You’re So Quiet
By Andie Bjornsfelt
8:05 PM. On my IPhone, displayed a photo of me, picked meticulously out of over 150 near identical on my camera roll. Me, Metallica shirt, reddened matte lips, lash line coated coal. The filter I ended up going with was a soft aquarium blue, like sun dappled water.
The longer I stared at myself, the more alien I appeared. I didn’t love it, but I never did. Even the caption, that was beloved to me during conception, “Life’s for my own, to live my own way”, the words seemed to be curdling with every second that passed.
I could still back out. But I hadn’t posted anything in six days. I had lost a follower the day before.
My thumb lingered, suspended over the ‘Post” button. I could see the fabric on my breast jumping.
It’s been done.
I wanted to toss my phone out the window, too afraid to ever look at the results. I could sense that the world had shifted ever so slightly, tectonic plates sliding, all because I posted it. I wouldn’t know if I did something good, or if all of this was regrettable. Would it make me rich, or am I contributing to my own erosion? I never wanted to know.
I refreshed the page – no likes, no comments. ’No duh’, I thought. ‘It’s only been four seconds.’
I still felt it though, the echo I had created in a vacant room
(I’m empty, so empty)
I waited until the right time – I’d done it right this time. I’d heard once that you’d get the most likes around 8 pm. Blue shaded photos did better than warm toned ones. Photos of people performed better than landscapes. Check, check, check.
I pushed my phone into my pillow case, buried under fluff. I wouldn’t look at it until morning, I made myself promise.
I thought of socializing as a sort of mandatory performance, and I never knew the script well enough. I’d look at my classmates like I looked upon actors on stage when I’d see the Nutcracker every December with my mother. I tried to find a hint of insecurity in them, some sign that were the same – slight twitch in the corner of a smile, a bellowing voice that was forced past a tremble, a circle of wet fabric clammy against arm pits.
The show must go on.
Time to see Mia soon. I then considered that that was the real underlying reason for the shaky feelings. She’d always left me on edge, always one step ahead of me. She carried me; her arm looped with mine, her face leading to the fear.
I smoothed down my hair and reminded myself, she didn’t want to see me. It was simply necessity. I’d left an entire outfit at her place a month before, where I’d gotten incredibly wasted, sitting almost naked in the lap of a guy she was into. Alcoholic amnesia would have saved me, but everyone had the photos.
I’d texted her first; if I didn’t, we’d never talk again. It was less that I wanted my clothes back, but that I thought a possible one on one interaction during this monumental time could give me an inch of help.
Whatever childhood friendship that had kept us together by a thread was chopped through at the party, but I held onto something.
On my bed, I laid out the clothes I’d be wearing tomorrow. First day of eighth grade. Plus picture day. I scanned my selections; a plastic choker (were chokers still cool?), skinny black jeans with the knees ripped up (my grandmother’s voice; “you actually buy them all tattered like that? On purpose?”), an oversized shirt with the Rolling Stones logo, red lips, red tongue. I hoped that the combination of these items on me would convey the message; I couldn’t care less about you, but here I am. I don’t give a damn, but I show up.
Actually, the opposite was becoming true around that time; I cared so deeply that I wouldn’t show up at all, in all the fear that I would mess everything up.
My face would always give my insides away; too earnest, too curious, prying too deeply into another’s expressions, staying on a topic for too long, overdoing it, taking in the slightest of social signals. I had faith that if I could stay around an ideal someone for a period of time, I could absorb whatever they were emitting, the little bit that they did, though it was never for me. I picked up the scraps of their energy, waste, and I tried to keep myself afloat with it.
After buying that outfit for the first day, I had a five dollar bill left in my velcro wallet (a spontaneous gift from my little sister from last year. She had begged my mother to buy it for me, because it had a brushed watercolour lemur on it, and she knew I adored lemurs. The gift both warmed and embarrassed me. The loud sound it made caused my chest to flush with warmth and the tips of my ears reddened, blood rushing in my eardrums. childish. baby. I couldn’t replace it, not just yet, because my sister was so proud that I carried it around with me.)
Those days, my sister would look up at me, her hazel eyes sparkling as she demanded I replicate my eyeliner on her- the seven year age gap proved to be annoying. I felt like a fool, and even more foolish that she’d look to me like I was good. So naive. I wanted to pinch her fleshy arm, tell her; “just wait until you’re thirteen.”
It was 9 when I left.
I passed by the living room, zipping up my hoodie.
“First day of high school!”, my father chirped from behind the TV set, adjusting a wire. He gave me a thumbs up. I gave one back.
Before I stepped out, I looked back at him again; his shiny head, the slight smile on his lips as he unplugged the red cord and tried the yellow – something about him made the blackness in my stomach an extra few pounds.
9:30 was the agreed upon time, and I was early. I didn’t have my phone with me, but I knew. I was always early, Mia was always late. I sat on the swing in the park, our old elementary school. I wondered what I looked like to someone looking out of their second story window; girl, alone, cool in her loneliness. Did I lean more towards an aesthetic girl off Tumblr, or a poster child for antidepressants?
The air was already growing chilly, the night entering at eight rather than ten – summer had already said adieu weeks ago, I just didn’t realize it until then.
“Shush”, I told my heart. “For once, be still.”
She appeared out of the forest in sweatpants and sweatshirt. Her hair up. Effortless. The gravel crunched as she crossed the field. I could make out a plastic bag in her hands.
I smiled at her, but she stayed neutral.
“Hey”, she said. “Here.” She handed me the bag, my clothes.
My heart wouldn’t quit.
There was a moment where I could see she wanted to leave, her eyes cast off towards the opening in the forest she’d came from.
“Sit”, I said, desperation seeping.
Her eyes looked a bit pained. She sighed, sitting next to me on the swing. Whoosh of her old flowery scent, same as when we were kids. So familiar, it was practically mine.
I tried to think of something to say, something to fill the space. I gazed at her hand in her lap – a stick and poke tattoo on her wrist that I hadn’t seen before – a crooked smiley face that looked ominous. She’d told me at the party that she liked the smiley’s that were stamped onto tablets of E – they made her happy. That made sense, I thought. I thought about what I’d poke into my skin, if only I knew what was appropriate.
Mia could be pretty, when she tried. It’s as if she realized she was pretty over the past few months, a key few people taking notice. She engaged with people differently, I observed, something closed off about her, an air of glibness. She went to the salon to get extensions – first when she told me on text, I thought she meant hair extensions. The way she rolled her eyes – “God, my lashes. Didn’t you even notice?”
The swings squeaked, slow, and I recounted our recent sour interactions.
She was now hung out with the new trans kid, snapping at me when I referred to “him”, instead of the correct pronoun, “them”.
A month or two before, I quoted an old Vine, and she didn’t laugh. There was something new everyday and I only heard a month later, consignment jokes for second-hand people. I was aware of my own lameness, a creeping wet clammy awareness, yet I kept trying. Somehow the nagging thing inside of me that still wanted to fit in, that’s what made me cringe the most.
She brought me out of my thoughts. “What are you looking at?”
I had zoned out, staring at her lap. I scrambled, not prepared for this at all.
“Um… you – you’re nails. They’re so long.” This was true. They were neon pink and looked like a weapon.
“They’re called stiletto nails.” She smiled at her hands. “Acrylics.”
The way she spoke just then, just a hint of warmth, triggered a memory; our Bloody Mary ritual. 8 year old us, nights with almost no sleep because we’d be in the bathroom with a wind up flashlight we took turns powering, switching when our arms grew sore. The light glowed as it gradually powered, illuminating Mia’s perpetually giggly goof face. She was a dork, like me. And my favourite person in the entire world.
My mom didn’t trust us with candles, and we would’ve burnt through a lot of them. Candles to my mother were not to be used to summon an ancient tortured girl ghost.
“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary!”, we whisper-shouted into the mirror at the strike of every hour. Mia wanted so badly to be friends with Mary; give her a powdery hot chocolate, use a wet cloth to wipe the blood off her face. We’d be the first people to ever be kind to her.
I then wondered if Mia saw the photo I posted. If she liked it. It wouldn’t be cool to ask, so I made myself swallow down the question, praying for the pit to dissolve. Sometimes, I had this thing where I had to say the wrong thoughts that came to my mind, a compulsion. Like if I didn’t speak, I would combust.
As I cerebrally wandered to different places, Mia got up.
“See you tomorrow”, she said, pushing the squeaking swing so it swayed sideways towards me.
I felt still. “See you”, I said.
I knew that “see you” wouldn’t be what it used to be; the most it would be was a blink of eye contact as we walked passed each other, the same home room, because I was Samuelson and she was Shetler.
I watched her figure blend in with the trees, vision fuzzy.
I started to swing, for real, high like used to. Two years ago, a classmate swung so high, jumping off at the top, and shattered his humerus. He was the class star for weeks, all our sloppy signatures he delicately cradled to his chest. That’s what was cool, then. Get hurt and be adored.
Was it better just a few short months ago? My memories were painted like a utopia.
I pumped my legs harder, as my brain bursted with playground fads; breath holding contests, black shoe black shoe, cooties. I watched my boots, up in the starry air, grazing the waxing crescent. How I longed to stay there in childhoods warm beam, only for gravity to pull me back.