Jenny's house was beige: beige walls, beige carpet, beige paintings hung over the beige furniture. Her parents were doctors and never home and so it was the best house to go to; our own beige nest, free of the pernicious influences of adults. Tabitha and I would have sacrificed piglets for that kind of freedom but Jenny was the kind of girl who, in the absence of parents, parented herself with ruthless, totalitarian authority: excelling in everything, joining all possible teams, winning every track meet, cremating her ski-team opponents, going to bed at eleven. It made her nervous when we brought over cigarettes or weed or seniors, pillaged the cabinet over the stove where her parents kept a dusty bottle of Grand Marnier, cajoled her into driving us to all-ages shows we weren't supposed to go to.
I loved Jenny, with all my heart, loved her sober, worried face, her laugh, whatever it was in her that pushed her to ever greater lengths of achievement; and I loved Tabitha, lanky and fickle, Tabitha with her model's face and drive that matched Jenny's. They fought each other ruthlessly for four-point GPAs, track trophies, perfect scores on calculus tests. They looked nothing alike but people mistook them for sisters. Both of them lean as greyhounds, long brown hair falling into their light eyes: Tabitha's the icy blue of the sky at the edge of the horizon, Jenny's a silvery grey-green that darkened to smoke when she was sad.
Which was, for all three of us, often. What I remember more than anything about that time in my life, more than anger, more than hope, more than music, more even than the two of them, is the sadness I did not understand then I would be learning to share a body with for the rest of my life. I wasn't in the running for whatever it was Jenny and Tabitha were competing for. They were already skinnier than I was, smarter than I was, more driven than I was. They wanted Ivy League, I wanted nothing more than a way out. The second we graduated I was gone, as far as I could get myself. We stayed in touch for a while but whatever it was that had tethered them to me dissolved. There was nothing dramatic that set in motion our slide apart from one another, just the gradual dissolution of what had already been coming apart. I don't remember the last time I talked to either of them. I hear news of them, every now and then. They are doing good things with their lives, as all of us expected they would. What they expected of me, I couldn't even tell you.
What I expected of myself, I've done.
We used to lie on Jenny's floor and listen to Low, the year I Could Live in Hope came out. We saw them, the three of us, our freshman or sophomore year. We sat in the velvet-covered seats at the Moore, wearing what we thought grown-ups wore, people who went to concerts all the time, and worked in record stores, and had sex. Mimi Parker's incomparable voice filled the entire theater. The pain is easy / Too many words, too many words. I had no name for the heartbreak I carried in my chest, a sorrow so constant it was physical, like a bodily organ pieced together out of barbed wire and broken glass, but that album made a space for it, made me feel, if not less alone, a little less lonely. We would lie on Jenny's floor, my head pillowed on her bony chest, her arm wrapped around my shoulders, and listen to it over and over again. We all want, we all yearn. I can't listen to it now without thinking of them; I couldn't listen to it at all for years.
I loved them both so much I couldn't understand why the love we had for each other couldn't cross the ways in which we were separate; it's a long time of learning lessons, before you learn the one about love not being enough to keep together what's coming asunder. I miss them still in a way that's hard to place. Not nostalgia, exactly, but not a real thing, either. I do not ever, ever want to be a teenager again, but those years are still with me, still woven into the fabric of my days. A drop of dye in a bucket of water: it doesn't take much to shift the color to something new.
There's no neat ending. I thought of Jenny's house because I was waiting for the Q train one night a while ago, listening to I Could Live in Hope and crying; one of those nights where you catalog every time you've ever hurt someone you love, where you think about your own life and how it will never be anything other than messy and undone, uncertain. I am not a sixteen-year-old girl who wishes for death anymore, but those nights still line up sometimes, strung between the good ones. I can still feel the texture of Jenny's carpet on my cheek, the neat shelf of her CDs lined up next to her biology textbooks, her SAT prep manuals, her Sassy magazines arranged in chronological order. Still remember that show at the Moore. Still remember the three of us, rapt and breathless, sitting together in the darkened theater, waiting for the music to start.