She was the sort of girl who made you question: what is reality? What is the human brain? Am I really alive in this world I thought I knew?
Not because she voiced these questions – in fact, she despised them, along with the thought of death – but because there was something very different about her.
In appearance, she was like an insect, or a lizard. She had protuberant eyes, a very delicate almond shape, spaced far apart. She had this way of looking, when she wasn’t concentrating: her eyes would widen further and her pupils would look small in her sockets, and her round cheeks would appear rounder, and her mouth would be slightly open, as if asking questions no-one else could hear.
I worried about her a lot; she had a neurotic streak to her. She used to work herself up into knots about ridiculous things, and by the time she was finished she would really, truly believe them, and she would explain them in distress with a plea for reassurance in her voice, and I would watch, helpless, desperate to reach through the opaque wall that was the barrier between her thought process and mine, and to save her from the churnings of her mind.
Sometimes I would think, in the same sick, giddy way you would think about the universe, that she was so very different to the rest of us: when she was having a moment of panic, she would just look so fragile and wayward I would be truly, maternally terrified that she would be splinter into shards, or be kidnapped into the ground. I thought that perhaps she was an alien, or a higher being, or some sort of humanoid sent to the earth to observe us, but that made me feel nervous and betrayed, as if hearing an unpleasant truth.
I also reasoned that perhaps she had a mental illness, and that gave me a paralysing burst of bystander effect – it was one thing knowing of things, another knowing them.
She made up phrases that stuck in my head.
‘Life has lost its sparkle,’ she would say on cloudy days, her thick eyebrows furrowed and disappointed.
Silly made-up words sprung to her head and then her lips, and I would unconsciously adopt them; ‘smushy boo’ was what she called me once when she was younger, affection evident in her round face, and I still lavish the word, ironically, upon my cat without remembering its source.
I would attempt this, but always end up stilted, awkward – I came across too stuffy, too formal, too analytic, but she forgave me this, courteously.