No matter what you said, I felt inferior to her. I was torn between inferiority and superiority. On my good days, I was inferior, and on my bad days, I was superior—or maybe it was the other way around, because I genuinely didn't know if I was right—if I, the lowest, most despicable girl could feel superior.
But then I went and thought of Kelly as the lowest, most despicable girl. I was ambivalent all the way through.
When my mother slept for days, she would ask Kelly's mother to drive me to school. I supposed I owed a lot to Kelly, like the fact that I had friends, even.
But while Kelly's mother had her act together, unlike my mother, she hated her daughter. For Kelly, going to my house was a treat because we could eat in the living room while we watched television—and we were allowed to watch television besides Veggie Tales.
My childhood was mostly a blur, or at least I tried to make it into a blur because I longed to forget it. I worked hard to wipe it completely from my memory because it distressed me so much. It was an embarrassing, horrifying smudge on my record.
All I really remember is studying a lot. I never could have confidence in any other skill. I wasn't artistic, and I had no thirst for knowledge that was not purely academic—whatever that meant. In the end, I had to force myself to accept that.
Even my time spent with you was a blur. That, however, wasn't intentional.
I tried to record our encounters in my mind with extra care, but I was so scared to write anything down. I feared people would find it, or worse, that if I wrote it, it wouldn't sound as good anymore. I was not much of a writer, and I doubted I could ever capture your essence. Even in my mind, I could not hold a solid image of your form. The human mind, I'd read, is very weak.
"Why are you here again? We got another assignment, right? I thought we were supposed to go somewhere else," you said.
"Because you insist on coming here for…it. Because you like it," said Cy.
"Guys, I'm right here!" I said.
You didn't care. "Chelsea, I like you."
"Hey, how do you know my name? I never told you!" I said, but all I really cared about was that you liked me. "Why haven't you told me your name?"
"I always tell you, silly human."
"No you don't!" But I knew you had, and like an idiot, I'd forgotten. Again and again.
"Fine, but I can only tell you so many times."
You leaned in and whispered it in my ear. "Now come on. Let's go. I want to show you my lab experiments!"
I was so sure of my love for you, and yet I understood you so little. I spent my childhood waiting to catch glimpses of you and reveling in those moments.
Sometimes I asked Cy questions about you. Cy was the one I liked the least, and yet he seemed so much more available than you. I wondered why you were so elusive, why you slipped through my fingers so easily.
"He's one of the leading scientists on the Star Shiner Two," said Cy, "even though he's only thirteen in human years."
Maybe that made you a bit too old for me, but I didn't care.
"Chelsea, how old are you in human years?" you said.
"I think that's okay. Don't worry. Just follow me."
For the first time, I was able to actually go on the Star Shiner Two. The inside was shiny and sterile. Future chrome, just like I'd imagined. Most of the walls were enormous computer screens with complex codes or equations on them. I followed you into your laboratory, a musty room lined with jars containing specimens of all sorts.
"This is why I need samples," you said. "For my project. I'm trying to build a human."
"You can do that?" I said.
"Sure I can!"
"I don't believe you. Is it just like…a really good robot?"
"Well, technically. Did you know that making a robot that learns and develops is one of the hardest tasks? We can travel faster than the speed of light…but most of our robots have the social skills of a two-year-old."
"That's so funny. Hey…what if you just got a human and said it was a robot? If it would be exactly the same anyway."
"But then I wouldn't be able to control it. If it were human, how could I ever trust it? Even its own feelings would be unreliable, so of course I wouldn't be able to rely on it."
"I don't know, maybe some humans would be willing. And of course I would…but they've already met me."
You laughed at my suggestion.
"Whatever, I'm not taking the easy way out," you said. "What would be the use of that? I wouldn't be making scientific breakthroughs. I would just be flat out lying. And that would only work if I could lie to myself…and I can't do that."
"Of course not. I was only joking," I said.
But I was torn between truth and lies, because sometimes it seemed like Kelly got by with lies better than I did with the truth. My morality was decidedly questionable, and I didn't care.
Or did I care? Of course I cared. I cared so much it almost hurt.
"Chelsea, I'm going to need a blood sample. Just sit down on my table, and I'll prick your arm. It's kind of like getting a shot."
I wasn't a normal kid. I absolutely loved shots.
Perhaps you think that Kelly and I always hated each other. That's not completely true. Most days, our friendship was peachy. People saw us as a dynamic duo. We had so much in common, and neither of us was popular, her by choice and me not by choice.
Kelly liked to think she'd made me, that without her I'd be a complete loser with no friends, and that was kind of true, even if I never would have admitted it. As it was, I barely had any friends.
But we were Kelly and Chelsea, the magical girls, even though we couldn't use our magical powers on this forsaken earth. We'd even developed our own language and kept notebooks of words.
In front of other people, we talked about missing sparkly chocolate water, and of course, meteor showers. In that way, I really had lied with her.
But I really did wish the lies were true, that I was a magical girl, that I could read minds. Kelly could control minds.
When you came, I didn't need to wish lies were true anymore. I didn't need to love and embrace Kelly. I could still call us the magical girls, sure, but I knew I was more than a magical girl. So I left her with her fanciful ideas.
But we were still friends, much as I hated her. I guess it would be hard to explain the intricacies of female friendship to you.
I always thought of Kelly as my foil. We were perfect examples of foils, the absolute best, even. I think you know that.
What you didn't see was how I strained to find similarities between us. Often, the similarities I found were superficial. But I found them nonetheless.
Apparently, so did everyone else. Teachers confused us all the time, even though I was a brunette and she was a blonde. And even though her hair was unkempt while mine was so neat, even though she had big eyes and a cute face while I had a plain face. And let's not forget that while she was very petite, I was awkwardly tall for my age. Everyone else wouldn't catch up with me until ninth grade; Kelly would stop growing at five foot one.
So what the hell, one may ask, were the similarities that I found? Not only did we look different, but we carried ourselves differently. Then again, maybe my superficial confidence was superficial after all. Anyway, everyone (and even I) saw us as the girls who liked stars. Even if I liked stars first and was the one with the scientific background—what did that even matter! We both liked stars.
Yes, I could see the superficial similarities all too well.
I couldn't remember your name. I couldn't go on without knowing it. All day I sat in school, eaten alive by the knowledge that I did not know your damn name.
"Chelsea, pay attention," hissed Kelly. Of course, I usually paid attention, and she generally didn't. She was just trying to be a know-it-all.
I was trying to draw a map of where Cellseyanna was located on Andromeda. Then I was going to draw the Milky Way so I could see where you lived relative to me.
"What are you doing?" she said.
"Shush! You told me to pay attention."
"Chelsea, stop talking and pay attention," said our teacher. She didn't even glance at Kelly, who unfortunately had a softer voice than I did. And despite this, she was so damn obnoxious.
As much as I believed in paying attention in class, I secretly daydreamed occasionally. Daydreaming felt so wrong. I absolutely knew I should have paid full attention in class. I abhorred girls like Kelly who had their heads in the clouds, just breezing through life like it wasn't difficult, like it was effortless. I would never let that go. My father wouldn't have let it go.
But I daydreamed anyway. Deep down, I knew I'd never truly deserved him.
I thought about the power the Star Shiner Two must have possessed, to get you all the way from Andromeda to the Milky Way. I knew they were about two and a half million light years apart. Was it even possible? Could you really travel faster than the speed of light?
Our teacher, Ms. Skinner, was a pretty, young lady who always talked about her fiancé. She'd even invited all of us to her wedding. Once, she caught me in the middle of thinking about you and pulled me into the hallway.
"Chelsea, I need to ask you something."
"Is there any particular reason you always seem to have your hand in your pants?"
I couldn't do anything but stand there and stammer. This was something so personal, so intimate, so embarrassing, and she was just being so bold about confronting me.
"I'm straightening my underwear," I said.
"Well, if you need to do that, please do excuse yourself in the future. Okay?"
I didn't understand what this confrontation had actually meant until I was much older and had experienced it fully and explosively. At the time, I didn't really know what putting my hands in my pants did.
But I remembered that you had put your hands there that first time you filled me with warmth. Suddenly, it was rushing back.
For such a logically minded girl, for someone so serious about her studies, I really did go through life in some sort of musty haze when it came to my own personal thoughts.
From that day on, life became fuzzier. Every day was a struggle to block out memories because looking at Ms. Skinner, knowing she knew something bad about me that I didn't understand, was too embarrassing.
If I'd been a different kind of person, I would have begged my mother to let me stay home from school. Instead I ended up begging her to let me go even when I felt like I was dying.
Somewhere in my head, I plotted every day. I saw every opportunity to pull Kelly's chair from behind her as she sat down. To steal her homework out of the turn-in box. To slip peanut butter in her sandwich so she'd go into anaphylactic shock.
Even as an elementary school kid, I just longed for someone to feel as I felt.
"Why won't you tell me your name?" I demanded.
"Why don't you remember?"
"I…I don't know," I said. "I just don't know. Do you even have a name?"
"Of course I have a name. Don't be silly."
"Why can't I remember?"
"Because you're distracted. Stop worrying about Kelly and look at me for once," you said.
I had this feeling you were getting frustrated with my obsession with Kelly now that I was a bit older, now that I was starting middle school, even. But Kelly had the life I envied so deeply it gnawed at my very being on a nightly basis. Everything she did irked me. Every time a boy spoke to her, I felt this terrible pang of jealousy, even though I hated those stupid, pathetic, disgusting earth boys.