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You don’t know what you look like. Sometimes when you’re at your desk at work, your fingers start to twitch and your knees shake. Sweat accumulates at your temples and your lip starts to bleed because you’ve been biting it. You get the overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom to make sure you’re still there, a reminder of where your eyes sit on your face and how brown your skin is. When you’re out on dates and men tell you that you are beautiful, you smile and nod the way you are supposed to. You want to ask them what they see when they look at you. You want them to describe how your eyes sit on your face and how brown your skin is. You want them to point to another woman in the restaurant and say, “Her. You look like her and she looks like you.” You need another point of comparison, a second opinion.
When you cannot find your reflection, you resort to touch. You feel for your left arm with your right fingers, all five of them. Each one drags across the bumps on your skin. Once you have confirmed that your left arm is there and your right fingers are touching it, you lose one of your earlobes or your whole neck. Your body is constantly looking for itself, remembering itself. It’s nothing like people who lose their limbs but you still think of your lost body parts as ghostly, weightless, always at risk of floating away from you forever.
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You log in to your account every morning to prove that you’re trying. Some say it’s a rumor that you’re monitored, that your chats are reviewed, your movement trackedbefore and after The Website©. It’s just a rumor, but you rehearse every click and keystroke. You tap a button on the top right of your computer screen with your right thumb. The webcam’s red light turns on and scans your retinas. You check your inbox – no new matches. The red and pink envelope is empty. Even on a government-run website, a candy heart veneer is embedded into the code. A frowning cupid mocks you as it flies around the window.
This is not a website where you initiate conversations, complete personality tests, or rank people by their pictures and whetherthey like flan. You remember a time when you would not respond to the men who wanted to know where you are from. The ones who wanted to run their hands through your thick dark hair, wanted to know what your mother cooks for you when you’re sad. Responses are now required. They’re watching you. You could get into some deep shit. There’s no room to say that you like flan because you always imagine your Popo liked flan even though your mom says that isn’t true.
On The Website©, you are given matches by the state. You think there was a time, maybe a few years ago, when all websites were going to be turned over to the federal government, but that didn’t happen. It makes more sense this way – what is the point if a woman in Wisconsin is paired with a man in New Mexico? Long distance relationships are not the point. They are hard to control. Despite science’s best efforts, you cannot procreate over the Internet yet.
It’s framed like a choice, like you can pick from a multitude of people who are carefully selected just for you, but there are guidelines. There are expectations. There are rules. You click a box and agree.
1. There are only two genders. There are only men and women, determined by birth. Men are paired with women. Women are paired with men.
2. You belong to a specific class: A, B, C, D, E or F. These classes correspond to how much money you have in the bank, your race, where you grew up, where you went to school, how much money your parents have in the bank, your job, etc. You are only matched with people in your class or the one directly below or above it. This is to create a sense of mobility.
3. White people can match with other white people, but people of color can only match with white people. This is to create a sense of mobility.
4. You are not who you think you are. You do not want what you think you want.
Carol picks you up and drives you to work. She works with you at the University. You drive with Carol because she knows all the words to pop songs on the radio. You like to watch her bob her head in time to the music. Sometimes you’re afraid that she is going to crash the car because she closes her eyes during the best parts. It’s worth it because you like to watch her and she doesn’t mind when you do.
She honks her horn when she’s outside instead of sending you a text. There are rumors that they can read your text messages too. Carol stopped using her cell phone a few weeks ago. She drops by without calling and shoves handwritten notes underneath doors instead of sending e-mails.
“Any new prospects?” she asks. Even Carol can’t avoid The Website©. If she didn’t login somebody would contact her. They would e-mail her, text her, call her. Someone would knock down her door and force her to look at pictures and profiles until she said yes.
“No, but I’m happy for the break. My date last night was awful,” you tell her.
“Tell me about it,” Carol says. “I have two tonight – Luke and Matthew.”
“Wouldn’t that be great? I’m sure They would love that. No, I’m trying a double feature tonight – a two-birds-one-stone type thing.” She asks you to hold the wheel so she can pull her mass of curls into a bun on top of her head.
She has a white mom and black dad and you have a Chinese mom and a white dad. Both of your parents married only a short time after it was legal to do so. Now you and Carol are held up as examples. Beauty is just enough white to soften the rough edges.
“It’s exhausting,” she says. “Do you remember it always being this exhausting?”
“Like before?” You ask. She nods. She is holding a hairpin between her lips. “I barely remember before.”
“Back then you could stare across the room at someone and think about what’d it be like to fool around with them in the backseat of a car.” She sighs and you wish you could breathe in all the air her body pushes out, sit on her lap and inhale as she exhales.
You shrug. “That was forever ago.”
Your parents were married to other people before they married each other. They both had other children, one son each. You have two half-brothers – one white and one Chinese – and you fit snug between them. When you are out with your family, you are often reminded that you are the piece that makes everyone else work. You are the thing that allows them all to make sense. Brad and Lawrence are both married. They found their matches on The Website© a few years ago and settled into middle-class suburbia. They are having children now. Their broods are going to look just like you.
The hot air outside sticks to your skin; heat swells and fills up the almost empty campus. You open up the one window in your office and leave the lights off. There is something in your shoe. It’s small, but you can’t ignore it. Your foot feels like it’s aching. When it becomes too much, you push your shoe off by its heel. Relief floods you – it rushes up from your foot, through your body, all the way to your shoulders. The phone rings.
“Hello?” you answer.
“Hello Ms. [redacted], this is [redacted] calling from The Website©!” the voice is cheery and you imagine its owner dressed like a cherub. You almost hang up the phone, but you know it wouldn’t do any good. They know where you are.
“How can I help you?” you say in a voice like syrup. You hope [redacted] thinks you suck on candy hearts all day – maybe one that says, Be Mine.
“I was just looking through your account records and I saw that you do not have any matches for today,” the voice says. You think the voice wants a response, but it doesn’t. “That is a mistake. I’m making arrangements for you to meet with a man named Barry. He is an accountant from Class C. His listed interests include: water skiing and Jay-Z. I will send you an e-mail regarding when and where you are to meet him along with a picture.”
“We don’t live near a body of water,” you say.
“You said he likes to water ski, but we don’t live near a body of water.”
“Yes, well –” The cheeriness drains out of the voice and annoyance settles in to its chords. These voices are not used to conversations; they only dispense information. It pauses for only a moment. “Check your e-mail.”
Barry looks like a ghost. He is smiling in the picture and it sends a chill through your body. There is a link embedded into the e-mail and it takes you to his profile. You confirm that he does indeed like water skiing and Jay-Z. The Website© has determined that you are 98% compatible, a true love match. You imagine the ghost children you would have with him. You picture their light brown hair and white skin. You wonder if you could ever love a ghost child. How would you hug them without your hands going straight through their small ghost bodies?
After work, you asked Carol if you could come over, you didn’t want to go home alone, and she said yes. It’s not encouraged, women being alone together. They have become skeptical of friendships. They remember the intimacy of such relationships. Sleepovers past the age of puberty are not encouraged. Multi-stall bathrooms with large mirrors have been converted into single-stall rooms. There is a curfew for women who do not have male escorts. There are hotlines that your neighbors can call if they notice a friend is over too late.
You scrunch her sheets until your palms sweat and your fingers ache. You want the pull of gravity to be stronger so you can sink deeper into the mattress. When her back is turned, you lie your head down on her pillow. You imagine what her sweat would smell like if it mixed with yours. Her shampoo smells like almonds and sweet milk. You want to wash your hair.
“What about this?” She’s holding a striped dress to her body. She wore it once to work and then to an office holiday party. You remember how the sleeves rested on her wrists and how you wanted to kiss them. You’ve never wanted to kiss someone’s wrist before.
“I don’t know. What about the black one instead?” You say. You want to kiss her wrists less when she wears the black dress. She nods her head.
You try to remember what this would look like before The Website©. You would ask to kiss her and she would nod. You would cup the back of her head and your fingers would get tangled in her hair. The kiss would be soft until it wasn’t anymore. There would be urgency, but you think it would be out of desire, not fear.
She drags lipstick over her mouth until it turns red. She’s done getting ready. She gets a notification on her laptop, a cheery ping. Her date is on his way. You tell her she looks beautiful. You are close enough to feel the heat coming off of her body, close enough that you feel everything that makes up you and her. You think that you could live off this forever. Even if you could never touch, you could stand this close to feel those vibrations and it would be enough.
Barry looks at you the way people always look at you. He took you to a nice place. The white candlesticks melt down to the white tablecloth until the wax disappears in the fabric. The plates are also white. You’re so focused on the table setting that you can’t recall what the rest of the room looks like. You’re afraid to look up, afraid to see the other women on dates. Afraid you’ll see yourself or even worse, Carol, reflected in their performances.
“Where are you from?” he asks. You tell him where, but he still looks confused. The Website© doesn’t publicize information on ethnicity. Their official policy is that “labels divide us.” They say that it won’t matter in the future anyway.
“My mom is Chinese and my dad is white.” He’s relieved.
“You know, my parents aren’t too thrilled on this whole thing,” he says. “You know, the direction The Website© is taking us. I think they really hoped I would settle down with a girl from my church.” You nod your head and smile like you are supposed to. “But I think they’d really like you. You’re beautiful and just different enough. Our children might get lucky and still have blue eyes. Think how pretty their skin will be. Such a light caramel color.” He’s getting excited now, talking about suburbs you could move to and how advanced your kids will be. He stuffs meat and potatoes in his mouth. This is your American dream.
You take him home with you because it’s not against the rules when he’s a white man. You just want to know what it feels like. You want confirmation. He asks you where your bedroom is and then he leads you there. He pushes you down onto the bed and smiles. He bites your skin hard enough to bruise it. You feel the vessels breaking, leaking out. He puts his body inside your body, first his tongue, then his fingers, then his dick. He asks if this is how you like it and you wonder if maybe it is. He lifts you off the bed and into the air; you lose contact with your newly stained sheets. You hear yourself echoing him. I like it. I like it. I like it. When it’s over, his whole body surrounds you in an embrace. He squeezes you tight and it feels like he’s keeping you together. He tells you that you’re beautiful and you wonder what that means about your eyes and your skin and your parents and your children and your children’s children. You do not smile. You pretend to sleep.
You’re standing on top of your apartment building. It’s only five flights up, but you can see the city stretched out before you. Mrs. Costello, your downstairs neighbor, is parking her car in the lot behind the building. You almost wave to her, but then think better of it. Mrs. Costello doesn’t like you very much. She, like many of the previous generation, is wary of you and yours. She thinks you’re a very sweet girl, but she doesn’t understand the online dating business. It’s just not right. Besides, she probably doesn’t even see you.
Large ceramic planters surround most of the building, and you wonder if one would catch you if you jumped. You imagine the sky pushing and the earth pulling you down and your bones start to tingle inside of your skin. You step onto the ledge because you want to feel the force of gravity, the impact of cement, ceramic, and dirt. You think you’ll find your body whole if you can just this once sink deeper into the earth.
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