he started by breathing. Fast and slow, short and long. Her mind was white noise — breathy and gross. She only noticed that her hands were shaking when she held one up close to her face, her index jolting in step with her pointer. The middle, thumb and pinky were slower, tilting down like how she used to hold her hands in ballet. Her chest muscles tensed and compressed her lungs. She fell on the couch. She felt like she was having a heart attack and almost wished she was. It would hurt less. It would freeze her mind and body into a dead thing. Her shock made her more alive, and she hated it.
She didn’t know what had happened, exactly. She knew that she had broken something, or that Cece had broken something. In any case, something was broken between the two. She didn’t know how. All that she knew was that they had fought for the last time and now it was over. She had never imagined it could happen. They were not friends, but sisters. It felt like they were sisters. They agreed upon that during sophomore year, laughing as they ate their lunches secretively in the library. They had only known each other for a year, but it felt longer. They read their diaries to each other. She knew Cece, felt Cece, saw Cece. She sat on the couch sounding out the name: Ce-ce, See-See, C C. A wonder of the alphabet. Two letters make the sound and four make the word. Both beautiful, and together a marvel of a person. But her lips felt cold in mouthing it. Everything felt cold now.
It was a dream, not a nightmare. She didn’t feel any fear — only unreality. It was a feeling that came to her whenever something turned her heart over. When she saw drug addicts lying face-down on the pavement, their arms stretched out as they slept. When she saw her parents drunk, slurring their words with champagne on their mouths on New Year’s Eve. When she saw a girl reach for a cereal box at the supermarket, her sleeves retracting to reveal rows of fresh bloody scars. She saw these things as if seeing a vision. A psychic joke, nothing more. And now she dreamed again because not dreaming was too hard. She couldn’t look at her phone, the couch, the table or whatever else her grounding exercises told her to do. She could only look down out the window, watching the traffic lights turn green for cars that weren’t there and drunk pedestrians jaywalk in little pods, laughing along the way. She perched like a bird about to fly over the city.
But she couldn’t fly. She needed to problem-solve. She needed to do that now. Who would she lunch with tomorrow? Who would know what had happened? Which side would they take? She couldn’t talk to their mutual friends, who hung at the lip of her and Cece’s friendship. They would peer at the teeth, tonsils and uvula, unable to see the gaping gasping grating throat that couldn’t speak — not anymore. She had to text someone else, someone nice and accommodating. That friend from class, the one she’d once seen sit alone at lunch. And so she did: hey can we have lunch together tomorrow? She pressed send and shut down her phone right after. She couldn’t deal with the brightness of response, a light burning away her silhouette.
She took out her laptop, shoveled headphones into her ears and played Fiona Apple at the loudest volume. Get gone, I know, limp, a mistake. She sang along in a choral murmur. It was a funeral with only one guest and only one host. She pushed her homework aside and laid her head on the desk, wishing herself to become one with the wood, pressing her forehead into the rivets and the pencil drawings and the trapped bits of her hair. The world was over. Her sister didn’t love her anymore. Her sister wasn’t her sister anymore. She kept her head on her desk for a long time, drifting into a state between awake and asleep, the Fiona Apple songs repeating as the playlist replayed itself.
At some point, she lifted herself up. Hours had passed. She restarted her phone and saw one message: yeah sure! Then it became real. Now Cece was truly on her way out. She would soon have a new bedfellow, a new compatriot, a new partner. She would go to school tomorrow awaiting another person. She was going to breathe again, raggedly and unwillingly. But she knew her single-mindedness would ruin things eventually, because she always focused too much on one friend. She willed her friendships into sisterhood, syringing her blood into the other to make their blood look the same. They needed to hang on each other’s words, to laugh only when together, to eat lunch only with each other. If they were sisters, nothing could ever go so wrong that they couldn’t fix it. Except for Cece, because Cece was her sister, and they couldn’t fix it.
She fell asleep in tears and moans, dragging her fingernails on her thighs to make her pain feel real. She woke up with red scrapes. She put on long pants that stuck to the lotion she had put on to soften the flayed skin. She dragged down a big black hoodie over her head and lifted out her tangled hair from the hood. She would not brush it. She would not brush her teeth either, letting them stain in the black coffee that she had poured into the biggest mug she found. She put on her headphones and carried on with Fiona Apple on her bike ride. She begged it to be eternity, but it took only 10 minutes to get to school. Once she arrived, she pressed down her red eye bags with her palms, and headed to class.
Then it was lunch. She texted her friend from class and told them to come to the library. They first sat awkwardly, letting their thermoses of food grow cold as they talked about homework. They started laughing at some point, telling pointless stories about family and clubs and teachers. She kept staring at their eyes, big and brown with points of yellow, embroidered with long curly eyelashes. They were pretty, with pretty eyes and hair and hands and teeth. She liked them. They were funny. She could see their future locking elbows and whispering and smiling and laughing. They would eat together in the library, pulling out random books and opening them to random pages and reading a random sentence. And laughing. Always laughing. They would become happy animals with happy thoughts. It would be okay.
The bell rang. They packed up their lunches and waved goodbye. She smiled at herself and straightened her fingers. She saw Cece walking in the other direction and averted her eyes. She felt Cece’s body come close and move farther away. Her hands began to shake. She started to breathe fast and slow, short and long.
It will be okay.