Tammy Marino's broken family lived next door to Gumma and Da in the house Gumma grew up in. My family lovingly referred to the Marino's as "white trash" because the mother was a drug addict who had run out on them and only showed up in times of need to steel, beg or claim to have her shit together again. Tammy, her slutty older sister Lisa, their alcoholic father and their grandmother occupied 145 Bend Lane for years, paying hundreds below market value in rent (a fact Gumma never went a day without mentioning.)
The four and a half acre backyard, shared by both houses, was a kid's ideal playground. We had a swing set, a sandbox and an above ground pool. I also had an abundance of outdoor toys: bikes, scooters, a basketball net, roller skates, a pogo ball, a sit and spin, a Smurf big wheel, jump ropes, a badminton set, a volleyball net, and my sister had a mini jeep - that actually drove. At Gumma's house we were hooked up!
Although these things belonged to my family, they allowed the Marino’s to use them. My grandmother's only rule was that no one use the pool alone, for safety reasons. Tammy's father worked, so we often swam together to obey the buddy system.
My popularity always rose during warm summer months. I saw my cousins, Elizabeth and Mary, more because they'd come over to play. With no school to interrupt prime outdoor time we'd spend entire days outside using all of my various sporting equipment. I was grateful for this waxing period of friendship. I never looked at it with a negative skew until one day Elizabeth brought it to my attention.
"You know Tammy's only using you for your pool," my seven year old cousin informed me. I paused. Well, isn't that what you're doing? I thought, aware of the hypocrisy of her statement. But then I felt a pang of hurt. It never occurred to me to view this dynamic that way. I was being used? That meant Tammy, and thus Elizabeth and Mary, didn't really like me. They only liked my things. In fact, my adolescent brain tumbled further down the rabbit hole, they probably hated me and talked bad about me behind my back...
"Really?" I asked my all-knowing cousin.
"Yeah," she confirmed my fears. "She's only pretending to be your friend so she can use your pool."
I was triggered. I felt like a fool. Here I was thinking that I had friends when all the while they were conspiring against me. Well, I wasn't going to allow that to go on any further. The next day Tammy knocked on Gumma's door.
"Wanna go swimming?" she asked.
"I heard you're just using me for my pool," I confronted her right away. She was taken aback.
"What!?" she said with a dismissive laugh. "No, I'm not."
"So you'd still be friends with me even if you couldn't use the pool?" I challenged. Dumbfounded, she thought for a moment.
"Yeah, why? Can we not use the pool anymore?" I saw an opportunity to put her friendship to the test.
"No, we can't. Gumma said you guys can't use the pool anymore." This was a brilliant idea, I thought. Soon I'd be able to tell if her friendship was genuine by whether or not she wanted to hang out without the luxury of my most valuable asset.
"Okaaaay," Tammy replied skeptically. "Well, can we still play with your toys?" Ah ha! Elizabeth was right!
"You're only using me for my stuff!" I accused her, and slammed the door.
That'd show her! I'd caught Tammy in her conniving, underhanded game. Let her watch me outside playing, wishing she'd appreciated me for me so she could play too. Let her feel the regret of losing someone because she was selfish. I'd show her. I put on my bathing suit and grabbed a towel.
"Are you and Tammy going swimming?" Gumma asked.
"No, Tammy was just using me for the pool."
"You know you're not supposed to go swimming alone," she replied.
I was shocked. I had always thought that was a rule just for the Marino’s. Her way of exercising control over her good-for-nothing renters. A power play. Obviously I wouldn't sue Gumma if I got hurt. And I was an excellent swimmer, I wouldn't get hurt anyway.
"Well, she's not coming," I announced.
“Alright, I'll go up with you," she said, slightly put out.
"Are you gonna swim!?" I asked excitedly. I had seen Gumma use her own pool maybe once in my whole life. The prospect of having her for my new swimming buddy was awesome.
"No, I'm not going in," she said, "I'll just watch you.”
Swimming alone is boring. A kid attempting to play alone in a pool is sad. But my pride would not allow me to feel those negative feelings, so I splashed, smiled and laughed like a schizophrenic as Gumma watched from a deck chair. I envisioned Tammy staring longingly out of her window, feeling the loneliness I wasn't allowing myself to feel. I continued this facade of happiness for about forty five minutes until all the energy left me and reality sunk in. Walking back to the house with Gumma, I glanced to Tammy's window hoping I'd see her jealous, regretful face staring back. She was not there.
I attempted to talk myself back up, convince myself that I was self sufficient and didn’t need any friends. But I was sad. I was lonely. These feelings persisted and were topped with resentment. Why did Liz tell me that Tammy had been using me? What business was it of hers, anyway? I felt my heart sink as it occurred to me that it was going to be my responsibility to fix this.
The following day I called Tammy. "Hey," I said, my tail between my legs, "do you wanna come over?"
"Ok," she answered skeptically. Two minutes later she was at Gumma's back door.
"I'm sorry I said you were just using me for my pool," I blurted out. I was surprised at the feeling of relief that followed. I had expected my apology to be harder. Had I known the anticipation of apologizing, the fear of saying I was sorry, was worse than the act itself perhaps I'd have done it earlier.
"It's ok," Tammy smiled. "I didn't mean to make you feel that way."
"Wanna go swimming?" I smiled back.
And off we went, picking up our friendship right where we'd left off, as if nothing had ever happened.