I first met April when I was around nine or ten. She was new to the neighborhood, her family moving from about one town over. Geographically the distance was small, but to the mind of a nine year old it was like meeting someone from a different continent. I remember that April was pudgy at that age, and had a strange case of early acne. There was only one other girl on the block aside from myself and we were already resident best friends. April’s shy attempts at companionship were quickly rejected. This rejection soon turned into a bitter and relentless teasing.
I was not an inherently mean kid, I don’t recall picking on anyone else ever in my life. I can claim April’s differences were why I teased her, her awkwardness, the fact she was new; but I know that’s not true. I had lots of “different” friends; I myself was an awkward kid. Really, it was just that we had our group and no more need apply. It was nothing more then a simple abstract cruelty, the ability of children to dislike for the sake of disliking. Even as a twenty four year old I am at a loss to understand that part of myself. How a “good” kid could decide to torment another human being simply because the opportunity presented itself. Like Saint Augustine and his pears, I seek understanding for my nonchalant brutality.
April and I later became friends at around the age of fifteen. I had moved from the neighborhood a few years earlier, but was still in the same school district. It was a strange coincidence that we both decided to become “Goth” at around the same time and also had a class together. Our rejection of the “normal” high school culture gave us an immediate bond, a bond which soon extended into our shared desire to experiment.
We smoked pot together for the first time, we dropped acid together- drank. We lost our virginity at around the same time, telling each other in secret code over the phone in case our parents were listening. I had slept with my 22 year old boyfriend and April slept with some guy from the neighborhood because she just wanted to get it over with. We began to get into trouble. We began to abuse substances, in that reckless teenage way. Two sad, angry, ridiculously young kids playing dress up, trying to keep things from falling apart. We both had serious family problems. The difference is, I came from an upper middle class background; my family’s response to this self destructive behavior was to put me into therapy. April’s Mom kicked her out. She went to live with her alcoholic father in a very poor, very high crime area.
This is where things began to change. Life began to take different paths for us. It is a question that nags my mind often, which stirs in me a deep mixture of doubt and guilt. Did paths diverge not because of who we were, but because of what we had? A sort of “there but for the grace of God go I”, but instead; “there but for the grace of my economic status”.
Life was so hard then. That sounds self indulgent, but I don’t know how else to say it. In a particularly dark moment, I attempted suicide. My therapist suggested putting me into a private Montessori like school, which was set up almost like college. Very different than your typical high-school institution. I flourished there. With out the least bit of exaggeration, I can say it saved my life.
Concurrently, it was during that time April began engaging in even more at risk behavior. Her drug use was increasing. She began having sex with anyone, group sex, sex with strangers, and getting involved in abusive relationships. One night at a party, April was raped by a forty year old neighbor. I remember going with her to the emergency room, just the two of us, coloring in the coloring books they leave out in the waiting area. Life was hard then. She attempted suicide and was placed into a state mandated juvenile mental hospital for three months. She was seventeen.
I graduated high school and joined AmeriCorps, getting out of the area and moving to Arizona. She graduated and joined a local cosmetology school, evidence of her wanting to achieve. Sadly she just could not break the habits we had started. She continued in that downward path, moving on to even harder drugs, getting arrested, becoming pregnant at twenty and giving the child up for adoption.
I went to college to study psychology. She continued to self destruct, working odd jobs here and there, shacking up with whatever current guy. We remained close through all of it, going through periods where she would call me every day and then I would alternatively not hear from her for months. During these absent times I lived in constant fear of getting a phone call saying she was dead, or in jail. That is, until this most recent winter break.
It had been a few months since I had heard from her. I called her father’s house in some vague hope he might know of her whereabouts. To my surprise April answered the phone. She sounded good, and after the initial pleasantries she quickly explained to me she was born again. Despite my own lack of religious inclination, I can not express how happy this made me. She sounded well for the first time in years.
I asked her if she was now living with her Dad again. She straightforwardly replied, “Oh just until my husband finds me a house.” I was obviously surprised. She explained that she was now Biblically married, with a man in her church. How the Bible explains that a woman is not to work or hold authority over a man, so her husband makes all the decisions regarding their house. How I should really leave school because women should not get educations, my lifestyle is worldly and my soul is at risk. She stated all this in her bubbly voice like she was no more telling me the weather. Calmly she explained to me that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of the creation of the “white” man, that people of “color” are no more then animals.
It broke my heart.
Since that winter discussion I have not heard from April. Her father either does not know or will not tell me. I worry every day.
I am a student of psychology. I have learned about the areas of the brain that control different functioning. I have learned about the 36 year old man who out of no where beat his step daughter to death in a fit of rage. Three months later it was discovered that he had a huge tumor growing on the “anger” center of the brain
I have learned about Pavlov and Skinner, learned about mice and men. I have picked apart swirling clouds of neurochemicals, learning the different dances their beats create.
Through this, I have reached a conclusion about humanity. I believe in the good in people. I believe in neurochemicals, I believe in nurture. I believe in the frontal lobes, and I believe some salivate at the ringing of a bell. I believe in the good in people, whatever that means. Whether that means God, or science, or humanity or a little bit of each, or that they all mean the same. Despite my wretched adolescent cruelty, despite my knowledgeable adult sins, I believe I am a good person. Despite her embracement of what I know to be evil, I believe April is a good person. I believe in our good. Not an excuse, but a belief. I believe in the good in people.
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