When I got back to Fred's house I spent the rest of the summer with Little Joe. We met a girl named Stephanie, who lived down the street and we became a trio instead of a duo. She was a short, chubby girl with brown eyes and pasty white skin. Every time we were at her house we ate Top Ramen Noodles she made for us in the microwave, and sometimes we ate them raw like chips and dipped them in ketchup. Her parents were drug addicts too. We were three peas in a pod, or so I thought.
Stephanie and I were enrolled in the same school and I was very excited to finally have a friend. When recess came I could hardly wait to get outside. I had someone to play with! No more staying inside with the teacher like I usually did. When the bell rang I ran outside and started searching, squinting in the sun closing my weaker eye, becoming a Cyclops. When I found her she was standing around a group of girls already and I was too shy to say anything. So I just followed them around. I finally got in a position to where I was in ear shot of her and I shouted, "Stephanie!" but she ignored me. So, I yelled again thinking maybe she didn't hear me. "Stephanie!... Stephanie!..." Then she turned around and in front of everyone she yelled, "Stop following me you weirdo!"
I was stuck in place, not sure if I had the courage to walk away while they all laughed. It felt like if I could just stay still and not say anything that maybe I would become invisible. I went and sat down next to the water fountain and tried not to cry, but I couldn't help it. Later on the way home Stephanie put her hand on my shoulder and said in a very sweet voice, "Things are different at school, I can be your friend at home, but not at school, K?" I nodded my head OK.
The other children at school thought I was gross and weird. Even though both Stephanie and me had similar home lives, she had somehow given off the impression that she was better cared for. Her thrift store clothes matched and fit her properly. She did her hair in a braid and sometimes she even wore makeup. I had lots of Lisa Frank school supplies and that was about it. I had to worry about my mother getting beat up, her friends molesting me and bad guys breaking down the door. There was no time left to worry about clothes or hair... or clean socks. Stephanie only had to worry about making Top Ramen Noodles, and I envied her.
Me: age 8
After school Little Joe would meet us at McDonald's and we would use the trays the food came on like little sleds to race down the slide. When it was Stephanie's turn to slide down Joe would wait for her at the bottom with his butt lined up so that she'd hit it face first. Joe showed a slight preference towards me and got in the habit of calling Stephanie a midget. I would look at Stephanie with a huge grin on my face, pointing my nose in the air every time he insulted her. See, he likes me! Not mean girls like you!
Stephanie and I were both in love with Little Joe, and I was on top of the world every time he picked me over her. He reached over and held my hand while we were sitting in the plastic tunnels one day and Stephanie started to tease us by sticking her tongue out like she was gagging. She said, "Ewww, why are you holding her hand?!" Joe answered her, "better than holding hands with a midget!" Inside, I was doing a happy dance...Ha Ha! he called you a midget!
After McDonald's we all went our separate ways. Joe went home to his mother, Stephanie went home to eat Top Ramen Noodles, and I went home to the pirate ship where we were having squash for dinner. The vegetable garden came in handy come the fall. Money was tight, stolen credit cards were hard to come by, and the food stamps were traded in for cash at the Seven Eleven to pay for my mother's habits. We had squash for dinner almost every night, boiled squash, fried squash, grilled squash, and once my mom tried to make squash soup... but I wouldn't eat it. Thankfully, I had free breakfast and lunch at school everyday or I might have starved.