The day I first met Mahsa, I felt like I'd been hit by lightning.
So far I'd spent one week at my new school, and I was bored out of my mind. My old school was a notorious party school with tons of drama, fights in the hallways, and people worth dating.
I wasn't used to debate tournaments being a big deal or seeing mathematics trophies occupy space in glass cases. So I skipped classes, wishing I didn't have to stay with my mom during the obnoxious pissing match that was my parents' divorce.
My mom got a house in a neighbourhood with a "good" school to please some stupid judge. But off the record, my mom didn't give a shit about my opinion. So, I punished her by embarrassing her at parties, refusing to eat her disgusting food, and totally screwing up at school. Hopefully, she'd decide she didn't want custody after all.
Tuesday, March 13th, was just another day in my ongoing war with my mother. After sitting in the cafeteria for exactly an hour of the school day, I decided I could more comfortably waste time at home.
That's when the most outrageous-looking character I had ever seen stopped me in my tracks.
Short, lightly curled brown hair and an ethnically vague Mediterranean tan. Big, mischievously crinkled, brown eyes, and muscular arms waving around in the heat of an argument with a guy next to her. Them? She?
I couldn't quite tell with this person. Short, a little chubby, with the fashion sense of a lesbian child struggling to look cool.
Leaning against a table, I tuned in to the bizarre argument the stranger and a red-faced guy were having.
"One of them jumped out! Or you killed it, I don't fucking know! Either way, I'm out of here." The guy shouted, swinging his arms and stomping away.
The person I'd soon come to know by Mahsa was doubled over with laughter, an uninhibited, boisterous laugh. I would come to adore that laugh.
I was probably making my default resting bitch face when Mahsa caught my eye, but she immediately perked up. "Hello, out of curiosity, did you know that there are only three fish in this tank?" Mahsa asked, gesturing at a bubbling, murky fish tank behind her.
I glanced behind me to check that this stranger was talking to me. "Uh, no. Should there be more?"
Mahsa grinned mischievously, putting on truly hideous glasses that a good friend would have talked her out of. "Yesterday, there were four in our aquaponics tank, so any ideas Dr. Watson?"
I narrowed my eyes at this ridiculous clown, biting back the urge to say something mean and quintessentially me. "No. Just tell me what happened."
"Not even a single guess?" Mahsa pretended to make big pleading eyes, and I guessed that she'd learnt facial expressions from cartoons, not actual social interaction.
"Alien abduction?" I waved a hand, finally giving in to those fathomlessly deep eyes.
"A good guess, but no. Cannibalism. The fish are Carassius auratus or domestic goldfish, and like most fish, they eat each other. Fredrick, Milo, and Leonardo here," Another gesture to the three, giant goldfish. "Ate Bruno." Dramatic pause.
"No fucking way." I sneered, stepping closer to stare into the tank.
"They look innocent but don't be fooled. I found poor Bruno's torn-up remains in here earlier." Mahsa confirmed gravely and privately I wondered how this moron survived in high school. "Which grade are you in?"
I looked Mahsa up and down, "Ten. You?"
"Same, I'm Mahsa, by the way." Mahsa's whole face lit up with one of her beaming smiles, and she held out a hand.
Frowning slightly, I shook it. It was cold, callused, and I eyed a scar running up one forearm.
Very different from my softer, warmer hand. "I'm Eve. Eve Retter."
I watched Mahsa ponder over the name, and then she gasped. "Holy shit, your name is a double palindrome."
Oh God, another nerd. "Yeah, my dad's a maths teacher, my sister is Anna Retter, it's a family joke." I waited for a moment, then said, "Okay, I'm leaving, hope you have a nice funeral for your fish."
"Leaving? Are you sick?" Mahsa asked, walking with me as I left the cafeteria.
"No, I'm just leaving."
"You know humans also engage in cannibalism, but there are three reasons we don't do it all the time?" Mahsa said casually, and I stopped to stare at her, flabbergasted.
"What's wrong with you?" I demanded, more interested in the answer than I had been in anything for months.
"Oh, lots of things, Evie." Mahsa grinned, holding open the school door. "Are you coming back tomorrow?"
"Maybe. Why?" I asked suspiciously, untrusting of this weirdo I just met.
"It's Pi day." Mahsa shrugged. "See you tomorrow then."
And despite my best efforts to not make a single friend, I got one through sheer pestering. I did everything I could to get rid of Mahsa; insults, dismissals, mean jokes, hiding.
But day by day, in every minute of every hour she made being at school worth it, she wore down my armour.
I realized the kid act was a front, hiding a sharp mind that didn't miss much. I learned that Mahsa wasn't humble when she downplayed her victories in debate or accomplishments, rather she actually believed that she was worth nothing.
She was also kind, weirdly in love with everything. She used politeness as a weapon to get people to do things. She pretended to be socially inept. But when she wanted to, she wielded charm like a master surgeon with a scalpel.
Mahsa told me everything and nothing about her. She was queer, but she never told anyone. Just slipped it into anecdotes or stories. She was damaged, from things she never said, but I saw the evidence.
Mysterious scars on her hands, shoulders, fingers. Bruises on her leg. She avoided eye contact while lying, and never cried or demonstrated any emotion at all aside from happiness.
And she was angry. She was humiliated by weakness and was always trying to protect me. She did it for me, but I knew there was someone in her life she'd failed.
I, on the other hand, told her everything. All my petty dramas and traumas, my fears, dreams, sadnesses, and embarrassing parts. Like how much I loved hot sauce and how I rigidly controlled my eating. That I once skipped three days of school because a pimple made me feel like garbage. Or that my worst memory was my dad's car accident.
Slowly, I realized that this falsely confident, painfully loyal, and glowing person was my best friend. That this person would trek through the snow to get me a coffee I didn't even know I was craving, that she would happily give up a kidney for me.
I felt like I'd been struck by lightning the day I met her because I didn't see it coming, just felt the electricity resuscitating me.
Mahsa never judged me, just tried to please, make up for some deficiency she always believed she had. I watched her do it with everyone, cling onto anyone who showed her the slightest kindness.
My parents' nasty divorce had triggered a lot of spiteful Googling on my part, and accidentally, I'd learned about attachment disorders and trauma played out in relationships.
My mom had been abused as a kid, so she feared getting close to my dad. My father had been taught that showing emotion was unmanly, so he resigned himself to exploding when he ran out of bottles for his feelings.
Mahsa craved a father who loved her and was impressed by her, so she went overboard trying to impress her debate coach, one of her stand-in father figures. She hated herself, and somebody had cut a scar into her that nobody asked about.
Both of us carried the other. She helped me study, let me cry on her shoulder about how stupid I was, and helped me believe that my looks didn't make me dumb.
Sounds stupid, but for the longest time, I only felt clever when my makeup was gone. Mahsa taught me how to skateboard, how to dump awful guys, and taught me to trust myself.
Ironically, that part, trusting intuition was hardest for me. My belief in romance had given me shitty relationships, and my lack of trust in my mom had alienated us. I was more used to ignoring my instincts than following them.
With Mahsa, I had to use intuition. Was she overcompensating with me because shit hit the fan at home? Was that terror that made her chew her lips to shreds?
Was she lying? In love? I had to trust my gut because my friend had taught me to be strong, but I hadn't taught her how to talk.
I learned to trust my instincts, remind myself I loved her, and couldn't sabotage our relationship. And slowly, she helped make me whole.
Some not-so-nice guys and imperfect parents had made me promises I cajoled myself into believing. I figured I was doomed to making shitty choices and hating myself until I met someone who showed me unconditional, weird love.
And along the way, I wound up believing it was true.