Salt, Dry Backs, and Cul-de-sacs (Part I)

This one summer a few years ago when I was eight, I thought I’d burn in hell for all eternity. I wouldn’t have felt this way if I didn’t have to spend the summer—the whole summer—with my cousin, Teresa. She was just a year older than me, but she was nothing like me. It was impossible to get along with her. Every time it was Grandma’s birthday, or when we had a family reunion, I always wanted to play with her, because all our other cousins were either boys or older than us. But Teresa never wanted anything to do with my invitations to tea parties or make-over days. She always made fun of me for being such a girly- girl, but I never understood why that was such a bad thing.

I eventually gave up trying to talk to Teresa, but Mom said that that summer could be an opportunity for us to become best friends; I was hesitant at first, but Mom never lies, so I wanted to try. Teresa had to stay with me and my family because her parents, who lived a whole hour away, were going through “adult things.”

Whatever that meant.

I just know that during that summer, Teresa seemed grouchier than that Christmas when her dad didn’t get her the basketball she wanted. Teresa told me that her dad got her mom a big shiny necklace instead because her mommy needed the necklace more than she needed another basketball.

Another reason I didn’t like when Teresa was around was because she smelled funny all the time, even though my mom made her shower in my bathroom every night. But she wasn’t fooling me. I think what she did was stand around in the bathroom for seven minutes while the water ran, just to make us think that she was cleaning herself. Every time she came out, though, she was completely dry. She wrapped her body and her hair in towels and did the little hop-run to the guest bedroom, so my dad wouldn’t see her. But in those two seconds when she passed me, I saw that she wasn’t even damp. I mean, even when you towel yourself dry, there’s still that tiny spot in the middle of your back that’s a little wet cause you can’t reach all the way back there. But Teresa—her back was always completely dry.

And Teresa was also really rude. She would fart and then laugh about it, even when grown-ups were in the room. And her farts did not smell like roses. Her favorite snack was Doritos, so her farts always smelled like, well, Doritos: stale and cheesy.

One night that summer, me, Teresa, and Mom and Dad were sitting at the table for dinner. Everything was fine; I was enjoying the chicken and macaroni and cheese my mom made for us when Teresa let out a huge burp. She then continued eating her food without even saying “excuse me.” It was so rude. I was shocked because Mom had always told me that that type of behavior was unladylike. If I had done that, both Mom and Dad would have fussed at me and told me that I couldn’t have dessert until I apologized for my behavior.

“Didn’t your mommy and daddy teach you any manners?” I asked Teresa after a minute or two. “If they’re good parents like mine are, they should have taught you that burping at the table is rude.”

“Don’t talk about my mom and dad like that, dweeb! You don’t know anything about my parents!”

“Mom! Tell Teresa that she’s being rude!” I said.

“Now, Lily—” my mom started.

“Auntie, can I eat in front of the TV?” Teresa asked my mom, not waiting for her to respond to me. “My parents always let me eat in front of the TV at home. And I think Lily is the one being rude.”

To my amazement, my parents just let Teresa take her plate and cup to the couch, turn on the television, and proceed to eat her food from her lap. The way she slumped lazily over her plate and laughed at the cartoons made me sick. I didn’t know who she thought she was, coming into my house, being rude, and making my parents stop caring about proper dinner table manners. I just knew at that moment that that summer was in fact not going to make us best friends.

 

I don’t know why Teresa got so offended when I asked about her parents, but when I asked my mom why Teresa didn’t have to be polite like me, she just said that Teresa wasn’t raised the same way I was. And her parents had harder things to worry about than whether or not their little girl acted like a perfect princess. This upset me. I think every girl should be a princess, and because I didn’t have a sister of my own to teach how to be a princess, I thought that maybe I could teach Teresa.

But she was impossible.

Teresa would even do this scary thing with her eyes that ended up giving me nightmares: she would be talking to me one second, and then she’d turn around with her back facing me, pretending like she was picking her nose or something, and then when she turned around, she’d have her eyelids flipped up, all inside out so the pink part was showing. It was absolutely gross. And when I told her to stop doing ugly things with her face, she’d laugh at me for being upset.

“Lily, you’re such a snot. I only did it ‘cause I thought you’d laugh!”

“No, that was not funny. It was really gross—and scary!” I replied. “I should tell my mom on you, so she’ll send you back home!”

But Mom never would. No matter what horrible, disgusting things Teresa did or said to me, my mother would just shake her head, apologize to me, and say that I just had to hang in there until the summer was over.

“She’s horrible,” I would say.

“That is not nice, Lily pad. I know she’s a little different than you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to get along with her for a little while. It may be a little weird at first because she doesn’t do things how we normally do things around here, but she’s our family. And you know how I say we always look out for our family, right?”

“I guess, Mommy. But why can’t anybody else in her family look out for her right now?”

“Well, Lily, dear, it looks like we’re about all she has right now. And I’m sure you’ll warm up to her soon and you girls will become the best of friends, don’t you think?”

I doubted that.

 

Halfway through the summer, after a month of annoying me, Teresa got bored and finally decided to leave me alone. She would go outside to ride bikes and throw tennis balls with the boys and leave me while I played with my Barbies in my room.

I would usually play alone, but every now and then, when Daddy came home from work, he agreed to sit in my room and enjoy a tea party with me and my stuffed animals. He was the best at making conversation with the bears, who loved his stories about brave knights and ugly green ogres.

“Hey, Daddy?” I said one day he was playing with me.

“Yeah, sweetie?”

“Do you like having tea parties with me?” None of my friends from school had to play with their dads. They all had little sisters and brothers to play with.

“Well, of course I do, Lily pad. I look forward to playing with my little princess when I get home from work,” Dad said. “Why do you ask?”

“Um,” I started. “Well, lots of other girls in my class play Barbies and have tea parties with their sisters. Why don’t I have a sister?”

My dad paused for a second, scratching his head, which was topped by my pink Barbie tiara. He looked like he was thinking hard about his answer. But I didn’t understand why it took him so long; I didn’t think it was that hard of a question.

“Lily,” he finally said. “A lot of mommies and daddies can have as many kids as they want. Some have two, and others can even have eight. But your mother and I, we were only able to have one: you. And we’re perfectly happy with the way you came out.”

I paused for a second. I really didn’t know why anyone would want to just stop at one kid. I thought that it seemed really cool to have a house full of kids. It would be so fun; you’d always have someone to play with and talk to.

There were a lot of times when I did get lonely. Dad would be at work, and Mom would have to do some type of cleaning around the house. And I would have to sit in my room and talk to Barbie and my stuffed animals. They were all good listeners, but they never could talk back to me, no matter how long I imagined they could. I had friends at school to play with, but I always thought it would be nice to have somebody little like me at home, always there to play with.

But, I trusted my daddy. I guess if he and my mommy thought they only needed me, I was fine with that.

I didn’t like the idea of sharing my parents, anyway.

 

Those few days of the summer that Teresa played outside gave me much needed peace. Barbie was able to get dressed for an evening out with Ken, without being interrupted by syrup being poured in her hair or messy fart sounds crashing the dance party. I still to this day don’t know which end of Teresa’s body those noises actually came from.

I was so relieved when she decided to leave me alone and play with the boys. Heck, she might as well just become a boy; she practically was one.

See, Teresa could be a pretty girl if she wanted to. She had long, light- brown hair that I always wanted to brush, but she would always pull it up in a messy ponytail and ignore how pretty it could be. And she always wore big ugly t-shirts that had stupid sayings like, “Eat my shorts!” or “Don’t hate the player!” on them. I would let her borrow some of my dresses if she wanted to, but every time I asked her to play dress-up with me, she would call me names or pull my ponytail, and then run away.

“Why do you always want me to play with you?” Teresa asked me.

“Well,” I said, “I just wanted you to be my friend. My mommy said you’re going to be here all the summer, so I thought we could play together.”

“I don’t play with Barbies.”

“I have stuffed animals, too: bears and lions and kitties. Or, I could give you a makeover,” I offered.

Teresa rolled her eyes. She was standing in my room, gazing at my ceiling with her arms folded across her chest. She was so rude to me, and for no reason at all.

“What?” I asked. “Would you rather make some cookies in my Easy- Bake Oven?”

Teresa then started laughing. “You just don’t get it, do you?”

I blinked.

“I don’t want to play with any of the toys you have.” Teresa said. “I’d rather play baseball or something. Or find some cool worms in your backyard. There’s always a bunch of them hiding under rocks and stuff.”

“But—”

“What?”

“Those are all things icky boys do,” I said.

“Ugh, you sound just like my Dad.” Teresa had unfolded her arms and flumped down on my bed. “He always tries to get me to put on pink clothes, or play with dolls. He says that girls have to play inside.”

“Yeah, they do.” I said. “If girls played outside, we’d get all dirty and we wouldn’t be pretty anymore.”

“That’s stupid. Girls can do whatever they want to do. Maybe that’s why my mom is always mad at my dad. He keeps trying to make us do things that he wants us to do.”

I didn’t know what to say. I just sat next to my cousin, confused. We sat in silence for a minute or two. Then, out of nowhere, Teresa pushed me over, so I fell flat on my bed. After that, she just ran out of my room without a word.

And even then my mom still wouldn’t send her back home.

Every time I told my mom on Teresa, she would give me the same speech about giving Teresa a chance. Once, though, she actually gave my aunt a call to tell her about Teresa’s behavior.

“Teresa, your mother’s on the phone and wants to speak with you!” I heard my mom call from the kitchen. My bedroom was right at the top of the stairs, so if I listened closely, I could hear the conversation almost perfectly.

“Hi, Mom,” I heard Teresa say. “Yeah, I know, but she’s such a stupid girly- girl. I don’t want to play Barbies with her—“

That angered me and I almost stopped listening. Then—

“Fine, can I talk to Dad?—What? Well where is he—? When is he coming back?”

I could hear Teresa’s voice getting shakier and soon it became harder to hear. So, I snuck back into my room, but left the door open. When Teresa came back upstairs, I could’ve sworn I saw her wipe tears from her eyes. I never mentioned to her that I heard or saw anything, though.

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