When I was ten we had moved to a new city. I was inexplicably popular, and briefly cute, and made friends with H. She was everything I wanted to be and knew I never would be. She was short and tiny and feminine with long dirty blonde hair that was straight and shiny and swung like a rope when she ran.
Whereas I was already taller than both my parents and have thick, dark hair that never, never, never does what I want it to. I was tomboyish and awkward and painfully thin.
She was an amazing artist. Everyone loved her. I was instantly drawn in. I still don’t know what she saw in me. Up till that point I was kind of a silent shadow. Never participating in class. Just reading in the back; I barely spoke to anyone. I looked through everyone and they looked through me.
H only had one sibling and her family had money. Looking back, they were probably only middle class, but comparatively, she was rich. Her family bought her junk food, she had a phone and TV in her bedroom. They went on actual vacations, like people in movies.
She was my best friend for most of that year and we spent a lot of time together. She was a very bad influence on me. My parents hated her. And no wonder.
I had gone from a tomboyish, friendless bookworm to a popular “bad” girl. Boys came over to hang out with me. Black boys, to my parent’s discomfort. I even stole a rose from our rich neighbor’s garden under H’s influence. You would have thought I had committed some kind of blood worship, ritual sacrifice when my parents found out about that one.
Her dad would pick us up from school and take us to his store. He owned a reptile and amphibian store. I think this was the reason why we became such good friends. That shop was a great place to spend a few formative years.
He’d let us feed the snakes. Some of them ate little pink newborn mice. Some would eat the adorable white mice that we’d play with before using them as food. Some of them ate crickets or silkworm larvae that we’d pull from a nightmarish wriggling mass in the back.
And then we’d watch them eat. It was fascinating.
He had an albino python. And the most fucking adorable caiman ever! There were all sorts of giant snakes and frogs that we weren’t allowed to touch. I can still smell that snake smell and hear the hum of lights in the aquariums.
One day, I went over to visit her. She had an excited look on her face and a gleam in her eyes. It was a sure sign that she was planning something that would get us into trouble.
She told me that her father had gotten some new pets that he was going to sell. He was keeping them in the backyard. Did I want to go see them?
Being friends with someone more popular than you is kind of like performing improv. To move the plot ahead, you kind of had to say ‘yes’ to everything. So I did.
The backyard at her house was tiny. Nobody ever went out there. It was ‘L’ shaped and about 600 square feet.
I opened her back door and walked out, expecting to see some cages set up. I mean, it’s not like he would keep snakes or alligators just out in the open, right?
But there were no cages. And then I realized she had closed the door behind me without following me out. I turned and looked in the window at her. “H? Aren’t you coming out?” I called in through the closed door.
I looked around. I heard running coming from around the corner. I didn’t have time to try to get away. To be honest, my brain couldn’t even register what I was seeing.
It was three giant birds. They were taller than I was. They looked kind of like ostriches, but they weren’t ostriches. I didn’t know what the hell they were. And I didn’t care.
When you are unexpectedly attacked by giant birds, you aren’t worried about semantics. That first bird came at me and I panicked. I was merely trying to keep it from pecking out my eyes, but I accidentally slapped it.
Far from deterring it, my aggression only seemed to incite it more. Fortunately, H had seen me hit her father’s birds and opened the door and let me in.
I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t. I suspect I would have killed all three of those emus. Even back then, I was a good fighter.