A glass of crazy, p.10
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       A Glass of Crazy, p.10

           Tina Laningham
 
It was an odd feeling to walk out and not see Mom's car waiting to pick me up after school. That was definitely a first. Riding my bike was too dangerous she'd said, the day we moved into the ghetto.

  "Guess we're walking." Rafa pushed his bike up the sidewalk.

  "You go on," I said.

  "And miss a chance to be seen walking home with Ghetto Girl?"

  "That was insane," I said, poking him. "Still can't believe it worked."

  "Hey, I'm a freakin' genius."

  I pulled out my phone.

  "Any messages from your dad?" Rafa asked.

  "It's not like his phone doesn't work in Mexico. He calls Mom."

  Instead of turning right toward my old house, we went left into a neighborhood with small, run-down houses.

  "You don't have to walk me all the way home."

  "I want to say 'hi' to your mom," he said. The liar.

  "She's probably working."

  Houses with taped up windows and makeshift garages lined both sides of the street. Except for grass growing in the gutters, nothing green grew and fast food trash was everywhere.

  "Did Hurricane Ike do all this?"

  Rafa made a funny face. "It looked like this before."

  A woman screamed from a white house as we passed by, and then a man yelled about how she had taken all of something. I couldn't make out exactly what he was saying. After a loud bang, probably the screen door slamming, the woman stumbled into the yard and locked her eyes on mine, which totally creeped me out.

  "Walk faster," Rafa said.

  "Definitely on drugs," I whispered.

  Rafa glanced over his shoulder. "Crack."

  When we finally got to the apartment complex, Mom's Mercedes sat in the parking lot, but when I knocked on the door, no answer.

  "Do you have a key?" Rafa asked.

  "Somewhere in here." I dug through the pockets in my backpack.

  Rafa knocked again. Still no answer.

  "Here it is," I said.

  The key didn't go in smoothly like the key at my old house; it kept getting stuck in the rust speckled doorknob. When the door finally unlocked, the apartment was pitch black.

  I flipped on the light and heard groaning. Stretched out on the sofa laid Mom with a washcloth folded neatly over her eyes.

  My heart skipped a beat. "What happened?"

  "Turn off the light," she snapped.

  Rafa hit the switch.

  "Migraine," she said in a muffled voice. "Go away."

  By now, my eyes had adjusted to the dark. Rafa and I looked at each other, but said nothing. "You'd better go," I finally whispered.

  Rafa slipped out the door quietly. "Put the chain on," he said softly, pointing up at the latch.

  I locked the door as instructed by my self-appointed protector and then dumped my backpack in my room. Why did boys think girls needed protection? I totally didn't get that.

  In the bathroom I ran a fresh washcloth under cool water. After wringing it out, I folded it neatly and took it to Mom, who lay still as a corpse.

  "Mom," I barely whispered.

  She didn't move.

  "Here's another washcloth," I said a little louder.

  Still, nothing.

  Finally, I lifted the cloth off her eyes and gently replaced it with the new one.

  "I need silence," she said sharply.

  My stomach growled so long, it sounded like a weed eater. I grabbed my belly to quiet it for Mom, but some noises I didn't have any control over. On the way to my room, I picked up a box of dry cereal, Mom's bottle of vodka, and an orange soda.

  Mom had never been sick, before. In fact, she'd always bragged, "I'm hale and hearty," to which I'd always said, "That's redundant." Anyway, considering it was a headache, she'd probably feel better in the morning and our dismal lives could go back to normal. I took a gulp of orange soda and then poured some vodka in the can.

  I rummaged through shirts, looking for something Ghetto Girl would wear, keeping in mind this might just be a fad. If it wasn't going to last, I didn't want to rip all my clothes, so I picked out two shirts I wouldn't mind trashing, but was only willing to sacrifice one pair of jeans. This time, the vodka tasted less like rubbing alcohol and more normal.

  I had no homework since I'd already done every math problem in the book and there was nothing Mr. Oliver could teach me about grammar that I didn't already know. I stretched out across the bed with my computer and went to my friendworld page. My twenty-three friends that I barely knew had been busy writing stuff on my page. It was all from today. I added more vodka and took another swallow.

  A guy whose parents were friends with my parents wrote: "Go Ghetto Girl! Style has nothing to do with MONEY!!! Intelligence and good manners, that's what I'm about!"

  A girl from last year's track team wrote: "Clothes aren't important. The only thing that matters is what's inside. YOU ROCK!!"

  I started to scroll down to read more when the "new friends" icon caught my eye. After I clicked it, two hundred and seventy eight people wanted to add me as their friend. If I accepted them, I'd have more than three hundred friends, twice as many as Megan. Just to piss her off, I accepted them all.

  I must have had a lot of vodka because in the morning, someone was pounding my head with a hammer, or at least that's how it felt. I wondered why I was even playing this stupid game. Was I really Ghetto Girl?

  In the living room, all that remained on the sofa were a pillow and a wadded up blanket. If Mom had noticed the missing vodka bottle, she would have burst into my room screaming, but her door was closed and I didn't dare open it. Instead, I sent Rafa a text.

  Abby: Riding bike?c u at ur house.

  God my head hurt. My bike took up most of the space in our skinny patio. It wasn't easy maneuvering the bike through the maze of living room furniture without making any sounds that might disturb Mom. When I finally twisted the handlebars through the front door, Rafa was there, waiting.

  "You stalking me, dude?"

  "Uh-huh."

  Just as I was about to throw my leg over the bike, Rafa said, "No, no, no. Let me see the clothes."

  I pulled open my jacket and Rafa examined the shirt I'd torn.

  "The jeans look ghetto, but the suede jacket, too rich."

  "I have a hoodie."

  "Get it," Rafa said.

  I tip toed through the apartment, snatched my hoodie, and tip toed back out.

  Rafa held up the shiny blade on that pocketknife he'd attacked me with in the hallway yesterday.

  "Not my hoodie!"

  "Be still," he said, slicing the sweatshirt here and there until I looked like a victim in a slasher movie.

  Our bikes hummed through the streets and even the crack house was quiet as a graveyard at seven o'clock in the morning. Six blocks later, we rounded the corner and whizzed past a long line of cars that inched their way to the place where parents dropped off kids.

  I locked my bike and thought about how stupid I looked with ripped clothes when Rafa knocked my arm and pointed to the crowds of students heading toward the school. The way their clothes were shredded, they looked like escapees from a jungle prison camp.

  "Ohmygod," I said, "the whole school's gone ghetto."

  "They love you," Rafa beamed.

  I must've stood there with my mouth open for a long time because the next thing I knew, Rafa gripped my arms and said, "Smile big."

  The custodian still hadn't gotten the spray paint off my locker, but today Ghetto Girl had a whole new meaning. As far as I was concerned, the longer it stayed up there, the better. Kids in ripped up clothes nodded at me and said things like "salty" and "academic." One girl confessed to another, "I skipped a grade," as if she didn't have to be ashamed of it anymore. That was my favorite until a cute guy with a slashed gray T-shirt flashed an enormous smile and said, "'Sup." I had to pinch myself.

  Rafa threw an arm over me and giggled like a girl. "You walk by yourself today. It's safe."

  I felt safe, finally. Bu
t just as I was starting to enjoy being the coolest girl ever, the principal showed up in my American Government class and told Mrs. Goldstein he needed to see me. The last time I saw Mr. Bald, I mean Mr. Baldwin, was sometime last year when Mom had a dinner party for some people who had contributed to Dad's campaign. Mr. Bald-all the kids called him that for one obvious reason-talked to Dad through the entire dinner about the importance of supporting public education. I followed Mr. Bald to his office and wondered how much trouble I was in for getting everyone in the school to rip their clothes.

  After he shut the door, Mr. Bald rubbed his head and waited for me to sit in one of the chairs in front of his messy desk. When he finally got settled in a big leather seat, he said, "It must be really tough on you, what with the TV coverage about your family and all."

  Ya think? It took every bit of restraint I had to not roll my eyes. Instead I shrugged and focused intently on a crack in the glass at the bottom of a window.

  "How you holding up?" he asked.

  My day was absolutely fantastic until Mr. Bald made me come in his office and I saw no point in letting him ruin my absolutely fantastic day. I smiled, looked him square in the eye and said, "Fabulously."

  "Look," he leaned forward, "I saw what some kids wrote on your locker and I want you to know we have a strict 'no bullying' policy at this school."

  "Do you?" I said in amazement because that was about the funniest thing I had heard all day.

  "I assure you we have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior."

  "And exactly how many bullying incidents have you had so far this year?" I asked, while counting in my head all the occurrences I had seen.

  "This is the first," he said, "and as far as I'm concerned, it's one too many. My goal was zero."

  "Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Bald. Win. Mr. Baldwin, sir."

  "No, no, it's not your fault," he said frantically. "I want your parents to know I'm doing everything I can to discipline whoever's responsible for this."

  "I'll be sure to pass that on to my Dad when I talk to him tonight." I was such a liar.

  "Please do, please do."

  I couldn't figure out why Mr. Bald was anxious. Was I in trouble or not? Finally I asked, "Why am I here?"

  "Well," he said, "Since it was your locker that was vandalized, I thought you might know who did it." Mr. Bald's voice was still shaky.

  "Is that the only reason?" I asked.

  "Well, yes. I need you to help me so I can help you."

  The man was truly clueless-oblivious to the whole Ghetto Girl craze happening right before his eyes. Vandalizing my locker was the best thing Megan could've done and that's why I said, "I don't know who did it."

  "I was afraid of that." Mr. Bald shook his head. "In nine cases out of ten the victims know the bullies. Guess I'll have to start questioning other kids."

  "That's it?" I asked.

  "Abigail," he said. "I want you to know I'll do everything in my power to discipline the person responsible for this."

  I didn't say anything. When he stood up, I stood up and got out of there as fast as I could.

  Kids in American Government class looked awfully busy texting under the desks when I slipped into the room. Mrs. Goldstein fiddled with the Smart Board while explaining how the justice system worked and didn't seem to notice no one was paying attention. When the bell rang, I headed straight for Mr. Oliver's class to tell Rafa about my chat with Mr. Bald.

  Down the crowded hall, Rafa's head popped up and down in front of Mr. Oliver's door like a fishing bobber. We made eye contact on the third pop.

  "What happened?" Rafa asked, shoving the phone in his pocket. "It's all over school you went to the principal's office. Did you rat out Megan?"

  "You know me better than that!"

  Rafa grinned and pulled out his phone.

  Even with my head perched over his shoulder, I couldn't read the text. "What does it say?"

  "Ghetto Girl is not a rat. I promised to let everyone know."

  With my arm dangling over his shoulder, I pulled him in the door. "You're such a good manager."

  "Too bad you're not rich anymore." Rafa winked. "I wouldn't mind getting paid."

  Ouch.

  The triple Ps plus Megan filed in, arms crossed, and simultaneously slid in their seats. It was a pouty party for four and no one wanted to go. Instead, everyone crowded around me-and if I'd been wearing a mood ring, the black would have instantly turned all lavenderish.

  Of my ten years in school, this was the best day of my life. Never had so many kids been that happy to see me. Everywhere I went, I was high-fived, low-fived and bumped. People smiled and nodded or winked. I could live with that. Unfortunately at three o'clock, the school day came to an end and it was time to return to the dismal dungeon of darkness.

  On the ride home, Rafa said, "Someone wanted to know why you ride your bike to school."

  "And?"

  "I told her, 'Ghetto Girl believes in going green.'"

  Rafa definitely had a future in this kind of work. He could sell a bible to an atheist and the fact that he was cute certainly helped. When we got to the street where he lived, Rafa announced, "Tonight you eat with my family."

  "I can't. I really need to check on Mom."

  With his most serious tone, Rafa said, "I understand," and instead of turning off, he kept riding with me. I had to smile at his chivalry, riding me home.

  In the dark apartment, Mom wasn't lying on the sofa, but since her bedroom door was closed, I assumed she was home.

  "Did you see her car outside?" Rafa asked.

  "Yup, she's sleeping."

  The fruit bowl was empty-no bananas, or apples, or anything. Nothing in the cereal cabinet either. "Check the fridge," I said to Rafa.

  "Uh, mustard, mayo and some-," he pulled out a bottle, "salad dressing."

  I swung open all the cabinets hoping to find cookies, crackers, peanut butter, anything, but the only crumbs of food were on the dishes in the sink.

  "We're going to the store," I said.

  "And carry bags on our bikes?" Rafa shook his head. "You can eat at my house."

  "We need money," I said like I didn't hear him.

  I squeezed the door knob to Mom's bedroom and twisted it slowly, placing a finger over my lips to signal Rafa to keep his yaky mouth shut. The pitch black darkness in her room made the living room look lit. With the tiny bit of light that crept in from the hallway, I spotted her purse on a chair in the corner and lifted it carefully, then tiptoed out and slowly shut the door.

  "You would make a good thief," Rafa said.

  I didn't think that was funny, mainly because my stomach needed food and when that happens, nothing is funny. Inside Mom's wallet, we found forty-four dollars and some change. I stuffed a twenty in my pocket and stared at the keys.

  "No, no," he said wagging his finger in my face. "We're not doing that."

  "You know how to drive." I set my jaw. "You already admitted it."

  "It's breaking the law," he said matter-of-factly. "I am a law abiding citizen."

  "Oh, but it's legal to bring a knife to school."

  "Look, it's a little pocket knife," he said, holding it up. "Something you need every day, like a toothbrush."

  "Shhh." I gently extracted the keys from Mom's purse. "You don't have to drive. Just show me how."

  "Ay caray," Rafa said, rolling the r.

  "What exactly does that mean?"

  Rafa touched his hands to his cheeks like he was imitating a girl and said, "Oh. My. God."

  - 11 -

 
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