Chapter Summary: Okay, we're here, two girls in chapter 69 of my journal. What do two girls alone in the woods do in chapter 69? Huh? Why are you looking at me like that? Girls talk! What were you thinking, you pervs! And git your grubby hands off my very private journal!
"I'm not a girl, Rosalie," I said.
We were walking again. Rosalie had stopped her run right where she picked me up originally and dashed me to the flower bush, so we were walking back to the cabin now.
I suppose it was some sign of her trust in me? Her faith in me? That I could walk all the way to the potty and all the way back under my own power without dying or something?
Like, actually, that would be a first.
Rosalie was silent. Then I heard the smirk in her voice when she said: "I have observed first-hand evidence that you actually are a girl."
I scowled. "You know what I mean!"
Again, Rosalie's silence.
Have you ever watched grown-ups talk?
I say that, because, our talking? What we were doing right now? ... this isn't how grown-ups talk. No, what they do is they talk and talk and talk, and you're like, Moooommmm! Let's goooooh! I'm boorred! of standing next to you in the grocery store! talking to your frieeeend!
That's how they talk, or not really: one of them talks and talks and talks and the other one says, 'uh, huh?' and 'oh, really?' or slips in half-a-sentence edgewise while the first one just keeps of the spew of verbal diarrhea, pardon my French, regardless, and neither of them listen to the other. No, one just talks and the other one just grins and bears it. And if they're really polite, they switch roles so they can do it all over again.
I mean that's how it is for people who do talk. And you know what I mean by that, girls, right? I mean: women. Do you see guys? Do you see them talk? I mean, like, ever? No, what they do is just stand around at the bar with each other, beers in their hands, and look at the women talking, and wonder, idly, if the women are talking about them! As if! and then wonder why they all have to go to the bathroom together and wonder what they all do in there.
Well, no, duh! Talk more, of course! What else would a bunch of women do in the bathroom?
Men are so ...
I can't think of a nice word here.
Okay: solid, steady, stable, right, girls? What's another word for 'boring' or 'totally out of touch with their feelings'?
Oops, I was supposed to be being nice, wasn't I? That there was a big fail on my part. My bad, I'm sorry!
But my point was, and yes, guys, girls do have a point when they talk! Jeez! My point was! that ... Rosalie doesn't talk like that. She doesn't dump, and she doesn't offer a bored 'uh, huh?' to everything I say.
She pauses. She listens. She thinks. She responds.
Not that I like her response ... I mean: ever. But I have to give her this: every other conversation I've ever had in my life was boring and predictable and pointless, and I could basically take both sides of the conversation, with me saying something, then being totally ignored with an 'uh, huh?' or 'oh, really?' or 'that's very nice' or 'shaddup, kid, adults are talking, go play with your friends.' 'But I don't have any friends,' I say. 'That's 'cause you hang out with adults and talk too much. People don't like a girl showing off her smarts, now go play dollies with the Kuntz and Swanson girls.' 'But I don't wanna play dollies, I wanna stay with Daddy and ...' 'Didn't I tell you to beat it, kid?'
Why did I just think 'Daddy'? I never called Pa 'Daddy.'
Huh. That's odd.
With Rosalie, I couldn't fill in the words for her. I mean, I'm getting to know her better now, and now I know some of the things she's going to say sometimes, like how she scolds me (which I don't like at all), or like how she says she's bad (which I don't like at all). But most of the times, words just come out of her mouth and they really shock me, because there was no way that I could see them coming, that I could see her saying that.
And I see that look on her face, sometimes, too. I say something, and she's, like, floored!
Nobody's ever been floored by what I've said. Not Pa, he just takes it all in stride, not anybody else, they just brush off whatever I say as they brush me out of their way of doing whatever important thing they have to do, or, they just find what I say ...
Well, they whisper to each other and point at me and laugh their tittering little vicious giggles.
I learned not to say anything to my classmates after a while. Classmates meaning girls, of course. You don't have a conversation with a boy unless it's about sports, and how could I have a conversation about something I knew nor cared nothing about. "Hey, Joe, you have an amazing swing, that ball cleared the outfield! You're awesome!" And Joe says: "Duh, yeah, I know, right?"
I could keep that up for ... well, as long as the other girls seemed to, which was forever, and I just didn't get how they could put on these adoring, rapt eyes on their guys as the guys became uncomfortable and so reverted talking amongst themselves, so the girls just stood there, standing around their boys talking to themselves about their prowess in sports.
And I'm like ... why? Did I miss something? I mean, like, entirely? Like: the point of doing that?
I mean, the total sum of my conversations with Rosalie has nothing to do with what an awesomely fast runner she is. No, our conversations are about ... well: everything! Even things I'm very uncomfortable talking about, but I can talk to her about anything, and she can say, and she does say, 'that's bullshit!' but she goddamn means it when she's says that, and isn't saying that to get me out of her hair. Or she says, 'well, think about it this way,' or she says, 'that's amazing!' and 'you are amazing!' and she can be sarcastic when she says that, and she can be serious when she says that, but no one has ever said that to me.
And I can probably say that about nearly every sentence she's uttered to me: nobody else has ever said that to me.
"Let's say," Rosalie's voice called me back to the present, "for argument's sake, that I don't know what you mean. So, pretend I don't have any insights into the inner workings of your mind, ..."
Here I snorted derisively. 'Oh, I can read your mind, but I don't get what you're saying.' Yeah, right! I couldn't suppress my sarcastic thought.
Rosalie gave me a knowing grin.
"So, tell me, Lizzie," she continued unabated, "what precisely do you mean by saying you're not a girl."
"Oh," I said. When she said it that way, it did sound odd, like I wanted to be a boy or something. "I didn't mean it that way, Rosalie, I meant ... well, you said, 'Good girl!'" I imitated her patronizing tone. "And ..."
This was hard.
It was hard telling Rosalie this, because it was something that she did, and did intentionally, to annoy me, ... and it really did annoy me.
"Well," I tried again, quietly, trying to quiet myself and my rapidly-beating heart. "You were always calling me 'girl' before you ... well, before now, and that really irked me, Rosalie."
I looked at her for understanding. She regarded me impassively.
I said the last bit with more force than I intended. I guess I really was irked.
So I tried again, very, very quietly, putting my heart as softly as I could into what I said.
"I'm not a little girl, Rosalie." ... and I don't like being treated like one.
Rosalie just stood there, then she frowned and then did something I hadn't seen her do before, she brought her hand up to her mouth and then wiped it across her face.
I was tired.
I was exhausted.
But this was the first time that I noticed the very faint dark circles under her eyes that made her look perpetually tired were now just ever so slightly more pronounced.
She didn't look any different than she always did: confident, powerful, poised.
But maybe I was looking at her with different eyes: with the eyes of somebody who knew her now, as nobody else did, nor could.
She put her hand back to her side.
"Were you ever?" she asked.
My eyebrows creased. "Was I ever what?" I asked in confusion.
"Were you ever a little girl?"
This statement confused me more.
"Well, yeah, Rosalie," I said, "I mean, you know, I was ..."
She interrupted. "Your mother left you when you were how old, again?"
Oh. "Um," I paused. I knew the answer by heart, but I also saw now what she was saying. "I was ten."
"And you had to grow up pretty quickly then, didn't you?" she confirmed. "Or did your father handle everything regarding the management of the household? Or did he get help? Or what happened?"
"Oh. That. Yeah, ..." I drew that word out.
Yeah. It wasn't like Pa made me do anything, but I just saw what needed to be done, and I did it. He didn't ask for no help, and I didn't want him to. I kinda felt it was my job to pick up the slack. And you may say, 'What? A girl ten years old?' because you're not from around here, are you? Or you're well-off. Well, let me tell you: kids much younger that me were working wherever they could, ten-, twelve-hour days and longer and being paid child-labor rates, just so the family had one more income to help them get by, and the girls who weren't working in the factories had to help at home. We weren't hurting for food nor heat, but Pa had a full-time job, and sometimes 'round-the-clock, and he came home tired sometimes and just fell into bed, barely able to ask if I ate something after school, so he would go to sleep hungry if I didn't cram something into his mouth.
A ten-year-old girl gets really good at cooking and cleaning and washing, and good at it really fast, too, when there's nobody else to do what needs to be done.
And really, it wasn't a hard life. Pa was like almost zero-maintenance. My grades at school didn't hurt because of the housework, ... that is, they didn't hurt more, and I had all the time I wanted to read after I did the chores that I took on for myself.
But I wasn't a little girl in a frock and petticoat at ten, anymore. I didn't play with the other girls. I grew up fast, and either they had to, too, which most of them didn't, or they played with their friends after the lessons at school. I was too poor, too tired, too hard-working and too serious to be a good playmate to anybody.
Rosalie tilted her head to one side, and I saw her reading every single thought as I thought it.
It was amazing to watch her read me and know me like nobody else ever had.
It was amazing and scary, because, come on, really! I was more naked in front of Rosalie, wearing layers of clothes than I was in front of Dr. Paardenkooper with my trou down, open and exposed to him, sloughing and ashamed.
But with that, there was a clinical distance. I could protect myself by going away into myself as he examined me.
Rosalie was present and attentive to me, fully taking me in, and in so doing, I was taken by her. I was present to her, there was no hiding anything in me from her, my weakness, my sadness, my pettiness, my insignificance. She saw it all, all of me, and that was scary.
Because I could stand up to anybody: 'Excuse me! I'm not a little girl!' and they would summarily dismiss me. They didn't care about the little girl wearing britches too big for her.
I was invisible to them, so it was safe for me to stand up to them, because they didn't care.
It's really easy to be brave against a world that didn't care, because I just didn't exist in it to anybody in that world. Look at brave little me, standing up for myself to nobody who cared.
But Rosalie cared, and saw me, and saw that ...
When she said: 'You never were a little girl,' ...
I saw that she knew my secret.
And my secret was ... that I really was a little girl... and that I was a little girl still. That I was just pretending to be fierce and stand up for myself and take care of everything, because I was just pretending to be grown up.
But the fact of the matter was, that only a little girl could only say 'I'm not a little girl, Rosalie,' and she could only say it in a little girl's voice.
Rosalie saw it all. She looked into my heart, she looked into my soul, and saw me being so fierce, or forcing myself to pretend to be calm and sincere, and standing up for myself, saying so proudly that I wasn't a little girl, because, look at me, I ran the house since I was ten-years-old. A little girl couldn't possibly do that.
She couldn't possibly, because if she tried, she'd always be scared that one day she'd fail, and be crushed under the pressure of trying to pretend to be grown up and trying to convince everyone that that's what she was, when she really wasn't.
If a little girl tried to do that, she'd be scarred by that, and those scars would run very, very deeply, for anybody to see, ...
That is, for anybody who bothered to look.
Rosalie was looking right at me.
No, she was looking right into me.
Has anybody ever looked into your soul? And I mean really looked into your soul and saw everything, and I mean really everything? Be honest. Has anybody ever bothered to do that? To look right into you and know you?
I'll bet not. I don't have a good track record with betting now, but this one is a pretty safe bet, I'm betting (yup, I'm doubling down). And you know why? Because nobody has the time any more. Everybody's always so busy, all the time, just trying to scrape by, and when they're not, then they want that beer in their hand, and Pa never said this to me, but then they want you to leave them the hell alone because they're so goddamn tired, and all they want to do is just relax for one minute or a half-an-hour and read the sports page or whatever before they drag their tired selves to bed because they had to get up tomorrow morning to do the exact same exhausting thing all over again. No hope for tomorrow other than the hope that tomorrow would lead to the next tomorrow with a paying job, because people were dying on the streets or between towns looking for some kind of work, and the people who had jobs were absolutely terrified that they wouldn't have their job tomorrow, although they never, ever voiced this, not even to themselves, and those people, those blessed, lucky people, like Pa, who had a job today and a job tomorrow and had a home to come home to with dinner on the table prepared by his daughter who loved him with all her heart, filled and overflowing with pride for him, that he was the good man that he was ...
... oh, God, ... guess who's crying like a little girl she says she isn't? Rosalie must be having a field day with my thoughts now.
Isn't this just grand?
Rosalie walked right up to me, and cradled my cheeks in her hands. I felt my tears touch her hands, and then roll over them, disregarding that they were her elegant and perfectly smooth hands, and not my plain, common cheeks.
She looked at me with sympathy.
"Yeah," she said in understanding. "But moreso than that, you probably felt it even before your mother left, didn't you? Even though you didn't know what 'it' was. But it felt wrong, didn't it? 'It' being 'everything,' right? For a child's world is created by her parents; that's all she knows. And for how many years does a marriage fall apart before the principals separate? How many years did you live in a household filled with acrimony, perhaps? or severity? or a cold distance between your parents? Or a polite insincerity or indifference masking the pain that both parties felt as they heaped wrongs on each other and on themselves? And this was your entire world, wasn't it, Lizzie?"
I sobbed loudly.
This was her comfort?
"You grew up in that. A ten-year-old girl who couldn't be a girl, not under those conditions. And even before then. Do you ever remember being a little girl at all? Even once in your life?" she probed gently.
Do you know when a dentist gently probes a cavity in your mouth with his drill, your head strapped down to the back of his chair, immobile, and ... novocaine? What's that? And who can afford it? And all you can do is look up at him with your eyes pleading him not, please, not the drill, buzzing so angrily, so hungrily. And he looks on you kindly and says, 'it will be over soon.'
His kind, kind words and he brings the drill down into your mouth, and the agony blinds you to everything except the knowledge that this is going to go on and on and on, and you can't stop it.
The ground became unsteady beneath my feet, and I was trying so hard to keep the tears in, because if they came out, that is: if they came out more, I just knew the wailing would start, and I didn't know when it would stop.
She was breaking me, but with kindness, so how could I stop her? 'Please stop helping me, Rosalie?'
No way to win. No way out.
In the distance, the outline of the cabin formed the slightest of traces. An invisible outline against the backdrop of the forest. If I ran with all my might, I might be able to make it to the cabin before I totally lost it.
I was shaken, and I was literally shaking, vibrating, in her hands, my legs barely supported the weight of me trying to bear the brunt of her words.
"You are right, Lizzie: you're not a little girl. You never were. You never were allowed to be one. Do you know how I know all this?" she asked sadly.
"Please," I begged.
I knew how she knew this. Her eyes looked right into my soul and saw everything.
"Lizzie, no. Don't run from this. Hear me," she said.
I was vibrating in place. She said 'don't run,' because she knew I was retreating, even if my boots were rooted to the spot. My eyes darted everywhere, looking for an escape, but there was no escape from her.
Because there was no escape from me. I could run from her, and get maybe one second's respite. But I couldn't run from me. And that's how she had me enthralled. She knew me.
I thought I knew her. I did. I do.
But knowing her I now saw was a drop in the ocean of what she knew. I saw her broken heart, but she saw broken me, and she saw into the depths of me that I didn't even know existed until now when she pointed them out to me.
"Lizzie?" she called to me.
I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see her, even though my eyes were wide open. I couldn't see anything any more. The only thing that kept me upright was my chin resting in the palms of her hands.
Everything went black.
A/N: An analysis of this chapter is available at twilight-dad-dot-blogspot-dot-com /2013 /04 /msr-ch-69-fbs-friends-with-benefits-dot-html and /a-scar-dot-html