"Why are you so sad?"
"I'm not sad," I tell her.
"Yes, you are. And you lie about it."
I feel her stare on the side of my face, and I want to move, or tell her to stop. But that would somehow validate her point—in her eyes, anyway.
“I’m not sad. I’m just not like you, all bubbly and shit.”
“You think I’m bubbly?”
“You are bubbly. You dance around in your happy little world where the only side is the bright one.”
“You always get like this when you’re sad.”
“I don’t get poet-y. And that’s not even poet-y. And I’m not sad, I’m just concentrating.”
“On this thing of gum. This fucking pack of fucking gum!”
“Why are you concentrating on a pack of gum?”
“Because you have this little lip thing here, where after you chew half a pack, you’re supposed to be able to fold it down, so you can still close it. But it’s all screwed up, it doesn’t fold right, and it’s-shit! Now it’s ripped. I hope you’re happy.”
“You’re trying to blame me?”
“You were distracting me,” I tell her. “You owe me a new pack of gum.”
“Nope—that one was chewed down to half a pack. No way I’m buying you a new pack.”
“Fine. You owe me half a pack of gum, then.”
“I’m not giving you any gum, and you’re not going to avoid my question.”
“I answered your question, and it cost my pack of gum its life. Now piss off with that ‘sad’ business.”
“I will not.”
“Then piss off in general.” I dig through my pockets for my cigarettes until I remember that I don’t have any. That’s why the gum.
“You get so cranky when you don’t smoke.” I guess she noticed me digging through my pockets and coming up empty.
“So am I cranky or sad?”
“You’re both. You’re always cranky, though.”
“I thought you said I was cranky when I didn’t smoke.”
“You get even more cranky when you don’t smoke.”
“This conversation is over,” I tell her, but I know it’s not. Not until she decides to quit talking or until I decide to throw her out.
“I can feel your heart, you know.” She doesn’t sit beside me exactly, but she kind of does. Enough so that I know she’s being supportive but trying not to be pushy. She knows me better than anyone else in the world. If anyone could feel my heart, it would be her.
“You can’t feel my heart.”
“I can. I can feel when it’s heavy. I just can’t tell why it’s heavy.”
“It’s probably just weighted down by your bullshit.”
“I’d ask if you need a hug, but you’d just lie.”
“I don’t need a hug.”
“Shut up.” I stand up. Right now, I don’t want supportive, I don’t want a friend. I want alone, I want to bask in my misery. I want to slip down into that pool of sadness and maybe this time it’ll be enough to drown me. It’s nothing I would ever admit to anyone, but sometimes I hope that I’ll get so depressed that I kill myself, just so I don’t have to deal with it anymore.
“You haven’t been taking your medication.”
“You say that like I ever take it.”
“You took it for a while.”
“Yeah, and it wiped my identity. Fuck that.”
“It didn’t wipe your identity, it just made it to where you weren’t so miserable.”
“What people like you fail to realize is that people like me, all we have is the misery. Without that, we aren’t the same.”
“You can be happy, Brent. It’s okay.”
“Piss off with your head-shrink bullshit.”
She reaches into her purse and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. “I don’t condone it,” she says, and tosses me the pack.
It’s tempting, but it’s a test of some kind, I’m sure of it. I toss the pack back to her. “No thanks.”
“You don’t trust me.”
“I’m your best friend.”
“No you’re not.”
“I’m the closest thing you have to a best friend.”
“What’s your point?”
“You have to trust someone.”
“No I don’t.”
“Whoever soul-fucked you, they did a real number.”
I’m winning when she starts using the eff word. Nights like this, it can go either way—either I’ll cheer up or she’ll get sad. I never feel good about winning.
“Look, Katy, don’t worry about it, okay? Whatever’s wrong with me, it’s not your problem.”
“I know what you think about me. I’m the wacky neighbor with nothing else to do with her time than come over and deal with your shit. But you’re wrong, Brent. I have better things to do, okay? I mean, look at me—I’m a stone-cold fox! I could be out getting laid, getting drunk, whatever. Hell, I could probably be out finding a meaningful relationship, if I wanted. I’m not a sad little chick with no life. So why am I here?”
I look at her. I could make some smart-ass answer, but that’s what she’s expecting. I could answer her honestly, but honestly, I don’t know what the fuck she’s doing here.
“Why am I here, Brent?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m here because I like you, you dumb shit! Hell, I probably even love you some. When you’re all together, when you have that light in your eye, when you’re living, you’re an easy person to love.”
“That’s not me.”
“That is you, whether you want to admit it or not. You’ve been living in the dark so long, you don’t recognize yourself in the light.”
“You always get so poet-y when you’re flustered.”
“Fuckin’ asshole.” She stands up, gathers her things, glares at the pack of cigarettes before throwing them onto the floor in disgust.
She’s at the front door, leaving, leaving without a goodbye, without any parting words.
She turns, that way only girls can do, that turn where they put all of their rage into it, and then she fixes me with that glare.
“What?” She spits the word. I’ve won, I’ve brought her to the dark side, and I hate myself for it. One more reason, I guess.
“I don’t want you to be sorry, Brent.”
“What do you want me to be? Happy?”
“I just want you to be what you can be. And sometimes, buddy, you can be happy. It’s okay.”
“It never really seems to work out.”
“You never let it.” She pushes open the screen door and steps outside. The screen door slams shut behind her and she looks like a grayer version of herself.
“Thanks for not giving up on me.”
“Is it a test, Brent? Are you trying to drive me away just so you can prove that I can be driven away?”
I didn’t realize it until she asked, but I don’t have to think too long about the answer. “Yeah.”
“Well knock it off. Because you can drive me away, okay? I mean, you try hard enough, it’ll happen. Only fools pledge undying devotion. And I’m not a fool, Brent. You’re a big enough jerk, I’ll eventually get sick of it. But there’s no reason to strive for that, is there?”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She steps off the porch, out into the night.
I watch the darkness for a bit, trying to organize my thoughts, but it doesn’t work out too well. I grab the bottle of whiskey off the top of the TV and pick up the cigarettes.
I step out onto the little concrete cube that acts as my porch and sit down on the steps. Beside her.
I hand her my lit cigarette and the bottle. She takes a drag and a drink.
“I thought you’d gone home,” I tell her.
“I didn’t feel like going home.”
“I’ll tell you why I was sad, you still want to know.”
She hands me the bottle. “I still want to know.”
“I didn’t see you yesterday. I missed you. That feeling of needing someone, it makes me defensive, I think. I probably love you some, too.”
“You probably do.”
“Since the day we met, I’ve been scared that I’d screw things up between us.”
“You need to learn to look on the bright side.”
“Not my strong point.”
“I’ll teach you.”
“What if I drag you down with me?”
“Then we’ll learn to look at the bright side down there.”
“Why me, Katy?”
“Why you, what?”
“You know what. Why me instead of going out and getting drunk and getting laid. Why me instead of going out and finding a meaningful relationship?”
“Because you have so much potential. And while the rest of the world may try to change you, I just want you watch you grow. Because I love you for the person you are and I love you for the person you will be.”
She stands up, takes the cigarette out of my hand, and takes a drag. She speaks while she exhales, “I really am going home this time. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I watch as she crosses my back yard, to the gate that leads to her yard. “Hey, Katy?”
“Thanks. For not giving up on me. Really.”
“No sweat. I’d say I’ll never give up on you, but we both know that’s bullshit. So how about this: I’m in it for as long as I can be.”
“I’ll try to make that a long, long time.”
“I’d like that.” And then she’s through the gate, into her own yard, and I’m alone.
I smile up at the sky. It feels a little strange to be smiling, and it feels even stranger to be sitting around without that sad feeling. It’s a strangeness I could get used to.