By BEA AGBI
It began around the time I got back together with Booker. They thought he was too simple, too easy to read. He wants what everyone else wants. To marry, have kids, buy a house down the street from where he grew up — I guess Rose never thought that was what I wanted too.
The further Booker and I got into our relationship, the less I saw of Rose. They liked to say that they were busy working, and then — after getting the job in the city — busy preparing for the move. But I knew they were disappearing from my life because they couldn’t stand to watch as Booker and I bought the house, had a kid, got pregnant with another…and I get why, but I also don’t. I never really took Rose as the free-loading, adventure seeking type. Even though that was what they talked about while growing up, I always took it as an overcompensation. Of course, they had every reason to want to leave. By the end of high school, their parents had made it clear that any chance of reconciliation was shot. But…I suppose it felt a bit like reverse psychology. Like they were saying the opposite of what they wanted, because the truth felt too hard to bear.
I told them my suspicions, of course. Right before they left I said You’re not always gonna want to run around forever. They scowled, picked up their bag, and slammed the door, making the baby cry.
Of course, before Booker, we had our moments. But Rose and I survived because we never forgot that we needed each other. On the playground, when we found out that our favorite colors were red, we decided that we needed to stick together because of it. We renamed each other. Ruby and Rose. It began as a secret, between the two of us, but eventually the rest of the town caught on.
I’m not supposed to call them Rose anymore. Part of the process of becoming a more authentic version of themselves — they changed their birth name too. But if I say Rose on the inside, and their new name on the outside, I’m showing respect — both forms of my love.
A few weeks ago I got a text from them, saying they would be back in town, asking to meet up. When they asked where, I said The usual. Now that I’m seeing them, I suppose the usual could have also been the diner, but we also came here a lot.
Booker told me, before I came here: With friends like Rose, once you see each other, you fall back into the way things used to be. But I wonder, which way things used to be? Like when we were children, and giggled at all the names we had come up with for our own ways of seeing the world? Or teenagers, when we laughed less but still slept next to each other, curled up on the bed? When — on the nights they cried at the reality of being put outdoors — I wiped up the tears myself, and snuck them out to the nighttime diner where we would sit and talk and watch the sunrise? Or as adults, in the few months before goodbye, when they would go weeks without talking to me, when they would refuse to look at me when Booker or my kids were in the room, but who would still let me come over — on occasion — in the evenings, and stay until morning?
I wonder. I wait. By the playground, where we named one another.
It never began. It always was. Right from the moment we renamed each other. Ruby and Rose. The day itself has been re-told so many times that it no longer feels like a memory.
The story we tell others is too tidy. It never reveals that Rose was not my first choice of name. Something Ruby forgets. I wanted it to be something stupid, like Firetruck. I didn’t like flowers; those were the things that decorated the gifts my family got me, the clothes they tried to force me into. But Ruby insisted. And I was fine with the names then, because it was a secret between the two of us.
In those early years, Ruby and I saw the world the same way because we discovered it at the same time. The fact that we shared the same shade of dark skin, meant that all the white ones we saw on TV in big houses were fiction, fantasy. Nothing more. The blood our mothers and sisters found in between their legs was witchcraft, voodoo magic. Nothing more. The names that the boys on the street corner who stuck cigarettes between the gaps in their teeth called out to passersby were funny, to giggle at as we walked to the park. Nothing to desire.
There were only the smallest, most childish trip-ups — suggestions of the end in the beginning. She always wanted to dress somewhat alike, in those early days, which was fine but it meant that she talked me into wearing whatever dress with her. But I went along with it, and the names, because I liked belonging wholly to someone, and knowing that someone was wholly mine.
Maybe that’s why I let her continue to use that name even when, in high school, everyone else called us that. Worse was when they got me confused for Ruby. They would say Rose, and see a girl. But when Ruby called me Rose, it was someone seeing me before our bodies changed, before the boys on street corners started calling out to our asses, before the first kisses in the supply closets, before Ruby wanted that, all of that.
I do wish I could show Ruby who I’ve become. And I’m not stupid, I won’t deny that she is home for me. Even if, after she married Booker, I made up excuses to see her less and less. It was because looking at her made me feel like I had been left alone. I never told her this. I shouldn’t have had to. But then we’d have nights where she’d come over. “A break from the kids,” she said. I’d laugh, because “kids” included Booker. And then we’d go on for the evening, laughing ourselves to sleep, half-drunk, on the couch.
I’m going home now. She gave me a time and a place. “The usual.” Which, of course, is a test. Do we still speak the same language? Can the world still be the same to us both? “The usual” could’ve meant the playground where we first met, but that would mean that she still thinks of me the same, when I’ve become so much more. I’m driving to the diner we visited so often as teenagers. When — on nights where I couldn’t sleep — we sat and laughed until sunrise or until they kicked us out. I’m headed there. Wait for me.