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  • Mya Tozzi

(Summer, 2016)

When I was a young girl I discovered I had the girlish gift of empathy, the gift of drawing people near to me and carrying them in my mind. But it wasn’t a gift, it was taught; a language I didn't want to know. The downside of being big and loud and boyish compared to others your age is that girls treat you like a boy. The upside of being big and loud and boyish and queer is that girls treat you like a boy. Like a boy they could share secrets to. And they did, they told me the secrets of their small growing universe. 

When I was 7 years old, a girl who was older than me but smaller than me asked to touch my tongue to hers on a cold morning on my trampoline and she chuckled to herself. This was nothing but childish curiosity and went nowhere (neither of us spoke about it again or wished to). In fact, only years later would I even remember it. We always liked the same boys, her and I. We were together in our longing for a few years over various things and people, the way girls often are, deciding on the way things would go in our lives and discovering how the world could work if we deciphered it. I would hang around in her bedroom while she explained to me what bread would do to my thighs and how a boy she liked wouldn’t kiss her even though they’d been on three dates since May. This was one of my first “best friends” and we spent the better half of 5 years as such. But by age eleven I no longer spoke to her. I think she works at a bagel place now or sells cabinets or something. 

When I was 13 there was a tall and dark catholic girl who, during a camping trip, confessed that she felt the devil calling to her constantly in the form of women. She drew close to my face and I could smell her perfume (flowery and faint) and her fear. I pitied her in that moment, she was trapped in a prison she didn’t even recognize. I still see her posting bible quotes from time to time but I don’t think I’ve talked to her in 5 or so years. I wonder if she even remembers me. There was my next door neighbor who once turned to me in my basement in the summer and asked if I could keep a secret. I could, and she told me she thought she was gay and that I was the only person she’d ever told. Later on that night, I could hear yelling from her house across the street, or at least that’s what I remember. Maybe in my mind it was screaming but in actuality it was the dark pines behind her house creaking in the wind. Maybe the birds were louder than usual that night. We were 10 years old, she never spoke to me again. 

These were the girls, existing linearly in my mind and my life. Almost one after another they came and went and left small ghostly outlines where they used to fit in my life. Snow angels. From fleeting acquaintances who found solace in my company before leaving queerness behind, to perhaps most cruelly, in 2016, my childhood best friend. 

I still prayed every day that year, and God still looked like a man to me. I prayed for a lot of things: for my parents not to be killed, for my dog not to be killed, for my friends to not die suddenly in their sleep. I counted on my fingers the number of times I made the sign of the cross over my chest. Two was even, good luck. Three was bad luck, meant to cover your back if you messed up. If I was picking at my skin and someone caught me, that was three snaps of my fingers or crosses over my chest if I was alone. I’d finish my shower and dash out of the bathroom before the faucet drained. If it did and I heard it, I’d squeeze my eyes shut and make the sign of the cross quickly over my chest and forehead, pushing my fingers into the middle of my sternum. I didn’t grow up religious but being homeschooled, I was around a lot of religion. I knew who God was. I’m still not sure why these rituals were so important, why I did them daily that year, or why I still do them sometimes. 

I know now what I was so afraid of, but then I couldn't say it, for saying it (or even writing it) would spell it into existence. I figured if it only lived in my head it wouldn’t matter. Lots of things existed only in my head, thoughts of violence and death I tried to put out like candles with the pads of my fingers, cruelties to everyone around me I worried could come true if I thought hard enough, the perverted thoughts of a pre teen mind just learning of sex and what it meant. I didn’t know what obsessive compulsive disorder was then; I didn't think to bring this up to anyone, I just figured I couldn't trust my own head. This actually worked out pretty well since my brain got pretty loud. Snap snap snap. 

Who I am now and who I was then are nearly identical in some ways, I still hide things in corners of my mind, I still get periodically uncomfortable by touch from anyone. Sometimes in the shower I gaze at the faucet and wonder if I’ll remember to leave before it drains. 

Back then, I didn’t know if anything I felt was real or if other people felt it too.. All I knew was that obviously there was something wrong with me. 

I don’t always think fondly of that summer now. I remember it as the first time 

I ever felt big in my clothing, or in the car; when I started to notice how my arms-when held at my sides-didn’t touch my torso. I noticed how, when I sat down, my legs didn't sit properly next to each other but rather splayed out in a way; my knees not touching. It was the summer that felt like the end of something indescribable (that I didn’t notice disappearing until it was gone) and the start of something far more serious, an adolescence filled with repentment. I can find snapshots of that time if I look hard enough: getting on my knees to pray to someone I couldn't quite make out, craning my neck out the window to see if the planes passing over would for some reason fall out of the sky and hit my house, pinching at the sides of my arms or the place where my thighs touched, writing a letter and burning it with a BIC lighter into a soup pot. In the months after I would get my first period and lose my best friend. Looking back, I wish that on the camping trip or in the basement I’d not been so comforting towards those girls. I wish I’d laughed or taunted them, I wish I’d done something else other than try to save them. The girlish urge to save people would stick to me like my swim shirt for years to come. 


A quick portrait, the memory of a dream:

We must have spent a thousand hours cooped up in her attic bedroom. We both had cropped our hair short and she wore boy clothes mostly for the period in which I knew her. She was rail thin and would laugh at anything I said so I'd spend my evenings thinking of jokes to tell her. I could come up with games quite easily too and it was a good feeling to be valued for my mind. When she went to summer camp and I stayed home, I called her every other day on the landline. When we were in any group I would sit and linger around her like a mosquito. I think when I was younger I only knew how to get close to people in an unsustainable fashion. I cried over her just as much as I laughed at her. This in my mind was “friendship” I worship you and you can need me for it (which works quite well on the self-absorbed). I think she had a magnetism to her I wanted, although even now 8 years later I couldn’t put my finger on it; knobby knees and freckles and not a single instance I remember where she was unhappy. At least in those first years she was a 2 dimensional god, more charismatic than me and with more admirers. I'd go home and pick at my skin and examine myself in the bathroom mirror. I got my hair cut shorter. I'm sure she had issues, especially later after we parted, but in our youth she was always in the eye of the hurricane around her. and i was there too, spinning; trying to get into the calm. 

None of this is friendship, it’s just yellow- bellied infatuation mixed with sticky bug spray, the faint smell of tea tree oil, and pubescent sweat, all of which took up my 5 senses that summer. Not in a good way. It felt like a sickness.

However, In the late months of spring it was still mysteriously cold out. I wore a sweater out in the fields every Thursday morning and was sweating by lunch (which was still eaten out of a bag that year; sandwiches on sprouted wheat bread). I ate under a tree and drank from a thermos. I didn’t go to public school so most of what I saw each day was farmland and the walls of my own house or someone else’s. When I was at the farm though most of my hours were spent sprawled somewhere with my best friend, most likely by the goat pen or behind the greenhouses. 

She was tall and lanky, though in retrospect probably quite small when looked at by someone who wasn’t 11 years old. She would eat green peppers out of a bowl while her siblings and I downed pizza and coke in her living room. Her house was old (Revolutionary War era) with peeling wallpaper visible under haphazardly painted walls. A small kitchen and mudroom where we’d clean off our rain boots, the creaky floor boards in the hall, the yard, the chicken coop, the long driveway leading into the barn turned garage (where we’d retrieve chalk and scooters when the weather allowed for it). And of course the cramped attic where she slept until the age of 13. The attic was quiet, if we were quiet. I wish I remembered when we were. I don’t remember so many things about that year; there are so many holes in my recollection. I remember how it all ended, and some of the beginning too. However, the boring parts have left me 8 years in the future. All the memories are fuzzy now. Maybe that’s for the best. I can keep with me the nice parts and forget the rest. Still though, if you blindfolded me, I could still probably make it from her front gate to the attic based on touch alone. 

But that’s way too flowery and nice sounding to be true. Everything looks rose-colored when looked back upon. And there’s a common misconception that girls can’t ruin each other’s lives. I think my best friend at age 11 damaged me more than both ex boyfriends I had combined. Female friendship can be unassuming or all-consuming, worship and penance in a tireless loop. It can be beautiful in a “we were girls together” Instagram post caption or a found diary entry from when you couldn’t quite grasp penmanship. It can feel like abuse, like why did she measure my thighs? Why did she kick me out and why did I wait in her living room for forty-five minutes for my mom to pick me up? Why did I cry over the shape of her prepubescent body compared to mine? Love is wretched sometimes. It feels like a wound you pick at over and over to feel the hurt again but also to watch as the blood pools up satisfyingly. I’d like to think there’s a place for God in all of this, in finding false gods where there previously were none. I’d like to think that maybe I felt the need to seek guidance in something that mimicked my own image just enough to worship it in its perceived perfection. Maybe that could’ve been, in later years, substances (if I hadn’t been so careful) or maybe my mother (in a universe in which I came from her rib and not her womb). 

Still, years later I for some reason refer to her as an old friend and not as the epidemic of my own self-loathing manifested into flesh and bone. I was always nice. The empathy I show her memory comes from the kindness I was taught as a young girl: the girl-given gift of empathy. The thought that if my manners were satisfactory and I made no mistakes, I could keep my world spinning and keep myself on it

Snap snap snap. 


Art by Mya Tozzi


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