Imagine Me And You, I Do
by Michelle Lyn King
My mom started dating again the summer I turned fifteen. At first, there was a different man every weekend, a revolving door of graying men with flashing teeth. Then there was the same man, a masseuse with the last name Wolf. Wolf wore the ashes of his first wife around his neck on a piece of braided hemp. Years later, my mother would tell me that this man occasionally called her by the name of his dead wife during sex. That summer she only told me that he knew how to play the drums. Maybe he can teach you how to play the drums, my mom said. He is very good at playing the drums.
I did not learn how to play the drums that summer. Instead, I sat out by the community pool and coated my skin in a thick layer of Vaseline. After a few days of a tan, my skin peeled off in large, translucent sheets. I was a snake molting. I waited to become someone else. No change came.
High school began in late August, in a yellow building molding near a manmade lake. You should join a club if you’re not going to play the drums, my mom told me. You need to be part of something. And, so, I tried to be part of something. I auditioned for the dance team and tried out for soccer. After failing at both, I signed up for the fall musical and was cast as a woman who stood in the background of all the scenes and watched the more talented students sing solos. I quit the fall musical and began to eat lunch by the manmade lake, alone.
Occasionally I cried. I wanted to be part of something, but could not find anything that wanted me to be part of it. On one day, a beautiful senior boy sitting by the manmade late with his beautiful senior boy friends saw me crying and began to mock me.
I’m crying because my grandpa just died, I told the beautiful senior boy. It was not true. It was a terrible thing to lie about, I knew, but I wanted the beautiful senior boy to feel terrible. A terrible lie is an easy way to make a person feel terrible.
Oh, no, the beautiful senior boy said. I’m so sorry.
It’s okay, I told the beautiful senior boy. You did not know.
Yes, he agreed. I did not know.
All of the beautiful senior boys sitting by the lake apologized to me, one right after the other. I absolved each one of of them. They did not know.
That night, I told God that just so long as they did not kill my grandpa because I lied, then it was okay if I did not have ever have friends again. I was not so sure I believed in God. Even if I did, I was not so sure I believed They were listening to me. I asked for a sign. My dog barked. I would never have friends again.
But then I found a loophole in my pact with God. I could create a friend. God made Eve out of Adam’s rib, and I made Taylor Cooney out of my shattering loneliness. From the beginning, I knew that Taylor was not real. But I also knew that she made me feel less lonely. That part was real.
Taylor Cooney was the youngest of five sisters. Taylor Cooney was a ballerina. She had been named the best teen ballerina in the state of Florida by the people who determined those sort of things. Taylor Cooney and I met in a dance class that I never attended. A hip-hop class. Taylor Cooney was a ballerina, but she was also a hip-hop dancer. Taylor Cooney lived in a mansion alongside the ocean.
Taylor Cooney had her tongue pierced. Taylor Cooney had her belly-button pierced. Taylor Cooney pierced her belly-button herself, with a sewing needle. She was going to do mine. Taylor Cooney also had her tragus pierced, but she went to this place in Miami that pierced teenage girls without parental consent. Maybe we would go one day. One of her sisters could drive us.
Taylor Cooney was 6-feet-tall. She had thick white-blonde hair that reached down to her waist. She was fifteen and she was not a virgin.
I was no longer alone. I sat by the manmade lake with Taylor and thought of inside jokes for the two of us to laugh at. The beautiful senior boys didn’t mock us. They wanted to date us. The beautiful senior boys wanted to pin us against a wall and bite down on our necks. In class, when I got the answer to a question wrong, Taylor turned to me and said, Fuck it, babe. Taylor and I would walk through the South Florida heat after school and head to Louie’s, a local convenience store that would be soon be put out of business by 7-11. We’d buy gummy candy that melted in the Florida heat and raspberry slushies that turned our tongues an electric blue. We took pictures on Taylor’s flip-phone, wagging out our cobalt tongues. It all felt very real, so much so that it was as good as if it really happened. Better, even, because I could control it.
When my mom asked how school was going, I told her about Taylor.
She’s the prettiest person in our grade by far. Probably in the whole school.
None of the girls in our grade like her. They’re all jealous of her. But I like her.
You should invite her over.
I’d rather go to her house. Taylor lives in a mansion.
If my mother looked hurt, I did not see it. Well, she sounds really great.
She is. She’s the best.
On more than one occasion I told my mom I was going to Taylor’s house, then walked down to the mall by myself. Taylor and I went into Sephora and tried out Jessica Simpson’s line of edible body lotion. Taylor tried to steal a Juicy Tube, but she got caught, so she pretended not to speak English. Taylor and I left the store, nearly dying of laughter. Taylor Cooney was crazy. It was all so insane.
As time went on, it was not enough for me to just pretend to be Taylor’s friend. I wanted to become her. I entered chatrooms after school using the username ‘ps dontsaylove’ and said my name was Taylor Cooney. And wasn’t it? I created Taylor. She only existed because I made her exist. I was Taylor Cooney.
A/S/L? the men in these chatrooms typed out to me.
16, female, Southern California, I responded because Southern California seemed to me like the most glamorous place in the world.
What do you like? the men wanted to know. To that, I did not have an answer.
What I did not like: The wolf my mom dated. The pitch her laughter reached when she was around him. How sometimes the boys in my math class assumed I was good at math because I was quiet and tried to cheat off me, and then got mad at me when the stolen answers were wrong. My female Spanish teacher who yelled at me for being late. My male history teacher who never yelled at anyone and at first I liked because he was always cracking jokes but then he asked me to stay after class and placed a hand on my knee and said, Is everything okay at home? The shape of my thighs.
What I did like was not such an easy list. Dance, I wrote back to the men. I’m a ballerina. All of the men were very impressed to learn that I was a ballerina.
I developed a nightly correspondence with a man who told me his name was Starr. Starr said he was 22 and touring in a band. I confided in the man who told me his name was Starr. We spoke on the phone almost every night. In my cell phone, he was just an asterisk. In his, I was Taylor Cooney. After six weeks of speaking, Starr asked to see a photo of me. I panicked and sent him images of the ice skater Tara Lipinski. So hot, he told me. A few nights later he came back, typing at me in all caps. I KNOW THAT’S NOT YOU. WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU? ARE YOU SOME FAT OLD MAN, YOU FUCK? I blocked Starr and Taylor Cooney never spoke to him again.
After that, if people asked to see a photo of Taylor, I sent them a photo of a stranger I found on the website for a North Carolina sleepaway camp. The stranger was not as striking as Taylor, but she did serve her purpose.
Then, in the spring, I met Paige. Paige was real. Paige was also a ballerina, though not a very good one.
Why do you even do it if you aren’t good at it? I asked her.
She shrugged. It makes me happy. I had never heard such simple, dumb logic. I wanted to hear more of Paige’s simple, dumb logic.
With Paige, I did too many red Jello shots and got French tips in the strip-mall nail salon near our school. We scrunched our hair with gel and met older boys in the lobbies of movie theaters, in the parking lots of department stores, in carpeted apartments that smelled of dust and smoke and rot. The older boys dared us to kiss. We did. It felt like nothing.
I thought that having a friend would make Taylor disappear, but it was not so easy. Taylor was a spell I had cast but could not break. I told Paige about Taylor, saying she was a friend I had at another school. I spoke about her so much that Paige once admitted to me that she was jealous of Taylor. Good. She should have been. I had so much more fun with Taylor than I had with Paige.
At the end of the school year, I decided that I had to let go of Taylor for good. I moved her to the most glamorous place in the world, southern California. It was still not enough. I missed her. I spoke to her on the phone. We made plans for her to visit. I knew I had to murder my best friend.
I spent a great deal of time thinking about the right way to kill Taylor. Having her commit suicide seemed disrespectful to real people who actually committed suicide. Dying of cancer seemed a little obvious, a little 90’s teen movie. I ultimately decided on a car crash, swift and sudden. One moment here, the next moment gone, never to return. I don’t remember the exact day that Taylor died, but I do remember crying in the weeks after she was gone. She was my friend. She was there for me when no one else was. I felt a similar sensation to what actors must feel when they have to say goodbye to a character they have been pretending to be.
I have still never had a friend like Taylor Cooney. Sometimes I still miss her. Real people can be so hard to love.
Michelle Lyn King is a writer based in Brooklyn. She is the Managing Editor for the literary magazine Joyland, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Bodega, Catapult, Hobart, and The Rumpus.