It's been so long since I've written a piece of short fiction, I decided to post it here. It's raw, but this is a blog, after all...
“It’s simple,” says Julietta. She of the mediterannean complexion. She of the elegant mother.
Already I am suspicious. Nothing is simple. I know because I pack everything of importance to me into a little brown suitcase every week and I wait on the curb of one of my two houses for a parent to pull up in a car I may or may not have ever seen before, with a person inside I may or may not have ever met before. Pack. Unpack. Repack.
“You go like this,” she says, demonstrating by bending forward and flipping her sleek brown hair forward, revealing her neck. Starlet hair, popular girl hair, lose-your-virginity in the sixth grade hair.
“Anybody can bend over. BFD,” I say.
“It is a big fucking deal. Watch.”
I watch. She bends at the waist easily like that stupid Dancerina doll I still sleep with, though under my pillow so that my parents don’t know. She has a hard, pointy crown and if you press her head, she pivots on slippered tiptoe.
Folded in half, Julietta inhales, deeply, like we are taught in meditation class in P.E. How meditation is supposed to be physical exercise I will never know.
She inhales again. And again. And again.
“Woah Jules, you’re going to black out,” I say, waiting for whatever it is, this surprise of hers.
She whips up straight, nods, says, “I’m trying to,” before holding her breath and then falling, falling backwards in a graceful arc like the dying swan in swan lake back onto her mother’s soft, cream-colored leather Italian couch.
Julietta is out cold.
“Hey. Hey stop that! Hey.” My shouting does not wake her.
I check her pulse, its fluttering little beat of life still there, forceful. Fear turns to relief. Relief changes into something else. She is unconscious. Julietta-most-admired. Julietta who can do anything, with parents who come home to the same house each night, fix each other cocktails, make dinner together. I lift up her tight-fitting shirt to admire the downy hair that rests along her stomach, the stomach taut, rippled with muscles. I peek under the cup of her bra, admire the rosy-tipped nipple on her perfect brown breasts. But what is this? A latticework of strange scars, some raw still along the sides of her ribcage. I push up a sleeve to find more of these angry lines along an arm.
But now she is stirring, eyes flipping open like Dancerina’s when you sit her upright.
“Woaaaaaaaaaaaaah! What a rush!” she says. She does not notice her clothes are askew, or if she does, chalks it up to the fall.
“Now you try!”
I want to ask her about those scars. I want to understand how a girl like Julietta, whose mother wears Prada suits that reveal her bounteous cleavage, who has gotten everything she has ever asked for, would feel the need to dice the pretty surface of her skin. Would that help the little pang of terror I feel each time I wait on the curb for a parent, wondering if my mother will arrive alone, if my father will be grinding his teeth? Would the sweet slice of a blade carve me back to life?
“You have to do this too,” she says, in that firm tone I have come to expect. The order-me-around voice, the I’m-the-boss-of-you voice. “Or I will tell everybody.”
Always that same threat. Tell everybody what? She would only rat herself out. But the truth is, though nobody knows of our friendship, and she ignores me with calculated grace on campus, it would be my loss if she stopped allowing me to hang out with her.
“Fine. Show me again how?”
She puts her strong hand at the nape of my neck and shoves my head between my knees. I am cut in half, already choked of air.
“Breathe deep, my pretty,” she says. “Ten deep breaths, the biggest you can imagine.”
And though there is hardly any capacity in my lungs, I breathe, I breathe, I breathe.
“Now stand up fast, and then hold your breath until it all goes black. Here against the couch. I won’t let you get hurt.”
With the ease of some unencumbered bird I fly up to standing, hold my breath, my breath. What breath?
* * *
Emerging from a dream, an impossible dream inside a tiny night, the world is clear and shimmers as if with love for me. Oh how beautiful is everything around me!
Juliettta is staring at me like some dark angel, her green eyes wide, anticipating.
“Oh!” I am enamored with the moment. “I have never felt so very good in my life!”
“See!” she says.
“Let’s do it again,” I say. “Together.”
And so we do. Emerging each time like very new butterflies into this fragile world, clasping each other in hugs of great gratitude that we are friends this very first day on earth, for that is how we feel. Brand new. Rejuvenated. Each time we emerge, it is the same time of day, the same great, glowing, radiant dawning of day, a kind of no-time, all present.
“Endorphins,” says Julietta at one point. “These are endorphins. These are what heroin-junkies are after.”
“Why don’t they just do this? It’s free.”
“I don’t know,” she says, suddenly clutching her arm as if to hide the secret I already know is there.
Some people play sports, have kinky sex, drink too much. You can get ‘em in lots of ways.”
“Can you get them by cutting yourself?” I ask her, because we are sisters now, closer than any of the popular girls who stride in a pack through the freshman locker hall. I know her deeper, more personally than any of them. We have killed brain cells together.
“Your arms. Your sides. I saw that you cut them. I looked when you were out first.”
“What?! You bitch! You perverted bitch!”
She cuts straight through the luxurious high of reawakening.
“What? I just…”
But I have no answer for what or why.
“Bridget you are sick.”
“But I…you don’t under…”
I don’t have to wait to know that it is over. I know this feeling, which starts like a ripple of indigestion just under my solar plexus. I feel it each time I wait on that curb, and that which I hope not to happen, happens. When some new guy is in the passenger seat with my mother, always too young, , who will snap my bra-straps and slap her around. When my father arrives and his eyes are black-shot puddles of hell, his jaw a spasm of cocaine aftermath.
“Just once more,” I beg of her. “Please.”
She glares at me. This is why she has tolerated me, for my secret-keeping skills.
“Go,” she says. “Just go.”
“Help me,” I say, because I want to feel her hand on me again, want to remember it.
She grips my neck in her hand and thrusts me forward so hard that I trip, my face hits something hard, then I tumble, and so does the back of my head. No sweet breaths. No soft couch.
* * *
When I awake this time it is to the harsh, halogen lamps of a hospital room, a headache splitting my head in half.
There is nothing sweet about this awakening except for this: My parents, one on each side, are here with me, faces contorted in anxiety, fingers entwined within my own. They are leaning over me, across me, holding me between them like a thread, a piece of hair, a blade of grass.