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Make

Kristen Koopman is an avid learner and writer who spends objectively too much time at her computer. In her spare time, she enjoys arguing with people on the internet, poking her dog's forehead so she looks like she's frowning, surviving the academic masochism of higher education, and recreational lying.
I only have the one psy-identifier that California law requires, the unisex cuff I picked out when my abilities were found in the fifth-grade screenings. I wore it when I met you, our eyes meeting over the glistening arcs of glass rims from across the bar. We got to talking, got to flirting, and all your looks were innocuous--at me, the reflections off bottles, the sticky spilled-drink fingerprints on your glass--until you saw it for the first time (I would've noticed if it weren't) and brought it up.
"What's that for, then? Empath? Telepath? Pyrokinetic?" Each said with an accepting waggle of the eyebrows, as though light scandal was the worst that could come of an identifier.
There's no single word that describes what I can do, and many lengthy explanations--stumbling attempts at "skin-to-skin" and "only to other people, not myself"--taught me to make a concise one: "I make people different."
I brought up the weather and you took up the topic with polite enthusiasm. We stayed at the bar until we realized our checks were on the counter and everyone else was gone. You didn't bring it up again for a year.
If you had asked after sex, I would have said no. It probably would have been the end of us. But you asked on the couch, your feet in my lap and your toes poking my fingers, which held the book I pretended to read while pretending not to be charmed by you.
"Could you make me different, if you wanted to?"
I put the book down too fast. You got a paper cut on the arch of your foot and a bruise in the soft hollow between the tendons of your ankles.
"Why would I want to?" I asked.
"Everyone wants to. It's what relationships are. Negotiating how much you stay yourself and how much you become the relationship. I'm just curious, but if you don't want me to--"
"I don't want to."
"Okay."
The paper cut left a smudged circle of blood on my book. The page is still marked.
And then--what was it, six months? Nine? We moved in together and you had a long, hard day after a long, hard week in a long, hard month. It was the sixth consecutive dinner of condolence-casseroles and leftovers from the funeral reception, because being wasteful after everything would just be too much. There were lines around your eyes I had never seen, furling out and down from the corners like a bird's wings. You picked up your dinner plate to take it to the sink and your other hand pressed against the tablecloth, distorting the stripes into arcs.
"I don't think I can do this," you said, staring at the dining room wall just beyond my wrist with empty despair rallying its way into panic. "I can't do this anymore. Not alone. Neither of us can do this alone."
You weren't looking at the wall, I realized. You were looking at the cuff on my wrist. When you saw that I saw, you let go of the tablecloth and placed your fingertips against the back of my hand.
I thought about not doing anything. I thought about not telling you I wasn't doing anything. But in the end, I did it. I felt your stock of kneejerk reactions, your library of memories, the pylons of your conviction, and the selfish, vindictive whip crack of anger at the heart of you, setting everything into motion like the spring in a Pachinko machine.
Also like a Pachinko machine: just because you can see it doesn't mean you know what outcome you're going to get. In that moment, I knew you as if you were laid out in front of me, flashing lights and random-patterned pins and secret tunnels setting seemingly unrelated processes into motion. I could map you, but I couldn't predict you.
And I made you stronger.
You stood up straighter and squeezed my hand and we made it through the week, and the week after that, and after that. Life normalized, regressing to the mean. You didn't ask and I didn't offer, but I thought about it. Every time the pads of my fingers brushed your knuckles, every quick kiss on the cheek, every carelessly strewn leg while turning over in the middle of the night, I thought about it.
And then in a fight--a spat, really, about taking out the garbage. I thought it was your turn, you thought it was mine, there was irritation on both sides until you turned to me and held out your arm and said:
"Make me."
I walked away.
Later, you apologized and we made up and I wondered if I could have made that choice--if I could have put my skin against yours and made you. But I didn't want to, and I told myself that mattered more than if I thought about it.
And you started talking about how you should be more, after that: how you wished you were, what you aspired to be. Your apologies included hypotheticals, versions of yourself that wouldn't have transgressed and which you measured yourself against.
I kept thinking about making you.
It was the time that you didn't bring it up that I did. We were back on the couch, side by side with the TV on. My hand was on yours, my thumb feeling the bones pressing up against your skin and idly stroking. You made it halfway through the story about the time you left your passport in a hotel before thought wasn't enough for me anymore.
I said: "Do you want to be less forgetful?"
You said: "What do you want me to be?"
I said: "I want you to be you."
You looked at me, and you said: "I want to be better."
So I made you.
Now we're both what we were made to be.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 1st, 2016

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