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Let’s Take a Selfie photo

This is an excerpt from a Little Black Autobiography.


I feel cool being the only kid at the bar, but also pathetic.
When I go back to school I’ll write yet another story about Las Vegas in the summertime. It’s a dry heat because of the desert, but I only experience it in brief flashes between cars and casino hotels. I’ve been here so many times I lost count. I don’t do anything, just wait for the man my mother married to gamble towards a win he can only imagine.  

I wish I were in Hawaii or visiting national parks like Kassidy but her family is different. Right now she’s probably surrounded by lush forest and birdsong. My lungs recycle casino air and cigarette smoke.

Would I even be able to keep up with her family on a hike? My lungs could already be secondhandedly kaput. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be alive.

“Have you heard of a selfie?” My father’s sister is giggly and drunk sitting next to me at the bar. I squint trying to remember a tabloid title, reflecting back to standing in line at a grocery store, seeing it under better lights. “Well, have you?” she presses.

Quietly, my dry voice goes, “I think so.”

“You think? Then just say no!” she yells.
I lower my head. “I was thinking about it.”
This lady is insane. No wonder I always avoid her on the rare occasion she’s around. 

“You need to think about whether you’ve heard of something? Ha! Here, lemme show you.” A flip phone slides out her front jean pocket. Camera phones are a new invention. I like technology so this should be cool. Her energy changes to that of an eager, excited bouncy aunt. For a moment, she seems somewhat normal. 

Maybe she’ll be nice again. I stare at the coarse brown hair, uneven bangs, and wrinkles, and traces of laugh lines from her party days. She’s smiling. It’s a good smile but still something about her is off. Good thing we don’t resemble each other.

“What you do is you take a picture of yourself like this.” Her arm reaches out and the camera snaps. “He He! Look at your face!” she teases, “you weren’t ready. It’s a picture. Get ready for the camera. Let’s try again.”

Her head leans against my cheek. “Personal space!” I shout. My body pulls instinctively away. The berating begins again, “no, stop! Not like that. Turn your head in, like you like me. Okay, now smile. No, not like that. With teeth…TEETH… smile like a happy kid!” I hate smiling. I hate my teeth. I’m not happy.

She concludes that four of the pictures were bad and further scrutinizes my features: hazel eyes, big lips that will probably grow bigger, pale skin. Thanks for the reminder. In photos, I always give a small, tight-lipped smile. That’s all I can muster. Especially now. I’m tired. Something makes me feel so tired. Oh yeah, I had alcohol. I’m at a bar. 

I look in the mirror. I’ve heard of happy hour but happiness seems far from whatever this is.

My aunt informs me that my hair also looks bad. Something about the color and if it was brushed, though I’m “cute enough for now.”
“Let’s try again.” Her eyes go wide and she points her finger in my face, “Look like you like me this time.” Snap. “Smile bigger.” Snap. “Kiss me on the head” Snap. “Kiss me again” She turns her head and presses her thin lips against mine. Snap. 

“GROSS! Why did you do that? You’re not supposed to do that.”
She chuckles and ignores me while clicking through the pictures. “Oh stop, families kiss each other.”

“Not on the mouth! And I didn’t kiss you. You tricked me. That’s gross. I don’t like you.”

I hop one chair over and say, “Bartender, may I please have a water?” My aunt snaps, “No, don’t give her water! She drinks too much as it is. Ha! Get back over here. Don’t you get away from me. You’re pretending you don’t like me and that’s rude. That makes me feel bad.”

I stare blankly. Ma’am that’s the point. “I don’t like you. You’re drunk and mean.”

“Shut the hell up, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not drunk. I’ve only been drinking beer.”

“Beers,” I correct.

“We’ve got a little party pooper over here.” My face winces at the inappropriateness. You’re really talking about poop? Mom says that’s vulgar. My eyes roll upward at the heavenly scene painted on the ceiling. God, are you seeing this? Are you amused?

“Hey, don’t you roll your eyes at me! You’re gonna regret that later.” She gulps her beer and quizzes me again, “do you know what a selfie is?”

What. “Yeah.”

“How do you know?”

“You just taught me.”

She stiffens up and points her finger at me, inches from my nose. “No I didn’t! Paris Hilton did. I just saw her talking to you. She just walked away! Didn’t you see?”

My stomach feels like it’s going to turn. She’s forming one of those weird stories she always tries. 

This lady is fucking crazy. I hope she dehydrates and dies. God, if you’re real, you’d understand. So much for those angels above.

“Paris Hilton didn’t teach me. I’ve never even met her! I only see her on magazine covers.”

“So you know about her, huh? You knew about selfies?”

“No, you just told me and then took pictures of me.”

“No I didn’t. Your memory is wrong,” she gulps from her beer and I see it add to her midsection. I stare at her belly. The beer glass. The belly. The beer glass.

“Stop looking at me like that. You should be concerned about your memory. Paris Hilton taught you selfies and you forgot.”

“No! She didn’t! I didn’t forget anything. You did it just now with that flip phone. The second one in your pocket–”

“Shhh!” She tries to cover my mouth but I dodge her. Before I know it, her drunk brother arrives. His white face is red. Mom taught me that people turn red like tomatoes when they’re drunk. I look around and see pink and red faces all around me. Where is Mom? I don’t want to be here.

 “What’s the deal?” he burps.

She stammers out a story about how I’m conceited and recently became addicted to staring at myself because I saw Paris Hilton taking selfies in a magazine. I notice she’s texting the photos to someone. 

“WHO IS THAT?” I lunge at her phone. “Who are you sending my photos to? Is it my mom?”

My biological father, the man with the red face, chuckles. “Of course, it’s your mom. Who else would it be?”

It’s not Mom. Who is she texting? What’s going on? Why does she have two phones?