In my favorite picture of us, we’re sitting side by side on the concrete front porch of the house where I grew up, each with an arm slung over the other’s shoulders. Both have bright red bits of yarn holding back our waist-length hair, though mine is blond and hers is black; both still up and down skinny like boys, before the hips and breasts that later made her strut and me hunch and flush, in matching “Rosedale Soccer” t-shirts. We told people we were sisters.
We had the same name, though my mom swore she picked it first and told it to the priest months before I was born, and who would lie about telling a baby name to a priest? But my friend was born thirteen days before me, and her mom Val stole the name, and Mom was hot about that. But they made up because they were good friends and neighbors who’d been pregnant together and now had little girls together, and no one called us Megan anyway, everyone called her Maggie and me Meg. And every time she’d start acting like she was the boss of me, being thirteen days older and all, I’d remind Miss Thing that she was named after me.
We did everything together, sometimes right along with all the kids in the neighborhood that our moms said were like a herd of wild animals running in the streets. Like when Chico the Great Dane would escape from his yard down the block and we’d all scream and run like we were scared, but really Chico was a pretty nice dog and let us ride him like a horse up and down the street once we stopped screaming. Or when Crazy Omar told us all to come to the dumpster behind the school across the street, he was going to do something cool. We all stood around in a circle watching as he disappeared inside it and came out holding the dead rat the school janitor scraped off the playground the day before. Before we knew it he was swinging that rat by the tail in a circle, faster and faster like the propeller on a plane, and he had those bulging eyes that made us call him Crazy Omar, and plap – when he let go, that rat hit me in the face with a wet, runny slap. And wasn’t Maggie on top of him in a flash, hitting him in that jack-o’-lantern mouth of his before anyone else could think what to do or even move. She was that kind of friend.
But sometimes the older boys wouldn’t let us come with them. My brother Rob, Maggie’s brother Michael, their friends Gilbert, Bim Bim, Freedom, Kevin, Bay Boy – they’d say go home, babies, fags, so Maggie and I would go play on my next door neighbor Big Tawana’s rusty old swing set, because she said we could whenever we wanted. Creak, creak, creak. And one time Maggie jumped off the swing and cut her leg on a big rusty thing sticking out of the ground and bled so much and cried so hard that I went and opened my leg on the big rusty thing too, so she’d know we really were best friends. We were both howling and bleeding all over the grass and our dads ran over from our backyard, where they were building our garage together, and Dad said you’re worse than the boys, and Maggie’s dad Ron said in his deep booming voice, now you both need goddamn tetanus shots. He said goddamn a lot.
Winter was good because we could ice skate at the park, and sometimes at night we’d get pulled around the neighborhood on sleds, Dad pulling me, Ron pulling Maggie, Mom and Val walking up ahead, and Rob and Michael slipping around on the sidewalk behind us. It was very dark, almost midnight it seemed like, and all you could hear was the slither and crunch of the sleds over the snow and ice that made everything sparkle, and something about it seemed magic. But summer was better.
That’s when Maggie’s backyard would be full of people and smoke from the grill, and “Shower Me With Your Love” would be on Ron’s big boom box, and we’d dance and jump through the sprinklers and pretend we were the girls in the video, and everyone would clap when we were done like we were actually famous. And sometimes a big city truck with a flatbed full of water would drive through the neighborhood, charging fifty cents to go in the water for fifteen minutes, and we’d beg for the fifty cents because it was so hot and the truck was almost as good as a real pool. Mom and Val would give it to us and stand off to the side while we splashed around with everyone else, and they’d say God knows what they’ll catch in there, but they still let us do it.
We said when we were older we’d be roommates in New York and have lots of clothes and boyfriends like Madonna. We taught each other stuff, like when she came to church with us, I told her when to stand up and sit down and kneel and to chew the wafer fast or else it would poke and stick to the roof of your mouth. She had a funny look and asked if it was really body we were eating and blood we were drinking and Dad said yes it really was, and she never really wanted to go to church with us anymore after that. The stuff she taught me was cooler, like how when a boy kisses you, you’re supposed to open your mouth, and how to balance on the handlebars of a bike while someone else pedals, and how to catch the bus to Northland Mall, which I wasn’t allowed to do, but we did it anyway.
We even ran away together once but not on purpose. We were just at the park and there was so much going on, so much to do, an ice cream social for the school and also a parade with fire trucks and everything, and we just kept watching and following all the people, and pretty soon the porch lights started to flicker letting all the kids in the neighborhood know it was time to go home, but we forgot to go home. No one could find us until a cop finally did, all the way on the other side of Eight Mile on our bikes, and he took us to the police station where we had to wait for our parents, and then we knew we were really gonna get it because no one went to the police station except people like Bay Boy who was very bad and scary and always in trouble.
Mom and Val were always on one of our porches, drinking coffee and smoking and talking, seemed like all they ever did was drink coffee and smoke and talk. And when they ran out of cigarettes they sent Maggie and me to the party store on Outer Drive to get more. We used to go for them all the time, feeling very grown-up with money in our pockets and asking the man behind the counter for Capris and Newports, as if they were for us. Sometimes there was a little extra money for candy, and one time walking home, she said the Now & Laters were hers and I said no we were supposed to share them, and that’s when we had our only real fight ever. We pushed each other and wrestled around and the bag went flying, which made us stop, and when we were panting and crawling on the sidewalk collecting cigarettes and Now & Laters, she said Meg you have a booty like a black girl, and now you fight like one too. She laughed when she said it, and that made me laugh, and right away we were best of friends again. But then things in the neighborhood got bad.
It started with the break-ins. Then one night at Maggie’s, she and Michael and I were looking out the window at all the boys in the street yelling and cussing and getting ready to fight each other, and Michael said they were gangs and went and got Ron’s gun and held it in his lap, and he looked scared and he never looked scared, so then we were scared too. And then Dad went over to Big Tawana’s to borrow something and her nephews and brothers and cousins were there and their guns were all over her coffee table, a big pile of them. Rob and I were listening at the top of the stairs when he told Mom that. It was, he said, the last straw.
They told us we were moving. They told us we were going to a better area and we would love it there. We wanted to know, better how? What about our school and all our friends? They told us go to bed, you’ll see. And a little while after that they took us to see our new neighborhood, with much bigger houses and much bigger lawns and lots of trees but not a single person outside that I saw. When they drove us by our new house, Mom said what do you think, and I said it was the same color as puke and looked like the Brady Bunch house and I hated it.
On moving day, we were all there on the driveway, Mom saying goodbye to Val and Rob to Michael and Dad to Ron, and I heard Ron say to Dad watch out for the Bourgy Man which sounded a lot like the Boogie Man, so I knew that wasn’t good. And Maggie said we’re sisters and gave me her favorite charm from her plastic necklace, the telephone charm, and I gave her my favorite, the ballet slippers, and we made our parents promise to drive us back and forth to see each other so we could keep being best friends. And they did. The first time Maggie came for the weekend was about a month after we moved.
We rode bikes around a big tree-lined boulevard near my new Brady Bunch house and I told her how I never saw kids from my new school in the neighborhood and how we hadn’t seen our next door neighbors yet and how it seemed like everybody here pretty much liked to stay inside all the time. And she told me how she liked this boy Tre who was older and how he liked her too which pretty much meant she was mature now, and right when we were talking about that three kids came around the corner and up to us on their bikes, which was funny seeing how I’d just been saying there were never any kids out.
Two of them were twin sisters in the eighth grade. They were on the basketball team at my school. The other was Matt, who was in the sixth grade with me. He had very blond hair and bright blue eyes and would tell people at school, if you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much, and he thought he was cooler than everybody else not just because he was Dutch I guess but also because his initials were MTV. He and the twin sisters screeched right up to us and our bike tires almost touched.
The sisters smiled, and so did Matt, and then so did I, and I was just about to say something nice when they all turned to Maggie, and Matt’s little pink mouth formed one word: Nigger. And then the sisters laughed.
I pushed Matt off his bike. I went for the sisters too but they took off pedaling fast, laughing and calling over their shoulders, nigger, nigger, nigger. Matt took off after them. And then I looked at Maggie who just gripped her handle bars not moving or saying anything, which wasn’t like her at all because Maggie was always a good one in a fight. She just stood there and turned a weird gray I’d never seen anybody turn before. We walked the bikes home, and she didn’t say much about Tre or anything else the rest of the weekend.
Maggie didn’t really want to come to my house after that, and the next time our parents would drive I went to stay with her. We snuck off to Brightmoor to see Tre and his friends, and Tre was Maggie’s boyfriend now, and I felt like a baby when she told me that because I’d never had a boyfriend and still slept with stuffed animals. There were a bunch of us there, hanging around in a parking lot, and one of Tre’s friends had a car, and some people were sitting on the hood, and someone said let’s go to Red’s house. And Red looked around at everyone, and he stopped at Maggie, and he said to her, you can come. Then he looked over at me, and back to Maggie, and said, but you can’t bring that white bitch. And he had a little smile when he said it, just the way Matt the Dutch kid did.
We didn’t go to Red’s. And we didn’t talk much the rest of the weekend. And when my parents found out I’d been in Brightmoor they were really mad and grounded me and said we’re not going to let you go back there anymore if we can’t trust you. It’s about safety. And then I said well Maggie isn’t really safe here either so what are we supposed to do, and then we all just looked at each other and got quiet. And my weekends with her became fewer and farther between.
My family still saw hers, sometimes. But not like before. One of the last times we saw them was at our house at my brother’s high school graduation party.
There was a big tent in the backyard, a ton of people and food, a keg, a fancy cake with Rob’s awards placed all around it. Everyone was there, except for Val and Ron and Michael and Maggie. And when they finally showed up, an hour after they said they would, they were all the weird gray color. They’d been pulled over in town, just blocks from our house, and questioned about what they were doing there, then finally let go without a ticket, because there was nothing to ticket them for. None of them ever came to our house again. And they didn’t mean for things to change, and neither did we, and everyone just wanted what was right, whatever that was. But that wasn’t much comfort, when everything was so different and all that friendship was gone with nothing to replace it but empty, pretty, tree-lined streets.