Chicago, Illinois, USA
Walter Payton College Prep
Reductio ad absurdum, or “proof by contradiction,” is a rigorous mathematical proof that establishes the truth of a proposition by assuming the proposition to be false and following the implications of this assumption, which eventually leads to an absurdity that demonstrates that the original proposition must be true.
Suppose you’re straight, like the type of straight that they expect from swooning anime girls and brunette Mary Sues. Picket fence future, ditsy floral dresses, shotgun of the boy-next-door’s Benz type of straight.
Growing up, you always have a girl best friend. It’s Rhea in elementary school, with her large bambi eyes, dark brown skin, and horde of tiny brothers. When you sit together on the playground during recess, you think about unpinning her waist-length hair from its tight bun and braiding it. You imagine how each strand of ink, warmed by the September sun, would feel wrapped between your small, chubby fingers. You dream of play dates and trick-or-treating and picnics together, but your strict mother keeps you at home doing multiplication tables after school.
You’re the quiet, good girls, so when you are together, you’re usually talking about boys. Specifically, the one in the homeroom next door with that Justin Bieber haircut who’s on the soccer team, until Rhea actually sits next to him during lunch and decides that she hates him. Then, you talk about your crush, the Korean boy in your math class. Everyone needs a crush in elementary school, and since he is nice and in the gifted program, you decide that he will suffice.
A few years later, you move to another state. Rhea asks for a number to text you, but your mother takes your phone away.
On the first day at your new school, you’re still missing Rhea when you meet Saanvi. She volunteers to sit next to you so you wouldn’t have to sit with four other boys. You soon realize that Saanvi’s the opposite of Rhea—the opposite of you, too. She’s sarcastic, bold, and funny, all real and loud like an image pulled straight from a high school TV show. She’s only nine months older than you, but she has infinitely more wisdom about fashion and boys. You share earbuds during study hall and fruit at lunch. You follow her around the school like the devoted shadow to her flame, and now there’s all sorts of cracks in the comfortable silence of your world.
One day, at her request, you hide in the storage closet of your science classroom, knee deep in microscopes and incubators, to take pictures of her as she asks a boy to homecoming. Suddenly, your conversations all end up being about her new boyfriend, who you think is an asshole. She sends you song recommendations and then talks about how these songs remind her of him. You don’t understand why she spends so much time on him. You’ve never thought about a boy that much. Of course, you never tell her this. Not even when you’re sitting together on her bed, and she’s spilling all her secrets.
In the years you spend with her, you become bold too. By the year that Nanaka comes, and Saanvi moves away, you’re the confident one. Nanaka is quiet and depthless. You know that you used to be quiet too; when you’re with her, you yearn to return to that state of grace, but it remains elusive.
In a poetic twist, she’s a photographer. A synonym for witness. You first see the city that you eventually leave her for in her photographs. You are very scared that there’s a lens on that camera which can crack open the treacherous secret hanging from your ribs, and she’s been peeking inside you all along.
You play tennis together on Saturdays. Her strokes are mature, disciplined, and focused. You’re wild, sweet, and a little foolish. You watch her black ponytail blur with the dark pines behind the court. You watch the ball bounce away from you as you remain frozen on the green rubber. Love-fifteen, you say.
Once, after practice, she rides in your car. You sit together in the back with your rackets balanced on your knees like little kids. You’re falling with the sun in the distance. You may or may not know that your time together is ending. Like usual, you say nothing.
In your junior year of high school, you meet May. She is just eccentric enough to lure you in. It’s around the time where your grandfather becomes paranoid that you are dating every boy you walk home with or talk to over the phone. You know this paranoia was catalyzed by the disappearing act your father pulled on your mother. You also know a simple solution: make May the axis of your world.
By now, you’ve grown into yourself. You’re familiar with the ways girls show affection. You subtly test these ways out on her. Even though it’s not real, even though you’re just good friends, there’s an elation to this roleplay. You leave, she leaves, you leave; you know it’s her turn this time, so you decide to wait and see what becomes of it.
But in the city, the people and their ideas are different. It makes you think back to your other girl best friends. You’ve seen other girls who are together, acting the way you used to with them. For the first time, something more really does hover perilously on the horizon.
Rhea is quiet, Saanvi is bold, Nanaka is mature, and May is strange. You’ve inevitably fallen in love with each of them. Maybe for a day, or for a week, or for a month. The intimacy creeps on slowly in innocent, girlish moves. Then, you think about kissing them. What if you did it? How platonic could you make it? What excuse would you come up with?
You think about your girl best friends. You think about how easy it would be to remove the “best” in that phrase. You know and fear that one day, that traitorous part of you will show, and it’ll soon become all you are. All these thoughts dry you out from the inside like a curse. What would the proper girl you used to be think of that?
But if you trace the fracture back in time, you will never arrive at that girl. You never were that girl. You never even wanted to be that girl. No illusion could conceal the disjoint.
Why do you torture yourself with ideas of her? Out of obligation, or just for show?
You always knew this. You’re a liar like your father. No, you’re worse than your father. Your lies are poorly constructed. They are absurd. You’ve always been smart, not innocent. When the boy-next-door drives by, are you really going to be the one wearing flowers on your body, riding in his Benz?
This piece was previously published in Dishsoap Quarterly, Issue 5.
In an innovative twist, “Absurdum” adopts the cutting precision of “reductio ad absurdum” to examine decidely unmathematical concepts: love and sexuality. As the narrator reflects on girls who have passed in and out of their life, they grapple with the inherent contradictions between societal constructions of femininity and truth to oneself.
Nora Sun is a Chinese-American writer living in Chicago. She loves language, iliac crests, and brevity's talent for breeding mystery.
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