Anwyn Li

Sasha and I primarily communicate in hard contact. I nudge a little kindly and Sasha nudges back, harder. Both of us continue until we draw a temporary line for the day, or rather, she yells at me to stop.

We sit in the back row, waiting for class to start. In the theater room, the black plastic foldable chair wiggles under my butt, pinned up by flimsy screws and struggling from the years of maltreatment from middle schoolers. I swing my feet and eagerly blab. Sasha is my friend. The idea sits pleasantly in my sixth grade brain, just like I sit happily, turning to my friend for affirmation. Sasha tolerates me, hoodie pulled over her head, and slouches into the space she’s created for herself. I ignore the danger in her silence and continue to talk, confiding in her my opinions, the workings of my day, the things that irk and the things that soothe.

Today, however, I make one too many stupid comments.

“God, why are you so fucking annoying?”

Sasha slaps me right across the face, the sound muffled by her hoodie’s sleeve. She’s tall and bears a lot of leverage over me, but it doesn’t hurt. Her slap doesn’t even sting. My cheek simply pulses, a trilling alarm slammed on snooze, and I stare a thousand miles into the ground.

“Sasha!” Mrs. Brown snaps, dropping her arms stiffly by her side and marching over. “You can’t just hit someone like that!”

Neither of us reply. The class observes the spectacle, quieter than ever. Sasha’s quiet indignation provides filler for their silence: she has long wanted to render me mute. Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that I’m the one getting hit today, because after all, I’m too eager. Next time, I should keep my outbursts in check. But she and I are still friends.

Mrs. Brown asks if I’m okay, and I give her a meek yes. She offers me a trip down to the nurse’s office, and I shake my head furiously and say the slap didn’t hurt. Without hesitation, Mrs. Brown whips her finger at the door and orders Sasha to the principal’s office. My friend pulls herself out of the plastic
chair and drags her feet out the door. For the rest of class, I glue my arms to my sides, the quiet, empty space in the chair beside me keeping me company.

In silence, I wonder if my classmates aren’t as well-versed in the language of pushing and shoving as I thought they were. But what I don’t see is that right after John would bump into Jonah or Lara would smack Lauren’s shoulder, both kids would laugh and smile at each other. Sasha hadn’t laughed or smiled back at me.

But I think of the other acquaintances I’d made, lifeless paper doll after paper doll that I could only prop up in my hands before tucking away. So to me, the new girl with no friends, Sasha’s presence isn’t just a decoration that talks. She’s real. I can pat her shoulder or drag her arm with me as we run to
the cafeteria together after class. The way we communicate is something I can feel, something I can wring around my neck like a scarf and remind myself that at least somewhere, I feel warm. So I tell myself that if I put a part of me away, out of reach from Sasha’s fingers and instead into the force of my own hands, slaps like these won’t hurt. Because they don’t.