Akshara Taraniganty 

go away, Valerie. 


Ten thousand miles away, a bell is ringing. Recess is ending; children are running to class. I am tripping—then an arm extends up to me. I am peering at the boy who is helping me up, and you, the girl next to him.

You told me he was gay. You told me he flirted with your older brother that year. You made jokes, Valerie—constantly. You tortured him until he told you to your face that he wasn’t gay—and then you accused him of being homophobic. He forgave you.

Valerie, you showed me your fangs in fourth grade, running your tongue across your teeth. You leaned close to me and told me you were a vampire and no, I couldn’t tell anyone or else you would bite me.

I wondered how it would feel to run my tongue across your teeth. Then I banished the thought ten thousand miles away. Some secrets are better unopened. 

I never saw your fangs again, but you swore you were still a vampire. You told me you could retract them, that they only revealed themselves to the worthy. You told me he wasn’t worthy, but I was—he couldn’t know because the Dark Vampires were out to get him. You told me that I could stop the Dark Vampires; I just needed to unlock my full potential. 

 You made me stand on the monkey bars for the entire lunch period, to hold onto my empathy link with the Head Vampire. You said you would be right back. But you were eating lunch; I saw you with our definitively-not-gay best friend, and I stood on the monkeybars until a teacher forced me to come down. I joined you. I didn’t want to tell you I had failed. But you forgot about me. Were you going to leave me up there forever had I not come down?

So we sat, and we ate. I pulled out my mac & cheese, and your mother had made you some as well, half finished as you pointed out that our lunches were the same—it was like they were best friends too. 

And suddenly, I didn’t care. You were my best friend and he was my best friend and we were impenetrable, and it didn’t matter that you had left me on the monkeybars, right?

But then there were the times when I was alone with him. Those were the moments in time when I fought past it all and tried to vocalize.

she can be so mean sometimes. 

she lies to me—a lot. 

“She’s a good friend.”

“She’s so funny.”

you always defend her. 

I wish I had your voice. You can talk, Valerie; you can sing. You can charmspeak, erase your wrongdoings. Conjure lies out of thin air—lies that compel. You have a sort of magnetism—you seem like you know everything, you seem like you are always correct. It’s the reason I stayed, stopped resisting your pull. 

I invited you over for the first time in third grade. My mom and I sat down and planned the day. She had a box of golgappas lying around, just enough to make some pani puri. 

“It’s more of an activity than food,” I told you that day. “You poke a hole in it, then you put in the pani, then the potatoes, then the bhel puri — oh wait, the chutney. Are you listening?” 

“Sorry, it’s the head vampire. He’s contacting me through our empathy link.  Can you feel it too?” And I convinced myself that I could.

There never was a head vampire, Valerie. Maybe I should have known that when you coughed up the pani puri and said you were allergic. We made sure there were no peanuts; I checked with my mother before giving them to you. You weren’t allergic, but I didn’t know. My mom knew. I wish she told the truth. I wish she had turned my disappointment into anger before I could understand you myself. 

After you left, we finished the pani puri and told stories. She listened to my stories, Valerie. She saw my disappointment and cheered me up. 

You can disrespect me all you want, but my mother? My culture? It was too far.

Valerie, in seventh grade, when his sibling changed their pronouns, you didn’t change with them. He corrected you the first few times, then let it slide. I think I snapped at you that one time. You said, “Fine, I’ll respect them,” and then you walked away. 

We sat in silence. I let the shock hit me before the rage did. 

she accuses you of being homophobic, then she does that, I said. 

“It’s fine,” he says. A swallow. “I forgive her.”

I called him a pushover. He looked down at his lunch and continued to eat. I buried my head in my arms and started to cry. 

I felt his hand tap my shoulder; he pointed across the lunch table to you, your face buried in your sweater, your body quivering. I thought I had broken you, finally. I hated that it felt good. 

“Are you crying?”

“Not really,” you said. “You were crying, so I thought I should too.” 

You were abnormal. You were not broken. 

I think that’s when ten thousand miles away started to transform into one thousand miles away, then ten miles away, then right here. I wanted to scream at you, but I wanted your perfect voice to scream back. I wanted to kiss you so I knew how it felt. I hated you. I wanted you. 

My notes app descended into chaos. Alternate universes, changing names and changing scenarios until I found one where I could yell at you and confess to you and throw my inner demons at you. I took it out on him— I used his compassion to my advantage. I tried to get him to hate you like you tried to get him to hate me. I think we were tearing him apart. Only one of us ever apologized. 

 You would’ve understood me if you read the paragraphs I sent you—maybe you did, your one-sentence responses proved that they never mattered to you. I did it in hopes that you would open up. I didn’t know who you liked, who you hated, how you felt about anything. It was always sarcastic quips with you, those or elaborate lies. 

I think you liked us because of who we were. Gullible and a pushover. Why did it take me so long to stop believing you?

I hate that I didn’t realize. You told me you were a billionaire and your older brother dated that Disney Channel star and you had Taylor Swift’s phone number and you could do a backflip and you had a hundred percent in every class you attended—you made me hate you more than I’d ever hated anyone. 

Maybe I was jealous. Maybe it’s okay to be jealous, right? Maybe that was how you wanted me to feel about you, because you built up lies upon lies just so you could pretend to be friendlier than me smarter than me, better than me. Or maybe it was all me, and you were telling the truth and I was convincing myself that I was better than you because I couldn’t bear to think of anything else. 

I asked him if jealousy was a human emotion. 

“I don’t know, I guess?”

are you jealous of her? 

“No, not really. She’s my friend.”

Here, I am trapped. Ten thousand miles ago, I was trapped. Ten thousand miles from here, will I be free?

I want to take him with me, rescue his sibling and my mother along with us. I want to take him far away from your poison—let him breathe uncontaminated air, let him see you for the first time. 

I wish he was the one I wanted to kiss. I wish I was attracted to him, his unrelenting belief that we were all good. His light. I wish I wasn’t attracted to mystery and devilish smiles and the ability to calculate, to manipulate—to reach a hand into my brain and dislodge everything. I’m screwed up, right? I’m screwed up because I want your vampirishness more than anything. 

Valerie, go away. Get as far away from me as possible. Run as fast as your legs can take you.