Questions I Ask Myself

“It’s summer for you, right? You said it was August, does uni summer go until August?”

I sigh, knowing where this is going. “Yep, you’re absolutely right. It’s August, I’m on vacation, and I’m just lying on my bed at eleven in the morning.”

She judges me from my spinning chair, her face scrunching up in a mix of disgust and confusion. It’s been ages since I was eleven years old, but I can read her face like, well, a mirror. I remember that summer, “California Gurls” a hypnotic mantra on the radio as Family Channel marathoned a different show every week. Day after day after day–it’s no wonder she’s hoping for something different eight years in the future.

“But why, though?” she asks, and she’s got perfectly good reason to.

“Well,” I say, “you know that we don’t have friends nearby, except Nat, I guess, but even then it’s hard to meet up. Uni schedules are horrible. There’s also the fact that I like spending time by myself, especially when everything gets so busy.”

I know it’s not what she wants to hear. Her forehead has some serious creases in it now, in the middle of scattered spots. There are less than I remember having, acne’s effects lasting longer than the dark brown spots of picked off pimples. Her bob’s grown out past her shoulders, but she’s still skinny, Aunty Lou’s strangely affecting comment to eat more waiting for her in June next year. She’ll gain a bit of weight and still not have any curves, eventually giving up on having at least a B-cup like her friends.

I sit up, disconcerted that an eleven year old has to deal with that at all. She’s still frowning at me.

“Kiddo, don’t you have any other questions to ask me?” I look her in the eye. “You said it yourself, you don’t know how long you’ll be here. It doesn’t feel like I’m getting any memories of this, either, so chances are you either forget this entirely or you’re from a different timeline. Doesn’t really matter, I think.”

The irritation flashes in her eyes, but she won’t say anything because we’re both jerks, but only on the inside. At least I know for sure that I really do get annoyed with people who are too much like me. She huffs, a little bullish exhale. “Alright then, have you ever had a boyfriend?”

I laugh. “Wouldn’t you like to know!” Of course I would ask that–the kid’s probably dying to know if I’ve had someone confess their burning love for me or something. It’s great, I should’ve expected this sooner. I have to respect that she’s managed to hold out until, what, the fourth question? Her cheeks are burning up in indignation and embarrassment, and I’m also embarrassed, Jesus.

“I just wanted to know if you were happy,” she says tightly. “If you had a boyfriend to spend time with and stuff, and if he was cute.”

I drag her chair over to me and hug her. “Honey,” I say, with all the sincerity in the world, “those are two completely different things. Which one do you want to know?”

“They’re both yes or no answers, so you pick one,” she mumbles into my shoulder, her arms wrapped around my waist.

“Makes sense,” I laugh, and hug her tighter as I think about what to say.

I settle on this: “Dating someone doesn’t mean you’re happy. You know that, right?” I feel her chin dig in briefly, and take it as a nod. “It’s not a ‘you’re better off alone’ thing, either, because everyone needs some kind of support system in other people. But Mama’s not off the mark, when she talks about it being more important to know yourself than deal with what other people think of you. All that’s tied up in self-worth, which you connect to dating someone. It makes sense, but it’s not the best thing to do.” Maybe if I tell it to myself enough times, it’ll really sink in.

She pulls back to look at me, a little skeptical but willing to agree. “Plus, kiddo, you don’t gotta look good to be good. The best compliments I’ve ever gotten have been about my personality.”

“Um, okay…I didn’t really ask about that, though.”

“It’s buy one, get one free,” I joke, half-serious.

“It would be, if you actually answered my questions,” she retorts.

Touché, kid. “Alright, fine. In re: dating people — haven’t, not really, but it’s chill. Relationships are weirder than you think. It’s not like, oh, he’s my best friend and we’re gonna fall in love, or my crush who’s a jerk is going to turn out to like me. It just happens or something.” God, I’m so bad at this, where’s my best friend to help me talk to myself? And yet I’m so preachy.

The kid goes back to looking like she doesn’t believe me. Dammit. “There’s tons of people at your school, and you haven’t found anyone?” she asks.

“Maybe because I don’t have eighty thousand people in my class,” I say, rolling my eyes. “It’s a lot more fun being part of a small group that cares than being popular. You’re gonna learn that eventually, but eleven is an icky year, bud.”

She sighs. “You’re no help at all. You keep missing all my questions.”

“You know we’re bad at asking and answering questions,” I reply. “All I can say is that you should keep asking yourself questions if you want any thorough answers, because I can’t tell you anything since you have no solid frame of reference.”

“I am asking myself questions!” she cries.

“I can’t just give you spoilers for eight years of character development in twenty minutes!”

By Ceara A., 19, Toronto