We are three. We haven’t been here for long, but we’ve already experienced more joy than our hearts know how to hold. We’re running through a farm with bright, determined smiles on our faces. It’s pouring, but we don’t mind. Puddles burst beneath our feet as we sprint toward where our mothers stand, firm and definite. They are beacons of light, a sense of familiarity in this great big world we have yet to discover.
We are five. We sit at a rectangular table in a quaint tea shop, dressed in puffy floral dresses, hair spilling over our shoulders. An array of finger sandwiches lay in front of us along with delicate teacups, steam rising from the tops. We raise our pinkies as we lift them to our unblemished lips, and share secretive smiles over the brim. We are royal.
We are eight. We stand in the kitchen of a restaurant, passes dangling from our necks on lanyards. They make us feel special, as if we are part of some exclusive society. A chef reaches his tanned arms into the oven and removes the pizza we’ve created, placing it on the counter in front of us. I lean forward to get a closer look, resting my forearm horizontally on the edge of the counter. I barely have time to scream before my skin begins to bubble, heat tearing away at the outer layers. You try to make me laugh while I wait for my parents to arrive, arm soaking in a bucket of frigid water. I manage a smile through my tears. When I get home, I ask my dad if it will scar. He lies in his “no.” This is the first of many.
We are eleven. It’s one in the morning, and I hear your voice mingling with my mother’s in the hall. She does not hate you yet. Sleep tempts me, but I force my mind awake, murmuring your name into the darkness. Lights blink on, and I see your face, pale and unsmiling. I ask what’s wrong, and you tell me that your dad got sick. How sick? I wonder. You curl up next to me, shutting your eyes. It dawns on me that you might have to stay here for a while. I feel your tears on my pillow and a wrench in my heart.
We are thirteen. We are scintillating, brilliant, and bold. We are full of twisted thoughts of what the world is and what the world should be. We talk over each other loudly, standing in line for a roller coaster, the sun beating on our backs. I taste a curse word on my lips and throw it into our playful banter, a thrill rushing through me at the prospect of uttering something forbidden. You erupt into glorious laughter, and our hands brush. My face burns; it has nothing to do with the heat. Oh god,
we are invincible.
We are fourteen. I jump off the bus and run into the coffee shop before the headlights of my mother’s car can pick me out in the sea of faces. I race to the back, and there you are, long sleeves covering evidence of loneliness. The squeal you let out when you see me gives me hope for another chance: a version in which my parents don’t find out and you stay happy. You hug me tightly; I feel it in my bones. I tell you I missed you, and you tell me you miss the days when my parents didn’t hate you. Guilt washes over me, and I reach for your hand, but you pull out a picture of your boy. I allow jealousy to sting me for a moment, and then I am clinging to you as if you are the only thing keeping me here, murmuring a quick goodbye into your shoulder. The cold air cuts me open when I step outside.
We are fifteen. I haven’t seen you in a year. So much has happened since then, and some of it is your fault, but most of it is not. I think of you often, though we don’t talk much anymore. Our conversations are full of words that have lost their meaning, like “I miss you” and “if only.” Sometimes I see the jagged white lines on your wrists when I picture you, and dread fills me to the point of panic. This is when my dad comes into my room and tells me everything is going to be okay while rubbing my back as if I am a lamp, and if he wishes hard enough, I will be normal. But other times, I see your eyes, the color of seafoam and emeralds. I wonder, briefly, what you see when you think of me.
We are sixteen. I’ve been sitting in this straight-backed chair for five hours, listening to the beeping of your heart, watching you fade in and out. My parents think I’m asleep at my grandmother’s house, but I am worlds away from there. The girl before me is not the one I once knew, but then, we are both a far cry from who we used to be. I’ve been reading to you softly for what could be forever, my voice steadily growing hoarse, but I don’t stop. Your eyes are closed, and I realize that if this is the end, I will never see them again. Selfishly, I call your name. I watch them snap open. I stare for a long time.
We are seventeen. You’ve done it again, and now you’re on the ground, bleeding. You beg me not to call for help, but my hands shake as I dial my last hope for your life. You tell me you love me, and I plead, “Don’t leave me.” Your eyelids flutter recklessly, dangling hope before my eyes.
My shoulders shake as I vomit violent sobs. You shush me until I’m quiet. You’re gasping for air now. I can see that your body wants to hold on, but your mind gave up somewhere between girl and woman. Tears tumble down my cheeks; you beckon me closer. I lower my ear to your lips. You whisper, “I’m going back to the farm.”
Maddie Botti is a junior from Boston, Massachusetts. She adores reading and writing and has an (unhealthy) obsession with Sylvia Plath and John Green. She is a fiction reader for The Stirling Spoon, an online literary magazine, and she recently attended the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walking her dog, wandering into bookstores, and teaching swimming.