The Artists

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By Noah Diaz

At sixteen, hair on my chin and wind-bent and asthmatic and uncomfortable in a body that will only grow at perpendicular angles, I let my brother cornrow my hair for the first time.
He presses the meat of his palms into my scalp and gathers fistfuls of hair and I feel the pinch of each row as they’re tied into knots and I don’t think to ask him why it hurts so much or why his hands are shaking or why he sweats so much or if he’s “okay” because that’s the word you use when you don’t really know what to say.
 

At seventeen, five foot ten and thin enough to slip between the grated bleachers on the football field, I meet a boy who only kisses boys that kiss girls.
He tells me about the time when he had to hide his pointe shoes in a drawer and when he thought he was a vampire because he bit his lip and liked the taste of blood and how he can touch his big toe to his chin without bending too much and that’s what all good dancers can do and he takes my chin and pulls me close and asks if I’m okay and when I say “yes, but I don’t think my brother is,” he kisses me on the cheek and dances until the haze of morning turns the football field every different shade of purple.
 

At eighteen, hair on my palms and feet swollen in heat and knees locked and bruised and hair on my chest and everywhere new, I meet a girl who speaks in poetry.
In winter she migrates to the orange groves of Florida and dyes her hair mandarin so the low winter sun of Nebraska won’t let her forget how and I ask for her address because my teachers always encouraged us to keep a pen-pal and my first letter is titled What Happens When People Die? and her response is a sonnet called You Can’t Fight Everything.
 

At nineteen, bored and surly and coming into my own because that’s what people call learning how to be okay with yourself, I meet a girl who talks to herself when she sleeps.
She calls it her creative process and I mention that she only creates on nights when she drinks too much and that calling yourself an actress isn’t the same thing as being one and she says creativity keeps the windows shut to things she doesn’t really want to talk to me about and we blow on the eggplant parmesan cooling in front of us because that’s the end of that conversation and I finally tell her I want to create things too and she asks me why and I say “okay.”
 

At twenty, remembering what it was like at fourteen, my brother coughing because we don’t know why and things just happen sometimes, and when I asked him if anyone ever realizes life while they live it and he said “no–the artists, maybe; they might some.”

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