I was only seven years old when my mother first struck me, with nobody to help and nobody on my side. That is, until I saw what lived over the fence.
My mother uncontrollably angry and for the first time let me have it right on the nose. Horrified, I locked my bedroom door, crawled out of my window and sat alone in my backyard where I didn't think she'd look to find me. All of a sudden when I was about to have my break-down, some boy poked his head over the wooden fence, standing on the step ladder that his father left outside. He climbed over and sat beside me quietly. I felt stupid sitting next to a boy while pinching my nose and having tears still rolling down my cheeks, but not enough to send him away.
"What happened to you?"
"I...ran into my door." I lied.
"Really? So what, did it just jump out and nail you?"
"Uh, yeah," I scooted away from him, embarrassed.
"So why are you crying then?"
"Well being punched by your mom-DOOR doesn't really feel nice."
He cocked his head to the side and scrunched his eyebrows. "Your mom-door?" he asked suspiciously. "You mean your mom?"
I felt the color flush out of my face and my heart starting to beat like a jackhammer. "Maybe,"
"My parents hit me, too. My dad mostly, but my mom's hit me before." he explained as-a-matter-of-factly. "It's OK," he awkwardly put a hand on my shoulder for minimal comfort.
"No it's not!" I resented, shrugging out of his touch. "I don't even know what I did wrong!" I listened to my voice and realized that I was still pinching my nose. "Have you ever gotten a bloody nose?"
The boy nodded. "Sure,"
"So what am I supposed to do?" I asked desperately.
"Wait here," he got up quickly and ran through the side gate and over to his house. Within a minute or two, he came back over and stood on his knees in front of me. He took a few tissues out of the box that he brought over and, while still slightly panting, shaped the tissues into funny things that looked like torpedoes. Once he successfully made two, he told me to tilt my head up. I did so, then he walked over on his knees to my side and stuck the tissues up my nostrils. "There you go."
I carefully screwed them tighter into my nose. "I feel silly."
"You look silly." he told me. I put my hands on my hips and glared. The boy shrugged and told me truthfully, "You look like you have a white mustache that starts from inside your nose."
I got up, crossed my arms and walked away from him.
My neighbor followed me until we were both standing in front of my window. "If you ever you need help or anything, I'm right over the fence. My room has the window like... Like that." he pointed at my window. "Your house looks kind of like mine... But it's backwards."
"So your house is like my opposite house?"
"No, your house is like my opposite house."
Not wanting to argue with him and lose a potential friend, I raised my hands innocently and agreed with him.
"But if you ever do come over, go through the side gate, not the front door. My parents would get real mad."
"You can come over if you want to, too. But you'd have to go through the gate." I said back.
"Alright, thanks. See you later, then."
"Wait!" I called.
He turned back to me. "What?"
"What's your name?"
"I'm Jennifer," I said, even though he probably couldn't care less.
John waved again and let himself out of my yard.
Saturday, April 7, 1984. 5925 Gerard Street. Shermer, Illinois. 60062.
It wasn't because I felt sick, and it wasn't because I had been up for an hour and a half already, but I had a strange feeling inside me like something was going to happen. It had been like that since I woke up. I didn't know what came over me, but something felt a bit off. But before I would let anything happen, I had to get through step one: breakfast.
Reluctantly, I brought myself out of my warm bed and slowly let my feet touch the cold, hardwood floor. I walked out casually, but at the sight of John Bender asleep on my couch again, I rushed into the bathroom to splash cold water onto my face and yank the tangles out of my hair. I always went through the trouble to make myself at least a little presentable to him, even though he never bothered to for me. It was just that way with us. I wasn't sure what I was to him, and I wasn't sure what he was to me. We were more than just neighbors and more than just friends, but I could never come up with the right word.
John tried to look like a burnout to the kids at school, but when he was alone with me, it was different. I depended on him to stay like that for whenever I needed him. But, time was running out and I had no idea what either of us was planning on doing after we graduated from high school. I wasn't going to college and I assumed he wasn't either. I guess we never really talked about things like that.
I cleared my mind of these thoughts, snuck out into the kitchen, and started to make my breakfast. Apparently I wasn't as silent as I tried to be, because John soon stumbled into the kitchen just after the coffee was ready. He sat down on one of the stools in front of the counter and buried his face into his hands.
"I'm sorry," I got out two mugs, "I woke you up, didn't I?"
John shook his head and with a muffle from his hands, said, "No, don't worry about it."
"Here, it'll wake you up," I put the hot mug of coffee in front of him.
"Thanks," he took a big gulp. "Whoa!"
"Oh yeah," I laughed and put the bacon I made on a plate. "It's hot,"
"I figured," John got up and walked up behind me. For a moment, I was strangely excited, but it didn't last when I saw his arm reached beside me to grab a piece of bacon.
"Sorry I woke you up, John." I said while trying to casually spread butter on my toast.
"Don't worry about it," he snagged a few more pieces of bacon and sat on top of the counter across from me. "Hey, what time is it anyway?" he reached back for his coffee.
I looked past him at the clock on the wall. "Almost 6:00,"
"Damn, I gotta be at school at seven."
"You have detention?"
"Not really. Actually, I'm relieved. I thought I was going to be alone." I sipped my coffee then stood in front of him, delicately nibbling at my toast.
John's eyes widened and a small smirk crawled across his face. "You have detention? Jennifer Henson, I can't believe it."
"Alright, Jen!" he hopped down and took a rather large bite out of my toast. "What'd you do?"
I stared at him for a moment. "Don't talk with your mouth full. It's gross."
John swallowed and tried again. "What did you do?"
I nervously walked away to put the empty bacon plate in the sink. "It wasn't all that much."
"What. Did. You. Do."
"I slapped a girl in History."
"Really?" he was even more eager. "Who?"
I slowly turned around. "Claire Standish,"
"Claire?" he echoed softly. I remembered him walking around the school with his arm around her a couple of weeks ago and then both of them suddenly keeping at least ten thousand miles away from each other.
"It was my fault, though. See, we were partners for this thing and she kept annoying me. But in my defense, she completely blew it out of proportion. I didn't deserve detention." I explained.
John randomly put his hands behind his back. "Slap me as hard as you slapped her."
"So I can tell you if it's worth a detention or not."
"Well, OK." I wasn't going to look like a wimp in front of him, so I went ahead and slapped him across the face like I did to Claire.
John paused for a moment to evaluate and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess that's worth a detention."
"Oh, come on! Both of my parents have slapped me way harder than that!"
"I know that," he agreed. "But richies like her haven't had as much as one finger laid on them." I could tell that he was lying for my benefit. He tended to do that.
"Alright, but it's still totally lame that I have to go to detention on a Saturday for it."
"You regret slapping her?"
I scoffed. "By all means."
John smiled at me and looked back at the clock. "Hurry up and get dressed or Vernon'll have you in detention again next week."
"Aren't you gonna change?" I looked at his worn out and faded jeans, stained green flannel long-sleeve, and wrinkled black shirt underneath that he presumably wore the day before.
"Me? What for? It's detention, Jen, not a wedding."
"Even if you were going to a wedding, you wouldn't change." I giggled.
John leaned back on the counter and looked down at himself. He smiled and looked back up at me. "I'd consider changing my socks."
I began to walk backwards to my room. "You would not," I challenged.
John crept up to me and held out his hands. I knew what was coming, spun around, and started to run away. He was right behind me, his hands still out and getting closer to my sides. I shrieked as his arms wrapped around me and he leaned forward over me. "You're such a smart-ass, you know that?"
"Old news, Bender!"
"Well it's still true," he straightened and pushed me in the direction of my room. "Now get dressed, before you get me late!"
"I will because I want to, not because you told me to!" I answered stubbornly.
"Want the rest of your coffee to-go?" he called back, changing the subject.
"Please!" I said as I closed my door and opened my dresser, figuring that that's what I felt was going to happen all morning. John and I were never seen in public together. That was about to change.
Knowing that I had nothing else to expect other than a day with good 'ol Bender, I put on my faded jeans, purple sweater, and red Chuck Taylor high tops that looked about ready to fall apart. I ran out to the front door and found Bender leaning on the wall falling back asleep with my coffee by his feet. I giggled and flicked his nose. "We'll have plenty of time to sleep when we get to school."
"Don't hold your breath," he reached down and took a gulp of my drink while I hung my beige scarf around my neck and slipped on my denim jacket. Bender looked at me for a moment and smirked. "You still wear my old jacket?"
"Yeah, I guess I do. I haven't got anything else since my old man sold mine, and I haven't any spare money for myself anymore. I just thank God that I've finished growing." I grabbed my coffee from him and opened the door for us.
Bender put on his sunglasses and tweed coat and walked out in front of me. "At least you don't have to worry about him anymore." he said, casually walking backwards with his hands already deep in his pockets.
I caught up to him and held my cup tightly in my hands in an effort to keep them warm. "Well, A, you have my couch to crash on and B, you know where your dad is at. Mine left, but he can always come right back! Do you have any idea how paranoid I am?"
"Yeah, that's why I'm on your couch so much." he took my scarf which was still loosely hung on my shoulders and wrapped it around my neck. "But you know how to hop the fence and you know that I never lock my window, so if he ever does come back, and he won't, then you can stay with me. It works both ways, Jen." he took my coffee out of my hands and took a swig.
"Thanks, John," I rubbed my hands together and crossed my arms. "Damn, it's cold,"
"We'll be at school in no time," he handed back the cup.
I sipped the lukewarm coffee. "What did you do this time, anyway?"
"Vernon gave me two months of detention a couple of weeks ago."
"How'd you get yourself in that mess?"
"He was just pissing me off, that's all."
"Well what'd you do to get the first detention?"
"I pulled a fire alarm the Friday before." he laughed, reminiscing.
"Really? That was you?" He smiled with pride and nodded. "You saved my life, man!"
"That day Mr. Taylor was bitching at me for not doing my homework again and he was about to give me an essay for the weekend, but after that alarm, he forgot all about it."
He smiled, watching his shoes, then suddenly looked back at me. "So what's that worth to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"How much do you owe me now?"
I felt my face drop. "I made you breakfast, John."
"No, you made it then I took it."
"Well you owe me more than that." he said stubbornly.
"What did you have in mind?" John's eyebrows rose and he smiled seductively. "Pardon?" He made a hole with one hand and put his index finger through it with the other. I smacked his hands away. "John!"
"I'm just messing with you!" He put an arm around my shoulders, making me actually quite a bit warmer. "This one's on the house."
I brought my blood pressure down a few hundred notches and put my arm around his middle under his coat.
As we walked the rest of the way in dead silence, I looked up at Bender and remembered how well he always treated me. Granted, he was still annoying sometimes and didn't know when the joke was over, but he was gentle and even thoughtful when he wanted to be.
I never forgot that day when we first met. He was the best thing that every happened to me. Throughout the ten years we knew each other, we had grown so attached to one another. Only right then, it looked like it was coming to an end. I looked back up at Bender, memorizing every detail of his face.
John smirked and looked down at me. "What are you looking at me for?"
"I remember when your voice used to be so high."
"And I remember when you used to put your hair in braids every day."
"I can't believe I thought that looked good!"
"Yeah, you looked like Pippi Longstocking." he laughed.
"Was it really that bad?" I held my hair, embarrassed of the thought.
"Aw," he pulled me in closer. "No, you were a lot less creepy than Pippi Longstocking."
"Oh, so I was creepy?"
John thought about it for a moment then nodded. "You still are."
"And you're just as obnoxious as you were when you were eight!"
"Yeah," he squeezed my shoulder. "Some things just don't change."