Before my husband wanted me, he wanted you, and that’s how the rash began. I googled the name he gave me but couldn’t find any public social media except a Pinterest profile with photos you’ve saved tucked neatly in emoji-labeled categories. Still no photos of you, but in these folders, there was enough to scratch my itch.
Every morning I visit your page and I receive you in slices, in visual how-to guides for macramé planters, crocheted bags, knit sweater vests in a range of pastels, sunny bucket hats, a ribbed hem crop top; in glossy asymmetrical waves of color on clear cuticles, French tips, short acrylic nails; in a Victorian brooch, layers of different chunky gold necklaces, an ouroboros ring, morganite studs; in blurry black and white photos of Tokyo, Lyon, Sydney, Bombay; in recipes for earl grey tea cakes, kung pao lotus root stir-fry, low-calorie shortbread cookies smothered with frosted lavender flowers, pear naan pizza with honey whipped goat cheese, braised tofu, glazed lemon poppyseed bars, apple fritter rings, mushroom bourguignon with potato cauliflower mush, cheesy potato kielbasa soup, simple millet congee, turkey cranberry sliders. I judge each tattoo you are considering, the delicate abstract shapes, the Phoebe Bridgers lyrics behind your neck, the flower under your breast, twin flames across your collarbones, all so simple, overdone. My own trite tattoo twitches and I rub my thumb over the fading ink in reassurance. I imagine you as the alternating models in your pinned long tulle dresses, corduroy heels, baggy lavender pants, puffed-sleeve shirts, leather pants, strappy lime heels, fuzzy pink cardigan, tie-dyed straight jeans, and an off-the shoulder neon bodysuit. Whenever I am done shuffling through your folders, I hit refresh, dreading and anticipating any addition to the mix. With each new upload, I find my nails in my side, digging into my own body, trying to hold onto myself.
As spring dips into summer, my skin starts to flake along tiny tributaries of red. I run my palm over the rash, pretend I’m feeling it for the first time. The raised area foreign and hot. My husband wets an old t-shirt and places it on me and begs me to stop. At first I try to, but somehow it’s gratifying to give into the pain. This daily pilgrimage: now, my cursor clicks and the link fills itself in. I mindlessly scrape off layer after layer of skin as I browse your Pinterest, and from this organized desire, I begin to piece together your insecurities. Without an icon to reference, I meticulously fill in your absent features. Scratch and bathe in the resulting relief.
I try to picture your hair after seeing your collection of blunt bobs, bleach-blonde hair, complicated hair twists, a variety of textured braids and updos; your face shape after watching your pinned videos about gua sha and a chart of flattering photo angles; your complexion after reading instructions on evicting nasal blackheads and acne placement stress charts. What stresses could you have? It’s hard to hate you flipped inside out, all this exposed softness. I pause on advertisements for under-eye serums that promises to erase dark circles, on photos of beautiful strangers with multicolor lids, on screenshots of angsty Tumblr musings, four-line poems in typewriter font, a rambling Dostoevsky quote about the sun, on never-ending lists of fat-burning treadmill settings, thirty-minute HIIT workouts, tricep-targeting weight circuits, hip-opening yoga routines for flexibility. Just as my husband calls me to bed, you add another pin. My heart leaps, and I tell him to wait. I am aglow in hazy blue light, lingering in our shared presence at your virtual shrine a moment longer.
Today, you upload a profile picture, angled from below. My first time seeing your face, and surprised, I call out the discrepancies from my imagination. Though I speak with marvel, not malice, my husband is upset by my choice of breakfast conversation and changes the subject. I am idly annoyed that he is not interested by what has become important to me only because it used to be important to him. Regardless, this is no longer about him. I hover over my screen, align the reflection of my sharp lips to overlay your full ones. Anoint them with my smeared gaze. Still, observation, however attentive, does not make so; the glass between us thwarting theft by thirsty osmosis. Meanwhile, you take a sip of coffee in another city. Meanwhile, the rash grows.
Angie Kang is a Chinese-American writer and illustrator living in the SF Bay Area. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Catapult, The Believer, The Rumpus, Narrative, The Offing, and others. She can be found at www.angiekang.net, or on Twitter/Instagram @anqiekanq.