The Courthouse Bathroom 

Barbara Herrick

Copyright 1998 by Barabara Herrick

Photo of a courthouse.

I started this story in 1994, shortly after the telephone call mentioned in the story. I sent her the rough draft, and she said she would be honored if I ever sent the story in to be shared.  When I came across it and finished it up in 2004, it made sense to leave it in 1994.  I've lost track of her again.  We'll just have to hope for another telephone call to find out what has happened to her since then.

She acquired a hypodermic syringe from a neighboring doctor's son. I never heard what she promised the son in return for stealing the needle from his father's bag. On school day mornings, she injected an orange before packing it into her sack lunch. By the time the lunch period bell pealed, vodka permeated the meaty fruit. The procedure produced a tasty treat that enabled my best friend to endure tenth grade afternoons. She swore me to secrecy supposing to circulate her scandal, but she unjustly underestimated my loyalty.

Back then, in our shady, southern, small town, children were not encouraged to squeal on friends or family members. As an added deterrent from turning her in, I admired her highbrow hijinks. My neighborhood housed no doctors, my daddy kept no vodka in our house for me to filch, and my family did not belong to the country club. Envy well under control, I kept her mid- day screwdrivers a secret. Besides, tittle-tattle traveled at warp speed in our town, and God forbid my mama and daddy should hear tell of her prank.

See, since eighth grade, we had plans, big plans, plans hinging on lengthy discussions and careful, time-consuming deliberations. We intended to blow that berg and seek fame and fortune, and we needed to be together in order to plot our strategies. It was fate, we were sure.

We shared a given name and boasted exact duplicate monograms. We stood the same height, carried the same weight, and brushed the same color long, brown hair. Yet, she was prettier than I, although she argued that point extensively. I loved her for that.

I loved everything about her, even her bothersome traits. She spun intriguing lies, and I reveled in siphoning the truth from her tales. She was habitually late; therefore, I appreciated her presence upon her arrival. She made dates she never intended to keep, so I acquired skills in organizing our active social calendars. And she kept secrets from me, but I did not know that then. She loved me too. She told me all the time.

In those days, we laughed a great deal. We literally laughed until we cried on many occasions. On the other side of that coin, we managed to turn legitimate tears of sorrow into tears of laughter when we felt that necessary for our plans. Boys and bad hair days had no control over our emotions.

During those years, 1965-1968, I was not aware of a problem in her home. I should have known, I think now. I knew all her moods, and I shared a portion of her soul. Perhaps, I recognize in retrospect, I was loath to risk upsetting the tenuous balance of our hilarity. Anyway, her difficulties were beyond my comprehension -- my daddy never touched me in any inappropriate manner, and my mama was not afraid of my daddy.

There were other differences in our situations. Her family was more affluent than my family. Her mother was a South American refugee, so her eyes were dark brown in contrast to my typical- to-the-mid-south hazel eyes. My siblings were sisters, and she had one brother. Her feet were small -- mine were not. She sang like an angel, and -- you guessed it. She lived in the country instead of town, so she had to ride the yellow bus to school -- early bus in the morning and late bus in the afternoon. (I sometimes wonder if that one point might have been the proverbial straw that weighted her downfall.)

On breakfast cooking day in home-ec class in the ninth grade, we thought it would be funny to cook up all the bacon and biscuits and eggs in the kitchen instead of the allotment provided our group. The teacher did not think it funny and instructed us to eat it all before we left the classroom. We ate a goodly portion of it, but we carried a lot of biscuits from the room in our apron pockets. We laughed about that in phys-ed class until we wet our navy blue, regulation, jumper shorts. For that we received detention, and I remember she was afraid of what her daddy would do if she missed the bus, so afraid that we laughed all the way through detention.

I knew her daddy was way wicked strict, like mine, but looking back, I see he really was just as mean as she said. In eleventh grade, she told me he called her a slut and a whore. So in the bathroom before school started, in the time she had to kill due to the early arrival of her bus, she slathered on seven layers of mascara and eye-liner, rolled her skirt up three turns at the waist band, and un-buttoned the top two buttons of her oxford blouse. (Oddly, she wore the same expensive, long- sleeved oxford blouses on the hottest summer days.) Most of us eleventh grade girls, especially those of us who walked to school, only had time for one or two layers of eye make-up, one roll of wool skirt, and one blouse button. (For some reason, good luck I supposed, her knee socks never fell down, so she saved some time there too for the eye make-up.) She was a rebel.

In the spring of our sophomore year, she took her daddy's Chevrolet and convinced me to skip school and gad about the county. I accidentally told my mama about it and was grounded for a month. It took a great deal of conniving to convince my mama not to tell her parents. I saved her that time, and all the other times I could. We were best friends.

Our first dates were double. We helped one another plan the monologues required for further dating success. We advised one another beforehand on dress, hairstyle, and monologues for dating success. Eventually, we were able to single date, but found it necessary to converse by telephone before and after either of us ventured out alone with a boy. (Unbelievably, this happened more than once: I would pick up the telephone receiver, and before I could ask the operator to ring her, she was already there, just waiting and giggling.) She comforted me when I suffered my first broken heart. When I met my second first love, she dated his creepy chum for my moral support. Until senior year, I could not have imagined making a critical social move without her advice.

At the end, when she became a pariah in our high school, I defended her, but we no longer spoke by telephone. We no longer spoke at all. From then on, I managed my social life all by myself. I missed her!

The next year, for the short time we attended the same college, before she went to live with that doctor in the city and show her voice in the clubs, we tried to be friends again. We met some new people together, and did some "first time at college" stuff together. It was not the same.

She delivered her first and only baby scant weeks after my first child was miraculously come into the world. She invited my husband and me to come meet her husband when we visited my parents during the later stages of her pregnancy. She asked us to bring a six-pack of beer, so we did. Her husband yelled at us, and it is my understanding he beat her and the fetus after we left.

Later, when my children and I moved back to my hometown for two years when my husband was stationed overseas, we lived a couple of houses down from her little girl and her. Her daughter rode to school with us each morning, and we got together every once in a while and put on funny shows for the babies, but....

We exchanged Christmas cards most holiday seasons, and swapped school pictures of our adorable offspring. Twice, she sent chatty letters of her better life with the second husband, but that turned out to be another of her big, fat lies for my benefit.

During Desert Storm, she telephoned me overseas and sang "You Were On My Mind" by the Wee Five, a favorite of ours in the old days.

Then one night in 1994, across the miles and the years, she called and told me the truth. She confessed she had already confronted her family and written to Oprah. That's when she learned her daddy had come to my daddy's store right after the big stink when she was caught kissing a black boy. Now she knows the man from whose seed she sprouted forbade me to be with her because, in his opinion, I was a bad influence. I told her how, after she went to Memphis, her daddy had happened to sit beside my daddy at the barbershop one day and poured out his hateful heart. He declared, in front of God, Jim the barber, and everybody, he had come to understand it was not my fault because now he knew his daughter was just a nasty slut all by herself with no help from anybody. My daddy was appalled a man could speak of his little girl in such a way.

She promised to keep me informed of the progress of her recovery, but that was almost a year ago now. Like I said, lots of times she made plans she didn't keep, that she knew she wouldn't keep, but I fell for it every time because we had so much fun when some scheme did pan out. In high school, she was forever inviting me to spend the night at her house and then laying out some lame excuse why I must be un-invited. Once or twice, I did stay the night at her house, and she at mine, and each time that happened, we sneaked out a window and roamed the wee hours for a little while.

One time, we planned to spend the night in the courthouse bathroom when a movie crew came to our town to film scenes on the court square. They roped off the square for the event. We figured we could spring forth on the morning of the shooting and become extras in the movie. I saw the movie years later at the drive-in theater; would have been better with us in it! I still think we could have pulled it off.

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