It was the week before Valentine’s Day, which meant that many of the school’s student organizations jumped on the financial opportunity to sell chocolate, flowers, and heart-shaped cookies to desperate eighteen to twenty-two-year-olds looking for love. After lunch, Brinley and I walked out of the mailroom to see two of our friends – actually, one mutual friend and one of my friends – participating in the capitalistic practice of profiting from people’s feelings.
We stopped to say hi. “Buy some heart cookies, and we’ll deliver them to your lover for you!” a guy wearing oval-shaped glasses sang, strumming the guitar rested in his lap. I patted my jacket pockets, despite knowing I wasn’t carrying enough money (and knowing, if I were to buy them, they would be for myself).
“My lover is my dog,” my friend, Emily, said, directing the comment toward me, as if reading my mind. Maybe it was because she was my only queer friend at Conn. – making a potential relationship at least slightly more likely than one with a straight friend – but recently, every time we interacted, I wasn’t sure how to conduct myself or what to say. I held my breath, stomach sucked in and pelvic muscles tensed. When I saw her walking around campus, my gaze darted to the ground, and I hoped she didn’t notice my cheeks blush. It often didn’t occur to me until she was at my side that I should turn to face her again and say something – anything – rather than ignore her entirely.
“It’s just a stupid crush,” I told myself repeatedly. “It’ll go away.” Isolating myself in my room, I skipped many meals to avoid her, but every time I joined our friends for dinner, I hoped she would be there. When sending a text to five friends plus Emily, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care about her response more than theirs. But I did, and I hated myself for it. After returning from spring break, I told her I had had a rough week. She asked if I needed a hug. I opened my mouth to say no, but before I could, the space between us closed, and I was pulled into a tight squeeze anyway. I told her I liked hugs. She said she knew.
If being heterophobic wasn’t just an accusation made by self-titled “meninists,” our straight friends could have labeled Emily as such. She asked them, often at meals, “Why do you like dick?” Of course, this sounded strange and contradictory coming from the girl who drew them all over friends’ homework assignments.
When I met Emily, I thought she was a transgender man. Her loose-fitting jeans that dipped below the hips, baggy white T-shirt, and pixie haircut led me to believe that “she” was a “he.” Since she didn’t live on campus, it took me a couple weeks to learn her name. She wasn’t always at dinner, and I rarely went to lunch. When not at Conn., Emily was a volunteer firefighter and EMT, splitting weeknights and weekends between firetrucks and ambulances, fire stations and hospital rooms. Since she was on the women’s rugby team, she often had scraped and bruised knees, which she showed off, expecting to impress us. I once thought laughing until crying was just a type of emoji, but when she found something funny, tears escaped her eyes. Her dirty blonde hair was matched by dirty, calloused hands and a dirty sense of humor.
“Yeah, I can relate,” I said, leaning closer to her. “My lover is my dead cat.” Breaking eye contact, I cleared my throat and readjusted the books in my hands. I squinted my right eye, reminding myself that comments like this were why I didn’t go to parties, or socialize much, for that matter. Cursing under my breath, I shuddered at the thought of dating a deceased, cremated animal and shoved the idea out of my head. It had been almost a year since Hailey passed, but I still talked about her daily, just usually not in this suggestive, bestialic way.
Emily’s eyebrows scrunched together, wrinkles forming on her forehead, and her lower lip lifted to cover her upper. “Aw, J. Jarvs!” she said, eyes growing wide. I’m not sure how the nickname started. In sophomore year of high school, three friends – who didn’t know each other – began calling me J. Jarvs. Of course, the nicknames I tried to get people to call me – I experimented by signing journal entries with JayJay, Lia, or Sassy – in elementary and middle school didn’t catch on, but J. Jarvs somehow did. Without having told Emily about the name, she started referring to me as J. Jarvs shortly after the rest of my friend group decided to call me JulJay freshman year. The name follows me.
I looked at Brinley, who had finished writing the card to attach to her “valentine’s” cookies. Unzipping my pocket, I took out the only dollar bill I had with me. “I don’t want any cookies,” I said, sliding the crumpled paper across the table, consciously toward Emily as opposed to Guitar Guy or my other friend. “You can have the dollar, though.”
And like every student who would not come back later, I told them I would come back later.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I played tennis three times a week – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The five and a half hours of exercise allowed for my exemption from gym class, and instead, I had a study hall period in the cafeteria.
I met Justin in my Friday class. When I saw him walking down the stairs on the first day, I thought, “Look at that dumb idiot,” and, after a moment of reflection, “I want to be his friend.” He had chipmunk cheeks when he smiled, which was all the freaking time, even when he lost the match. Even when I beat him. It was like he had a smile tattoo stamped on his face, replacing his mouth. His cheeks were the only sign of baby fat remaining on his body; his arms were all muscle, and his chest poked out beneath his Under Armour shirt.
Looking from his figure to my own, my gaze focused on my scrawny arms. Not only were they paler in complexion, but I could wrap my fingers around them, my thumb and forefinger overlapping. I shifted my attention to my clothes, noting the oversized T-shirt that made my chest appear smaller (if that was possible) and the black shorts that exposed my meaty thighs and calves, covered in bruises, scabs, and hair. Since puberty, my mom encouraged me to avoid shaving my legs, because “blonde hair blends in.” Though valid, my leg hair was light brown, and you didn’t need a magnifying glass to see it against my ghostly white skin.
So I started lifting two-pound weights at home, and, after watching several YouTube tutorials, I stole a can of shaving cream from my parents’ shower to shave the coat of fur sitting on my legs.
“Do you have a crush on him?” my friend, Tiffany, asked me during lunch one day at the end of February. Taking a huge bite of my bagel, I raised my index finger to give myself time to internally scream.
I had made the mistake of slipping Justin’s name into conversation a few minutes earlier, showing my table of friends the messages he had sent that morning. Messages that said things like “Ur pretty got to go bye,” “I LOVE YOU MORE” in all caps, and “I will always be there to help u out, Best Friend julia.” We had been texting every day for the past few weeks, even during school. It had become routine, like brushing my teeth or washing my face. Typically, I wouldn’t have continued talking to someone who used texting lingo unironically and wrote “y-o-u-r” when he meant “y-o-u-apostrophe-r-e,” but Justin was the exception.
I swallowed. “I don’t know…” I said, opening my water bottle and taking a sip. Even with the semi-cold liquid flowing to my stomach, my face grew warmer, and I could feel my heartbeat in my forehead. I held the bottle against my face, switching cheeks every few seconds. It didn’t help, but at least it provided a distraction. “He doesn’t talk to his friends about me,” I thought, biting my bottom lip. “I’m pathetic.”
Although I was staring at the mahogany of the table, playing connect-the-dots with crumbs left behind from the previous period, I saw Tiffany’s widening smile in my periphery. She was a petite girl who had a quiet, high-pitched voice that reminded me of a Disney princess. Every time she spoke, I had to bring myself to her height, which was at least a foot shorter. Sometimes I pretended that I heard her instead of asking her to repeat herself. She wouldn’t let me call her cute, even though everything about her was. “Aw, you do!” she said, squealing.
Did I? I had never had a crush before. I was sixteen and did not know what a crush felt like. At elementary school sleepovers, I had pretended to be “boy crazy” like my friends. In middle school, following a month-long fight and establishing a new, smaller group of friends, I cut the act and rediscovered the child in me. A child that believed all boys had cooties and thought love was a trick only the stupid fall for. I wasn’t stupid. I wouldn’t be its victim.
It was a school night. I sat straddled on my bed, Algebra textbook to my left and notebook between my legs. For the last hour, I had been crawling through my homework. I knew I would end up copying the answers from the back of the book, but I needed to stare at the numbers and letters on the page long enough for this to feel justified.
I felt my phone buzz, and I lifted multiple textbooks and notebooks to find it. It was Justin. Closing my notebook and crossing my legs, I opened the text. “Hey, do u want to see Iron Man 3 with me this weekend?” it said.
I studied his words as I would a novel for English class, rereading them and analyzing his tone. “He doesn’t mean like… a date, right?” I thought, my pointer finger tapping the screen before it turned black. “No, he couldn’t mean a date.” Waiting a couple minutes before responding, so that he wouldn’t assume I had devoted myself to talking to him (even if it was true), I typed: “Sure, I would love to!” Before I could ruminate on whether my message seemed too eager, my right thumb reached to press send. It delivered.
Since he was on his school’s team, Justin had put his tennis lessons on hiatus after the last day of winter session in March. Because we lived in different towns, I hadn’t seen him for almost two months. It didn’t feel like a true tennis class without him. Now, when I rested my head on the counter in the lobby, he wasn’t there to wrap his sweatshirt over my shoulders like a blanket. With no longer anyone to impress, I often wanted to spend my Friday nights at home instead of on the courts. Every time I hit a powerful shot or served exceptionally well, I wished he was there to witness it. Tennis had become less about the game and more about him. Before he left, I made Justin promise to talk to me every day, and, so far, he had obeyed.
Taking a screenshot of our conversation, I sent a text to my best friend, Anita, saying: “I can’t tell if this is a date. Does this sound like a date?” She wouldn’t know. She received perfect scores in Honors English, Honors Pre-Calculus, and Honors Chemistry, but when it came to boys, Anita was just as oblivious as I was.
After I gave his number to Anita, in hopes of finding my answer, Justin texted me instead of responding to her. “Ur friend Anita just asked if this was a date?” he wrote.
Smacking my forehead and wrapping my fingers around my phone, I twiddled my thumbs that hovered above the keyboard. Of course he couldn’t make this easy for me. “Oh really?” I typed. Anita and I had established a false story ahead of time, in which, due to her concern, she had stolen his number from my phone when I wasn’t looking. “That’s weird, haha.”
A few seconds later, he wrote: “Well… is it?”
“I don’t know, is it?” I repeated, barely able to control my shaking fingers.
“Hey, this is ur decision!”
Why did it have to be mine? He was the one who got us into this mess by not making his intentions clear. Normally, I would have expressed these thoughts with plenty of attitude, but I refrained, not wanting to screw up whatever chance I had. “Ummmmm,” I said, acting as though the choice were hard, “you know what? Fine, it is!” After hitting send, I chucked my phone across the bed, landing face down. I had asked myself on the date for him. Loser.
We went on two dates before Justin texted saying it was over. The first date – the movies – was in May. Although I tried to nonchalantly convince him we should see The Great Gatsby, I told Justin it was up to him. He chose Iron Man. I hadn’t seen the first or second Iron Man, but I couldn’t tell him that. When we met in the fall, Justin had said, “Oh, Jarvis, that’s so cool! Like Iron Man!” I didn’t know what he was talking about.
For our second date, Justin invited himself to my house. My mom told us we had to leave my bedroom door open, but once she went downstairs, I closed it. What did she think would happen? Justin and I hadn’t moved past hugging, which, as far as I was aware, wasn’t close to a base. We weren’t even playing the game. “Naughty Julia,” he said, while falling back onto my bed. I walked over to join, lowering myself an inch at a time until I was at his level. Turning to face him, my right cheek flush against the comforter, we remained silent. This was the closest we got before I jumped up and told him we were going to draw each other pictures.
After he texted saying we should just be friends, Justin didn’t respond to me for weeks. Since I was against telling my parents about my personal life and wished to avoid interrogation, I repressed any emotion until I was home alone. At the suggestion of my therapist, I stopped trying to get in touch with him, wondering his reasoning and whether he was okay. When he didn’t answer these questions, I typed, “Good God, Justin, I don’t care that you broke it off anymore, but could you please text me so I know you’re alive?” This was my last message. He didn’t answer.
I should have said it wasn’t a date.
“I guess this means you won’t be taking me to prom,” I thought as I reblogged black-and-white images and angsty text posts on Tumblr and listened to Taylor Swift breakup songs at full volume. Before we had dated, I told Justin he was going to accompany me to both junior and senior proms, since, chances were, no one from school would ask me. It was a year away, but now, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go.
Even though we dated for less than two months and were never “official,” I believed Justin was the closest I’d get to being loved. He didn’t love me, but he could have. I thought maybe if I hadn’t shown him the cuts on my arms or had said he gave me purpose to live, he would have stayed. But I showed him the cuts on my arms and said he gave me purpose to live, and now, he was gone.
I understood why he left, though. If I were able, I would have left me, too.
I took the train home for Easter in sophomore year of college. While stuffing my suitcase with makeup, a week’s worth of dirty laundry, and homework I knew I wouldn’t do, my phone vibrated with a text from Esmé, asking whether I would be around that weekend. Esmé was my best friend from boarding school. When I transferred there second semester junior year, she found me crying in the health center after my first advising meeting. Two minutes in, my advisor, Ms. Feldman, kicked me out of her office to talk with my mom separately. Esmé assured me that no one got along with Ms. Feldman, and later that day, the school assigned me a new advisor.
From there, Esmé and I grew closer. I walked to her dorm before seven each morning, which was against the rules, to sit on the end of her bed and wait for her to get up and ready. After a few months, we started to speak similarly, often saying the same thing at the same moment. When I visited her house for the first time, her parents told me I made her a better person. Esmé and I evened each other out. She was audacious and impassive, and I was uptight and inhibited. She cared about her looks and wore makeup every day, even when she had mono, and I wasn’t concerned with my appearance, letting everyone see my acne-ladened face. If we had met in public school, we wouldn’t have become friends. But in a school with less than one hundred students, we had no choice.
After a few message exchanges, Esmé and I created tentative plans for Friday, when I would meet her boyfriend, Jake, in person. Although they had been dating for a year, I had only known his voice through the speakerphone in Esmé’s car.
Esmé was one of those girls who shared quotes and images on Facebook from pages like “Boyfriends who actually treat their girlfriends like princesses,” “Relationship quotes for couples,” and “I still remember the day when I first saw you.” On Instagram, she devoted every Monday toward “Man Crush Monday,” posting a picture of her and her (current) boyfriend with a sappy paragraph-long caption, ending with the hashtag #mcm. I’d seen her do this for all her boyfriends. I wondered how many guys she was allowed to call her “one and only” before being required to switch to “one and many.”
Unsurprisingly, Esmé wanted to go to the mall on Friday. I stood near her boyfriend while she ordered a strawberry smoothie from one of the concession stands. He was sitting on a stool, scrolling through his phone. I thought about saying something lame like, “Let’s ditch her here and run; now’s our chance,” but, from the way he was positioned – his body angled away from me, head tilted down so I couldn’t see his eyes unless I bent my knees, curled my back, stuck my butt out, and looked up – I figured the comment would go unappreciated. Instead, after a minute of silence, I picked up one foot after the other and bounced over to Esmé, lifting and dropping my torso with each step. Once I closed the distance, she said, with our backs facing him, “Jake told me I had to add spinach to it if I wanted a pretzel.” She spoke softly, but he wouldn’t have heard her even if she had yelled above everyone else. Jake had selective hearing, in which he listened to everything but Esmé.
“He did?” I asked, scrunching my forehead. One day, I speculated, I would have defined wrinkles from doing this so often. Looking over my shoulder, I spotted him in the same position. He hadn’t moved. “Wait,” I said, twisting to face her, “did you ask them to put spinach in it then?”
“Yeah, because I want my pretzel!” She reached toward the glass counter for her smoothie. If it weren’t for the seeds dispersed throughout, I wouldn’t have guessed there were strawberries in there. From the color alone, it looked like someone had thrown up in a cup, covered it with a lid, and charged five dollars for it. Despite its appearance, Esmé shoved the straw in her mouth, sucked, and, after leaving the smoothie on her tongue for ten seconds, swallowed. “I can only taste the spinach,” she said.
When we got to the Auntie Anne’s concession stand, Esmé asked whether she should buy the cinnamon sugar pretzel or the cinnamon sugar pretzel bites. I had followed her and Jake there; I was, as usual, the epitome of a third wheel. Since I had met her three years ago, Esmé had had three boyfriends: Sid, a troubled student at Valley Forge Military Academy; Matt, a druggie fellow counselor at her camp; and now Jake, a junior at an Ohio college.
When she was with Sid, Esmé seemed happy. She fell asleep on the phone with him every night, whispering to avoid waking her roommate or receiving a visit from her dorm parent. After their relationship ended, though, she told me Sid had been verbally abusive to her, and he had asked her to send him naked photos. I was her best friend, and I didn’t pick up on it. But on our all-school trip to Boston in September, months after she and Sid had split and she had started dating Matt, Esmé insisted we should call Sid. We were in our shared hotel room, getting ready for bed, when she decided to tap on his contact and press call, before I could convince her otherwise.
“Why hasn’t she deleted his number?” I thought as the dial tone rang. He answered, and we were on the phone for hours. Esmé made me talk to him while she took a shower. When she came out of the bathroom, she tempted him by saying she was only wearing a towel. For someone who complained about her ex-boyfriend constantly texting her, she was sending mixed signals.
When she and Matt broke up during freshman year of college, I thought she would be a mess. She wasn’t. Over Skype one night, she told me she had a few guys in line who wanted to date her, so she’d pick one of them. Oh yes, which guy would receive the privilege of being her next prey? Since she could see my face, I refrained from showing emotion. To those like me, who didn’t exude confidence and sexiness, the prospect of having even one person willing to date us was nonexistent. Esmé lost her virginity to Matt, and she wasn’t hurt? I didn’t believe her, but I should have. It was Esmé, and she hadn’t been without a boyfriend since she was twelve. I loved the girl, but she had no sense of self outside of romantic relationships.
And now there was Jake. I wondered what shitty things he had done – and what shitty things he had yet to do – that I wouldn’t find out about until after they broke up.
When Esmé was about to get in line for a pretzel, Jake told her she couldn’t buy a cinnamon sugar one; it had to be a salted one. She tried to argue, but his answer remained the same. She gave up. “Well I only wanted a cinnamon sugar one, so let’s just go,” she said, avoiding eye contact and walking ahead of him toward the escalator. It was weird seeing Esmé so submissive. She was usually the one bossing her boyfriend around.
While observing them, I pictured myself in a relationship like theirs. I couldn’t. If I wanted a cinnamon sugar pretzel, that asshole better let me have my goddamn cinnamon sugar pretzel unless he (or she) was comfortable with me throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the mall.
When we were driving back from the mall, the bass of the music shaking the car, Esmé looked at me in the rearview mirror. “So Sarah Crouse is pregnant,” she said. Sarah Crouse was the year below us at boarding school, and she followed Esmé to college in Virginia, inserting herself into Esmé’s friend group and copying everything Esmé did. On my first day at boarding school, I saw Sarah staring at me, a wide grin sewn on her face. I didn’t know who she was, but she seemed nice. No. After introducing myself, she did not leave me alone. Most days, I found her outside my door waiting for me. She didn’t live in my dorm. On Twin Day, she wanted to be my twin, and since I had an inability to say no to anyone, I agreed. I had already told my friend, Mari, we could be twins, though, so I spent the day switching between two outfits, ensuring that neither one would find out I had cheated on her with the other. I thought I was clingy before I met Sarah, and after I met Sarah, I promised myself I would never be as clingy as her.
“You’re not joking; it doesn’t look like you’re joking,” I said, and Esmé shook her head. How did Sarah find a guy willing to bang her? “Wait, but last time we were together, you told me she had had sex wrong. And now she’s pregnant?” Jake snickered, staying out of the conversation. Smart boy. Apparently, when Sarah tried to have sex with a guy named Bobby, he put his dick in the wrong hole. She didn’t realize this, of course, until Esmé told her. Sarah wasn’t bright, but not understanding basic anatomy was troubling. Although I didn’t believe the story, I had learned to go along with almost every sentence that left Esmé’s mouth. Now Sarah was with a different Bobby, who, by no coincidence, went to school in Ohio like Jake. They had been together for less than three months, and at nineteen, she was carrying his child.
It made me wonder what I was doing wrong. There had to be something inherently wrong with me, because I didn’t have a line of people ready to date me like Esmé or a person who was able to put up with me like Sarah. During get-togethers with high school friends, I was increasingly reminded of how inexperienced and pathetic I was in comparison. While they tried to one-up each other in how far they had gone with guys, I tried to concentrate on the background music instead of their words. I still heard them, though, and I was convinced I had enough information to write an elaborate erotica novel profiting from their sex lives.
It’s not like I sought out a boyfriend or girlfriend. Through witnessing my friends’ failed relationships during our teenage years, I did not find romance appealing. If I couldn’t handle myself and my strong emotions, how could I expect anyone else to? I had accepted a long time ago that nobody would want to be with me intimately. A paradox of a human, I was too much emotion and not enough “everything else.” Not pretty enough, not smart enough, just not good enough. Knowing these facts didn’t stop me from craving affection, though.
At the suggestion of my best friend, Julia, I downloaded a few queer dating apps. I even met someone. Her name was Alyssa, and we talked every day for a month and a half. Like me, she was a nerd, and, for once, I didn’t censor the part of myself that thought learning was enjoyable.
The first night Alyssa drunk texted me, I was reading Shakespeare propped up in bed. Leaning against my fuzzy backrest pillow, about one hundred pages into Hamlet, I stretched my limbs when I heard a “ding!” from my phone. Another “ding!” And another. The next “ding!” was cut off as I silenced my phone. Blinking a few times, I tried to decipher her messages. For an English major, she typed incoherently, including misspelled words and grammatical errors. She told me she wished I was there to party “wkth” her, and she was glad I gave her “greem ight,” which would sound like a disease if you didn’t know she meant the “green light” to drunk text me. The next morning, when I asked if she was hungover, she said, “No, not really! I still feel abbot drink [a bit drunk], though!”
I texted back, saying, “And you still type ‘abbot drink,’ too!” A while ago, my therapist told me cheeky messages like this could be misinterpreted as crass and inconsiderate, so I should avoid sending them, but, like most of her advice, it went unfollowed. Although I understood the sentiment, I was sardonic by nature, and acting or saying otherwise would have felt disingenuous.
We haven’t talked for a month. In April, I had planned to rent a Zipcar for the day to visit her at the University of Connecticut, where she was a junior, but Alyssa said, due to the onset of school and family issues, she wasn’t sure now was “a good time to meet up.” After telling her to let me know if she needed anything, I decided to stop communication unless she reached out. She hasn’t. I don’t know whether I find solace in knowing she hasn’t needed my support, whether I feel a sense of loss from the severed connection, or neither.
When talking about Alyssa with friends, I seemed to like her. I don’t think I did, though. I wanted, and I tried, to. Like repressing feelings doesn’t get rid of them, faking feelings doesn’t make them real. I think I used Alyssa as an attempt to forget about Emily.
Emily and I are not similar. If we didn’t share friends, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to associate with or get to know her. Emily’s certainty in herself shows me my lack of certainty in myself. The way she acts with boldness makes me recognize how much I act out of fear.
When she told me she was an introvert, my initial reaction was, “Really? You?” Emily experiences her introversion differently; she likes to socialize and doesn’t mind the occasional party, while I spend most days by myself rotting away in my room. On the introversion spectrum, she identifies as an “extroverted introvert.” I do not.
I hadn’t been alone with Emily until Floralia this year. While I had intended to stay in my room the entire day, I ended up walking to Hillel House to hang out and work. After lunch, with four friends at Starbucks and one friend on mandatory residential staff duty, Emily and I were the only two in the room. Sliding out of my seat at one of the rectangular tables, momentarily giving up on schoolwork, I made my way to Emily. I forgot she was drunk when I plopped myself onto the couch across from her. Every Floralia, the women’s and men’s rugby teams come together to play a ten-minute game of drunk rugby. If it seems dangerous, that’s because it is. The rest of the day, Emily waddled around campus, whining a little too loudly that she “broke her dick,” while cupping her hands over her vagina.
Watching as she typed an evaluation for one of her courses, I inhaled and held my breath before blowing the space in front of me like candles on a birthday cake. Maybe in the morning she wouldn’t remember what I was about to do. “Can I read you a story?” I said in a high-pitched voice, raising my opened laptop to cover myself from neck up. Although I was almost positive she would say yes, I didn’t want her to see the shy smile creeping across my face.
Emily looked up from her computer screen with a neutral expression. “J. Jarvs, I would love nothing more than that.”
I smacked my laptop on the leather cushion. “Yay! Okay-I hope you realize I would have read this even if you had said no.” I wasn’t sure if this was true, but I needed the fake confidence to seep into my bloodstream like alcohol. Glancing at the Google Docs file for this piece, I began to read. As my courage grew, it felt like we were having an organic conversation, one I had prepared ahead of time to have. The content was personal – Emily hadn’t known most of it – but not once did my words falter. Each time she laughed at what I said, my heartbeat calmed like an infant being soothed by its mother. I skipped the parts that mentioned her, though. I wasn’t that confident to declare my undying adoration for the girl.
When our friends stomped down the stairs before I had finished reading, I dipped my head back, banging it on the top of the couch. Couldn’t they have stayed at Starbucks longer? I snapped my computer closed. The one thought I continued to have, as my friends settled into their chairs at separate tables, was that I didn’t want to have to wait until next Floralia to finish the story or to tell her another.
The next day – Sunday – Fiona, Lili, and I accompanied Emily to “chainsaw therapy.” Wearing a thin short sleeve shirt and abandoning my jacket on the back of a chair in Cro, I was ill-prepared for the sun’s disappearance behind a cloud followed by a strong breeze that blew my hair away from my neck. Despite the temperature, I stood mesmerized by Emily’s redneck nature, ignoring the prickling goosebumps that had taken over my arms. She made it seem easy, handling a large, shaking blade, but I knew if I were to try, I would lose at least an arm, maybe a foot.
When we went to her pickup truck afterward, Emily chucked her jacket at my face, the zipper hitting a sensitive area on my neck. She apologized profusely, even after I told her it was fine. I slipped it on, allowing the sleeves to cradle my numbed hands. Was it comforting because it provided much-needed warmth, or, rather, because it was Emily’s? Hunching my back and shrinking into myself, I snuggled closer to her coat, even after we had returned inside. I could have swapped hers for my own, but, instead, I had pretended to forget that I was still enveloped in her jacket like meat in a burrito. But how could I? I felt like a creepy, hormonal teenage girl breathing in the scent of her boyfriend’s sweatshirt that she had stolen from his closet.
I don’t expect anything to happen between Emily and me. Soon, I’ll be home in New Jersey for the summer, and she’ll be in New Hampshire for an internship. She’ll probably meet another girl and fall madly in love (whatever that means), and I’ll definitely spend years wondering what might have happened if I had told her how I felt. She’ll live in the country with her wife and two kids, and I’ll find an apartment big enough to house myself and (at least) eight cats. She’ll be happy, just not with me, and I’ll have to be okay with that.
Maybe my lover is, and always will be, my dead cat, but I think I prefer her over a human anyway.