Benji and I are back in Indiana, visiting our mom. Benji brings his girlfriend, Isabella Garrett, who we knew in high school. I took gym class with her; in the locker room she sprayed me with her raspberry Bath & Body spray, as a joke, because I said I hated the smell. It happened enough times I started to like the smell, because it reminded me of her.
The day before I fly back home, Benji and Isabella and I go to Holiday World. Isabella loves roller coasters, and Holiday World has good wooden ones. We sneak in vodka. The day is too hot; almost immediately we sweat off our sunscreen. The line for the Voyager roller coaster is an hour long, and then the ride is jarring in ways I don’t remember roller coasters being, jerks us around, makes strange creaking noises, like it’s breaking. Afterwards, Isabella explains that’s the charm of wooden roller coasters. I drink more vodka.
We ride another wooden roller coaster, the Raven, and the line is shorter but the jerking is worse. Isabella laughs the whole time, her face pink with adrenaline and heat. We climb out of our seats, hurting, and while we walk to the restrooms, Isabella hugs Benji. He pushes her away, saying, “Your laugh sounds like a hyena.”
“Your laugh is cute,” I tell Isabella. “Benji is just scared of roller coasters.”
In the restroom, Isabella and I catch our reflections in the mirror, laughing at our fly-away hairs sticking straight up. Isabella says, “I wish Benji was more like you.”
Girls said that in high school. In the stall, I forget to wipe off someone’s pee before I sit on the toilet. Benji and I are twins; we look alike, blunt-featured, eyebrows slanting down, giving us constant pissed-off expressions. When Benji grew his hair long, I shaved mine off. I told people I wanted to look gayer, but mostly I didn’t want to look like Benji. Once I went into his bedroom to ask about homework, forgetting to knock, and saw him jerking off to porn on his computer, a man choking a woman. I felt ashamed for months after, like what he had done, I had done, too. But girls loved him, and some of them spent a lot of time with me, first, for a while. I told them they were too pretty for Benji, which was true. Sometimes they slept next to me. One night, my friend and I fell asleep in my bed after making fun of our geography teacher, his tight pants. I imitated his walk, sticking my butt out, and we laughed so hard we cried. When I woke up, she was gone, had crossed the hallway, slept with Benji.
Things get blurry during the next coaster, the Legend. The coaster climbs uphill, slowly, and Benji and Isabella argue in their seat. Benji says it’s not fair we’re just going on the rides she wants, what about rides he wants? There’s a long pause before the drop, we’re falling only for a moment; then relief, it’s over.
Benji wants to ride the carousel, so we do. He sits on one of the horses meant for babies and gets Isabella to take a picture he can send to his friends. It’s an odd image–his huge legs straddling the small yellow pony, its eyes painted too far apart and too white, making it look crazed, trapped. Benji tells me he and Isabella are fine, I’ve never been in a relationship for long so I don’t understand how couples fight–something about what it means to be in love, passion. His sentences are jumbled together.
We drink more, go on more rides for Benji, tame ones, bumper cars, a water flume that splashes only a little. Isabella clings to Benji, pretending to need his comfort. After the spinning tea cups make us dizzy, we walk away and our legs wobble, and Isabella and I fall to the ground, laughing.
Finally we’re in the car with the AC blasting. Benji drives, and Isabella, in the passenger seat, is crying. She looked at Benji’s phone, read texts from some girl. She keeps saying how much she loves Benji, he can’t leave her. I try to read in Benji’s face how angry he is–but Benji always looks angry. There’s a slamming noise, hitting Isabella’s seat. Not hitting her but close. She stops crying. I don’t remember what happens next.
In my childhood bedroom I wake and stare at the ceiling still covered in glow-in-the-dark star stickers. Yesterday feels like a nightmare–the roller coasters’ terrible creaking, the smell of sunscreen. During high school I heard rumors that Benji was a mean drunk, information I tried to ignore; if Benji mistreated his pretty girlfriends, that had nothing to do with me. They weren’t my friends.
I remember Isabella’s face in the car, frozen. My stomach turns and I throw up.
I carry the puked-on sheets to the laundry room; my mom and Isabella drink coffee in the kitchen. Benji is still asleep. Isabella follows me to the laundry room, and in a hushed voice she asks me if I’m okay. I joke about my hangover, I’ll just down a bottle of Pepto Bismol. Isabella doesn’t laugh. She says I must have been really upset yesterday. “I don’t remember,” I say, uncomfortable.
I take a cab to the airport. It’s only after I board my flight, after the airplane climbs, reaches cruising altitude, that I wonder why Isabella was so worried about me. In a second I remember hitting Isabella’s seat. It wasn’t Benji. I wanted Isabella to stop crying about Benji; I snapped, “Why the fuck do you want someone like him?” I hit her seat, almost her. She went silent in her fear. A flight attendant asks if I want anything to drink. The airplane is steady, but there is a feeling in me like falling, that goes on for a long time.