The part that bothers me is that I can't remember her name.
I remember that the girl down the street's name was Nikki (I used to sing to her Nick nicknick Nick NICK nicknick NICKELODEON). I remember that Tom next door had a creepy older brother and his little sister had rats as pets and called them hamsters. I remember that his dog's name was Bullet.
I remember that I had a crush on a boy named Mateo.
But I don't remember her name. Part of my brain wants to call her Nina. Or Anna. But I don't remember.
Can I be forgiven for not knowing something was wrong?
I was 11. The Cambodian girl across the street was a year younger, but we did everything together. We ran the streets of our wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhood, practically inseparable. I'd moved there from Tennessee. Her family-- Bad things had happened in Cambodia and they had moved to California and then Texas. We had a gang. Our gang talked like Valley Girls and hit people with purses.
She had an older sister, the picture of integrated glamour. The sister was a teenager and everything I wanted to be and have-- a brass bed like a gilded bird cage and pictures all over her pink painted walls.
My friend's bedroom was white walled and instead of a beautiful canopy bed, she had a tatami bed roll. I thought it was weird at first, but she told me that it was the way it was in Cambodia. Who was I to argue with Cambodia?
She didn't go to school. THIS bothers me. Even a year behind me we would have hung out on the bus. In our ghetto neighborhood everyone got picked up at one stop and she would have walked the 5 blocks with Tom, Nikki and I. But she didn't. I remember sitting on the bus, day dreaming about the awesome things her glamorous older sister must do on weekends. She wasn't there for me to ask. Why didn't I notice that then?
But really, my guilt boils down to that last night.
It was hot. Heat from the cement driveway baked into the bottom of my feet, despite the late hour. Inside, my parents and my brother were watching tv. I was standing at the end of the driveway looking at my friend's house.
Her sister came out and got in the car. The sister sat in the back, behind the driver's seat, her head down. There was silence for a moment.
Then the door burst open. Her dad was screaming, repeating something over and over. I'd learned a smattering of Spanish, but she hadn't taught me a word of Khmer. Her dad had a gun. He held it to her mother's head and screamed at no one.
No one but me. I was the only witness. He kept yelling. He grabbed her by the hair and hauled her toward the car. She followed behind. I had been frozen until I saw her. I ran to my door and called to my parents.
"Something's going on across the street."
Lela. Master of understatement.
No one came out. Her whole family got into the car and drove away.
No one noticed. No one said anything.
No "Where is She?"
I have no pictures. I don't remember her name. If I were a worse or better person I might could convince myself that she never existed. That she was a fevered dream of an always overimaginative child.
But she wasn't.
And she haunts me.
And I don't remember her name.