This is what I'm looking at right now, cats and coffee:
I woke up this morning with a memory running in a loop in my brain of this kid that I knew for a short while in elementary school. I think her name was Juanita. She showed up part way through grade six, and she was all legs and the whites of her eyes. She had wiry, black hair that waved around her head with static electricity. It wafted up to metal doorframes and out to coats on hooks and gravitated toward neighbouring students. Her hair seemed to be having a conversation with everything it could touch.
I was a tiny kid, so her hair never managed to settle against even the top of my head. It was too awkward for me to reach up and touch it, so I was left to watch it go about its business and imagine how its coarseness would feel pressed between my thumb and forefinger.
I found her compelling. Her eyes darted around constantly, taking in everything but the person she was talking to, which made it feel impossible to pin her down. When she spoke to me, it felt as though she were talking around the space that I represented. I wasn't always sure that she was aware it was me and not some other person standing there in the spot around which her eyes arced.
Maybe it was this mix of messages, that she would usher me in with her stories yet reject me with her eyes, that made me want to bend her into a friendship with me, but I did my best to make it happen. I positioned myself by her coat hook in the morning and after school and bumped into her in the bathroom. I stood nearby at recess and watched her arms dart around her while she told outrageous stories to other kids about her life. The stories were almost surely all lies, but I didn't care. They outstripped anything I had to say about life on my suburban crescent.
One day, while I was watching her flurry of talk in the hallway, she suddenly looked right at me, and I mean right at me, like right-in-my-eyes at me, and she said "I could come to your house sometime."
I nearly swooned. The destiny I had felt from the first time she had been delivered into our class had arrived. We would be like sisters. I knew it. I imagined us together at my house. Maybe we would listen to the radio or talk about kids at school. I didn't care what we did, really. In my mind, the picture of us together was always of us laughing. We were dear to each other.
I was anxious when, the next day, Juanita wasn't at school. I had screwed up my courage to ask over to my house, and the essential part of my friendship equation wasn't there. She wasn't there the day after that, either. On the third day, when I passed her coat hook and saw that there was still no coat on it, I panicked. I waited until recess to ask the teacher if she knew what was up.
"Juanita's not going to this school anymore," the teacher said.
"But she just got here. Why'd she leave?"
"Juanita went to live with a different family," the teacher said, "and she has special needs that another kind of school can help her with."
"She has special needs?"
"Her brain isn't quite the same as yours and mine. It doesn't work the same way."
My brother had special needs, but his were physically obvious, and he couldn't speak. This information about Juanita was news to me, because it hadn't occurred to me that you could have a disability that couldn't be seen. It kind of made sense of a few things, though, when I mulled it over. I mean, what physically able kid in grade six can't tie their own scarf? And I was always having to tell her what words to use, because she would get lost in the middle of sentences trying to think of them. Also, every other time she tried to go to class, she couldn't find the room and had to be walked there.
It turns out that there is sometimes a fine line between being a manic pixie dream girl like the characters that Zooey Deschanel plays so well and being a person with special needs in the way that insinuates your mother drank too much and wrecked your brian in utero.
I was sad that I wouldn't get to actually be friends with Juanita now, or see her skinny arms jab at the air, or imagine the crunch of her hair as I watched it float around her head. It seemed so at odds with my sense of a linear reality that someone could be there and then be gone. It was like someone had taken scissors and cut her right out of the air.
That night I prayed fervently that Juanita would remember me and her brain would get better and her new family would be kind and keep her for a long time. I hope they did.