I.

When she laughs there’s something much deeper about it that you feel, that you don’t feel when most other people laugh. Maybe it’s because of when she laughs. Sometimes when she laughs it’s just pure joy, it’s placed right where you expect laughter to go. But often, more often I’d say, she laughs where it seems to hurt. And her laughter doesn’t diminish the hurt, or refute it; it just touches it. Her laughter like a smooth, beautiful stone skipping over a deep and wide well of confusion and ache. I think it’s one of the myriads of things that make her so easy to be around, and talk to, and love. She laughs right where I hope to laugh one day, but haven’t managed to be able to yet.

II.

She laughed as she slid herself onto the stool. She seemed very amused by being interviewed. It’s just, she said, when you ask me to tell you about myself naturally I think of my cousin Amy.

Everyone always blamed Amy. Amy got her tongue pierced first, Amy dyed her hair first, Amy got her tattoos first, and Amy dropped out of college first. Everyone always remembered how doe-eyed I was about Amy when I was little and — still am, actually, she laughed, so when I started doing some of those things myself they just all pointed fingers at her. What’s so ridiculous is that Amy and I are not all that alike each other, we’re very different. I mean we look like we could be sisters and we’ve done a lot of similar things but for very different reasons and nothing’s ever worked out the same for either of us. She was surprisingly successful at everything she endeavored to do, which pissed a lot of people off, too. On the other hand I am, and always was a total mess, she laughed.

You know I think, I can think of two major obstacles in my life right off the bat. And I’m sure there have been more but these two things jump directly to the top of my mind. One is when my first online store project went bankrupt, kaput, and I got evicted from my apartment and moved in with my aunt. And the other is 2012. Just, she laughed, yeah, just that whole year.

Well, in terms of my first store. You know before that went down the drain I don’t think I realized that that break-up feeling could exist outside of a break-up, she laughed. Oh God, I mean that whole sinking feeling, that emptiness that you feel as you go through your day after, you know especially like — the week after it happens. You know right after I shut down my store, it was like I hadn’t really realized or accepted it, it just felt like I had this weird week off from working the store, so I was just kind of not feeling it, and then I went to log onto the site to check my Google stats the week after and the “Thank you for visiting us! But we no longer exist” message I had written up popped up and I realized, oh yeah, that’s real. This is really done.

And then I got my eviction notice and I was like, oh yeah that’s real, she laughed. That’s really done. She laced her fingers, and bopped a little with the balls of her feet against the foot bar of the stool. Yeah, she said, biting down on her lip.

There was nothing wrong with the year 2012 on the surface. I was moving along. I had a part-time job working in a bookstore, I was saving some money, and I had my hands in all kinds of different community projects that I was pretty proud to say I was a part of. But, she paused for long enough to build up this sense of suspense.

I woke up one morning wondering when the last time I’d spoken to me was, she said. I felt like I’d been so distant from myself. Like I’d just been walking forward, marching on, with the essence of me just sort of dragged along behind. So no wonder I felt so stressed all the time, right? No wonder I had all those cricks in my neck and knots in my back. No wonder I came home and collapsed on the couch and felt paralyzed. Watched old television shows and movies just to pass the time until the next item on the to-do list, the next anticipated task. No wonder every conversation that touched too deep brought me this sense of panicked revelation I was both desperate for and afraid of.

Who the  fuck  am I, I wanted to say, all the time. But then I was even more confused because I didn’t think I was the kind of person who would want to say that. I don’t usually curse, she laughed, But I guess I really felt that way, you know, I was just really really at the end of myself.

I guess you’d call it an identity crisis, or a quarter-life crisis, she laughed. I started to ask myself all these terrifying questions about what I was doing and what I wasn’t doing and what I wanted to do and what I thought I could or could not do. It was terrifying. I felt like I had this ideal image of myself in my mind, and who I was didn’t match that image, and I knew I wasn’t doing anything to get myself moving in the direction of that image, so I just felt inadequate.

I don’t know how I transitioned out of that particular space. I know I had to enter it to exit it. I think entering it was a part of the way out of it, and that there was no way around it, if that makes sense. I needed to feel those feelings and I needed to talk to people about them; I needed to hear myself say certain things out loud, like once I was talking to my sister and I said, I don’t want to be working in the bookstore this time next year. And I paused, and I was like. Hey, I don’t want to be working in the bookstore. Huh, she smiled. I loved the bookstore but I didn’t want to work there. Light bulb! Maybe I should put my resume together, I thought. Or maybe I should start talking to my friend Alexandra about that online shop idea she had.

I would say… Walk through your day with purpose. Hope. Dream. If you have terrible dreams when you’re stressed like I do, don’t suppress them or get freaked out by them, just recognize they’re messages about what you’re worried about. And if you have wonderful dreams you make up for yourself when you’re awake and supposed to be doing other things, she laughed, don’t suppress those either. You never know what you’ll actually see come to pass.

She sticks out her tongue, which is no longer pierced, at the camera. I took my tongue piercing out in 2013 when I realized that I didn’t really like it. It was the one thing in my life I can purely blame on Amy. I just got that because I wanted to be like her. So when I realized that of course I got rid of it; it felt insincere. And I’m not about insincere. I’m not about imitation. I’m not about inadequacy. I’m about being Zenah. Yeah, she smiled, and then she just, laughed.


Cheyenne Varner lives in Richmond, Virginia. Her work has been published in Winter Tangerine Review, Thistle Magazine, V23 Creative Magazine, Atwood Magazine, SILVIA Magazine, BODY Literature, -Ology Journal, and more.


:: more from this issue ::

Four Poems

Tania Nwachukwu



Two Poems

Amber Atiya



Rage in Color

A. Montgomery



Nocturnes

Abdul Ali


Three Poems

Hanif Abdurraqib



Letter Twelve

Ekere Tallie



Three Poems

Rachel Long



Re: Surrender

Yona Harvey


Genesis

Jacinta White



Three Poems

Derrick Weston Brown



Zenah

Cheyenne Varner



Is It Sweet?

Athena Dixon