Strange Birds

In elementary school there was this girl named Elizabeth Souza with whom I shared an unrequited friendship. Elizabeth was very fond of me but she was peculiar, and being the little asshole that I was, I was repulsed by her. 

Elizabeth was not conventionally pretty. She was a Quentin Blake drawing from a Roald Dahl book come to life; colorless and barely not a stick figure. Her body was fragile and pale, and the tiny point at the tip of her nose curled just enough to keep her thin, circular glasses from sliding off. And occasionally I caught her shaking her shoulders to a song in her head and smiling to herself, content in her own little world. I just didn’t get Elizabeth the way Elizabeth got Elizabeth.
She and I liked the same boy, too–Brandon Timble. Brandon was short and lovably chubby. He was charming-chubby. Once I had become so self-conscious over our love triangle that I wrote an awful letter to Brandon from Elizabeth that revealed her crush on him. In the letter I wrote (as Elizabeth) that I wanted to have sex with Brandon, which was something that she said to me before and was the first thing that came to mind when I decided to pen that garbage.
Elizabeth’s mom knew that it was me and called me out on it one day as she was volunteering in our class. She made me feel really guilty about it, too. That was the first time I had done something horrible to another person and I had been caught, and vicious thoughts sizzled inside of me as I was being talked down to by this adult who wasn’t my parent. I got my revenge on Mrs. Souza when I picked my nose and rubbed my boogers on her couch while waiting for my mom to pick me up from their house the day after Elizabeth’s big sleepover. I’d like to know if she ever found that or if the couch is in someone’s living room to this day with my boogers still in tact.
Elizabeth used to call me on my landline every afternoon and we would talk for hours. That was a long time to talk to someone you didn’t particularly like. I can hardly hold a conversation with people I do like for twenty minutes before growing bored so I can only imagine the agony I endured while on the phone with Elizabeth.
One day while we were talking I mentioned that I liked singing and Elizabeth got excited about it.
“Sing for me!” she said, and even though we weren’t in the same room together I could tell she was bouncing up and down, looking forward to the musical entertainment she had begged out of me.
“Okay,” I said confidently and walked over to my CD player. I put Mariah Carey’s “Butterfly” album on and played the opening track, “Honey.” To those unfamiliar with the hit song, “Honey” starts with a series of finger snaps and Mariah’s infamous inaudible sing-moaning.
Suddenly I heard her dad repeatedly telling me to “turn that down.” His voice grew more stern each time he said it. “It’s too loud!” he said again, this time just below a shout.
At the time I thought it was bizarre that he could hear Mariah playing from the phone and I wondered if the music really was that loud. But it wasn’t. Looking back I could only assume now that her parents were either listening in on the other end or she had me on speaker phone this whole time. Either way my privacy felt violated and I cannot help but dislike Elizabeth even more for withholding such information from me as I unmasked my vulnerability to her.
I wasn’t very nice to Elizabeth and eventually our friendship faded. For the remainder of my adolescence I managed to avoid being forced into a best friendship against my will. It didn’t happen again until I was in college and met a girl named Lauren.
Lauren was sweet and reminded me a lot of Elizabeth; she was also fragile and stick-thin with straight black hair and bangs that covered her brows and brushed against her eyelashes. She wore black everyday and was tanned with little freckles on her round checks. Most of all, Lauren was always smiling even when it wasn’t necessary to smile.
I didn’t dislike Lauren, but whenever she extended an invitation to me to come over to her house, my pathetic list of excuses came pouring out of me like water shooting out of a busted fire extinguisher. I just didn’t want to hang out with her as badly as she wanted to hang out with me.
I guess one day my excuses had dried up because I found myself going out with her then driving her back to her house to hang out. I don’t recall very well what we did when we went out but I remember taking her home.
Lauren lived in a small house with her mom and dad (and maybe a brother or a sister?). I parked in front of her house and as soon as we stepped out of my car I could hear a child screaming from inside. But Lauren didn’t grunt over this. She remained her quiet, yet cheerful self as she practically skipped to the front door.
I was already coming up with reasons to leave.
When we walked inside, her pet parrot squealed from its cage in the kitchen and it dawned on me that he was the screaming child. Most birds are really interesting but this one was a nightmare; the equivalent of those kids you see in public that do bad things in front of their parents and you know that it’s a result of unfortunate DNA; there isn’t much their parents can do beyond deal with it.
Nobody paid any mind to the parrot.
Lauren’s parents were sitting in the living room, her mom on a rusted, old recliner and dad lounging comfortably in a little leather love seat. Her mom was heavyset and looked a lot like Lauren. She had the same straight black hair with bangs, dark, shiny skin and round cheeks. Lauren’s dad was thin and wore blue denim jeans with a white shirt tucked in.
They were identical to Elizabeth’s parents.
I met and spoke with them briefly and got the sense that they thought Lauren and I were really good friends but I hardly knew her.
We went into her bedroom, which was white with a lot of black and red posters on the wall. Darkness was the theme of her existence, it seemed. She smiled as she plopped on her bed and got excited to show me this graphic novel that she was reading that I thought was really weird. It was about a wizard and I can vaguely recall analyzing the panels of the wizard wandering through a neighborhood at night. Instead of actually reading the dialogue I was trying to think of something nice to say about it. I told Lauren that I thought the art was really interesting. If I had been honest it may have hurt Lauren’s feelings.
Then we watched an even odder show on her computer.
I had to get out of there. I told her I was tired and didn’t feel very well so I had to go home.
Later she invited me over again and I said I couldn’t because I lived too far away and I didn’t have a driver’s license so my mom didn’t like me driving around too much.
Lauren looked at me strangely and said, “You don’t have a license?” She must have flashed to driving with me and felt deceived.
I really didn’t have my license and my mom allowed me to drive to school but I had to ask permission to go everywhere else. I didn’t want to waste my driving opportunities on Lauren.
I never spoke to her again. It wasn’t difficult to do because we didn’t have any classes together. We lived in the same town and attended the same community college but she had requested to be my friend online. Eventually she just deleted me.
Looking back I don’t think I would have been close friends with Lauren but her oddities are now traits that I value. Elizabeth’s too. They were both strange and marched to the beat of their own drum and I was afraid of that because I didn’t know how to be myself even around myself. They shared the same lonely smile, a smile that only a person who kept to themselves understood.
I spend a lot of time alone now and often when I’m in public and recall a memory that brings me some sort of joy I break into a little smirk that I carry with me long after the memory has passed. Other times I catch myself humming as I’m going for a walk and I get a little embarrassed. Then I think to myself, “well shit, this is what I do now” with acceptance.
It is refreshing to have finally found a little world that I can get lost within while still living in the present world.
Then I finally get it. I GET Elizabeth and Lauren. It took me twenty-five years to reach their level but now I can appreciate their beauty, even if just for a passing moment.

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