My Friend Sandra
Sandra lives two floors down in 7E. She answers the door in a pink kimono printed with irises and Saran Wrap swathed around her head.
“Want me to dye your hair?” she asks and I say sure.
Colored beads hang between the kitchen and Sandra’s bedroom. They make a sound like music when you move through them. Sandra’s bedroom is my favorite place in New York. Everything smells like incense and clove cigarettes. Sandra has a vintage poster of The Hunger hanging over her bed on a nail. She brought a record player all the way from Iowa and keeps a stack of albums next to it you can flip through. Sandra has everything from Air Supply to The Pixies. She likes them all and will let you play anything you want. Her desk is littered with elaborate makeup items like false eyelashes, French tip do-it-yourself manicure kits, glitter, a fake mole, and vanity glasses shaped like cat-eyes. She always has a fifth of Scotch and often one lone, solitary, spare joint. Where she gets them, I have no idea, since she rarely leaves her dorm room except for class. Sandra keeps a Polaroid over her desk of a blurry-faced boy named Jesse from back home. She loves him and will only talk about him when she’s wasted. He would have sex with her but refused to break up with his girlfriend. Sometimes, Sandra calls him late at night.
“Just to listen to him breathe,” she says.
Sandra is always happy to see me. She rolls her own Drum cigarettes. She drinks Scotch on the rocks. She has a wild, throaty laugh. Late at night, after our hair is dyed a matching, magenta red, after we’ve been lying on the floor for hours, listening to David Bowie and Nina Simone and Haircut 100, I think she’s the most fabulous girl I’ve ever met in my life.
In the morning, I walk with her to class, even though I wish I didn’t have to. Up Twelfth Street, across Fifth Avenue, past the brown Ukranian church. If I had to estimate, I would guess that Sandra weighs one hundred and eighty, maybe one hundred and ninety pounds. Her neck looks like sausage casing unraveling, pocked with acne scars. Sometimes, I think she’s unaware of the circumferences of her own body. She’s always bumping into me, knocking me with her hip or brushing my bare arm with her breasts. It’s like she must imagine she’s a thin, skinny person trapped in a fat girl’s body. Sometimes I think she has no idea who she really is. Even if she is the only real friend I’ve made in New York City.
All the kids from the dorm hang out on the wall before heading out for the night. Where they go, I have no idea: to clubs, to bars, to secret parties in penthouse apartments somewhere in the city. I go down there sometimes and try to talk to them.
Sandra never comes down to the wall with me. She says she watches me from her window. She says she sees me trying to talk to people, make friends. “You’re brave,” she says. “In a way I’ll never be.”
“That’s not true,” I say. I know I’m not brave. It’s just that compared to Sandra, I might have a chance.
“Do you want to go to a party?” an Iranian boy asks. “It’s in the dorm.”
I say sure and ask Sandra to go with me.
The elevator opens and the sound of the party is crushing. Someone has killed the lights on the entire floor. At the end of the hall, girls with glo-in-the dark lipstick are laughing and passing a foil of paper between them that they lean over. Sandra stands too close to me. Her breasts push against my back. We make our way down the hall with trepidation and enter the party.
For a moment, I think that we will turn around and leave. We have to squeeze our way through. Kids everywhere, holding drinks over their heads. A group of skinny, model-looking girls huddle near the door and burst into explosions of laughter whenever someone new and slightly unattractive walks into the party, including Sandra and me.
I feel crushed by Sandra’s closeness behind me. If she could climb up on my back and perch there, I think she would.
“This is why I don’t leave my room,” she announces.
We stand near the wall and swirl vodka around in red plastic cups. Sandra goes to the bathroom. A boy with a tattoo of a snake on the back of his head asks, “What’s your name?” and we start talking. Sandra comes back and stands a few feet beside me. She slouches against the wall with an ugly, irritated expression on her face. Her face looks pinched together like a praying mantis. After a while, the boy asks, “Is that your friend?”
I will tell him yes. I will tell him, Yes, that’s my friend and she’s super cool. You should meet her. She held my hair for me while I threw up. She writes poems that make your hair stand straight up. She has a laugh that makes you feel smart.
Instead I smile and shake my head no. Just a little, dismissive turn of my chin. We talk all night. His eyes are like olives. Sandra disappears. The boy and I find a secluded spot where we can crouch down. His breath tastes like mint. His legs are skinny and almost hairless. Even later, I discover, he likes to touch my feet with his tongue. It passes the time.
At mid-semester, Sandra will return home to the Midwest where she came from. She’ll take her hanging colored beads, her record player, her poster of The Hunger from its nail. She’ll leave the mattress bare. She will be gone and no one will miss her but me.
Colleen Curran is the author of the novel Whores on the Hill (Vintage Original) and the editor of the literary anthology Altared (Anchor Books). Her short stories have been published in places like Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Blackbird, among others. To find out more about Colleen and her work, please visit her website.