This piece was first published on November 13, 2019.
When I meet Georgia at the subway station she pretends not to see me, and when I wave in her face she glances up with a look of practiced surprise, as if I hadn’t agreed to meet her here before we walk to my family’s home, as if I hadn’t marched through snow to get to her, as if I hadn’t done the right thing. We just finished our first semester of college in the city. It took Georgia two hours to get from our dorm in Manhattan to my neighborhood in South Brooklyn. She’s staying with us because her flight to California got cancelled.
“This will only be for a few days,” Georgia says, speaking clearly even with a cigarette in her mouth. “Then I’ll join my family. They’re dying to get their hands on me.”
We walk the quiet streets between bare trees and short brick houses. Some nights, if it’s silent enough, I can hear the Atlantic smash into the rocky Brooklyn beach below the Verrazano. The Italians cover their homes in colorful lights—on some lawns there are plastic reindeer or lit-up toy soldiers—while the Arabs lie low. Their homes, like our own, stay dark. It’s Georgia’s first time this deep in Brooklyn, but I know she would never admit this.
“Aren’t you cold?” I ask. Georgia wears only a leather jacket, a white silk tank underneath. Its straps show like sinews between bones.
“I’m fine,” Georgia says. “I’m really hot-blooded,” she adds, and she sucks on her cigarette again without breathing. Georgia’s parents are separated and live in new homes with new families but, like she said, they’re dying to get their hands on her.
We come to my house, a small two-story home with a pointed roof and a door always locked twice.
Inside, my older sister is standing before the mirror in the foyer. If they call her Zeyno she doesn’t mind. In high school she went by Z. College, too. In med school she gave herself back her name—Zeynep—and she wore it on a gold chain around her neck as a present from our parents to celebrate her academic achievements.
“Hey,” Zeynep says without looking. Her mouth is popped open into a tiny O and she draws a thick black line on her eyelid.
“Hey, Zeyno,” Georgia says. She throws her bag down. Zeynep looks away from the mirror, and I see two of her: the dark-capped head of hair and long nose ending in a small hook, neither facing the other in the mirror. Zeynep pulls her eyelid off her eyeball, making the lid into a roof. She is going to a party with her med school friends tonight, while I bring Georgia to the Christmas party. She stares at Georgia for the longest time.
“Hey. Nice to meet you, Georgia,” Zeynep says. She turns to me. “Mom and Dad will be home soon. Don’t leave the door unlocked when you leave.”
She turns back to face her reflection. Georgia looks from Zeynep to me before pointing towards the back of the house where the stairwell rises to the bedroom floor. Georgia heads for the stairs as if she has been here before, as if the floor-plan of our home has been stamped neatly onto her heart, as if I would ever not follow her.
“She’s too cool for us, huh,” Georgia says as we climb the stairs to my bedroom.
I shake my head.
“She just broke up with her boyfriend,” I say, “the one our parents told the whole family, back in Istanbul, she would marry.”
“Shit,” Georgia says. We take the steps to my room slowly. “You trying to get married, too?”
I laugh. My laugh, this thing that sounds better on somebody else.
We’re upstairs in my bedroom. When I opened the door, Georgia scanned my room like one of those sonar devices they use in oceans or in medicine on people’s bodies, and the way she stared at my bookshelf, my flowery bedspread, then my rugs—silk and wool, blue and red—made me think she was looking at my skin.
Georgia pulls her shirt over her head like it is made of water and moves towards my closet. She wants to find an outfit for tonight. I turn away from her and sit on my bed, my socked feet floating above the rug.
“Are you pissed?” she asks from inside the closet.
“No,” I say.
“Defne,” Georgia says seriously, emerging from the closet with her bra off. “You’re acting all pissy. Like your sister. Not like yourself.”
Georgia’s room at home in Santa Barbara is modern, white, with high ceilings and large plants. Maybe she has a rug made of structured bamboo or plush white polyester. I’ve never been there, but the way she describes it makes me picture her lounging in bed surrounded by fashion magazines and colorful string bikinis.
“I’m really fine,” I say. My smallest rug is by the window. A prayer rug, but Georgia knows I only pray on airplanes and when the subway stops underground. No one in my family has prayed on a mat in decades.
She disappears into my closet again and begins to hum. My house didn’t change when I went to college like Georgia’s did. She said her parents gave her room to their new children, children, she’s said, who are nothing like her. My parents would never do that to me. If Georgia feels up to her neck in rug she doesn’t show it, but it’s difficult for me to see my house the way I usually do.
I’m seeing my house for the first time.
“What’s myself like anyway,” I say. Georgia has thrown my shirts on the floor and now guides her arms into bra straps. She puts on my lace black bra, the one I save to wear.
“I don’t know,” she says, “like me.” Georgia steps across my room to my bed. She holds my pot of eyeshadow. She dips two fingers into the pot and pats them, one after another and alternating, onto my closed lid.
“No,” I say. I grab her wrist. “I want a cat eye.”
“Okay,” she says, and she presses a sharpened black pen to the corner of my eye.
Georgia and me, we don’t hang out much during the day—only at night. I’m always busy during the day, because I will become a doctor and she won’t become anything. Just Georgia.
Georgia is still trying on my tank tops when I hear the door open downstairs. I want to talk to my parents, to remind them that Georgia is staying with us this weekend. It’s not that they would have forgotten; it’s more that I’m nervous, or anxious, that she is here to begin with. She’s confusing me about myself. And my parents are always very eager to meet my friends, especially because they worry I don’t have any. My mother is reserved but friendly and will slide her glasses up her nose in a manner she thinks is subtle so she can see in detail how clear my rare friend’s skin might be. She also thinks noses play a big part in determining character and will make sure to sit to the side of this rare friend to get a thorough inspection on profile. My father is just himself and will walk around the kitchen in his boxers playing his mandolin.
Tonight, my mom is flipping through furniture catalogs, and my dad is brewing a special hot butter for lamb. He loves making lamb. There’s always a pot full of raw lamb on the bone and slabs of yellow butter on the stove. Zeynep hasn’t left yet. She’s sitting at our kitchen table painting her nails a dark blue. She’s studying, too, flipping through her textbook using only the meat of her fingertips.
“What’re you still doing here?” I ask, and she says something about her nails being chipped. Then she says Georgia seems like a prime bitch, and my mother puts on her glasses and says, “Why? How?”
“I’m just worried she’s not really there for you,” Zeynep says.
I was going to sit down with them for a second, but I’m annoyed. Zeynep is the one who told me how to make friends in college. She had said the first girls you talk shit with, about other girls you’ve been hanging with, those first girls are your friends. I had said, okay, first, girls. And she’d continued. It’s fine if you want to talk shit about those new friends later, too, she’d said. It’s just good to get some friends locked in for the first few weeks. You know, have girls have your back.
“Georgia’s going through a lot,” I say. “Her parents aren’t really around.”
“I know these types of girls,” my sister says. “It’ll be fun, sure, hanging out, but don’t give her anything you can’t take back.”
My parents are listening too. My dad nods; he is grateful for my sister. He serves her a big plate of buttered lamb. My mom looks for clues in my face because she believes my last group of girl friends gave me an eating disorder.
And I do take what my sister says seriously because she’s the only one like me. We look like twins, too, our hair long enough to cover our shoulders, our chests. Our eyebrows dark animals that scale our foreheads, jump when touched.
But it’s true, what Georgia says. We can be like one another. We can be mean.
We’re going to a Christmas party tonight where I will see all the people I’ve ever known from high school. I’ll be introducing Georgia to them. Boys, too. We’re going to this party to meet them, to catch them like they are bugs and we are the open glass jars.
Before we leave my room we take turns leaning our heads back and dragging a fat blush brush down our necks with glitter, so our necks will be long and gleaming. Thin enough to wrap hands around. As we make our way downstairs Georgia tells me that it’s brave of me to mix friend groups like this, and I realize that although we’re only two people Georgia and me are still a group of people.
“Merry Christmas, sir, ma’am,” says Georgia.
“Georgia,” my dad says, “we’ve heard so much about you. How beautiful you are!”
“We’re going to my friend’s Christmas party,” I say.
“We should come, too,” he says, laughing.
My mom motions for me to sit at the table, to eat buttered lamb, and I shake my head. Georgia watches. Her face looks very relaxed, like she’s soaking in a bath of us. Georgia fakes emotions. She says you can hide anything if it means enough to you.
“You know,” my dad says, “we got married on this day.”
“On Christmas Eve?” Georgia asks. “That’s beautiful.” She’s bullshitting.
“In Istanbul, in a yali,” he says. “Do you know what those are? Intricate mansions on the Bosphorus—each one has a history, a story. They’ve been around for years.”
“Like Brooklyn,” I say, joking. I sit to do the straps on my heels.
“No,” he says. “Not like Brooklyn.” He raises his arms in the air. “Yalis have been around since the Ottoman Empire, Georgia. Do you know what that is?” He pauses, a long pause during which he breathes in and his belly moves up towards his chest.
“What are those?” He points at my heels.
“It’s snowing out,” my mom says. “Will they serve food?”
“Let her wear them,” my dad says. He refills his tea cup and sits back down. Usually they would tell me I look too Arab or Hispanic with heavy eye makeup on, but they can’t say this in front of Georgia.
There are other Turks in Brooklyn. Some collect in Bay Ridge where they have moved in among the Greeks and Chinese. Some are in Brighton Beach, where they share the shore of a new sea with the Russians. Just like on the world map, my dad often says, his head full of history. Some are rich and live in Manhattan and some make their way to a make-new mosque with turquoise tiles, stuffed into a tiny Sunset Park space. Others of us will say, sorry, I have no interest in a mosque unless it is in Istanbul and is very old.
There are New Jersey Turks, too. They buy houses with lawns and invite the other Turks over for birthdays or American holidays. They are doctors, engineers. The ones with light accents can become lawyers. We go to these parties, where parents introduce us by what we have accomplished: Defne is pre-med. Zeynep just got into medical school. We shuffle around these parties, complaining to other kids about curfews, rules. We are their lab rats, testament to how precisely they’ve become American.
We first lived in Brighton Beach before we moved up the spine of Brooklyn, from the base of the tail, by the beach, up to the belly. I don’t know where the head of Brooklyn is, but it has to be as close to Manhattan as possible. We have to be as close as possible, my father urges again and again, because their accents have thinned out in the right places, like a voice is a body to shape and sculpt. My parents weren’t invited to Roger Smath’s party because they’ve never been friends with these parents. I think they are okay about this. And Zeynep didn’t get to go to private school like me.
Tonight, Georgia and I have to take the subway for miles until we get to the nicest part of Brooklyn, across the river from Manhattan. We’re on the outdoor platform, where sometimes big families of raccoons will line up on the tracks. People watch Georgia as we wait for the train. People watch her as we ride the train, too. She’s wearing only a leather jacket and everyone else is wrapped up in wool and waterproof boots. I swear a hot guy with a baby in his arms even stared at her, mesmerized, in an entirely different train car going the other direction and as the windows lined up I think I saw her smile back, a short but hard smile. We climb the stairs onto the street of snow. The bare trees resemble spiny neurons against the black sky. They make up Brooklyn’s biggest brain, I think, my biology textbook stuck in my head.
“Christmas can’t mean much to Roger Smath’s family,” I say, “if they want to have a party on Christmas Eve.”
“You don’t know much about Christmas, do you,” Georgia says.
“I do. We used to always buy a Christmas tree.”
“Whatever,” says Georgia. But we begin the game anyway. Our heels clack on the concrete. We do not get stuck in snow. We still have six blocks of brownstone to the Christmas party.
“This night,” I say, “I resolve to do one thing: hook up with a blonde man.”
“Too easy,” Georgia says. “I’ve hooked up with a blonde, a red head, and a brunette in one night.” She counts boys with her fingers. “We need something harder.”
“Not just any blonde man, too,” I plough forward. “But the host.”
“What about an ex?” Georgia asks. “What was the name of your ex, again?”
“No, let’s do the host. We can force him,” I repeat. “Roger, the host.” I tell Georgia that my ex is out of town for the holiday, and that he is too short for her anyway.
“You want me to hook up with him? Or you?”
“You don’t know Roger.”
“No, you should hook up with him.”
“It’s too easy,” Georgia says again, shaking her head. “I can find anyone.” She’s wearing the white silk tank she came in even though she tried on all of my tanks. Her face begins to bullshit again. “Tonight,” she says, “is about you.”
Roger’s house is a giant brownstone on a street of giant brownstones. Every stoop is the same size, each one a stacked set of thick, rising teeth. We walk up the stairs, Georgia in front and first to the door. Inside, the music is loud, songs full of violins and cellos. The adults stand in small knots of navy blue and black. The college kids, at the edges of the crowd and by the bar. My friends, I want to say to Georgia. It’s my hometown, after all. This is my city, my borough. I can say this until my face slides off.
I see my girlfriends from high school. They semicircle around Roger’s sister, Charlotte Smath, who is telling a story using her hands. I say hi, and the girls ask me how I am. They touch my elbow or my hair in turns. They admit that they were unsure if I’d make it. They say it is so good to see me and they bet I’m getting the best grades in college. Sarah hands me a champagne flute, and I envy the way the bubbles rise then disappear. We look at Georgia.
“Georgia, meet Sarah,” I offer.
Georgia waves her hand in front of her face. She says hey, then blocks her face with her hand like she is a celebrity. With her other hand she drags me forward. Georgia, in front and first to the drinks. Georgia rarely makes new female friends.
The kids from my high school come from rich families but are exceedingly modest about their wealth. Like Georgia, who acts offended when anybody at school mentions her great-grandfather who created peanut butter or some other butter. These parents ask me exceptionally polite questions every Christmas. Everyone knows by now I was the only somewhat Muslim person in high school, but when I was new to the school I pretended I was Jewish and some of them believed that about me. Roger’s mom touches my elbow to turn me from the bar. Georgia turns, too, and we form a wall of two towers.
“Defne,” she says, “I was just in Istanbul for a few days. What a historic city.”
I agree with her. It is a historic city. I ask her what she saw and what she ate.
“Everyone is so kind,” she continues. She sways in her heels and holds her champagne flute to her chest. “A lot safer than what they’ve been saying lately, of course. Have that many women always worn the hijab?”
“Not really,” I say. “No.” Georgia’s eyes are on me.
“Does your family—excuse me for asking—wear the hijab?”
“My grandma,” I say quite seriously, “when her hair is oily.” Georgia laughs. I laugh. Roger’s mom is confused. I see confusion ripple over her high cheekbones.
“I’m just kidding,” I say. “No, they don’t wear one.”
Georgia moves close to her, laughing. “If only girls in America could wear baseball hats so easily,” Georgia says, and Roger’s mom laughs a long and comfortable laugh. She reaches for Georgia’s wrist, and they dive into what it means to be a woman.
Georgia is exactly put together, with tiny shoulders and cleavage she hides things in. She’ll tuck crisp dollars in her bra, and the money will come out soft, perfectly handled. I know she’s hidden other things in there, too. Tubes of lipstick and gum. I know men have saved sticks of gum she’s dug out from in there.
Roger walks over. “Hey there,” he says to Georgia. “My name is Roger.”
“Mine is Georgia,” she says. She reaches for a blanket from the couch and slowly wraps it around her head. “And I’m from the Middle East.”
“No way,” he says. “What a jokester you are.”
“Pretty convincing, huh,” says Georgia. She knots the blanket at her neck and locks eyes with herself in a mirror on the wall.
“I’m going to major in Middle East studies,” Roger says. “But I’m not as convincing as you.” Georgia cocks an eyebrow at him. Behind her, faces of mothers move towards us.
“You are,” I say. “Convincing, I mean.”
“Defne,” Roger says, facing me. “How’s school? How’re your parents?”
“My parents are fine,” I say. There’s a joke bubbling inside my throat. I want it to sail smoothly out my mouth. “My dad discovered the internet recently,” I explain, “and he’ll email us a few articles a day. Kids, he’ll write, Hollywood veteran Liam Neeson tells everyone he wants to be Muslim now!”
I laugh into my drink. I want to grow light with jokes.
“He does it every Christmas,” I add, “finding Muslim things online.”
“That’s funny,” Roger says.
“Well, is he?” Georgia asks.
“Is Liam Neeson Muslim now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, shouldn’t you? Don’t you want to speak intelligently about these things?” Georgia links her arm in Roger’s and laughs, her mouth open wide enough to bare white, straight teeth. I want to grab her by the neck. The mothers come out of the shadows. They want to know what Roger will major in and they envelop him. I turn to Georgia.
“You haven’t washed your hair in days,” I say. “Take that thing off.”
“Roger, he’s the host, yes?” Georgia asks, matching the pitch in my tone, the black ink of its anger. She looks from me to the back of his thick haired-head, his hair volumized in titanic blond waves. She tightens the blanket knot at her throat.
“Take it off.”
“Where’s your ex?”
“Not here yet. I told you, Roger’s all yours.”
“Fun. How fun.”
“He’s a dick,” I say. “He’s a New England bully so I thought he’d be perfect for you.”
“Thanks, Defne,” Georgia says. “You know what I want.”
And he is, Roger, a New England bully. He’s wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, actually very expensive I bet, and only called ugly to demonstrate how he can transform any adjective, even the ironic and shameful ones, into something desirable. Everyone here is white and liberal. They are white because their parents are white and they are liberal because their parents are liberal. They cannot value or listen to people who are not liberal, and that sounds contrary to what liberal is supposed to mean, so in that way I know they become not liberal, making them nothing.
I walk away for more champagne. With Georgia, my throat itches like there’s a match lit in the tube that gives me breath, a voice. But this is the first time I’ve felt its flame spread.
Do two people become friends at one single moment, or is it a slow boil? Georgia has answered firmly, yes, it’s one single moment. That’s how we became friends, she’ll insist, but she’s never explained when that single moment was. Was it when we made out with two boys on the crew team in the same room, and Georgia was so loud I thought her voice was mine? Or when we first talked shit about Lily, who has poop breath? Now Georgia is talking to Roger’s ex-girlfriend, Mary. How did she find her? How did she know? Mary is small and blonde. She wrinkles up her ski slope nose whenever somebody offends her.
“I’m just so stressed out,” Mary says. “Roger is here, and I have to fly tomorrow.”
“I’m so afraid of planes,” Georgia lies. She leans into Mary, close enough to touch arms.
“No,” Mary repeats, “this summer was bad. This winter it’s happening again. So many plane crashes. I have, like, no faith in people anymore.”
“Is there any safe place left?” Georgia says, joking. I join them with a perfectly timed laugh. Mary sees Roger and her eyes fill. Georgia hugs her, bringing Mary’s body into her own. For a second, I swear, I think she kisses Mary on the mouth.
Georgia is at this party more than I am. Mixing friend groups is remarkably difficult when you’re also maneuvering parents. I avoid the entire knot of parents because they’re making me increasingly angry, especially because the only person I brought was Georgia. Now Georgia is telling Roger she wants to become a doctor, which is not true because that’s what I want to become. Georgia is lying. She wants to become a photographer.
“My parents are doctors,” I say. “And my sister.” Roger nods. Georgia stares at me.
“I’m going to be a doctor,” I repeat.
“You feeling okay?” Georgia asks. Roger raises his arm in greeting to more guests. I see his other hand on her hip. He turns her by the waist and they cut into the knot of parents, where the bodies move slowly like sewage. It is forever before I find her again, talking to Roger’s sister, Charlotte. They are talking about how they never did drugs until college, and Charlotte’s eyes light up when she hears that Georgia has coke and she loud whispers to her friends to come over and they huddle and giggle about coke and I’m there, too, I’m giggling, too, only I haven’t ever done coke and especially not with Georgia, who I never knew did coke, and who knows I never did coke, but she lies for me anyway and says we do it all the time, and she’s telling this dramatic story of us doing coke and then winding up in the crew house hooking up with crew boys together, a foursome, she says, lying, because there was no foursome, and I’m listening, I’m imagining it, I’m imagining the crew boy’s touching me to feel like the force of giant oars parting heavy water. Rise, fall, and pull, and I hear the same rise, fall, and pull in the same bed just inches next to me. Georgia. When Georgia finishes the story, the girls are looking at us, impressed, and I really don’t know if Georgia does have coke on her but Charlotte invites us to her bedroom upstairs.
I was right; Georgia doesn’t have coke. We’re in Charlotte’s room with floor-to-ceiling windows and oil paintings of sad-looking women and Georgia makes a big show of carelessly digging through her tiny leather backpack before looking at me.
“Oh right,” she says, “we did all my coke last night. I can’t believe I forgot.”
I nod so violently the girls shift their faces from exclusively Georgia to both of us.
Charlotte says it’s chill, she wouldn’t have been able to do coke in front of her parents anyway, and the other girls agree.
Now Georgia is lying belly-up on Charlotte’s bed, like she’s known Charlotte for years. I stand near the door. Charlotte has a horse face, especially when she laughs and shows her big teeth. I lean against the desk and sip my champagne slowly to imply casualness. The other two girls are checking their phones and Georgia repeatedly plucks her silk shirt off her stomach to air out her skin, she says. She says it’s hot in here, and can Charlotte open a window? Charlotte pauses before she says sure, and something in the room is different now, and I’m sure Georgia can feel it too, but does she, as usual, know what to do about it? What to do about mood? About power?
“So,” Charlotte says, crossing her arms, “you’re going after my brother tonight?”
Georgia stares at her. “He’s your brother?”
Charlotte says, “Yeah, he is.” Charlotte holds her head high all proud but her hand flits to her hair as if she’s nervous, which makes sense, because Charlotte is very critical and spends a lot of her time calculating and reassessing her own self-worth.
“You know, though, Mary’s really really fragile,” Charlotte begins. The other girls put down their phones and nod.
Georgia props herself up on the bed by her elbows and continues to stare at Charlotte. Georgia has eyes blue or green or a cold gray based on what she wears. And based on her mood. It is as if she can switch colors and build herself as either warm and calm or a severe threat, something hurtling towards you in the dark. Sometimes her skin seems too pale, her eyes too bright, her blonde hair chopped in such a clean line above her shoulders the ends could cut you.
“And I’m just worried,” Charlotte says. “There are some messy things that have happened, you know? Between my brother and her.”
Georgia has never been called a slut, and if so, she has simply, calmly, rearranged the letters to mean something else.
“Is that a nail polish closet,” Georgia says, pointing at a marble chest with glass windows on Charlotte’s dresser.
“Oh,” Charlotte says, “yeah.” Charlotte looks agitated, but she walks over to her nail polish closet and selects three colors. I think she can’t help but take a compliment, however subjectively inferred. There is no way Georgia thinks nail polish closets are cool.
“The season’s colors,” Charlotte now assures us. “Want to see?”
“Thanks,” Georgia says, “but I’ve got mine painted.” She fans out her right hand.
The other girls say, I love that color, is it sea-foam no it’s mint green no it’s apple, a dull apple green, and they form a circle around Georgia’s hand. Georgia looks at me from over the girl’s heads. I know she’s not done with me. She wants something from me. Maybe she wants a family. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be fifth-generation American, but then have your family missing from sight and mind. I want to tell her, your family is like your appendix, which I know you got removed in senior year of high school because it burst. Because you told me.
When your appendix bursts, the pain disappears instantly which is why it is so dangerous. You could never know what blood is spilling inside you.
“Do you like this color, Defne?” Georgia asks me, still on Charlotte’s bed.
“Sure,” I say. “It’s a nice color.”
“Does it bring out my eyes?”
“Sure,” I say.
“I think about color, and light, a lot,” Georgia tells the other girls. “I’m a photographer.”
“I thought you wanted to be a doctor,” I say.
Georgia stares at me. I can’t tell the color of her eyes. Why can I never tell the color of her eyes?
“I can do both,” Georgia says, before turning back to explain to Charlotte her big project about Muslim women.
Georgia wants to be an important photographer. She thinks it’s sad that people who work jobs as teachers and accountants and even as lawyers and doctors cannot be googled. Nobody really knows who they are. I need to do something good, she insisted just last week, before our semester ended. I need to be a known person. After I studied biology in the library for hours, and Georgia did I have no idea what, we met up and bought pizza and began eating the slices on a stoop near our dorm. Georgia was brainstorming. I want, Georgia said, to make a collage of women wearing headscarves.
“A collage?” I said. “Didn’t you do that in preschool?”
She laughed. “Sure, I can do it again, Defne.”
“Using what?” I asked.
“The newspaper,” she said. She put a large round pepperoni in her mouth. “Maybe a few photos of your grandmother. I’d return them. I won’t cut the photos. I’ll add material around the photo. Colors, construction paper, jewels and glitter.”
“Do people still make collages?” I said.
“Defne, c’mon. I want to do something serious. I’ve seen your family photos. They are so beautiful, those women, your grandmother and her friends.” She moved closer. I could smell the pizza on her mouth. I slapped her across the face and watched her skin turn red with the fjords my fingers made.
Now Charlotte is saying that Georgia’s project sounds beautiful, and very politically relevant, and asks Georgia if she has her artwork on her Instagram to which Georgia replies she doesn’t have an Instagram, of course, and why would she ever dump her work into a digital trashcan? Charlotte balks. It was a rude thing to say, because Charlotte has many followers and is proud of the fact that she curates her life with care and what she calls compassion. Then Georgia says, this drink is way too bitter, and slides off Charlotte’s bed, takes my hand, and together we walk back into the Christmas party.
It only became thrilling when I knew I had something to give to Georgia, too. There was something about me that was exciting, angry, she’d said, and I imagined she wanted to build on it and make me mighty. Teach me the basic principles of harnessing rage. Once we became friends we began going to college parties wearing matching black halter tops that made our shoulder blades look like wings. One time, we hijacked a group of girls and convinced the tallest one to give us her jewelry, this black diamond earring that wound up her ear like a shell. Georgia was the one who grabbed it and I was the one who forced the girl to fasten it on my ear. Then we cackled a high, loud laugh. A laugh that builds walls against others. The girl had the huge black eyes of a cow and she watched her earring as I walked around the party all night. I still can’t believe we did that. After, we were watching music videos on my dorm bed and Georgia asked me whether it was lonely, having only one arm of my family in America. She asked me if I had my own friends in Turkey or if the whole place was just a family thing.
Georgia was right, of course. The entire country unrolls into a map of parents, grandparents, bloodlines. So I lied. I muted the music video and told Georgia I had friends there. I focused specifically on boyfriends. I said I lost my virginity in a summer town on the Aegean, on a beach when the tide was low and the moon high. We drank beers, I explained, and there was sand in my mouth when I bit down after it happened.
“We didn’t even speak English,” I said.
“You mean while it was happening?”
Georgia’s eyes flashed and she asked pointed questions like, where was the beach, did anyone see you, does he go to school, where does he go to school. The music videos continued to play on loop. She asked, is he Muslim, and she raised her eyebrows. Sure, I said. But not very. Just in a cultural way. So he’s spiritual, she said. Did you guys find God up there, she joked, and I thought she was dragging open the window for us to laugh, and not acknowledge it—this competition of ours. This was last week, before the semester ended, right after I slapped her, and now I am convinced she wants to beat me. I am even scared of what she will do next. Because she did not, like I expected, laugh. She turned around to face me on the bed and grabbed my arms. Her white canines flashed. I can’t believe I hadn’t told you, Georgia said, suddenly out of breath. I know Italian. I’ve spoken it my whole life. I speak it all the time to guys. Speak it, I said, tell me something about yourself. In Italian? She asked. Yes, I repeated. Speak it. I heard my voice climb as if it was someone else’s. She spoke it perfectly—at least, what she said she did not tell me, but it sounded like white light dispelling a wet black shadow.
Georgia uses men’s deodorant. Hand me my Old Spice, she said when we were getting ready, and the whole night her sweat has smelled like the blue mix of man and woman. She pulls open the door to the cleaning supplies closet and I can smell it coming off her in waves. We’re smoking weed in the closet with Roger. Georgia pulled me in, too, seconds before Roger shut the door. She said I looked like I was about to fucking collapse. Have some fun, she’d said. What the fuck is wrong with you tonight?
Georgia closes the door.
“It’s dark inside,” she says, letting the lighter’s flame lick the jay’s tip. Georgia never coughs when she smokes weed, and I want to know what makes up her throat, her lungs. I imagine them to be made of steel or polished antique silver.
“You’re dark inside,” Roger says, grinning and sucking on the jay.
Is Roger a genius? Did Roger nail Georgia’s true nature to a wall, in a way I had never done? Was this something Georgia wanted? I was trying to know Georgia.
I see Georgia’s strap slide off her shoulder in the dark. Roger touches my leg before he slides it onto Georgia’s and his palm is meaty and clammy. I want to know if the touch is what makes her breathing heavy. Someone smells like pool, there’s a pool smell in here, or maybe it’s Gerogia, sweating. Then it’s Georgia’s hand on me. I want to know what, if not who, had ever pushed Georgia too far.
When Georgia comes back out of the closet, her eyes are red. She pulls her eyelids out like awnings. “Can you see any red,” she says, her breath on me.
“No,” I say. Georgia’s hair is so blonde it looks white. Maybe she’s dying. I look away. I see Roger stumble out of the closet.
“I know everyone here,” I say. “They’ll get pissed at me, not you.”
“We didn’t do anything,” she says. Her eyes follow Roger before they lock back onto me. “Plus, Roger says these parents are super chill. Look around, Defne, they’ve left.”
“I’m not feeling very good.”
“Well, you need to relax,” she says. She hands me a fruity drink with ice cubes. “And I don’t want to leave yet.”
“I take things personally?”
“I’m having fun.”
The crowd had thinned out, like Georgia said. Parents had come and gone with no great ceremony. Like in high school, the party now became a kids party, celebrating everything they didn’t make for ourselves.
My parents would be proud of me. I get good grades and have extracurricular activities. I do things. I would never consider art or photo taking as a career. I will become a doctor like the other smart and hardworking and selfless people in America. I have friends who respect me. I tell these friends that I love my classes. I enjoy exercising too, I say. Because everyone enjoys exercise these days and I want my arteries to stay open and clear. I say, the whale’s blood vessels are so big you can swim down them. I don’t nag and brag. I nod and nod. I am myself again. I put my hair up in a neat professional bun. I am just hands and brain that will do what I can in this place, the way my parents did. I will slip under and not rise above. I will not be the person Georgia is, taking things from people. I will not stir up nazar, the worst kind of hex brought on by bragging. By the end of the party Georgia has disappeared. I have forgotten about Georgia. I excuse myself from the packets of girls I have re-friended. I have to use the bathroom.
I open the bathroom door and Roger is mounting her. His legs bulge with muscles. Georgia is bent over the sink as he digs into her ass, his hand around her throat. Her tights pool at her ankles like black puddles. There is a small window in this bathroom that someone has cracked open and moonlight cuts in, making them glow.
I am against the wall, too, but outside the bathroom. I am flat against the wall with panic. Georgia and me, we meet eyes, and I again cannot tell the color of them. I want to say black, because I feel dramatic, with my heart pounding in my head. Every friend group has a very delicate membrane of its own. To mix them is to break the membrane, let in everyone’s selves. It is unclear to me whose membrane I have broken and entered and which one was my own.
I want to save her but I have also never felt so powerful on my own.
Roger has Georgia beneath him now on the floor but she’s not making a sound. Georgia’s not making a sound, her skin this white carpet he’s pressed into.
Finally we are outside. It’s late and only cop cars inch down the snowy street. After a few blocks we see a family huddled, holding leftovers in glass trays. Georgia is strapping her bra back on under her shirt. Her hands ride up her back, looking for the clasp.
“What?” She asks, putting her jacket back on.
“I said do you need help?” I say this with my hands in my jacket pockets. She shakes her head no. We cross empty streets until we reach the subway. Far off, there is a trash truck coming towards us so slowly, and with such blinding yellow lights, I stop.
“What’s that?” Georgia asks, pointing.
I blink twice and it crawls forward at me like a wounded animal. I’m about to tell her I think it’s a garbage truck, but it looks like something else, right? Right, Georgia? I’m about to ask her if it looks weird to her, too, or unsettling, but when I turn to face her in the snow her face is silver and rubbery with tears. Is it the snow making her face look so rubbery? Is she wearing a mask? When did it start snowing? I look again, and I’m shocked that her face is matte and dry, and she sneers at me. She says “what?” again—as if, even if I had ever wanted to, even if I could ever show it, we would never be allowed to care for one another.
After the long subway ride I unlock the door to my house and we climb the stairs. I know how to reach my bedroom in the dark, and Georgia, she palms the walls behind me, breathing heavy. I don’t turn the lights on. The house is silent. My family is taken apart at night. Each arm and leg of our family engine—my dad, mom, sister, and me—recharge separately in each bed with each bedroom door torn open. Our doors must be open in case something is to happen to one of us. Our house, a giant respiratory machine. We have to hear one another breathe. I pass my sister’s room, but the bedspread is stretched tight. She’s not home yet. She hinted at hooking up with someone new after the breakup, someone who, she said, satisfied her blonde John Smith complex, and I’m already hatching up what I’ll tell my parents tomorrow, that we ran into one another when we got home, maybe we even unlocked the door together, and anyway, I know she’ll be home soon. My sister would never break the cardinal rule and sleep somewhere else. In my room Georgia and I get ready to sleep. Georgia climbs into my bed and begins checking her phone, her finger poised at the screen like a long needle. She has a large shirt on that reads The New York Marathon and I want to know who she knows who ran the thing. I want to know when. She wears no underwear to bed, to let her body breathe, she’s said. I get into bed. When Georgia falls asleep, I put my hand to the side of her white cheek. I want to tug her face off. I want to get my fingernails under her moon-colored skin, in the spot where jaw meets neck, and see what’s underneath above bone. I am doing it. I am lifting her skin up off her face like a china plate, and it is much lighter, and less clean, than I could have imagined.
Rumpus original art by Briana Finegan.