That day started out like any other: Birdie poured hot water in a mug and stared out the window while her tea steeped. It was Cinnamon & Cardamom. It smelled warm and fuzzy, the way fleece feels. Tasted good too. We shared.
Birdie was a little off balance that day. I’m not totally sure why. She was just… off. She dropped the teabag in the trash and began the crossword. It was only Tuesday, so it should be a snap - and with no googling! But for some reason, she kept rereading the clues, and none of them made any sense. Everything was jumbled. Words often got jumbled up like loose puzzle pieces in Birdie’s brain, but usually it was just that way on the inside. I helped her put it all together when she wanted to get the words out. I guess I was an interpreter of sorts.
Now, don’t start thinking Birdie’s crazy or anything! She’s not crazy! I’m her best friend, so I should know. I stay with her day and night making sure she’s OK, and helping her be a person in the world. Does it get a little tedious sometimes? Yes. But I take my job as best friend seriously, and nobody else understands how Birdie thinks, so what else would I do?
I was still watching Birdie puzzle over the crossword, shaking her head in frustration, when she demanded, “Why are you watching me?”
“I’m not! I mean, I want to help… this is what I always do…”
“Well stop! You’re making me nervous.”
This wasn’t like Birdie. She was always glad for my help. But she seemed different this morning. Suddenly she stood and shouted at the window, “Squirrels! Go away! Go away!”, she pounded on the window until I thought it might break. What the fuck?
“Look”, I said picking up the crossword puzzle, “I know this one: ‘Farm machine that performs 4 functions’. Seven letters. It’s “combine”! You should fill it in.” She glared out the window before storming back to her bedroom. Why didn’t she want to fill in the word?
I have to say, I was a little upset at this point. All I ever did was try to help her, and now she was completely shutting me out. How would she feel if I just left? If I didn’t help her talk to the world anymore? Where would she be then? But I could never leave.
This mood was a problem though. I had to do something because she couldn’t go out in public like this. I just hoped she’d stay in her room. Maybe take an early nap.
No luck. She was already tying her Nikes and slinging her backpack over her shoulder. “Where you wanna go?” I asked, tentatively.
“None of your business.”
“Can I go with you?” What if she said no? Would she really make me stay home?
“Do what you want.”
“OK.” I had a fleeting thought of locking the door and not letting her go out, but I’d never actually tried to restrain her before. I knew she didn’t like it when other people did that - she hated her mother for it. But I never tried to control her, which is why I was still around.
In the end, I decided to follow her lead.
We walked to the bus stop on the corner and waited a full 18 minutes before the bus came. Well, this could have been planned better. We could have finished our tea before coming out here if only someone had read the schedule first.
We rode the bus for nearly the entire route, getting off just 3 stops before we would have been back in front of our apartment. Huh. Again, this could have been planned better. And then I saw our favorite diner. Yes! She loved this place. Maybe this would take care of that mood.
Once we were seated, Birdie pointed to tea on the menu. When the waitress asked if she wanted milk and sugar, Birdie nodded. What? We didn’t put milk in our tea! It’s gross. It’s like milky water. Kind of like that Boba Tea everyone loves nowadays - sweet, milky water, and those boba things don’t seem right. We’ve always agreed on this. “It’s what I want!”, Birdie hissed.
Birdie opened her notebook. Phew! Writing usually calmed her. And, like I said before, sometimes writing down all those mixed up words made the whole picture clearer. Plus, this is where I came in. She’d need my help.
Birdie’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the pen. She wrote slowly, digging into the paper until it ripped. I watched as she struggled to shape the words. I reached out, feeling like I was about to hug a cactus. “Can I help?”
“No!”, she croaked.
“Sometimes you just need the words in another order…”
“I. Said. No!”
“OK.” I gave up. But I knew we’d have to talk about this when we got home. I saw the words she’d written and it scared me: LIAR HATE UGLY SLOW BITCH MEAN. While they didn’t make sense, clearly her words had meaning.
The waitress narrowed her eyes at us. We shouldn’t stay long. This day felt wrong, and I wanted to get home, have Birdie take a long nap, and wake up and try again. We could make another cup of tea, with no milk, and have another go at the crossword. We just needed a do-over.
Finally, Birdie was ready to go. “Why don’t we walk home?” I said, aiming for cheerful. Nonchalant, even. She growled and pushed through the door.
It took us about 15 minutes to get home on foot. The whole bus trip had been such a waste of time!
I was relieved to be back in the safety of our four walls, and tried to reassure Birdie that it would all be OK now. She continued to fume.
“Do you want to lie down?” I was at a loss.
And suddenly she deflated. “Maybe…” I could tell she was exhausted. We’d been gone for just over 2 hours, and hadn’t done much of anything else since getting out of bed, but she was completely drained. And that’s when I noticed the stains on her sleeves. How had I missed this?
I said, “There’s something on your shirt. Maybe we should change it.”
“OK.” She seemed so limp now. Lifeless. I winced and held my breath when I saw her bare arms. The air stung when it touched the cuts. They were deep this time. Jesus Christ, what a mess. I managed to coax Birdie to the sink where I rinsed and cleaned the cuts as best I could. I carefully wrapped her arms, touching her gently so she would feel cared for, loved.
Once she was in bed and nearly asleep, I called her mother. She picked up on the first ring, “Birdie! Is that you?”, she sang. “I was just thinking about you.”
“You sound funny. Are you OK?”
“We need your help.”
“I’ll be there as soon as… I’m leaving right now.” She hung up.
I knew she’d get here as fast as she could, but it would be an hour and a half, minimum, at this time of day. It had gotten cold in the apartment. We were still lying on the bed when I noticed Birdie had worked the bandages free and carved an even deeper wound, nearly from wrist to elbow. It throbbed. The pain was deep. We hugged ourself tight feeling colder and colder in the dimming light.