United States

Life On A Number Line

February 29, 2016



1-The number of photos I have of you. It’s pushed away into the back of a drawer in my room, faded and torn around the edges. The grainy image doesn’t do you justice; it outlines the general shape of a smile, a pair of eyes; it doesn’t capture the severe jut of your cheekbones, the hollows pocketed on your cheeks and below your chin where shadows made their home, or the bony shoulder blades. But that’s how I want to remember you; vague and blurry, as if you were nothing but fragment of a distant dream.
2-The date we met each other, through uncomfortable smiles and nervous suggestions, the premature chill of September weather seeping into our words. You were all sharp angles and awkward gestures, tucked haphazardly into a desk in the back of the chemistry classroom. We were paired for a project- you murmured a name as a way of introduction, but we worked in silence, drawing out long charts for acidity levels of test tube solutions. You didn’t speak, until to ask me, holding up a candy bar, “Hey, how many calories is this?”
That day, a disease had set inside you, one more acidic than any chemistry lab mixture, burning through hopes and replacing them with splintering, gnarled yearnings for an image you’d never be satisfied with. And I could only watch you, and wait.
3-The maximum time, in years, that you’ve lived in one place. While I sat cross-legged on the stark white bed in your room, you captured me with stories of green rolling hills in southern France, of horses racing on darkened plains past a rising sun in Mongolia, of the panoramic view of downtown Tokyo from atop a skyscraper. I buried myself in your sophistication and drunk in your rich descriptions with a sinful envy. “Must be nice, living your life without uprooting yourself,” you had sighed; your lips twitched at me with a sympathetic condescension, leaving a jealous burning in my heart. You loved how I venerated you, how I pored over your travel journals in fascination, how I guarded them as if they were my own. I noticed how you recorded everything with a frightening precision; the dates etched out in careful, sharp strokes of fountain pen, how each page was numbered. You kept records of other things too; you weighed yourself three times a day and wrote down each number without fail. I avoided looking at those.
4-The number of months we had known each other when you said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” but your voice had a flatness to it that made me shiver.
5-A.m., and you’d rise without fail. Go through the morning ritual, grab your keys with ice-cold fingers, slip on a hoodie, fumble awkwardly with the keyboard of your phone, slippery through your grasp. Send a text each time, “I’ll be waiting at the gas station.” Take one look around your room, grey, wilting, a glance into the mirror for two heartbeats. Leave your bed unattended, run your hands through your hair, draw up the hood of your jacket and weigh yourself, push past the battered back door, careful not to let the screen slap onto the paint-peeled frame. Take your groaning Fiat to the 7-11 a few blocks down, buy a coffee, bitter and only half-drunk. If I came, we’d drive to a lake, park on the side of a shallow cliff overlooking the forest, waiting for the sun to rise. You’d block sniffles with your sleeve, crouched into a ball on the hood of the car.
6-Your rank, out of a class of 200. Math equations I could never seem to bend to my will, fumbling with polynomials and tattered calculus notes. You enjoyed them, weaving through imaginary numbers and derivatives with grace, conforming the numbers to your liking. There was only one correct answer; no room for deviation. The equations were clinical and straightforward, how you liked it. While most kids took pride in their quarter collections and stash of earned money you took pride in dropping numbers, in lost pounds and the jut of your hipbones. Your dignity hid in each unanswered call of hunger, didn’t it? A clinical mind, you said, made more the best self-control and was the path to perfection. But you were wrong; it was the path to your destruction. A demise as fit as any for someone so broken as you. You knew it, but you pretended anyway, because pretending was all you could do.
7-The number of times you would excuse yourself from the lunch table, each day. As if the beeline to the bathroom wasn’t obvious enough, but I never stopped you.
8-The number of times we snuck out, giggling and breathless, dancing through abandoned parking lots and thumping barefoot across fields scattered with weeds and broken glass. We clambered up an oak each time, and exchanged lyrical, winding phrases that reflected upon our fate, a cheap imitation of the worldliness we craved. I cherished those nights- where words flowed unrestricted and we tilted our heads up towards the starless sky, intoxicated by the feeling of an unending moment, as if time suspended itself for us. You transcended that cynical pretension you always held in the presence of others, and your china blue eyes would gaze up at the sky. A more naïve scene I could not have imagined. You spoke of dreams and desires.
“I wish I’d get thinner,” you sighed, fumbling with strands of wispy hair with bony hands. “I wish I could have that of charisma, you know? I want to be able to something great, anything, to leave to world wondering my wake. Can you imagine it?” You considered the thought for a moment, creating a pregnant pause, heavy in the night air. “I want to be like an angel. Soar above everyone else. Does that seem weird to you?
To me, you were already something extraordinary; your words twisted and vanished in midair, transient thoughts to match your ephemeral, emaciated being. You already had me in awe, but that didn’t matter. Your unreachable ambitions and Gatsby ideals were carefully cultivated obsessions; on those summer nights the only thing I could do was to lay my head on your shoulder and watch the sky with an uneasy content.
9-The number of days you were gone before anyone at school noticed. Before the teachers questioned your absence. I swear I called you. My calls wouldn’t go through your home phone, and you didn’t have a cell phone number anymore. I didn’t forget. I swear to God I didn’t forget.
I tried to reach you. I promise. I didn’t forget. I-
10-Your hospital ward number. They dressed you in a tent of a gown, rough and adorned with tiny blue polka dots, matching the delicate blue veins that ran through your hands, attached firmly to an IV tube. I didn’t ask. You didn’t answer.
11-The date you died, January 11th. They dressed you in a flowery gown of white, and your hair fanned out in long, curly tresses of gold. “Such a tragedy,” they repeated at the funeral, like a broken record. “Such a tragedy.” They spoke of your accomplishments at school, your travels and how much you loved each place you visited, how your smile filled the world with kindness and hope. They never mentioned your neurosis, your Gatsby ideals, the way you wandered at the world as if in a fog. They never mentioned the sharp angles of your body, how you pursued starvation with a crazed mania, desperately grasping for perfection through slippery fingers. You would’ve squirmed through their long-winded eulogies, and mutter that they missed the parts you took so much pride in. You would’ve liked white roses in your hair instead of red ones, to match your dress.
Perhaps you wanted me to remember you. But in the end, you’ll be nothing but a distant dream.


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1 Comment
  • Hanan Adi

    Good day, Cindy. I forgot to add in my review, this is a touching friendship story that relates a strong message of having/lacking confidence, pursuing dreams, and love. Although the main character insists that she doesn't want to remember her friend, the love she shows for her throughout the narrative proves that this is only so because she misses her too painfully. It's wonderful. Thank you so much for writing this!

    almost 5 years ago