About four years ago, when I was thirteen and still prone to crying spells, my mother liked to show off her so-called wisdom by telling me that every teenage girl sometimes feels like a freak of nature. She claimed that every adolescent worries that everyone’s staring at her, and every girl at some point has believed that no one likes her and that she’ll never belong.
And sometimes I would just listen and try to believe her, but then this one time (I guess it was the last time she gave the speech) I said, “And does every teenage girl sometimes feel like she has a super-ugly ninety-pound tumor sticking out of her butt?”
And then the tumor started crying, and I felt pretty bad, but not bad enough to apologize.
That was a long time ago, and I have matured somewhat. I’m nicer to my sister now. Nicer to everyone, I guess, or at least I’m trying. I mean, I’m still pretty angry, but what are you going to do? It’s nobody’s fault, the way things are.
But back then I kind of thought, If I’m so miserable, shouldn’t she be miserable too? I mean, we’re supposed to share everything, right?
We were already sharing the lower end of our spinal column, and sensations in the lower halves of our bodies. We had two totally separate upper halves—two heads, two faces, two sets of arms, the whole works. And for that matter, we also had two full pairs of legs and feet. But we were joined together at the midpoint, in basically a back-to-back position—or butt-to-butt, if you want to get all technical about it. While our stomachs were separate, our guts were, according to the world’s leading medical experts, as tangled together as a vat of discarded Christmas tree lights, and partially fused.
We were two complete, full-size people, with two normal, fully functioning brains; and yet, if she ate too much pizza, we both felt a little unwell. If the doctor touched my foot, Hailey could feel it. And if I called myself a hopeless, unlovable freak, well, I supposed Hailey could feel that, too. But only if I said it out loud.
• • •
And so it was that when we learned a new boy would be entering our senior class, and every girl in our tiny rural school started speculating and gossiping about him—finally, a fresh boyfriend prospect, for the first time in more than a year!—I refrained from pointing out to Hailey that this was hardly any concern of ours.
Not that it was easy to hold my tongue. Sunday afternoon, the day before he was supposed to show up, we were sitting back-to-back on our bed, cross-legged, our laptops open in front of us. I was trying to concentrate on calculus, but she kept bursting out with these random nonsense questions, like, “So, what color do you think his eyes will be?” or “Do you think he’ll speak any second languages?”
And I just kept laughing at her, but it made me want to scream, because it was like Hailey had no idea who she was. When I looked in the mirror, I saw what anyone else would see: a bizarre eight-limbed creature that probably shouldn’t have survived the womb. But Hailey acted as if, through a strange mental glitch, she could look in the mirror and see some lovely, fascinating nymphet. And this hallucination was so real to her, she thought everyone else could see it too. Even boys.
I’m not saying I hadn’t thought about them. It was hard not to, when at any given moment half our school was either making out in the hallways or discussing the latest school dance. Out here in entertainment-forsaken Bear Pass, school dances were the second-most-popular social events, surpassed only by hanging out at the Taco Bell parking lot with pilfered beers and cigarettes.
So yeah, sometimes I would fantasize about a European exchange student showing up, brilliant and witty, cheerfully amused by our small-town high jinks, with a mind as
open as the night sky. I guessed Hailey had her own version of the fantasy (less cheerfully amused, more brooding and dangerous), but even if both versions showed up, so what?
Seriously, who do you think would be the best boyfriend for a girl sharing part of her spinal column with her sister? Be honest.