by Anthony Imm
12th grade, Northern Valley Regional High School
Teacher: Martin Springer
Third-place prize: $100
We were sinners, born from wrong. Yet we met on the first day of high school, both of us struggling to navigate the hallways, then bumping into one another on our way to English. We were opposites, boy and girl, but we knew, right then and there, that we were connected. We started a conversation, and we started to be friends. We told each other folklore and mythology under the shortleaf pine tree outside of the auditorium. We told each other fables about Patroclus and Achilles, about girlhood and womanhood, boys and nature, girls and space. We wrote each other little secrets on stationery paper exclusively sold in Japan; that’s how we found out we were the same, opposite sides of the same coin. How we were lovers of symmetry, our bodies attracted to ones who looked like ours respectively. How we promised one another to be lovers to protect us from the rest of the world. We were boyfriends. We were girlfriends. We were friends. We were real. We were fake. We were two opposites yet magnetically attracted. We were boy. We were girl. We told each other truths. We told each other lies. We prank-called our chemistry teacher and that boy, Ranny, who lived down 29th Street. We stood tall in a battlefield of hunters, scything malice with tongue, telling everyone we were a couple. We leaped over mountains and sang until the sun frazzled into the ocean and our chins buzzed from drinking too many cans of lemon soda. We watched adventure films starring hot women and men. We read science fiction novels where the protagonist had to colonize a planet made entirely of rubber. We watched peach-colored sunsets fade into a black screen until starlight webbed our eyes into constellations. We wrote poetry, so much poetry, about dogs and tumbleweed and love. We hid in a gender-neutral bathroom and gave each other piercings with a flame-manicured needle. We cleaned ourselves as blood dabbled down our neck, the heat of blood and bathroom light pulsing in our ears. We tracked down footprints to abandoned buildings to discover a new cryptid. We were us but never them. We kissed to avoid detection. We trusted each other to keep our secret a secret until we were both in college. Until we were both adults in a new space, in a new time, until this universe accepted us for the colors of our hearts. We trusted each other and so we broke up. We trusted each other so we became “she” and “I.” Me and my ex.
After graduation, she and I promised to not talk to each other until both of us were secure in our lives. Until one of us was married. Until one of us could walk down a street, holding hands with someone like us. Until our language could be reclaimed and both of us could smile without worrying about someone spraying poison in our way.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on her until we stopped hanging out every day. She was my world even if I’d never love her as more than friends. She was my safety net. I was her support. She made sure that my ocean stayed constant, that I wasn’t pushed by any wave. I’m now confident enough to stride forward because of her, and I hope she is too. No, I know she is.
Right now, I ruminate in her memory.
There was one time she and I met for the last time. Before she got a new name. Before she changed her phone number. Before she was rebirthed into a new girl and found a girlfriend whose initials started with A.
It was a full moon. A week before college. A sickle moon stamped the night sky and shone over the beach. Sea glass reflected the light like a mirrorball, and seawater pruned our toes as foam melted on the shore. She played around with a deflated beach ball while I ate an orange creamsicle, the sugar sweet and silky on my tongue.
“Where do you think we’ll be in ten years?” I asked. A nothing question, really. No one can predict the future. No one can pilot their own destiny unless they have the map.
“I’ll be married,” she said. She wore a white T-shirt and blue shorts.
“How are you so sure?”
“Because. Because, by that point, I won’t give a fuck if liking girls is still wrong. I’ll do whatever I want to do.” The wind gently blew her hair. An ambulance wailed in the distance. The air smelled like salt.
I admired her confidence. I only realize now that she only pretended to date me so I could be protected. Not her. She never needed it.
“What about you?” she asked.
I thought for a moment. I retraced our past, then outlined our future in my mind. I didn’t really know the answer, but I still said, “I think I’ll be writing a poem.”
“Oh, really? About what?”
“Probably about you.”
The beach was empty. She and I were the only visitors that night. Maybe a couple of ghosts were around us, listening to our final conversation. Maybe they also had friends with colored hearts.
“Me? No, write about something better.” Then she splashed some water onto me, forming ripples in the sea that would dissipate in a few rings.
I didn’t react, however, because I was too busy trying not to cry. Everything in that moment felt slow. Half-sped. I tried to capture every string of words, every picture, every angle of her with my blinks.
“Who’d I write about then?”
She paused for a moment, then replied, “Write about us. Who we are. Who we were.”
“Why?” I asked.
“So when we meet again, we can laugh at how dumb we were.”
Then she laughed. And for some reason, I laughed with her too.
Wendy Supron, Chair
Caroline Kincaid Godfrey
Pat Kennedy Grant
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Wendy Supron, Chair