“Dad. Dad.” I bug out my eyes and lean my head to the side a few times, toward the little girl who has become my shadow at Creekmore Park. She smiles at my dad.
“Oh did you make a new friend?” Dad doesn’t see well. Are you kidding me?
“We go to school together.” She makes the announcement proudly.
She has a buzz haircut. Even as a second grader, I know this means she has lice that they couldn’t get rid of. Dust defines the creases in her elbows and knees. This is not my definition of friend.
She’s wearing an oversized Rheem tshirt. We get these free from school; Rheem, an air conditioning company in town, is our school’s partner in education. No one wears the free tshirts they give to every student. Maybe as a night shirt.
She followed me over to my dad, and she’s just standing here, waiting for me to go back to the playground equipment. No chance, Crystalina. Yeah…that’s her name. See what I mean?
Just because we ended up in the same class in public school, you think that means we are friends if I accidentally see you in public? This is also not my definition of friend.
She rocks back on the heels of her pale pink Easter-dress church shoes, loses her balance a little, stumbles a few steps backward; her shoes tap and scrape loudly on the sidewalk pavement.
“Do you want to go on the swings, Emily?” She’s scratching some mosquito bites on her ankle, forcing me to examine the condition of her fingernails.
I feel my face expressing my heart. I don’t try to stop myself. She pulls up her dingy ankle sock out of her church shoe to tuck in the bloody mosquito bites.
“No thanks. I think we are about to go.” I’m crossing my arms and looking at my dad, still bug-eyed. I’m not being subtle, and the clues are just bouncing off his skull.
“Nah, we don’t have to go yet. Go play with your friend, Emmy.” Dad settles onto a shaded park bench, crosses one ankle onto his opposite knee. Nicknames are for the house; we’ve been over this. I will have to get Mom to explain it again.
Crystalina twists her long red and white gingham cotton skirt around, lining up the seams. I’m not certain, but it looks like someone made it for her from a picnic tablecloth.
“You go ahead, Crystalina. I’ll be over there in a minute.” I know tricks. I get on the bench with my dad.
Crystalina beams. She shuffles across the pavement, slides through the dewy grass, crashes into the pebbles, slams onto a swing.
“Dad. Let’s go. She’s not my friend. She just goes to my school, and she’s really annoying.” I have to spell it out for him.
“What’s annoying? Is she mean?She likes you and wants to play. She seems nice to me.” Dad is thumbing through his Bible. Maybe he can’t hear well either. I get the feeling that possibly…I’m already smarter than him, at least socially, for sure.
“Well…no, she’s not mean. But like…she’s gross. Did you see her sock with the dried blood on the inside from her mosquito bites? Her clothes are always dirty, and like…” I feel like I’m being so obvious. Why isn’t he getting this?
“None of that is her fault. You never know what someone’s home life is like. You don’t know if she has running water or electricity. You don’t know any of that. You have to look at someone’s heart.” Maybe he did see well.
“Some people don’t have water at their house? Every house I’ve ever been to has a kitchen and a bathroom.” Yep. What house, Dad? You’re making it up.
“Emily. You have to pay for water. It doesn’t just flow from any sink.” His voice is gentle; he briefly looks up from his Bible at me.
“Oh.” I remember lots of moments when I learned something that I never knew before.
Dad never makes me feel stupid when he teaches me things. I don’t like when someone acts like I should already know something.
I sat for a while, swinging my feet slowly, letting love melt ice.
“People are attracted to the Christ in you. You have to look past a lot of worldly values, and always try to see people how God sees them. The world might tell you who is annoying or gross or unworthy, but don’t listen. Get really quiet and listen to what God tells you about them.” Maybe Dad could hear.
I felt ashamed. I played with the strings of my braided friendship bracelets; I must have had about 40 of them on one wrist. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I mean…I don’t want to be mean.
I wiped away my tears very quickly. I picked my favorite green and yellow friendship bracelet, and freed it from the others, wriggled it off my wrist.
I hopped up and ran to the swings. As she swung, Crystalina had been holding the chain of an empty swing next to her, saving it for me. She dragged her feet through the pebbles to stop herself quickly.
“Thanks for saving me a swing. Here.” I handed her the friendship bracelet. It was a wide one, the kind I didn’t know how to make.
“Thank you!!! This is my first one.” Crystalina eagerly put it on her wrist.
Listen to your dad. Just…listen.