You are leaving a party with your friends and you hear someone shout your name from behind. You see a boy who looks familiar. You used to know him from school but haven’t seen him for a year or two. His unruly hair is more of a mess than it was when you knew him. He waves shyly and his goofy face lights up when you talk to him. He says you should catch up some time. He says that he’s surprised to see you there, you say that he obviously doesn’t know you well enough. You take his number and say you’ll text him sometime.
But you forget about this boy because you are too busy looking for someone else.
A few months later your phone is buzzing from a name called “Tim” and you think to yourself, Who is this Tim? What kind of name is Tim anyway? So naturally you look him up on Facebook and you see his goofy smile and unruly hair, and you remember this Tim. You remember his shy wave and friendly conversation. You remember you said you’d text him sometime. So here he is—he’s been waiting for you.
You say you have movie tickets, and he says he can pick you up.
And this is when you realize you can’t do it. You can’t. You just can’t. You can’t. You can’t. You are going on a date? What is a date? How do you date?
You tell him no you do not want a ride because now the nerves in your stomach are too strong and you worry you will vomit in his car. You don’t want him drive you home and pull up outside your house and lean in for a kiss and you are caught off guard and unprepared because you’ve never had a real kiss before and you don’t quite know what to do with your lips. What if his lips are so dry that they break off into a million pieces when he kisses you. What if his breath smells like eggs or onions or salami and his front teeth are crooked or your nose is too big and you bump into him and ruin the moment. What if his hands are cold and clammy or if they are hairy or sweaty or too big or too small and you feel like you are holding hands with a child. What if he puts his arm around you in the theatre and you get strangled and die quietly in the back and no one else in the whole room notices. What if he smells bad and his smell gets on you and you can’t wash it off it never comes off and you must live with the decision to go to a movie with him for the rest of your life.
But he texts you that he will meet you at the theatre at nine and now it is too late to back out. You are driving to the theatre half hoping you will get in a terrible wreck so that you don’t have to go because what if it is incredibly awkward and he is wearing a ridiculous outfit or his feet smell bad.
When you arrive, he is leaning with one foot against the wall with a coolness reminiscent of an older movie where the boys have slicked back hair and wear leather jackets. You are both soaking wet from the rain and you say something dull and stupid about the weather but he smiles anyway.
So you sit in the back of the theatre and you put your feet up on the seat in front of you and he does the same. There are only four other people in the room so you feel pretty much alone and scared and nervous but also excited. You are watching a horror film which doesn’t turn out to be very scary and you whisper loudly in the back mocking the actors and the special effects. He smells like mahogany and his unruly hair falls over his face in the just the right way and his front teeth are straight and his lips are not dry and he tells jokes that make you laugh. His hands are just the right size for yours and you lean in a bit close to him so that your shoulders are touching and your faces are a few inches away. And suddenly you find yourself hoping that he will kiss you. But he doesn’t kiss you or put his arm around you or hold your hand or strangle you quietly in the back seat.
You walk to his beat-up red car and it’s still raining so you make another awkward comment about the weather and he’s still smiling. You say goodbye and see you next time and you hope there is a next time because you liked his face and his jokes and the smell of his jacket and the way he whispered so loud the four other people in the theatre could hear.
The girl wakes to find a man’s shadow hovering over her. She thinks she is still drunk because the edges around his silhouette are blurred. She does not know how long she has been asleep. She wonders where everyone has gone, why have they left her alone? The man climbs on top of her and, paralyzed with fear, her body goes limp is his arms. He is whispering something into her ear, but the girl does not hear what he is saying. She sees clothes on the floor and wonders if they are hers. She wants to scream but can’t make the words come out of her mouth. She wonders if she is experiencing part of a dream, but his tense grip on her wrists feels too real.
For the following year, the girl has nightmares about the shadow monster. She can’t clearly remember what happened that night, and perhaps the uncertainty is the most haunting part.
She sits anxiously on his bed while he brings out a sketchbook to show her a some of his drawings. His bedside lamp is positioned over the two of them. The walls are white and the bed black. The room is black but his face is white in the light. The room is hazy from smoke but the air thick with anticipation. Her fingers trace over the black lines on white paper. She breaks the silence between them, saying something about the weather even though it is night and the window is black so the weather is nothing more than black. The blinds are drawn and the black curtain is in front of the white window and he is in front of the window. He smiles and grabs her face and kisses her. Everything is still black and white. She closes her eyes and it is black but when she opens them everything is light.
Sophomore year of high school I decide to sew my own homecoming dress. I will not blend in with the crowd, like all those other girls in their boring, overdone, uncreative tutu dresses. No, people will part as I walk into the gymnasium. There will be a hush in the room and people will whisper to one another “Who is that?” and “She’s a goddess!” Boys will drool on their tuxes or spit out fruit punch on their dates’ dresses as they gawk at me. Jaws will drop like I am a star on the red carpet. People will ask me what designer I am wearing and I’ll reply with, “I made it myself” and a sexy wink.
I pick out the brightest pink fabric possible. It ends up being more expensive to make my own dress than it would have been to buy one just like all the other girls. But I tell myself, “you can’t put a price on beauty” and slide my card at the register.
It takes two months to sew the dress. Countless nights of flipping through Teen Vogue for inspiration, poking my fingers with sewing pins, and drinking cans of Diet Coke. But I finally finish and on the night of the Homecoming I put it on. Looking in the mirror I am radiating pride and sparkling bright pink. I practice a few homecoming queen waves, blow a few kisses to my reflection, and master the Taylor Swift surprised face (just in case I win).
Still waiting for someone to ask me to the dance however, I sit at home eating ice cream, watching Hilary Duff’s A Cinderella Story, and trying not to spill any chocolate on the pink fabric.
One morning she wakes up to find flowers on her porch with a love note from a secret admirer. For the next week she stakes out her front porch, keeping a detailed inventory of each car that drives by. On the fifth day a beat up red car slows to a stop on the curb outside her house. She sees two dark figures heading up her driveway. All of a sudden a dog starts barking and the two shadowy people run back to their car. The mystery men drive away, obviously spooked from the encounter. She rereads the note and scans for more clues. She creates a list of possible suspects, but determines she is not interested in any of them. She throws away the flowers to erase the evidence.
They drive to an unfamiliar city. They say they need a vacation from work. They say they need to “live a little.” They book a room on the top floor of an expensive downtown hotel. They pay for valet parking, room service, bath robes, and gourmet dinners. They dine on exotic foods like sushi, sorbet, and vegan pad Thai. They spend hours in a book store. Cozied up with a mug of artisan coffee and surrounded by aisles of novels, they sit in lounge chairs and read books. She glances at him over the pages of her book on feminism, his eyebrows furrow in focus as he reads a graphic novel. She smiles at the sight; he loves to read cartoons. She thinks it is because he likes to escape reality.
In the evening, she slides on heels and a skirt and spends a while putting on makeup. She twirls in the hotel room mirror. He tells her she looks amazing and she mocks his untied sneakers and wrinkled shirt, he rolls his eyes in response. They go hand and hand to the bar downstairs, hoping they can get in without having to show an ID. But the bouncer won’t let them in, so they spend the rest of the night exploring the city streets. They split a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate on a park bench. They talk about the best memories of their trip, reminiscing on bicycle rides, hipster home décor shops, and street art. There is a small pond nearby and they stand looking at the reflection of themselves in the still water. He hugs her hips so she won’t fall in. He tells her he loves her softly in her ear. There are murals on each building in the city. Brick walls are covered in an array of colors, each one inherently unique. They walk along the sidewalk, stopping at each mural to notice the details and comment on the artist’s technique. She reaches for a brick wall, feeling the modern paint on an old surface. She feels the layers of brush strokes and wishes she could one day create such a work of art. She admires the lack of limitation these murals have. The artists are not confined by the dimensions of a canvas or a fine-tipped brush. The artists have freedom that inspires.
She tries to pull her hand back from the brick, but it’s as if her fingers are magnetically drawn to it. It pulls her arm closer, yanking her to the wall. The magnetic feeling grows stronger, sucking in her shoulder and hair. She is pulled into the wall, half her body still on the sidewalk while what is left of her is in an unknown dimension. She can still see him standing there, reaching for her while her foot leaves the cement and enters the brick wall.
She now knows only two dimensions. She is the wall, her face composed of rustic brick and crumbling mortar. Pale blue brush strokes draw out her cheekbones and sorrowful stare. She cannot smile; her mouth has been frozen in a stoic grimace. She watches his vulnerable body beneath her; she hears him calling out. As much as she wants to cry, she cannot. There is nothing that can change her—the paint has dried. Her hair is painted whimsically behind her, like the wind is perpetually blowing it back, or perhaps she is in constant motion forward.
He stands on the sidewalk looking up at her. Can she hear him? Will she ever come out? He bangs his fists on the brick shouting for it to let him in. But nothing happens. He has been cursed by the innocent sweet taste of young love. It is like honey on his naïve tongue, he cannot get enough. He waits for days. He comes in the rain, bringing her an umbrella, he comes in the sun bringing her flowers. Eventually he realizes he cannot get her back, the sweet honey is gone from his tongue. His mouth grows bitter, like he is chewing gravel.