I fumble for words. Even after all the planning and rehearsing that has led up to this moment, I am already failing as I knew I would. The lines I practiced over and over in my head abandon me. I can see them now, bolting out my bedroom door, slamming it in my face and leaving me alone with an empty brain and an emptier heart.
"Hi . . . Rita? It's Kim," I manage lamely after what feels like a decade of static. "Listen, I know you hate me, but I can't go on living with myself without at least some kind of closure--"
Rita interrupts me. "Kim, I don't hate you. When are you going to get that? What happened had nothing to do with you. You were never a part of it to begin with until you made yourself a part of it. Why do you always have to get involved?" The brightness in her voice has turned to ashes.
I hate the emphasis she is careful to put on the word "always," because in my mind at least, it isn't true at all. Yes, I am a sensitive person. I certainly never purposefully put myself in the crossfire of other people's battles, at least without good reason, because I hate tension. I break under any amount of emotional or mental pressure. I get stressed easily. But this time I couldn't just sit back and watch the bullets fly without trying to catch a few if it meant saving Rita the injury. I guess I stepped over a line somewhere though, because the tone of her voice in our conversation now betrays every bit of the disdain and frustration I feared might remain from last weekend. Rita hasn't spoken to me since the fight at Lou's flat. It's taken me 5 days to muster the courage to call. I only hope it won't be for nothing.
"What was I supposed to do? Sit there and watch you take the heat yet again for something you never did? If I don't stand up for you, who's going to? You don't!" My hands begin to tremble the way they do when I leave for work in January and forget my gloves. Except I know I'm not cold because they start to sweat too. And besides, I'm inside. It's warm, it's safe. I'm safe. At least physically. But I certainly don't feel safe.
"You don't own me. You never did. Stop trying to make yourself a part of everything; this isn't about you. I can take care of myself."
Her words bite. Especially because she's lying once again; she can't take care of herself. That's why she thinks she needs Lou. But he doesn't take care of her either. He doesn't make her happy, he makes her temporarily high. He doesn't buy her food, he buys her crap. I wish she could see that. And I wish she hadn't told me to stop bringing her sandwiches on Wednesdays. I'm pretty sure my sandwiches were the most nutritionally beneficial thing she got to eat besides the occasional vegetarian pizza she'd order when we went out for lunch on Sundays.
"I know I don't own you. I'm just trying to look out for you. Isn't that what friends do? They protect each other; they have each other's backs." Tears burn in my eyes now and I grasp my phone tighter, struggling to keep it from slipping clean out of my sweaty palms.
"No, they don't, Kim. They want each other to be happy."
I can't believe what she's saying. Happy? Of course I want her to be happy. But is she happy now? Is she happy with Lou? No. How can she call that "being happy"? How can she call having to bail her boyfriend out of jail for the third time in a year "happiness"? How can she call living off TV dinners and Diet Pepsi "happiness"? How about putting up with that garbage rap Lou loves to blast for half the neighborhood to hear every night? Right now that's the least of her worries. But how can she even say that makes her happy?
"Bullshit. You're not happy! I've seen you happy. You were the happiest person I knew when I first met you. You're not happy now." I don't know what else to say. I can feel the phone slipping farther down inside my sweaty death grip, along with the usual inhibitions that keep any of my stronger emotions at bay. It isn't often I raise my voice at anyone besides my neighbor, Tiffany, who's mostly deaf and may as well be blind too. Now I'm raising my voice at Rita, my best friend of over seven years and once-upon-a-time life partner. I keep justifying my anger for the fact that I just care. I'll never stop caring when it comes to Rita. And when I care about something this much, there comes a point when I not only get angry but can't help expressing it.
"Well at least I'm not a jealous cling-on who can't get on with her life. I have my own life now and you're no longer a part of it the way you used to be. Why can't you just accept that and let it all go?" There is an audible sigh from Rita's side. I've known her long enough to be able to pick out the emotions it denotes: exasperation, impatience, and sadness. It is the sadness the gives me hope.
"How can you say that? I'm supposed to just let go of the best thing that ever happened to me? It may have been easy for you but it wasn't at all easy for me . . . But I did let you go. I did it for you. After all these years do you need anymore proof that I just want you to be happy and safe?"
The silence on the other end makes me scared that Rita will hang up. She did it once before during one of our . . . arguments. She never had a lot of patience dealing with things she couldn't wrap her head around.
I press her. "Rita, please . . . you know I'm not good at this. Can we just forget it all ever happened? I'm sorry. I do want you to be happy. You know this!" In truth, I want her to be safe. Unfortunately, what makes Rita happy and what is best for her are not one and the same.
"Yeah. Whatever, it's fine . . ." She sighs again, this time much deeper. ". . . But you have to promise to not get involved anymore."
"You know I can't do--"
"Kim, you don't own me! If you want to still be friends you have to promise to let me live my fucking life!" The hint of sadness in her tone is smothered again by the anger.
"No. I can't promise that," I say immediately. "If that's how it is, then we can't be friends. I'm always going to do what I think is best for you."
I hear a *bloop bloop* and stare down at the 'Call Ended' flashing across my screen. Then I wipe the tears from my eyes, grab my car keys, and forget my gloves.