It happened the first time I stayed the night with Rachel Pellington. Rachel was new in town but already she was the coolest girl in our 6th grade class. She was from Long Island, which seemed very exotic to everyone in middle Tennessee. She wore her hair in braided pigtails and if someone said something she didn’t like she’d tell them to “fuck off.” Needless to say, everyone loved her.
When she asked me to stay the night I tried not to act too surprised but in my mind I was like what in the world is happening?
It was on a Friday night and when I got to Rachel’s house they were waiting for me to have dinner. We immediately sat down to eat and Rachel’s dad asked me if I wanted milk or root beer. I told him I wanted root beer because milk? Gross. We had pork chops, a salad with Thousand Island dressing and green beans. I didn’t like the green beans because they weren’t soft like they are from a can but I swallowed them because I didn’t want to be rude. Rachel’s dad told jokes and her mom drank wine and didn’t laugh. Rachel’s dad said we could stay up late and watch movies if we wanted.
And we did! We watched movies until 1:00 am. That’s when Rachel’s mom came into the room where we were watching movies and started crying. You might be like, “no way! Really???” But I’m very serious. We were laying on the floor and Rachel’s mom was sitting on the couch. She was still drinking wine and she was really boo hoo’ing. Rachel rolled her eyes and turned off the TV. “She does this all the time. She’s so stupid.” So we went upstairs to Rachel’s room.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in Rachel’s bedroom so let me tell you what it looked like. First and foremost, it was PINK. Second of all, the walls were lined with bookshelves but she didn’t have a single book. Not one! Instead, the shelves were filled with porcelain dolls. There were probably 50 of them. Maybe more, I never actually counted them. Plus, I’m super bad at math. Third of all, she had a lot of stuffed animals. The entirety of her bed was filled with them: dolphins, kittens, unicorns, bears, lions, birds, and other animals I can’t think of right now. She had a bunk bed with matching comforters, which I thought was pretty cool.
Rachel told me I could have the bottom bunk and then she opened her arms wide and goes, “Which animal do you want to sleep with?”
I looked around the room; my eyes were so wide they ached. “That one,” I whispered, pointing to one of the bookshelves where the prettiest porcelain doll was perched. She had long dark curls and rosy red cheeks.
Rachel took the doll from her spot, “You can’t sleep with porcelain dolls, stupid.” Then she grabbed a tiny pink brush on her nightstand and began brushing the dolls hair. “You probably shouldn’t even touch these dolls,” Rachel said. “Their skin is very sensitive. I can touch them because I also have very soft and sensitive skin.”
I didn’t know what to do so I just stood there for a while watching her brush the dolls hair. After a while Rachel put the doll back in her spot and spent a few moments adjusting the dolls green dress, making sure everything was perfectly situated. When Rachel turned around we just stared at each other for a few seconds. “You’re making me feel weird,” she said.
“Oh. I’ll sleep with the fucking unicorn then.” I added the word ‘fucking’ because I thought she might think that was cool.
Rachel grabbed the unicorn and tossed it my way. “Good,” she said, “I hate that old thing. Unicorns aren’t even real.”
I felt silly for picking the unicorn after Rachel said that but the horn was pink and purple and a few years ago my aunt had said to me, “a person with real character will always say their favorite color is either pink or purple.” And that’s why I thought it was important to tell you Rachel’s bedroom was pink. It meant she had character.
Now, though, I wanted to throw the unicorn back at her and laugh, I’m just kidding! I hate unicorns too! Give me that lion! But instead I pulled the unicorn to me and sat down on the bottom bunk.
Rachel started to undress and put on her pj’s. “I have to show you something,” Rachel said as she sat at the foot of my bed. Rachel had changed into flannel pj’s but her shirt was off. And maybe I forgot to mention this but Rachel had boobs. I didn’t have boobs yet so it was weird to see her boobs. I didn’t want to stare so I just looked at my feet.
“Look,” Rachel pointed at her left boob. I shrugged, like, yeah, I see your boob. Big deal. I see boobs all the time.
“I think I’m getting cancer,” Rachel said and grabbed her boob and started messaging it. “I feel lumps everywhere.”
I turned away. “You can’t get cancer until you have your period.” I didn’t know if that was true but sometimes I say stupid things because people expect you to say something.
“I would really hate to die of cancer at such a young age, wouldn’t you?”
I had never thought about it but decided in that very moment that I would hate to die of anything at any age but especially of boob cancer at twelve.
“I need you to touch my boob to see if I have cancer,” Rachel was looking at me desperately. I really didn’t want to touch her boob. I couldn’t quite figure out why but it just felt weird.
“Please,” Rachel grabbed my hand. I nodded as I extended my arm toward her chest. “Close your eyes,” Rachel said and she guided my hand to her left boob and laid it there.
“Squeeze,” Rachel instructed me, “you have to squeeze to feel the cancer.” I squeezed while she moved my hand around her boob. I didn’t feel anything weird but I had never touched a boob before so how would I know if it had cancer?
I opened my eyes. “It doesn’t feel like cancer.” The whites of Rachel eyes were sparkling. I could smell the Thousand Island dressing on her breath. She dropped my hand and sighed. She took the shirt from her lap and slid it on. It was gray and had the words Jews for Jesus across the front.
This became our ritual. I would stay the night, we would eat dinner, watch a movie and then we would go to her room where I would check Rachel for cancer. When I finally got boobs a year later Rachel started checking me for cancer too but like Rachel told me - her boobs were bigger and required more cancer attention. Sometimes we would kiss while we checked each other for cancer because Rachel thought it would help us relax. It didn’t help me relax but I have always been a very good friend. This next part is weird because I don’t want you to think something bad but one time Rachel took off all her clothes and made me look her pubic hair to see if cancer was growing there. I only looked for 5 seconds and came to the conclusion she did not have cancer growing on her pubic hair.
When we turned 14 Rachel started dating Boyd Weaver and Rachel stopped asking me to stay the night. She was too busy talking to Boyd on the phone or something. Whatever. I don’t know. It was different after Boyd. Rachel didn’t even want to talk to me anymore. One time in the bathroom I overheard Tabitha tell Sarah Mulkers that Rachel and Boyd were having sexual intercourse. I had no proof but I didn’t think it was true. Rachel told me once that having sex was disgusting and she would never do it unless the man raped her. I didn’t think Boyd raped her unless he was the kind of rapist that always helped the retarded boy in 4th grade get up the stairs at school.
The day I heard Rachel was having sexual intercourse I went to her house. Rachel’s mom opened the door and told me Rachel was in her room. It kind of felt weird being in Rachel’s house again but I had to be sure she wasn’t getting raped. That’s the kind of friend I am. Even if it’s weird and we’re not really friends anymore, I will always make sure you’re not getting raped.
I knocked on Rachel’s door and when she opened it she looked mad. “What are you doing?” Rachel asked.
“I just want to make sure Boyd isn’t raping you.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. She pulled me inside her bedroom and shut the door. She took off her sweater and bra. I looked at the floor because everything felt very weird. “This is the last time I’m going to let you do this,” Rachel grabbed my hand and started squeezing my hand on her boob. “Lesbian,” Rachel laughed.
I could feel my eyes filling with tears so I pulled my hand away and turned around so she couldn’t see that I was feeling sad.
“If you tell Boyd or anyone else I let you touch me I’m going to murder you,” she said.
I turned around and glared at her like yeah, right! I’m never going to let you murder me. I was actually pretty mad but I also felt very sad. I didn’t want to suddenly start crying so I decided to leave. I picked up my backpack and as I opened the door I said, “I felt it that time. You have boob cancer,” and I slammed the door behind me.