When everyone else was growing new wings, fangs and ways of maiming, I craved the sensation of disappearing. We spent our days in the lacquered surface of pools, as they dip against the decks and the decks bend into wet grass, iteratively and unnaturally. It was so achingly warm, heat pooling and draining across the desert.
We were 12 at the time and Phoenix, Arizona was not summer as it was elsewhere, a peeling away of coats, scarves and denim. In movies the season is always green lawns, Red Vines and the bones of chicken wings, wind dusted between violently pink bougainvillea. But for us it wasn’t like that. We hid in stucco walls and bodies of water, waiting to grow up into something miraculous, paper nymphs against the pool steps.
I swallowed the redness of my last popsicle and too much chlorine, acrid and sweet expanding my stomach. I continually felt distended, the stickiness of mashed potatoes or red ribs or cupcakes inside me, having run down my throat, coursed through my body in fat deposits hanging off my thighs and stomach. The defiance of my collarbones stood out against the black bikini strap, the line of my neck so fragile I might feel it snap as I tipped it back to face the sun, spreading my legs against the surface of the water. In our languid movements, my friends and I had decided to create a whirlpool, our waif-calves beating the water into something with geometric shape. It was action and reaction, push and pull, the sort of overwhelming desire to remake something formless.
In the midst of all of this was the sugary calculation of “kiss me, kiss me, kiss me” and the way it rolls off of the tongue and the way one’s tongue rolls into someone else’s mouth. At the time I didn’t know what this felt like but I imagined that it would be tasteless, though I’d read that kisses are like honey. I imagined it might feel like one wet sponge against the other, fighting for more or less contact. But it ruled all of us girls, in prayer, our bodies stuffed into tropical print bikinis.
I saw myself as a girl who could not hold on to that particular litany, that “kiss me” chanted over and over again like a monk in focused devotion. I noticed how the boys turned mantis-like in the heat of it, stretched out arms and abdominals, too-long hair falling at jagged angles.I did not address any prayers or demands to any particular You, any particular object to be subject to, though we melded between actor and reactor, up and down. I was exhausted by the back-and-forth, the swollen games full to burst. The seams were too visible in their stitching.
I shrank from fingernails and hands, blue and ghostlike in the prism of the water. I never wanted to feign distress as arms wrapped around my visible ribs, brushing the edges of a bikini tops. I hated the haggling of laughter and complaints, the ways to be noticed without being noticeably craven. There were so many boys, over for birthday parties or barbecues, legs dangling into the water.
I used to think about tipping the whole board over and throwing all the cards away. In the depths of the pool I saw my hair spiral upward like ink, buoyed in currentless water. I used to open my eyes to the sting of the chemicals and fluid, determined in my contemplation.
I imagined hitting my head against the pool’s smooth blue ground. Some twist of limb and I could end up with my skull and brain matter all against the bottom. I imagined how bloody it would be, how gory such vengeance could appear, swirling and persistent. I imagined the slow percolation of tissue and bone, my last stand against waiting to be pushed into the pool by some shirtless someone, face split open in laughter. I thought about some older brother’s friend and whoever else looking down into the chlorine froth. I imagined everyone waiting for me to surface but it would be too long, too long, and then I thought of how the red would eddy up and the world would slow down for all of them, a series of minute movements.
Could I be more to anyone if I was wilted a little, squirming less, still with my legs a little too wide in my distress? I remember surfacing with a sharp and purposeful breath. Inhale, exhale and I was myself again. I think I turned to float on my back, squinting into bleaching sun, savoring the gruesome image.
In the bathroom, I stripped off the pool towel to gaze at the bones in the mirror. I didn’t remember how many ribs one was supposed to have. But they did look perfect there, against semi-translucent skin; the baby hairs stood up against my pruned-finger touch.
That summer coiled in itself and everything was a hazard, the metal buckles of seatbelts and steering wheels and gravel and pavement and walks at midday. The world felt apocalyptic, parking lots tessellating into my mind’s vision. My toes and palms were prematurely wizened from a life submerged, windswept body in arrested development.
I didn’t know where body fat went, how it could be cleaved from bones but not have to be thrown away. The scale said 81 pounds which was not a round number but as angular and menacing as I had ever wanted to be.