Dispatch 27 (Dec. 5, 1998)

     The sun woke me from a deep sleep, gradually rising and lightening the room until I had no choice but to give into its invitation to start a new day.
     Brush, rinse, spit, shower, dry, dress, coffee. I went through the rituals on autopilot as I tend to do, letting the thoughts of the evening before continue. I remembered speaking to Gina before bed, but except for arriving at 10 a.m. (a number that was marked in the book of my mind like a dog-eared page), I didn’t wonder too much about it.
     The drive, like most on a Saturday before noon, was nearly traffic-less and relaxing.
     I found parking near the co-op building and slung my small purse over my shoulder. A girl was moving furniture out of the co-op’s front door, straining to get a lamp with a wide shade through the doorway. I held it for her, then went inside, moving to Gina’s door.
     Gina’s door, when I came to it, was slightly open. The door didn’t lay flush against the frame. Unless you were looking closely, it wasn’t too noticeable, but I was next to it and I knew that a simple push would let me in.
     I knocked. "Gina?" I called. "Your door’s open!"
     A pause. And then a lazy, hoarse, "Come in."
     The first thing that hit me was a greasy smell – the odor of ketchupy food left out. On Soo’s abandoned bed was a crumpled Whataburger sack with the unmistakable orange wax paper wrappings visible from the top of the bag. It was lying on its side next to stacks of Gina’s CDs, strewn across the made bed.
     I could see all this despite the dimness of the room – Gina was lying in bed, even her head under the thick covers, like a hibernating beast.
     "I’m sorry, Heather," she said weakly. "I’ll get up. Gimme a minute."
     I let out an unintentional sigh and set myself to cleaning up. I noticed on Gina’s nightstand an open bottle of Sauza tequila, half full. I saw candy wrappers and was disgusted – I picked up the Whataburger bag and started collecting the burger trash, then came back for the wrappers on the nightstand.
     I put the lid on the tequila and picked up the wrappers, crumpling them in my hand. I looked down, feeling the foreign thickness of foil-paper in my hand.
     I jumped when I saw that they were opened condom wrappers.
     "What?" she said.
     "Gina, what are these?"
     "What are what, Heather?" she said, and her under-the-blanket mass began to stir.      "What?" she asked.

     "Gina, what the fuck are you doing with condom wrappers?"
     The shape under the sheets was still. But instead of the steady, loud breathing of a last-minute sleep stealer, there was silence.
     "Gina?" I asked.
     Gina’s small hands poked out of the top of the blankets and pulled the covers down. Her face was bleary; her eyes were scrunched against the meager light of the room. She’d pulled the covers down to her shoulders and I could see that she wasn’t wearing a shirt or a bra. She was still silent.
     "Gina, was Juan here? Did he come up from Harlingen?"
     No response. The same sleepy look.
     "Gina, did Juan come here? Did you have sex with him?"
     Gina started to turn away, taking the mass of covers with her, but after a moment she rolled back and met my eyes, her lazy set of light browns meeting mine. "No," she said. "I had somebody over last night."
     "Gina, what are you doing?" I asked. It sounded plaintive to my ears, and it matched my attitude. I wasn’t angry. Why should I be angry? But I didn’t know why she’d do it. Why, at a moment in her life when she was supposed to be in love with the right boy and when her mother’s illness was bringing out the devoted, praying girl in her, she would do this.
     "I don’t know, Heather," Gina said. "These last few weeks have been…" she began.
     I waited, but her pause was longer than my patience.
     "Have been what?" I asked.
     "No," she said. "I won’t use that as an excuse. I wanted to feel something, and that’s what I did. I’m not saying it was right, but I did it."
     "Gina, who was it?"
     "It was somebody from the club," she said. "You don’t know him."
     My mind was racing, but I slowed it down long enough to let suspicion rise. "Is that why you had me come over?" I asked. "So I would see this?"
     Gina sat up, holding the covers to her to hide her nakedness. "Heather, this isn’t about you. If I had been awake to call you and tell you not to come over, I would have. But I’m not going to apologize for what I did because who are you to make me feel bad about it?"
     "I’m not trying to," I said. "But what about Juan?"
     Gina turned away and fell back onto the pillow. Her head landed with a soft fluff. "I don’t know," she said. "Sometimes I don’t know why I do the things I do. Do you know how that feels, Heather?"
     I was sad about the situation, but unwilling to make her feel good about it. "I know a little," I said.
     "You should go," Gina said. "You’re uncomfortable."
     Anger flashed – the same anger, I recognized, that Gina directed toward me when I’d tried to pigeonhole or categorize her behavior. "I’m not uncomfortable," I said. "I just think you did a very stupid thing and instead of acknowledging it, you’re trying to pretend you don’t have to justify it to anyone, me included."
     "You might be right," Gina said, but her tone implied I was galaxies away from being right. "Maybe I did a stupid thing and I’m afraid to admit it. Does that make me a bad person?"
     "That makes you a confused person," I said.
     "I don’t want to kick you out, but would you mind going?" Gina said. "Can we do lunch some other time?"
     I was angrier now, feeling dismissed. As if Gina’s hormones gave her a Get Out of Jail Free card good for getting out of any commitment.
     "Whatever, Gina," I said, as I began walking out. "You know how to find me."
     I turned before I left and Gina was looking at me defiantly, waiting for me to walk out the door. It was a different Gina than the one who’d cried for her mother and who’d turned into a little girl in the presence of her father. This was a Gina that was as far from that girl as the distance she’d put between her heart and Juan’s with her carelessness.