I wrote this story as a rebuttal to “Selfies” by Lavie Tidhar and to every other article I’ve read this week that has universally dismissed the selfie as examples of vanity and narcissism. It’s written in the same style and structure as the original, but otherwise it’s very different. For anyone interested in talking about selfie culture, please take the time to read ”Look at Me: Selfie Culture and Self-Made Visibility” by D.A.K.
I hope you like it.
In one of the last pictures, I’m running down the street, the one with the newly paved road still smelling like asphalt and the newly painted lines shining like white stripes. The one where the street lamps glare too bright, brighter than stars.
The lime I sucked when sneaking drinks lingers on my breath, tingling my gums, perma-puckering my whole mouth until I can sleep it off.
The moon’s new, brand new, faint shadow of it barely seen eclipsed by the street lights. The others run after me.
They say my name through their laugher. Shiloh, Shiloh, Shiloh.
We run until we’re on the beach. Sand pours into our sneakers, cakes itself onto the soles of our flip-flops. We kick them off, pull off our socks. I call for them. Shiloh, Shiloh, Shiloh.
They cluster around me, pushing and jostling.
I hold up my phone, and take a picture of me, us, the sea, and the veiled moon. I wish the lens was broad enough to encompass all of us.
We don’t say cheese.
“You ever hear about that girl Shiloh?”
“Shiloh. Weren’t you listening? Put that down. Blue isn’t your color. I didn’t see much of her but now she’s everywhere.”
“Let me see.”
“Here. There she is. Username’s ShyShiloh like she’s trying to be ironic or something? Look at that. Like I care what book she’s reading.”
“Oh, that is a good book though.”
“I bet she’s got thousands of pictures on her phone. Thousands and thousands of pictures. Like her entire life’s a sample of but first let me take a selfie. In her world, selfies are the grammatical equivalent of a period.”
“Isn’t that vain? Don’t you think that’s vain? Who the hell’s that vain?”
“On tumblr I found a photoset of her Rainbow Dash curls with thousands of notes. And then (remind me to look at the nail polish), I saw her in the grocery store right. And then I saw her twitter update that she was at starbucks hashtag awesome hashtag psl hashtag ILoveOctober hashtag this hashtag that hashtag stop but the thing is the starbucks is all the way across town and there she was in the grocery store, holding a box of cinnamon chex, right in front of me.”
“You know I work at the Starbucks, right, I know where it is.”
“The clock in the back had the same time as when she was at the store. Explain that one, huh.”
“A stopped clock is right twice a day?”
“I wasn’t looking where I was going, ran into a pillar and when I was holding my nose, blood gushing everywhere, she was gone. Didn’t even bother to ask if I could use a tissue. My favorite tee’s got brown spots all over it.”
“Maybe because she wasn’t really there.”
“Look. That top’s cute. You think it’d look good on me?”
“Y’wanna take a picture?”
I take the first one right after I buy the phone. I don’t buy it brand new because I can’t afford it. Neither can my mom.
Here’s how the dominoes fell: I was window shopping at the mall. Trying to look like I had more money in plastic than I had. Trying to look like I belonged there instead of loitering. I first saw the phone at one of the mid aisle stands, the one beside the piercing booth.
The guy looks like any other guy. White skin, watery eyes. Disinterested poise until his eyes light up when he sees a pair of long legs in strappy heels.
You know the look.
Suddenly, he’s very interested in helping me. This always happens. I duck my head and try to be inconspicuous as possible.
“Can I help you, miss?”
I make a disinterested noise.
“You’re very pretty,” he says, like that’ll make me want to talk to him instead of making him look even more like a creep.
The only time people call me pretty is when they want to make me stay and talk to them. They’re almost always creepy men like this one.
I know that in three, two, one they’re going to stop calling me pretty and maybe start calling me names and then it’s going to be Houston, we have a problem, we always have a goddamn problem because these guys just don’t quit.
“You really are,” he says, persistent. “C’mon, give me a smile.”
I wish I was brave like some other girls. I’d tell him to fuck off or to shove it or I don’t give a shit what you think or any number of things to put him back on his side of the line.
“Here,” he says. “You dropped your phone.” He holds out a smart phone, the kind so sleek and light, so bright, so star trek.
I pull out my own flip phone. “Not mine.”
I walk away even as he’s trying to ask me if I’m sure.
I find the phone again. Another sales person asking me if I’ve dropped my phone. I shake my head every time.
I walk home before it gets too dark. While waiting for the bus, I look down at my feet and see the phone in the gutter. I look right and I look left and I look over my shoulder. There’s no one around so I pick it up.
There’s no passcode on it. No contacts. No pictures. Carrier company not even listed but there’s four bars of signal. No logo anywhere. But it works. That’s all I care about. I lift the phone above my head, touch the camera app, and switch the view screen. I smile, with a thumbs up. Snap the shot.
Look at what I found. Special and one of a kind.
This is the picture I want to show everyone, but I never will, because we’re all together here, home from our night out on the town.
We’re in each other’s laps, we’re looped around each other’s shoulders.
We hold each other’s hands.
The first time I see her, I’m back window-shopping at the mall (again). She’s looking at the store across the aisle. I see her reflection, my reflection. Our reflected eyes catch. She winks at me, small smile on her lips. I snap a pic of us, but when I turn around to show her, she’s gone.
I get a text from my friend thanking me for looking after her kid while she went to school since the babysitter had bailed. I text back, wrong number? Because yeah I babysit sometimes just not today because I’d been too tired to even get out of bed. I have the selfie to prove it—me on a pillow with its blue satin case, hair twisted out in curls. No make up but still looking great despite all that.
Don’t lie, my friend texts back, lol.
She sends me another pic. It’s me, with her kid. We’re getting ice cream from the dollar truck that plays the same song over and over.
I hate that goddamn truck but the kid likes it well enough because ice cream what’s not to like.
We’re both smiling. Kid’s giving me rabbit ears.
The girl in the picture—me—she’s winking, finger to her lips like she’s got a secret, hey, lock it in your pocket, say, take it to the grave.
Like that time in the mall.
I drop the phone and it bangs against the floor. It doesn’t look too damaged when I pick it up and text lol cute kid back to my friend because what else is there to say? No one would believe me.
It’s pizza night, bought for discount because Mom knows how to coupon like nobody’s business. Pepperoni, never enough sauce, and too much cheese.
I smile into the camera surrounded by my family. My mom, my sisters, my brothers. Say Cheese, we chant like musketeers, all for one and one for all.
We watch cheeseball movies for the rest of the night. Our fingers get cheetoh stained, so I keep the phone in my pocket until it’s bedtime.
It’s me in a mirror and me in a red leather jacket I found for cheap in a thrift shop paired with size twenty skinny jeans. I got my nails painted black, already scuffed and chipped like joan jett’s bad reputation.
The me in the mirror smiles delightedly, showing too many teeth but not in a creepy way just like in a way too energetic kind of way like how much coffee did you even have this morning kind of way.
C’mon kid be cool.
But I smile back anyway.
Blurry again because I was standing still, too creeped out, too afraid, and I hate that so much, but it’s me with another me, and I’m running away, glasses over my eyes.
Blurry because I moved my hand too fast, too eager to twist and turn away. You’d be a little startled too don’t lie, don’t judge.
Her voice like mine because she’s me I guess. I take a pic, framed so we’re both there, so I can show everyone and they won’t call me crazy.
Just her this time. She’s wearing all the stuff I wish I could wear. The cute skirts, the lacy tops. The extravagant makeup with the long lashes and the blue eyeshadow, and she’s rocking it hard. She’s beautiful, and she’s also me. Hey, girl, she says. Her mouth is parted, and I think I can still hear that first greeting if I listen hard enough but I don’t have to because I hear it every day now and I don’t have to remember.
They don’t always come to me immediately. Sometimes they wait. Sometimes they linger. Sometimes they turn around and don’t come back. Sometimes they just walk right up to me and hug it out. Sometimes they stay for a while, and then they’re gone and back again.
There’s one of them now outside the apartment, under the buzzy lights.
I know she’s there before I see her, and I see her standing under the lamp when I pull the blinds.
I snap a pic, and zoom in so I can see her face. She’s smiling at me. I press my hand to the glass, live long and prosper, and she laughs out loud.
Lol good times, nerd.
She’ll stay, I think. I hope.
I don’t care how it works. I’m just glad it does.
We watch Pacific Rim while we do each other’s hair. There’s five of us in the room. Family’s gone out for the day.
I wonder if they’ll see me, and shrug. I don’t care. I don’t care if they come in and see all of us right here, right now.
I don’t remember what we were doing here. It’s blurry. I think because we were giggling and trying not to.
At what? I don’t know. Not anymore.
Ran into some girls at school. I was going to snap them but they put their hands in front of their faces, so I snap me instead.
I look great.
And another, because the lighting’s so good. The sun’s out, but not too hot, not too bright.
And another because I can and I want to.
And another and with each one I feel better and better. It’s better than caffeine in the morning.
Another joins me, and we hold the phone together, and smile for the camera.
I’m so happy.
In school, some professor talks at length about how photos steal pieces of your soul.
I look outside, and I see me clustering under the shade of the trees, waiting. One of them has a lacy parasol. She twirls it through her clever fingers when she sees me watching.
I think that professor is wrong.
I think it’s not so bad.
I think I feel filled up inside, instead of hollow and empty and sad.
They wave at me, and I wave back.
Outside the café, the one by the beach. They have great coffee. Great scones. Great music. You should go there, if you can.
We wait for our order—pumpkin spice lattes. Not the ones from Starbucks. Ones with real pumpkin in them. We scroll our phones while we wait. We share the funny posts with each other. We delete our hate mail. We take a pic of our strappy sandals and how nice our painted toes look because we did them just last night.
Someone asks if we’re sisters. We turn our backs on them. They say we’re rude. They say that in their days they were taught to respect our elders and ourselves. We lift our arms and take a selfie. Old woman is out of the frame. Good riddance.
We take our drinks and go to the beach, kicking off our shoes, to join the others splashing in the surf. They laugh our names. Shiloh, Shiloh, Shiloh.
In one of the last pictures, we’re dancing. We’re fae princesses in the streets. There’s honeysuckle in the air, on our tongues, braided through our black hair.
I take a picture.
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