Exorcism, or Eating My Twin by Sam Cohen

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Twins

Collage by Martabel Wasserman.

My twin was Giles, the British librarian in a sweater vest. Our twinship was not immediately obvious, but our mutual draw made sense: I saw my twin as someone able to store and organize knowledge, while she saw me as complete and total eros. On Buffy, Giles says, blushing a little upon meeting Faith, that “the girl has rather a lot of zest.” Faith on the other hand doesn’t seem all that taken with Giles, but that’s because she’s able to transcend her pretty-girl-ness via muscley and lethal fighting, so she has no need for him. I can’t fight, though, or even do a pull-up, and so I need bookish knowledge to help me transcend my own pretty girl-ness. I’m easily drawn to Giles-types and anyway, a convention is like a hotel in a Marguerite Duras novel: it’s a temporary and enclosed world that is categorically other than real life and so people are quick toward intimacy.

We were sitting in the same discussion group for Buffy fanfic writers, and got to talking about one-off episodes with non-vampire-centric plagues. I suggested that plague in Buffy had revolutionary potential, that it’s through communicable illness or demonic curse that characters discover new ways of being, like developing the pack mentality and feeding habits of hyenas or speaking exclusively and automatically through the medium of musical theater. My twin said something later about how the show’s core friendship group builds immunity by functioning as a kind of multi-person body. I saw this multi-person body as a potential form of plague, too, and said so.

“Mental health is always so measured by a person’s ability to thrive independently,” I explained.

My twin nodded slowly and said, “I like that idea.”

My twin’s voice was not like Giles’s voice but like mine—girlish, with my same weird cadence. Our mutual interests in permeability and contagion felt a little uncanny, and as our identical voices mapped pathological routes to utopic merging, I felt my body respond. When people started to get up from their folding chairs, my twin and I neared each other with grave and darting eyes, swallowing and digging our fingernails into the dry skin of our bitten thumbs. I giggled in my nervousness; my twin blanched.

She cleared her throat. “We have really interesting overlap,” she said. Besides being Giles, my twin was finishing a PhD in English literature, and so she was skilled at saying bizarre and intimate things in understated ways that sounded sane and even professional. I nodded stupidly.

We stood in front of each other—me in my cat-eye liner, my twin in her Giles glasses—and it was like a voice whispered my line to me when I managed to say, calmly, “Yes, I’d love to talk more. Have you had dinner?”

I will try to just be transparent and say what I am doing here: trying to exorcise the ghost of my twin, or else eat her. Exorcism would be better, since I try to be an ethical person and would like to leave her physical body unharmed if possible. It’s only been three weeks since we’ve seen each other, so my twin is probably alive, still. But if the exorcism fails, I am prepared for cannibalism.

We went to dinner at a supper club. Since we were in a small Midwestern town, cocktails were $2 and we got quickly drunk. It turned out, of course, that we’d both been solitary children, obsessed with Stephen King and Tori Amos, that we’d both grown up lying on quilted girlbeds, biting our cuticles and feeling an intense sense of missing, of pining for a twin.

My twin asked questions about work, which I didn’t want to answer since I worked in a café and felt empty of other ambition, which, since I’d been raised by Jews, filled me with tremendous guilt and shame. I asked my twin questions about her family and childhood, which she wasn’t that into answering because she was raised by white midwestern Protestants who found this line of questioning weird or rude. She seemed to legitimately want to author a paper together or something, while I just wanted to know if she really was my twin.

An amazing thing happened that night: the supper club where we were drinking turned into a karaoke bar and without missing a beat, upon the set-up of equipment, my twin said, “Oh, we should sing Tegan and Sara.” This suggestion was very significant because Tegan and Sara are twin lesbian pop singers. I knew then that she knew. There was just one Tegan and Sara song in the book, and my twin’s hand, its cuticles bloody like mine, trembled as she wrote our names on the slip.       

When our names were called, we grabbed mics, and confessed our feelings through the passionate vocalization of pop lyrics:

All I wanna get is a little bit closer. All I wanna know is, can you come a little closer?  

After the song was over, a girl—college-aged, with bleached hair—yelled, “Ohmigod, I love you guys so much!” My twin smiled a little, but didn’t seem confused or anything, which indicated to me that maybe the girl’s love was well-placed. As I looked at my twin, I saw we were flushed in the exact same spots. I wanted to throw my arms around her, to kiss her and cry out that we had found each other at last! But she just said, “I think that song went well.” This was her academic training talking, I knew, or her Protestantism. She’d been taught not to gush.

We ordered one more drink. A gangly older man came over to the table and leaned his boozed-out face too close to my twin’s. He was slurring something about was she a boy or a girl. My twin was stammering and pale, so I flung my arm out in protection, like a mom driving around a sharp curve. It was a new skill of mine to stare at men with sledgehammer-eyes that shattered their vision until they couldn’t see us at all. “We don’t want to talk to you,” I said. The man backed off—literally at first, facing us and scowling cartoonishly before turning around. Though my twin seemed rattled, I was a little glad this happened; it made it clear that our collectivity bred immunity.

My twin’s parting line as I got in my Uber: “I’d love to talk more about some of our shared ideas. Send me some fan art, whatever you’re working on.”

Okay. Before I continue with my exorcism, I am going to rename my twin, so that I can stop saying “my twin.” I will call her Tegan. Because my name, already, is Sarah.

After flying back to Los Angeles, I started to actually finish my fanfics so that I would have a pretense for emailing Tegan. I wrote romantic slayer-on-slayer love-confession fic about Buffy and Faith. I wrote fic in which black magic Willow and sweet nerdy Willow are enamored with one another. I wrote fic in which Giles becomes a fierce and lethal fighter who puts on lipstick and leather and joins forces with Faith. I thought maybe these fics would get at what was twinny about me and Tegan, make her see it, and consequently make her fall in love with me. I thought it was an unformedness that Tegan and I shared, an unformedness we masked with costumes that declared these kind of temporary, borrowed selves. Alone, I felt so fetal, like a blob. It was humiliating.

I’ll say now that this is not what my therapist wanted for me. She blames my blobbiness on my borderline mother (my therapist’s diagnosis, based on stories from my childhood and text messages I read aloud—she never gave me space to individuate, my therapist says). This makes me cry and cry because it sounds like something you’re supposed to do when you’re, like, five—individuate—and I am twenty-six. My therapist wants me to practice saying my name over and over in the mirror, introducing myself to myself—“Hi, I’m Sarah,”—but this feels too humiliating to try, so mostly I lay on my therapist’s beige couch and wail and then go home and think, What’s so great about individuating anyway? What’s great is having a twin. And then I write fanfic.

My fanfic was obviously working because Tegan began writing back longer and longer emails about her feelings toward movies she’d watched and art exhibits she’d gone to and internet scandals. I’d get the emails on my phone while walking in the parched hills above my house, which was where I was spending most of my time. I didn’t want my city anymore, only Tegan. And these hills: trails wrapped around and around their bald scalps and no one was ever there except for me and crows. Whatever was going to happen to me was going to happen here, I decided, on a barren hill on my screen where information from Tegan arrived, on my screen where I typed stories to make Tegan love me, in the hills where it was okay to be an ugly animal.

One day I sat under a dead acacia and typed, Can I visit? Tegan responded immediately: OMG YESSSS!!! She’d lost some of her Protestant academic composure. At least in these emails, she was starting to twin me. The facade of Tegan’s academic Protestantism was so easily chippable. A crow appeared at my feet and gazed with sage approval at my phone screen. These crows. They were my tarot.                   

At Tegan’s apartment in her Midwestern college town, though, there were no phone screens or karaoke or crows, no mediatory tools at all, and so we didn’t know what to do. Tegan took a fitted sheet out of the linen closet and wrapped it loosely around couch cushions.

“Sleep well,” Tegan said.

“Sleep well,” I said. We stood face-to-face in front of the couch. Then we hugged good night and instead of hugging and letting go, we hugged and no one let go. Instead of letting go, we both stretched our arms tighter and tighter around each other’s backs. I could feel, through the front of my shirt, the outline of Tegan’s body. I pulled my head back a little to see Tegan’s face, which right then looked exactly like my face, and then our faces smushed into each other, too. Our kisses felt like extra large tongues, like too many lips. It felt like maybe not kissing at all but like something else, like maybe eating. We kept sliding and rubbing together like we were trying to get somehow closer, like we were trying to conjoin.Tegan’s breathing sounded heavy in a way that reminded me of whales. I want to say it was labored breathing, but it was perhaps more like the opposite of labor, a full-on letting go. We became conjoined twins and then sea mammals and then just a kind of melded, moving flesh, and eventually it felt like time for me to roll off of Tegan’s body, so I did. Our blobbiness had been revealed and mutually acknowledged and tenderly pet. I pulled Tegan’s body into mine and spooned her. I’d always been an insomniac, but here, spooning Tegan, I fell instantly asleep and I knew the insomnia had always just been a result of missing Tegan, of my body’s innate need to know where she was.

I want to check in about how this exorcism is going. It is going well, but for all the wrong reasons, I know. I am remembering that Tegan is my love, my only, my twin. I hear her in my heart, which beats loudly, which sounds like Te-gan-Te-gan. What I’m experiencing, I now realize, might be the opposite of an exorcism. But still, I feel I will get there.              

The day after our weird naked-sea-mammal experience, we strolled around Tegan’s neighborhood holding hands. We walked into a kind of rockabilly-looking haircut place with turquoise chairs and a glittery counter because the design lured me and I chose to understand this luring as a call, and so I got my hair cut. I had my hair shaved on the underside like Tegan’s, but left it longer on top. The buzz of the shaver sounded violent and I liked that, something menacing in being unmade.

After the haircut, Tegan and I bought sweaters at a thrift store and then went to a grocery store to pick up beer to drink on the porch. This was a college town in the Midwest, so there were many kinds of beers stacked in the fridge, but Tegan pointed to a six-pack: “Two Women,” she said, grinning. I looked at the label on the packaging. Swirly caps spelled out TWO WOMEN. Both women were drawn with long wavy hair. One had on a barmaid outfit with lederhosen and the other was a kind of gypsy, with flowers in her hair and lots of eyeliner. I looked at myself in my black romper and combat boots and at Tegan in her muscle tee and skinny jeans—at our shaved-and-cropped hair—and back to the two women on the bottle. I realized we were no longer Faith and Giles at all, that in response to one another, we’d become new people. Two women, two not-women, if these were what women were. I smiled a lot. Tegan was already smiling a lot.

Back at Tegan’s, we sat on a couch and got drunk. I couldn’t stop touching my head. I’d run my whole palm from my shaved nape upwards, and then do the same to Tegan’s. Feeling my head made me think that I wouldn’t be able to show up back in my hometown now without my mom bursting into tears and my dad yelling, redfaced. Touching my head made me think that I didn’t belong to them anymore, though, that who I belonged to now was Tegan.

Exorcism update: So, fine, maybe our twinship was always kind of pathological. Maybe only something communicable or demonic permitted us to speak our feelings through pop music to begin with. I feel okay with that though. I thought Tegan felt okay with that. I feel sick. I want to be sick with Tegan, which would make me not sick, which would make me just part of a different dimension. But a person in a different dimension alone is a sick person, I know, and I don’t want to be a sick person. I walk out to the balcony where I smoke cigarettes until I vomit, which makes me feel empty and blankheaded, temporarily exorcised.

After that first visit, I wrote an email suggesting to Tegan that I come out and live with her during winter break, when, I knew from internet research, she had six weeks off. During the hours that Tegan didn’t respond, I refreshed my email constantly. Each time I didn’t see Tegan’s name, I felt panicked, fetal, unformed again. I felt the threat of blobbiness and it was a horror.

But then Tegan responded. “You’re welcome to stay,” she wrote. “I’ll empty the guest room closet so you can keep your things in there. I work in the day, and sometimes at night.”

I quit my cafe job (figuring if I did ever return, I could just find a new one), sublet my apartment, and flew out to Tegan’s college town. In Tegan’s town, in Tegan’s house, I bleached our hair, then palmed blue dye all over our heads with plastic gloves. I wanted to celebrate our having nowhere to be for six whole weeks. I wanted us to achieve animality or other-dimensionality via our collective hairdo. I put on extra sets of Tegan’s shapewear and we slid back and forth on each other’s bodies, listening to the microfiber zip against itself. I ordered us animal tail butt plugs from Amazon and when they arrived, Tegan admitted to having always wanted to wear one of these, and we wore them—big fluffy skunk tails affixed with cylindrical rubber stoppers—as we washed dishes and watched YouTube. I knew this wasn’t the exact kind of play they were intended for but I wanted us to be twin blue-haired skunks, unfit for anywhere but here.                                                

While Tegan applied for academic jobs at the kitchen table, I laid in bed and wrote fanfic in which Dark Willow chains Nerdy Willow to the computer in the Sunnydale library and forces her to research spells to bind their souls across dimensions forever while she pulls Nerdy Willow’s hair and licks her body. I wrote fic in which the two Slayers become one two-faced Slayer, a gorgeous muscled girl with all the sexual prowess of Faith and the loyalty and clearheadedness of Buffy.

When I walked into the room where Tegan was writing, she did not look up. Once, I lingered, stretched out on the bed, and yawned loudly. Tegan looked back at me, shifting uncomfortably. “I’m working now,” Tegan said.

When I sat on Tegan’s lap and threw my arms around her neck seductively she said, “Sar, come on.”   

Still, at night, when we spooned on her quilt, Tegan said, “There are MFA programs here.”

I don’t think my fanfic’s fancy enough for that,” I responded.

“Your fanfic’s good,” Tegan said.

And since Tegan was almost finished with a PhD, I believed her, and since all of life felt stupid except for Tegan, I started working on my application. As I wrote, I felt the lure of formation, of becoming something more permanent, a writer, a person in an MFA program, Tegan’s partner. I imagined Tegan introducing me at a party: This is my partner, Sarah. She’s getting her MFA. She’s a writer.                      

Exorcism update: Tegan knew then. She knew that she wanted to untwin me, and she still fed my fantasies of twinship. I sit up in bed and take deep breaths, counting to five on the inhale and seven on the exhale, like if I push out more than I take in, then part of what I push out has to be Tegan. I try to push out everything, but it doesn’t work at all. I order Come To Me candles from a botanica with an Amazon store and decide I will ingest a steady supply of weed lozenges and Xanax until they arrive.

I want to talk about how cold it was there, in the small Midwestern college town. It was so cold, unimaginably cold if you haven’t experienced it, but maybe even if you have. It caused a feeling so extreme and rare that your body probably has to forget it to even go on living. So after we walked the two blocks to the Laotian restaurant, we were red and shrunken, sweating in our thermals the second we stepped in.

I looked at the menu and wanted all the words on it: pumpkin, fried tofu, pineapple, tamarind, peanut sauce. I wanted curries and noodles and sticky rice and soup. I started rattling off menu items I felt excited about. Tegan interrupted.

“You should get what you like,” she said. “I’m just going to get chicken fried rice.”

I stared. This information stung my already stinging face. I felt like, how could my twin be someone not excited to get down on everything spicy and saucy and fried, especially in this weather? I felt like, who is Tegan? I felt like, chicken fried rice?

I ordered a cocktail. Tegan said she just wanted water. Maybe she was sick.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“Yes, why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I thought chicken fried rice and water seemed…very Franny.”

Tegan’s features seemed to get smaller and closer together as her face expanded and reddened. “Well Salinger’s a misogynist asshole,” Tegan said.

It seemed beside the point. Even if that was true, it was also true that when Franny ordered her chicken sandwich, she was quietly rejecting the world, and more significantly, her date.

My cocktail arrived bright blue in a tulip glass.

We toasted, my cocktail and Tegan’s water, and said a cheers that felt fake-bright and then started talking about other fanfic writers in our extended community: whose writing was amazing, who was rude at a convention once. We disagreed with each other a lot, maybe because we were both irritated about the chicken fried rice.

But then we agreed on someone who was smart, gorgeous, super nice, whose work was amazing and then Tegan said, “So, I’ve actually been meaning to ask, are you romantic or sexual with anyone else, like, back in LA?”

Our plates came then, landing all over the place on the table so that I had to pass Tegan her plate of rice. I felt like screaming of course not, um, hello, I have finally found my one-and-only! but instead I just said, “No, are you?”

“Not right now,” Tegan said. “It’s kind of hard here, there just aren’t that many queer people.”

“Right,” I said. “You wish there were more queer people here … so you could date them?”

“Well yeah,” Tegan said. “I mean, I love this,” she gestured, waving a chopstick back and forth between us, “but I think it’s important to also see people who live near us. I didn’t know how you would feel about that.”

I pushed holes through a piece of kabocha squash with my chopstick. I felt like a scared snail, like a cold testicle, like, I don’t know, something that shrinks very fast in response to a frightening stimulus.

“For me, it’s a way I can keep healthy boundaries,” said Tegan. “Plus, I’m becoming aware that I crave intimacy with butches and transmasculine people.”

The chunk of kabocha was full of holes and I was now using the side of my chopstick to flatten it into a paste.

“Well, I’m glad you’re sharing this with me,” I said. I said this not because it was in any way true, but because interacting with Tegan had given me some academic and Protestant training, because it seemed like the right answer. If Tegan was suddenly going to pretend our twinship didn’t matter, that we needed to respect each other as separate entities who were free to realize things about ourselves and our desires, things that created distance between us, I couldn’t just force her back into our twin-reality.

“I want for us to be able to continue to learn things about ourselves and share them,” I said. I was not attached to having any particular style of clothes, or walking, or speaking; I could learn to be butch if I knew that’s what Tegan wanted.

“That’s great,” Tegan said. “Because I also wanted to let you know that I plan to start taking testosterone. I have an appointment for blood work next week, and I didn’t really know how to talk to you about it.”

“Oh wow,” I said. “That’s so great.”

“I mean if you have any questions,” Tegan said, “I’m happy to answer them.”

I drank through the straw of my blue drink, pulled my security lip gloss out of my tote. Ugh, I was never going to be butch.

“Well, I guess, like, why?” I asked.

“I just think I’ll look better,” Tegan said. “It’s like, an aesthetic thing.”

“But I really like how you look now,” I said. “You’re perfect.”

Tegan’s face was always very white, but right then I realized she must have had the tiniest bit of melanin because all the tiny bits she once had went into total hiding. She asked for the check.

“I’ll get this,” Tegan said.

“Why?” I asked. Tegan normally liked to split things down to the cent, in an embarrassing, itemized way.

“Out of generosity,” Tegan said.

That night while I spooned Tegan, I thought about all the other people she might want to have spooning her. Butches and transmasculine people. The longer I held Tegan and the longer I couldn’t sleep, the more I imagined Tegan’s body growing hair and muscle-definition, the more I panicked. Around 7:00 AM was when I realized Tegan’s voice would become different from my voice, that Tegan was going to be reborn and I was just going to be some weird blobby girl again.

I shook Tegan awake. I’m sure I was spiral-eyed, sure I had some crazy up-all-night look. “How sure are you that you’re doing this?”

Tegan just stared at me in a way where her entire face looked like a throat-lump. Then Tegan got up and started making breakfast, loudly, in the kitchen.

“It’s 7:00 AM!” I yelled. “It’s the middle of the night!”

I felt terror, terror like I had made Tegan go away forever by semi-admitting my fear of testosterone, but it was just that I thought we were lesbian twins, a closed and static circuit.

I tried to sidle my way back in but could see it was obvious we were not Faith and Giles anymore, or Tegan and Sarah, that who we were becoming was Carrie and Mr. Big. Pathetic, handwringing Carrie, always wondering, never able to seize power of any kind, always trying to get back in that nook but spewing too many emotions at Big all the time for him to ever let her.

I laid in bed panicking for an hour, and then I got up.

“Should I use different pronouns for you?” I asked, standing on one foot (how would I ever be butch?), my hand deep in a bag of bagel chips. At the kitchen table, Tegan looked up from writing, obviously not finding me cute at all.

“They,” Tegan said, and looked back at their computer screen.               

Exorcism update: I want to tell Tegan I’m sorry. I was unloving. Tegan is a separate person. My therapist says so and now without Tegan I have to trust my therapist. My therapist is okay. She’s trying to convince me that Tegan has never been my twin but is a separate person in the world with no inherent similarity to me, genetic or otherwise. I can admit now that Tegan is a separate person, and that I have triggered that separate person with my fear, with my bad, panicked reaction.

“Why do you think you were so worried about Tegan’s transition?” There is a long silence where she sits, waiting for me, her eyebrows in their normal places but her eyes, somehow, cocked.

“I’m afraid of Tegan becoming someone who doesn’t need me anymore,” I say finally.

My therapist nods compassionately. “Why wouldn’t Tegan need you anymore?”

“I guess because they’ll be like more advanced. Like if you’re not some gross girl why would you want to date some gross girl?”

“I want to return to why you think girls are gross,” my therapist says, “but I also want to point out that many many people date women who are not, themselves, women.”

Exactly! In every relationship I’ve had with men, I always had to be the girl, and I felt somehow with Tegan I didn’t have to be the girl, like, I could be something else.”

“Like a different gender?”

“No, like, a dolphin…I don’t know. Like it felt like there was an unspoken acknowledgment between us that every way society defines girls is horrible and so we’d have to be another kind of thing. But now Tegan’s gonna have this body that’s like, good, and I’m gonna have to affirm it while I’m stuck in this girl place.

My therapist nods slowly.

“Tegan’s transition makes you worried you’re going to have to be the girl in the relationship?”

I start crying and my therapist pantomimes slow breathing. I slow breathe and nod while I also cry.

“It seems like the idea of having to be the girl is really painful for you,” she says.

I don’t say anything.

“Let’s sit with that,” she says. “Has Tegan indicated that they expect you to be more of a girl, now that they’re transitioning?”

I blow my nose. “No,” I admit.

“And what does it mean to be the girl?”

All the mornings after Tegan’s announcement, Tegan was up way before me, typing at the kitchen table. They barely looked up as I came in and ate cool eggs from the pan on the stove. Outside, snow kept blowing at a gazillion miles an hour so that the whole world was made of dense and swiftly moving white flakes. We were stuck firmly in the house. There was no possibility of smoking a cigarette, even. This was the reason Tegan’s winter break was so long in the first place—all of January, you couldn’t go outside.

I stayed in Tegan’s bed in my footy pajamas while they put on a feminist T-shirt and a cardigan and pants and stayed upright all day. I wrote fanfic there, which was the only way I could process my feelings, since Tegan was more and more closed-off.

I wanted Tegan to say it was okay that this was hard and confusing for me, so I hung around the kitchen while Tegan wrote, pretending to clean, but they didn’t say that, or anything. Tegan just sighed a lot, pressed their teeth together hard enough that I could see.

 One day, though, Tegan looked up from sighing and said, “There’s an open mic tomorrow night at a bar. I thought we could go read our fanfic.” I was excited that Tegan wanted to do something together.

We parked the car and ran through the winds that hurled snow at our faces. Inside the bar, everyone who wasn’t us was a white dude with a guitar, and during each song about bland male feelings, Tegan and I sat stiffly next to each other, unable to say anything. No one told us that they loved us or even talked to us at all, and I felt like we were no longer twins, just gross lesbians, just the only non-dudes, except that soon Tegan would be a dude and I would be stranded out on the island of gross lesbianism alone. Or, I guess I would become a straight girl, which is even worse. When one of the blond guitar boys approached our table to compliment our fanfic (he said “you guys” but looked only at me), I mussed my hair with my hand and made eyes at him for maybe five whole minutes. I laughed at every boring thing he said, and for a full two days after that Tegan basically ignored me, scooting to the other end of the bed when I’d try to spoon. In the middle of the night I’d wake up to find the bed empty.

One morning, Tegan woke up to find me standing over the mattress on the guest room floor watching them sleep.

“Hi,” I said sadly.

What Tegan said next was, “You, Sarah, are actually incapable of giving a person space. You seem to not need any space at all.”

Exorcism check-in: Fuck Tegan. Space was never what we agreed to. I feel confused. I know we only talked about things in mediated ways, but hadn’t we agreed to be diseased? Wasn’t that the entirety of our “overlap” that she was so professional in expressing? Tegan wanted this. Tegan said yes. I felt our twinning. I had a twin. Tegan had a twin. Tegan was my twin. And it was the best thing to ever happen to either of us. We entered magical dimensions with our shared disease and gained immunity with our merging and suddenly Tegan wanted to be healthy? I take a long drink from my travel mug of Jameson and swallow it. Then I light the Come To Me candles. I know you’re only supposed to do one, but I put a half circle of them around my bed. I want to make sure they work. I say my prayer: All I wanna know is, can you come a little closer.

“Do you want me to go?” I asked Tegan.

Tegan didn’t say anything for several minutes. My stomach felt like it was floating in the center of my body.

Then at some point, like, years later, Tegan said, “Yeah.”

Then Tegan said, “Sorry.”

I felt calm to have the issue finally settled. I walked through the snow to get Laotian noodles. As I lifted noodles to my mouth with one hand, I used the other to book a flight home on my phone.

I never cried. I only returned to my fanfic, to the crows. I felt severed, twinless, insomniac again. Empty-centered. It was fine.

Exorcism check-in: I hate Tegan, not for showing me how empty-centered I was, which I already knew, but for not being able to love us, for finding us not good enough. I want to banish Tegan from my body—I am ready for you to stop haunting me, Tegan! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT—but also, I want to videochat them, to write them a letter, or a fanfic, something that could convince Tegan that I am good, that we are good enough.

I write Tegan a letter and another one and another one and I send some of them, sort of at random, whenever I can’t stop myself.

At night I feel my thighs, thick and sticky. I feel the bulge of my belly, my tits. I feel disgusting. I hyperventilate.      

In the day my voice seems like a stupid ditz voice.

In the day my voice seems like the best voice. I feel like Tegan’s an idiot for wanting to abandon this voice, like they’re going to regret it.

At night I imagine Tegan bald and mad at me.

At night I check my fanfic pageviews, and they are high, and I think about how Tegan was the one who made me start actually finishing and posting fanfic at all, and this makes me cry.

At night I imagine spooning Tegan and think who cares if Tegan’s a boy.

        In the day I shave my head. I take a pair of clippers and set it to two, let all my hair fall to the floor.

        In the day I find a gym and start lifting weights. I stop eating. I can twin Tegan. I have no investment in my body or what it looks like for its own sake anyway.

In the day I get into the MFA program. It is like something out of a dream, something I never imagined could happen for me. It’s fully-funded. They give me a stipend.

At night I think about being there, in the midwestern college town where Tegan lives, about watching Tegan get a new face, new name, new voice. I think about wanting to spoon Tegan, I feel sure I will still want to spoon Tegan when Tegan is covered in tufts of hair.

In the day I email Tegan and tell them I’ve gotten into the program and ask if we could talk. Tegan responds days later.

Congratulations on the acceptance! Tegan’s email begins. They’re back to being a Protestant academic. Tegan says that right now it’s best for them if they “continue to take space” from me, but that they wish me the “best of luck on the decision.”

At night I want to kill Tegan. I want to grab fistfuls of Tegan’s growing shoulder muscles and shove them bloody in my mouth. I want to chew on Tegan’s brawn.

In the day I cry and cry. I think about MFA programs. I think about the yellow hills and crows. Both feel impossibly far. I ignore the acceptance letter all together, and the institutional emails that follow. Moving to where Tegan lives while Tegan becomes not-Tegan seems like too much. Saying no to the offer seems like too much.

In the day I load up on Xanax to go to my new cafe job. The sunlight feels like an assault, like it’s mocking my sadness.

At night I go out on my balcony and look at the moon. I light candles. I take baths. I read tarot cards since I no longer have crows. Again and again, I pull the tower.

In the day I stop waking up. It is too sunny in my city and more and more my head pounds in response to the sun, my eyes throb and feel like they will burn out of my skull.

Exorcism update: This exorcism is not working. I thought I’d come to realize something new but all I realize is that I love Tegan. I love the ghost of Tegan and I hate the new Tegan who is probably not even Tegan anymore, who is probably not even named Tegan, or what Tegan was named before I named them Tegan.

Not-Tegan’s ghost still lives in my ribs and in my skull, and in the morning when I wake up, the ghost of Not-Tegan is there in my spoon, and then fades cruelly, and I am only spooning a pillow. In the daytime when I’m driving to the café, Not-Tegan is making my chest expand and contract unevenly.

In my fanfic, Angel can’t bear to live around a Buffy he can’t touch, but he doesn’t want a vampire version of Buffy and so he eats her whole, entirely, bloodfirst and then, sinking his face hungrily into her chest, he bites, hard, through skin, through meat, chewing on muscle fibers, tearing through veins, colliding teeth with breastplate until his lips reach her heart, which spurts and pulsates, as hearts in all good fanfic do. Meat between his teeth, Angel internalizes Buffy’s fighting prowess, her wit. His teeth keep gnashing.

The fic is working for now.

I can see that cannibalism is way more fun than an exorcism could be, that cannibalism might be able to prevent having to continue this exorcism, which is starting to bore me. I put on purple lipstick and hoop earrings, which look great with my shaved head. I pull on a binder of Not-Tegan’s I stole and a tank, a little leather jacket, skinny jeans, platform boots. I look at myself in the mirror and feel hot for the first time in forever. I purse my lips at my reflection and then snarl. “Hi, I’m Sarah,” I say seductively. I dance a little in the mirror and feel so into my reflection that it makes me laugh. I grab my wallet and my keys, lock the door behind me, and drive, hungry, into the night.  

Sam Cohen is the author of Sarahland, forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette in 2021. Her fiction can be found in Fence, Diagram, as a chapbook on Birds of Lace, and others. She is the founding editor of the online journal YES FEMMES, the fiction editor of the chapbook publisher Gold Line Press, and the producer of Lambda LitFest. She is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California.

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