Our magnetism was as silent as the movies we watched at your house every Friday, except for the second one in March, where Hillary asked if we could hang out. I knew that Hillary felt a guilt-induced sentimentality every time she saw that picture of us as little kids in her blow-up swimming pool, laughing and clinging to each others’ necks.
But we do grow.
Hillary’s Princess Jasmine swimsuit grew too small, and her limbs long, and her college essays longer, and fingers that grasped for tiny hugs yearned for the long neck of a vodka bottle.
Unfortunately, I am guilty of growing, too. I no longer jam myself into the corner of my closet with a flashlight and a Dr. Seuss book, whispering the stories aloud to myself. I no longer see Hillary as a shining beacon of idolatry. When the depression hit, I sort of climbed into the closet of myself, shining a flashlight into the empty space where my first love wasn’t.
But I saw that Hillary still had that picture of us as little kids in a frame in her house every time I went to her New Year’s party, a guilty reminder that she had to contribute to the silly bonds of our similar blood.
So Mom insisted that I could see my “little friend for a movie” (that was you, dear, and those are her words, not mine) anytime, and that Hillary was family, and goshdarnit if I didn’t go to the mall with my cousin then the world would break out into World War III (my words, not hers).
So we went to the mall, the air conditioning sending goose bumps flaring up all over my arms and making the frozen yogurt she insisted on buying me completely illogical, and as she flicked through the clothing racks of her dimly-lit favorite store, I only started listening when I heard your name.
“The one you’re spending so much time with lately,” Hillary said, holding up a shirt to her body that looked exactly like all the others she had. “I like this one, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Hill. It’s great.”
She paused for a few moments, slid a few more hangers over. She was rolling around what she really wanted to say like a mint between her lips. “I mean…so what’s the deal, you two going out?”
My heart beat unfamiliarly in my chest, contorting around my rib cage. My family was particularly protective of the area of my love life, which is clearly every teenager’s dream. Seeing how my first love had run over my heart with a chainsaw and left me with clinical depression, they were interested in the details of who I decided to invest myself in.
I wanted to defend you, love, I did. I really hoped that we could be…’going out’, whatever that ridiculous term meant. But deep in the back of my throat I still felt a hollow pit of worry. I didn’t like taking pills and lying in bed all day and repeating the same things over and over to a stranger with a pad and pen. I liked the tips of your hair, teal and lilac flames, and I like how you made fun of me but it felt like praise, and I liked sitting on your couch with you middle school dance-distance apart and watching silent movies with you, but you have to think before you just rip your chest open and hand over your heart.
They could hurt it or heal it, and I didn’t know what your choice would’ve been then.
“We’re just friends,” I told Hillary, trying to seem nonchalant as I glanced over clothes I’d never buy.
“…Okay,” Hillary said, and I could almost hear her mind race and try to interpret my words like a supercomputer. Finally she stopped and looked right at me. “I mean, if you want to get together, fine. But if anyone ever hurts you as bad as the first time, I’ll kick their ass, okay?”
I knew I liked you the second she said that, because I wanted to kill her for threatening you, even if she didn’t know you.
“I love you, baby cousin.”
“Love you too.”
And I thought of that picture of Hillary and I again. I wondered if we loved each other, or the idea of each other.