By Maya Sistruck
I throw my body back against my bed, the force causing the frame to wobble slightly. Don’t look. Don’t even think about it.
I’m thinking about it. I peer down an awkward angle to the phone on my belly, glowing blue against the fabric of my hoodie. Still blue, probably not even read yet. Don’t look.
Instead, I busy myself with the cracks in the ceiling, stretching out like veins from one faded wall to the next. There are leftover nails from the previous tenant, scars of the past I hadn’t cared enough to rip out. Who knows how many other confused, broke twenty-somethings lived here over the years? There was never a time I felt completely alone.
My stomach buzzes: my phone. Nope. Don’t do it. I should’ve hid the phone somewhere else after texting him. It buzzes again, just as I feared. I count the nails on the wall. If I get to ten, I’ll look. Fucking Jackson. Ending things with him would be so much more rewarding if it didn’t involve, like, any communication.
Six nails. Not even close.
Another sensation rattles my stomach—I’m hungry, I realize—and I sit up to see what food I have immediately in my field of vision. On top of my palm-wood bookshelf usually sat a plastic cylinder of roasted peanuts and loose packets of oolong tea, or weed, depending on the time of week. It was there now, underneath a cheap pink neon sign I ordered online and a moodboard of printed pictures stuck together with tape. The neon light reached my cluster of hanging ivy, a jungle canopy curling across a blushing room. Just seeing the peanuts makes me sigh despite myself. I need real food.
I stand up, the phone slides off my stomach, and I move to the standing mirror on the left of my desk. Next to the mirror is a clothing rack and a orange sticky-note with a checklist I had written on ‘How to Be a Bad Bitch,’ once inspiring but now bitter. If only I truly knew. Gazing at my reflection, I slowly slide my fingers down the length of my passion twists—thick, dark, eighteen inches, the very ones Jackson had told me not to get. Leave that to the other girls, he had chuckled as I swiped through options on Pinterest, us tangled in my creamy duvet. What other girls? I dared him to answer. Like the other Black girls. Like something other than the fucked fantasies he raked out of me. He didn’t elaborate and I got the twists.
I had learned to love my hair in its many forms—curly after a shower, stiff in an October morning, now buttered in fruits and cocoa and falling down my back. I had to learned to love my full lips—Jackson seemed to enjoy them too, how they tasted, never so much what came out of them. I had learned to love my brown skin as my own—not in the ways my classmates at Yale had determined, not in the way Jackson had complimented on our first date—a preference. I had learned to love a lot of things, and it often threatened my peers. The university would only allow a certain amount of self discovery for people like me, the rest was molded by the white men who accepted my application, the white girls who side-eyed my nails on a keyboard in lecture, Jackson on a Saturday night. One of those goes tonight.
Somewhere beyond my walls, I hear a door shut and keys jangle. Ego’s keys always make a fun, sparkly sound, like Tinker Bell. She liked to make sure people knew she was coming. The keys dance from the living room of our duplex to the hallway just outside my door before she pokes her head in: “Yo yo.”
I tiredly rest my hands on my hips, greeting her with a smile.
“You know I’m not.”
Ego lets herself in, a new crocodile purse on her right arm, and immediately crashes on my bed, letting out a sigh. She looks pretty, as always, but with more purpose to it. She’s wearing a short brown leather dress under a massive denim jacket, melding into her rich skin, and tight curls overtake her face as they press against a pillow. Before I really met Ego Kazembe, I envied her. She had a confidence and power I wished I had, yet was surprisingly introspective and quiet. We’re perfect housemates and friends in that fashion.
“Did you go on a date or something?” I almost hate to ask. My own love-life both refutes it and relishes in it.
“Yeah…” She stares up at the cracked ceiling, wistful. “It was nice. Not sure if we’ll be on for another, though.”
I watch her reflection in the mirror, the room humming with pink light. “Oh. Was it that girl from Med?”
“Angelinaaaaa,” Ego sings, “super sweet, honestly. We had a good laugh about the food being shit, but now I’m starving. Anyway. We’ll see.”
I see the notifications still coming through on my phone just as she does, and she snatches it before I am able to. “Ego, wait a second, I’m serious—” But Ego knows my password and is hungrily searching for answers with a raised brow. Her own nails, taupe with flecks of gold, clack as they hit the screen.
“You lied to me, Georgia!” She exclaims with mock surprise. “I knew y’all hadn’t broken up yet!”
“Well, we haven’t technically been together for two weeks.” I say.
She shook her head. “Still fuckin’, still together.”
It was true and it wasn’t. It had run its course, regardless. Every time I left the duplex for his house after 1am, I hated myself a little more. It was as if I was a double agent in my own relationship, but neither the sneaking nor the relationship was entertaining.
Ego stops reading the texts and looks at me, the playfulness falling stale. I pretend not to notice, but it becomes awkward as I simply stand at the mirror, unable to reply. “Are you okay?” she asks softly.
I shrug. “I had to do it eventually. At least before midterms.”
“I agree, but…are you really okay?”
Six months down the drain—my entire summer. When we weren’t passionately arguing, we were passionate in plenty of other ways. We’re what people would call a dysfunctional relationship, though it was my friends who saw more of the dysfunction than Jackson’s. Six months of going nowhere on a road I had imagined. Of course I wasn’t okay.
“This sucks,” I laugh, though it feels dead, “this sucks!”
“Poor baby.” Ego is serious, throwing my phone down. “I won’t say I told you so. I won’t. We live and we learn. But he’s a dumbass, you know that? You don’t deserve any of this.”
I cross my arms over my XL hoodie, feeling small in it. Disagreeing with her won’t work, though I do. “I know. But it’s still hard. You see how he gets. Even over text, it’s this endless—”
“And you know what? Let him rant! Let him reveal himself!” Ego leaps up, gently but solidly holding my face in her hands. She’s nearly a head taller than me, so I can’t avoid her. “I’m dead serious, Georgia. You did what you had to do, so let him chase you.”
I groan, sinking into her hands. The buzzing has stopped, the notifications frozen. My empty stomach flips just thinking of his replies, but soars at the prospect of leaving them unread. A simple, petty gesture, but powerful. It reminds me of a John Green quote, the one the white Yale girls still obsess over, about having the power to kill or whatever. I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter.
Ego inspects me, pursing her maroon lips. I can see the wheels turning behind her gaze and she briefly checks the bookshelf behind me. “Is that weed?”
“No, it’s tea,” I reply, “I ran out.”
“That’s fine! Sober’s fun too!” Ego lets me go, grabs her purse and discarded heels from my bed, and walks to the door. “We’re not gonna worry about Jackson, okay? We’re gonna order food, watch a movie—burn those shirts you burrowed, if you’re feelin’ it. You’re not gonna be moping around on a Friday night—” The rest is lost as she disappears into the hallway again, keys jangling to her bedroom. My phone lays idle in the mountain of a peach throw blanket. Nope. Don’t look. You’re better than this.
When Ego comes back in more comfortable clothing, she’s holding a bottle of wine and some menus. I didn’t know people these days even owned menus anymore. She scatters them on the carpet and proceeds to jab the remote with her index finger uselessly. My TV, small and flat beside the clothing rack, turns on after the third try. I kneel and read through the menus: pizza, ramen, a local Mexican joint I’ve heard good things about. New Haven doesn’t have much to do, but there’s a ton of bangin’ food. I lift up the ramen one, but Ego doesn’t see me, hunched in front of my CD-player. It’s not even a real CD-player, it’s one of those portable ones from 2007, a silver laptop-looking thing hooked up to the TV. How iconic of me. Ego has since stopped making fun of me for it, but I sense her frustration now, pressing random buttons.
I laugh slightly, tossing some twists back over my shoulder. “Don’t do all that. The middle one—eject, see? Opens the—you got it. Good job.”
Ego flips me off. “What food you want?”
“Ramen. You like ramen, don’t you?”
“The real kind, sure. You know me, you pick.”
I decide to call the restaurant, blindly grabbing my phone and lying on the bed again. I catch a glimpse of Jackson’s name before I start dialing—my heart stopping then starting again. Girl, you got this. You can stuff your face soon and forget about it. While I’m ordering, Ego seemingly doesn’t want to make a movie selection yet and settles beside me on the bed. The bed is wedged longways in a corner and we are facing the TV, our bare feet dangling off the edge. The TV remains on HDMI 1, a blank and maddeningly blue screen illuminating the whole room and bleeding into the pink neon. Staring into the blue made me nostalgic—something fuzzy and familiar grew under my skin: the crash from an ethereal high after spending ninety minutes in another world, the darkness suddenly caving in to crowd the blue. When I was younger, I would wait until just after the credits, just when my eyes had begun to tire from the eternal scroll of words, and sit in it. I imagined I was at the bottom of the ocean, the pressure more secure than it was suffocating. Alive, buzzing, grains of incomprehensible color the longer I stared. Freedom and limbo. I suppose that’s where I am now: a six-month-long movie with ups and downs, an inevitable ending, the credits being Jackson’s excuses (accolades), and finally I am sitting in the expansive blue, waiting to start again. The panicked euphoria turns to resolution and I am no longer trying to make sense of why it strikes me, or comforts me. It just does. I don’t need another movie. This is enough.
“I couldn’t choose a movie,” Ego murmurs when I get off the call, “You have, like, two binders full.”
“I like this,” I say simply, “Just to chill in before the food comes.”
Ego isn’t sure if I’m joking, but she smirks. “Really?”
“Yeah.” I smile back, tucking my phone into the pocket of my hoodie. It’s only temporary.
Maya Sistruck is a singer, actress, and writer studying BFA Musical Theatre and Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. When she isn’t doing that, she likes to sip bubble tea, tend to plants, and listen to K-Pop.