture when I wiped her tears away.
When I finished I told her to close her eyes tightly so the shampoo wouldn’t burn her.
She did and I rinsed it out of her hair, it tried to make sure I got it all out. It was a lot harder getting it out than it was putting in because her hair was so thick.
When I finished I turned off the water and told her to wait, I’d forgotten to get a towel.
The drier was still on so I wasn’t in much of a rush, but I expected her to be cold so I hurried anyway.
When I came back she was out of the shower, dripping wet on the little blue shower rug, smiling.
It had never entered my mind that she was naked until that moment.
I almost looked away completely.
But I didn’t.
She was beautiful.
Her hair wrapped around her like a dark wet blanket and her skin was quivering with chill, her eyes were on mine- so bright and happy- so unsure. She was smiling at me as if it were the most natural thing in the world, me staring at her nakedness, bathing her, washing her hair. She was a very skinny girl too, I wondered if her parents fed her regularly.
“C-cold.” She giggled.
I snapped out of my staring and wrapped the blanket around her.
I smiled at her, but when she smiled back I felt ashamed. She didn’t know I was not supposed to look.
Somewhere deep down I felt as if I had done something horrible.
I couldn’t bring myself to smile at her again that day.
When her clothes dried I gave them to her and told her to put them on in my room. I closed the door behind her and slid down weightlessly with the door against my back.
She swung the door open sending me backwards. She giggled.
“Okay?” she was talking about her dress. She wanted to know if she did it right, “Ms. Ruby dress me, she don’t like when I do it.”
I got to my feet and observed her: the dress was on backwards.
“It’s on backwards.” I told her.
She looked confused.
“Look,” I held the dress while she tucked her arms inside and showed her the tag, “the tag goes in the back.” And I turned it around for her, careful in making sure that I didn’t peek.
I shook my head: “its okay,” I told her, “it’s just a tag.”
I sit here remembering all of this- all fourteen years of this and it hurts. It makes me miss her more. I miss her smile, her eyes . . . her hugs.
I haven’t seen her in over two years now.
I’ll be twenty in tomorrow and I haven’t once given it a single thought until recently when a friend of mine brought it up.
He asked me what I wanted to do and even went so far as to suggest a club. A gentleman’s club.
I told him no and he shrugged me off and said “whatever”.
Why in the hell would I want to watch a stripper when I wanted Evaine?
That didn’t make sense to me.
I’m not a complete idiot, though. I wasn’t planning on staying home; I thought about going to see her. It was my plan to hop on a plane to Florida and see her.
But would she remember?
Has that place already erased all the years we shared together?
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