relationships

More Than Words

His hands were the first thing I noticed about him.

He was sketching, brushing feather-light pencil lines effortlessly across the page. One of his hands commandeered the pencil while the other scratched nimbly at the nape of his neck. They were beautiful. Whatever was on the paper in front of him was beautiful, too.

I stood for a while, just observing, until it occurred to me that what I was doing was a little bit creepy. So I edged in front of him, clearing my throat. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

He looked up at me, startled that someone had the audacity to disturb him at work. But his eyes met mine and softened a little around the corners, a wordless gesture that gave me the confidence to slide into the seat across from him. I half expected him to tell me to get lost, that he was concentrating and needed to be alone, but he just went right back to his drawing like I’d never interrupted him at all.

Anna Karenina was calling me; I had almost sixty pages to read before AP Lit. Yet I was going cross-eyed reading about Levin’s domesticity, and my gaze kept shifting unwittingly toward this quiet boy and his expressive hands.

After a few minutes of staring at my book with utter futility, I surrendered to my curiosity. “What are you drawing?” I asked, quietly enough that he could ignore it if he wanted to.

He didn’t, though. He didn’t look up, but he answered me, pausing between strokes and biting his lower lip. “I’m not sure.”

“Well, it’s nice,” I said, letting the conversation fade to silence before speaking up again. “I’m Sophie.”

He cracked a knuckle. “Adam.”

When the bell rang, he finally looked at me. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smile I hadn’t expected as he extended his hand across the table. The heel of it was shiny with graphite, the pads of his fingers dented from holding the pencil, but his grip felt like a promise. “Very nice to meet you, Sophie.”

***

The next time I sat down across from him, I didn’t bother asking for permission. He was eating an apple, tongue darting out every once in a while to catch the juice that threatened to escape from his mouth.

“Hi, Sophie,” he said with a genuine grin.

“Hi,” I replied, blushing when his eyes lingered on mine for a little too long.

We didn’t talk much. He drew, I read – Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, A Clockwork Orange. His drawings were strange and smudged and haphazard, but they were all equally lovely. He made the kind of art you’d put in a museum in hopes that someone would be smart enough to understand it.

I jokingly asked him to draw me one day. He laughed and said he didn’t really know how to do people.

“You never had to do portraits or anything?” I asked, wincing as I recalled my pathetic attempt at a self-portrait back in the fifth grade.

“I didn’t say I’d never done it.” He brushed his forehead absent-mindedly. “I just don’t really know how.”

“What do you mean?”

“People are tricky,” he said. “The thing about people is, you can get them wrong. This,” he gestured toward the paper in front of  him, “nobody is going to tell me this is wrong. With people, it’s different.”

I agreed with him, kind of. The self-portrait I made in fifth grade was definitely wrong. But I didn’t believe someone like him could draw anyone less than perfectly. Maybe he was just seeing them the way nobody else could.

***

“I wish I could draw,” I confessed one day as I watched his hands at work.

He laughed. “You can. Anyone can draw. It’s one of the first things babies learn how to do.”

“Yeah, but I wish I could draw like you. You know…” I trailed off. “Well.”

I was waiting for him to say something encouraging, because he was that kind of person, but instead he reached into his sketchpad and pulled out a folded up, slightly torn square of paper. He hesitated, rubbing it between his fingers for a couple of seconds, before handing it over to me.

He stopped me before I could open it. “No,” he said simply as I tried to unfold a corner. “Not right now.” So I slipped it in my pocket and didn’t say a word.

When the bell rang, he disappeared before I had a chance to say anything else.

***

The next day, I kissed him.

I didn’t plan it; I didn’t even consider it ahead of time, I just sat across from him like I always did and opened The Picture of Dorian Gray. It took me seven agonizing minutes to realize what he was doing.

“Is that…what are you drawing?” I asked incredulously as his pencil strokes became rounded, fluid, detailed.

“I’m trying something new,” he said.

“I can see that.” I rolled my eyes. “I mean, that. That’s a person.”

“Yup,” he replied without taking his eyes off the page.

“I thought you didn’t do people.”

He shrugged. “Figured it was worth another shot.”

The person – the girl – took shape in front of my eyes. Angular chin, slightly downturned mouth. Eyes a little too far apart. Feathery eyelashes and bold eyebrows. A slight dusting of freckles on the tip of her nose.

“Me,” I breathed. “You’re drawing me.”

It was both fascinating and terrifying to watch his capable fingers trace my likeness across a piece of paper. No one would mistake it for a photograph, but he was capturing something that was decidedly me, and I knew I had been right the first time I asked him about drawing people. He saw things the way that nobody else ever could.

When he finished, he held it up for me with a sheepish grin, and I smiled back while something warm and heavy spread through my entire body.

“Did I get it sorta right this time?” he asked, nervously raking a hand through his hair.

“Sorta,” I said breathlessly in the seconds before my mouth was on his.

***

He kissed like he drew: carefully, skillfully, and a little selfishly. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that he loved that way, too.

The first time we said it, we were sitting under the tree I used to climb as a kid. I told him about the time I fell off the fourth branch and broke my arm, and he drew me a little cartoon – a tiny upside-down freckled girl, her mouth curled into a surprised “oh!”, dangling from the fourth branch of a towering tree. I laughed until my stomach hurt and kissed him until my lips tingled, relishing the feeling of his wonderful hands as they roamed across my back and shoulders and face.

“I love you, you know,” I whispered to him when we were catching our breath.

“I love everything about you,” he whispered back, running a finger along my jawbone. We laid there under the tree, our limbs tangled together, until the sunset started to spill across the sky and we remembered the rest of the world.

***

“I never looked at that note you gave me,” I told him one day while he was cooking dinner.

“What note?” he asked, scraping a diced green pepper into the saucepan on the stove.

“That folded up piece of paper. The one you handed me, and acted really cryptic about, and never mentioned again.”

He smiled knowingly. “I wondered why you never said anything about that,” he said before starting to hum his favorite ABBA song.

Neither of us mentioned it again.

***

I found him again at our five-year high school reunion. He was sitting on a barstool, his heel tapping on the leg, sketching on a napkin. He hadn’t changed at all.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” I asked, gesturing toward the seat next to him.

“Sophie,” he said, letting his eyes crinkle a little as he half-smiled. “Hi.”

“Hey,” I said back. The silence enveloped us like a blanket, warm and familiar and comforting. Being around him always felt private, even when there were a million other people in the room.

“You know,” he started after a few minutes, “I didn’t…I just, I mean -“

“I know.” I rubbed my thumb across my bottom lip. “You don’t have to say anything.” To tell the truth, I didn’t really want him to. It was easier this way, without words. Words can never really mean everything they’re supposed to.

“I’m glad you’re still drawing,” I finally said, squeezing his shoulder as I stood up to walk away. “You really are amazing.”

I could have let him talk. There were plenty of stories I could have told him, about the rambunctious high school English classes I was now teaching or the incredible man whose ring I was wearing, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Our relationship wasn’t about words and sentences and conversations. It was about feelings and instincts running wild, smudging the lines in a picture nobody could figure out anyway. We were art, and art was messy, and the artist never got a happy ending.

That night, as I unfolded the fraying piece of paper I kept on the nightstand by my bed, I was glad I hadn’t let him say anything. I ran my fingers over the fading pencil marks, the ones that knew me before I knew him, and I saw all the pieces of him he didn’t want me to see. “Art is the lie,” Picasso once said, “that enables us to realize the truth.”

His drawings had always said more than he ever could.

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I Don’t Hide My Insecurities, I Hide Behind Them

“I don’t know,” I say with a frown as I angle my body sideways in the mirror. “Does it really look okay?”

“It looks fine,” my best friend replies, rolling her eyes. “You look good.”

I smooth the ruched fabric over my protruding hipbones. They are the part of my appearance I will never accept, no matter how long I spend trying to convince myself that they’re normal. I spin one way, then the other, watching as my shape goes from backyard stick to lopsided pear. But nobody wants to hear my complaining, so I just sigh and move away from the mirror.

“You don’t dress like you hate your body,” a friend remarked once as we ride the el to our downtown destination. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I didn’t even know what that meant. I felt like I should be offended, but I wasn’t sure why.

I’m bothered by a lot of things about myself, not just my hips. I’m bothered by how quickly I clam up in social situations and how easily I blush when I’m embarrassed. I hate that I have to work twice as hard as the people around me to do something as simple as eating breakfast in the morning, because my brain refuses to process things the way that it should. I hate that I take everything personally and spend maddening hours feeling guilty for things that aren’t my fault.

And I’m open about all that, I really am. I write posts like these that present my inner turmoil for the world to see. I crack jokes about my social ineptitude and never fail to cry loudly when the situation demands it. And I guess when I put it like that, it sounds kind of admirable.

It’s not.

I’ve been known to drunkenly disclose my eating disorder when I’m scared someone is getting too close. I tend to use my awkwardness and social anxiety as an excuse to avoid putting myself out there. And I guess, yeah, I don’t dress like I hate my body, because I don’t want to feel like I’m lying. I emphasize the parts I hate the most for no good reason other than the fact that I want to drive people away. Truth be told, that’s the one thing I know I’m pretty damn good at.

Some people hide their insecurities, faking self-confidence until they start to really believe in themselves. Some people actually embrace the parts of themselves they don’t love, because they know it makes them beautiful and unique and human.

Not me. I hide behind them, using them as a crutch, constantly making excuses to wallow in self-pity. I dwell on my insecurities until they’re all I see, and I make myself believe that I don’t deserve good things because of them. I’d rather force people to leave right away instead of waiting until I’m attached and the loss actually hurts.

I hide because I can. Because drowning in self-pity and self-loathing is the lifestyle I’m accustomed to, and because it’s easy, and because that way I’m the only one who’s allowed to hurt me or hate me. I hide because that’s what I do.

I take one last look in the mirror on my way out the door, turning away when I feel the tears brewing in my eyes. Someday maybe I’ll be really, truly brave. Just not tonight.

 

The End, In Three Parts

I.

She was always the first one to notice.

“You’re bleeding again!” she’d yelp as she dug through her backpack for a Band-Aid. No matter how many times I drew blood, I never learned to carry them around with me. When she was there, I never had to.

She learned to solve a Rubik’s cube somehow. I was too impatient to figure it out on my own, so she taught me too. “It’ll give you something to do with your hands,” she said. “So you won’t destroy your fingers.”

My history teacher took it away because I wasn’t paying attention. She handed me a Band-Aid, marched up to the teacher, and got it back. “You need this,” she whispered as she slid it across my desk. I spent the rest of class quietly spinning the faces of the cube under the table. I didn’t need the Band-Aid, but it was nice to have it, anyway.

I thought, “this is what it’s like to have somebody you can count on.”

II.

She slept three nights at my house during the Great Ice Storm of 2008.

The days we spent together were full of jokes and musicals and molasses cookies. Then at some point after dark, unexpectedly, she’d slip. Her face would suddenly be devoid of emotion, her voice high-pitched and soft. She’d curl herself up into a ball at the foot of the bed and just lie there, unmoving, until whatever it was had passed.

“Is there something I can do?” I asked once, helplessly, desperate to fix her somehow.

She was quiet for a moment, and I heard her breath hitch before she spoke. “No. There isn’t.”

When she was like this, she never looked at me. She responded to questions sometimes, if I was lucky. But she wouldn’t turn around. I didn’t get to see her face.

I was there, but that wasn’t enough. I turned out the lights and tried to sleep while she kept drowning two feet away.

III.

She made me a card for our high school graduation.

“Don’t forget about me, okay?” it read. “I’m nothing without you.”

I didn’t make her a card. I didn’t even say thank you. I was never good at that sort of thing, and I figured she knew how I felt already. She was my best friend. She’d always be my best friend. Isn’t that how it works?

I took her for granted. I forgot.

And she wasn’t nothing. She was something more.

I’m Ashamed To Like You, Because You’re Just Interesting

My seventh grade crush had these really big ears that stuck out of the side of his head, kind of like a cartoon mouse. People used to whisper about them, but I thought they were nice. They fit with the rest of him, all awkward and gangly and full of subtle imperfections. I liked that he didn’t look like everybody else. I thought he looked interesting, and that was better than just being pretty.

I was always kind of weird that way. My friends teased me mercilessly for my taste in men (boys) until I learned that there were only certain types of people I was allowed to like. Straying from the norm would only cause problems, and I was already socially insecure enough without alienating my friends, too.

“But he’s so short,” they complained once when I told them I had feelings for my best guy friend. Another time I got a wide-eyed, open mouthed stare and a “…him?” They could not fathom the idea that I might be attracted to someone who was, well, not “cute.” You know, in the way that middle and high school heartthrobs are supposed to be cute. And in the case of my particular suburb, also white.

The thing is, I’m a sucker for interesting. I’m amazed by how many people I come across who think that’s an insult, a blow to their looks or their intellect or whatever else. Our culture has somehow given that word a negative connotation; it’s simply a placeholder for when you can’t think of anything nice. “Oh…interesting,” you say, when really it isn’t at all. But what can we ever hope to be if not interesting? Why would anyone strive for less?

Sometimes it’s the element of surprise, like when the quiet kid who sits behind you in tenth grade English class suddenly starts rapping Li’l Mama’s “Lip Gloss” from memory. Sometimes it comes from the respect and awe you feel when you see the class clown act so kindly toward everybody, and you think, “how can anyone possibly be that patient?” And sometimes all it takes is exposure to a millisecond of somebody’s greatest passion: a musician strumming his guitar, an engineer discussing circuitry, a sports fan yelling at a TV set. You’re hooked.

Sure, there are times when you get to know them and they’re not as intriguing as you thought. Nice enough, interesting enough, but that’s about it. But there are other times when you get to know them and they’re utterly intoxicating. Everything you learn about them pulls you in deeper, and no matter how much you know, you want to know more. Maybe interesting isn’t the right word after all. Fascinating. Captivating. Complex and wonderful.

I regret that in my life I’ve left a lot of interesting people behind. I spend far too much time caring about what other people think, so much so that I completely tune out my feelings. By the time I graduated from high school, I’d missed my chance to chase the two or three people I’d really wanted. By the time I graduate from college in June, I will have missed at least three more. And for what? For the brief satisfaction of knowing nobody was going to laugh at me?

I wish I had the balls to tell my seventh grade crush how much I admired his tenacity – and his ears. Or to tell the guy I didn’t go to prom with about the time he came over to return my book and it took everything I had not to kiss him. And right now, I wish I could call up the boy I barely know and ask him a million questions, just so that he knows someone wants to listen. I want so badly to not give a damn what anybody else thinks about it.

Above all, these boys should know that they’re interesting. To all of you: there were, and are, people out there who spend a lot of time thinking about you and wishing they were brave enough to say so. Regardless of whether you meet objective standards of beauty or intelligence or humor, there is somebody who thinks you’re the most wonderful person on the planet. Even if they wait seven years to say it. Even if they never do.

And to the rest of us: screw what everyone else thinks. Love the interesting ones. Love the weird ones. Love the ones you never quite understand. Just love.

NEDAwareness 2014: Breaking Up With ED

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been in a relationship.

(Big apologies to my tenth grade “boyfriend” for this statement. No offense, you’re a great guy, but I don’t think you quite count.)

I can’t pretend I know exactly what it’s like to go through a breakup, although I think the experience is different for everyone. I’ve watched friends go through them. I’ve watched my little brother go through them. I’ve watched overly dramatic television characters go through them. They’re sort of inevitable. Most relationships end. But they don’t all end the same way. Sometimes things deteriorate of their own accord, when two people realize they’re just not as compatible as they thought they were. Sometimes someone falls in love with somebody else. Most of the time someone gets hurt.

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which ends tomorrow, I’m going to share the closest thing I’ve ever had to a breakup. I’m going to talk about ending my relationship with my eating disorder.

My ED (which I not-so-affectionately personify as “Ed”) was manipulative and charming. He wasn’t smart, but he was clever. He made me completely dependent on him and used that mercilessly to prey on every ounce of confidence I had. It was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship, and the worst part was that he wasn’t some separate entity. He was a part of me. Leaving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I loved him, even when he was horrible to me. I loved him when I decided I had to let him go. I still love him. I think I always will.

I think about going back to him sometimes. When my life gets too difficult and I feel like there’s no one else I can rely on, all I want is to lean back and have him catch me. How sick is that? I know that all of his words are empty air and that he lives with the sole purpose of destroying me, but I still feel better when he’s there.

Does that sound familiar? I think it might. It’s a breakup. Not a romantic one, but a breakup all the same. When I’m drunk and sad, I’m in danger of “texting my ex,” except for me, that means giving in and using disordered behaviors. Sometimes all I want to do is call him and I need my friends to come over and talk me out of it. I have a box of stuff that reminds me of him – too-small t-shirts, diet cookbooks, running wristbands – shoved under my bed where I won’t be tempted to look for it. It’s been a year, and I’m still not over him.

More and more, I’m realizing that’s okay. Maybe I’ll never be over it. Or maybe in another year, I’ll laugh at the fact that I just said that. I don’t know. What I do know is that we have every experience for a reason: to learn something. Relationships end, but each one teaches you something about yourself you didn’t know before. Every mistake leads the way to better mistakes, and every bad relationship leads the way to great ones. If anything, you learn not to stand for anything less.

I’m not going back to Ed, because I know I deserve better. But I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t let him break me. Being knocked down was the only way I figured out how to stand on my own.

Break up with Ed. Get out of there. Love him, miss him, yeah, that’s life. Just don’t go back. Something better waits for you on the other side.

Two Heartbeats

“Maybe it’s nothing,” I say as I stare at the gray wall in front of me.

“Maybe it is.”

I gently trace my fingers over his knuckles and give his hand a protective squeeze. “It’ll be okay, you know. I’m here. We’ll be okay.”

He awkwardly shifts his weight to his other leg and jams his hands in his pocket. “Yeah.”

We are enveloped by sounds. A gentle humming seems to emanate from the flickering overhead light while the constant pitter-patter of human steps reverberates through the floor under our feet. Every few minutes a telephone rings, interrupted soon after by gruff mutterings rendered unintelligible by the general chaos in the air. I notice a low rhythmic pounding and realize rather uneasily that I am noticing the sound of my own heart. Or maybe his. Or both.

Sometimes, in the moments right before sleep overtakes us, I wait for our heartbeats to converge. Resting my cheek on the cavity of his chest, I let the thumping echo through my body until every nerve ending signals my own system to follow. For a few moments, the blood pumping through his veins flows through mine, too. We are linked by something so simple, so primal, that no power in the universe can tear us apart.

The first time he ever slept in my bed, he passed out while laying on my left arm, and I woke up with the horrifying sensation that I’d lost a limb. When I woke him up (begrudgingly) to ask him if he could please move, he laughed, this deep, rich, beautiful laugh, a laugh I fell in love with over and over and over again. He kissed the fingers of my limp, dead hand and held it tightly. “When you start to feel again, I want the first thing you feel to be me.” And it was, oh, it was.

I hear his name and snap to attention. Someone walks by with a manila folder, deeply absorbed in its contents. Someone bumps into someone else and spills her coffee, resulting in a myriad of hasty apologies and a promise of penitence. Someone stands in front of us, frowning, one thumb resting nonchalantly under the loop of his suspenders. It is he who speaks, tersely and emotionlessly, those precious few words that bring us closer and closer to the moment of truth.

“We will see you now,” he says with finality.

The one person I am sure I love walks away from me. I wait for him to turn around and look into my eyes and tell me not to be scared, to take my hand and let his pulse surge through me so I can believe that everything will be okay. But he doesn’t. The sound of his footsteps fades slowly with the distance, echoing less and less through the darkened hallway, and I am struck once more with that same startling and horrifying sense of loss.

I want to tell him that when this nightmare is over, when he finally starts to feel again, the first thing he feels will be me. Until then, I won’t let go.

Do You Trust Me?

Aladdin asked the question as he beckoned Jasmine onto the magic carpet. Jack asked the same of Rose right as she was about to jump.

“Do you trust me?”

Four words. Probably the most difficult question four words can create.

You asked me once with your hands behind your back, and I said yes with my fingers crossed. Neither of us really knew how to trust at all.

And now we’re here with a lifetime of what-ifs and should-haves and whys, but I trusted you in all the ways I could. You wanted more than I had. You didn’t mean what you said when you said you could save me.

Someone asked me again today. “Don’t you trust me?” they joked as I tactfully criticized their argument.

I don’t trust you anymore. I don’t believe you.

“Sure I trust you,” I reply with a smile. “Of course I trust you.”

I used to believe you. You broke everything I am into a million tiny jagged pieces.

“I would never lie to you.”

You broke me and you swept me up and you tossed all my fragments into the garbage can. You never thought about me again. How dare you ask me to trust you.

It’s not you asking anymore, but it is. Because since you, the answer can never be yes.

Your Best Friend

When you first meet your best friend, it’s like the answer to a prayer. Maybe you’re two, four, ten, thirteen. But when you meet them, things start to make sense to you. You are no longer forced to sit alone in the cafeteria or bounce through friend groups faster than you can learn your times tables. You know that when you’re having a bad day, your best friend is there to make you feel better. When you’re bored, you can pick up the phone and she’ll be there as fast as she possibly can. You go on adventures, conquering imaginary beasts and braving dark, scary forests. You can tell her anything at all and she’ll listen. She throws you surprise parties and bakes you an elaborate cake on your birthday. Eventually, people start to mix up your names or roll their eyes when you say things simultaneously.

When your best friend has big secrets to tell, you’re the first person she runs to. Even when it’s hard, she knows she can trust you. So you trust her too. You are the only person who understands her, who doesn’t judge her for being the way she is. You aren’t afraid to be yourself around her, to express the most embarrassing thoughts or emotions. You are each other’s better half; neither of you fully exist unless you are together. When she goes through the darkest times of her life, you are there to listen and to beg her to keep going; that it’s worth it. You give her confidence; she returns the favor.

It seems perfect when you’re young. It makes sense. But you change. Sometimes you find out that when she told you the biggest secrets, she was lying. Sometimes the trust that you thought you had turns out to be false. Sometimes you get angry. It’s not perfect because she’s not perfect, you think. You hold a grudge for as long as you possibly can. You don’t tell her how you really feel because you don’t want to ruin the friendship, so you pretend that nothing happened. Then other things start to bother you. The way she acts, the person she’s become. But you never say anything. Maybe you start to take it out on her because you’re so angry with yourself for keeping it all in. You wait years, always apologizing after fights because you just want to get it over with, even though it compromises your true opinions. You wait so long that maybe it’s too late. She’s made a lot of mistakes that she’s never apologized for, and then you realize that you’ve made a lot of mistakes too, and two imperfect and stubborn people don’t compromise easily. So maybe you stop trying because it’s easier that way, because that way you don’t have to fight. So that way it doesn’t hurt all the time. And maybe that’s not fair to her. But you don’t know if you could try without losing yourself in the process.

When you lose your best friend, it’s the most painful feeling in the world. There are pieces of you that never recover from that; the awkward interactions wound you every time. And those wounds are where she lives. You never forget or stop caring, just pretend that you do. You watch her live her life from the sidelines as she takes center stage. You know that even though things have changed, you are with her just as much as she is with you. You are still proud when she succeeds and disappointed when she fails. Maybe someday you will be able to work things out. Maybe you won’t. Maybe she can never again be your best friend. But for a long time, she was. She saved you when you were falling apart. She was your best friend, and she matters.

We

The clock on the wall tells me that it’s almost midnight. You are still quietly strumming your guitar strings with the first few fingers of your right hand, the first couple of notes of my favorite song.

I tell you it’s my favorite song. You smile at me and keep playing. I am hypnotized by your eyes and the expression on your face and the strength with which you can concentrate even as I lay waiting for you.

You are beautiful in all the ways I cannot begin to describe to you. And I want so many things from you.

I want to look at your lovely face and know in that instant that I am perfectly safe because you are with me.

I want to be the person that gets to watch you while you’re deep in concentration and you start making those strange almost snorting noises and smiling and just being.

I want to know that nobody else is seeing all your quirks and charms quite like I am.

I want to see you happy and passionate and excited about things. I want to be able to put that same silly smile on your face.

I want your body to always be close enough to mine that I can feel the way your heart is beating and see every single freckle on your arms and know by just a hint of motion exactly what you need.

I want to be the person you run to when life is hard or good or scary or wonderful because everything you feel – I want to feel it too.

I want every part of you from your hair that’s too thick to your toes that are too long and I want every single part of you to want me just as badly.

I want to be your cheerleader, your backbone, your best friend, your missing piece. I want you to feel like I’m bringing out in you all the best things you can possibly be.

I want to listen to you tell dumb jokes and play instruments poorly and I want to tell you that I think your flaws are just as beautiful as the rest of you.

I want to somehow tell you how much it means to me that you see light in me even when I can’t. I want you to know that I’m a better person when you’re around to tell me all the ways I do things right. I want you to know how much you have shown me about the person I can be. I want you to know that person, scars and all.

I want to love you like a juicy summer peach or a big belly laugh or a perfect light snowfall. I want to love you like sleeping in on a Sunday and waking up to light streaming in through the curtains, when everything is warm and perfect and beautiful.

The clock tells me it’s midnight, and you don’t want me to stay.

You are still beautiful. But you’ve slipped through my fingers. It’s too late for us now.

God, You’re Such a Freak

“Psst. Over here.”

I glanced furtively to my left. Jamie was one row over, dangling a folded square of paper over the edge of her desk. A note. How could I grab it without attracting the attention of my math teacher, the man whose sporadic, jerky movements had caused many a piece of chalk to fly haphazardly into the face of an unsuspecting sixth-grader? I watched carefully as he called on someone at the other end of the classroom, extending my arm slowly and snatching the paper from Jamie’s fingers.

That test was BS, it read in her round, bubbly handwriting. Can you believe I got a 78? My mom is gonna KILL me.

I quickly flipped my own test face down, hiding the big red “100%” from Jamie’s view. I know, I scrawled underneath her words. Totally ridiculous. SO unfair. Before the teacher had a chance to turn around, the note was back in her hands.

The bell rang and I swung open my desk, looking for my language arts notebook. The test fluttered to the floor. I got down on my hands and knees to grab it, but I wasn’t quick enough. Someone else got there first.

“You dropped this,” Jamie said coldly, shoving the paper into my desk.

I closed the lid and looked at her guiltily. “Thanks,” I said quietly, averting my eyes.

“Seriously, you got a hundred?”

“Yeah, I guess I got lucky or something.”

She laughed, that awful unkind laugh that made me want to crawl under my desk and stay there until my 13th birthday. “You didn’t get lucky.” Her tone was accusatory. “You always get hundreds on everything. God, you’re such a freak.”

I didn’t reply. Jamie was so much smaller than me, but she had the power to make me feel like a tiny ant ready to be squashed by her giant foot. We walked next door to language arts, neither of us saying a word, tears brimming in my eyes. I hated the thought of her seeing me cry. As I took my seat, her voice filled my ears. “God, you’re such a freak.” I was. Oh, yes, I was a freak. What on earth was wrong with me?

My LA teacher started rattling off spelling words at the front of the room. Words I knew; words I could spell in my sleep. What a freak. Sixth graders aren’t supposed to know how to spell all these words. Disappointment. One s, two p’s. Obviously. Me. I was a disappointment. I was a freak. I was never going to fit in anywhere. Not me. The freak.

I scribbled down the twenty words on the yellow paper in front of me. Then carefully, oh so carefully, I erased six of them and rewrote them. Wrong.

We passed our pretests to the right. Mine went to Jamie. She rolled her eyes and started doodling with blue ink on her palm.

She didn’t even correct my pretest. She just handed it back to me, refusing to meet my gaze.

I got a 14/20 for her. That was a 70%. A black mark on my record, and I did it so she wouldn’t think I was a freak. But she didn’t care. Jamie could always find some reason to torture me, this one was just easy and convenient and barely required her attention. I groaned, letting my head fall down onto my desk with a loud thud. How stupid was I?

I wasn’t ready to stand up to her, not yet. I was twelve, and lonely, and hopelessly manipulable. It would be almost a year before I would decide I’d finally had enough. But that Friday, I sat down for my spelling test and I spelled every single word correctly, and I thought, well, freak or not, this was one thing nobody could ever take away from me. I would never again give up my words.