There’s a Japanese form of art, called Kintsugi. The idea is to put broken shards of pottery back together using a type of gold, the point being to create something even more beautiful in the face of flaws and adversity. It’s always seemed to me like one of those things that is a nice idea in concept, but reeks mostly of lies in reality. Like going to parties, or coffee without sugar. I can’t speak for pottery, but Kintsugi doesn’t work on people. Trust me. I’ve tried.
I don’t know when my best friend stopped telling me things. I guess you can’t really put an exact date on these things. People fade, Mallory, my mother would tell me. But I think Kiara stopped confiding in me roughly some time between January and February of last year. I’d like to say it was Sam’s fault, but I didn’t really do anything to help myself, and Kiara didn’t, either. I guess there’s a point when you just stop trying. I was thinking about that today, in chemistry, when I saw Kiara’s smiling face squished up against Sam’s white-teethed grin on her Instagram story, the two of them having exercised their senior privilege to leave campus with little-to-no hassle. This time last year, Kiara was squealing to me in the backseat of my mother’s Land Rover about that grin. Now, I didn’t even know they were going on a date.
I guess part of growing up is growing apart, but sometimes I wish I could sit Kiara down and ask her how things are, how they really are. She would tell me every detail, every joke Sam made, every witty response she had, and I would laugh along and advise her on what to wear and coach her through small talk. But I always feel a little bit uncomfortable, because I’ve never been in love, and she has. When Sam and Kiara went on their first date, I stayed home all day with my phone charged and turned up in case she needed me. She didn’t call that day until after the date, but sometimes when I know they’re going out I still turn on my ringer.
Just in case.
When Sam asked her out, she could hardly believe her luck.
I could. Kiara’s amazing. She’s the only person I know who can brush her teeth without dribbling even a little bit. Just last weekend, we stood side-by-side at her bathroom vanity, teeth bared. She giggled, saying I looked like a rabid raccoon, which only made me foam up more laughing. Because Kiara and I, we’ve grown into a routine. We still do everything we used to. Something’s just off. Like there’s a vital fissure in the pottery that nobody saw until they tried to fill it with water.
I don’t know when I stopped falling in love. I was the hopeless romantic; Hallmark movies used to be my anthem year-round, my guilty pleasure being cheesy rom-com novels. I used to love the idea of, well, love. I was enraptured by the concept of being so close to another person that I could be entirely myself, no holding back. Because even with Kiara, and my mother and my father, and later on, my therapist, I was always holding back. Sometimes it was just a little bit--a “I’m good, how are you?” to Kiara--, and sometimes it was too much--a “This week has been great" to my therapist.
I don’t know when I realized nobody would ever understand me as well as myself. Around the same time I stopped investing energy in crushes, anyway. I’ve never wanted a relationship, not as much as Kiara did with Sam, or any of our other friends do. Again, one of those things that seems attractive as a concept but is all too messy once you get involved. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s not everything else that’s broken, but if I’m just broken.
I don’t know when I started to feel less like the gold and more like the pottery.
I don’t know when my mother stopped loving me. Her love ebbed away slowly with each beer, frothy foam more appealing to spending time with her broken daughter, eventually. She would always say she loved me, but there’s a difference between mandatory love and voluntary love. Love for show, and love for tell.
I know when I began to dress up again, like I did when I was in that in-between junior-high stage of not caring what anybody else thinks, before the brand names and the fried hair. Funny enough, it was a Sunday. I’ve always grappled with Sundays, ever since we stopped going to church and I started to realize that church was not such a safe place for people like me. People who don’t listen very well, people who ask questions that would be easier left unasked. Sundays have been hard ever since I stopped believing. I don’t know what made me decide to put on the shoes, but something compelled me to. Before, I might have believed it was otherworldly. Now, I just believe I needed to do it.
They weren’t my shoes. They were my mother’s, her leopard print stilettos. They’re not just for hookers, Mallory, she’d say.
She’d always said she wanted to die in those shoes. If I’m going to die before my time, then it better be in those shoes, or life wasn’t worth it, she’d say, which always seemed like a funny thing to me because death can come at any minute, and she couldn’t wear the shoes all the time. My mother did wear those shoes whenever she could, though. (It wasn’t enough.)
My mother didn’t die in those shoes. She died in my father’s hiking boots.
I don’t know why she kept them after the separation, but she did. I don’t know why she put them on even though they were two sizes too big, but she did. I don’t know why she left in the middle of the night, but she did.
I don’t know why she crashed the car. A little bit of me has always felt like it was on purpose, an escape. Just push the gas pedal down a little more, and no more mess. The police report listed: a combination of driving under the influence, her drowsiness, her choice of footwear, her speed. A million different factors, the police said. I don’t know why she died.
But she did.
I know when I stopped depending on others and started counting on myself. It was a Thursday; it would have been a cleaning day if my mother still cleaned. On Thursdays, we used to get dressed up and wear our highest heels to feel important, then go about and clean everything from top to toe. Sure, it was more difficult for me to totter around in my best red platforms, but they made me feel more efficient, somehow. They gave me a sense of control. Sometimes, when I’m having the kind of day where the only choice is to trudge through and hope you don’t make it out too battered, I’ll pull them out from underneath my bed.
Red’s always been my color.
That Thursday, I sprayed down my mirror, not because I wanted to, but because it was time. When I wiped away the soap with a soft rag, I saw just a girl. Beneath all the layers of concealer and concealment, I could see myself.
I don’t know exactly when I’ll love myself, but I’m nearly there. I’m almost ready. (Maybe Kintsugi is worth a shot.)
I’ll be there soon.