I’ve dated my fair share of crazy women, or rather women who do crazy things.
I’ve been with a bulimic, an anorexic, a cutter, a girl who went on to smuggle drugs from Mexico into Texas and who went to jail for it.
I’ve dated poets, artists, hippies, Johnson & Johnson reps.
And when I moved to Fargo for grad school, I told myself I was done dating girls who I thought needed saving from their craziness.
But, of course, I found this to be impossible.
I should have known from our first encounter that Emma was not the girl I should have asked out for coffee.
We stood next to each other in the back room of a Moorhead bar, she was this tiny little blond hipster girl wearing a tight track jacket, and we watched a local band fizzle through a set. Emma and I flirted between songs, and before she left for the night I asked for her number so we could do the coffee-date thing.
And then she was gone and I felt all warm inside and the band played on.
But Emma reappeared 15 minutes later, tapping my shoulder.
And when I whipped around I saw there was mascara or eyeliner (all the same to me) all over her temples.
Not in a pattern that made me think Emma had been crying and wiping it onto her forehead, but more in a pattern that made me think she tried to apply her mascara/eyeliner without a mirror and someone kept bumping her elbow.
She craned her neck up at me and I recoiled at the black lines on her head, and in a squeaky valley-girl voice that I would soon come to hate, she asked: “Um, do you have any gum?”
So to recap: Emma left the bar, came back 15 minutes later with shit all over her face, and then asked me as if she had been standing there the whole time if I had any gum.
I didn’t have any gum.
And somehow I didn’t have the intelligence to call off our coffee date.
We went out twice before I told her that I think we should just be friends, and oddly enough she took me up on that friendship offering.
But like any opposite-sex friendship where there had been kissing and heavy petting at one point, there was always the possibility that it could happen again.
And it did.
Friends with benefits, I guess.
All this is to say that I spent a couple months hanging out with Emma, learning more about her family and friends, learning that her deceased father had left her a lot of money.
Like, a lot of money.
Which isn’t a big deal, except that I was pretty damn broke and she always made me pay for our friendly dinners, drinks, anything.
And this isn’t what made her crazy; this is what made her totally frustrating.
What made her a bit crazy to me is that she saw a therapist regularly and that she didn’t seem to change the things she was working on.
And there I’d be, home working on a paper and she’d call from her therapist’s office asking for me to pick her up.
And she’d say, “Pleeeeeeease. I’ll buy you some ice cream.”
Feeling guilty, feeling the need to help this girl like I’ve felt the need to help all these girls from their craziness, I’d go pick her up and drive us to the ice cream stand… and, much to the dismay of the moths in my wallet, she wouldn’t have any cash on her and I’d have to pay.
Emma often offered to buy me something, or offered to pay me back, but it never transpired.
And my resentment grew.
One night she called me saying that she was sick, that she had thrown up all over her bed and bathroom floor, and she asked me to go to the store for several items (that added up to nearly $35) that would help her clean up and and several items (that added up to $20) to make her feel better.
“I’ll pay you back,” she squeaked into the phone.
She never fucking did.
Near the end of that summer session, I tried hard to avoid Emma.
Didn’t return calls.
Didn’t answer the door.
Didn’t back down from the just wanting to be friends label I pressed upon our shoulders.
But one summer night I answered her call. She wanted to know what I was doing the next day, and I told her I was going to the Moorhead public pool. I had been spending a lot of time there since A) we were in the middle of a brutal heat wave and I didn’t have air conditioning, B) it was right around the corner from my apartment and C) it only cost a dollar to get in.
“If you want to come with me,” I said, “that’s cool. It only costs a dollar so you only have to bring a dollar.”
I mentioned that it only cost a dollar three times in our three minute phone conversation:
“It only costs a dollar so you only have to bring a dollar.”
“The great thing is that it only costs a dollar to get in.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow with your towel and the dollar you need to get in.”
I told myself that if she didn’t bring that fucking dollar, then she would be watching me enter that fucking pool without her.
Emma arrived the next day, we walked to the pool and I waited for her to approach the window first.
But she stayed back.
“Go ahead,” I said, ready to pounce.
“Um, I don’t have any money on me,” she said.
And pounce, I did: “Emma, what the fuck? How do you not have a dollar on you after I told you to bring a fucking dollar? Come on. It’s one fucking dollar that I asked you to bring for yourself because I’m done buying you shit all the time when I’m broke and eating Totino’s frozen pizza and drinking water every night.”
She stared at me on the verge of tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess I’ll go home.”
I slapped down two bucks and met her poolside, finding a way to relax, finding a way to not be annoyed by her voice.
We went for a dip, and I did what I do every time I leave my belongings unprotected: I kept one eye on my shit and one eye squinting into the sun.
Emma and I made it to the deep end, a couple of dolphins somersaulting and snipping at each other’s tails.
I made a regular belongings check and shook water from my hair like a dog and made another check on our stuff and… holy shit, two little kids were rifling through our bags.
“Some kids are going through our stuff!” I gurgled at Emma.
I splashed and dove underwater, resurfacing only when I had to.
I got to the shallow end of the pool where the two little kids were still digging around in our belongings, and I’m moving as fast as I can.
As fast as one can run through waist-deep water.
My arms, swinging wildly at my sides.
A teenage lifeguard up on her ladder saw me, we made eye contact, and I pointed to the kids and blurted “They’re stealing our stuff!”
I emerged from the pool like a cat who had fallen into a bathtub: claws out, scrambling for footing, hissing.
The little girl, Indian and cute and thin and maybe eight years old, was wrist-deep in the pocket of Emma’s jeans.
I grabbed her elbow and put my face inches from hers and tried to ask her what the fuck she thought she was doing, but all I could manage was “Blaaaaaargh!”
Batman, I am not.
She jumped out of her skin.
Eyes bigger than the red and white life preserver hanging on the fence.
The boy who had been searching my bag froze.
The lifeguard closed in, every sun-bather and swimmer at the pool turned to watch.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I finally managed to ask the girl.
She opened her hand to give me what she had stolen from Emma’s jeans, and that’s when I had this surprising moment of gratitude.
I was about to see how much money Emma actually had.
I was about to see how much of a dupe I had actually been those last couple months, paying for her top-shelf medicine and extra-large slushies with added strawberries.
I was about to see who was crazier, her or me.
Tell me she found a crumpled up dollar bill.
A mobster’s roll of hundreds.
A couple of twenties sandwiched between unopened packs of gum.
The little girl opened her palm over mine, tipped it, and out fell two pennies.
I laughed right into her tiny scared face.
The lifeguard grabbed the shoulders of the little boy and we had our thieves.
The lifeguard wanted to call the police.
Apparently these two were part of a larger group of kids who had been causing trouble the whole summer.
(An hour earlier I had seen a few of them with their arms shoved up inside a Coke machine, hoping to get a paw on a loose can.)
I said that calling the police wasn’t necessary, but she called them anyhow.
When the male cop walked into the pool area ten minutes later and interviewed me from my beach chair–everyone watching, quiet, trying to hear–the cop ended by asking “And how much did she get?”
“How much money? Two cents. The little girl only found two pennies.”
He laughed and repeated, “Two pennies. Nice.”
And I felt sad for everyone involved, including myself, and I said, “The poor thing couldn’t have picked a worse person in the city to steal from. This chick I’m with is totally crazy.”