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Doing Good

“I’m doing good,” she said, exhaling the words with the latter half of a deep sigh. “Sorry–– well. I’m doing well.”

“Yeah?” I asked. “That’s good.”

We looked at each other for a second. “That’s well,” we said in unison. I smiled. She didn’t.

Her fingernails were chewed down to the quick, rimmed with red and flaking from dryness. But they weren’t any yellower. Funny enough, the 21+ tobacco laws in this state had actually succeeded in deterring her from smoking. She never told me so, but in the year and a half since we’d moved here, the jaundiced tinge of her nails had faded almost entirely, and the smell of Newport menthols had very nearly washed out of her clothes. Sometimes I wanted to commend her for having quit cold-turkey — tell her even my dad could barely manage that back when he was driving trucks in the eighties, and he wasn’t under half the stress she’s under — but I’ve never picked up a cigarette in my life, and one of my worst fears is seeming disingenuous. Plus, maybe I’m wrong, and she’s just gotten better at hiding it.

“So you got your license renewed and everything?”

She nodded.

“And financial aid is figured out? That was crazy that they were going to make you pay the 75.

Can you imagine? Seventy-five thousand dollars.”

Another nod. The car was getting hot as I mined my memories for other things to check in about. What classes are you taking? How’s your sister? Any updates on your asshole roommate? Why did I find a little baggie of coke in your desk when we cleared out your apartment?

What does it mean, to be doing good?

Shifting into reverse, I peeled out of the parking garage into a blinding L.A. sun, and my mind began to wander. The previous night I’d called a friend from back home, where she’s still trapped literally and metaphorically under her mother’s fantastic hoard. She told me she was doing good. When mom’s lucid, she said, we’re going to clear out the basement so I can have a room there when I go to college. Just one more semester, she assured me, and she’d be ready. I remembered the last time (of many) I’d helped to clear out that basement before I left, knowing as I hauled out the third Banker’s Box of blue-glass flower vases that they would find their way back into the house and be buried yet again, and her excitement rang hollow. But feeling her smiling voice in my ear made me smile, too, because I could remember when even a smile would have been too much to ask for. I refocused my eyes on the road.

What does it mean, to be doing good?

In my passenger seat was my best friend in the whole world, alive and well. Her eyes were rimmed with the dark greenish-gray of sleep long overdue, but they were still open, and looking out the window at a nearly cloudless sky. Was she really doing good? I had no idea. I’m not sure she did, either.

But that afternoon, I chose to think that “good” meant “better,” because doing anything else might have hurt just a little too much.

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