You Were The Girl Who by Susan Rukeyser

You Were The Girl Who by Susan Rukeyser

You were the girl who didn’t brush her hair. All summer, barefoot in the marshy woods behind your house, wearing those red shorts because the high school boy who did yard work for the Delucas watched you when you did.

You drew everything. Our comfy Connecticut town was the world’s least interesting place, but you were going to be a famous artist in New York or San Francisco, you hadn’t decided. You threatened to run away all the time, and that terrified me, the idea of you not here. You said it so often that finally I wasn’t scared anymore, just sad. Because if you could leave like that, I knew you didn’t feel the same way.

You thought I was funny. You wanted to teach me to shave my legs, but I was embarrassed. That was the summer my parents split and I got my period but didn’t tell my mom, only you. Out in the woods we shared a beer, if you were able to sneak one. On an oak stump you made a little altar to Gaia, votive candles and empty beer bottles and roses snipped from the Delucas’ yard and a locket some boy gave you, maybe that high school boy. We made up rituals, our eyes closed, hands clasped in the flickering candlelight, inhaling the forest, exhaling gratitude.

When the mosquitos got bad we went inside, down to your basement bedroom where I admired your drawings. You watched me, doodled on your thighs, because it drove your mom crazy. There were sketchbooks all over the floor, pages scrawled with whatever you were working on: horses, getting their proportions right, and boxes that appeared to have weight. Noses seen straight-on, I remember you did a lot of those. And hands—you said hands were the trickiest body part. Your school notebooks were covered in ink, your textbooks, too, although you knew you’d be fined. Sometimes we took Polaroids of each other. Once, we slipped off our shirts first.

More than anything I wanted to be you.

You were the girl who got kissed by lots of boys because you always kissed back, curious. I think you went all the way with that high school boy, but you never said.

You were the girl who had an abortion. Junior year, you carried condoms in your purse, but Steve asked, “Don’t you wonder how much better it is, natural?” And you liked the sound of that, natural, and you were the girl who was curious. But you got pregnant and Steve was going nowhere but you certainly were, you were leaving the world’s least interesting place. Steve got his next girlfriend pregnant, too, another girl who was the girl who had an abortion.

After you moved into Brooklyn for art school, I saw you just that once, at Stew Leonard’s. You said you were back in town for Sandy’s wedding, and I said, “I didn’t know you two were friends!” And you said, “I’m the Maid of Honor.”

We were strangers. It shocked me, how suddenly we were.

That night after Sandy’s wedding you were at your parents’ house, in your old basement bedroom, alone. You were the girl who moved away just like she said she would and found an interesting life and became more beautiful. I was in my apartment over Murphy’s Tavern, far from the woods, wondering if you’d ever been my best friend, or did I make that up?

They said you slept through the whole thing. How did they know that? A 60-foot-deep sinkhole opened up beneath your parents’ house, swallowing the basement. The police put up tape and kept everyone out, even your parents. The structure was unstable. The sinkhole was expanding. News vans parked along your road. Eventually there was a press conference: “The victim is presumed dead.” They weren’t able to retrieve your body. They used the word “entombed.”

You were the girl who made our town interesting.

I imagined you pinned by rock somewhere down deep in dirt, wrapped in your bed sheet like a shroud. I imagined you rotting back into Earth, cradled by Gaia through that most natural transformation.

You were the girl who could never leave. How did they know you slept through it?

Demolition crews took apart your house piece by piece, recovered what valuables they could. They filled the sinkhole and dumpsters with everything else. A chain link fence went up around the condemned property. The lawn gave way to weeds, the driveway fissured. In time the marshy woods spread, consuming your grave.

You were the girl who fell into Gaia’s arms in the world’s least interesting place. You were the girl who drew black ball-point on thighs scratched and filthy from the woods. I was the girl who looked for you in drawings like kaleidoscopes, fragments arranged in patterns recognizable for a moment, then collapsed, shifted into something new.

Susan Rukeyser writes stories because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Most of them are fiction. Her work appears in or is forthcoming from Monkeybicycle, WhiskeyPaper, The View from Here, Metazen, PANK, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. Find her here: www.susanrukeyser.com