Late afternoon, fall, 1988, laying on the floor, listening to Ziggy Stardust for the first time all the way through, the phone cord stretched for miles so it reaches my room, and she is breathing on the other line, but we don’t speak, we just listen.
It’s November now, I am babysitting, I am bored. It is a Saturday night and I call her. “Are you watching Dr. Who right now? What channel? Holy Crap!” We are stunned into silence by paper maiche minotaur headed monsters and foil robots. Every single planet has a showdown in the same rock quarry. Every Saturday night from here to the end of high school, with minor exceptions, we call each other NOT to talk for approximately 90 minutes, depending on episode length. Her preteen sister whines for the phone every time on the other end. “Why do you need to hog the phone? You’re NOT EVEN TALKING!”
After the episode we talk for hours until one or both of us start to nod off. If one of us is grounded, we do this secretly and whisper to avoid detection. One time a coyote comes and looks right in the window as this is happening and I describe it while keeping my face as still as possible, thinking I might spook it and make it run away by showing too much emotion.
Summer, 1989. I’m in the hospital, recovering. I was in a car accident and I might be dying. Only nobody has bothered to tell me that I might be dying. I feel like something’s being hidden from me and I am vaguely unhappy about this. I am neither happy nor unhappy about almost anything else because I’m on so much morphine that I actually have a whole other team of imaginary doctors I’ve hallucinated into the schedule of morning rounds. They have names like “Dr. Blue” and “Dr. Pain” and I greet them aloud while explaining to anyone else in the room that “it’s okay, I’m only hallucinating.”
She comes whenever she can get a ride to the hospital, sometimes after school, always on weekends. Always on Saturdays. I never think to wonder why they let her stay after visiting hours on Saturdays. All the same, at 10 pm, we are watching, silently. The Doctor in his ridiculous scarf, asking if we care for a jelly baby. K-9 wagging his robotic tail. Standing stones that are really silicone based life forms.
It turns out they let her stay as a dying teen perk. When I finally wasn’t technically dying anymore they had to let the policy stand to avoid tipping me off. It took me a long, long time to figure that out.
Before I left the hospital, they had to wean me off the morphine. They took her aside and warned her, as my best friend, to keep me away from hard drugs in high school. They’d apparently given me so much morphine to keep me out of pain, thinking I wasn’t going to make it, that I’d been hardcore addicted without knowing it. The sleepless nights and nausea and pain I went through for weeks and had thought was part of the healing was actually withdrawal.
She listened and watched over me like a mother hen. Steered me clear of a lot of the “good” parties. Always made sure I got to sit in the front seat. Fourteen years later, she insists on sitting in the truck bed on our way to the Bowie Reality Tour so I can sit up front with her boyfriend, who is driving, and sit in the “safe” seat. Twenty five years later now, and we are getting a ride home from Club Congress and she won’t let us leave until I buckle my seatbelt.
When I watch Dr. Who with my 12 year old now, it isn’t the same. The production values are too high. It feels like cheating. Her best friend doesn’t like the show. She lives two states away now. But every weekend, they video chat for hours, not talking, just co-existing, sometimes falling asleep to the sound of each other’s long distance snoring.