In first grade I had a best friend named Krista.
Her mom was the PE teacher and she had legs like spaghetti noodles tapered off into shiny black boots that made me physically ache with envy. My mom said they were too sophisticated for six year olds and I resigned myself bitterly to a lifetime of Keds.
Krista and I did everything together; we were a dream team (albeit one that was half pint sized It Girl, half fashion deadweight in Winnie the Pooh overalls.) She is now, as far as I can tell, a bronzed, statuesque sorority girl who can wear a little black dress like she was born in it, while I spend a lot of time watching Netflix in my sweats. That right there should provide sufficient foreshadowing. But we were inseparable then, from our broken heart friendship necklaces right down to our disparate footwear. Similarly shaded blonde hair led us to believe that we looked exactly alike, and were therefore twins. This concept never ceased to delight me, in spite of the fact that I already had a twin. But he was a boy, and as a result utterly useless in the fine twin arts I’d gleaned from a steady diet of Mary Kate and Ashley videos: Clothes swapping, sassy nineties-era high fives after “Girls rule, boys drool!” taunts, and the holy twin grail–switching places.
“Rose,” I told Krista one day as we shared a ham and cheese cracker stacker Lunchable, “we should pretend to be each other and see if anyone notices.” I was sure they wouldn’t.
“Good idea, Rose!” she exclaimed, swiping half of the mini Crunch bar, rendering that stingy compartmentalized dessert even measlier. Krista and I called each other Rose under the bizarre pretense that twins often shared the same name. This never happens, of course, outside of the realm of elementary school playgrounds and maybe George Foreman’s house, but we were naive and intoxicated on the twinly nature of our friendship. Now, we all know that nothing good ever comes of measuring yourself against your thinner, slightly blonder, exponentially more fashionable best friend, but I was six. I still took naps for God’s sake. I never saw it coming.
After the last bell at two-thirty we would run to the girl’s room, check for scary sixth graders, and once the coast was clear, feverishly strip down to our underwear (we’d reasoned that switching those wasn’t necessary) and pull on each other’s clothes, then swagger out to the blacktop to our waiting and, in retrospect, infinitely patient mothers who would play along for about two minutes, first haplessly walking the wrong kid to the car and then acting shocked upon the revelation of our true selves, before cutting the crap and telling us to go switch back.
We did, gleefully, thrilled at the success of our charade. This went on for the impressive duration of about two weeks, until one day Rose (Krista) told me sadly, “My mom says we need to stop switching clothes.” I was disheartened but had to admit the same.
“She says it wastes too much time,” I’d scoffed in annoyed agreement, rolling my eyes a la Moesha on Nick at Nite.
“Yeah. And my clothes are getting stretched out since, you know, you’re a tiny bit plumper than me.”
I had not, in fact, known. And even the euphemism of ‘plump,’ which called to mind cute, cuddly Candy Land characters couldn’t stop the creeping blush from spreading across my (admittedly substantially round) cheeks. We ran back out to the playground, I’d strapped my seat belt and asked my mom to put on my Spice Girls CD like I did every day.
But that night I stood grabbing handfuls of myself sideways and backwards in front of my mirror for the first time. I never guessed it would become a fourteen and counting year ritual and practiced sucking my stomach in, unaware that I had joined the legions of girls and women who measure, to some degree and in spite of other, infinitely more substantial qualities, our self worth according to numbers on a scale, inches in a waistband, the measurements of other women, more than we care to admit. I wasn’t traumatized, Krista wasn’t malicious. She was a sweet girl and still appears to be, if Facebook, that last bastion of perfunctory, lazy interaction with childhood friends, does her justice. But I never called her Rose again. And I stopped fooling myself into thinking I was anyone but Katie.