22 January 2010

Paying for freedom

Her name was Cora*. Cora Thompson. I was her best friend in seventh and eighth grade, but she wasn't mine. Cora was one of those girls who, I don't know, just couldn't be a good friend. She was very pretty, with thick brown hair and big brown eyes; maybe she was a little on the chubby side, but who isn't, in middle school? She wore cooler clothes than I did, and when we went to D.C. for our school trip in eighth grade, she and I were buddies.

In seventh grade, she attached herself to me because I listened to her. I didn't push her away. Her parents were divorced, she hated her mom's boyfriend. Actually, she hated all of them. I don't remember for sure if she had siblings, but I seem to remember a younger brother. Cora was soft inside, like meat gets after you beat it with a cleaver for a few minutes. Sometimes when she was talking to me I could still see the marks it had left. But I would shake my head and blink and then it would be obvious that nothing was wrong with her.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times she ignored things I said. If she was complaining about a teacher, sometimes I would join in. That's when she heard me. But standing up for people was a most uncalled-for act. When I got home from school I would collapse, exhausted, on my bed. You see, listening is a great quality. But you need to have a filter, so that things don't get stuck in your head and stew. It's the stewing that got to me. Cora dumped everything on me: her family, her boy problems, her conquests, her hates, her likes, her feelings.

And then she left. She finished eighth grade and then went to a different school. I can't say I was too devastated; but it still made me a little sad to never hear from her. Isn't it always like that? No matter how good a friend is at being a friend, they are almost always missed as a friend. Cora disappeared and I didn't hear from her and after a while, I realized that it was nice to live without stress.

A year later, I was shopping at JC Penney's with my mom, trying to find jeans long enough for my freakish legs. I was holding a pile of them when Cora suddenly appeared in front of me, grinning.

"Genevieve," she said. It sounded like an announcement, not a question.
"Cora! Hi! How are you?" We went through the typical formalities: schools, classes, people we both knew. And then:

"Man, I'm so glad I left that school. I feel so free now," she said.
"Free? That's cool," I said. I wasn't really sure what to say, if anything.
"Free! I mean, I get to sleep with whoever I want, and, don't tell my mom, but the nurse at school hands out free condoms and I just fill my locker with them."
"Oh," I said.
"And I just started this thing at Water World, honestly, it rocks, because all I have to do is make out with this one guy Lucas, and he gives me free pot. I'm not even lying," Cora said. She was smiling at me in a strange way, as though waiting for me to react. I couldn't. I couldn't do anything besides stand there. I felt as though I had been slapped in the face. This was coming from Cora, Cora, my friend, who had talked with me a little over a year before about how boys are so not worth it and how people we knew who did drugs only ruined themselves and the relationships of people around them.

"I see," I said. I took in a deep breath while thinking of my next response, but Cora beat me to it.
"You wanna know the best part? It's like God ever existed. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. No more rules, no more hoops to jump through," she said.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," I said.
"Ha! You just like your rules where they are," Cora said. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow. "You're such a rule follower."
"Maybe," I said, smiling. "But I'm free, too. I'm not pushed into things."
"Sure. Whatever. I have to go. Bye," she said. Without giving me a chance to say anything else, Cora disappeared behind some clothes. I looked around the department. It was nearly empty. Readjusting my hold on my pile of pants, I ducked into the dressing room area and enclosed myself in a room before the tears could do anything besides hover.

I looked in the mirror, and my eyes were very glossy. I laughed a little at myself, trying not to be sad. But I cried anyways.

Cora never contacted me again. I heard little things about her, from various people, but on the whole I kind of forgot about her. That is, I forgot about her until January or February of my freshman year of college. I was sitting on my dorm bed doing homework when I got a text from my kindred spirit-best friend-soul sister:

"Did you hear about Cora Thompson?"
"No, what? Man, I haven't heard from her in years!"
"She committed suicide."

I dropped my phone and stopped thinking.
Cora had finished high school and gone to CSU, in Fort Collins. She'd made it through the first semester. And then her roommate found her dangling from the top bunk.

I closed my books and grabbed my quilt, and walked down to the patio. It was dark, several hours after dinner time, and I stared into the dead grass while thinking about nothing. A friend came out and gave me a hug. I continued to sit, thinking, I feel like I should have done something. Something, something, something.

*I seem to be on a name-changing kick. Darn.

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