She always tried hard.
She got up on mornings she did not want to get up on. She developed pointed elbows and pointed glares, the use of which enabled her to get on the first tube that arrived in the platform, not the third or the fourth. She looked up as she walked, and paid attention to road signs. Sometimes she put money into outstretched hands at the roadside. Sometimes she managed to resist shopping in the afternoons. She Skyped her parents. She texted her friends. But she drank too many cocktails. She forsook the cranberry. She was stupid.
I first met her when she was 9 years old, at primary school. I took her to the bathroom, and I said “Stay here”. She tried to go back to the classroom – she liked it there amongst the colours and the words and the numbers. Strange girl. I made her return, again and again, and then I convinced her to stay. The teacher came to the bathroom and knocked on the door. “Are you okay?” She replied that she was fine. She said to herself, “I am fine”. She drank a lot of water, and I left her alone.
I came back when she was 16, and going on a camping trip to celebrate the New Year. There are better ways to celebrate the coming of the new year than sleeping on the ground and drinking vodka out of unmarked plastic bottles, but she did not know that then. On the car ride to the agreed-upon location, where people were distributing tents into car boots and secreting vodka from their parents, she turned to her mother and said “I have a UTI”. That was the first time she called me by my name (I have many names). Her mother – who did not like me, but knew me well – attempted to banish me with dissolvable packets that tasted like lemon mixed with hell. She bought four bottles of cranberry juice and wished her daughter well. Mixing the cranberry juice with the unmarked vodka made me go away, eventually, but attracted small Spanish men with unusual names.
I came again the next year, at the same time. I almost think she willed me into existence with her dread, and with the presence of her boyfriend who could not, would not, on long summer evenings in the sleep-out, leave her alone. This time she let me stay, and I thought we would be together forever, until her temperature got so high that she went, crying, to a friend’s father, for a prescription. I felt betrayed. I lingered. She, her boyfriend and I were an unhappy, unwilling threesome. We hurt each other a lot, that summer.
The last time I saw her was in Japan. She waited three long days to go to the doctor, and might not have gone at all, had she not fainted in a subway bathroom stall, a small one built for a Japanese woman, so that she awoke in a tiny hunched huddle around the bowl. The doctor did not speak English but seemed to understand when she said the word “bladder” and then said the word “pain”. “Drink warm water,” he said, in stilted English, after swift consultation with a curious nurse. She shook her head at him, pulled another Japanese word out of her limited arsenal. “Drugs”. They gave her the white packets and she took them home, lying on her bed watching crows circle. I wanted to stay with her, then – I liked Japan.
We see each other less now. She wards me off daily and treats any sign that I might visit with anger and refusal. For a while I was hurt – we had spent so much time together. We had so much history. But I understand now that it is a natural parting of ways. That people grow apart. Just kidding, I’ll be back – soon.