I slide into a chair opposite Daph at a library table. I saw her a few times today in class, got a wave, but about five percent of the energy level I’d expected, given her texting. It’s possible she stayed up all night thinking about Marion, I suppose (or “thinking” about Marion, for that matter), but …
“Hey,” I say.
She’s head-down in her book, grunts something back.
“Why, yes, lovely day, the birds are chirping, the flowers are abloom, Vishnu’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.”
Daph glares up with me. “I can hear you, Alli. I’m just trying to … faugh.” She throws down her pencil. She looks down at her paper. “Can you be hungover from being in love?”
“I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, but --” I glance about, then lower my voice. “-- despite being hit on for relationship advice by everyone, my own experience with --” I internally choke slightly on the next word as it means so many goddamned things."-- love stuff is, um, idiosyncratic and probably not a model not worth emulating."
She cocks her head. “Wait, you’ve got your OMG Jason Quill thing going on still, yes?”
“Yeeesssss,” I drag out, and squirm slightly. “But there’s history there that I can’t go into. And it’s still … something we’re working through.”
“You had sex with him yet?”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Just … wondering.”
“That answer’s also a lot more complicated than it might seem. I’ll just say no, and leave it at that.”
“Hmph,” she grunts.
“Maybe you’re hungover with lust, rather than love,” I suggest. “Based on your, um, sitreps, I --”
She’s staring down at her book again.
I stomp on a squirt of anger in my veins. I wait.
“I --” She takes a shallow breath, then another. Glances about, then leans over toward me. “Marion and me.”
When she pauses again, mouth open, I offer, “Didn’t actually, per your text, have sex in his car behind the Piggly-Wiggly last night?”
“No. I mean, no, that’s not what I was going to say, but, yeah, no, we didn’t.”
I stay silent again.
“We did it once. Just … that night of the dance.”
Vs. the litany of trysts I’ve been texted about for days. “Okay.”
“I – I’m sorry, it was so stupid, I just …”
I hold up a hand. “Daph, you don’t have to go into detail. Or into anything, if you don’t want to.”
“I – no, I have to. You’re my friend, right?”
Is that what I am? I somehow pictured friendship being different from what I seem to be slowly developing with others around me. More … perpetually fun playmates and confidants, but …
… childish. It was a childish picture of friendship. I just don’t know how deep my misunderstanding goes. But that’s me. Daph needs help.
“Of course. And, um, whatever I can do to … help?”
She reaches over the table, puts her hands on one of mine. “Thanks. I – I’m really embarrassed. I’m normally a very honest person.”
“I just. We did. Marion and me. He actually does live in that granny flat at his folks. And we, after the dance. Um, there.”
I nod again.
“It was …” She trailed off.
“Really … not so much. Very. Not.”
“That’s all you can say?”
“What should I say?”
“You can yell at me for lying to you.”
And she’s right, because having people lie to me is something that usually sets me off. But – “It wasn’t --” I pause. How would I say this diplomatically, if I were a person who did that sort of thing. “I assume you had a reason.” And, honestly, it wasn’t that big a deal to me, except that it kept reminding me that I wasn’t having sex again with Jason. That part I don’t say.
“I – after all I’d gone over saying about how I felt about Marion, and all the dithering about the dance and being all ‘Oh, woe is me’ about the whole thing, I – I kind of felt stupid that it was all so … anticlimactic.”
I can’t help it. I smile at the pun.
“Oh, God, did I just say that?”
“I understood what you meant.” I pause. I should let her fill in. But I’m a bit impatient. And uncomfortable. “You felt you had to make it sound like the greatest sex since they invented the word.”
“Yeah. Because to say 'It was kind of okay, but not earth-shaking, and Marion makes some weird noises while he’s --”
I hold up a hand again. “That’s TMI again. Unless, ah, it’s emotionally important to tell me about Marion’s weird noises.”
She gets a panicky look on her face, claps her hands on her mouth. After a moment, she drops them enough to say, “Sorry. And, yeah, I shouldn’t … um, yeah. That’s private.”
I smile slightly. “I don’t know that’s more private than texting me about what an amazing animal he is, his god-like stamina, his experimenting nature, his resemblance to --”
“Yeah, that’s probably --” she quickly interrupts, then hangs her head. “I just … I felt like I needed to say something to make it all worth it, and you’re my friend, and I wanted you to feel like your help had been, um, helpful. And --”
I start. “Me, what?”
“You … were dating Jason Quill.”
I stare at her.
“I mean, you have it all together, y’know? I mean, I’m scrambling for grades, and trying to get keep the soccer team together, and figure out what I’m doing after graduation, and I’ve got --” Her voice already low for the library, drops even softer for the next words. “-- You-Know-Who bugging me about using my powers for righteousness --” She rolls her eyes. “And I’m tongue-tied and brain-dead trying to ask this guy to the dance … and then there’s you, who just showed up at school this semester, is acing her classes, is way cooler than cool, doesn’t get flustered at anything, could probably take over the world if she put her mind to it … and you’re going to the dance with Jason Freaking Quill. I --”
She pauses, as I continue to stare.
“I was … um … jealous.” She grabs my hand again. “Which was totally stupid and unworthy and all that stuff, and I’m sorry. You just have it all together, so under control – and I’m a total mess.”
I force myself to stop staring. For a long moment, I’m gravely tempted to tell her everything. To burst that bubble, that insane misapprehension about who I am, how I feel, how totally-not-in-control I am, how I’m the daughter of –
“Daph, all I can say is that I am not nearly ‘all together’ as you think. Probably nobody is.” I pause, nibble my lower lip. “That poster that Hayden has in his classroom. The one about the duck?”
She frowns. “Calmly gliding along on top of the water --”
“-- and frantically paddling underneath. I’ve found that’s true for most of the people I know, and haven’t found it _un_true for anyone. Don’t compare yourself to me, Daph. I --”
I stop, and suddenly realize my eyes are feeling wet, which is absolutely not cool. I press forward. “I’ve envied you for how together you are. You have lots of friends. You lead the soccer team well in a way I never could. You have a sense of humor. You aren’t a top student, but you aren’t – visibly – obsessed about it, unlike some people we could both name. You seem comfortable in your life.” I give a small, crooked smile. “And you are charmingly so cute about your infatuation with Marion.” I shrug. “That’s how I see you. And you’re staring at me, which I was doing when you were describing an Alice Chan who doesn’t exist anywhere I can see from this side of my eyeballs.”
She blushes, realizing she has been staring. That’s something she can do that I can’t, too. “I – didn’t think of it – like that.”
“Clearly. All I’m saying is that comparing yourself to someone else is silly if you don’t actually know what’s going on in their head the way you know about your own head.”
“Yes. Of course. That makes total sense. God, I feel stupid.”
“Were you just listening? I was making the same sort of false judgments about you.” I glance around. “And the same is probably true for pretty much everyone we know at school. Everyone’s full of doubts, worries, self-image issues, convinced they’ll never find happiness, maybe not even thinking they deserve it. And everyone around them thinks they’re completely cool and keeping it together.” I snort. “And that’s not even getting into whether our own picture from inside our heads is completely true, either.”
“Ugh,” Daph says.
There’s silence at the table for a bit. Then I ask, “Weird noises?”
“Oh, God, it’s this whuffling sound, like a bear sniffing for … um, whatever bears sniff for. Truffles? Honey?”
“Something like that.” I consider the next question carefully. “Do you still like him?”
“Even if the sex thing was kind of a big disappointment?”
“Oh, yeah, of course. I mean, I’m not shallow. Marion’s a cool guy when you get to know him. Sweet. Smart. Funny.”
“He seemed a bit … tense at the dance.”
“That’s part of what makes him cute.”
If you’re into that sort of thing. Though Jason sometimes gets a bit tense, and that’s actually a bit more attractive than when he’s all confident uber-guy. Except maybe he’s not as confident as he comes across. Hmmm.
“So what are you going to do?” I ask.
“Maybe … um, calibrate my expectations. Or maybe plan around it better next time? I mean … he’s a neat guy, but I know he’s headed to the West Coast – he got a full ride to UC Berkeley in the fall.”
“Yeah. And that’s not what I’m planning. So … maybe just accept what we have for what it is, and … not try to pretend its something more?”
“Are you asking for advice?”
“I think that’s sounds strategically sound.”
“That sounds like the confident Alice Chan I know.”
For another brief moment, I’m tempted, but – “Do as I say, not as I do.”
“I’d --” A pause. “I’d be happy to hear, without judging, about you and Jason. If you want. And if there’s anything I can offer advice on …?”
I’m inclined to keep my own counsel there. But – “That … might be cool. A different perspective --” And from someone who’s not directly involved. “-- might be helpful. But first …”
“The paper on Friday.”
“You had a question?”
“So I get how the US got into the Spanish-American War, but why did --”
“Pfah. You’re probably thinking it was all the Maine. The conflicting imperialistic impulses of --”
“Hey, I know that. And I’ve heard Marion’s opinions, too, so there. I’m just wondering how we ended up keeping Puerto Rico, vs. Cuba.”
“Ah, well that’s an even darker tale --”
Friendship. Weird stuff. And odd in its symmetry and asymmetry.
Also, I realize I’ll never be able to see Marion again without thinking about whuffling noises.
author: *** Dave H.