I feel like I’ve written this story before. But, I don’t know where I might have put it. Maybe I’ve just thought it before. Maybe I meant to write it before and just didn’t. Maybe I’ve only ever put pieces of it out there. Maybe I did write it. If anyone knows about it, she does. If there’s a copy of it, she has it.
Joy and I took a Journalism class together in high school. She was told that she wasn’t a good enough writer to stay in the class and so she dropped out. I was too sad and too high that year to stay in and maintain and so I dropped out, too. She was a Contributor. I was the Opinion Editor. It was the fall of 1992. I remember almost nothing of this other than I had an illustrious high school job to do and that I couldn’t do it. I don’t remember her even being in the room with me. But, she was, and we’ve got the yearbook picture to prove it. We’re all standing in a semi-circle holding our hands out to our teacher who is sitting all cross-legged and Zen-like on the ground in front of us. I’m wearing a motorcycle jacket and dark glasses. Joy is happy and smiling. Gorgeously.
What I do remember of Joy, though, is that she was the beautiful, deaf, blonde girl that I went to high school with. And that she bagged the groceries on the front end of my family’s grocery store. And that we both got Jeep Wranglers at the same time. Hers was better than mine: raised, with some kind of black and white animal print seat covers: leopard or zebra? Both of our Wranglers were white. Both were soft tops. I was jealous of her Wrangler. I wished that I had big tires on mine, like hers. We weren’t friends then.
But, in 2011, when I moved back into my mom’s house and, at 35 years old, slept in my high school bedroom, Joy and I became friends. Through a strange Facebook conversation first and then, friends, for realsies. We talked about our Jeeps. She talked about her failed marriage. I talked about my Boston adventure and that really bad year that I had spent in Florida.
We went back to our high school together one day. We went to try and remember where our Journalism class had been. She remembered that I had been there; I admitted that I didn’t remember her being there. We wondered why all the lockers had been taken out. We took a picture of us sitting on the grass steps, in front of the outdoor school stage where I had once campaigned for Clinton, on behalf of the school paper and the OpEd piece, during his first election.
Leaving the school, Joy told me about her family’s last home up in the Canyon:
“We should go there.”
“But what would I say?”
“That you lived there once and that your parents built that house and that you are just in the neighborhood and that you want to say ‘hi’.”
“But that makes me nervous.”
“Oh, what the fuck, Joy?” dangling a cigarette out of the car window. “We just go to the fucking house and you say ‘hi, I used to live here once’ and I’ll be there with you and it’ll be fucking fine. And fuck, fuck, fuck,” with a smile on my face.
Because what I didn’t tell her was that it actually made me really nervous, too. And that if it were me, I’d be terrified. And that I’d never go up to one of my old houses and introduce myself. Then again, my family never stayed anywhere long enough for it to matter. Certainly, my parents had never actually built a house together. So, I didn’t actually say ‘Fuck’ to her all those times: I thought it, though, and I thought that I was wearing my ‘cycle jacket and shades the entire time.
“Let’s just go and see what happens,” I said. “Nothing to lose. I’ll go with you. I got you.”
“Hi, I’m Joy and I was just in the neighborhood … I’ve been gone for 20 years … and I was just hoping that I could look at the house … my parents built this house … and I just wanted to say ‘hi’.”
“Oh. You must be the little girl with the purple bedroom.”
Joy smiled, “Yeah. That was my room.”
Twenty minutes later, after all the talk of blueprints and the wishing well that her parents had designed out toward the slope of the driveway, the lady pulls up the carpet, reveals just the tiniest bit of old purple paint, looks at Joy, and says, “This is you.”
Joy smiles and nods. “That’s my paint,” she says. “We went through so many mixes of purple to get that exact purple. My grandfather made that color.”
“Hey, you have a great accent!” the guy at the liquor store shouted at Joy’s back. “Where you from?! You from England?”
She didn’t even turn around or look at him and we picked beers up out of the cooler.
“But, seriously, where you from?” he asked. I looked at him. She didn’t. “Where’s your friend from?” he asked me.” “Where’s that accent from?” he asked.
“What accent is that?” I asked.
“She sounds like she’s from England or something,” Joy looked at him and read his lips when he asked this question.
“No,” I said. “She’s not from England,” I said. “She’s deaf,” I said. “That’s not a British accent, that’s a deaf accent. Any other questions that you would like to ask? I’m sure she’ll answer them but be sure to ask while she can see your face. She reads lips.”
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean …” he stuttered.
“No need to apologize,” Joy said, putting a six-pack up onto the counter, looking at the guy. “I don’t have a British accent. I’m just deaf,” she said.
“Cheers,” Joy said, thrusting her bottle forward, clinking mine. “And I mean that in a very British way,” she smiled at me.
“Thank you for taking me to my house today,” she said, after my bottle had landed on hers.
“You’re welcome,” I said, wondering if she would ever know how many times that I had actually hesitated in that moment. How many times I thought about turning the car around and just driving somewhere else up in the Canyon. About how I decided, ultimately, that this was something very important about her and how I just had to shove all of my own baggage aside for a moment and pull ahead for her. For her. About how I had to just be tough for a moment.
“And I love your British accent, by the way,” I said.
“Show me your next story,” I said.
“It’s not that good,” she said.
“Of course it is,” I said.
“I might get kicked out of Journalism for this story,” she said. “For my bad writing.”
“Fuck it,” I said.
“Who fuckin’ cares?” I asked.