In a Classroom, After the War by Julia Dixon Evans

 

 

In a classroom after the war[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] was the first time I met Chloe, tenth grade, Mr. Lundquist’s algebra class, I sat in the front row, older than her because she was really good at math, and she wrote me a note in crayon because she was the only girl to bring crayons to high school. She wrote, “You seem sad today and I’ve always wanted to be your friend so I thought today was a good day to try.”

And then she folded the note diagonally from the top, then made a long fold inwards, and then folded it up in small pieces from the bottom. She tucked the point under a flap and made a pull-tab. She was the only person to ever make me a pull-tab.

I wished I knew what to write back. She’d asked no questions. She started no conversations. I didn’t really want to be a sad girl and we weren’t supposed to be sad anyways, the war was over, our flags flew high over our buildings, the ones still standing and the ones burned out.

“It’s okay, I’m not sad, just tired!” I wrote back. I folded the note but it was just a plain rectangle. It’d be two weeks before she’d teach me how to make a pull tab, two in the morning, on my bedroom floor in our underwear, a sleepover, Thick as thieves already, my mother would say the next morning. I’m so happy for you, hon, to have a best friend.

I unfolded the note I wrote because I realized I didn’t say sure let’s be friends and I didn’t want her to think I was strategically avoiding that part of her sentence. For a second I also thought, maybe say yeah, I am sad. Yeah, this is all harder than they say it is. But it passed.

“Sure, let’s be friends.” My ballpoint pen looked stupid and adult next to Chloe’s reddish brown crayon. Burnt sienna. I refolded the note, and passed it underhand behind me.

I looked around and her smile was a hundred thousand watts. The brightest point. We’d somehow shine for light years still but we were already dead right from the beginning.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that moment was when our star exploded.[2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[2] When a star explodes all of the heat and the energy and the iron and the mass dissipate into space. It’s no longer a star; it’s everywhere.

Chloe lost her mother in the war. She was a doctor. “Her favorite job was to be in the trenches,” she said, admiration instead of grief. “She loved the action.”

I didn’t admire her mother, I feared her and I grieved her, even though I’d never met her. “I think we should plant a seed for her,” I said one morning after yet another sleepover. It was a hot autumn and the seed would probably dry up and never sprout but I thought it’d be better than doing nothing.

“Nah,” she said. “My mom hated gardening.”

Three weeks later she’d kiss my first boyfriend on the mouth in the school garden, which was dead in some parts, overgrown with weeds in others. She told me about it later, warning me that he was a cheating jerk.

“Okay,” I’d said. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

She laughed. “No, he’s a great kisser. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

She kissed me on the mouth then, longer and softer than the boyfriend ever did.

“We should do that more often,” she said, laughing, standing up, leaving the room. “That was fucking great.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. My smile was probably a hundred thousand watts.

I never wanted another boy again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Chloe wanted everything, and she wanted none of it to last forever.[3]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[3] She was the first person I knew to go to second base, and then third, and she did each of those things a dozen times with a dozen different boys.

“Show me,” I said, straightening my back.

“Nah,” she said. “Not right now.”

“Okay,” I said.

When she lost her virginity she called me as soon as she got home but all she said was “I’m writing you a note right now. It’s gonna be the best note of your life. You won’t even believe it.”

I laughed. “Won’t even believe what?”

“I had sex.”

I didn’t know whether to admire or grieve.

She told that same boy to take me out on a date, and if there’s one thing she was always so good at it was getting boys to listen to her. Instead of a date we went up to the outdoor amphitheater at 9 o’clock at night and he squeezed each of my boobs under my hoodie. He just used one hand, alternating each breast. I wished I’d worn the padded bra but as soon as I had that thought, I realized I would no longer be fooling him since he was actually touching the bra. And then, next, I realized I wasn’t interested in fooling him but I was interested in feeling this a little less. I looked up at the sky, the city’s glow obscuring the stars. I thought of her smile.

“The next war, I want to fight,” he said.

“I hope there isn’t another.” I squinted, lifting a fingertip to air-trace the two constellations I could find that I remembered. I never had the best memory.

“There’ll be another. They’ll never stop,” he said, almost laughing. It made me feel stupid, like I had missed out on knowing what all the other people knew about war. “I just kind of want to make a difference, also fighting is cool,” he said, and he made a fist, pumping his bent elbow down towards his lap. He laughed and I didn’t.

“Are you wet?” the boy asked.

“No,” I said. I ran my hand across the dew-covered grass, the air thick with marine layer. “This blanket is pretty waterproof.”

“I mean…” he said and he gave me what he probably considered a meaningful look, one eyebrow arched, head tilted. “Down there.”

I shrugged and he wriggled his hand down the front of my jeans, the waistband so high but he made no effort to unzip.

“Oh jeez, you’re so fucking wet,” he said.

“Actually I have my period,” I said.

He stood up, wiping his hand, front and back, on the blanket. “Gross. Fucking gross.”

We drove home. I called Chloe and I tried being her. I tried her on for size. 

“I’m writing you the best note of your life right now,” I said but I didn’t even wait for her answer before I started sobbing.

 

 

 

 

 

“My sad girl,” she said[4]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[4] and she had her dad drive her over to my house, ten o’clock on a Sunday, and the first thing she said was “My dad is so pissed to have to miss Masterpiece Theater,” and then she kissed me even when we were still standing in my downstairs hallway, when any number of neighbors could have seen us, when my parents could have seen us. I put my hand on her breast like the boy had done to me and she stopped kissing me.

“Let me read the note,” she said.

“I was kidding,” I said. “I didn’t write a note yet. Do you want me to?”

“Totally. I’ll watch you write it.”

I sat at the top of my bed with an algebra book in my lap and a sheet of unlined paper. Chloe rummaged through my desk drawer until she found a tattered box of Crayolas, probably a decade old. “Pick your favorite color,” she said, and sat down at my feet.

I started writing about the boy in yellow-green and she said “I just want to try something,” and I realized she was holding a needle and thread, but she pulled the thread out and pressed the sharp point of the needle into the top of her wrist, the outside, not the suicide-side. A bubble of crimson rose around the needlepoint and she grinned.

“You do you,” she said, with a quick raise of her eyebrows. “So we can mix our blood.”

“That’s so cliché,” I said but I took the needle and realized that neither of us had cleaned it and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sewn anything and I couldn’t even remember owning a needle and thread. It felt better to poke a thin needle a millimeter beneath my skin than it felt to have that boy’s ugly breath on my neck.

“Now we’re like sisters,” she said as we pressed the tops of our wrists together. “Look.”

I pressed the paper with the yellow-green writing on it between our wrists, blotting the extra blood, the two of us, our DNA doing things together. It looked brown on the paper.

When she kissed me the second time that night she crawled on top of my body and moved her hips in little waves against mine.

“Thanks for being my friend,” I said.

“Any time, sister.”

I didn’t see Chloe again until Wednesday because she wasn’t in school for two days and I didn’t feel like being the one to call her.

I wanted her to call me. I wanted to feel power. I wanted her to admire or grieve me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She forgot me instead and maybe memory is the only admirable thing we had left[5]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[5] When the second war came, she was in twelfth grade and I was a freshman in college, still living at home because they never rebuilt the dorms after the first war. This time I was the one to lose a parent, my dad, a war correspondent, and the night after the funeral she put her thumb inside me and kissed me right there, like making out kissing and I decided that was the best kind of virginity to lose and the other kind didn’t count.

Every day after that, when people asked me about my dad’s death, about what it’s like to lose a parent in the war, about the grieving process, I thought of her going down on me instead.

This war only lasted six months and it never came near us.

Chloe disappeared for six months after the second war but they didn’t make her repeat any classes. She still got to graduate with her class anyway. I never asked her where she went, because I was waiting for her to write it in a note.

I made a scrapbook while she was gone, of all the notes she’d written me. It felt good to drive to Target to buy a scrapbook, even though they never took down the mobile trauma center in the parking lot from the first war and now the tents are tattered and empty and take up all the good spots in the shade. It felt good to crack open the packaging with my fingernail. It felt good to put her notes in order at first, and then I re-read them and it felt like I was reading an obituary. To distract myself from ours I cut out my dad’s actual obituary from the paper. They used a whole page and his colleagues all wrote something nice about his career, about the way he covered the war. Every mention of the memorial service made me think of Chloe putting her thumb inside me that night.

She didn’t write me any more notes after she came back. She didn’t sleep over. She’d come in the middle of the night and kiss me all over but then leave, and not speak to me the next day. I never heard her voice in the daylight again.

I got a boyfriend anyway, and I loved him and didn’t love him in equal parts. I only really wanted her, my long dead star. I still let her come over at night even though I had a real boyfriend. I still let her take all my clothes off and lie between my legs. She was always so warm.

“You’re always so warm,” I said.

She pressed against me.

“You’re so quiet though,” I said. “You used to talk all the time.”

She pressed against me.

“Why are you so quiet,” I whispered but I didn’t really want an answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath a maple tree on the morning of the third war was the last time my heart broke[6]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[6] Chloe told me she had signed up to be a soldier. I didn’t admire her at all. I grieved, I only had grief.

“Don’t,” I said. “Please don’t.”

“Too late,” she said and she hugged me, which was strange, because we never hugged. We only kissed and fucked. “I love you.”

This war only lasted a week. Chloe, like almost all the soldiers, was killed on the first day. I went to her memorial at a brand new church in a brand new office complex but it was short because they had so many memorials to do, and I stood in the back. I wasn’t sad because I had already been sad for so long, I got it out of the way. I locked eyes with her father on the way out and I think we understood each other, I think he had already spent so long grieving that this was a comfortable feeling too. Hey, I know how this feels, I told myself. I got this.

This war, this third war, was the final war before we all stopped caring and even the people starting the wars stopped caring, which was the closest we’d ever come to surrender because the wars kept going out of apathy more than anything. And I wondered if all those soldiers knew, before they died, that they hadn’t made a difference at all.

I suppose I admired that, that maybe death didn’t feel noble to Chloe. I wrote her a note when the third war ended, in burnt sienna, and I put it in my scrapbook. The note said “I admire you,” and then I crossed it out. I found that old needle and poked it into my fingertip, pressing a dot of blood onto the paper.

I signed it at the bottom, a footnote: “Your sad girl.”

 

 

 

Julia Dixon Evans is the author of the novel Other Burning Places, forthcoming from Dzanc Books. Her work can be found in The Fanzine, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, and elsewhere. She lives in San Diego.

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