You don’t know who’s going to be important in your life when you meet them. This is a fact.
I don’t remember meeting Emma. She says she remembers meeting me, that we were in a group together at a screening of short art films at the Hammer, and that we spent the whole time laughing at this boy in the group who kept insisting that we were witnessing genius. But I don’t remember that. I remember seeing her for the first time at a ramen restaurant. I was sitting at a table with a boy who was telling me about every dead body he had ever seen; when she walked in with her copper hair and round-rimmed glasses, I knew that I was looking at something amazing.
Emma and I spent time together doing nothing, watching shows on our laptops, drinking whiskey, eating quesadillas. And we talked. We talked about reality, and dreams, movies we’d seen. What it means to be a person. She knew a lot about existentialism, and Simone de Beauvoir, and I knew a lot about theory, particularly Barthes. So we had a lot to talk about.
We were in love with the same boy. But we didn’t talk about him.
The thing that happened with Emma is, someone like me can’t talk about reality, and loss of reality, in abstract terms. When she said things like, “everything that happens is real, but only the waking half counts,” I found it beautiful, but also true. There are different kinds of truth. There’s the truth you feel deep in your bones, and there’s the truth that you think in your head. She was talking about the former, and I was talking about the latter.
The boy we loved, or thought we loved—he liked her a whole lot more than he liked me. There was something in the way they looked at each other, whether we were smoking cigarettes, talking about that one Simon and Garfunkel song, “At the Zoo,” standing in line to see David Lynch speak about transcendental meditation, or waiting outside the Laemmle, freezing in the false chill of an LA spring. I can’t really explain what I felt for him. It wasn’t about sex, or wanting to date him. But he was everything to me, and it killed me the night I told him I had feelings for him, the night he shut a door in my face. All I wanted was to fall asleep wrapped in the knowledge that someone like him could exist.
Emma moved to Paris the summer before junior year. She explored Europe, and things happened to her that I can’t talk about. But she saw so much more than I ever have, or maybe ever will. In Paris, she decided to become a writer. We talked on Skype sometimes, and I followed her blog. She wrote about her day-to-day life, told me about going on a date with the guy who put a lock on that one bridge people put locks on, and how funny that was, and she wrote about her emotions, and she told me about a cat that lived in the house where she was staying.
She sent me a PDF sometime in December of a book called Chatsex. It was a collection of gchat messages between two people identified as Her and Him. They talked about old oak trees and supernovae and birds flying and Xanax bars. It was a slow progression of people falling in love. Or maybe they were just writers pretending. We didn’t know. He was reserved but lightly poetic, and She was direct and blunt.
I began to look around online, trying to find where Chatsex came from. I found it linked several times from two Twitter accounts: @latentconsistency and @tailoredballoon. I knew who @tailoredballoon was, an internet personality who used to go by Taylor Balloon, but had changed back to his real name, Ty Corning, sometime in the past year. People still refer to him as Balloon, with endearment. Most of his Facebook posts include the red balloon emoji. I’ve never really interacted with him, but I like what he posts about racism in modern literature. He’s smart, but not pretentious, and I appreciate that.
I wasn’t sure who @latentconsistency was. She—I figured it was Her—didn’t have a real name on her Twitter page. I went to Balloon’s Facebook and dug through his Friends list, looking for any fake names or profile pictures that seemed both latent and consistent. I found nothing.
I turned to Tumblr next. I typed in“latentconsistency” as the first half of the URL. It took me to a pink background with sparkling pink text across the top reading, “Laura Cholzi’s Blogland.” The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. There are a lot of online writers like that.
There was a picture of her face in the sidebar, cropped in a circle. She had long dark hair and bangs, glasses, a thick sweater. Below it was a description: “Laura, 22, San Diego. Meta-artist and dumb shit. I prefer fog to a rainbow. lol inbox me.”
Her most recent post was a GIF from Twin Peaks of Agent Cooper sipping coffee. I went to reblog it because I love Twin Peaks.
The date of the post was April. It was now December.
I scrolled through her blog. She posted several times a day, mostly GIFs and photos, but sometimes poetry and screenshots of tweets. I wondered why she’d stopped in April. Maybe she’d moved to a different platform. Or grown up. Or given up.
I went to Facebook again, and typed “Laura Cholzi” into the search bar. Up came a profile with the same photo as on her blog, but cropped in a square, revealing that she was sitting in a chair holding her knees to her chest.
The page was filled with wall posts. I thought, I guess she’s more popular than I am. I only ever get wall posts from my roommate and this girl I’m friends with who moved to Australia. They share links with me. It’s nice, but it’s a reminder of how solitary I am. This Laura girl, though, she had all kinds of friends.
I looked through the posts.
“I miss you, Laura.”
“Remembering the time we went to the beach and took acid together for my first time and your last time.”
“I had a dream about you last night. Maybe it was a message.”
I remembered where I’d heard the name. Laura Cholzi. She was the girl everyone had been talking about a few months ago. She had been on the roof of a building at a party, and then she’d fallen off. No one knew if it was on purpose or not. I thought at the time: I would never be that brave; but I wasn’t sure what I was referring to, even in my own mind. It doesn’t really matter if she had the intention to fall or not. She was alive one moment, in mid-air, a space between moments, blank air, another moment, and she was dead. She had crossed that minuscule threshold that exists between heartbeats, the last exit.
I sent Emma a message.
“I know the people who wrote Chatsex,” I said.
“No way!” she responded, almost immediately.
“His name is Ty. He lives in New York. He’s really great and goes by Balloon.”
I left the typing bubble hanging.
“Oh. I’m going to Turkey next week.”
“Isn’t that sad?”
“That I’m going to Istanbul?”
“No, Istanbul sounds awesome. I meant about Her dying.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Someone was dead, and we’d shared her words, and now she wouldn’t be able to write anything else. We had been holding a time capsule and didn’t even know it.
Here’s another story: I had a best friend growing up. Her name doesn’t matter. She could’ve had any name, really. We watched MTV music videos on VHS tapes that her cousin recorded, and we hid in my closet making up a mythology for a planet that we decided we were from. It had its own language and everything, which I’d been crafting since I was seven. We were actually princesses, and goddesses, but we were just on Earth for the time being. Sometimes princess goddesses had to spend time on Earth because it was safer here, a relaxing spot. Sometimes it was nice to escape the intensity of our daily royal/deific life.
She had red hair and freckles and round features.
We went into my garden and built houses for fairies. We knew they would come by there at night. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t see them; they were still there. We knew this as deeply as we knew the history of California’s missions or the plot of Bridge to Terabithia or multiplication tables.
When we were 12, her father got transferred to a job in Ireland. She moved there. We wrote letters, on purple paper with stickers and gel pens and deep secrets and inside jokes. I made new friends, who would go on to completely abandon me for a girl named Kelly who did things like play Truth or Dare and shave her legs; but for a while, we were close. They were mean girls. I was a mean girl. We made fun of boys and kicked their shins during basketball. Boys liked them; no boys liked me. I was smart and had curly hair. I wasn’t the kind of girl a boy would like, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t totally understand pubescence.
I told my new friends that me and the other girl, the red-headed girl, were drifting apart. This was kind of true. But not long after I said that, they started hanging out with Kelly, and avoiding me, and ignoring me when I spoke. It’s hard to be 13 and lonely.
I stopped eating, for the most part. Maybe a tomato or a cup of coffee here and there. My period stopped and I lost a lot of weight. People made me feel good about it, commenting on how light I was to pick up, how I was the thinnest and tallest in the whole class. They told me I was beautiful. At eighth-grade graduation all the boys danced with me on the stage in the church’s reception hall. I wore an apple-green dress and brown eye shadow.
The week before the red-headed girl was supposed to come back from Ireland, her mom sent out a mass email saying that she, the girl, had developed an eating disorder, and that she looked a lot different. She looked like she might break when I saw her—pale, with that thin layer of fur coating her arms as a last-ditch effort to insulate her body, her eyes large and light blue and reflecting nothing.
I hated her. I hated that she had never told me, that I had to find out from her mom. I hated that she got attention for her disease, and that no one noticed when the same thing was happening to me. I hated the way that she destroyed our childhood. I hated her for moving away, and for coming back.
I got a call from her mom mid-summer, saying that the red-headed girl was going to the hospital in the morning. I slept on her floor that night, trying to hear if her heart would stop. I went to see her every day, bringing in magazines and card games, discussing the fairies and our language and our true positions as princess goddesses. It all came out forced, like a bad laugh during a sitcom. The last time I visited her, I broke down crying in the hallway of the hospital.
“You don’t have to go back,” my mom said. “She’ll be okay.”
Without me to check on it, though, her heart did stop. She was an all-bone body. We sang “Blackbird” and “Fire and Rain” for her in solemn tones, an elegy for a princess. There’s no way to deal with death when it’s that close to you and you’re that young. Maybe there’s no way to ever deal with death. Maybe there’s no dying.
Our cells are built of elements, carbon mostly. When we are gone, our cells will redistribute, making new animals and sediments and people and things. Everything is reincarnated, always. There’s no end at all.
That’s not true, not exactly. She didn’t die. She grew up and moved to San Francisco and is engaged to a sailor and is happy. But this is the story that should be told, because it says something. It’s a story about loss, and growing up, and learning something. If I told you that I learned about death from Anne Frank, what would that mean to you? You wouldn’t understand. You’d think I was a tourist in grief. Telling the story about the red-headed girl is the only way I can get you to feel the things I felt when I got to the last page of a brown-haired girl’s diary. We need stories. Telling stories is what makes us count. It’s what makes us human.
I’m thinking now about the time in January when I call the boy that Emma and I loved, or thought we loved, and he picks me up. We drive fast down Sunset. He puts on Simon and Garfunkel and we sing along to that song about the animals, hands pounding the sides of the car, voices ringing in wind. There will be a day when you will be riding in a car and know that you will never die. You might be with a lover. You might be all alone. You might be next to a person who doesn’t give a fuck about you. But you will feel it. You will know.
He takes me up to a canyon overlooking the San Fernando Valley. “This is my L.A.,” he says.
“Millions of people down there, all with their lives, all with things going on. We’ll never know them all. And all I want to do is communicate something.”
“It’s a miracle.”
He kicks some dirt down the hill. We are standing next to each other, not touching at all. He strikes a cold glance. “I wish I didn’t feel this need. This prophetic need.”
I look at him, and he is just a boy.
“Everybody’s got their fucking mountains,” he says, and I know what he means because we are inches from each other and never more distant.
He turns, not looking at me. “Let’s get you home.”