Ella and I met in a seventh grade writing class. We became best friends based on a shared interest in Bob Dylan, this old Rice Krispies commercial, and a resistance to the popular idea of what it means to grow up. It was middle school, the time of coed hangouts and touching tongues and wood-paneled basements becoming scary in a way that was not spooky-scary but more like “I can smell my B.O. and I don’t really like this guy and wasn’t I a child like just last year?” scary. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I pretended my parents were calling so that I had an excuse to leave a gathering of acquaintances, or how badly I wished I could just go back to the dreamy fun of crushing on a particular boy once we became “boyfriend-girlfriend.” In Ella I found someone who preferred spooky-scary, who wanted to grow as a person but also liked to build fairy houses and take photos in the woods and try to talk to ghosts. We could confide in each other, but we could also make the good parts of childhood last as long as possible. Something that otherwise made us feel strange seemed perfectly normal when we were together.
One of our favorite things to do was the Ouija board. After a couple rounds of “Who will I marry?”–type questions, we decided to take the plunge and try contacting real-live (dead) ghosts. We found her dad’s board from when he was a kid, waited till everyone was asleep, and sat on the floor of her living room, surrounded by candles. (One ghost, Mary, asked us to bring her white roses, so we once decorated the board with those. Another time, we tried to get a six-year-old girl we’d previously contacted who loved Ella’s garden, so we used daisies, gems, and a plastic unicorn, pictured above.)
In the second year of high school, Ella and I found different friend groups. She became busy with theater, singing in a band, and hanging out with a long-term boyfriend. I became busy with Rookie. We never lost touch but we did fade away, hanging out less frequently and, for me, never telling her the whole story as to what was going on in my life. My new friends were dark and tortured, and Ella seemed so happy—I didn’t know what she would think if I told her I was depressed or developing unhealthy eating habits. Having problems was too grown-up for our sleepover agenda. It was easier to sit in the dark, ghosts of who we used to be, trying to get in touch with the bond we used to have.
At the end of 11th grade, we got together for the first time in a long time. While we both lay in her family’s guest room—white walls, white blankets, white sheets, white pillows—about to fall asleep, Ella asked, “What happened to us?” It turned out we’d been going through a lot of the same stuff at the same time and simply never reached out. I still wonder how things might have been different, how our respective pains might have been alleviated, had the Ouija board spelled out that we should have just talked to each other.
The Ouija-board conversations below are from the time of our falling out and our periodical attempts at reuniting. (They end with last winter, so we did not yet know the things we’d neglected to share before.) I promise that neither of us ever tried forcing any of these answers, because, first of all, we would’ve made them a lot scarier and weirder, and, second, we believed this stuff for real. I think I still do, though looking back through all of these, I would not be surprised if a more popular theory about the Ouija board was true: that the answers come from your subconscious. So many of our shared interests made their way into the ghosts’ sides of these conversations, movies we’d watched in her basement, songs we’d sing together and play on guitar. These exchanges feel more like a record of our time together than like any third party’s wishes and commands.
This past summer, Ella and I ran into each other at the airport. She was on her way to a family reunion with her parents after just getting back from an acting program in France. I was with my dad, heading to a friend’s wedding and college visits. My boyfriend and I had broken up not even two hours earlier, and the first thing I did when I saw her was burst into tears. She gave me a big, long hug and I realized how many other kinds of love exist and that they are often just as rare as the romantic kind we hear so much more about.
We’re both seniors now, applying to colleges and planning our futures. We still get together occasionally to catch up, erupt into fits of giggles, and watch trashy TV (curiously never acknowledged by the ghosts, all of whom must have had very particular visions for art direction). We also now tell each other the stuff we wouldn’t before. Still, it’s cool to think that there was something special enough about us as a duo that it had to manifest as a supernatural presence. While there would have been better ways for us to communicate with each other than through a game meant for talking to ghosts, I can’t help feeling like our subconsciouses were trying to remind us of the good times we’d had, and of the good times yet to come.
7/12/11. My copy of Franny and Zooey, covered in stickers. The questions scrawled throughout came from me and Ella; the Ouija board’s answers are in all caps. I wrote them in whatever book I had on me at the time, though you may, if you like, read into how each book’s subject matter overlapped with that stage of our friendship.
Important fact not covered in the asterisked footnotes above: At the time, a friendship song for Ella and me was “Wagon Wheel,” which has a lyric about Raleigh.
8/15/11. My copy of The Virgin Suicides, which is also filled with glitter and pressed flowers.
8/27/11. Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. This one we did in my room, surrounded by all my books and records and stuff—normally we were in Ella’s living room or backyard.
Make of these coincidences what you will: I had a Hole shrine and a Birds Barbie in my room; Roanoke is mentioned in another lyric from “Wagon Wheel.”
In one of my favorite movies at the time, Almost Famous, they make a big deal out of someday visiting Morocco. Murder on the Orient Express was one of Ella’s favorite Agatha Christie books. We were both obsessed with Audrey Hepburn, who had worked with Unicef in Somalia. “Joni” refers to Joni Mitchell, another mutual obsession; “Little Green” is a song Joni wrote about giving her daughter up for adoption. I had lots of Virgin Suicides stuff around my room at the time, including a vinyl record with a cover that was literally just Kirsten Dunst’s face. Alex Reads Twilight was a web series that Ella and I both enjoyed. And finally, Book Table was a store I had been frequenting since middle school.
11/26/11. The Bell Jar, which I never finished, which I probably shouldn’t admit on Rookie.
1/22/12. My journal at the time, which I got in Norway when I was little.
March = the Ides of March.
A Childcraft book I turned into a diary and kept at the beginning of this year.