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Post Road Magazine #35

Voo Hunting

Lori Yeghiayan Friedman

The summer before we morph into pot-smoking, sixth-period-ditching, lipstick-stealing adolescents, my best friend—and upstairs neighbor—Britta and I go Voo hunting for the last time.

Voo is my hamster. We like to let her out of her cage and chase her into my closet. She died last year, so now we hunt invisible Voo.

We are ten and curled up on my white bedspread with the red flowers on it. We can hear the swishing of cars racing up and down Barrington Ave, just outside my bedroom window on a bright Southern California day in 1981. Britta is laughing hysterically, because even though I’m not the one people notice, I make very funny crank calls. We flip through the phone book, dialing my puke-yellow rotary phone, making real hair appointments for fake people. Just now I make an appointment for a whole day of beauty under the name Boom Boom—among my top pretend grown-up names—that, and Linda, as in Wonder Woman's Linda Carter.

Britta is laughing her delightfully horse-y laugh, top lip curling up to reveal rosy red gums and straight white teeth, her Adam’s apple snaking up and down the front of her swan-like neck.

Maybe it’s because she’s German, but Britta has long everything: long legs, long arms, long blonde hair that’s so blonde in summer, it’s almost white. I hardly see it strewn across my white pillow case, as Britta—face-down into the pillow—tries to recover from the hysteria caused by my saying Boom Boom into the phone with the deadly seriousness of a grown up.

Her head springs back, revealing even more neck, as she howls. When her face springs forward again, her green eyes are wide and shining.

Let’s play teenager, she says. She is leaping on to her long, tan, German feet as I scramble onto my squat-toed Armenian ones.

Pretend you’re in high school and you’re standing by the drinking fountain, she says, shoving a stack of my sister’s Nancy Drew books, the corners of their black and yellow covers frayed white, into my hands.

I’ll be Adam, she says.

Ewwww, I say.

Adam is a boy in my class who talks like he’s from somewhere else because he lived in England or someplace.

Britta, as Adam, leans against my bedroom wall—which is supposed to be right next to the drinking fountain and says:

Hello, Lori – in Adam’s quiet, proper voice.

Wait, says Britta, sprinting toward my closet where she plunges her arms into my closet. She emerges with two Wilson tennis balls, which she shoves down the top of my shirt.

The balls land on my chest like two small planets. They feel hard against my ten-year-old nipples. I instantly love them. I imagine myself with long blonde hair like Britta’s.

She comes up to me at the drinking fountain saying Hi, Lori, but I stop her. 

No, call me Linda, I say.

Hi, Linda, she says. I giggle and press my books tighter into my fantastic tennis ball boobs.

Britta loves my performance! She pulls out my tennis balls and puts them in her shirt and I find two more so we can both have fantastic tennis ball boobs and we are waving them around, stomping around my room with our chests leading. This is a whole new thrill.

I wonder if Adam will go to my same junior high school. I wonder if boys will talk to me by the drinking fountain while I cover my boobs with my books. I wonder if Britta will be there, leaning her tall self against the wall while they do.

(I do not yet know that Adam will not go to the same junior high school as me and I will never see him again, or that Britta and I will get to seventh grade and stay friends for a while, but that in high school she will get sucked into the party scene with the pretty people, while I will take AP classes and spend my free time rehearsing for school plays and choir performances, trying not to be pulled under by waves of sadness that keep me treading water, anticipating the next swell, biding my time until I get to move out to college where I will immediately seek counseling, my only friend an expletive-spouting, hair-dyed-black, Peter-Murphy-loving lost girl like myself who would eventually abandon me for her older boyfriend, just one of many times in my twenties and thirties where a loss will be nearly too much to weather and I will sink, lie on a couch, watching Law & Orderepisodes crying and numbing myself with cigarettes—which I’ll eventually quit though not until after my father, a two-pack-a-day-since-aged-thirteen-smoker will have been dead of a heart attack for more than three years, my final cigarette a sort of tribute, a departure, a break with family tradition on his birthday, December 18th, 1996—eating peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate-covered raisins like the ones from my college roommate’s Costco-sized container which were sent by her mom in a care-package she picked up in the mail room, I never once not once received a care package like that from my mom who loved me but was not able to be that kind of mother, she had her own water to tread, her own swells to anticipate, I will remain haunted by her late-game assessment of her own life: “I was lost, lost, and nothing, no one ever found me,” which she will confess to me sometime in the years before she dies a quick but terrible cancer death hastened by blasts of chemotherapy, the end coming as fast as a car crash while I am on the other side of the country, on location in New York for my first feature film, I will fly back to Los Angeles in time to hold her hand while she takes her final breath, in time to whisper It’s OK if you have to go, Go, It’s OK to go.)

We collapse on my bed in a fit of laughter—until, in a lull, Britta’s eyes light upon my poster of John-Travolta-as-Vinny-Barbarino per the hit TV show Welcome Back, Kotter scotch-taped to the wall above my bed.

Hey, Mr. Kot-tair, she says, in a cool, Vinnie-like voice.

Hey, Vinnie, I squeak like Horshack.

Up your nose with a rubber hose! we say together as Britta’s finger goes straight up John Travolta’s right nostril – and pulls out a booger! Her slender fingers follow the escaped booger as it glides over Vinnie’s lips, leaping off his hilly chin, dropping down over his neck and landing in the tangle of curly chest hair that spills out over his chambray shirt collar. Chest hair! Britta pretends to roll her fingers in it which sends us off into ribboning giggles. I’m rolling on the bed at Britta’s feet, arms wrapped around my sides.

When the booger reaches his shirt pocket and dives in, it’s too much for us to take. Britta collapses on top of me, joining me in hysterics, jaws aching, legs kicking, it’s the single funniest thing we’ve ever seen, the booger in Vinnie’s denim shirt pocket.

Vinnie Barbarino’s all-knowing eyes look down at us, as if ready to reveal all the teenage secrets.

(I will spend junior high school and beyond daydreaming of men’s eyes seeing me the way I want to be seen. I will write a six-page poem about a man whose sensitive soul I can see leaping out from the magazine pages where he appears, I will read it over the phone to friends late at night: Strange man, you see me, and somehow you know me…I will imagine him tall and slender like Britta’s dad Rolph, who was a giant, of course, though I rarely saw him, the men being always at work in those days, my father designing semiconductors for a company with government defense contracts, his brown eyes intent on the string of numbers he’s writing, equations, the women drinking coffee at the dining room table while we kids played in our rooms, my father ignored me no matter where he was—one particularly miserable day in grad school I will say, miserably, to a fellow female MFA acting classmate: “If only our fathers had loved us more we wouldn’t have to go through this”—being actors, is what I will mean.)

Eyes all glinty in the lamplight of my room, a new game strikes Britta as suddenly as a sense memory and she says: Let’s hunt Voo!

Voo! I howl back.

The chase is on.

We whip out our tennis ball boobs and run to my closet to grab the tennis rackets. We drop to our hands and knees, pushing past my roller skates (white, with rainbow laces), past my balled up Rick Springfield T-shirt (from my first concert ever, the year before, at Universal Amphitheatre in Studio City) and my brand new wedge-heeled Corkys. We whack at the tennis balls, smashing them with our rackets, thrashing at the air, at my hanging sun dresses, at the carpet, at the empty spaces where we see Voo scrambling to get away on her tiny hamster legs.

(After high school, the next time I will see Britta will be at our ten year reunion, 1999, I will be a recently-minted graduate of a prestigious MFA program in Acting, she will be as statuesque as ever in a form-fitting black dress about eight months pregnant, skin bronzed, hair golden, mouth-open laughing, just like I will remember her—I will have heard she met a man who lives in Palos Verdes who will have bought her a new nose and boobs, they will have gotten married, she will have moved into his big house on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, they will be expecting their first child, they will have four. She will look happy.)

Britta is laughing so hard that tears are rolling down her cheeks and off her dimpled chin. I’m laughing, too. And I wonder if my Adam’s apple looks like a dancing snake too, if my eyes shine too, if there’s something worth noticing about me, too.

Tennis rackets in hand, swinging wildly, we dive into the darkest corners of my closet, on the hunt to capture Voo before she crawls away, before she slips out of our grasp and vanishes for good.



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