By Andi Schwartz
On a lazy Tuesday afternoon, I’m sprawled on my couch as my cat rubs his fuzzy grey cheeks against my ankles. Scrolling through images posted by friends, people I know, people I wish I knew, I pause on an image.
God, why does she always wear a side pony? That’s so 80s, I think.
Squinting, I pull the screen closer to my face to examine every detail. I stare at the pixels that form the image of a face I loathe. Louisa.
Her eyebrows are actually kind of perfect.
Quickly, I push the image off my screen with the flick of a thumb. Quick enough to pretend as if I hadn’t rested there at all, as if I hadn’t rested there a moment too long. After all, I don’t care about her, I don’t even like her!
Ugh, she’s so annoying. All over my Instagram.
I toss my phone away and peel myself off the couch. I may as well admit I’m taking a break from my pile of neglected work.
I lean over the bathroom sink to get close enough to examine my pores in the mirror. I stay like this, looking long and hard at my eyebrows before I pluck a few hairs. I gently rub the bare red spots with the tip of my finger.
I stand straight again and shake my long hair behind me. Tilting my head to the side, I look at myself and wonder…
After a slight pause, I gather my wavy tresses in a bunch under my left ear, turn my head sight left and right to see the new style from all angles. I bounce back to the couch with a renewed energy for my work — after I post a picture of my hairdo on Instagram.
A few hours later a key turns in the door and my roommate is home.
“Hey,” she says, as she flops down on the couch next to me. “Wait, what did you do to your eyebrows? Something shock you?” she laughs, tossing a pillow in my face.
“Shut up,” I mutter, slinking down on the couch and pulling the cushion tight around my still-raw brows.
Tonight we’re going to a party, and by ‘we’ I mean everyone. I know because I’ve been tracking the Facebook guest list. And maybe a few individual profiles.
It’s going to be fun, I silently assure myself that night, when I’m back in front of the mirror applying my make-up. I wonder what boring hipster clothes she’ll be wearing.
Out loud, I try to sound casual as I ask my roommate, “Ugh, do you think Louisa is going to be there?”
“I’m sure she will,” she replies absently as she scrolls intently through my iTunes searching for the right song.
“God, I bet she’ll be so drunk and inappropriate,” I continue. I glance at my roommate. Still focused on the computer screen she barely murmurs a reply.
“What a mess,” I say, and smear my lipstick thickly between my lips.
“Mhm,” my roommate mumbles. “Oh here it is. This is the song I was telling you about.” She bops her head as the beat starts.
I smooth down the front of my black sweater dress and flick my bangs back and forth across my forehead, a nervous habit I developed when I first cut them years ago. My stomach flutters and I swallow hard. It’s only a few strands of hair, but the side pony suddenly weighs heavily on my shoulder. And perhaps a little on my conscience. But I pull myself away from the mirror and bop along with my roommate.
Adequately boozy, I use the last few minutes before we leave to scour the Internet for any pre-game photos and steady myself for the night ahead.
“Good to go?” my roommate asks. I snap my laptop closed and we head down the stairs to the street and out into the night.
I don’t even care that she’s going to be there. I probably wouldn’t notice, it’s just that she’s so annoying and rude. Oh well, it’s going to be fun, I tell myself, once again. I push the thought out of my mind and return to laughing with my roommate as we charge against the cold wind.
And it is fun. We’re sitting at a sticky, round table. I’m drinking my favourite beer with a little citrus taste. But my eye is trained on the door half the time. I know my stomach won’t settle until I know where she is. Since we’re early, we get a few rounds on the dance floor before it becomes a sweaty mass of bodies. All warmed up and laughing, I finally see her come in, side pony and all. I raise my eyebrow and turn my head away, but the air deflates from my lungs and I remember the fluttery feeling in my stomach. I don’t feel much like dancing anymore. I falter, but I’m trying not to lose momentum, so:
“Shots?” I shout my proposal over the music. My roommate’s eyebrows raise excitedly and she nods, still to the beat, as we dance over to the bar where a few of our other friends are already leaning.
As the bartender pours our drinks, I see Louisa out of the corner of my eye. Her outfit choices never fail to amaze me. Pink, really? A pink collared shirt. That is so weird. I refocus on my friends as we tap our tiny glasses together and pour the burning liquid down our throats as fast as possible.
We order another round of beers and my friends are straining to hear me over the music. I can tell by the polite smiles and offbeat laughter that some of them can’t really hear me at all. I take a sip and try to swallow my frustration with beer.
A burst of laughter and chorus of voices pierces the din of dance beats and I snap my head around to see the source. Louisa’s surrounded by bodies covered in plaid, denim, asymmetrical haircuts, and ironic glasses, some doubled over and others jostling each other. With gesturing arms outstretched and an animated face leaning in close, she’s apparently telling the funniest story any of them have ever heard.
She’s only been here for five minutes, I fume. Her friends can obviously hear her just fine. I sink down onto a barstool like my body is caving in on me and tug at my ponytail.
The next day I find myself wandering hazily through the mall, not really sure what I’m looking for, but feeling increasingly discouraged that I can’t find it.
Through smudged sunglasses and juggling a take-out coffee, I text my roommate “omg so awkward I just saw pictures from last night and Louisa and I had the same hair.”
“Ha, weird. I didn’t even notice,” she writes back.
I tuck my phone away. I should be happy my new ‘do went undetected, but I’m still unsatisfied with her response, just as I’m unsatisfied with this shopping trip.
I take a shirt off a rack and proceed to the dressing room. I change and look in the mirror. The pink actually looks nice against my skin. Although the collar gets in the way of my side pony. A thrill rushes through me and I keep shopping.
Later, my shopping bags are safely tucked in my closet, but I gnaw on my thumbnail as they push their way into my mind. The polka-dots, the pink collars, the chambray, the fringed t-shirts. I know when I wear them the patterns will scream in my ears like Poe’s telltale heart. Nervously, I press the palms of my hands together and tell myself they’re just clothes. Lots of people wear polka dots and pink collars.
Though I would be the last to wear a t-shirt with fringe.
Never mind. I shake my bangs back and forth.
I get back on the Internet, sipping coffee — as if this will calm me down. I should get started on that pile of work beside me, but a headache from last night’s beer has surfaced so I just sip my bitter coffee and check Twitter. In a few strategic clicks I’m scrolling through her tweets. Stupid username, I notice. It should be something like Loser-isa. Oh god, I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud. The cat perched next to the screen looks suspiciously like he can read my thoughts.
“Shut up,” I whisper at his curious, whiskered face.
In the midst of a pseudo-resolution to tweet more I suddenly stop cold and a sense of urgency rises in my heart — or maybe that’s panic.
According to her latest tweet, she’s so excited to go to some show this weekend.
Wait, I like that band. God, why does she have to ruin everything! I realize I don’t have tickets yet and begin clicking away through a series of websites, entering my credit card numbers, and hitting send.
I can’t not go just because she’s going.
The tickets are freshly printed when my roommate emerges from her bedroom.
“Hey! Guess where we’re going tonight?” I say. The coffee has clearly kicked in.
Examining the ticket I’m earnestly brandishing at her, she says, “Cool. I didn’t even know you liked that band.”
“Are you kidding? They’re so good!” I reply. “I just love them.”
She looks slightly amused as she accepts the ticket. “Alright. Yeah, let’s go.” And then she continues on her way to the kitchen.
I plan to go early. Sporting one of my new shirts and side pony, I have to be there first.
I get ready way too early. I tug at my pony, my collar. My new clothes are all wrong. The collars too tight, the sweaters too thick. The fabrics are itchy and the tops don’t lay right. I’m sweating and nervous, and I can’t stay still. It’s like my body is rejecting what my brain is trying to do. Which is? I force my brain to stop in the middle of my own line of questioning. I’m not doing anything, I assure myself. I just wanted some new clothes, no big deal.
Regardless of my physical discomfort, I take photos of my outfit to post to Instagram. I can just filter out the sweat. Ooh, and Twitter, I remember. I should post them to Twitter, too.
I’m jealous of how casual and comfortable my roommate looks in her t-shirt, jeans, and favourite boots but I resist the urge to change.
“Is this new?” she asks, flicking some of the fringe with her finger.
“Yeah, I bought it at that new store in the mall,” I say, adding a shrug for good measure.
“Cool. I like it,” she says. “You never wear colours.”
We slip down the icy sidewalks to the venue. Once inside, we settle in a corner and try to warm up with cold beers.
No sign of Louisa — yet. The lights are dim, the opening band starts up. I’m still scanning the room. Where is she?
I want to ask my roommate if she’s coming, but I don’t. I smile at her, but I’m still scanning the room.
“Are you looking for the bathroom?”
“Yeah,” I fake. “I’ll be right back.”
In the bathroom I look at my reflection. What is wrong with me? My hands grip the sides of the sink.
You like this band, you came to have fun. But this isn’t fun. This isn’t fun at all. I look ridiculous. Look at my hair, look at these clothes.
Shaky hands are reaching for my phone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — I need information. Where is she?
Checked-in at another bar, downtown.
She’s not coming.
Good, I think. But I have a sinking feeling in my stomach.
What am I doing here, then?
I try to remind myself that I came for the show, to hang out with my roommate. But my turning stomach forces me to admit that I really didn’t. I won’t enjoy the rest of the set, it will be a let down. My fingers are already busy typing and sending out messages. Maybe I can convince someone to go downtown for a drink afterwards…
Riding on the high of the live music, my roommate agrees to head to the bar downtown frequented by everyone in our social circle, including Louisa. We burst through the doors into a bubble of warm air and friends. My roommate recaps the highlights from the show for our friends and I survey the room. Sure enough, I spot Louisa. I glower at the backs of the heads of our shared friends that are laughing along with her.
As my music high starts to wane I make my way to the bar. While I wait, I can’t help casting glances that I hope look casual over to where she’s sitting. Beers in hand, I head back to our table.
“Thanks!” my roommate says, accepting the sweating bottle. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
“I’ll go with you,” I reply. We turn and I cast another look over my shoulder.
“What’s with the stink eye?” my roommate asks as we amble down the stairs to the gritty basement bathrooms.
“It’s her,” I answer, rolling my eyes as we swing through the bathroom door.
“Oh my god,” my roommate drawls, her head rolling back on her shoulders. “What is your problem with her?”
“She’s just annoying!” I say defensively, flicking my bangs left to right.
“Seriously, what is your beef with her? You guys barely hang out but for some reason you don’t like her,” my roommate presses.
“There’s no beef!” I start to say, but the bathroom door swings open and Louisa stumbles into the tiny space between us.
“Oh hey!” she says, all boozy and brightly. But then her eyes register my presence and her face begins to fall.
Oh god. She’s looking at my ponytail. At my shirt! I gulp, slowly stepping backwards. I’m bracing for it: the once over, the eyes up and down. But instead her hand flies up to her forehead. All of a sudden I take in her black dress, the hair she’s trying to cover up. Her cheeks turn red and she starts back toward the door.
“Oh my god,” I blurt out. “Did you get bangs?”