"Amisitdies" by Paulina Gora.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
Listen to Kiley Reid talk about "How Long My Body Was" on the podcast The Other Stories.
HOW LONG MY BODY WAS
by Kiley Reid
Molly Rosenberger had a seizure in my dad’s car on the way back from Hebrew School. Her fingers looked like they kept grabbing for something that wasn’t there, and I thought she was trying to tell me a secret. For a second I was thrilled because I loved secrets, and I also loved that someone would want to tell me something instead of someone else (Danielle was in the seat next to me and trying to blow a bubble). But Molly had a drop of spit on her chin. Her face looked like she was watching a scary movie, half-asleep.
The next day at (regular) school, my classmates asked me a lot of questions, but everything went hush when Molly came into the room. Two girls, one with blonde hair that turned green in the summer, the other with braces that changed colors for holidays, adopted Molly immediately. Checking on her. Feeding her. Inviting her to their lunch table. Showing off at gym in front of boys by saying nice things like, “Wait Molls, are you okay? Do you need to sit down? Maybe you should sit down.” Molly would obey and sit on the dugout’s bench, her hand guarding her eyes from the sun. A teacher or coach would appear and Molly would raise her hand to smile and say, “I’m fine. Just taking a break.” Molly became obnoxiously well liked. Even for a fifth grader.
I stayed on the brink of a hypothetical friendship with Molly while she went on with everything else. She put pictures of boy-bands in her locker. She split the cost of a best friend necklace with a girl on the volleyball team. She wore matching bandanas and sweatbands on Twin Day with someone who wasn’t me. Molly never had a seizure again.
But it stayed with her in all the very best ways! At camp she would get to miss the first ten minutes of lights out to go to the infirmary with other campers who needed inhalers and pills. One time I saw them all laughing at Drew McNeilson (he was the absolute funniest counselor by far) do an impression of a bored polar bear. Robbie Paige from Bunk Ten would wait outside our steps to walk with her (he had perfect hair and a puffer that he took at night after he played capture the flag). This one night he said something to Molly as she closed our bunk screen door. Outside the window I heard her laugh and reply, “Yeah, like I’d do that anyways.” I was just so jealous that I felt I might pass out.
I just knew her seizure was the reason she later got a decent looking boyfriend, that he somehow felt like a hero for dating a girl who was unconscious once, five years ago, in the back of a Prius. I knew that teachers gave her A’s because a B might send her into another attack. I also knew that I was prettier and the fact that people said I had cool eyes should have evened out the playing field, and any other time it so would have. Molly’s thighs grazed each other in the middle when she walked. Her boobs were small and kind of shaped like lowercase j’s. Sometimes I would try to find the line where her makeup stopped and her neck began. But Molly’s episode gave her moxie and grace. It always made her arrive fragile and feminine. Sometimes I wondered if she’d faked the whole thing — that she knew her chest would never look completely occupied, so she’d forged a seizure early enough to establish herself as a damsel even if she’d never look like one.
For this, I almost admired Molly. And when I entered my freshman year of college and saw my two roommates — one a lesbian with a feather in her hair, the other a brunette from Phoenix who wore tops that said Dope and $$$ — I knew I’d have to fake it too.
They liked bands that I’d never heard of, used the c-word with ease, and took cigarette breaks while hanging halfway out our window. I didn’t understand how some things were ghetto in a bad way (purple lipstick, TGIFridays, girls who said ax instead of ask) and that some things were ghetto in a good way (most rap music, basketball players who would slap girls’ butts, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer). I couldn’t see the thin red line between these fascinations, and didn’t dare look for it.
So instead, I planned to solidify myself as someone my roommates took care of. Someone they saw as more of a little sister, someone they would make fun of for listening to the Dave Matthews Band, but would still invite out and defend when people said, “Who is that?” I wanted to be Parker and Stella’s anything, even if it wasn’t a real friend. I wanted to give them the same thrill that came with hanging out with Molly Rosenburger — that anything could happen.
In October, I would have my first seizure.
The Saturday before Halloween, all the doors in my dorm were open and the hallway was stuffed with girls. They were brainstorming what they could say they were dressed as, in order to rationalize wearing bandeau bras and mesh cover-ups. Some were creative; with the right headgear, a yellow bikini and black see-through covering could pass as a promiscuous bumblebee. But some lacked strategy. “I know. Just wear this.” My dope roommate Parker slid a gold chain necklace onto a redhead. “And say you’re like, a gold digger or something.”
“Ohmigod, yeah!” the redhead gasped. “Thanks Park, you’re brilliant.” She bounded in her strapless onesie and wedges back to her room to search for more bling. The buzz of girls’ voices and the clomps of learning to walk in heels made my heart clutch hard, and for a second I thought I wouldn’t be faking anything.
My other roommate, Stella, was darkening eyeliner to complete her dead Girl Scout costume. She and Parker hadn’t invited me out and I was pretending to have other plans. I leaned against the bed and ironed black patches onto my bright orange top. On the front was a jack-o-lantern face for a pumpkin. On the back was the symbol for π.
I couldn’t wait to hear the commotion I would cause — the cautious should we call 911? ’s and the frantic don’t move her! ’s. The anxious but exhilarating panic as the resident assistant would be summoned. This painfully-responsible senior would have probably come up with excuses any other time she was asked to be on duty instead of going out, but now she’d be tempted with a future story to tell, one that would beat any other tale of a drunken girl throwing up on the DVD collection in the community lounge.
I decided it would be best if Parker and Stella found me mid-seize.
With Stella behind me, I forced a fog to settle over my eyes. I lowered myself at an eerie pace and let my head fall onto the bed. I slowly started to do all of the awful motions that come just before you start to throw up (which I’d only done once after I ate mussels but I’d youtubed it for reference). I kept my eyes open.
I tried to detach myself from the moment by telling my mind that I was only watching myself. Not as if I were in the room, but on TV, like in the footage you see captured from security cameras in dappled black and white.
Stella didn’t notice right away, and I heard a girl in the hallway say, “No one cares if you wear blue and black at the same time anymore.” I shifted so that my keds were an inch off the ground, the top of my head closer to the wall. Something in me said this feels better. I made my body convulse and tried not to blink.
The rubber soles in my shoes tapped against the bedframe and Stella turned around. I only saw her out of the corner of my eyes, but for a moment she looked annoyed. My heart raced in waiting, loving the dramatic turn her demeanor was about to take: from irked to confused to frightened.
But that didn’t happen.
Stella began to grin.
Stella stared at my body for three seconds before she set her eyeliner down softly with the smallest tick. She stepped out of our room with muted elation, like she had walked in on an intimate couple and couldn’t wait to tell her friends.
Once she was out of the room my body felt tired, but I had to keep going...right? I heard Stella find Parker, pull her closer to our room and whisper, “I don’t know what’s happening right now but you have to look at whatever it is.”
I turned over and sat up on my elbows.
When Stella and Parker entered our room with eyes ready, I blinked hard about six times and tried my hardest to look like the women in romantic comedies when they wake up from a wild night; events hazy, hair perfectly chaotic, not remembering if they kissed someone or not, hoping that they did.
“What happened?” I breathed.
“Ummm,” Stella exhaled briskly and crossed her arms. “You tell me. The fuck were you just doing?”
“I don’t...I feel dizzy.” For extra effect I touched my head, and immediately felt like a child actor pushed into the business by a mother who never made it past commercial callbacks.
Parker and Stella exchanged looks and language that I had yet to learn — I didn’t yet have a friend who was close enough to practice with.
“Ugh. I can’t!” Stella grabbed Parker’s wrist. She pulled her outside into the hallway.
I heard her explain my motions as “humping the bed but like backwards or something!” I heard her call me a freak. Parker stifled laughs. Stella said that it’s always the drama nerds who are “super sexual and will surprise you.” Then Parker sighed, “Just let her do her thing. I think it’s funny.”
I crawled into my bed and hugged my orange shirt to my crotch.
I stared at the wall but didn’t need to count the bricks. I knew how long my body was.
I bit my cuticle until it bled. I wondered how long it would take for someone to finally kiss me.
Kiley Reid lives and writes in New York City. She's not mad at you anymore.