We agreed to write letters. Original, I know. But the point was tangible. Tangibility. The point of letters was proof that we could quantify our love, like the point of the Atlantic was to separate us. We sent the crossword from the AM New York back and forth, each time with a new piece of the puzzle filled in. We stuck to Mondays and Tuesdays, because Wednesday was when it started to get difficult. We shared a stamp card for a corporate coffee chain. I saved and shipped every scone receipt I accumulated in the month of August. He sent back movie stubs. Grocery lists. A check-up report from a routine visit to the doctor’s saying that everything was A-OK. A palm tree leaf with the words “I’m quite frond of you” Sharpied on. A jumbo-size bag of Tootsie rolls, and then the wrappers in return. Little pieces of colored construction paper that people pass out on the subway, with things like JESUS LOVES YOU and the alphabet in sign language written out and you can pay what you want for them, anything helps. I inserted them into my books, to help me keep my place. When one of us got a speeding ticket (which one of us did far more frequently than the other), it got shipped off too. They felt like secrets, like look here I am being vulnerable and I am not ashamed of my faults, here they are. Then when the pay date came around, the receipt stubs were sent, acts of caring, acts of heroism, like look at how much I love you, I will take care of everything. I sent him a scratch-off lottery ticket that was good for $1, so he’d know he was some kind of winner. To spice things up, I Fed-exed a pair of my underwear, lacy and unwashed. He sent it back, dry-cleaned. For my birthday, a little set of nail polish and fresh flowers. Red roses. How original. I painted my nails, let them dry, and chipped the paint off into an envelope. I waited till the flowers died and sent the dried petals over, too. Colored kisses on envelopes sealed around the dead skin peeled from lips in the drying dead of winter. Strands of hair that smelled faintly of coconut shampoo, collected from the shower drain and dried and stamped, sealed, delivered. In response to a sweater he wore to bed every night for a week before shipping, that smelled strongly of his sleep sweat, a thin layer of my sunburnt skin, cracked and peeling. A molar with a growing cavity, because of all the parts of the body, including the bones, the teeth should last the longest.
Mike11 is in my bedroom. Mike11 is in my bedroom because I invited him here, because he came recommended by 4/5 friends. Mike11 is called Mike11 because his real name is Michael Evan, and in middle school, he used to sign his name like that because he thinks he’s clever.
Mike11 has a reputation in my school for being able to give girls their first orgasm. I think this is because he is a senior, and so has had a lot of practice. I’m 16 now, a sophomore, which is the age people generally think is appropriate to stop being a prude. Which is the age people kind of expect you to make mistakes, so your PE teacher has to bring out diagrams of diseased vaginas and your pediatrician who you have been seeing since you were 2 suddenly has to ask you if you drink or do drugs or are sexually active.
At the time of my last doctor’s visit, I was not sexually active, not even close, but sometimes Mary Eliot will bring travel shampoo bottles full of her parents’ rum for us to pour into our Cokes during lunch, and I think maybe I am making two mistakes here: drinking and not asking my friend Mary Eliot if she is okay.
Mary Eliot is involved in a lot of my mistakes, like when we were walking around St. Mark’s two days ago, on a Tuesday, and I got my nose pierced just for the helluvit. At this piercing place in St. Mark’s, everyone who works there was sitting in a lounged back chair watching a reality TV show called Dating Naked when we walked in. People get set up on blind dates and when they meet for the first time, they are absolutely naked. Those parts are blurred out because they are not suitable for America. I did remember hearing, though, that whoever’s job it is to blur out those bits was distracted once and so did a bad job at blurring. Apparently America saw a lot more than it should have, and the girl with the unblurred bits was suing the network.
Anyway, the TV in the piercing place is positioned like in a hospital room, way up, so everyone was lying down and tilting their heads way back and their chins way up to see the screen. They looked kind of funny, all slouched there, and at first we weren’t sure if they were closed. Then a girl with blonde hair and eyeliner that raccooned around her eyes noticed us and said, “How can I help you ladies?” I was glad it was her who talked to us first because I think if I were walking down the street late at night and felt lost or in trouble, she would be the one of all the ones there who I would talk to. She put me in the chair right in the glass display window. People walking by probably thought I was a mannequin for a split second. “Wait right here, okay, sweetie?” she said and disappeared into the back. I heard rock-paper-scissors, and then a man with more metal on his face than flesh came out. He did not introduce himself, but I theorized that someone could learn his whole life story by reading all the faded ink on his body, if he’d let them.
I felt okay getting my nose pierced like this because it was a mistake a lot of other people have made. I feel this way about a lot of things I am vaguely afraid of, like skipping class and standing around Mary Eliot with her cigarettes, like lying to people older than me who I respect, like lying to people who are younger than me in case they are impressionable, like pregnancy and childbirth and death. I figure it’s going to be okay because enough people before me have gone through it, or have gone through with it. There’s a difference, I think; the with implies with choice.
I feel that I have a lot of choice, I am very lucky that way, and that’s why Mike11 came to my front door when I knew my parents weren’t going to be home, in the middle of the day on a weekday. He did that thing that adults do where you go to hug someone and then kind-of-kiss that someone on the cheek. I’m never sure how to respond to a thing like that. Do you in turn go to kiss that person’s cheek? Unless it’s one of the ones where they just touch their cheek to your cheek and make a sound like a kiss, and in that case, do you make the kiss sound back? I thought it was an especially weird thing for Mike11 to do, because I don’t think we’re at that age yet. But Mike11 is a senior and so maybe knows better.
Mike11 is in my bedroom now, futzing with my geometry textbook, because a few days ago I told him I needed help with math. We sit on my bed and stare at the textbook, even though we both know what I meant then. The textbook’s flipped open to a random page, a chapter we haven’t even covered yet in class. There are cut-and-dry formulas and questions about measuring angles and cutting things in half and how much of a thing another thing can contain. There are complicated shapes that are shaded in different ways, with dotted lines for dimension. And I do that thing where I look at it like an optical illusion, and I see the cube either jutting out and up on the left or down and to the right. Out up left down right out up left down right out up, and then my brain has a hard time making it switch back, so I look at Mike11 instead. He has thick, curly brown hair and deep-set eyes that are brown also but still pretty. He’s looking at me in a waiting-way, but not in a way that makes me feel rushed like when you go into a boutique store and it’s very small and the employees are very friendly and just so very there.
Mike11 is so very here in a good way. He’s sitting on the bed, but on the very edge but not in a way that makes him look uncomfortable. Mike11 looks very natural sitting there at the edge of my bed. No part of him is touching any part of me. He doesn’t say anything, and that’s how I know he’ll be a real gentleman about it.
“Hi,” I say, and it sounds lame. The “hi” just kind of hangs there in air for a second, doesn’t know where to go, isn’t sure if it should ask for directions. It cut through the silence awkwardly, like a plastic knife trying to slice through steak. That’s what it sounds like.
Still, Mike11 takes this as his cue. He wriggles a little closer up the bed and puts his face this close to mine. His nose touches my nose. His nose touches my new nose piercing, which still hurts a little but I don’t tell him that. He’s touching my common mistake. It makes me feel more normal.
Mike11’s mouth is on my mouth and his tongue is in my mouth and oh god what do I even do with this? It doesn’t really matter what I do with this, though, because it doesn’t stay for long, and then Mike11 is kissing my neck, my collarbone, my breasts. The song head, shoulders, knees, and toes. The 4/5 friends that went through this, that went through with this, and would recommend it to a friend. All our lines are touching now, and the geometry textbook has slid into our indent of the bed and is gently stabbing my side. I try to ignore it because I think trying to slide it off the bed would be weird. It would make a thud that is like cutting steak with a chainsaw.