You had fantasies about painting your hair with blood. You wanted to dye your hair with my blood and I said I can't. I just gave blood last week and it's not healthy to donate too often, you know? And you knew and you didn't question it again, after all, it was just a fantasy. Your mind was fresh. You liked inventing, summoning answers out of thin air. To fantasize, to create an intangible solution for a tangible problem.
We are fourteen years old and stretched out on the Persian rug in your basement. I am racing your Hot Wheels cars along the pattern, trying to forget my stomach ache. You are building a collage on the cement floor just off the rug, your elbows getting all funny patterned from the rug they're pressed into. You found the little cars at a yard sale. It fits with your vintage thing this year; you've been collecting worn denim and outdated sweaters. Artifacts from '83. You've got this great one with green squiggles. I borrow it whenever possible.
Your mother told you the family the sold you the Hot Wheels had a son but he got hit by a car last month. Now they're trying to cleanse their house, make room for a future life. They got a daschund. I quietly hope it's enough for them. I ask you why they didn't donate the kid's toys to a hospital or something and you explain, if your kid died because the hospital couldn't save him, would you really want to help the same people by giving them his favorite toys? It seems kind of selfish to me, but it makes sense to you so I keep trying to understand.
A yard sale glimmers like an answer in the distance. My car, a little red one with oversized black tires, screeches around a spiral in the carpet and the little people inside are screaming because there's a child in the road and no time to slow down and even if they tried it would just kill everyone inside the car so the driver makes a decision, to keep going, but not to close his eyes because he's got to see the consequences. Your mom opens the basement door and asks what we're doing. Nothing, you yell back and you languidly begin to glue your collage together, pictures of Susan Sarandon pasted over puppies and cartoon allergens. Well, your friend's mom is here so it's time to clean up, your mother yells again. Without hesitating I stand up, slip the hot wheel into my pocket and mutter goodbye. You fail to notice, grunt, brush your bright yellow hair behind one ear, and start sloppily shadow-cutting a picture of Celine Dion in concert with a pair of purple safety scissors.
We are sixteen years old and I am holding your hair while you puke into the toilet in the guestroom of a house that belongs to some kid we don't know. Your hair is pink today, same as your vomit, but I don't tell you that because I know it'll just make you puke more. You pause for a moment, sit back against the rippled privacy glass of a shower so small it could be a standing coffin. You watch a cob web wiggle in the breeze that blows from the tiny open window near the ceiling. I wipe your lips with the little hand towel I found under the sink and stroke your hair. It's really more magenta than pink but if I remember correctly, it'll look like sweet cotton candy by the end of the month. You fade well. You try to apologize for your stomach so I hug you. But you start to look sick again, so I redirect your head to the toilet just in time. I hold your pony-tail with my left hand, rub your back with my right. Grasp. Rub. Grasp. Rub.
The cob web has broken loose from the wall, some spider's abandoned apartment swaying slowly through the air like a trapeze. I try to remember the first apartment I lived in, but it's been too long. You've lived in the same house since you were born. I have lived in nine houses. There are no height markings on my doorjambs, no paint on my walls. The landlord demands whiteness. In the last year you've moved your bed into the basement and covered the walls in collages. There is a picture of me next to your pillow and it makes my chest hurt whenever I see it.
When you're done being sick I help you over to the bed in the next room, it smells like someone's perfume but it doesn't seem to bother your stomach. I leave a little waste bin by your head and come lay behind you. I roll over and spoon you a little, not too closely, but close enough to play with your hair. You are breathing more evenly than you were earlier, settling into something that resembles sleep. I carefully pull out your hair band; it's green with a little plastic unicorn tied to it. I slide it over my hand with no intention of giving it back. You sigh a little and I scoot closer.
We are nineteen years old and I am helping you pack for college. We applied to all the same schools, didn't get into any of the same ones. I've had my packing done for weeks, so it figures you'd wait until the last minute. Your hair is freshly dyed, a nice aquamarine, and you've trimmed it into a slightly imperfect bob. I am packaging your records in bubble wrap and laying them into a square box marked MUSIC. You're balling up clothes and chucking them into a big suitcase. It's barely large enough to accommodate your shoes, but you keep filling it. Your mom doesn't bother us much now, mostly because I can take myself home whenever I want; I've got the minivan parked in your gravel driveway.
Want this? you ask me, holding out your ex-favorite sweater. It's not right for you anymore, another thrift store find from the 80s. These days you're more into a kind of fifties look, skin tight jeans, cardigans and heels. To top it off, a pair of cat eye glasses with the lenses popped out. I pause, take in the sweater. It seemed so vibrant when we were younger but now I'm not sure. I take it in my hands. I step forward, unable to explain this jumping in my stomach that started when I touched your back the first time you got drunk. I set it on top of a box and place my hands on your waist. You don't make eye contact. I press my mouth against yours and you say nothing so I kiss you again. You look away. I pick up the sweater, climb the stairs out of the basement, and walk down the hallway that leads to the front door.
On the ride home, the sweater slips off the passenger seat.
It's too heavy to pick up.