She and I by Taylor Kang

She wants to turn her hair to dusty lavender, and I want patches of gold in mine. She wants a nose ring, and I want a diamond nestled in the flesh of my cartilage.

She’s Catholic. She goes to church every Sunday, and sometimes she wears a dainty little gold cross around her neck. I’m Presbyterian on certain forms, or whenever my uncle is drunk and interrogates me.

I’m a hothead; I’m a caricature with smoke bellowing out of my ears and a harsh, jagged scribble for a mouth. She’s always calm and rational and never looks foolish. She has this feminine indignation to her, the type that embalms women, keeps them on earth long after their flesh turns putrid and their bones have turned to ashes. I once wrung a boy’s wrist for not returning a friend of mine’s eraser in elementary school. She’s all restraint and I’m the splatter of blood on the wall, the aftermath of some violent confusion.

She is shy and loud, prudish and inappropriate; I am simply quiet.

Speaking at all for me is an act of mimicry. I only seem to confuse people when I talk so I’ve resorted to nodding and smiling instead. She’s the bubbling hub of our group; everyone gravitates to her and laughs with her and remembers her.

In my writing I’m open and warm; I can’t seem to say enough. I say too much. I say more than my parents would like me to. I can write her birthday cards fizzling over with sentiment and enthusiasm, and I’ll receive hastily scrawled passages in response, maybe with some joke or memory that has grown stiff and stagnant with reuse.

Our futures loom before us like endless corridors, or some other terrible cliché. She wants to crowd hers with a handsome husband, gaggles of fair-haired, blue-eyed kids. I’m uncomfortable around children and suspicious of romance. She doesn’t know what she wants to be; she thinks she might be a doctor or a nurse. I can’t think of anything I don’t want to be: a birdwatcher? a curator? These are our respective curses.

We call each other names: she calls me insane, psychotic, disturbed, and I tell her she’s a transvestite, a bearded lady, a circus freak. She delights in her femininity, with her hourglass bottles of scent and two showers a day, and I sometimes imagine that I’m a man.

Someone once commented that her voice was husky and smoky, with the lung-decaying embers of a recently inhaled cigarette; when I asked him about mine, he laughed and said I sounded nasal, like a chronic flu patient.

We all went out to dinner for her sixteenth birthday. She wore a pale blue dress freckled with white polka dots. Her hair was down and fell in fat, soft curls. When she got up to use the bathroom, everyone started murmuring about how pretty she looked, was. And sometimes I wonder if people do that for me, too, when I walk away with my crooked eyes and knotted hair. Somehow I doubt it.

We have our moods: when she’s down, she stops talking and smiling, and you can see the quiet sadness in her eyes; when I’m feeling a wreck, I withdraw from people, and my handwriting loses shape, and I pout and wrinkle and imagine I’m a crumbling monument when no one really notices me at all.

I cry when I read about World War II in my textbooks; everything moves me. I cry too much, so much that it’s like crawling into bed after a long day: nightly and cathartic. The one time I saw her cry was when we went to go see a documentary on some band she idolizes. I could only focus on the boys’ acne and greasy foreheads. But then I looked over and saw tears budding in her eyes.

I’m in awe of pretty criers. I think it’s an art form, crying prettily. Some exceptional girls can angle their heads in such a way that the slanted light catches the trembling liquid of their eyes, snag a stray prismatic tear on their lashes, balance it for a bit, then let it collapse. It’s so calculated and natural and beautiful. She’s a pretty crier. When I cry, my face balloons and all the pinks of my skin deepen to an ugly, blotchy red.

She likes boys with carved muscles, English accents, and pretty eyes. I like men who shave their heads when they’re still young, have secret tattoos, read poetry, and the only people I can think of with truly beautiful eyes are Iggy Pop and Walt Whitman.

Boys like her. When I talk to boys, they try to draw me out, get me to like them, laugh at their vulgar jokes and ignorance. Only I’m so stupid. I can’t.

Once we had lunch with a friend of hers. He started making fun of a boy I know, my neighbor. When he found out that the object of his ridicule lived a few feet away from me, her friend started asking me what type of voodoo he performed at night, who his dealer was, etc. This boy in question speaks with a Russian drawl, though his ancestry finds its roots in an entirely different continent. He inverts the syntax of his sentences, something that, having an appreciation for words, fascinates me. I feel like he’s mocking me, but he’s kind and open at the same time. So instead I mumbled, “I don’t know. I don’t think he does anything like that.” And her friend looked disappointed because I hadn’t spun funny lies about my neighbor’s nighttime activities, and she just eyed me, probably puzzled that I didn’t have her wit when it came to talking to boys.

I suspect I’ll die a virgin.

She’s a dancer. She’s graceful and nimble; she can climb over the seats in the cafeteria, a game of interpretive art. She’s one of those girls who look pretty with their hair done up in a bun, and light pink fits her. I look best in black, and I have 17 scars branding me with my clumsiness. I like to think that each represents a year of my life, and sometimes I think that I subconsciously make myself fall to add another scar, another commemorative badge.

I started taking ballet classes at her dance studio in middle school, and she would take videos of me through the glass door. When class ended, I would limp out to find her with her phone in her hands, her shoulders vibrating and the hall resounding with her laughter. And I hated myself, because I’d actually thought I was improving.

The other day she claimed that she remembered how we met in kindergarten: we’d both worn the same cat costume to school on Halloween. Only I remember our friendship running deeper, further back in the veins of our mottled, stained and tainted history.

I used to think about us a lot, with our now thirteen years of friendship between us, all ablaze with youth and naivety; now I think about us occasionally, on birthdays and Christmas, and our empty plans of camping in the woods and going on safaris, shriveling up with every passing dry spell, and I’m frightened that I’ll think about us less and less and then not at all until one day when I’m resigned and in my forties, cutting the birthday cake of a child I didn’t want, and I’ll remember how she was with me for every one of my landmark years, through all the difficult fledgling years and adolescent rage, and I guess what I’m trying to say, rather incoherently and clumsily, is that I’m just afraid that that will break my heart.