He fires up his joint and takes a deep inhale.

She watches, a little afraid and a lot disappointed, as his eyes go flat and boring.  It’s stinky and smoky and dark and she’s cold.  She doesn’t like it here.

He is usually so much more fun than this, especially when they watch Saturday morning rasslin’ together. Between commercial breaks he roars and picks her up over his head like he’s Jerry “The King” Lawler and she’s Junkyard Dog.  He turns in a slow circle showing his imaginary audience how strong he is while she clings to his wrists for dear life and screams, “No! No! Put me down!”

“Down?? You want down?”

“Wait! No! Stop! Please! Maaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”

She screams in terrified delight as he body slams her down on the couch.

She lies there stunned for the 3 count while he flexes and makes his face look mean like he’s the Incredible Hulk. Then he lumbers off to the kitchen to get a Coke out of the ‘fridge.

Momma always yells at him at this point in the routine, “Stop doing that! You’ll break her ribs!”

“Well, I have to win the match somehow,” he replies.

“I mean it. Don’t do that. You could make her lungs collapse and kill her.”

“Nah, I’m just toughenin’ her up.”

Saturday morning rasslin’ is the real He-man rasslin’ and definitely not to be confused with that “kissy face” wrestling that they do in the Ol’-limp-kicks.  She is still trying to work out what exactly the Ol’-limp-kicks is.  It is a sports thing, she knows. They’ve explained that it happens every 4 years.  She is 4.  It is something to do with her birthday?  They said no. They said it happened even before she was ever around – before she was even thought of.  There is something deeply suspicious about this.  How could things go on without her around? The question makes her head feel funny, so she thinks about something else.

She wishes it was Saturday morning.

But it’s not Saturday. He passes the joint to his friend, who takes it, glances at her, then back and him. Between hits he asks, “Do you think she knows what we’re doing?”

Of course she knows what they’re doing. They’re being bad.  Momma would be so mad. Daddy smokes Lucky Strikes, which is bad Momma says.  But Daddy doesn’t smoke “wacky tabacky,” which is way more bad.  She doesn’t say any of this. Even though she is looking at them, they are looking through her and talking about her like she doesn’t understand English or like she is deaf.

She knows about being deaf because a really long time ago, when she was 3, she lived in Texas and her best friend in the whole world lived next door and she was deaf for real.  Daddy had explained it all to her then. He told her that her best friend was deaf and dumb.  It’s not nice to call someone dumb, she told him.  He said he wasn’t being mean – it wasn’t that kind of dumb.

He said, “You know how some people can’t hear and they’re called deaf?”

Well, no, in fact, she didn’t know anything about that. How come they couldn’t hear? What did they hear if they couldn’t hear?  Was being deaf like when the wind blows everybody’s words away? Or did they not even hear the wind? Do deaf people’s ears ever ring when nothing is actually ringing like hers sometimes do? Does being deaf sound like the way you hear under water? Do your ears feel full of water when you are deaf?

Sometimes Daddy seems to know a lot and sometimes he doesn’t seem to know much of anything at all. She sorta-kinda got the idea, though.

Daddy went on, “When people can’t talk they are called dumb. It’s just a way to describe someone who can’t talk.”

Dumb isn’t a nice word, Daddy,” she reminded him again.

Besides, she understood everything her best friend said.  Her best friend didn’t say things the way everybody else said things, so you couldn’t listen with just your ears.

She misses her best friend. When her family moved back to Memphis, her best friend stayed in Texas.

She remembers Texas and the night they met.  She was outside her new house with Momma and Daddy. The sun was about to go to bed for the night when the neighbors came out of the house right beside theirs.  And there was her best friend.  They both squealed and immediately the chase was on.  Running, running, running. Cool grass on bare feet. Lungs aching with the effort of breathing around giggles, squeals, and exhaustion. The sheer joy of having a friend. Of being seen!

That night as she scratched at her berjillion mosquito bites, her parents murmured in sad, serious tones things she didn’t comprehend.

“… woman in a child’s body”

“Can’t imagine…”

“…must be hard.”

“What a shame.”

She didn’t understand her best friend was “different” until one day during another endless game of Chase, she tripped over a broom in the driveway. Face slides across bumpy concrete. Pebbles scrape tender skin on palms and knees.  Best friend sees her fall and panics, collapsing to the ground beside her. Hands flapping. Moaning. Best friend didn’t fall, why is she crying? Oh, oh, face on fire. It hurts. Best friends crying together. Blood-curdling screams.  The scene strikes fear in the heart of both Mommas, who rush out to fix their injured children.

Mercurochrome is dabbed on her scrapes – even on her nose.  “Hey Rudolph, what happened to you?” Daddy will say when he gets home from work.

Momma decides it’s better for her not to play with her best friend, who is so much older. She might hurt her, accidentally.

Bruises and scrapes will heal in a few days.  Other kinds of hurts take much longer.

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