To stop me from eating my own snot and Cheerios for the third night in a row, Elle suggested we go to a party, claiming that break-up grief only ended when we decide. What self-help book she got that from I didn’t know, but I obliged. I stopped crying long enough for her to wand-curl my hair, do my makeup, and stuff me into a too-small crop top. Coats and weed in tow, we met our Uber driver downstairs. He was weird looking and kind of greasy. Elle nudged me and eyed him. No, I mouthed. She shrugged, still probably picturing me hooking up with him.
We pulled up at a brick housing project. The New Years Eve party had barely started and already there were solo cups spread across the lawn of our stop. The entire set-up felt like a bad 80’s movie. Elle didn’t mind. She pulled me behind her and parted the crowd while music from cheap speakers blared and barbecue sizzled outside.
“Find a guy!” she yelled at me while twerking on some dude in a Patriots jersey. I wanted to ask if she knew him but decided against it.
As I ventured off, I studied my surroundings. Even with at least a hundred people packed in it, you could tell the house wasn’t normally well kept. The walls were stained, the carpet dirty. En route to the kitchen, I felt several hands grip my ass. I grabbed a cup out of some red-headed girl’s hand and let whatever was in it scorch my throat into complacency. If my ex could get on with life, so could I.
All the men there were faceless, so I chose one like Elle had done and didn’t object when he kept slamming his crotch against mine and basically air-fucked me through my jeans. No one near us minded. They were doing more or less the same. He said something to me, something about my fragrance or whatever, but I didn’t care enough to try and hear it. He was still crotch slamming and staring at my chest. I was sharing a blunt with a couple next to us. After what felt like hours, I drifted away from the guy and went to the snack table. I had almost popped a handful of pretzels in my mouth when my eyes caught a roach zig-zagging around the bowls.
I texted Elle to see where she was. I was hungry and fucked up and wanted to go home. After five minutes, she still hadn’t opened my message. I tried calling her only to feel a vibration in my purse. I fished her phone and keys out of my bag.
Ready to see you again.
Pull up when you done.
The number that had sent her those messages was unsaved, which is why I immediately recognized it as my ex’s. “Seeing other people” had meant my best friend. The room stopped, the music a loud cacophony of my hurt. I think my face turned hot, but I couldn’t feel it. Was this hate? The thing that sabotaged weddings and caused the Holocaust? The opposite of love? I stood in it, in that hate for what could’ve been millenniums. This was Elle Jones. The one who let me practice my first kiss on her hot brother, the one that dumped milk on my bully in high school. She was fearless and had men on her fingers like acrylic nails. When did she ever need anything that was mine?
I waited outside for another Uber. The same greasy guy pulled up, and I got in the front seat. He asked if my destination would be where I’d come from earlier. I stared at him blankly before blurting out, “You’re not so ugly!” I could tell I had embarrassed him, but my tongue was too lazy to repair it. Traffic made the drive to Elle’s apartment longer than either of us were comfortable with, but the car was too tense for small talk, so I offered him a blowjob instead. He declined, which made me cry. I wasn’t enough for anyone. That quiet, greasy guy didn’t know what to make of me, and he probably couldn’t wait to get home and tell whoever was there that loved him what a night he’d had.
I fiddled with her keys when I got to the door, stalling the way I’d seen her do a million times. She loved standing around longer than necessary because she spent so much time on her outfits and wanted every human and insect eye to see it. I couldn’t channel that energy, though, because it was difficult to stand still. I’d been holding a piss for twenty minutes.
Finally going inside and kicking off her wedges, I went in Elle’s bathroom and noticed all her decor for what felt like the first time. She had the typical Target wall art with quotes no one needs or actually says. I’d gone with her for most of it; she’d twisted my arm like she’d done most of our lives. I was a homebody, not a lonely passive-aggressive one that didn’t get invited anywhere, but one that sang loudly despite neighbors and played in makeup to go nowhere. I’d penned a few songs for local bands. There was nothing I couldn’t do or be alone, but Elle just thought I was some sad sack that needed to get out more and while there had been lots of other things our relationship had been built around, that was the backbone of it; it had just never been verbalized.
It showed, though, when she’d get this pity glance in her eyes when I’d say I’m spending the weekend inside. It happened a lot when I’d tell her how distant my ex, Brandon, would be sometimes. We weren’t compatible in any way, and I knew that, but he was so goddamn self-centered that he never noticed how quiet I was. He’d go on for hours about his alcoholic grandmother in Ohio and how God was a metaphor for all molecular structures, and that he wasn’t stupid because he flunked out of college but that college was stupid for ever allowing anyone to flunk out, and I’d just be sketching through these conversations, letting him provide me with enough background noise to really create, and I’d missed him because of that. Elle had never created anything, and she’d be extremely possessive over my skills. “This is my friend. She’s an artist. I guess someday I’ll learn some tricks from her.”
You’d never catch me dead with Target wall art, and realizing that made me realize all of Elle was a facade. Elle hadn’t been my hero; I’d been hers. I didn’t know if that was my boozed up philosophy or my true feelings, but I knew I wasn’t angry anymore. Me being calmer and sobering up didn’t make her arrangements any less shitty, though. I went in her living room and removed all the Bible quotes, the fake optimism, the photos of us. I cleared them all and with a small bin of Sharpies, got to working on the wall. This was going to be free-handed if it killed me. No planning, no mental reference. Just my hands and Elle’s wall.
While my body went to work, I thought about the day I introduced Brandon and Elle. We’d lunched at Pimento’s, and even though all I got was tea and a grilled cheese, my card was swiped for everyone’s tab. They didn’t even notice the waitress come back; they were too busy talking over one another. Looking at them made me almost feel bad for extroverts. Afterwards we got drinks and ended up at some high school talent show. We sat in the back and obnoxiously made fun of the performers, much to the other spectators’ vexation. Having no one else to impress, Elle and Brandon, each on either side of me, took turns vying for my laughter. I’d never loved them or hated them more.
I stepped back from the wall. My hands were full of marker, but the wall...to call it beautiful would’ve been an affront to its appeal. The reds and oranges of the word “You” blended together so intensely like a scorned sunset. I’d played with shadow effects on “Deserve.” It looked like you could touch it from five feet away, the way it flowed forward. I’d kept “Him” as the best part. Letters in Brandon’s name were hinged to each other except for the “n.” I made the “n” fall from the rest, like it was crashing to the floor in slow motion.
I looked at the mural in eons of silence, then gathered myself up and out of that place.
Andrea Jefferson is a creator and princess residing in Southern Louisiana. Her chapbook, "Stray Curls and Dirty Laundry" (Amazon KDP 2018) was released digitally in 2018. Find the author on Twitter and Instagram @honeydree.