Meet Cute, Taylar
One bare leg is elevated, stretched across the couch and held in an ankle-to-thigh hinged brace, with Steri-strips holding together four incisions from my last knee surgery. The other leg is held gently by the gorgeous woman sitting on my living room floor. For an instant, the pain above this knee--my left knee--is worse than that of the right. It makes me hold my breath. She’s holding her breath too, trying to keep her hand steady as she tattoos the words “We In Cahoots” across my skin.
Later, she’ll tattoo the phrase over her own knee, through a rip in her black skinny jeans, and we’ll eat slices of strawberry rhubarb pie--the lingering evidence of my 24th birthday--while watching a Taiwanese BL show, similar to the Thai show that inspired our matching tattoos. Or rather, we were inspired by the funny choice of words in the free English translation, proclaiming at a very serious moment that the powerful antagonists were “in cahoots!” We’re powerful antagonists, too, cause we in cahoots.
I’m twenty-four, which means in a few more months it’ll be a full decade since I met Taylar, though our decade of friendship anniversary won’t hit for a few more years. If the events of most of my friendships were taken out of the context of, well, me, they’d sound like the plots of love stories. My friendship with Taylar, rather than being an exception, is one of my favorite examples. Case in point: our biology class meet cute.
Maybe we’d encountered each other before: our town only had one middle school, but my first memories of Taylar are from our freshman year biology class. She sat a few rows behind me, and we didn’t talk. Facing forward, I kept my shoulders rigid, focused on the blank board even before class began, and trained my ears to track the conversations behind me.
I’ll give you the trope-y characters first; the details will fill in later. Taylar and her friends were the opposite of me. I was the intensely quiet nerd, and they were the punk-types: dyed hair and leather jackets and ripped jeans and piercings and chains and studs and noise. And I was terrified of them. Not because of anything they’d done, but because they were all the things I didn’t allow in myself. They were loud and late, they were flunking tests and talking about parties. I spent a year listening from a seat of willed invisibility.
Slowly, I found myself more intent on their storytelling, gravitating toward Taylar’s voice as she described walking through a house as the only person who wasn’t drunk, caring for her friends as they threw up, pushing back against the advances of boys and creepy men. (Is it creepy, just how much I eavesdropped?) She was fierce, for others and for herself too, and she was a total bookworm, and she was tender, and she was threatening. And I could never really get a good look at her face because I could never, never let myself turn around.
The final for our biology class was dissecting a fetal pig. As our teacher modeled the process, the scent of formaldehyde wafting across the room, I struggled not to vomit: I had to leave. I hadn’t been able to dissect a worm earlier that year either, letting my partner do all the work instead. As a kid I’d helped my dad butcher chickens without much of a problem, but something about desecrating a dead body, pulling it apart, for curiosity, deeply unsettled me. So our teacher gave another option: washing lab equipment. Only one other person in the class took him up on the offer.
Taylar and I stood elbow to elbow at a sudsy sink, and for the first time her voice was directed toward me. Mostly, she talked about the book she was writing, the difficulties of drafting. Or, that’s most of what I remember. That, and the feeling, or compulsion, or premonition, maybe: this person will be so important to me. That thought was immediately followed by oh hell no.
I was terrified of her; she was my opposite; who would I be if I were with her? Obviously the only answer is: I would be someone against all of my own rules. The rules that kept me both invisible and untouchable. The rules that kept me safe. So I kept nodding politely, kept rinsing beakers, kept running my water-wrinkled index finger over my water-wrinkled thumb, until it was time to pleasantly part ways. I let out a shaky breath after class. In the past, I’d had similar “sighting of the script” moments, and I’d have more in the future, but for now, I thought, I’ll resist this. Like Jonah, I’d focus on what I thought would keep me safe, screw everyone else and screw especially any sort of divine mandate. It would take time, instead of a whale, to wear me down.
So for years we didn’t talk. Each time I saw her in the halls I felt the tightening certainty of importance in my chest, and I shoved my gaze away to avoid it.
And then--suddenly--it was the summer after our junior year. And I couldn’t fight it anymore, that certainty, what felt like an authorial dictate. From a hotel room in Dublin, I sent her a friend request on Facebook, then a message asking how her book was coming along. I knew a lot of people from the high school saw me as pretentious, or judgy, or weird, so I felt defeated the second I hit send, the loss of what could have been welling below my stomach like an internal bruise.
A notification woke my computer from its sleep. She’d replied! I couldn’t keep still: joy had me flopping on the bed like a fish happy to be hooked. I vowed then that when the next school year started, I would make her my friend. In September she posted that she’d need a ride to school a few times a week, and I offered immediately to pick her up whenever she needed, and I hoped no one else had offered yet, and I was giddy to be driving her to school for the rest of the year.
That’s how our friendship started. Sometimes Facebook does help you make friends, or it did seven years ago.
She was my senior homecoming date, and I brought a cactus to her doorstep when I picked her up for the dance. She tried to grab my ass once and I threatened to run her over with my car. The threat was made with my car itself--not verbally--and after I’d slapped a few other people that fall, my peers knew not to touch me. Taylar came to the movie nights I hosted a couple times a month, and she came with me when I got my nose pierced. On the car ride to the piercing shop in Seattle, she softened her eyeliner over a lighter--every time I hold an eyeliner pencil I feel her presence next to me in the car.
When I wrecked my knee skiing over winter break, she sent me a text on New Years: “How are you celebrating tonight?” I was too embarrassed to admit that though I was supposed to be with a group of my other friends, I couldn’t drive, so I was marooned at home. They’d responded to my injury with “that’s too bad.”
“I’m not doing anything, really,” I told her: “I can’t drive.” She left her own party, drove the fifteen minutes out of town to pick me up, and drove me back to her house, where she declared the couch I was on a quiet, drug and alcohol free space. Before midnight she yelled that if anyone were to kiss me, it would be her, so everyone else better not even think about it. This person whom I’d been so scared of to start out with made every effort to include me and make me feel safe.
Who am I when I’m with Taylar? I’m someone who doesn’t have to hate and monitor myself to stay safe, because I have her love to protect me instead. She makes me brave. She makes me laugh. She makes the world a better place to live in. She is so important to me, and I’m still flooded occasionally with that feeling of joy that she chooses me back: a fish happy to be hooked.
After graduation, I moved to Seattle for school, then to Flagstaff for my master’s. I’ve had plenty of other friendly love stories with people in the meantime. Occasionally, Taylar and I would message each other, and we’d see each other sometimes when I was visiting home. She has her own romantic love story, and I’ve realized that I don’t necessarily want one for myself.
And now I’m back in Ellensburg, nearly ten years after meeting her, and our matching tattoos are healing, and I’m so glad to know her. Cause I think destiny writes friendships, too.