“I would like to talk about last night, Carrie.”
I lean back heavily in the creaky chair at the dining table, squeezing the ice bag closer to my head:
“Well, I’d rather not.”
“I’d like to,” Lin says again, in that soft, insisting voice which always drags your attention to her.
Like now when she is looking directly at you from the bag chair near the corner of the living room, where she always sits and reads and contemplates the world. And when you pass her she can sit in silence for several hours a day and you begin to wonder: Is she contemplating you?
“Okay,” I say and put down the ice bag. “I guess I feel bad about it still … “
I’m not very convincing in trying to sound rational and courageous and it’s not just because my head still feels like somebody split it with a hammer in several different places.
Vodka-shots – you don’t get hammers much stronger than that.
It’s a dreary Sunday morning in September in our 3-room apartment in Columbus – Lin’s apartment.
You see, that’s the problem: Lin inherited a lot of money – lots – and then gave most away, but what she didn’t give away she used to buy this apartment for us both while we studied at the university just across the river.
All fine, eh? Well, except for the fact that I guess I always felt like the junior member in our ‘team supreme’, ‘friends forever’ and all that.
My mum’s an unemployed teacher and lives in a 2-room apartment in Cleveland, same place I also lived not so long ago. My dad is somewhere in Scotland.
Guess it is better than Lin’s dad, and what happened to him, but …
The problem is that all this best friends-stuff can feel so very real, and then … there is a nagging doubt somewhere, like a thick black liquid just below the surface. It has to rise, it always has to, and you try to keep it down so the surface looks unspoiled and you try to look at other things. See – what a beautiful island over there.
But those thick, oily drops just keep surfacing. Like last night.
“Do you think all this is a sham?” Lin asks.
I open my mouth but it just stays open … nothing really comes out. I hadn’t seen that one coming …
“Everything we’ve been through since we met?” Lin clarifies. “Our friendship.”
“Lin, I think this is crazy. We’ve talked a lot about this. How can you think I would think – “
“It’s not what you think, Carrie. It’s what you try not to think. It gets through sometimes. Like last night when you had to squeeze that one out … “
“I’m not sure I remember.”
“’We can’t all be rich’.”
“Did I say that?”
“Yeah … “
Something sours in me. Perhaps it’s because I feel I’ve been sitting in this chair looking at my ‘friend’ over in that chair before. Like too often.
“Maybe I didn’t mean it, Lin. Not like that. Maybe I was drunk, okay?”
“Why don’t you say what you really feel about me, Carrie? Like you did the first time we met.”
Yeah, that wasn’t good. I called her shallow and then learned her father had died and it had not been pretty – if death is ever pretty.
Long story, but believe me – it was pure luck that we got together afterwards.
Hell, we clicked so well … we’re both artist-wannabes. Why can’t it just be easy? Why does it have to matter that I never have … And she always has …
I say it:
“Okay, I remember what I said. But I got pissed because you began to say I could just buy another dress than the one I puked on. I still don’t have that kind of money, Lin. And you – you say you have given it all away, but I know you still have a lot stashed.”
“Not a lot – 30,000 dollars.”
“Well, it’s like a 100 times more than I have, and only because my mum sold her bloody car and I got that scholarship.”
“I got a scholarship, too.”
“Only because you wanted to have it. And it was partial. But you could have paid for all of it.”
“My mum would have paid for it – she insisted but I said no.”
“Yeah – she insisted, like she insisted on you getting all the other money after your dad died and you sold the big house and the business and god-knows-what-else … “
“What’s your point?” she asks with feigned gentleness.
I grab the ice-bag and smack it back onto my aching skull. I look down. I don’t want to be seen, yet I am always seen. I am seen for what I am – Carrie Sawyer, 18 years old and always looking to beat on somebody. Because they got more money. Or better looks. Or a boyfriend …
I stand up and go into the kitchen and open the fridge. Nothing new has come there since last night. In fact, we should probably go shopping … then I think of how much is left in my wallet. Then I think of a thousand other things that are too unpleasant for Sunday mornings, but I swear – once that hammer has split your skull, all kinds of grime can come in – or out.
All the stuff you should have wiped away and cleaned up a long time ago.
I pull a cola out of the fridge and discover it was opened some time ago and is all but fizzled. Fine, whatever.
I drink and feel the cold in my throat and it feels like it is clearing something. Back in the living room there is only a silent Lin in her bag chair. Tiny and slim, black curls, that serious face. I love that face. I love her sharp wit, her ability to see and think and talk about all the things I can’t.
I have to force myself to remember how much I love it as I look her in the eyes from the doorway and say it:
“I have thought a lot about this in the past months since we moved in together. And I think you are right.”
“In what?” she says, almost a whisper.
“In what you think I am thinking. Or trying not to think.”
“What … is that?”
“That I’m only your friend because you pity me.”
She opens her mouth to protest, but then closes it again.
“That’s right,” I say, feeling all warmth leave my body completely, “poor little Carrie Sawyer, can’t even afford her books. Lin Christakis to the rescue … “
We look at each other silently.
It is out.
What do we do now?
Lin gets up silently, closes her book, looks down.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay … “
Suddenly – regret. Hard as a whiplash.
“Lin, please, I – “
But she holds up her hand, still looks down.
“No, it’s okay, Carrie.”
Then she looks up at me, her eyes glistening:
“I think you should find another place to live, then.”
And that’s how it ends.
What’s been brewing for months.
All it takes is that the door opens a little bit and then the light comes in and you are reminded of all the black stuff that’s behind it, that’s been pushing to get out.
And that’s how such things can destroy the fact that Lin and I clicked almost instantly. That we shared … everything. That we wanted to do the next super graphic novel together, just to be smart and different and change the world. And that I finally said yes to let her pay for our apartment in Columbus, instead of moving into a minuscule dorm room that I could not afford anyway.
All those really good things that should count for more, they don’t.
And I have no idea why, only that it’s so fucking cruel. Like there is some emotional defect inside me that always gets things fucked up, things that should be if not perfect then at least good and pure.
I fuck them up. I let some bile be there, a little jealousy. And now it’s big and fat and ugly and it stinks.
And I stink.
I go into my room and close the door and just sit on my bed for maybe an hour and stare into the air.
I think maybe two hours pass, not one. I don’t care. But at some point I begin to listen for sounds from the living room.
Lin should’ve gotten up from her chair, gone into her own room. She should’ve done that or gone out. Waiting somewhere perhaps, until she can come back and I am no longer here.
How do we even do this? I signed a contract, yeah, so the paper work was in order. Lin’s mother insisted. Neither of us took it very seriously. We were friends for life, right?
“Yes,” Julia Stephen had said, “but things can change – and very quickly. Better safe than sorry.”
And there had been this darkness in her eyes at that time and she handed us each a pen and the excitement was in the air, and it was enough for us – for me – not to let the memory of that darkness affect me.
Not then, not after. I just signed. We signed. It was like a marriage. It was a ticket to freedom.
I was finally moving away from home, so was Lin. Her father had died. It had been tragic, yes. But it had left Julia Stephen with more money than she knew what to do with.
So she gave it to Lin. And Lin gave some to me.
Not cash, just this: Our apartment. Or home. Our ticket to a new life.
I listened again. And again I heard nothing but silence.
I wonder if she had sneaked out without me hearing it … She could have.
But that was a distraction. It didn’t matter what Lin did. It mattered what I did.
Should I just pack? Where should I go?
Back to my mother’s in Cleveland, presumably … But what about my studies? I’d have to find a room here, temporarily. Did I have the money for it? Maybe … At least for a little while but it would quickly be spent.
There were two questions:
Did I really want to leave?
If I did not, was it then because I had no choice?
I mean, if this was really it – something that had been gnawing at me for a long time – then I should be able to leave, any way possible. I should be able to say: ‘This friendship with Lin Christakis is just a sham. No doubt about it.’
That would be the easy choice, even if it would ruin me and perhaps also my studies which I had only just started.
The other way would be if I really did not want to leave. If the whole distraction was the anger I had kept down for a long time, but it wasn’t really Lin I was angry with – it was myself. I was angry and ashamed that I was a ‘kept woman’ by my best friend and that I did not have money for myself and I had found no immediate solutions. So I kept it down until it boiled over and now it had and we could clear the air and find solutions.
I could get another, higher-paying study job. I could move out to a cheaper place, which may be dog shit but which I could pay for myself. Something that would cost less than or equal to the amount I paid Lin for living here, in the apartment she had bought, all of which was stipulated in the contract her mother had been bright enough to insist on for us.
I could do a lot of things differently, and it was well overdue that I did.
I slowly get to my feet.
God I feel sick … and not just because of the hangover. But I have to do this … I put my hand on the door and slowly push it open, peer into the living room.
And sure enough, there she is: In the chair, still reading.
But it wasn’t relaxed reading, it looks like she strains more than usual. Her brow is a maze of furrows.
And because of me, no doubt.
“Lin … “
She looks up. Something glistening in her eyes.
I have all sorts of explanations ready. And then all the proposed solutions. It is so eminently logical what is going to happen: I am going to admit I have made a mistake letting this boil over inside me, but it wasn’t what I really felt – not about our friendship. Our friendship IS more than that. And it doesn’t matter that she pays the most for the apartment, or the food or all the other things. It isn’t about that. I am going to give her the best, most sincere, most clarifying speech of my life …
“I’m sorry … “
And that’s all I manage before I break.
She comes over to me, pulls me close.
And then we just stand there, like so often before when there had been one crisis or another, and we were in each others’ arms and the outside world seemed a little less dangerous. A little less likely to get the better of us.
Only problem is that this time it is not the world outside that could tear us apart.
It’s … me.
I manage to let go first, and then get a hold of myself. Sort of.
The whole thing afterwards, it comes out not too coherently. But I think what I need to say comes out. What is really there …
“Lin, I have been angry with myself for a long time for not being able to contribute more, for being … poor. I let it out on you and I shouldn’t have. I don’t want to move and I don’t believe you – our friendship – it is what I said it was … “ I can’t bring myself to repeat the words … to say ‘pity’.
“I … I believe we are … friends,” I say and almost choke on it.
“We are,” she says. And then we fall into each others’ arms again and now she starts sobbing wildly.
“We are – we are … “ is all she can say.
After the storm has subsided I know it isn’t over. I look into those dark-brown eyes of hers and finish what I have to. It is about doing something that will not solve anything really – not outwardly.
But it will solve something for me:
“That’s … a good start. For us both.” I smile with some effort, and so does she. But at least I know now that we both feel it. We don’t want this to end. Somehow, though, we have managed to fuck it up – or I have – but we don’t really want it to be like this.
“But … “ I then say … “I have to prove to myself that I am good enough. And I can’t do that as things are now.”
“You could try,” Lin protests. “You just need to think about things differently. It really doesn’t matter that I … you know pay for this – “ she makes a lose gesture towards the rest of the apartment “ – or the other things,” she adds.
“Well, it does to me,” I say. “And I was stupid – so damn stupid – for not admitting it before.”
“It kind of came out, in bits and pieces,” Lin say, with some resentment in her tone. “Over the last year and a half.”
“Yes!” I say and take her hands. “Yes, and that was bloody wrong, and I can never undo that. All the good times we had – we still have – I always … “
“Sniped a bit,” she adds for me with a wry smile.
“Can you forgive me?”
“If you ask nicely,” she replies quietly, then: “You said it like something … had to change?”
“It does,” I say, “ – and it’s not just my thoughts. Some things can only change … because we change them.”
“You’re moving out,” she concludes.
I haven’t really thought about it until this moment – that it’s an option. I mean, I have apologized. I have admitted how much of a bitch I have been. I have promised to find solutions. Maybe, I have briefly imagined already, how there will be some other job, some other way to save … Maybe I can swipe the floors more often … Maybe what Lin says is indeed right:
Maybe I can feel better about it all if I change my, well, mind about it all. Accepts it …
“Yes, Lin,” I confirm. “I am moving out.”
“As long as it is your choice,” she replies and swallows. “Not because you feel I threw you out. I want you to stay.”
I look at the couch in the living room … Odd, how some things suddenly mean the world to you when the world is about to change.
“We sure had many good times on that couch,” I say.
I feel relieved. It is okay to say it. And it is okay that we are friends like this. We are friends …
And this stupid couch that I suddenly think of – this is our little part of the world that will always be there, to stand against the storm. Like when I came home and griped about Alan and why he would never look twice at me … Like when she had to spill it all about her mother and her grades and the professor …
But that world has to change, at least for awhile.
“I have to prove to myself that I can do on my own – more than I already do,” I say.
I stand for a moment then go over to the couch.
Lin joins me.
“This is beginning to sound more and more like a bad break-up, like in one of those TV-series you are so fond of,” she remarks and sniffs a bit, then wipes her left eye with her sleeve.
I take her hand.
“We’re not married,” I say.
“No,” she says. “We’re best friends – that can be a whole lot worse.”
“It is not a break-up,” I says. Then I look directly into her eyes. “It is not.”
“But why can’t you just stay? You said you were … wrong. I forgive you. It’s okay … “
“No,” I say firmly. “It’s not okay. And I have to prove to myself – don’t you see? If our friendship is to be worth something it has to be there, too, after I have moved out.”
“Carrie, let’s be real. You don’t have that much money. You need to find another job, and you still need to be on top of your studies. Can’t you wait – save something more? Maybe after Christmas?”
“You mean ‘don’t be rash – don’t do anything you’ll regret’?” I run my hand through my hair and sigh without wanting to: “That sounds so reasonable, but I think I have to go – as soon as possible. Even if it means going home to my mother for awhile.”
“You can’t study, then.”
“Then I’ll take a break.”
“Okay,” she say. “If you really feel this is necessary.”
Silence, then …
“I want you to feel I am your best friend because I am truly worth it, Lin.”
“Yes, I believe you do,” I say. “But I need to feel that you feel it as well. And I can only do that if I prove it – like this.”
“That you are willing to break off your studies, or to live in a dump?”
“No, that’s not going to happen! But I guess … that’s the essence of it, yeah.”
She is again quiet for a long while. Then she says:
“So you’re kind of saying our friendship is more important than your education?”
“You make it sound … tough,” I say, vaguely in protest.
“It is tough,” Lin says. “It is also the truth. If you really need to move out, to go earn everything for yourself in order to trust that I care about you for who you are – and … “ she hesitated.
“It’s long overdue,” I say. “The other way is poison – to our friendship.”
“I don’t see it that way,” she replies. “Not after this, not after what you have said. You have proved to me you did not mean it. It was a problem for you, yes. You kept it down all this time, sure. I should – we should have talked more about it, but … now we have. And now we can start over.”
I smile: “We will, after I have done this.”
“When?” she says, sounding slightly desperate. “When you have made a million dollars?”
“No,” I say firmly, “I’ll go make some calls. Nadine said there were some cheap dorm rooms available at her place. Then I will come right back in here, sit right here beside you – and we will start over.”
“But you will leave tonight? You will not sleep here tonight?”
“Probably, but I will have to leave soon. I will have to do this, to show it means something.”
She goes silent again for long minutes and I wonder if she is truly mad at me now and just don’t know how to say it, or to end the conversation in a proper way.
Have I made things worse?
What the hell have I gotten myself into, anyway? Is this the right decision? Maybe it is too … much?
Won’t it just give me a slew of new problems? Study problems? Financial problems? Every kind of goddamn problem?
Yes – yes, maybe it will.
But one thing I am absolutely sure of in this moment:
It will fix the most important problem here and now … It will make something whole that had been fractured for some time.
Something that should never be fractured.
I am about to go for my room when Lin says something again:
“You know … “ she starts, staring absentmindedly out the window but with a broad smile on her face “ – you are the most beautiful friend I have ever had, Carrie Sawyer.”
I have half-way gotten to my feet but then I sit down again:
“And you,” I say – putting my hands on her cheeks and turning her face towards me “ – you are a little rich bitch, who I love very much.”
“Because of my money, of course,” she says and grimaces. “I should have given the last 30K to charity as well and lived on the street, but then I suppose you wouldn’t want to be with me, eh?”
“That’s right,” I say. “I’m so glad you are a rich.”
“I’m not rich like I was before,” she says and smiles that seldom, but sparkling smile that you would see only a few times a year on Lin Christakis. Really.
“I guess not,” I say and let go again. “30K can quickly get eaten in fees. I guess you are worse off than before … ”
“Guess again,” she says and takes my hands in hers.