It is hot. The sun is bearing down on you—a simmering eighty degrees, unusual for September in upstate New York—and it feels like a physical weight across your shoulders. The cicadas scream and you usually hate the noise, but you can hardly pay attention to it.
You are too focused on Holly.
Your class has received the rare privilege of playing on the playground meant for the Older Kids today, and she is standing above you on the steps to the swirly slide, which you are too afraid to go on. She is looking down at you. The sun shining on the back of her head turns her bright red hair into fire. She is saying something to you—something, something.
You are not listening.
Originally, you had come over here with the intention of scoping out the competition. When you’d asked Logan Greene to be your boyfriend earlier, he’d told you that you could only be his Backup Girlfriend because he wanted to date Holly first. If they broke up, you would be next in line.
It’s a sensible enough arrangement, you think. And, after all, Holly is very pretty, and she is one of the Older Girls—one of the first graders—just as Logan is one of the Older Boys. It makes sense.
So you’d come to talk to Holly. To see what she’s like. And you do talk. And then she grabs your hand and laughs and she bends over with the force of her laughter and she’s missing a tooth on the right side and she pulls you up the stairs with her and helps you go down the swirly slide for the first time and you are exhilarated. Not afraid.
Holly is nice, you decide, and you decide, also, that you’d like to be her friend.
(There is a precipice ahead of you. You are standing a safe distance away, for now. You are Logan’s Backup Girlfriend, and Holly is a friend.)
Miss Dull has moved recess inside today. You’ve never liked Miss Dull much, but you believe that you can concede to her judgement just this once—it is snowing outside, and since your move, you have learned that Virginians (not Virgins—you’ve already made that mistake once and have been ordered not to say that word anymore) are afraid of snow in ways that New Yorkers aren’t. They wear puffy winter coats when you only need to wear your zip-up hoodie. It’s like having a super power, and the rest of the third-graders have been fascinated by your resiliency to the elements.
Still, the attention you draw is nothing compared to Braxton.
Braxton has dated almost every girl in your class. He has dated Amanda James four different times, and Amanda is the most popular girl you know. She is the only one in your grade who wears real bras, not just trainers. You do not want to date Braxton, but you do wish he’d ask. You are the only girl he has not dated, or asked to date, besides Karly, and that is because nobody asks Karly to date for reasons you’re not quite sure of but have decided not to question.
Currently, Braxton is dating Grace Strickler, whom you’ve concluded is cute, but mean. Her blonde hair reaches her knees, and it is tied back in a braid today. Even though she is dating Braxton, she is sitting with Amanda, and they are leaning against each other, holding hands, reading a magazine.
You have no friends to lean against or hold hands with. You spend recess reading, watching Amanda and Grace. You have lived in Virginia for three months, but you are still the new kid, and people think you’re strange, and the girls with long blond hair won’t hold your hand, and Braxton won’t ask you to date him (even though you’d say no, you still want him to ask because maybe then you won’t be strange anymore).
(The precipice scares you, but it feels like you are taking steps toward it without wanting to, like you are being pulled toward a fate you cannot prevent or control, and you will be weird, weird, weird if you fall, but you’re stumbling, and the edge is so close.)
You are playing a video game online. You’re nearing the end of seventh grade, but you have been homeschooled since the beginning of sixth grade, so are you really a seventh grader if you’re not really in school? You don’t talk with girls (or boys) your own age much, not since you moved to this new town, which is more dangerous than your old one. The schools here make your parents nervous, so you take your classes online, where you can Google all of the answers and finish your work before noon everyday. Then you can go online to talk to people.
The girl you have been playing with for a few months now says that she is your age, but you’re smart enough to be skeptical about whether or not that’s true, and neither of you tell each other your real names, but she says she lives in England and you tell her you live in the United States, and you have each other’s screen names, and that’s enough for you.
She is funny, and she’s good at the game, and that’s enough.
You run a guild together, and that’s enough.
You talk about religion together, and you talk about politics, and life, and the universe and everything. And you still don’t know each other’s names. And you don’t know anything about the rest of that stuff, either, but you think you do, and it fills something that’s starving within you to have someone to talk about it with.
She’s not real—not really. Everything she’s ever told you could be a lie. But you like her, and you like playing with her, and you’re homeschooled and more alone than you’ve ever been before in your life, even counting just after you’d moved, and with each day that passes, you look forward to meeting her on the server more and more. She’s your only friend, and you feel a softness in your chest when you think of her.
And then, one day, she doesn’t log on to the server.
She doesn’t log on the day after that, either.
And then a month has gone by, and you haven’t seen her.
You message her on the forum you both use, but she never answers.
You don’t know what’s happened to her, but you stop logging onto the server, too. You try to quell the weird sense of loss you feel—you didn’t even know her.
(You trip. Scream. You tumble over the edge, only just managing to grab onto it with the very tips of your fingers. You cry and beg for God to fix this, because it’s not supposed to be happening. Your arms tremble with the stress of holding yourself up. They will give out eventually.)
You meet Bri. She has princess curls and glasses and gray-blue eyes and a little bit of an accent because she’s from Canada originally, and she plays the piano, and she gets your sense of humor and understands the feeling of being an outsider someplace new—because you’re back in school now, back in your original Virginia district. You recognize a lot of people, but you don’t think they recognize you. You’d only been there for two years. There and gone.
Once you’ve been friends for some time, the two of you begin to flirt with each other, jokingly, because Amber, Bri’s twin, is fun to annoy, and it’s harmless. You smack her ass and she wiggles her eyebrows at you and invites you to her boudoir and Amber gags from across the lunch table.
A month later, Bri holds you while you cry and tell her that you’re not normal.
A month after that, you and Bri flirt for real, and then you are dating for real. Amber still gags at you, but it’s all in fun, and you hold hands under the table.
Your parents don’t know about any of it.
And then Bri moves back to Canada, and Amber goes with her.
You try. For a year and a half you try, and you try hard, but she’s talking about people you don’t know and politics you don’t understand, and you’re doing the same, and soon you run out of things to talk about. And then it’s sophomore year, and every day you struggle to get out of bed.
One morning, you wake up and think of your girlfriend and there’s no warmth anymore; there’s only panic, because you haven’t talked to her in a month, you’ve just realized, and you feel so guilty, and you stay home from school because getting out of bed is too hard that day. You tell your parents you’re sick.
That night, you break up with Bri.
You press tears into your pillow, afterwards, and wonder if you just screwed up your only shot at this.
(You’re falling, falling, falling. You’re alone. The wind stings your face and roars in your ears and you can’t hear anything and you’re in pain. It feels like the skin will be ripped from your face if you keep falling like this. No one knows you’re here. You don’t think anyone will come to catch you.)
In gym, you bump volleyballs up into the basketball hoops. Your forearms sting. They’re starting to look bruised and sore. But Marcia is teaching you how, and she’s so good at it—she’s good at everything. Her hair is a glossy jet and her eyes and skin are almost the same shade of light brown. She’s from Brazil, and while you attempt to push volleyballs through the nets, she tells you about how she used to play soccer, and what immigrating was like, and this is one of the hardest crushes you’ve ever had on someone who barely knows you exist.
You compliment her as often as you can—you know that she isn’t interested, but it always makes her smile, and her smile makes you think of wildflowers and sunshine and the smell of freshly-cut grass. It makes your heartbeat quicken and your face hot and your palms clammy, until you feel like you’re one of those male ingenues from stupid teen rom-coms who can barely get out one full sentence around the girls they like. You don’t even think about it as flirting, because you have no chance in hell and you know it. You’re just gunning for a smile.
Marcia does not interact with you outside of gym class. Instead, she hangs out with many of the worst people you know—some of the most racist, homophobic, sexist men you’ve ever had the displeasure of interacting with. You wonder how someone so nice can be friends with people so rotten.
In the hallways, you wave at her. She waves back. You smile and she smiles back.
You are infatuated with her for the entire semester that you have gym together. You don’t see her much after the class ends, but you still smile and wave at each other in the halls. You still compliment her.
Eventually, she stops noticing when you wave.
You cut your hair. Like the kids in middle school, she doesn’t recognize you anymore, and one day when you compliment her, she looks at you strangely and doesn’t smile. You don’t do it again, and you tamp down the hurt because, yeah, you weren’t friends, but... you had thought you were friends.
(The continual swooping feeling in your gut that comes with your free-fall is beginning to become a sensation that you are used to. If you continue to fall forever, you think all of your internal organs will eventually rearrange themselves into new places, and will you survive that? You hope you will, because you do not want to die. Determinedly, you do not think about what must inevitably come at the end of any very long fall.)
Katrina sits next to you in World History II. She looks a bit like Bri, and she doesn’t laugh so much as giggle at all of your jokes, high and hypnotizing, and she’s endlessly sweet. She struggles with the subject, but you know just how smart she is. So you help her when she needs it, and she thanks you, and you complain about the teacher together and gossip about anything and everything because that’s what she likes doing.
When tests come around, you don’t say anything when she peeks at your papers, and you sometimes leave your hand resting just so on your booklet, so you’re pointing to the answer that you know she needs. The teacher of this class doesn’t teach so much as constantly expound upon his mildly-racist, mildly-sexist personal opinions, so you figure that fair’s fair.
The way she grabs your wrist and calls you a “life-saver” after class has nothing to do with it. You feel jittery and warm for weeks afterward. You start making her personalized notes for class, even though doing so eats up time you don’t have. You get less sleep, but you run on the pseudo-caffeine of her gratitude.
After this class ends, you will stop talking with her also, but it’s okay. You are more than used to people only liking you as far as you can throw them, and you understand that she has real friendships that have not been forged only in the trenches of shitty WWI education. Ones where she can hold her friends’ hands and hug them without people whispering and making assumptions.
When you see her at her retail job a year later, that lingering trace of affection will still be there, but you will ignore it and buy your loaf of bread, and that will be plenty.
You are growing used to what not having a chance feels like.
(You almost feel like you could go to sleep here, falling. You’ve been doing it for so long. And you’re so tired. You figure that you will not have to be aware of your quickening pace and of the eternity that is passing if you are not conscious of either.)
After Katrina, they come in an almost never-ending stream.
There is Katrina (a different Katrina, though they look similar to one another), whom you meet through theater. She must be the funniest person you’ve ever met, and her nihilistic humor matches yours exactly. She makes you feel protective over her. She smells like cupcakes and vanilla when you hug, and she feels like coming home. Eventually, she starts dating a boy named Samuel, and he makes her happy, and so you are happy, and she simply becomes one of your best friends, instead.
Then there is Margaret, with her auburn hair and strong personality and loud, borderline-obnoxious laugh that draws out your own. You meet her through theater as well, and she’s the best singer (and one of the best actresses) that you know. You have always been drawn to talented people, and she’s the female lead in every show. After high school, she dives straight into a professional company, and you’re so proud. Your crush on her never really goes away, but it’s low-level and manageable, and she’s more like an incredibly gorgeous friend than a real crush, anyway. She tells you she loves you on the regular, and you say it back, and eventually, you mean it more in the platonic sense than the romantic.
Elizabeth, who has the most melodic voice, and she’s another redhead, except she has blue eyes, and you’re realizing that you’re weak for both of these traits, and she has them both. She’s infinitely kind, a year older, brilliant, and quite possibly the prettiest person you’ve ever met. You don’t talk much. Like Marcia, she doesn’t really know you exist. You admire her from afar, and then she goes to college and you accept that you will never see her again. You’re right.
There are others, too—tens of them, maybe hundreds, whom you pass in the halls or on the street and fall in love with just the idea of, even if only briefly. When you immediately accept that you have no chance with anyone you meet, falling comes easy, and feelings of affection and attraction pass over you as smoothly as the tides, drowning you all the same.
(You reach terminal velocity. The resistance of the wind, from now on, will prevent you from going any faster. This is your peak. You no longer ask God to fix things—instead, you hope that They will accept that this is not something to be fixed, as you have been forced to.)
You meet Caroline and she is enchanting. You are enchanted. She is intelligent, a triple threat, and she is just as passionate about politics as you are, and you frequently have long, rambling conversations about the intersections of your respective identities. You admire her courage and strong will and sharp mind. She’s brave and bold and beautiful and you’re a little bit in love with her.
It’s the strongest crush you’ve ever had on someone, and it lasts the longest, but by now you know how to give up from the start, and you’re good at it, too.
You cherish each moment you spend in her presence, even when she lashes out at you because she is in a bad mood and when she will not speak to you for reasons you can’t understand. You look forward to your free-period because you have it with her, and she sits next to you, and you frequently spend the time talking to one another. She’s beside you in English, too, and you may know that you have no shot, but you also know exactly how to accept what you are granted, and you do so as much as you’re able.
Her last name is close to yours, and because of this, her chair is right behind yours at graduation. You throw your caps in the air, and even though she hates hugs, she hauls you in and presses herself tight to you and you feel like floating. It almost beats out the graduation, itself. Then she walks away at the end of the night and you don’t see her again.
Two months later, a mutual friend will tell you that Caroline had confessed to her that she’d never really liked you much. You will struggle to reconcile this with the time the two of you had spent together, and will ultimately come away hurt and confused.
You will avoid thinking about it.
(Terminal velocity probably won’t be so bad, once you get used to it. And you will get used to it, you think. Eventually. You hope. Falling for forever will be awfully dreadful, otherwise.)
she, her, hers
College of Arts & Sciences
Class of 2023, Undeclared
Maegan identifies as asexual and homoromantic. She plans to major in English with the goal of eventually pursuing a career in education. She hopes to one day write and publish works that feature LGBTQ+ characters and experiences. Maegan is a fan of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Rick Riordan, and like much of the rest of the queer community, has recently delved into the corpora of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. For the time being, Maegan mainly writes only occasionally and for her own pleasure while she focuses on schoolwork.
Maegan’s motivations for her piece “Terminal Velocity” initially began from the seed of an idea revolving around the unfortunate experience that so many queer people go through in which they are essentially trained into giving up on potential relationships and crushes before they can even begin to turn into something truly meaningful, and are also barred from participating in the teenage dating experience that so many straight people are allowed access to. She then attempted to create a story that would embody this quintessentially queer circumstance of teenagehood, pairing variations on her own real-life experiences with an overarching metaphor that carried the wider theme—giving up on having a chance in love due to the repeated and pervasive feelings of isolation that being queer in a predominantly straight environment can bring.