by Lucas Leery
Lorielle hated herself because her name sounded like the name of a shampoo. I told her it was her parents she should hate. “They’re the ones that named you,” I said. She said she hated them too. Later I suggested she go by Lori, but she said it would be cheating. Lorielle didn’t run away from her problems. It was one of the reasons I loved her.
The other reason was that she was beautiful. She wore clothes that were too big for her and she did nothing to hide her acne. She refused to use shampoo and on humid days her hair smelled musty and ripe. On dry days, her dandruff was like snow. She had one pair of jeans she forbade her father to wash. My own mother buried her nose in my hair every night after my bath to make sure I used shampoo and conditioner. She ironed my shirts before school and trimmed my fingernails twice a week. Lorielle’s defiance of convention at once terrified and inspired me. I was young, but I couldn’t help but fall in love.
“Do you not like shampoo because of your name?” I asked her once, early in our friendship.
“There are other kinds of shampoos,” she answered. That was the end of the discussion.
When I asked her to be my girlfriend she shrugged and said “OK.” We never kissed, but she let me hold her hand in private. At night I would fall asleep and imagine I was holding her hand and smelling her hair. On certain nights I could be so good at imagining that I would sleep and really believe she was next to me. Those were the happiest nights of my life.
We were in the same class from kindergarten to third grade but got split up in fourth grade. We still saw each other at recess. It was then she taught me how not to cry, how to bite the heel of my hand when someone stole my swing or pushed me down. “If you bite hard enough,” she said, “You’ll forget what it was that hurt you.” I pressed my teeth gently to my palm and she laughed. “More like this,” she said. I had to hide those marks from my mother for a week.
After fourth grade Lorielle moved in with her father, which meant she had to go to middle school on the other side of town. It was a twenty-minute bike ride from where I lived, so we usually met at our old elementary school. We would sit on the swings holding hands or perch on the monkey bars and watch cars drive by. With every passing car, we’d try to figure out if we’d want to switch lives with the drivers. Lorielle would make up stories for them, give them lives she thought were more interesting than ours. “That guy’s definitely smoking pot,” she would sometimes say. Or, “I bet she’s driving somewhere to have sex.” But I never wanted to imagine another life for myself, especially not one that didn’t include Lorielle.
In eighth grade she got suspended for breaking a sink in the janitor’s closet. She lost her temper in class and hid in the closet, snapping a pipe and flooding the whole inside of a wall. Apparently it’s two grand in repairs,” she said grinning. “My dad says that’s BS and that he’ll take it to court.” She had a purple crescent under her eye and a thumbprint on her forearm. I never gave it much thought. She told me to skip out on school and spend the week with her, so I shrugged and said OK. Just the thought of lying to my mother and skipping school had my stomach in a knot, but Lorielle had that effect on me. I would have done anything she said.
We couldn’t hang out at the playground during the school day, so we just bounced around town on our bikes. We wandered through the maze of paths between shipping containers and stacked towers of floats at the boatyard, climbing them to get a view of the river. We held hands.
“If I stole a boat would you sail it with me?” she asked.
“I don’t know how to sail,” I said.
“Don’t be such a baby.”
She dropped my hand and stood on the top of a container, sticking her middle finger up and laughing when the attendant came out to yell at us. She laughed all the way back to town, leaning way off her bike to say things to me I couldn’t hear through the wind.
We stopped at the Big Apple on the other side of town and the pump attendant stared at our bikes where we threw them down. When I told Lorielle I didn’t have any money she told me to be more assertive. “In life you can’t wait around for everything to fall into place,” she said. “Sometimes you have to step up and take what’s yours.” She handed me a Mountain Dew and a two-dollar bag of Humpty Dumpties.
“No,” I said.
She laughed again and shoved a handful of Twinkies under her sweater, two sodas in the back of her pants. I followed her out of the store.
“You know they have cameras in there,” I said when we were beyond the point of capture.
Lorielle laughed. “Nobody cares about this stuff,” she said. “Anyway, we need it a lot more than them.” I thought of the lunch my mom had packed, how I hid it in the bushes so Lorielle wouldn’t see. In all the time I’d known her I never saw her bring food from home. I thought about my family’s nightly dinners and wondered what Lorielle would eat that night.
We did the same thing at Speedway, Cumbie’s, and Mobil over the next couple of days, then went back to the Big Apple. It was the same lady at the counter, but she never even looked at us. On our way through the toothpaste aisle Lorielle thrusted a pack of Trojans into my chest. I turned red and put them back. She laughed at me.
We had gotten in the habit of killing our afternoons at the sandpit. We’d pedal at top speed to see who could get higher up the pile, then ditch our bikes and climb through the sand on our knees. At the top we’d hold hands and savor our stolen goods, chucking the empty bottles at trains as they rattled past.
One afternoon a group of boys from the high school cut through with skateboards and backpacks. I recognized a couple as last year’s eighth graders, loud, angry boys from Lorielle’s side of town. We hid behind a sand ridge and watched them pass around a cigarette. My heart sank when one looked at our bikes and pointed at my backpack.
“Sup losers,” he shouted in our direction.
I closed my eyes. Lorielle marched to the summit. “Shut it!” she screamed.
The whole group hollered and laughed and swore. I realized they recognized her. Sometimes it seemed like Lorielle had an entire other life I knew nothing about. Glimpses of that other life always made me nervous.
“Hey Lorielle!” they shouted. “Who’s your new boyfriend?”
One of them whistled.
“Shut it!” she screamed again, but the high schoolers kept laughing and whistling until she hurled empty bottles and clods of sand. They shielded their faces and ran off, swearing obscenities I’d never even heard before. Lorielle didn’t sit down. She looked enraged and depressed at the same time.
“Nice,” I said looking up at her, my face burning. She tossed a bottle over my head then slid down the pile to her bike. We didn’t say a word the whole ride home.
On the pile the next day Lorielle pulled a huge glass bottle called “45” from her backpack. I don’t know how she snuck it past the counter.
“What is it?” I asked as she unscrewed the cap and flicked it away. She took a swig and held it in her mouth for a while before swallowing. It looked painful. I had to hold the bottle with both hands as I smelled it. “Beer?” I asked again.
“Yeah,” she said.
We took turns drinking and belching, but my sips were weak and fearful, my burps faint and forced. I had no interest in alcohol. It was already making my stomach turn and I knew my mother would smell it on me. She smelled everything on me.
Lorielle was unafraid. Her gulps were deep and long and caused her eyes to well with tears. Her burps were powerful and true. They reeked of partially digested Moon Pies and bile. While I felt awkward and unstable, Lorielle seemed liberated. She teetered along the ridge of our sand pile and stumbled into me again and again. It was all very impressive. I took a real gulp and vomited. Lorielle laughed.
I don’t know how much of the bottle we drank. It spilled into the sand when she tackled me and we rolled together, sand in our pockets and scalps, all the way down. We sat holding hands and staring into the woods. She went to go pee and I sat in the sand and listened to her vomit for a long time. I went and found her when she called.
“What time is it?” she asked me, smiling. She was standing with her pants undone, straddling the train tracks and swaying back and forth like a car radio antenna coming loose.
“I don’t know,” I said. I squinted at the sun. “Seven?”
“What do you think of me?” she asked. She was no longer looking at me. She was staring down the tracks towards town.
“I don’t know,” I said again. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you like me?”
“Yeah.” I shrugged. “I like you.” I loved her and I knew it. I knew that every little thing I knew about her was a reason I loved her, but still I shrugged. I was a coward.
“Why do you like me?” Her voice had lost inflection. Her eyes were flat and tired. She hugged herself and sat down.
I couldn’t think of anything to say. For the first time since I’d known her, Lorielle looked scared. She looked confused and alone, staring out at those train tracks. I didn’t like it. Seeing Lorielle like that, vulnerable and unconfident, irked me. Although I now realized how forced it was, I still preferred her bravado. I loved her confidence, partly because I wanted it for myself. I didn’t care if it had to be faked. I shifted my feet and put my hands in my pockets. Sand bunched up under my fingernails and I hoped she couldn’t see me wince.
“I wonder where this train goes.” She said more to herself than to me. She opened her arms as if to embrace something invisible approaching on the tracks. “I wonder if it would hurt to leave.”
When you grow up with someone it’s easy to think of them in the same way you always had: flawless and bold, invincible. But when you’re close enough to learn what lies beneath, when you realize what they’re dealing with and that they’re compensating for their own fears, insecurities, and trauma—maybe even more than you could ever have guessed—the friendship changes. It’s not easy to be honest with yourself, but it’s even harder to be honest with someone else. That night, Lorielle was honest with me. I was just too afraid to do anything about it.
I got home late that night after helping Lorielle find her house. My mother and father were waiting. The school had called. My mother smelled the beer and the vomit and promised not to call Lorielle’s father if I promised not to spend any more unsupervised time with her. I promised right away.
Lorielle went back to school and was suspended again for something else. She was sort of in and out of different schools for a while. My mother signed me up for the swim team, a productive hobby, she said, a way to make friends. Lorielle and I started losing touch and by the time high school rolled around, it was like we’d never known each other. It was like everything we learned of each other, everything we loved, had become a reason to leave our friendship behind.
I hope Lorielle knows what she meant to me, what she taught me about friendship, what she taught me about myself. This is what I think every time I pass that old playground, the sandpit, or her father’s house. It’s since been boarded up, its lawn and shrubs growing high and wild like kids with no one around to slash them down. I hope she hasn’t changed. I hope she got on that train and left this town. And I hope it didn’t hurt too badly.