Originally Published @ Crab Fat Literary Magazine: http://crabfatmagazine.com/2015/03/the-last-like/
1.From what I knew of her, Jenny was an art kid.
She was known for her small eccentricities—paint dotted hands, glittery overalls. Her hair was big, curly brown and made me think of my great aunts. They were Texans and I saw them twice a year, once at Christmas and once at Easter, “both Lord’s days.” They entered our house with their big hair and their small acorn shaped faces and pulled at my cheeks commenting on how much of a “man I had become.” Jenny had that type of hair, the type that was brown and curly and piled on top of her head like a messy plate of linguine, the kind that leaked through plastic plates. Her hair performed as a magnifying glass, expanding the rest of her face- her nose, her chin, her robust forehead.
What I remember most about Jenny were her eyes. They were large, also magnified, and resembled doll’s eyes, open, and glossy but not dead. They were almost too alive, as if she secretly painted rolling waves in her eyes when no one was looking.
Though we attended the same school since sixth grade and often bumped into each other in classrooms or on bathroom breaks, I only learned that Jenny was an award winning artist my freshman year of high school. I remember this because at the time, Ben Rosenberg and I were meeting in the theater to make out during lunch period. We grew up together like most boys do, rolling in dirt, breaking imaginary chairs over each other’s backs at recess like we saw on WWE, peeing into the same toilet during bathroom break, arguing over whose was bigger.
One day we caught my older sister, Mandy kissing her secret boyfriend on the couch when we were nine. We knew he was secret because Mandy told us so. She promised to rip our balls off with her teeth if we ever told anyone about them.
His name was Randall and he was black. He had a big mouth and when he kissed her, his lips covered hers completely. Randall ripped at her clothes as if he were a squirrel digging for something important, as if he were trying to create a shelter for cold weather. When he undid her bra clasp, her breasts fell out of her shirt and wriggled around.
Ben whispered in my ear. “They’re alive, you know. That’s why they move like that. My dad says that things like those, the kind that move around like that, are real and living.”
His whisper was wet and I twisted a finger in my ear spooning out the damp.
Later, in my room we were pretending to be fairy tales. I was the Giant, and he was Jack climbing. I was Hansel, and he was Gretel. Then, I was Little Red Riding Hood and he was the Wolf. I placed an old hoodie over my head, the bright red, ratty one that the dog mangled long ago, and pranced around my room poking out my chest as far as I could.
“I’m off to Grandmother’s house.” I sang. My high voice made Ben snort and laugh and hide his pointy teeth behind his hands. “Look at me, all by myself. All alone and lonely.”
Ben jumped out, pointing a finger straight up on both sides of his head.
“And I am the Wolf. I will huff and puff and blow your house down.”
He tackled me, grabbing me by my waist and threw me onto the floor. He smelled like lemons and dirty socks and he opened his mouth over my face, creating a wide gaping hole, like something monsters crawled out of.
Then he paused, as if something were decided, and put his lips just under my nose, just above my lips, and smacked loudly. The sound bounced off the walls and I punched him in the stomach.
It was my first kiss.
Our freshman year of high school we came to the theater every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon desperately grabbing each other- allowing our confusion to rest on each other’s stomachs and in each other’s mouths.
We ended abruptly on a Wednesday afternoon when he called me a “faggot” and said, “He wasn’t gay.” He walked away before I could tell him that I wasn’t either.
At the time, I was a cheap romantic. For this reason, I showed up at the same place that Friday, sitting in the last row of the theater, hidden just beneath the balcony shadows where we used to search for ourselves. The room was quiet and the quiet was loud; so much, so that I thought I could hear my thoughts bounce back and forth between the theater walls.
There were great acoustics here.
Bitterness set in my throat and tasted strangely of bile. The feelings were not a wave. They stuck to me like dark, curling things—seaweed, snakes, or hot leather belts.
The lights went down.
Instinctively, I pulled my hood up; covering myself as if someone could see what was once done in these seats. But, it wasn’t my show. Not this time.
The theater lights went up and Jenny walked on from the wings, a pale swan jumping from the red. She waddled when she walked, and I imagined little chicks following her, getting smaller and smaller until they disappeared entirely. From the top of the stage, a painting was slowly brought down, attached to a long bar which she controlled by rolling her hands in a motion that looked like a dance move. It surprised me how the light reacted to the painting. Though it was only half finished, the top portion of the canvas was going to be a sky, complete with a bright yellow-orange sun and eggshell colored clouds. The background was the light, wispy blue of Jenny’s eyes.
When she looked into the audience, her eyes melted into the painting, and I crouched in my seat. I felt like she could see through me even then.
2.Kelly was sort of stupid, but I didn’t mind. She was best friends with the most popular girl in school and had breasts that were too big for her body. Whenever she wore heels, she looked like she was about to fall over and the often confused expression on her face attracted guys in a way that I would never understand. One time, I had my arm draped over her shoulder as we walked down the hallway and I pushed her just a little to make sure that she was a real person. Kelly hit her head against a locker and giggled a tiny bit, slapping me on the shoulder playfully. Her expression changed from confusion to glee.
I dated Kelly my sophomore and junior year of high school, even though I was convinced that she was a robot.
The night that Larry Golde threw the party was the night we got into the playoffs. I was a mostly benched player on the basketball team, and at Frankerville High, even that was an accomplishment. The basketball players were the stars of the school and although I was the least popular guy on the team, I got the same perks as everyone else. I wore my basketball jersey weeks at a time and no one found it gross. If anything, they admired me for it.
Kelly whispered in my ear.
“Do you know what I’m going to do to you?”
I realized in that moment how much I hated her.
The gym was crowded and her parents stood by looking at us as if they were already planning the wedding and the vacation house in Fiji and the two blonde, grand kids playing cops and robbers in the backyard. I shifted my too-big jersey that was threatening to slide fully off my body. The strong stench of sweat rose from the gym floor.
“Great game man!” Larry Golde said. He gave Kelly a hug and patted her on the ass, before sticking me under his sweaty armpit. Endearing.
My parents took pictures.
“They’re like brothers.” My mother said to my father, slapping him on the arm. She was wearing her favorite cardigan, a pink button down from J. Crew that revealed her ample and freckle covered cleavage. My father cowered over her 5’4 frame and he looked bored or disgusted or both. He rubbed at his arm as if she left an unseen bruise.
Ben passed me as I was still in the forest of Larry’s underarms. His body was draped around his new girlfriend Sarah. She was a Jewish girl and attended synagogue faithfully every Saturday. She had brown hair and naturally red lips as if she binge drank a Kool-Aid packet when no one was looking.
My face grew hot.
The fuckers wore matching outfits.
3.That night, before the party, I stopped my car in the woods and I had sex with Kelly. I pounded her roughly, using her body as my punching bag; replacing her face with mine.
“Do you like getting rammed?”
She looked confused, but nodded and moaned like a little girl getting a Band-Aid torn off. I didn’t know if she felt anything. She struck me as the type of girl who had never had an orgasm before. The type who faked it with dozens of men, and then called herself a virgin.
When I finished, I laid beside her in the backseat of my car, crying loudly making the owls hoot louder in the trees above. I covered my face and salt dribbled into my mouth. She laid on my chest. Her breasts hurt as they pressed hard against me.
“I love you too.” She whispered in the dark. I uncovered my face and looked at hers.
The moon came through the window and shined on her newly, bleached teeth.
4.I don’t remember much of Larry Golde’s party. When I think back on it now, I get pictures covered in fog. I see Kelly’s breasts round and firm like pale full moons. I see Ben on a couch clutching Marcy’s thigh hard, making an imprint on her, like a dog pissing on a stop sign. I see Jenny. Why is she there?
I see her big hair and the one, now- blue strand glittering in the pounding lights that match the music. Fast paced, like Tokyo Drift.
I see a video. This I remember perfectly. Jenny is laying on a bed. Her body is pale and chubby like the bodies of women in Renaissance paintings. I look at her and think of hills, rolling, unending, like eternity. Her stomach creates a slight balcony fold over her pelvis.
I remember Larry Golde making retching noises beside me, but that is not possible because he is in the video. He is on top of her and her blue eyes are out of focus, rolling around like disco balls. He slaps her breast firmly and it moves as if it’s dancing. I wonder if Kelly’s breasts are real, once more.
“I’m a virgin,” Jenny whispers to Larry, her eyes shooting into focus for a brief second.
I remember my throw up hitting the floor. It spatters on the rug and covers my big toe.
Where are my shoes?
5.They called her Jennifer Moore, the iCloud whore. And yes, the video spread.
It spread through the cafeteria, the library, the classrooms, the gym, and especially the locker rooms- both boys and girls. Alicia Dunne became the best artist in school. On the outside of Jenny’s gym locker, four months after the video, Alicia drew her specialty. Stick figures. Stick figures with large bodies. Stick figures with speech bubbles. “I’m a virgin,” “I’m a tease”; “I dye one strand of my hair because the rest of it is poop colored.”
It appeared on iCloud around 6:00 pm on a Thursday. I remember that time because I was beating off in the bathroom, strangling my dick harder and harder and only stopping when my phone pinged.
In the picture, Jenny stood in front of the stick figures wearing a towel and looking into the camera lens.
Her eyes were the color of choking veins, still blue. Freezing.
6.I got home one day from school and my parents sat on the couch. It was a large, white IKEA sofa that we only used when guests were in the house. They looked unnatural, sitting there trying to look as if they did it all the time. My father’s bone straight back bent at an odd angle and he tried to drape his arm over the sofa back. My mother was playing piano in her hair, twirling her fingers in and out, weaving them up and down, attempting to hit each note while hiding the frustration in her eyes.
I placed my book bag on the floor beside me and looked hard at them, trying to read their faces.
“Who died?” I inquired.
My mother snorted and then excused herself grabbing a handkerchief to wipe something imaginary from her nose.
“No one died.” She said, quietly. “We found this in your room.”
The magazine was old. Truck Drivers 4, some kind of retro porn. The men were hairy and reminded me of my fourth grade English teacher, Mr. Ransom. At the annual school pool party, he showed up in a plaid red and white shirt, one button down releasing black curly hair, and bright red Speedos. He sat next to me on one of the beach chairs and said, “Let’s take a dip.”
I could feel the heat rising behind my face. I thought it was embarrassment, until it was anger.
“You barely talk to me and then you come to me with this! You have no right to search my room!” The room became quiet. The faint sound of our maid’s humming voice floated through the side door.
My father cleared his throat and took the magazine from my mother, stiffly. The paper was glossy and nearly slipped through his fingers.
“Au contraire, I would like to know if my son is taking part in perverted practices.”
Suddenly, she popped into my head. Pervert. My throat was thick and I repeated a mantra. A remembrance: Her eyes are blue as if she drew oceans in them. Her eyes rolled. “I’m a virgin,” she warned. He plummeted inside of her. Her eyes are blue as if she drew oceans in them. Her eyes rolled.
My parents spoke, saying nothing and everything, until the sun went down.
Consuelo’s humming stopped.
7.The last time I saw Jennifer Moore alive and in person was the spring of my junior year. No matter what, she still painted for the school show every marking period.
At the time, it was a musical. Cats or Fiddler on the Roof or something.
I went to the show with two guys from my English class. One smelled like mildew and the other smelled like lilac detergent. He had a strong double chin, and I wondered what it would feel like to have a chin like that. He seemed to walk with it in the same way that girls walk with new purses. Careful and expecting compliments.
We sat in the second row of the theater and I looked around. Parents took pictures of the stage. The red curtains remained unopened. I turned straight in my seat, and that’s when I saw Jenny.
I barely recognized her. Her hair was one color and glitter was nowhere to be found.
She wore a gray dress and black shoes. She looked washed out—like she had been left too long in the washing machine. She looked small, as if someone found her in a corner too late.
Jenny stared at the stage as if the performance had already started.
I looked too, squinting, wanting to see.
“Jennifer Moore” someone coughed loudly behind me. The sound was low and grunting and just made it over the pre-show noise.
From the upper right of the auditorium.
I looked at Jenny and she stared at the stage. Her body was not moving. She looked dead, or half-alive.
The parents didn’t notice. Sometimes I wondered if, like us, they heard Charlie Brown whomp-whomps when we spoke.
Mildew boy joined in and nudged my shoulder, as if we were pals. The double chin guy just sat in his seat crossing his arms, as if he were jealous. A couple of parents and teachers began catching on, creasing their eyebrows in confusion to all the coughs and whispers. Others remained oblivious.
When I turned back to the front, Jenny wasn’t there. The EXIT doors to the right of the theater knocked together, shivering. No one else noticed her absence.
Violent coughs of “iCloud whore” continued until Act 2.
“You should kill yourself, whore.”
Josh Polin, Harry Schmidt, Fiona Brown, and 64 others like this.
9.It was my seventeenth birthday party. It was senior year. I was dancing with a girl. She was tiny, about five foot with a strange nose that curved to the right. I looked over at Ben. He was dancing, gyrating his body in these jerky movements, and I thought of seventh grade when he danced like that and his date went for a bathroom break as quickly as possible.
“Well fuck her then.” I said. “I’ll always be your secret dancing partner.”
He gave me a hard push.
When Kelly ran up to me, I was ready to tell her to back off. We had broken up a week ago and she still looked confused. She was crying. She held up her phone, which glowed in the dark. It seemed to be vibrating in color, matching the strobe lights, shrugging its shoulders with glee, laughing at me.
Frankerville Post: breaking news. Sixteen-year-old found dead in her bath tub.I looked at Kelly and realized she wasn’t crying for Jenny. She was crying for us.
10.“What did you do?”
My mother cried in a corner, her mascara gooped on her short lashes. She looked old, like something dried up, pruned, and left out in the sun to die.
My father hit me for the first time. A small push that sent me flying into a vase he won in an auction. I remembered that day well.
It was the day of my first basketball game ever. I was nine. I was nervous and sweaty and my mother cheered from the sidelines with my sister, alone and together. Later, my father brought home the vase, a skinny old thing from Russia or Serbia, or some cold place. He petted it without touching. He loved it, unashamed.
He looked at me standing in the doorway, jersey hanging down my body, pants drooping. I smelled like the grime of every gym floor.
The vase stood on its own. Dry, shiny, new.
I thought about the vase, then me, the vase, then me, the vase-
“Go take a shower, bud. You’re getting sweat on the floor.”
11.My name is Josh Polin. I was the last person to like the status that killed Jenny Moore. Although the other 64 students were tortured too, somehow I ended up getting it worse than everyone else. Maybe it was the papers. Every major newspaper in the United States had my face plastered across their front pages. It was a picture of me in my basketball jersey, sweaty and satisfied.
They were calling me “The Last Like.”
12.Sometimes I imagine that Jenny didn’t kill herself. I imagine that she fooled us all and she’s somewhere in a warm place, using the ocean as a canvas, stroking her dyed hair through the waves. Her paintbrush. Whenever I imagine this, I can’t tell if she notices me or not, but I promise you I am there. I am just on the shore, cradling my legs and watching her always. Never turning away.
The sun is too hot on my skin and it freezes me in time, burning.