To be Known, To be Experienced - Audrey Weisburd
I was sitting on the outside of a circle of giddy girls, poking my ear through the narrow gaps of tanned bony shoulders. I witnessed something come to life in this strange circle of twelve year old girls. They exchanged first-kiss stories and current crushes. I saw sex in their eyes for the first time, even though I didn’t quite know what that was. The blonde one swore she was in love. She wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. I had never seen someone speak with such all-consuming intensity as the way people talked when talking about someone else.
I escaped into an unfamiliar restroom and analyzed my body in the mirror above the sink. My fair, freckled skin and innocent eyes stuck out like a sore thumb in a room of uninhibited lust. I contemplated how it would feel to be touched, what it could mean to be experienced, what it would be like to be an extension of someone else. And suddenly, I was starving. I craved nothing more than to sit on the inside of a circle of giddy girls and lean on each other's shoulders as we navigate what it means to be known. So I searched for companionship in the eyes of strangers – for solace in a crowded basement or a Subway car. I was homesick for romance, hollow for experience, until I grew sick from longing. Tired from desire, I began to look inward. I learned the sound of my voice and the things I have to say, and just then, it was my turn.
It was the first of September in a faceless lecture hall. Every student wore a blue surgical mask and a hint of fear – first-day-of-school jitters paired with the pandemic. I locked eyes with a boy who stumbled in late. I liked feeling his eyes glued to me, even when I looked down. We shared a look that felt warm, like a secret burning over a stove. The boy approached me in a cafe after class, shaking my hand with a calloused grip. Then, before each grueling exam, we studied beneath a shady tree with a soul of its own. Sometimes we studied, but sometimes we invented things. Sometimes we laughed up a new language. Sometimes we fell in love.
The middle of December marked winter break. At the time, we were “just friends,” a hilarious purgatory. I stayed up until sunrise texting the boy about absolutely nothing and everything. Nothing and everything, every night to the morning. When we returned from the break, all of the boundaries collapsed. He was here, I was here, we were here, and we thought we were ready. Every muscle in my body surrendered softly to this thrill that felt higher than human. I buried the instinct that we were too young for the words and the promises exchanged. I buried many things.
In April we played house. We fed the cat and slept in my childhood bed. We slow-danced in a motherless kitchen. We sipped on cheap, gas station wine. In August we spent some nights in hotels we could not afford. We went to the symphony we could not afford. He treated me to restaurants with valet services and cloth napkins and gnocchi. After a spring and summer fantasy, we sat in dining halls and dorms, like time-travelers darting through years. I couldn’t believe I found someone who felt so much like home, I entirely forgot I had yet to decorate the home within myself. My bones remain unpolished, collecting dust, and I haven’t gotten around to picking out art for the walls of my skin.
By the following September, we agreed to meet beneath the tree with a soul of its own. The tree that holds our roots, too. The bark that we leaned against as we studied, invented, laughed, and loved. But this time we sunk into one another, sobbing in each other’s arms. I always thought heartbreak would be red, full of fire and anger, betrayal and rejection. That I would dye my hair black and find a rebound or five, grow thick skin, and move on. But in my story, heartbreak is staring into the eyes of my very best friend and choosing to give each other the necessary space to grow.
As November turned the corner, his voice dropped three octaves and his hair was bleached blonde. He smelled of second day sweat and nameless women. I couldn’t find much of him left in his eyes. That was the worst of it. That is still the worst of it.
But tonight, I sat in the middle of a circle of girls crying about what it means to be known. I lean on them as they give me their undivided attention, helping me craft a list of goals and ways I can feel at home – alone. In between silence and solace, we laugh at the brutal impermanence of companionship, the burdens of being known. We consider all the ways people die all while living. We sit with reality TV in the background and I try to remember simplicity. I sit in the center of a circle of giddy grown girls and I try to remember how it feels to be a child.