*This piece was written 2006, during my final years of undergrad. It found a home with a youth-oriented journal many years later.
We trace circles and figures into the carpet while a dim overhead light falls on beige and our fingers disappear in their intrusions. Our shadows fall into the couch, and we maneuver around bleary light patterns. We are shape-makers, and we form letters, and sometimes words. I wonder if this was the way of A B C—creations for the sake of creating, in dirt or sand. Our hands are jesters—the fingers playing off one another—fighting for free patches of carpet.
Silence is broken.
“Hey—you’re in my way.”
“Your way? It’s my carpet.”
We continue to crawl about the room, mapping arbitrary thoughts and passing intuitions. We could expand to the hollow corners—explore the ocean of taupe spindles. We could stretch beyond the tiny sea of light between us—but we do not. We do not move away from one other.
She draws my name with her fingers into the two-inch thick floor of cotton and synthetic fibers. I draw her classic signature: an “A” with a square box surrounding the letter. There are smiley faces near the strange ravines our hands have created this evening.
This is fourteen.
This is fourteen, and she is my best friend. We play in the shallows of the carpet like infants discovering the use of knuckles and opposable thumbs.
Then, something long since forgotten—likely a hypothesis about the male genitalia—sends us into hysterics. There is a type of laughter only fourteen-year-old girls possess. We roll about the floor—smothering the images we so hard preserved.
But with all hysterics, they eventually stop. There are big gasps—inhalations begging us to breathe again. There are exhalations marked by cooing “who” sounds. The first few whos bring hiccups of laughter—tiny butterflies escaping the diaphragm—flittering past lungs and through open mouths.
I look to her, lie back, and sigh. She is astounding. Flawless features on a face unmarked. Her hair is blonde and full. Her blue eyes prance around all things she touches. And her figure—she has no idea that the boys are envisioning her right now—they are placing her hands on their pubescent bodies and running their fingers along her cheeks. Her perfection—porcelain complexion and long fingers—they bite at me.
I want to hate her, and I have tried to hate her. She is a varsity athlete, a 4.0 student—someone whose name makes the local paper every other week. Yet, somehow, I always remember. She borrows my name-brand shirts so the girls on the tennis team will stop making fun of the clothes her father works so hard to buy. Her 4.0 seems to be the result of an unloving mother: this mother of hers who two years later will not drive her to work due to a fight, and who will scream her out of the driveway when I come to take her myself. She is also terrified of boys. At this age of fourteen, I tell her I will never understand this—this fear of men. I have already sat in the local movie theatre being touched under my clothing, having my hands placed under his clothing. I do not understand her fear; I only know guilt. I have, at fourteen, accepted that the recent sixteen-year-old who bought me the movie ticket hardly recognizes my face in the hallways.
She stands next to me in the lines at the movie theatre: Friday nights and sheepish grins. I mingle with the boys that I believe will only be friends—or maybe a backseat moment—and she simply stands there with me seemingly admiring me. She loves my curly, brown hair. And she has a special laugh for me—as if whatever I’ve just said is the funniest thing she has ever heard.
I wonder if perhaps she wants to hate me too.
We are perfectly angst-ridden teenagers. I am more open about this than she. I write poetry. I write about love and hate and beauty and the crushing of things. After the movies, and after exhausting the carpets, we creep into bed, and I bring out these works of teenage fear and antipathy. She tilts her head, falls into the pillows and blankets, and she listens.
In five years, at nineteen, I will still be writing of these things, and she will ask me to send her my poems. At this, I will feel my face filling as if with carbonated water—nervous emotion punching the pores; I will have cancer and know this is why she asks. In adolescence, she will never ask to hear a poem. She will always wait patiently until I open to her and say come inside.
I will leave her request unanswered, and two months after I’ve left the estranged question, she will tell me of a dream. She will say, “I dreamt last night. I dreamt I collected all your poems and published them, and I left the twined manuscript on the doorstep of your parents’ front door.” I will understand then that she is scared.
I will not, still, send her my poems. I will not let her collect petals for my death. I will know that cancer will not kill me. It only will begin to break me. I will find no words to write her that could say these things though. Release those fears.
What I do not know while shimmying in that carpet is that a breakup and a boy will shift these light patterns.
For years, she remains terrified, and I stand corrected. I do date the boys and I do not have to sacrifice every remaining inch of my clean skin to be with them. I always have a boyfriend—starting at fifteen. At seventeen, I believe I have met the love of my life. I can write poems about love and know why I am writing them. This boy, this man, whoever he is, he teaches me about these things to be written. He teaches me the most because he crushes me at twenty-one. Her fear of men is then real to me. Cancer does not break, but this man has broken.
I have no words for her when I cry. Months move forward, but I remain abandoned. I leave myself behind.
She begins dating his best friend. I cannot imagine a superior betrayal. This best friend of his that did everything he could to sabotage a relationship already on a fall. This best friend of his that under his breathe murmured there was a reason I got cancer.
This is not the first time she and I have betrayed each other. This is not the first time we have hurt each other—sacrificing the other for personal gains—narcissism at its best, at its worst. In the latter years of high school, I fall for her ex-boyfriend and cuddle with him on couches and take him to dances knowing well that this is the first man she ever really allowed to touch her in so many ways. He and I have a permanent emotional affair: he becomes a best friend—telling me secrets no one else knows—things I will never tell her. It is like the woman at the office that befriends your husband, shares secrets and late night phone calls. This is Michael, her ex, to me.
During the senior year of college, in tears from Miami to Minneapolis, she says, “I’ll talk with you later,” and I say, “Yeah,” knowing that I will not be calling for years.
She leaves months after high school for this sunny, Floridian place, and though words are never said, I feel betrayed that she will not know my new friends and I will not know hers. In the first months of our collegiate careers, at eight o’clock pm on a Thursday, I throw my pen across the dorm room, scaring my roommate who asks what is wrong. I tell her my thumb is throbbing, and she looks at it, and concurs that it is, in fact, bulging and pulsating red and blue. Two hours later, while on the phone to Miami, I hear the story of how a bed fell on her thumb at eight o’clock pm—that friend of mine. Psychologists would want to do twin studies on us if only we were related.
In January, after a call in Minneapolis—this place I ran to when Lover left and I lost twenty-five pounds in five weeks—this place I found when there was no other reprieve, and I simply could not be in Michigan any longer—I send her a note. I know that she believes she is just too close to a situation that hurts me—that she is too linked to the Former Lover. She does not realize it is she I am breaking from. I tell her I have found a new love—someone who will take me to dinner and dancing, someone that will read the things I write and get them.
She writes back, and understands. She knows I’ve said goodbye. We’ve broken-up. She compares us to a smoldering, but indestructible bridge—says we’ll always be connected. I write back, and I write as if I’m forty-five—as if all those poems she listened to amounted to something. Anything. I write as if I’ve just come back from a midlife crisis and I am sharing my wisdom. I tell her that I’ve been struggling to define words like candor, integrity, and loyalty. I have found them to be indefinable, and I can only describe them with persons and stories. I tell her I believe that loyalty is a trait of character and not of relationships—one is either born with a fierce sense of it at birth, or one struggles to be so strong. I tell her this, and then I tell her that this is not to say she is disloyal.
I, then, to make myself a believable twenty-one-year-old forty-five-year-old tell her I believe in God. I believe in God because I have seen the way my life has woven together to be everything that it is right now. I believe in God because I can smile when I'm walking down the street sipping hot milk and watching the shadows of my jeans and coat on the pavement. I believe in God and I am awed. I glide through the spiritual phase of the note (knowing that she is an atheist) and I tell her that I am now strong enough to understand goodness and that being good to myself comes first. I tell her that I cannot be good to anyone, unless I am good to myself, and perhaps that for each of us, being good to ourselves differs from what is good for one another.
I eventually wish her well in finding herself and determining what she wants out of this life.
The note is processed and I think disconnection. I am watching the waves from the patch of grass to the left of the smoldering bridge. I am watching a lightshow of ash and spark cascade into the water. It is like watching snow fall into a lake—as if I am standing on a porch in a t-shirt surrounded by gray.
I stand and I watch these things—things of beauty, destruction, and earth—and I realize that I am still thinking of her. My hands are searching the ashy green palette, begging for spindles and words.
“Light in the Carpet,” Essay. Spark: A Creative Anthology. Empire & Great Jones Little Press: Forthcoming.