THE ORDINARY WORLD
The ordinary world is a Midwest suburb built in the 1980s, made of exactly three nearly identical architectural styles of houses.
Everyone has wall-to-wall beige carpet and teal throw pillows and a wall unit displaying blown-glass vases and miniature ladies with beanbag bodies and ceramic heads.
Sarah lives in the ordinary world.
Sarah rides her bike in the cul-de-sac. Sarah stands in the pantry and eats Cheez-Its straight from the box. Sarah reads very long series of books about girls who have more friends than she has.
The ordinary world is okay. It’s whatever.
CALL TO ADVENTURE
On Sarah’s twelfth birthday, she walks into her bedroom after school to find a towel covering a box-shaped object, as though she’s been gifted a sleeping bird. She knows this isn’t actually the case as her mother has expressed very clear disgust with animals who produce trays of poo, so under the towel is not a bird, but a small pink TV with a built-in VCR. Sa-rah would rather have a bird than a TV but a TV is okay.
Sarah lays her tapes out on the carpet and hovers her hand over the tapes like they are tarot cards, like she is Sarah in The Craft—Sarah feels basically and secretly interchangeable with all teenaged Sarahs—until her hand feels like it should grab one. It grabs. Without looking, Sarah flips up the little door of the VCR slot and pushes the tape in, but the tape won’t go.
The tape won’t go because there is already a tape in the VCR. Sarah sighs and hits eject and removes the tape. The tape has a faded lavender sticker that reads, in swirly starred script, Mystical Horse Camp for Girls: Promo Video.
Sarah feels very intrigued. She reinserts the video and hits play.
On the video are the following:
• girls in one-piece swimsuits running in place on a log in a lake with pine trees all around them like it’s pioneer times.
• a girl with teeny bangs and rounded cheer shorts attentively brushing a horse’s dollhair tail
• the horse itself, all muscle and curve and guarded-but-needy eyes
• the horse’s face, bumping faces with the attentively brushing girl’s face like they are BFFs
• lots of girls with their arms around each other, swaying and falling and laughing in the pines
• a girl with boy-short hair in a giant inflatable hamster wheel in a lake, arms and legs flapping and flapping as the blow-up circle rolls.
The video is old, Sarah can see. The fashions are outdated (which Sarah thinks is awesome). The picture looks fuzzed. This place might not even exist and Sarah knows this, but it’s still impossible for Sarah not to hope that horse camp is part of her twelfth birthday gift, is the real present part.
RESPONDING TO THE CALL
When Sarah goes down for dinner, she asks her mom whether horse camp is part of her present. She asks it nonchalantly, not wanting to reveal the intensity of her desire. “Horse camp?” her mom kind of shouts as she opens a paper container of Chinese food. She is shouting at no one so no one answers. “Here,” she says. “I got that broccoli you like.”
Sarah knows the horse camp tape has been put into the VCR of the TV that is her twelfth birthday present by God or someone like that. (Sarah’s family mocks religious people so she says she’s not religious, too, but secretly Sarah is very religious. Sarah talks to God nightly—though never on her knees, she would never risk being caught on her knees—and looks around her all the time for signs because she and God are in constant communication.)
Sarah imagines herself curled on a hay bed in a stable, sleeping in the dank dark lulled by fur and heaving beast breath. She imagines it with that sentence, which sounds romantic. Sarah imagines herself giving BFF nuzzles to her horse’s horseface.
Sarah cuts her bangs short and asks her mom for cheer shorts.
Sarah wears the cheer shorts in her room at night and yells SOMEONE SAVE ME, SOMEONE TAKE ME AWAY FROM THIS AWFUL PLACE! When she yells this she becomes Sarah from Labyrinth, but David Bowie does not show up at her window to take her to horse camp. The oversized vest and poet’s blouse she is now wearing look weird with the cheer shorts.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD TO THE SPECIAL WORLD
Years pass. Sarah is still Sarah from Labyrinth and still twelve. She still waits for David Bowie.
But instead of being carried away by David Bowie or finding a portal, Sarah is driven by her mom to college at a Big Ten school. This will have to be the special world.
The whole way there, Sarah wears her vest and cheer shorts in case she sees it, sees horse camp the way Susan Walker sees her dream house paid-for and empty on 34th Street and knows. STOP, she will yell. STOP THE CAR. (Sarah has nothing in common with Susan Walker that she can see, except for believing in things secretly, but she is getting desperate.)
At the Big Ten school, Sarah’s mom takes her to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. She buys her a bunch of stuff from the college dorm aisle: t-shirt sheets, pillows, a stack of plastic drawers, a little rug, and a shower caddy. At Sarah’s dorm, Sarah’s mom organizes everything herself. “Sar I got you all the same white socks so you don’t have to worry about pairing them up,” she said, ripping open the plastic with her acrylic nails and stuffing socks in the clear drawer. “You can throw them out after you wear them because I know you’re not real good at keeping them clean. I’ll just send you a package of socks every month, okay?”
Sarah declares a major in physics because she wants to learn about space and time so she can eventually build a time machine to horse camp. She signs up for Zoology because it is required before Physics and because she is excited to learn things that might help her be a good BFF for a horse. Sarah thinks it’s important to understand how someone’s biology works if you’re going to be their BFF, important to know how their systems affect their emotions, etcetera, especially if they can’t talk.
TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES
Even though Sarah is twelve, she has always been school-smart, which is what people say to Sarah when they find out her test scores: “oh so you’re school-smart.” The other kind of smart is called street-smart, which Sarah gets they’re implying she is not. Sarah is street-smart enough, though, to know that street-smart is the kind that matters.
In the dorm, everyone is spending their time in similar ways. Sarah knows she is not street-smart, so she starts to copy them.
For example: Everyone in Sarah’s dorm lipsticks the school’s initials on their cheeks for football games and drinks beer that tastes like throwup, so Sarah does, too.
For example: Everyone in Sarah’s dorm rushes a fraternity or a sorority, so Sarah does, too.
An all-girl mansion sounds nice, anyway, even if there aren’t any horses.
test one: During hazing, Sarah is forced to stay up all night memorizing the sorority song’s lyrics. It is the night before her Zoology midterm and she keeps saying “I have a Zoology midterm!” but none of her Sisters respond at all. It is like she isn’t talking. It is like a nightmare.
So instead of learning about the Krebs cycle which will help her become a good BFF for a horse and eventually help her build a time machine, Sarah is chanting “Down with virginity, up with the vice! Now that you’ve got me on the ground, I might as well give you a slice!” Sarah doesn’t really understand these lyrics. She wonders about “a slice.” A slice of what? Sarah is not street-smart. But then she thinks about her body on the ground, and she knows what the slice part is.
Every part of Sarah wants to go back to her dorm and learn about the Krebs cycle. But Sarah is twelve and doesn’t know how to put an end to things that aren’t going well.
Sarah wishes she could be not-twelve, but she has an age disorder.
Sarah moves into the sorority house.
Sarah has failed test one.
test two: One day there is a party. Sarah’s sisters spend hours shopping, tweezing, blowdrying, flatironing, rouging, eyelining, clothestrading, etcetera in preparation for this party. Sarah’s sisters lock themselves in the bathroom for hours and Sarah doesn’t understand exactly what they are doing. Sarah goes into the bathroom and showers, applies hair product, lipsticks, lotions, glitterdusts, does eyeliner even! and is done in twenty minutes. She looks really pretty. She sits on her bed and waits.
“Do you think I’m wearing too many shades of tan?” Sarah’s roommate asks her. Sarah doesn’t know. Sarah senses there are a lot of rules here, but she doesn’t know what they are and wishes the rules were just posted somewhere so that she could memorize how many shades of tan were too many, etc.
At the party, the floor is covered in a very sticky layer and everyone is drinking juice that tastes like bug juice from day camp and the room smells eggy. The juice is scooped with plastic cups from a lined garbage can, which Sarah thinks is more upsetting than an un-lined one. Sarah stands around near some of her Sisters sort of bobbing her head to the music as she drinks juice from the garbage can. A Frat Boy asks Sarah if she wants a refill and Sarah has drunk all her bug juice and the boy is cute so she says yes. The Frat Boy asks Sarah’s major and she tells him physics and he goes, “Whoa, so you’re like smart” and Sarah shrugs and goes, “I like science” and the Frat Boy is like “that is so awesome.” He says it enthusiastically, like he really does think it’s awesome.
Sarah and the boy are drinking and bobbing their heads to the music, which is too loud to hear anything else. The Frat Boy shouts: “Wanna go upstairs where it’s quieter? I’d love to talk to you more!”
Sarah nods enthusiastically.
Upstairs where it’s quieter is a boy room with two twin beds and two desks with boxy computers on them and a futon. Sheets are peeling off the bed’s mattress. Sarah and the Frat Boy sit on the futon which is leaking foam a little from the corner. Sarah waits to be asked about physics, but the Frat Boy lifts Sarah’s chin and kisses her. Sarah is excited to be kissed; she has always wanted to be kissed! and this Frat Boy is cute. The kiss has no basis, Sarah kind of realizes, so she invents one, which is that this boy can see how special she is, how beautiful and school-smart, that this boy can feel an instant connection. Sarah feels one, too. She smiles and kisses, with tongue, like in Teen Witch.
Frat Boy starts vigorously rubbing the crotch area of Sarah’s jeans. It feels like hard, weird pawing, and the seams of Sarah’s jeans are rough and sort of hurt. Sarah wants to stop kissing but the Frat Boy pushes Sarah’s shoulders down and now she is laying and he is tugging the material of her tank top upwards and Sarah feels now like she’s silently agreed to something she didn’t know she was agreeing to. She thinks of the song: “Now that you’ve got me down on the ground . . . ” She understands this is a rule now, a hidden one, that the rules aren’t going to be posted, but they’ll be taught to her anyway. She is down on a futon, not the ground, but she gets that it still counts. The boy obviously knows this rule because now he is unzipping his pants and now moving his wrongcolored (to Sarah) and veiny penis toward Sarah’s face, which has nothing to do with her slice, but actually, she sees now that the slice thing was metonymic. That’s a word Sarah learned in English 101. Sarah sees that she is being taught everything she needs to know. Sarah’s mouth opens.
Sarah has failed this test.
test three is Sarah’s Zoology test. She fails that, too.
UNCROSSING THE THRESHOLD
Sarah is back on the other side of the threshold. Her journey feels derailed. Sarah is in the Ordinary World.
It is Christmas break and Sarah is lying on her bed looking at the small pink TV with the built-in VCR and Sarah feels like, this sorority life cannot be her life. She feels like, how did she become this Sarah, a Sarah who is answering questions about numbers of shades of tan instead of answering questions about the Krebs cycle, a Sarah who has semi-willingly choked on a sour-tasting penis attached to a boy who won’t even look at her now? She wants to go back to school and study and sign up for like, a biology trip to Costa Rica, where, she’s seen in ads, there are horses you can ride on the beach, but as it is, she feels stuck in the sorority house, she feels stuck being this Sarah. Something, she knows, needs to change.
Sarah puts her cheer shorts on and waits on the steps of her old high school’s main building for an unassuming middle-aged man in a suit to approach her and say, You must come with me. Your destiny awaits. This is what would feel obvious and right. This does not happen, but she does become Buffy Summers, whose real name is also Sarah, since, Sarah knows, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Buffy Summers are one and the very same person.
REFUSAL OF THE CALL
“You look really good as a blonde, Sarah,” one sister says, back at the Big Ten school. “If you stopped eating like toast and fried rice and stuff, you could be really hot.”
The truth is that Sarah is not fat, she just has demon-fighting muscles now, but it is also true that Sarah is normally the only person who eats during meals at the sorority house. Somehow she hadn’t noticed this before. The sorority house has exciting food: spinach ravioli and vegetarian fried rice and taco night, but everyone else sits in front of untouched plates and talks about their strategies for not eating. Sarah is sick of being stared at as she puts actual buttered noodles into her actual face, so she stops going down for meals.
Her buff Buffy body grows knobby and planar.
Instead of going down for meals, Sarah starts smoking pot in her room and eating spoonfuls of absconded peanut butter. One day when she walks into the hallway, stoned, her Sisters have turned into plastic doll versions of themselves. It’s hard to see—they look almost the same as before—but one of Sarah’s sisters is wearing a tube top, and Sarah can clearly see that this sister’s arms are hinged mechanically onto her body. This isn’t the plot of any actual Buffy episode, but Sarah sees how it could be one.
The dolls freeze, posed, in the hallway and stare at Sarah.
“Can I look through your closet, Sarah?” one doll lilts. “I’m going to a skank-themed party and I bet you have something perfect.”
This doll’s friend is linked arm-in-plastic-arm with her, and is pretending to try to hold back her laughter. This doll says in a pull-string voice: “I think Sarah’s stuff will be too big for us.”
A third doll approaches and goes, “Let’s teach Sarah to make herself puke!” She grabs Sarah’s hair and yanks, forcing Sarah’s head back, and a fourth doll shoves the four glued-together fingers of her hand into Sarah’s mouth, followed by her entire plastic wrist.
“Stop!” Sarah yells.
“We’re helping you!” a pull-string voice shouts back.
Sarah’s body may not be Buffy-buff anymore, but she can still tear off the arm of an assaulting doll at the shoulder, which enables her to remove it from her own throat. Sarah swings the arm like a bat, bashing it straight into the head of the first doll who approached. It punctures the plastic head, which releases a hissing stream of air. All the other dolls run.
Sarah gets kicked out of the sorority.
MEETING WITH A MENTOR
Joyce Summers, Buffy’s TV mom, drives up to help Sarah move. Joyce is pretty supportive. This is just like when Buffy got kicked out of high school. She doesn’t understand why these things happen to her sweet daughter, but she understands they aren’t entirely her fault. Joyce helps Sarah find a studio apartment downtown. “I think being in the city will give you a chance to meet other kinds of people,” Joyce says. “But also you should give yourself some time to figure out what it is you love, and then you’ll find the people who are right for you.”
This advice is astoundingly different from anything the mom Sarah grew up with might say. The mom Sarah grew up with would say that if she wasn’t liking it here, she should just come back home already.
It is nice to have a TV mom, but Sarah has already failed Zoology and she will never be a horse’s BFF and she really just doesn’t care anymore.
The apartment Joyce helps Sarah find is up a beer-and-sweat-smelling staircase. It has big windows and scuffed wooden floors and below it is a vegetarian café that has $5 daily lunch specials like couscous with vegetables or spanakopita with rice. The kids coming out of this cafe have strange haircuts and wear baggy mismatched clothing in a way that looks good, that looks exciting in the way that cheer shorts and tiny bangs on a fuzzy video were exciting.
After Joyce leaves, Sarah decides to take Joyce’s advice, about figuring out what she loves and spending time alone. She takes a bunch of psychology classes because she needs to be a BFF to herself. She hopes the psych classes will help her figure out why she ends up with sour dicks and plastic doll arms down her throat, why she can’t stop being twelve when everyone else seems to get older.
She goes to the vegetarian café a lot and reads her psychology books while she eats.
Eventually she notices that there is a group of three girls who’s been staring at her over and over again. The girls are weird-looking: One has a mullet and one has a bleached fro, and they all have tattoos. Sarah has never interacted with people who have mullets and tattoos. She feels her mouth opening and her arms crossing in front of her. Her heart speeds up and she doesn’t know why yet.
But then one girl approaches. “Hey I’m Nancy,” the girl who approaches says. “Wanna come sit with us?”
Sarah sees what is happening.
She turns into Sarah from The Craft.
TEST, ALLIES, ENEMIES—AGAIN
test one: Sarah goes to sit with Nancy and the other witches. As they introduce themselves and describe their roles in the coven, Nancy is looking at Sarah like she is assessing her, but not like she is thinking about whether Sarah should be eating so much spanakopita. Nancy’s mouth is sort of opening and closing. Sarah has of course heard of lesbians, but she has never met one. She gets very suddenly that Nancy is a lesbian.
“Why are you here by yourself so much?” the mulleted girl asks, and Sarah tells her that she’s recently moved to the apartment above the café.
“You live alone?” Nancy says, “That’s so cool. Can I come up and sage your new place?”
Sarah and Nancy go into the New Age store across the street to buy sage. Crossing the street, Sarah fantasizes about running into one of her former sorority Sisters, about having them see her on the street with this girl with choppy hair and terrifying burgundy lips.
At Sarah’s apartment, Nancy picks up a marble horse figurine. “Horses represent raw sexual energy,” Nancy says. “That’s why little girls are all horse-obsessed.” Nancy smirks as she sets the horse down. “Little boys are allowed to be obsessed with girls, and little girls are allowed to be obsessed with horses.” Sarah is carrying two glasses of Lipton powder mixed with water and her hands feel stuck around the glasses. Nancy removes the glasses from Sarah’s hands, one at a time, and sets them down on the fake wood credenza. “Let’s do a spell.”
Sarah can’t think of anything she wants to do a spell for, but Nancy goes and collects ginger from the kitchen, a fake feather from a boa, some seashells, and a candle.
Then she sits crosslegged in front of Sarah, almost knee-to-knee. Not a single part of their bodies is touching but Sarah can feel the tenseness of their bodies very intensely.
“Let’s use our combined energy to try to make the horse figurine fly,” Nancy says.
“Okay,” says Sarah.
Sarah’s eyes bore into Nancy’s eyes, and she can feel the vibrations between them, this quick and tense energy. She knows what to do. Sarah uses her pointer finger to direct the energy toward the horse figurine, to push it off the table and lift it up.
Nancy starts screaming. “You’re amazing!” she is screaming. “You’re amazing!” She is saying all kinds of stuff to Sarah, like, she had this feeling about Sarah, like Sarah is a real witch.
Then Sarah and Nancy are kissing and Sarah pays close attention to Nancy as this is happening, to the way Nancy’s lips express what she wants so precisely. Nancy wants to devour Sarah with her terrifying burgundy mouth which is suddenly filled with teeth. That’s okay, Sarah thinks.
Soon Nancy is naked and Sarah is naked and Sarah feels she is being devoured, and somehow Nancy’s entire hand is inside Sarah’s body, and so Sarah feels she is devouring, too, feels that her body can pull Nancy in, can digest her. They are both making gurgles and scream sounds that Sarah did not know the human body could make, but then she realizes they are like birthing sounds and then Sarah and Nancy are draped over each other and breathing hard.
Sarah feels destroyed and remade. Sarah sees that what she has is not a slice at all but a kind of meaty machine that can eat and expel and transfigure.
Sarah has passed this test.
test two: Sarah has never met any lesbians and so she doesn’t know any lesbian jokes and so she lets Nancy move in.
Sarah is obsessed with thinking about: Am I a lesbian now? It seems like the kind of thing you should have already known about, not the kind of thing you just find yourself being. She starts taking women’s studies classes. At least women’s studies could help her be a good BFF to Nancy.
Nancy shows Sarah Gia and High Art and The L Word. Sarah starts wearing corduroys and big navy sweaters. She cuts her hair to ear-length.
Sarah and Nancy light candles and cook whole vegetables and apply winged liquid eyeliner and smoke cloves in the street and watch movies and buy amulets and dye their hair different colors and do tarot readings and decorate their apartment and wear each others’ clothes. They make a world that is all crystal and gauze and hairdye and tarot and it is a good world.
Sarah has passed this test.
But then Nancy starts getting annoyed with Sarah. She yells at Sarah for getting zucchini all over the kitchen every time she makes stir-fry, for refusing to put a curse on Nancy’s asshole TA, for bursting into tears all the time for absolutely no reason.
But there is a reason: Sarah is twelve.
Sarah has no friends. She doesn’t know where horse camp is and she can’t even major in physics anymore. Sarah needs a mommy or else a horse. She wants Nancy to be both mommy and horse and also BFF and sister and daddy and self. Nancy can’t be all these things and Sarah is so sad about that. She cries and cries.
Sarah looks in the mirror and sees that who she has become is Sarah Schuster, Jenny from the L Word’s fictional alter-ego. It is really hard being Sarah Schuster. She experiences near-constant flashbacks of her empty-feeling childhood, of her thwarted desire for horse camp, of dicks entering her throat sort of against her will. Sarah Schuster bursts into tears irregularly for reasons she can’t explain.
Sarah cries, so Nancy yells; Nancy yells, so Sarah cries. When Nancy yells, she is vicious, baring her teeth and getting crazy-faced and sometimes throwing things. When Sarah cries, she heaves and wails, sounding like a baboon or a train, but more pathetic. When Sarah cries, she makes little cuts in her upper arm with the kitchen knife and watches the blood bloom and run. This cutting-and-watching makes her feel cleansed. Forcing Nancy to watch the blood seep makes her feel like she’s allowing Nancy to witness the degree of her pain, and she doesn’t know why, but she likes this.
“I’m leaving,” Nancy announces one day. “I’m moving to Austin to do Americorps.”
Sarah heaves and wails. She makes many animal sounds and soaks her face from every orifice. Sarah’s face looks like a wet dark hole and she sounds like GUUUUUUUGHHHH.
“I’m leaving the number for a suicide hotline on the fridge,” Nancy yells across the room.
But Sarah doesn’t use the number for the suicide hotline.
Instead, Sarah kills herself.
When Sarah wakes up from being dead, she looks at her face in the mirror and it is the face of someone who is not twelve, the face of an unrecognizable Sarah. This Sarah has small bags under her eyes and her tits have loosened. She is like twenty-eight, she thinks. There is no horse camp. There is only one crystal left in the apartment, a clear quartz.
APPROACH TO THE INNERMOST CAVE
Sarah can’t afford rent in the apartment alone, so she decides to get in her car and drive across the country. Before she goes, though, she cuts off all her hair with the kitchen scissors, leaving it in piles on the floor. She finds a tube of thick and reflective red gloss and uses it to fully lacquer her lips. Sarah is not going to be a lesbian anymore, and maybe not even a girl. Sarah is going to be a writer, she decides, which is the only thing that makes sense to her if horse camp doesn’t exist and she no longer has a venue in which to take science classes. Why has it taken Sarah so long to realize horse camp doesn’t exist? Sarah has never been street-smart.
Sarah doesn’t bring any clothes. She is going to need new clothes.
Sarah drives across the whole country until nothing is pretty anymore and then until it is and then until it isn’t. She is in Los Angeles. She moves into the house of a blonde divorceé who is never home and who has a fully-stocked liquor cabinet and a life-sized suit of armor standing in the living room.
Sarah buys a wardrobe of exclusively black skinny jeans and black t-shirts. She wants to keep things simple.
Sarah makes herself put on her outfit, including the reflective red lipstick, every morning. In the outfit, Sarah sits by the empty suit of armor and writes. Eventually Sarah writes whole things, finished things, and her writing gets published.
One day, one of Sarah’s publishers invites her to a conference to present work. Sarah sits at a long table with other writers and people ask her questions in the Q & A and this means that they recognize her as a writer and that she is a writer.
At the long table, Sarah sits with co-presenters who are also writers. One of the co-presenters has a broad flat chest under a collared shirt with horses printed on it, buttoned to the top. Their hair is shaved except for a long thick crop from crown to neckbottom, a mane. This co-presenter reads a story about little girls who are mean to each other, who call each other fatty and kick each other out of cafeteria chairs.
Sarah sees that this co-presenter kind of looks like David Bowie.
Sarah approaches the co-presenter after the presentation. Sarah says her name is Sarah and the co-presenter says their name is Cobalt. Sarah says she likes Cobalt’s reading and Cobalt says they like Sarah’s reading.
Sarah holds her clear quartz next to her thigh. She sees that even though Cobalt is big and rectangular and collared, they are both not-girl and girl. Cobalt, even without a quartz crystal, sees that even though Sarah has girl-face and girl boots and reflective red lipstick, she is both girl and not-girl.
Sarah goes back to the divorcée’s house and emails Cobalt. Sarah and Cobalt visit each other back and forth, making out and looking at art on the internet and hosting poetry salons and reading side by side on the grass and trying drugs and talking about books and their childhoods and fucking.
Sarah kisses Cobalt, who feels muscled and curved and like a creature. Sarah sleeps next to Cobalt and feels lulled by heaving beast breath.
THE ROAD BACK
Sarah decides she is going to move and live where Cobalt lives. Where Cobalt lives is in the Midwest, but not in a suburb built in the 80’s. Cobalt lives in a small city where all the houses were built a long time ago and kept up by people passionate about architectural preservation.
Before the scheduled move, though, the same conference rolls around again and Sarah and Cobalt go. They share a hotel room and read poetry they cowrote to a crowd that laughs at all the right parts.They drive around the city, and try on very equine chest harnesses in a gay leather store. Everyone wants to hang out with them. It seems like this would be someone’s dream, and even though it isn’t Sarah’s, because Sarah’s only dream was horse camp, Sarah finds it very enjoyable.
Sarah and Cobalt drive back together toward the town where Cobalt lives. They drive through the North Woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin in order to get down to the city. In the North Woods, the trees are better than the redwoods of the west coast. They seem less intent on expressing their own spectacularness. They seem happy to work together in creating leafy walls, in releasing oxygen, etcetera.
So Sarah and Cobalt are driving down the freeway listening to The Gossip and talking about riot grrrl shows they never saw because they were trapped in suburban cul-de-sacs where no one knew about riot grrrl and then they are quiet and Beth Ditto is singing You’re forgetting who you are / You can’t stop crying and Sarah thinks about how she’s glad that she has stopped crying but is she forgetting who she is? She thinks about permanence, how this car ride is her first car ride toward a kind of permanence, and Cobalt starts singing then, on the chorus, Standing in the way of control! You live your life! and Sarah yells it: STOP, she yells. STOP THE CAR.
Cobalt brakes and Sarah leaps out of the passenger seat, leaving the door wide open. Her legs feel unaffected by gravity, buoyant, hyperspeed as she disappears into the trees. Sarah has disappeared. She is gone. From the road there is a flash of something, something shiny and moving: Sarah, or a bear, or a horse. It’s always possible that someone might shapeshift, might become a bear or a horse, Cobalt knows, and that’s okay. On the road there is Cobalt, who doesn’t know about horse camp, and who is not the kind of person to go running after someone, into the trees.
From the trees, Sarah sees Cobalt, waiting, leaning against the car, purple jeans tight, horsemane sun-mottled: everything. Sarah feels it though, the airspot that is a door. “Come NOW,” Sarah yells, “hurry!” but already Sarah’s voice is not a voice, already Sarah is disappearing through the airspot, already there are horses, curvy and muscled and maned.
RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
Sarah looks at the horses tossing their gorgeous horse heads. She meets the eyes of the horse that looks most trustworthy and it blinks at her, looks for just a moment at her as though it is really looking, and then nuzzles its face against Sarah’s face with the gentlest BFF nuzzle ever. Sarah lets herself fully feel the nuzzle, and then Sarah says, “I’ll be right back.” The horse seems to understand. It looks at Sarah like it’s been waiting a while and whatever right back means is okay. In the distance, Sarah sees a row of cheer shorts.
Sarah reenters the portal, lands in the forest, and runs back to the car. Sarah sees Cobalt and Cobalt looks not as amazing as a horse. Cobalt looks kind of nervous and like they don’t know what to say about Sarah running into the woods and back but still somehow Sarah gets in the car and knows she won’t be right back depending what right back means, knows she’s going to move to Cobalt’s Midwestern city and try to get older and try to stay this Sarah, or become different Sarahs as Cobalt becomes different Cobalts. As Cobalt pulls away and picks up speed down the highway, Sarah looks back and tries to memorize the look of the horizon, to mentally record the shape of the trees.