I am 23 and I expect my boyfriend to read my mind. You see, when two adults love each other, one of them may expect their partner to be telepathic. I hope evolution includes omniscience in our next software update, because I have, selflessly, always been the one to carry the onus of disappointment in my brain’s privacy settings. I play along convincingly, I say “I’m fine” with purpose, and I desperately search for clues in my lover’s expression that signal our mutual understanding that I’m lying.
The obstacle of saying one thing but meaning another first became an issue when I was in seventh grade. Although I did not play Belle in our school’s production of Beauty and the Beast, I did my due diligence as a heterosexual-by-default 13 year old by falling for the Beast. He had swoopy early 2010’s hair, played the guitar, and was nearly three years older. A tale as old as time.
Because I played Chip, a young teacup living in the Beast’s house, my scenes overlapped with many of my crush’s. I sat with the Beast, a talking candlestick, and a personified teapot in a fluorescently lit hallway perpendicular to the stage. Backs against the walls of the narrow corridor, we propped our laptops and Algebra I textbooks on our legs, whispered jokes back and forth, and occasionally got yelled at for gossiping too loudly.
Through what I can only imagine was a poorly executed excuse, I got access to the Beast’s AIM handle and we messaged after rehearsal. He sent big words like “induced” and I Googled their definitions, thereby sealing my fate to be heartbroken. He talked about hunting animals—and weren’t guns cool? I nodded as we video chatted. I had never heard anyone in my small New England town talk about guns; the Sandy Hook shooting a few towns over wouldn’t happen for another year. He corrected me when I spelled “come” as “cum” without understanding the implication.
To rectify my inferiority, I counseled him when he confided that he liked a girl in his grade. No, wait—he loved her, and I know because the message he sent telling me about the Girl was nauseating. Soon after his initial confession, he continued to divulge more about his relationship with the Girl in his grade. Blowjobs weren’t something people actually did until he said that she gave him one. I asked follow up questions. At one point he told me to “stop psychoanalyzing” him. I used a dictionary to unpack that message.
He eventually confessed that the Girl cut herself, and that her father wouldn’t let him date her. The Beast wanted to fix her. Good for her, I thought. He asked how I was and I replied that I wasn’t great but, what can you do? Rather than pry, he sent me links to sad indie music. I listened to lyrics where men in their 30’s sang things like “someday you will be loved,” and I questioned, at the boy sitting somewhere across town, by you?
The Girl was already loved, so it was easy to follow her digital trail from the Beast’s Tumblr. Her blog was an array of ROMANCE IS DEAD Sharpied over floral backgrounds, GIFs of inverted crosses, and grainy photographs of used cigarettes. Is this what real sadness feels like? Her images contrasted my hyper-feminine pale pink blog. She posted about bands I hadn’t heard of like The Talking Heads, The Shins, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. She reblogged Death Cab for Cutie deep cuts but admitted to liking the popular songs of theirs that I knew, too.
He hummed songs as we lingered backstage. I remembered their lyrics and Googled them after school: Green Day’s “Minority” and Cake’s “Love You Madly.” I got home, threw my backpack on the floor, and messaged him until the glow of my laptop was my room’s only light source. We attempted irony through exchanges of SUP’s and he occasionally inquired about why I was still crying. Instead of telling him directly, I changed my AIM “Current iTunes Track” to songs I learned from him. “I Will Possess Your Heart.”
Despite the hints I sent the Beast, I had no evidence to leverage my sadness. The Girl was actually depressed and the proof was on her body. Her scars accompanied her everywhere. I knew people cut themselves, but I had never considered it to be an optimal expression of my anguish, or even an option, until someone I envied did it. It was clear to me that he wanted a project, and I wanted him to fix me. I looked at my wrists, the sides of my thighs. I took note of sharp household objects. Using a loose razor blade: What century is it? The image of a vegetable knife: Really, Lucia? In my fourth grade science class, we were tasked with dissecting a chicken wing from the supermarket. I stared at it in the saran wrap, wobbled toward the bathroom, threw up in the hallway, and dropped to my knees as I fainted. I knew that I would never really cut myself; I would continue to table the idea. I was right, and that made me cry more.
We sat in the hallway and waited in the wings of the stage. Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday. I learned synonyms for “and how does that make you feel” as I counseled him, but didn’t receive a master’s degree in social work. The Girl, the Beast and I continued our game of Telephone about the Girl’s various mental health struggles, although I didn’t see her dialed into our calls. Winter happened. I saw him in the hallway. We even made eye contact around other people, sometimes. We performed Beauty and the Beast in front of our parents. My mom waited for me to leave the green room and I booked it to the car. Having parents wasn’t sexy.
Omitting the Beast’s extracurriculars from our conversation, I told my mother that I wanted to try cross country running, but my school’s team was already full. My mom made a call and yelled at a coach. Not 48 hours after my gracious admission onto the cross country team, my friend, without my permission but on my behalf, berated the Beast on AIM for making me miserable. Within minutes, Sophia’s tirade seamlessly flowed into messages from him asking me a string of why-is-Sophia-mad-at-me’s and what-is-she-talking-about’s? Do you like me? I cryptically replied, “I would say it’s more than like…” Then, my laptop and I wilted on the cold, white tile in my bathroom. I let the porcelain floor squish my wet face for two hours.
The next day, not a single set of eyes lingered on me as I walked through the double metal doors. Still, I felt a scarlet letter on my chest, but it was even worse, because I wouldn’t have been able to be slutty if I’d wanted to, especially not with the Beast. The sky was damp and mirrored the grey of our concrete-wrapped gymnasium as we picked up our cross country uniforms later that day. Blue and white mesh in hand, Emma, Chloe and I began our trip back uphill as a group of ninth graders descended from the upper school. The Beast magnanimously split off from his pack and informed me that we wouldn’t be speaking for a while, you know, so I would be able to get over him.
After a week of running laps and staring through each other, I lied and told him that I was over him. He took my news at face value. I cried. I walked. I was lapped. I sprinted the last dozen yards to the finish line where 185 sweaty teenagers drank bottled water. A woman handed me 186 on a popsicle stick. My thighs stuck to a grey seat on a comically small bus. The bus smelled like Axe and new acne growth. I pinched both sides of a window to access four inches of air outside where strangers rowed boats under our stretch of the highway. Someone at school made books to commemorate our great year and I became a stock photo. Everyone I could think of demanded that I HAGS. I wanted to do as I was told, but I was too dedicated to my angst.
Two years later, when I was fifteen, I hoisted the Beast through a window into my mom’s house. We grasped at each other in the dark as an activity. Upon feeling leftover discharge in my underwear, he growled that I was so wet. His tongue wandered aimlessly over my vulva. I swaddled his ego with moans.