“Hey, Katharine. Would you rather get married in a church or…” Emily pauses to sip her coffee and get her thoughts together. She spills some on her chin and giggles while using the back of her hand to wipe it off. “Or a beach. Would you rather get married in a church or on a beach?”
I don’t answer right away. Disguise my hesitation by taking too big of a gulp of scalding coffee and needing to swallow it.
A church? Well, sure. Raised Catholic, I’d love that. The same church my parents were married in would be ideal.
But I can’t. Because I want to marry her, and those ideals never meshed well with the Catholic organization. Not that it’s legal anyways.
And I can’t tell her who I want to marry. I’m not ‘out’—is there even an ‘out’ to be? I’m pretty sure I’m just the cliché girl who keeps falling in love with her girl best friends. There’s no reason to talk to anyone about it or say it out loud.
So I shrug and compose myself to the best of my ability. Which isn’t a ton because I’m always a mess around her. “You say that like marriage is a possibility.”
She smacks my shoulder, her skin still sticky from the sugar-loaded coffee. I don’t mind the stickiness because it reminds me that she only drinks the coffee I make her. Though it hardly counts as coffee. It’s mostly creamer and spoonsful of sugarcane.
“It is. You’re a total fox.”
“A lion, actually. Haven’t you seen my hair?”
Emily smiles. “You’re a drama queen, is what you are. But I love you anyways.” She loops her arm around mine and buries her face into my shoulder. I’m grateful that my hands are full of her books and my cup of coffee, because normally she’d use a moment like this to interlace our fingers, and my palms are always sweaty. Plus, I know she can feel my blood pumping through the pads of my fingertips and by my thumb.
She’s the beginning of the drop in the world’s most dangerous rollercoaster, and I have a front-row view. I can see where I’m headed—the fact that there are no seatbelts, there’s no handlebar, and no rails in sight—but the adrenaline holds me in place.
Because she makes me feel alive in a way that I’ve repressed for years. She’s an open fire, and I’ve made myself dormant for fear of upsetting those around me. For letting people down.
But suppression isn’t the answer for people like me. My doctor says that when people like me—people with Borderline—stifle things, it just makes the inevitable explosion worse.
“You should really let me straighten your hair sometime,” she says. “Or just play with your hair in general.” She twists one of my curls and lets go; it springs away from her fingertips. “It’s so much softer than it looks.”
“Right.” My vocabulary substantially shrinks every time she is in my close proximity, but it disintegrates into only two or three words when she’s touching me.
She releases me so she can skip a few steps in front, with all the fluid moves of a girl who took ballet for fifteen years, and the Emily induced fog that hazed my mind is lifted.
It’s early in the morning for her—about nine—so her movements are sloppier than they would be around lunchtime. They’ll get better after she warms up at the dance class we’re heading off to—the legit dance class that I’m taking for college credits just because she pouted at me. I move as well as a newborn gazelle, and no one in the class has a problem with laughing at me. They think I’m laughing, too, because of how much I smile. But they don’t know that the smile is to cover the fact that I want to run out of the gym crying, and they don’t know that I spend hours every night practicing so that I won’t be laughed at in the next class. My practice never pays off.
She’s a thousand times more graceful than I could ever be, and it doesn’t matter that I get up four hours earlier to run solo half marathons. I would never be as beautiful as her.
She rubs the bottom hems of one of my shirts between two crimson-polished nails. After our late writing class last night, she didn’t feel like going home and crashed at my apartment. It isn’t weird anymore. It’s become our normal Wednesday night to Thursday morning ritual. I always let her sleep in my bed and I sleep on the couch, because one time when I slept over at her apartment, I made the mistake of sleeping in her bed with her, and I stayed up the whole night just because I was afraid our bodies would touch in the middle of the night and she’d wake up and realize I’m in love with her.
On our walk to campus, we see the same black cat. Or, at least I think it’s the same black cat. He (or she) is always in the same spot: on top of a bench in a straight line, with its front and back legs dangling off either side.
It’s the first time I say what I think whenever we walk by it. “I want to just go up and steal that cat one day.”
Emily laughs. “Please, don’t.”
It’s the way she says it that causes the faltering in my stride. “What?”
“You just sounded weird saying that,” I say. And it’s unusual for me not to let the subject drop because we’ve disagreed. It’s the norm for me to roll over and stop any time she could toe the line of becoming imperfect in my eyes. She’s on a pedestal, and I do everything in my power to keep her there.
Does that make me a psychopath? Or just Borderline?
Emily pauses. She uses the same tactic that I did earlier to buy time: sipping coffee. But then, she abruptly tosses it into the trashcan right beside where the cat is sleeping. It doesn’t stir, and for a moment I think she’s going to reach out and pet the cat, but she doesn’t.
“No offense,” she says, and as she speaks she breaks eye contact so she can study the ends of her hair, “but you can’t adopt a cat. Or any animal. You can’t even take care of yourself.” She glances up at me, as if peeking to see how I took her words. I love the way that her bangs cover part of her eyes.
If anyone else had said it to me, I would’ve taken offense. I would have flown off the handle. Thrown my coffee, thrown her books, possibly thrown her. What made Emily so different for me? I guess it didn’t matter.
“That’s why I have you to take care of me.” I smile. It cracks the corners of my lips and stretches my skin over my cheekbones. Does the skin bunch up and pouch out there like I imagine?
Emily’s shoulders relax. “Speaking of taking care of you, lovely.” She places her purse on the bench—the cat still doesn’t stir from where it lay on the other side—and rifles through it. “Have you eaten today?”
“Yes.” It’s automatic.
“Liar.” She shoves a pack of Pop-Tarts at me. Two in each of those aluminum sleeves. “You don’t even have to eat both. One. I’ll have the other.”
“I’m fine, Emily. I ate.” I jiggle the coffee cup. “And I’m drinking coffee. I’m good. But thank you.” It’s added as an afterthought because I know she must have thought way in advance for bringing the Pop-Tarts.
“How far did you run this morning?” Her hands are on her hips. “That’s what I thought,” she says when I don’t answer. “Just eat one. Please. They’re the Brown Sugar Cinnamon kind. Aren’t they your favorite? I know you like S’mores, too, so it was a toss-up.”
It makes me nauseous, what she’s doing. How much she cares. But she doesn’t understand. I can’t eat them. I balance her books in my arms so that I have a free finger to pick at my cuticles: a nervous habit that has only gotten worse with age. And I never smoke in front of her because she hates the smell of cigarettes, so my cuticles are destroyed.
I can’t eat the Pop-Tart. But I also can’t let her down.
She notices me picking and clears her throat a little. “Please. Do it for me?”
It’s just over 200 calories. I can do that. It’ll be my meal of the day. I won’t have the celery and fat-free Ranch later. I can make that sacrifice to see her smile. She bought these for me. She was thinking about me.
So I step toward her and take one of the Pop-Tarts. “Anything for you,” I say.
I don’t enjoy the taste as much as I enjoy seeing her smile. The Pop-Tart is sugary and tastes like people making fun of me for being too fat, like guys telling me they don’t want to date me because I’m ugly, and girls excluding me from friend groups because I’m not pretty enough. It tastes like panic because in sixty minutes I’ll still be in a gymnasium dancing and I won’t be able to throw this up in the meantime, and everyone knows that there’s no point in purging after an hour because your body has already absorbed the calories.
I eat slowly, chewing each piece over twenty-six times before swallowing and taking another bite. Every piece I break off and pop into my mouth is smaller than the last because if this is going to be my only meal of the day, I need to make the most out of each calorie. Some might call it savoring, but that’s the last thing I would consider doing.
“So is that guy still bothering you?” Emily isn’t looking at me when she asks. She’s staring off at the new apartment complex they’re in the process of building on Fifth Avenue. I think it’s going to be some ridiculously priced complex for graduate students only, but I’m not sure. The metal barring on the roof is mismatched neon between each section, varying from orange to lime green to yellow.
“What guy?” I ask, because when she’s talking to me, there isn’t anyone else that could possibly take up any of my mental space. A gnat flies around the Pop-Tart in my hand and I can’t help but think that it would enjoy it so much more than I am.
“The one who’s like four years older than us. Harry?” She stops in front of me and places her coffee on a bench by the sidewalk. She pops her hip out and pulls her hair up into a messy bun on the top of her head. I wait for her to guess again because I’m pretty sure the only Harry I know is Potter, and he’s never been the harassing type. “No wait. Howie.”
“That’s the one.”
I’m not sure how to answer at first because there’s a flicker of hope in me. Her guesses on his name were so incredibly off that it had to have been done on purpose. It makes my mind wander, and I have to believe that she likes me as much as I like her.
And Charlie has never bothered me. He’s sweet. He always texts me in the morning and at night, and asks about my family. I’ve never talked to a guy who cared that much.
She takes one of her books from me and turns it over in her hands. “If you guys do get together, are you…?”
“It doesn’t take a genius. Fill in the blank with literally anything, Katharine,” she snaps. And it’s moments like these where her mood suddenly sours for no reason that I wonder if my intuition is that incredibly off. Anytime there’s a mention of someone else giving me attention, she goes into full protection mode and tries to convince me that they’re awful and she’s amazing. Which she doesn’t really need to do because I’m already in that mindset every moment I’m awake—and probably while I’m asleep—but it’s still interesting.
It’s all I can say to repeat, “What?”
I think I hear Emily say, “God, sometimes you’re so clueless.” But I can’t be sure because she isn’t facing me, and I can’t see whether her lips are moving. I often think people are saying things about and to me that they aren’t actually—my doctor says it’s part of my personality disorder, and the paranoia will get better as the medication flows stronger through my bloodstream.
She says everything will get better once my medication kicks in. I’ll have less meltdowns. The urge to harm myself will go away. I’ll slowly stop cutting, and I’ll stop purging.
It all sounds like I’ll be a completely different person. Who am I without these things? Who am I without depression? Who am I without paper towels stifling open wounds and three fingers down my throat?
“He’s totally only talking to you, so he can get in your pants,” Emily says as we cross the street to get onto campus. She’s speed-walking so fast that sometimes I have to jog after her to keep up with her stride. “Come on, Katharine.” She whirls on me, and in her movement, knocks my coffee onto the ground. It spills all over the concrete and my running shoes. “You think the best of people all the time, and it’s going to get you hurt.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is true.” She picks up my coffee cup and winces in an unspoken apology. “You’re way too nice and naïve, and you expect other people to be, too. But we’re not. We want what’s best for us, and we could give a damn about you.”
“Don’t lump yourself in there,” I say. “And Charlie is nice. He’s a few years older and he’s had a bit of trouble in life, but everyone has.”
“Trouble in life? You don’t need someone who has trouble in their life. You have enough for the both of you.”
My face turns redder than her nails. “That’s—hey. Not cool. And again not true. I’m—I can handle dating him if I wanted to.” Which I don’t, but she doesn’t have to be mean about him. I already get that she doesn’t like him. I don’t need to hear why.
“Fine.” She turns and starts the trek to the gym again as I weave through people to keep up. Everyone parts for her to walk through, but the gaps close when I try to follow. “Date him. Let him take advantage of you. Be Psycho and Psycho-er. See if I care.”
“Hold on!” I’m trying to follow her and her thought patterns, but they’re as sporadic as mine tend to be. Someone’s shoulder bludgeons mine, and I barely manage to not drop all my things. That’s what we get for walking through the busiest part of campus at the busiest part of the day.
Thankfully, Emily stops, and when she turns to face me, it isn’t as violent as it has been. “What?”
I hate the way she spits that at me.
“Why are you so mad all of the sudden?” I sound like a pathetic high schooler. Are you mad at me? But that’s what she reduces me to. Pathetic.
“We’re going to be late, and clearly you don’t care what I think.”
“Of course I care, but I don’t think it matters.” I cringe—I’ve never had a way with words. I say things that offend people and then I hate myself afterwards because it’s not what I meant. It’s neverwhat I meant. “I don’t think it matters because I don’t want to date him.”
Her face has hardened, and she sucks her lips in; it looks like she’s doing everything she can not to slap me or hit me upside the head with the book she’s holding. “You don’t want to date him.”
“No,” I say. Everything is happening too fast for me. I haven’t a second to slow down—my heartrate is rising with every breath, and my fingernails are picking my thumb’s nailbed. And I can’t help it when it’s the adrenaline that makes me blurt out, “I want to date you. Unless, I mean, are we dating? Already?”
Everything stops at once. The protestors in Turlington Plaza stop, the student tour by The Potato stop, the frat bros who keep knocking into me stop, the man throwing Bibles at people stops, the health club handing out free condoms stops.
Her lips unfurl, and she drops her book. Someone picks it up and hands it to her; it reminds me that we’re not the only two people on campus. That things are happening around us. People studying for exams, rushing to get to class, getting together and breaking up, making and cancelling lunch plans.
Life is going on, and we’re at a standstill.
Her reaction makes me immediately want to take my words back. She’s not on the same page as me. Clearly. I want to eat my words and all the calories that come with them. All the couple-y things we’ve ever done don’t constitute a relationship. Are we dating? What kind of idiot asks that question? Clearly we aren’t.
Her mouth has formed a perfect ‘O’ shape, and her eyes have widened. The angled bangs aren’t covering her eyes at all, and I see everything behind them. The panic. The confusion.
Breathing is getting harder. My lungs aren’t intaking oxygen completely. They’re halting halfway, and each breath comes and goes in short spurts. It feels like the asthma attacks I used to have when I was in grade school. Or maybe like the panic attacks I started to get in high school.
“Oh my God.” She drops her book again. I can see the thoughts zipping through her mind. She’s replaying every conversation we’ve ever had.
For some reason, I still think that there’s a possibility everything might be okay. Or maybe she hasn’t heard me. Maybe it’s all a dream and my alarm will go off in a minute to remind me that I have to go run fourteen miles.
“We’re not dating.”
“Okay.” It stings, but what else is there to say?
She pulls her hair out of its messy bun and runs her fingers through it at an alarming pace that makes me worry she’ll rip it all out. She yanks it back into a ponytail.
“You think we’re dating?”
“We do couple-ish things,” I say, and I hate how much of a reprimanded child I feel like right now.
“That doesn’t mean—that doesn’t make me—I’m not—”
Prior to this moment, seeing Emily flustered would be like seeing me graceful. And even then, I thought I’d be graceful before she ever became flustered.
“I can’t believe you think—”
“I don’t.” I have to cut her off because I think it’d be too painful to hear her say out loud how much of an idiot she thinks I am.
“Katharine.” She covers her face, her book falling to her feet again. Her red fingernails stand out from the tanned skin that she lightens with coverup. “I can’t believe you’re—” Her hands drop to her sides.
“It’s okay. We don’t have—I’m sorry I brought it up. We can just forget it.”
“Forget it?” The light, disbelieving voice has faded away into a shriller tone that catches the people’s attention from the crowd around us. “Katharine, you’re a dyke, and you never said anything.”
From the corner of my eye, I see the man who throws Bibles and preaches about Hell cross himself. Several sorority girls stop to gawk. Two girls I went to high school with stop, and one says to the other, “I knew it.”
I want to die.
I try to swallow but her words have carved a hole in my throat. My mouth is dry, and my heart feels like something is constricting it. It doesn’t feel like blood is being pumped to my fingertips and toes, and those digits are tingling and losing feeling. Is everyone laughing at me? I think I hear people laughing.
I can’t breathe.
“I’m a… no, I’m not.” The feeble words are directed to the people whose stares I can’t escape. I can’t even look at Emily.
“You said you wanted to date me. You thought we weredating.” Why is she shouting this for all of Turlington to hear?
“That doesn’t make me a—a—” I can’t even say the word, but I don’t have to.
“Dyke.” Emily pushes her bangs from her forehead. “God. This whole time.” She’s still mentally calculating everything. “We shared a bed.”
“I’m not a…I’m not that.” Why was the word so hard for me to say?
The crowd thickens around us and makes it harder to breathe. The humid air suffocates me, and I would kill for a cigarette or a shot of flavored vodka. Something to take the edge off.
And then I’m thinking about how nice it would be to find a sharp edge and press it into my torso. A place no one can see because no one can know how much I’m falling apart. I can’t afford for anyone to see how many cuts and scars pepper my upper thighs and stomach.
For people to see how unperfect I am, and how much I struggle on a day-to-day basis.
“I can’t believe you never told me. And that you would think that I would ever be interested in you like that. We’re girls. I like boys. I thought you did, too.”
“I do like boys.” Do I? Right now I just want to get away. I need to escape. I need to find a sad song and play it on repeat while I whittle away at myself.
Maybe the bottle of Tylenol will work this time.
“Well, I’m not a boy, Katharine, so clearly you don’t.”
I want her to stop saying my name. I don’t want to be Katharine right now.
“I’m not gay.” Gay is a lot safer of a word, and I can say it out loud with only a little bit of a splutter. I do my best to ignore the commentary from the people behind me.
“Do you like me? Or are you in love with me or whatever?” She doesn’t wait for my answer. “Then you’re a dyke.”
And I wish she’d stop saying that word.
Emily wipes her forehead. “You are,” she hesitates, picking up her book. “Disgusting.”
The comedic voice in the back of my head that has kept me alive for the last nineteen years laughs at me while repeating: This is the worst proposal in the world. Can it ever get worse than this?
Will I ever survive this?
Emily is in the middle of saying something, but my ears are ringing, and I can’t quite make everything out. I keep thinking about the razor in my hand and silencing that comedic voice forever. Cutting it from its vocal cord and watching the blood trickle out onto my fuzzy blue bathmat.
“You really are psychotic,” she says, and it’s those words that bring me back because I have no idea where she’s gotten them from. “You could go kill yourself, and I doubt anyone would notice.” Or maybe it’s because she’s up in my space for this, and it’s back to being just us two on campus. No one else whispering around me or staring.
I have no words. There’s no way to stand up for myself, and even though I feel the pain from everything she’s saying, I also feel numb in areas, just not the right ones. The numbing doesn’t cover the pain, and the pain gives way to anger. Anger from embarrassment and the mortification of rejection.
The realization that my best friend just not only rejected me, but outed me to the whole University of Florida campus. Or, at least the people in this section of campus.
Maybe there is an ‘out’ for me to be.
“Wow. Most people would take a compliment, but you have to make everything dramatic, don’t you?” And it’s not me speaking, but it’s coming out of my mouth. It’s in my voice. But it’s not me, I promise. It’s this person who lives inside my mind and is more chaotic than that stupid comedic voice. Whomever it is, she’s made my life a living hell. She takes over whenever I feel an overwhelming sense of anger. She’s the one who controls the razors that slice into me. She’s the one staring back at me in the mirror who says I need to lose one more pound before I’ll be pretty.
She’s the one who won’t be happy until I kill myself.
It comes full circle, since that side of me had always been suppressed around Emily. Now, I think Emily will be the final one to see her.
“Oh really? Mature,” Emily says. “You know—you know what? You can go fuck yourself because I’m the best friend you’ve ever had.”
“Grow up, Emily. I have other friends.” It’s still that nameless entity that sabotages every attempt of happiness—or complacency, rather—that I go after.
“Don’t sit next to me at dance class.”
And it’s such a stupid and unnecessary thing for Emily to say because I don’t plan on sitting next to her at class. I don’t plan on doing anything again.
The Suicide Hotline doesn’t pick up on my first call, but Charlie does.