Nanami in the Blue Dress | Jessica Mendoza
She was my first crush at the age of seven. Nanami in the blue dress, fresh and new and standing at the front of the class, her face white and shining like quartz. Brown freckles splashed across her nose and square cheekbones, her fingers red from fisting into the fabric. Her matching headband sat nobly upon her head, a crown seizing the flickering overhead lights. I couldn’t even look directly at her.
I kept my gaze askew, staring down at my bumpy plastic pencil case. I felt frumpy, underdressed in my corduroy and light-up sneakers. The teacher declared Nanami the new student, spreading her hands out and demanding we be kind to the little princess in blue. How could I be cruel to her, I thought, when her dark chestnut eyes sparkled like that? When she looked up from under brown lashes and fidgeted in place? When her backpack overflowed with books and books and books, and mine was stuffed the same way? When her dress skirted around her ankles and was so pretty, so pretty I felt unworthy to even look upon her? How could I not be her very best friend?
In the back of my mind, I remembered the old adage – don’t judge a book by its cover. Disney Channel, chapter books, little cartoonish asides on Nickelodeon – they all taught me that looks shouldn’t dictate a friendship. But didn’t she feel the part of my best-friend-to-be? She sat like a reader, torso curved over the desk and empty hands grasping for a story. Her handwriting was so neat and practiced – were those not qualities that dictated a worthy playground partnership?
The sun hung fat overhead when I asked her to be my friend. Nanami sat primly under the tree at recess, legs folded underneath her. She pushed rocks around the dusty earth with a stick alone, all alone, as most outsiders are.
“Okay,” she said. Her voice was quiet and a little scratchy, as if out of use. I grinned so hard my face burned. I held out a hand and she took it.
Nanami was a girl, and I was too, so we did all the things two best friends who were girls did. We had sleepovers, we went trick or treating together, our moms took us to the park and the playgrounds. She opened her lunch and traded sticky peanut butter sandwiches for thick slices of pear and salty crackers. Nanami yanked a scrunchie from her hair, freeing her glossy bun, and wrapped my braids in its satin. I could sit there for hours and listen to her talk about her stout little guinea pig and her annoying little brother and the prettiest orange butterfly she’d ever seen. For years we burrowed into each other, plucking pieces of our identities and melting them together. These were the things childhood friends did.
But for me, Nanami stood uniquely beautiful in my mind. Unlike the other friends I had in my childhood, I wreathed her in gold and lace within my memories. Her headbands were a nimbus under the playground sun, and her laughter resounded with mine like a harmony.
Nanami in the blue dress. As we got older and more aware of the differences between us, things shifted. She spoke to her mother on the day of the presidential election and came back a little more distant. My brown hand in her white palm seemed a plague to her. She turned away while I spoke of all the new things I was learning about my heritage, my roots, my culture. The blackness that her family shielded from her and ignored in me. The entitlement her mother – white and prickly and the worst cook I’d ever had the displeasure of meeting – had over mine.
Nanami in the blue dress, there, in my memory. Before I knew what it meant to love a female friend that way. Before I entered middle school and splashed cold water onto my face, desperate to get rid of the budding and blooming. Before we passed in the halls like strangers, went to the same college, nodded coldly when we saw each other in lecture halls. Before I kissed a girl and fell in love and finally settled into who I was born to be, shedding the fear and confusion that I’d have rather forgotten. Before I forgot. Before I forget.
Nanami in the blue dress. The first clue, the first hint. That sapphic nimbus around her head – the memory-preserved saint of first crushes.
About the Author:
Jessica Mendoza is a young up-and-coming writer born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She holds a B.A. in Screenwriting and is looking towards getting her M.F.A. in Creative Writing. As a professional writing tutor, avid reader, lover of small animals, and serious movie musical nerd, she spends her days talking about her various interests and story ideas to anyone who will listen. Jessica spends most of her time feverishly editing essays and raving about the semicolon’s usefulness to her students, who kindly humor her fits of punctuation passion.