It happened again in fifth grade, when I decided to join the softball team in order to spend more time with Kyrie after school. I played right field, which is the coach’s silent way of saying “We are obligated to put you somewhere, but you are terrible, so we’ll put you where the least amount of action is,” and Kyrie played second base, by choice, as the coach told her she could basically play anywhere, except for right field, because, you know, the team needed her.
During our third game, a left-handed batter came to the plate. “Move up,” our coach yelled to me, and so I did, leaving a pile of cleat-mowed grass behind me. The ball, as predicted, came my way, and though I stuck my arm out and prayed to every deity I could remember from our religion unit in World Cultures class, I knew very well that I wasn’t going to catch the ball. Mostly because I was terrified of it. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when it bounced off of my glove and hit me in the nose, causing blood to gush out all over the Boring Zone that is right field. I just stood there, frozen, unable to handle the pain or the sight of the blood.
“Jaysus,” someone yelled from the stands. Probably my father, though I don’t know if it was in shock, embarrassment, or concern. Most likely all three.
While the other team’s first-base coach came running toward me, the players kept running around the bases, and I heard someone yell, “Go three, go three!” A hand swept in under me, picked up the bloody ball, and made a throw all the way from right center to third base, picking off the runner and robbing her of a triple. The crowd went crazy. Kyrie dropped her glove and came running back to me.
“Are you OK?”
“I broke my face.”
“You’re supposed to catch it with your glove, dummy.”
“Your face is a dummy,” I said.
“She’s fine,” Kyrie called to my parents.
The first-base coach applied an ice pack to my face and I was politely clapped off the field, though the game was over. Kyrie followed behind me, a larger cheer growing for her amazing arm.
“They’re clapping for you,” she said. “It takes a tough person to take a direct shot like that and keep standing.”
I pulled the ice pack from my face and sobbed. “I think I broke my nose,” I said.
In the car on the way to the hospital, my father delivered a message: “Kyrie wanted me to tell you that broken noses are very in right now in France.”
There was also the skirt incident of eighth grade, when I decided I needed to wear a super-short mini to the school dance, because I was small on top and thought maybe the boys would ignore that if I gave them a shot of my legs. It was Byron Foster who noticed them first, while I was shaking my awkward self all over the dance floor and away from Mrs. Peters, the chaperone, who was on a serious “skirts at the knee or legs out the door” mission.
“Georgie’s got man legs!” Bryon yelled, loud enough for every single middle-schooler in New England to hear.
The music kept blaring, but the dancing slowed down around me as the collective eyes of the sixth through eighth grades moved to my shins, which were covered in tiny brown hairs.
“Man legs!” Byron yelled again. Some kids started to laugh. I yanked my skirt down, but it wasn’t enough to cover the exposed skin. I turned to run and found Kyrie standing behind me, her eyes fixed on Byron’s stupid face.
“Ugh, Byron,” she said coolly. “If you knew anything about women you’d know that not shaving your legs is very in right now. Especially in France.” Some seventh grade girls nodded their heads as if this was common knowledge.
Byron didn’t have much to say—to my face, anyway—after that. The dance kept going, and everyone forgot about my “man legs” and focused on more-important things, like who was kissing in the corner, who was fighting in the hallway, and the odds of Mr. Templeton’s toupee falling off during the Electric Slide two years in a row.
“What would you have said?” We’ve finished our tacos and moved on to our chocolate milkshakes, which sounds like a gross combination if you hate delicious things.
“About the reincarnation thing?” She sips her shake and looks out the window. “Well, Spider-Man’s taken, so.”
“I truly hate you.”
“Was he a good kisser, at least?” Kyrie always wants to know if someone is a good kisser, which is a hard question to answer, because I firmly believe that no two mouths touch in the same way. I want to say that he flattened his bottom lip too much and always tasted like cough drops because of his allergies, but I feel like I’d die if someone told their friend details like that about me, so instead I just say that he was all right.
“OK, so back to my question.” My milkshake tastes a bit like salsa ice cream, and it is amazing.
“I don’t know,” she says.
“Just pick the first thing that comes to mind. That’s usually the honest thing.”
“Like ‘flea’?” she says, one eyebrow raised.
“Like anything. 1-2-3-go.”
“I’d come back as a boy,” she says.
“For the deodorant options?” As soon as this leaves my mouth she glares at me, and I’m back in Milo’s bedroom, Lady of the Hives, Ruiner of Lives.
“For the freedom,” she says, sighing. She doesn’t have to explain it; the beautiful boys in our school can walk down the street without having adults scream gross things at them from cars, from windows, from two inches away. I used to want, more than anything, to Freaky Friday with Kyrie and feel what a perfect life must feel like, but the older we get, the more I realize that I need to defend her the way she used to stand up for me when we were younger.
“You can have freedom now,” I tell her, knowing it’s kind of a lie.
She shakes her head. “Can’t control the world,” she says.
“Fuck the world, then.”
She smiles. “You’re going to make an excellent flea.”
“Your face is going to make an excellent flea.”
“I’m changing my mind,” she says. She shoves her shake cup under the seat, where it will remain, forgotten, mingling with fallen lettuce until the presence of tiny bugs reminds us of our meal, our day, our plans. “I’m coming back as a flea, too,” she says.
“We are literally going to suck,” I tell her.
“Going to bug the shit out of the universe,” she says.
“Small put powerful.”
“Silent but annoying.”
“And if our careers as professional infesters don’t work out,” I tell her, “We can always join the circus.”
“Amen,” she says. She starts the car and we both keep our eyes on the windshield, scanning the world ahead of us, and thinking of the worlds beyond that. With any luck, we’ll make it through this life, despite the stupidity of other people, despite the presence of parasites and pests and everything that makes it hard to exist. And from what I’ve heard fleas are going to be super hot in France in roughly 500 years, so, as always, we’re going to be together, unstoppable, and on point. ♦