Shift

The first thing I noticed was Her fingers—smooth, knuckled, with pale blue fingernails, the color spreading from beneath the surface to the translucent skin beyond, fragile, almost peeling away. The phalanges protruded, ghoulish and beautiful, the metacarpal-hinged paper-thin bruises. There were other things too—baggy shrouds, clothes that fell from Her, cascaded around Her as if everything had wasted away within. The shift was slow, almost imperceptible, but just visible enough to be terrifying in that “we’ll deal with this later” sort of terror. I told myself I had to act. To save Her, keep Her from hurting herself further, but there were a thousand reasons not to bring it up: we were too busy, I was too tired, I didn’t want to lose Her.

The shift had started almost a year ago, if I can approximate. We would eat lunch together every day, alone or in groups, but preferably alone. There were a thousand things to talk about. Her fingers were always smooth and thin, cradling the slim plastic handle of a white takeout utensil, the thick end of the bamboo chopsticks. We had a connection that no one else seemed to quite understand—people worried about us, addicted to one another, too dependent. They said it would be an inevitable undoing.

It began with Her coldness—sweatshirts and scarves, even on warm days. Her blue lips, chapping and chafed. Her knuckles, white and raw, rough. I could feel Her slipping away from me, but I denied that possibility. We both did, pretending there was no distance. Her quest for perfection, the incessant striving, the coolness. It made me angry—I couldn’t stand to be around Her and Her bloodless, motionless, impossible sense of duty. There were a thousand things for Her to thirst for, no longer any time for me.

But we strove to stay together, going through the motions. She played Her part well, acting as if She had not changed, as if the delicate sternum, appearing through the material of Her shirt, did not matter. And I hated Her for it. I hated Her perfection, Her thinness. Her commitment, Her stoicism, Her self-control. Her cowardice. There were a thousand things I could have said, could have thought, could have done. A thousand things to have saved Her. But instead, I hated Her.

I wish I could say there was some defining moment to the decline of our friendship—some explosion, some definitive ultimatum, an apocalyptic transition. But instead, there was just absence. And on my part, there was hatred, but no real closure. There was the awkwardness of continuing to speak to one another, in a near-whisper, as if someone had died. There was a euphemistic aspect to the way we communicated. We skirted the issues that really mattered. We laughed. We discussed the drudgery, the cold, the weather, the exhaustion, the paranoia, the insanity, with a scientific detachment, each involved in our own separate worlds. She wouldn’t admit, even when I prodded.

“Are you OK?” I’d ask, hoping She’d say no, beg for help, acknowledge the obvious.

But all She’d say was “Yes,” sinking back into silence as She ran Her fingers along the edge of the bare lunch table. Her hair fell down Her back in lifeless, attenuated tendrils.

I couldn’t understand Her reticence, Her unwillingness to talk, Her peach fuzz, Her clothing covered in hair, Her isolation. I distanced myself completely, angered by my own powerlessness.

It was summer. Unsure of how to proceed, we went to the beach, with the sand and the sun and the sticky, sweet smell of the ice cream and the warmed pebbles and the tall grasses behind whitewashed fences. She wore a white cover-up that dangled from Her shoulders, exposed clavicles, snappable twigs. She shivered in the sun, removed her cover-up. Her ribs, purple against the smoothness of Her skin, sighed gently as She breathed, concavities filled with air, the spine a ghostly apparition, wavering, the thin bathing suit draping from Her, the feet bleached, pale, cracked nail polish. And yet, despite Her hollowness, She still managed, surviving, a flickering, dim shadow.

There was no real epiphany in the true sense of the word, no catharsis, no deeper understanding than before. I realized that She was lilting away from me against Her will, pulled by Her own paranoia, Her own fears. Her eerie, glinting ulna, Her defined cheekbones, Her angular, bursting scapula impressed upon me the need for immediacy. But Her grim, quiet, delicate, groping, taut eyes reminded me, daily, that I didn’t have the strength, didn’t know where to begin, was lost before I ever set out.

Maxine McGredy
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School
Gold Key

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