We were lying on the train tracks and it was my idea. Maybe it was the logic of rosé, of late day sunlight soaking into skin that had forgotten what warmth could feel like, of a sea so close you can feel it breathing. The whole world was the breath of ocean and the smile of sun, sunset on a hill by the sea, and we were drinking rosé from the bottle.
Best friends living on opposite coasts. Our first night together, reunited, and I wanted to do something you’d remember me by.
Ambling our way back to your apartment, something was gripping around my heart, something was fluttering darkly, and there were the train tracks. Maybe, too, I wasn’t ready to go home with you.
“Let’s lay down,” I said, already running over, knowing you would follow. So it was my idea, but it was mostly because of Anna and Sylvia and Virginia and all the women blood-binding us. So much woman in me, in you. Too much for one body, it often felt. But together. Both of us with flaming batons in our bellies, honey in our throats, and so much water circulating that somehow we struck equilibrium. Somehow, with all our fire, all our water, we both know we will always arrive, eventually, at dry, safe land.
Born across the world, me in America, you in Turkey, somehow we found each other. What would it be like for our lives to be forever joined? -- not like these parallel tracks running on and on, never touching because they never could. But like how water loves with such recognition of self. How our physical world of continents and countries and earth took shape simply because a body of water met another body of water, and understood.
The two of us so much like sisters we don’t even say “like.”
I tilted my head to look at you and behind there was the sun tearing itself apart. I prided myself on the purity of the bond between us. My own capacity for it. I had never wanted anything more from you than what you gave.
You were giggling and I was breathing deep.
When the train tracks dare to be crossed.
We walked down the beach, silently gathering rocks.
Rocks with red flecks, grid lines, milky speckles. Orange green and brown rock. Suckle-pig pink. Frisbee flat. Crystalline. Slick black like a wet pup. Rock shaped like my thumb. Rock shaped like yours.
The sleek line of ocean, the mountains hovering beyond like beneficent ghosts. The sky so big and blue, the way I had forgotten the sky could look and feel. Unobstructed, easy, consuming. Tomorrow I’d return home and you would stay here.
In bed together the other night, I admitted I wanted to kiss you. And you laughed and said so sweetly, “You can kiss me if you want to. But it won’t mean more than just a kiss.”
Dry tongue scraped my throat. “It’s okay,” I whispered. Turned over and willed myself asleep.
There was a pane of glass between us the rest of the weekend. I was terrified of touching you, even accidentally. The heat of it, what might surge inside me. And more than that, I feared what you would think -- that I couldn’t be trusted. I hated the glass and felt grateful for it.
The weekend dragged. We spent an entire afternoon at the bay, where I sobbed on the towel next to you and claimed I didn’t know why; I was probably just getting my period. You placed a hand on my back and I wanted to kill you.
I fear my mother thinks I am this way because of her. Because she was my best friend, my confidante, throughout my childhood. As a child I wanted to be everywhere she was. I clung to her legs, sat on her lap, wanted to live on her skin. Because of how I’d crawl into her bed until I was thirteen when her boyfriend moved in. Before I understood what sex was, and even once I did, there was a sparkling in my belly that something might happen. Not because I wanted it to, but I didn’t know what else being so body-close to somebody I loved could mean.
What we do we think of women who fuck their mothers, their sisters? We have no language for this, though it plays out in dreams, the pulse of fantasies. It was wrong what I was feeling towards you.
That night, I struck my fist through the glass and told you everything. How I wanted you and didn’t know how to tell you, because how could we ever go back? My fear of losing everyone I loved. That you’d think me a pervert, a monster.
I made my confession to the white carpet.
But you embraced me in all my confusion. Told me you understood. There was no need for shame. Your voice its own medicine. But it wasn’t how you felt about me. And there was clarity in hearing this. Breeze from an open window. We hugged each other tightly and went to sleep, me on the couch and you in your own bed.
The next day, my last day, we went to the ocean.
We gathered rocks and carried them in our pockets.
We were lying on the train tracks and it was my idea.
I showed you my stones, the ones I loved, and you showed me yours, what you had chosen. I understood why you made your choice, and I loved you for it. Sometimes I’d pick up a rock in my palm and know that it wasn’t mine, it was yours. Somehow, too, you did the same. There was no explanation. We just knew.
Forever blue sky. Fields shimmering with lavender. Waves roaring. Mount Rainier blazing white.
We swore we’d never be without each other, that our friendship would push through anything and everything.
I believed you.
Back at home, on your balcony, we created a circle from the rocks. The warmth of the afternoon sun soaking into skin. I realized: this is what it means for a friendship to be strong. Not pure or unadulterated. It means that it could hold. Bear its own weight.
I flew back to New York that evening, an almost full moon glowing by my side.
I wish the story ended here.
For months afterwards, you claim you’re too busy to talk to me. I am used to this: placing our friendship at the center of my life, but never pressing too hard. I know that most of all, you do not like to be cornered.
We speak on the phone a couple days before your visit and I don’t hide the edge in my voice. I trust we will talk through it, just as we always have. Just as water gradually erodes and wears down rock. Re-joins with its own.
The morning of your arrival I wake to a feverish email. I couldn’t get on the plane, I just couldn’t do it. You claim you are looking for a therapist. You feel I have violated you.
I rush to call you. If only we can hear each other’s voices and remember. It’s also true I crave your pardon. But we will never speak on the phone.
I’ve always feared the desire inside me was something too shameful to be let into the light. But I thought our sisterhood could hold it all. And this was why – and how – we were sisters.
I’ve never told anyone about my mother.
When I reach out to you on my birthday six months later, you reply that I’m exactly the kind of person you need to protect everyone you love from.
Your words slice through me and suddenly I have two bodies.
Can’t. Move. Can’t. Lift. Feet. Lungs twisted. Flaming. There is no breath.
Other Body like a stepping out of body, except Inside. A collarbone. Swelling across the ribs. Feet.
Knows you are wrong.
My love was no deception. Your words are not truth, though they scald like only the words of someone who knows you–who loved you—can. Other Body throbs and tingles and somehow also numb.
Your words don’t have to be my truth.
Years have now passed and I haven’t fought against the current. I have never written you back, or dared to re-read the email. Thinking of it makes my skin tremble. Tiny hairs bristle.
I have no other sisters. I may never meet someone like you again. And if I do, should they be my best friend or my lover? There are no rules for these things.
But I am no longer interested in boundaries, or their dissolution. I believe in desire like I believe in water. How it curves, flows, rushes, ripples. How water can and cannot be held. The Other Body.
I’ve kept the rocks. Atop my bureau, inside the drawers, on my desk, along the windowsill by my bed. You know how rocks usually fade when they’re dry? Far from ocean painting them wet with each breath.
I’m holding them now. They’re still beautiful.
Arya Samuelson was awarded CutBank's 2019 Montana Prize in Non-Fiction by Cheryl Strayed. Her work has also been published in New Delta Review, Entropy, and The Millions. She is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program at Mills College and a proud member of Lidia Yuknavitch's Corporeal Coven. She currently working on her first novel about Jewish immigration, the messiness of desire, and the strength of women's ancestral song. Arya teaches online writing classes at LitReactor, Pioneer Valley Writers' Workshop, and through her own teaching series, Writing as Ritual. She currently lives in Northampton, MA. Visit her: Website. Instagram.