I love sleeping over Noreen’s house. Mom’s only ever let me go a handful of times, but it’s always my favorite thing to do.
Noreen is my best friend. She and I met in kindergarten. We’ve had the same teacher every year since then. High school starts in less than a month. I’m excited, but also nervous. I don’t want us to get separated, but I realize it has to happen because we’re taking a couple of different classes.
I’ve tried begging Mom to let Noreen stay the night with us, since I always get invited over there. She says there’s no room on the floor upstairs, but I know that’s just an excuse. At Noreen’s, we sleep on the pull-out couch in the middle of the living room. The real reason is because Mom can’t trust that Daddy won’t come home drunk and embarrass everybody. She’s afraid Noreen will see what really goes on at our house, that she’ll go home and tell her mother.
I can share bits and pieces with Noreen, but not the really ugly stuff. It’s too hard to explain. There’s no way she’d understand. Besides, I don’t want her to think we’re animals. So mostly, I make like I’m happy and pretend everything is fine.
Noreen’s parents are nice. They’re both from Ireland, with thick brogues that take a little getting used to. Her mother is gentle and soft spoken. I’ve never heard her raise her voice at any of her daughters. There are four all together, and Noreen is the youngest.
Mrs. Harrington thinks the world of me and my sister, how we’re both so smart and well-behaved. Judy was picked for the principal’s pin every year in grammar school, and we both got straight A’s. “Your mother is fortunate to have such good girls,” she says. I wish Mom could see me the way this woman does.
This summer, I slept over Noreen’s twice. Once in July for her birthday, and again, last week, just because. This visit was more fun because Noreen’s other two friends from the neighborhood weren’t there. Marie and Susan are okay, I guess, but I like it better when it’s just the two of us.
Fine, I’ll admit it. I’m jealous of the time they spend together and the stuff they get to do. These girls have a lot of freedom. They pretty much come and go as they please. They never have to ask permission to use the phone, cook food on the stove or watch TV. They get to wear as much makeup as they like.
I find their fearless application of jet black eyeliner to be especially fascinating. This procedure involves the careful use of a cigarette lighter which heats the tip of a narrow pencil to near melting. When gently dragged along the rim of one’s exposed lower eyelids, the effect creates dramatic allure and instant maturity.
What’s gross about this amazing beauty technique is the wet goop that collects in the inside corners of their eyes. I can’t stop staring whenever I see it. I want to dab my finger into these angry booger globs, but I can’t. It’d be like trying to pick someone else’s nose.
The rest of their faces get the once over, as well. Blue and green eye shadow is popular. Lips coated with roll-on gloss, sweet smelling and so shiny, they look as if they might shatter into pieces. Brightly colored plastic combs with fat handles protrude from back pockets, ready to feather hair in a moment’s notice.
I felt like I was dropped into a lot of action I knew nothing about and could barely keep up with. I measured myself against these two girls I didn’t know and wasn’t sure I even liked. So what if I don’t know all the words to “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” It doesn’t make me a bad person.
On the way back from eating pepperoni slices at the pizzeria on East Tremont Avenue, men in cars yelled and honked their horns. I wasn’t sure who they were beeping at. It definitely wasn’t me. I’m the fat one. Probably Noreen, she’s the tallest and looks older.
Even though it was a little creepy, all that attention was exciting. We eyeballed every vehicle that cruised along the street, searching its contents for cute guys. How else are girls supposed to get boyfriends, anyway? This must be how.
When it’s just me and Noreen, it’s easier to concentrate. I don’t have to compete with anybody else or worry about being left out. A bigger group has too many moving parts. I wanted my best friend all to myself.
This last visit, my father was supposed to take me to Noreen’s house after he got home from work. When he was two hours late. I knew why, and I started getting worried I wouldn’t be able to go. He did have liquor on his breath when he eventually showed up, but Mom made him eat a plate of spaghetti and decided he was okay to drive. She also made me call as soon as I arrived to let her know I made it in one piece.
Noreen and I wore apricot scrub face masks and did makeovers on one another. We used a mirror that lit up when plugged into the wall and magnified every detail. We poured over the racy sections of a paperback novel belonging to one of her sisters, Rich Man, Poor Man, and read the sex scenes out loud. We ate ice cream and bakery cookies in front of the television and watched “Night of the Living Dead” after midnight with all the lights off. Even though I don’t believe in zombies, it was still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.
Noreen explained what to expect when my period finally came. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was the only girl in the ninth grade who hadn’t gotten it yet. Everybody I knew had menstrual cramps, especially on days there was gym.
“Has Judy gotten hers?” she asked.
“No idea. If she has, she won’t tell me.” My sister is private about everything. She doesn’t trust anybody. Besides, she knows I’ll blab stuff to the whole world, especially if it’s a secret.
The next morning when I woke up and went to use the bathroom, there was blood in my underwear. Not a lot, but enough for me to realize what it was. As much as I loved being with Noreen, I wanted to go home.
She suggested I rinse my briefs with a little soap and water in the sink to get the stain out, handing me a plastic bag to put them in. I wasn’t sure if I understood how to use a tampon, but the maxi pad was easy to figure out, fastening to the crotch of my underwear with an adhesive strip. I positioned it right in the middle and waited for something to happen.
After breakfast, I called my mother and told her the news. “Mom, I got my period,” I said, crying into the telephone.
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Mary, pull yourself together. So you’re a woman now, big fucking deal.”