I Like Your Bangs
When we finally meet in person, years after I abandoned my account, I have to rub my eyes to make sure I hadn’t just blinked through a particularly vivid afterimage.
Today, a poignant story of identity, internet friendship, and coming to terms with the contours of our adolescent digital footprints. Enjoy. -the ed.
When we finally meet in person, years after I abandoned my account, I have to rub my eyes to make sure I hadn’t just blinked through a particularly vivid afterimage. She’s been holding her hand out for almost ten seconds now, her eyes drawn into the only tic of confusion on her perfect face; lips frozen into a plum wine smile.
“Um...” Her teeth are so white I want to lick them just to prove a point. “I’m Perry. And you must be... Marcy? The designer?”
She’s throwing me a lifeline, and I force myself to raise my own hand, hyperaware of the wetness beginning to rise beyond my pores. I’m a leaf in a storm and also the exquisite drop pooling at the tip, doomed to fall to the floor like a cannonball dive.
We finally clasp palms and air kiss over our heels and work-appropriate skirts, hers silk and mine a sensible jersey blend; lips brushing cheeks in studied dodges. I use the marginal closeness to sneak another glimpse at her phone, which she’s left on the table behind her.
It’s her. It’s definitely her, or what (who?) she used to look like. I’d recognize that lock screen image anywhere: A manga-style portrait of a girl whose mouth is pulled into a little “o” pout. She wears two long braided pink pigtails; her body’s obscured by a variegated display of tall cacti. It looks like something you could’ve found on any corner of the internet, but I know, I know, exactly where it’s from, because ten years ago, I’d made it for her.
Back when we traded texts and memes and bursts of video chats, in groups of other internet-only friends and just between ourselves, talking about our boring school-bound lives and the flights we’d take once untethered. Back when she had that long pink hair because of her favorite anime character, and I was learning to draw by checking out books in the library and tracing over lithe bodies with impossibly large, lodestone eyes. Back when she posted clips of herself playing through video games or talking about the latest weird thing she’d found in the desert, and all the boys in our digital circle would private message me to ask for advice on talking to girls, “just wondering, man,” and I would Google them through what to say and do “just in case,” and then she’d private message me, asking what I thought of so-and-so and didn’t everyone think @kaminaa-a was actually, like, a married dad? And wasn’t that kind of creepy? Well, I thought that; and when she posted that she’d turned 18, I’d tracked her username’s tag and quickly learned exactly what most guys, even our guys, thought of her.
When she soon after posted that she’d gotten into college, I was the first one to “like” her announcement. Horticulture, in a state across the country from where she lived. I’d drawn, posted, then tagged her in the image. Congrats.
She’d reblogged it with an all-caps burst of delight, but over the phone, she’d sobbed: “How do you know what you really want?”
Her posts dried up once she got to school. She started dating; of course she was popular. Even her nerd friends there were beautiful in that alternative-meets-ethereal way, where they can know the names of the planets in Star Wars and pleasantly surprise people. (No one was ever surprised when I said I liked anime, or Star Wars, or tabletop games, or comics.) (Except when I also got into art school on a portfolio of star field-eyed girls.) (And then later, when I emerged from school in the image of one.)
Her last post is from seven years ago: “Thanks for the fan art, the stupid/great inside jokes, the encouragement that’s gotten me through so many tough times, and the many memories we’ve made here together. Meet me IRL, maybe? ♡♡♡”
“So,” I say, the corners of my mouth screaming from the smile it’s holding, “What can I do for you today, Miss,” I purposefully make a show of scanning her application, “Wan?”
We’re the only ones seated in the conference room, but I can see my co-workers ogling her from beyond the glass. She keeps her gaze on mine.
“Please, call me Perry.” She smoothes her skirt with both hands; I admire her opalescent manicure. “And, I won’t be a Wan for much longer, which,” she leans in closer, and I breathe in a whiff of sandalwood and something smokier, “is the purpose of this meeting.”
Right. I turn my knees away from her and pretend to pore over the file spread out in front of me.
She’s getting married. I recognize his name from years in the tabloids; scrolling past his face in Getty Images; reading his op-eds while rolling my eyes. He’d cleaned up his act a couple of years back, but I hadn’t cared enough to realize that part of his rebranding included-
“I’d like to do a full sweep and optimization. All profiles and posts earlier than this date.” She taps a nail at the numbers highlighted at the top of a page and uses her other hand to tuck a strand of cropped white-blonde hair behind her ear. I almost jump when I see that the mole that once lived near her eye isn’t there anymore. A faint ring just around her irises, visible only from this closeness, gives away what must surely be custom circle lenses.
“I can pay the whole processing fee upfront. And,” her voice drops, and now I’m the one leaning in, “I know this wasn’t in my original budget, but... I’d like to also look into an extension sweep. For posts that mention me, or tagged me.”
I pretend to take a moment to sip some coffee.
We’d stopped talking a year after she’d gone to school. Or rather, she’d stopped responding with even the courtesy “haha”s and “omg”s, and I’d poured myself into my portfolio. Into the outlines of the things she’d introduced me to, like the impossible girls that’d taken over my life, and the Latin names of my local foliage, and my first pet—which I’d chosen because of her, because of the endless sand and skies framing her real-world haunts.
When I came home after graduation, I’d let Dune slither out into the woods behind my house.
I don’t say any of this, of course. Instead, my head nods; then, we’re holding hands and air kissing again. My voice says, “Our assistants will schedule a follow-up, to go over the mock-ups for your refined social footprint. I’ll invite our technical director, and he’ll let you know what’s possible on his end.”
I hold the door open for her, and she pauses, one foot beyond the glass. She turns, and our eyes meet, and for a moment, I hope.
“This might sound weird, but...”
"...I like your bangs. They’re cute. Kind of"—a pause—"cartoony?" The lenses in her eyes stay centered when she glances up at my forehead, and then she strides away, her hair swaying and blinding in the afternoon sun breaking through; and then it’s just me and the mirage.