She was one of the few girls at school that I could talk to. We would sit on her bed and chatter for hours. She would smoke insane amounts of cigarettes. I would drink insane amounts of coffee. In the background a scratchy Lou Reed song called "Waltzing Mathilda" might be playing; a song which for some reason we couldn't get enough of. It was about a party interrupted by the inconvenient discovery of a female corpse.
Over the years the sting of what happened between us has died down to an anecdote repeated at cocktail parties, where I had found it could be interesting sometimes to reveal something odious about yourself. "Will you listen to how you sound?" I can hear Stella saying. "It's still all about what a colorful character you are, isn't it?" In my mind her voice is perpetually and sharply sarcastic, which it wasn't always. There was plenty to Stella besides her considerable satiric gifts. But that is, after all of these years, what remains.
Stella's one conventionality was that she was in love. The boy in question was very tall and very green-eyed. He wore ripped jeans and fake gas station attendant's shirts, and was a Buddhist. He had a funny, fluid way of moving his long arms and legs that was attractively effeminate and moderately vain. And he had elegant, sharply arched eyebrows that gave him the aspect of one of the wickeder Greek gods. I won't bother to say what his name was because he could have been anyone, and his specific personality, which was fairly annoying in a number of specific ways, would only be a sideshow and a distraction. I knew the night I met him and Stella that they both were and weren't together; both facts were equally apparent after being around either of them for five minutes. They orbited each other, but anxiously. They spoke the same weird patois, a mixture of baby talk and archness. ("Who was that female person you were talking to?" "I don't know to whom you are referring, doll.") They seemed, if anything, like a brother and sister engaged in some kind of incestuous love under the magnolia trees of an old plantation.
The secret was that Stella and the boy sometimes slept together. In retrospect, I can't think why it was such a secret, unless it was the boy's vanity that demanded they remain officially unattached. Their spotty, intermittent affair depended on him not seeing a more conventionally pretty girl, and was extremely damaging for Stella, who remained in a state of dramatically heightened jealousy at all times. There was a whiff of scandal to the whole thing, which came, in a world where surfaces were everything, from their being so mismatched in looks.
In other words, it was hardly an ambiguous situation. There was, Stella would later point out, no shortage of boys: there were boys with prettier eyes or a more refined knowledge of Proust; boys with more original neuroses, and less saccharine forms of spirituality. But the fact is that attractions are contagious. I spent hours sitting at "Tommy's Lunch," drinking lime slushies and listening to Stella take apart the peculiarities of his character; hours listening to her fits of jealousy over the irresistible odalisques sprawled across his dorm bed. This is what happens when an overly intelligent woman brings all of her talents to bear on an infatuation: Without either of us realizing what was happening, she somehow persuaded me of his attractiveness.
Excerpted from The Friend Who Got Away by Edited by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell Copyright © 2005 by Jenny Offill. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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