Cheryl accented her dreamy look by draping herself in diaphanous materials—pink and green silks just short of transparent, chiffon blouses that billowed, long, swishing skirts that trailed behind her, sleeves that covered her hands so she appeared to be clothed in a cloud. The effect could be startling, her very appearance a proclamation—Titania is here, the fairy queen has arrived, angels will follow soon.
Her hair, as you have probably guessed, was a cloud of blond curls around her pale face. Her eyes were the color of emeralds. You expected a breathy, throaty whisper when she spoke, but when she did open her mouth you realized there was a real person under all the fluff. Her voice rasped. The hard consonants hit the ear as if she were speaking German or Dutch and focused your attention on the perfectly round face peering through whatever silk or chiffon concoction she had dreamed up that morning.
You could call us childhood friends—we were neighbors—but it was hard to like her. I wore consignment shop jeans, my brothers’ sweatshirts, and kept my hair long, straight, and in my face. In Junior High Cheryl still showed up in dresses with a train that she draped over one arm or gossamer outfits that rose and fell with every mincing step. The day she told me how much she liked my shirt, I snorted. There she stood in her ethereal baby blue glory saying she liked my hand-me-down Vikings sweatshirt. “You can have it,” I said.
Her eyes glistened, and she covered her face with that narrow hand. “I can’t,” she said and floated across the yard, up her own steps and into her house, the only gingerbread Victorian on the block.
There was something so false about her filmy fluff, but I know now that I envied her and hated the way the boys on my block, including my brothers, looked when she was around. Cheryl would always be seen; nobody would know I was alive.
So, as expected, I slipped into high school unnoticed, one of many nondescript, good-student girls in sweatshirts, but Cheryl was an item from the beginning.
I saw her coming down the stairs one day that first week, pink with pleasure at the attention. A line of senior boys at the top of the stairs were singing to her, then cracking up, Freshman fairy, come fly with me, Freshman fairy. Center stage. Just where she wanted to be, I thought. No senior boy would know I existed if I walked over him during passing time.
Have you ever been stuck? Really stuck in your own skin? You know what other people think of you, know how they see you, know it’s not right, but don’t know how to change. Can’t move off of square one because square two is nowhere in sight, and for Cheryl, square one was sweet, rosy, and comfortable. She was our image of cool in kindergarten, of beauty in grammar school, of eccentric in middle school.
I’ve been stuck too every since she jumped—or flew. I should have said something, should have given her my sweatshirt, helped her out of her ridiculous costumes, but how do you help somebody you’ve resented your whole life?
My brother Davy saw her come out of her third hour class and float—his word—into a group of guys. Oh, it’s the fairy princess. Fly to me fairy. Where are your wings?
She didn’t look at them directly, but she dropped something on the floor with each taunt—her binder, a pencil, the math book—and quickened her pace. Her tormentors kicked her things down the hall. Other kids at their lockers stopped to watch.
Fairy, fairy, fucking flying fairy. A steady stream.
She’d shed her books and back pack by the time she reached the stairwell and climbed up on the ledge—floated up, Davy said—and spread her skinny arms. You could see the outline of her narrow body, more girl than woman.
© 2011 Kathleen Coskran