by Jessica Wang, Age 14, USA
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
The fiction prompt for October was “skeleton.”
I always thought of our relationship as a human body.
I know, strange. It’s probably because Mom teaches Literature and Dad teaches Anatomy. It’s probably because I always think of friendships as breathing, living organisms that you have to handle with care, have to hold hands with when crossing the streets on blustery Sunday mornings.
You left in the summer, which sucked. Colossally. I drifted around town, hung out in the frozen yogourt place we frequented every Saturday after you dragged me on a morning run. Other times I watched YouTube clips of animated cats in the library, with the air-conditioning numbing my lower body.
I thought about how our friendship was losing weight—how after two weeks with my e-mail sitting unanswered in your inbox, my texts unread, our friendship’s skin began to shrivel. She wheezed and threw lackluster tantrums. At night I dreamed that our friendship was walking the tightrope, swaying, looking down, like she wasn’t supposed to, and—
—and then I woke up and re-watched the birthday video you put together for me.
Sorry, been really busy, you texted back one day. Talk to you later.
And we did. We did, and for a few weeks I thought that our friendship was recuperating, growing more robust with every e-mail that you returned, every call, always timed at eight o’clock on weekends—when you were just getting up, and I was finishing homework in the evenings.
Then exam week came around—Mom told me, loudly, that my English essay was not going to write itself. Your parents confiscated your phone. Our messages were brief and meaningless, and I found myself losing touch with your world. Sometimes I asked you how things were going with Danny, and you’d write, Too complicated to type. Call. Our friendship withered away until her complexion grew clearer and clearer, a translucent membrane like glass, not even the frosted kind—the empty sort that doesn’t lie. Beneath it, the skeleton was visible—composed of a life-changing sleepover in freshman year, all of sophomore year, and our birthday cards. As the months went by and the leaves recoloured themselves before dying altogether, the skeleton faded and lost fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, legs. Until I woke up on Valentine’s Day and realized I had no clue how you were going to spend it—whether Danny was still around or not.
The skeleton endured the summer months, just barely. You couldn’t visit because of some programming camp you’d voluntarily signed up for. I pored over the yearbook messages and wondered who you’d been writing to, and where she was, and what had happened to her. And whether I could get her back.
(Or whether it was you who had changed. Who had recoloured herself and moved on.)
On your birthday, I mailed you a letter (which we’d always planned to do but never done). For lack of anything recent, I drew on year-old memories. I quickly exhausted those and turned the pages back until the first day, in sixth grade, when we met as two black-and-white contour drawings, rough, imperfect, blindly naive. How through the years that followed you fleshed me out—first through the recital you signed me up for, then through the pep talks about how it was okay to be single and un-kissed on my fifteenth birthday. We laughed and you strummed your guitar and I sang, a tradition reserved for homecoming night slumber parties. We sang about romance and how we didn’t need it as long as we had each other.
If this sounds creepy—and it probably does, but I want to be honest—I sometimes hear your voice. Gentle encouragement, usually. Or a sharp retort in response to some insult—or an exasperated sigh. Ignore him, I can hear you hiss sometimes. Not worth it. Choir brings back memories of me watching Elf with you and I guffawed, actually guffawed, with snorts sprinkled in between, as the class collectively turned to gape at me.
The skeleton lives on. I store it in my closet and take it out sometimes—but I don’t see the flaws, the translucent skin or missing limbs. I see the bone structure, still intact, see the colour portraits that we grew into, just as we grew out of our old selves and stepped into high heels and took our first wobbling steps, before you pitched down my basement stairs and, thank God, into my brother. (Harry sends his love, by the way—he still wears the sweatshirt.) I see the memories, which are worn at the edges and smudged by charcoal fingertips, but well-developed.
In light of the New Year knocking impatiently on our front doors, I’ve decided to accept a few things: that we will always call, text, and e-mail—just not so often. That you have a boyfriend and I have a best friend and things are going to be okay, maybe even good. I’ve accepted the even though—that we were best friends, yeah, and that you watched me go from Before Aria to Aria, which is something that will never change or be forgotten—but that time passes, too, and lives change vectors.
I look out at Times Square, at the ball poised at the edge, at the crowds gathered around the foot of it, and I wonder if you’ve kissed Danny, if you’ve already celebrated a New Year. If things will ever be the same. I unlatch my window and feel the snowflakes alighting on my nose and I think about how much snow excited you, how you’d race around and give out free hugs on the days that white settled across the football fields.
I don’t dream about tightropes anymore. Instead I picture red string entwining our ankles, and even as we are moving apart, we are forever connected.
Jessica told jaBlog!, “I write because I can’t stop.”