1 week ago. May 24, 2023 at 4:51 PM
I thought about how to explain Josephine's story without adding my own bias. She wasn't my favorite person in our gang, but I do not believe it is fair to omit her because of my own emotions. She was a force. I admired her spirit and confidence. She walked around like she did not care what anyone thought. As you might of guessed, our gang of unfortunate souls withered down to two and since Josephine and I were not close in the beginning, the gang disbanded.
By high school, I was tired. I was tired of a series of unfortunate events and I was e losing my sense of hope, despite the yellow ribbon dangling from my keychain. I could tell I was not the only one.
When we were kids, Josephine would confide in Tyla, using Barbie dolls for demonstrations of where her father, half brother and uncle, visiting on the holidays, would touch her when her mommy was working. At that age, we didn't understand what sexual assault was, we didn't understand what abuse was, we didn't understand why our sworn protectors would turn to hurt us. But as girls, we did understand what keeping a secret was.
Josephine felt betrayed by Tyla when she demonstrated what she had learned to me at our next play session. She was amazed and excited to know about the wonders of her body. She did not know what a vagina was or what it meant, how the spot between her legs could exist without her knowing. Although this new knowledge stirred her curious mind, she still worried about Josephine.
"You should have seen her." Tyla said. "She said she was unsure."
"What do you mean?"
Tyla shrugged. "Unsure about her daddy or her brother giving her baths and washing her but I told her a daddy is there to keep you safe when mommy is away. Mommies are better at some things than daddies."
Tyla had two loving parents who would move mountains for her. Of course, this is what she believed. I didn't blame her.
I believed a father and brother could be portrayed as a protector in the family dynamic--until this.
My mother was a sex positive parent. She taught me at four years old where a penis goes when trying to create a child like me. She taught me the difference between my vagina, vulva, lipis and clitoris. She made me watch sex educational videos to avoid any follow up questions about penis size, foreskin and sperm. She explained to me where a man could touch, but not allowed to at my current age. Josephine and I were the same age, so my curious mind had been peaked.
I asked my mother. "Can a daddy and brother touch my vagina?"
I remember my mother moving from the kitchen to the living room like lightening, grabbing my shoulders, her eyes full of tears but her lips was fixed tight, her voice stern and motherly. "Who? You tell me who touched you! You tell me right now!"
"Then why all of sudden ask me such a question?"
I remained silent. I didn't want to get anyone in trouble. I was not supposed to know.
My mother was a resilient woman; she literally shook the truth out of me.
"You tell me. Right now. Right now or no more playing with Tyla."
Shaking involuntarily back and forth, I spilled the peas. "Josephine's daddy, brother and uncle touches her when her mommy is away."
My mother released me, frozen in place. I don't remember what happened next, but I remember the consequences of telling a secret.
It was a week before Thanksgiving break, I remember because I was looking forward to showing my mother a hat I created in arts and crafts. I was wearing it out at recess when the storm came in. I was coming down the slide as Josephine appeared. No hesitation, no words were said, no time to prepare. BAM! My first punch in the face and I didn't see her rip up my Thanksgiving hat, but there it was in pieces on the ground. This is where the rift between us began.
If you ask Josephine today, who was the person that ruined her life? All fingers point to me.
No Thanksgiving would ever be the same, no more family dinners, no more family vacations, no white picket fence dream, her family imploded.
My mom told her mom and the next thing we knew Mitch was giving his lunch to Jospehine. Despite her best attempts to exclude me from the gang, our pain was overwhelmingly formidable granting stronger bonds than the iceberg sinking the Titanic. It was awkward at first, sitting diagonal at lunchtime from that Sucker Punch fiend but Tyla reminded me Josephine was going through an ordeal, hurting more than her mind could grasp. Being the bigger person is revenge enough.
Josephine's mom was this travel agent/realtor/big CEO. The details of her job was unknown to me, but I knew she traveled around the world. She depended on the father to make lunches, buy clothes, make dinners, deal with school administrators. So, when he was thrown into jail, you would expect for the mother's priorities to change. You would think she would come home, comfort her daughter, step up as a mother in which she did for the span of three weeks before flying out the week before Thanksgiving.
Mitch explained this to me later in middle school. He would never admit it, but I think he had a crush on Josephine. When she started dropping weight because she refused to eat the lunch, he started making her turkey sandwiches from home. When Josephine started to talk suicide, he would change her tune, start making jokes and flirt. On the days, he avoided his mother in the parking lot he walked Josephine home safely, they did homework together, planned pranks together.
When Mitch was killed, it was heartbreaking. Josephine was the last one standing at his grave site, on her knees sobbing obnoxiously loud.
I kneeled next to her, staring at his gravestone. "Eugene." I read. "Remember we used to tease him about his middle name. Ew ew old man Eugene."
She stopped crying, filling the air with awkward silence. I continued on, mimicking Mitch's voice.
"Old man with all the wisdom, experience and getting all the ladies." Then I whispered to Josephine. "But we all know he just wanted one."
She smiled for a moment then probably remembered she hated me. "What do you want?"
"Make sure you are okay. I'm not okay." I confessed. "We are the only two left."
"No, you are just left. There is no we."
"Tyla and Mitch would have wanted us to let the past go. We made a pact in the sandbox and it is the only reason why we are still here today--"
"Shut up! Don't you talk to me about Tyla or Mitch! You don't know! You are nothing! You are pathetic. You don't mind your own fucking business and we all pay the cost for it!"
I experienced one of those out of body moments. I remember time slowing down, watching my arm raise to assist my fist in connecting with Jospehine's eye. It was exhilarating a defining moment in our relationship going forward.
We finished middle school as enemies, making our lives more unfortunate than they already were, but it gave us a reason to wake up in the morning. When Jospehine threw a party and invited everyone but me, I spent the night plotting my revenge. The next day, I borrowed one of Mitch pranks. I stole the lock on her locker and replaced it with an identical one. She was late to class trying to figure out the combination, which earned her detention for two days. She responded with gossip, a game of rumors. I beat her at your own game, spreading pictures of a young Josephine eating dog food on her kitchen floor.
That's the thing about having an enemy who was a childhood friend. You never know what secrets they may have in their arsenal.
I believe Josephine realized this, so we mutually agreed to pretend we didn't know each other. Out of sight, never in my mind and my name was lost to her lips forever.
We were fucking lab partners.
Ever dissected a baby pig with an enemy?
Did you stab them? I couldn't. I envy you.
We had to do lab assignments outside of school.
We met at the library.
I did the work. She giggled at her phone.
It was good until presentation time. Jospehine loved to be the center of attention, perhaps because she never got it at home. Sorry, bias. Anyway, she disappeared on presentation day and I did all the work, so you would think the presentation would be easy but I am amazed I didn't pee my pants in front of the class. I hate public speaking.
I demanded an explanation. I went to her house to be faced with sobbing Josephine. I knew something was desperately wrong because when she opened the door. She hugged me.
My father died. She said. My father died.
I wasn't sure she was relieved or heartbroken. She never made it clear. She continued to sob and my rage dispersed as her tears poured on my shirt. We weren't friends, but I hugged her like she was one.
"I'm sorry." She uttered, before pushing my out the door to slam it in my face.
I remember standing there, frozen in place. Her emotions gave me whiplash and I was utterly confused, but I traveled home. The biology project was over and I expected us to go back to peacefully co-exisiting.
Jospehine had other plans...
On April 9th, Jospehine was found floating face down in the riverbank. Apparently, she jumped from the highway and a fisherman found her. She was wearing Mitch's jean jacket I used to steal.
I was called to identify the body. I found this a strange request. Her mother was available. She was absent her entire life, go figure. Turns out Josephine named me as an emergency contact, she had my name in her wallet. Me, my name, my number, me, the person who ruined her life.
Jospehine was a complex character. I will give her that, but till this day I had no idea why she would have chosen me.