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The floor is cold. We lie on gray cement, eroded by a decade or more of kids playing mini sticks hockey and one-on-one basketball. Faint remnants of hopscotch tape are fused to the concrete—lines in this unofficial archive. No one really takes much care of this space; it’s where the kids are sent to be kids. There are holes in the walls where hockey pucks have gone through drywall, a wobbly shelf with missing screws, and in the distance, my grandmother’s sewing table.

My best friend is lying on her back in one direction, and I lie next to her in the opposite direction. Our faces are next to each other, bodies tucked, making the coldness of the floor more bearable. I have no fear. Whatever wound the world is etching on me, is, in this moment, temporarily forgotten. Time may or may not be passing; I have no way of knowing. There is no loneliness, no disconnection, no missing pieces.

The sound of our giggles fills the musty air. We like it when it’s just the two of us. It is easy, light. Our conversations flow as if our brains haven’t yet grown any filters. I sit up and hover over her upside down face. I stare into her eyes, and neither of us flinches. We study each other as if looking at a long lost other half. We stare into each other with childish innocence, with barely a thought about whether to do so was right, wrong, or strange.

I trace the lines of her skin, her dark eyes, her brown hair. She does the same to me. I stare long enough at the shape of her upside down eyes that her eyebrows begin to resemble a mustache. I place my hand over her nose and her mouth so I can isolate the image. I look at her forehead and an image begins to crystallize.

“You have a second face!”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Your eyebrows are a mustache, and your hair is a beard. I swear! Look at mine.”

She searches my face as if it were a puzzle. I cover my nose and mouth so she can make the image out easier. I sit cross-legged, my face hovering over hers as she lay there, searching me.

“I see it! It’s a man!”

“Exactly! With a beard, right?”

We laugh about our forehead-men until our bellies hurt. Amid a brief silence that falls between us, she fumbles through her pant pocket and hands me a folded up letter. “I have something for you.”

Friendship Contract between Jessica Carpinone and ggg ggggg.

Rules to be ggg’s best friend:

    1. Always is honest
    2. Always lets ggg eat their lunch.
    3. Always corrects (does) ggg’s French homework.
    4. Always home when I need to call you at 3:35.
    5. Always there for ggg
    6. Understands what I say and agrees with it


 I ggg take you Jessica to be my best friend forever. To go through life with you as I grow up. We will go through a lot together like driver’s licenses, school and our first and last boyfriends/husband. And to tell you the truth I wouldn’t want to go through all that with anyone else. So when we are 100 years old we will be best friends forever. I promise.

I read the contract in front of her and smile smittenly. I feel something approximating peace, maybe stillness. I don’t feel the nagging aloneness, the one that drives me to invent imaginary friends. When I am with her, I am not fully separate.

“Best friends forever. DUH! Come on, let’s go to the park.” I fold up the letter and put it in a box for safe keeping.


It is my first semester of the first year of high school. My best friend and I join the same sports team, because we do everything together. For 10 years now, we have walked parallel paths. For 10 years, our attachment brought us an unwavering sense of belonging.

A classmate walks up to me in the hallway before classes start and pulls me aside.

“I have something important I need to tell you. Something I heard the team talking about. I think you deserve to know.”



My heart climbs into my throat and I feel my pulse pounding through the side of my neck. Is this a panic attack? I run to the bathroom to throw up. I have no idea what to do and no one to ask.

I don’t talk to my best friend at all that day. An invisible force keeps us apart, repels us. She does not call me after school. We do not talk for hours on the phone that day.

The next day, I walk past my best friend in the hallway and try to say something to her. She takes a step back as if to say that I am in her personal space. I recoil.

I tell her ggggggggggggggggggggggggggg.


I walk away, severed.

No one ever speaks a word about this incident ever again. It is as if nothing ever happened, except everything changed. I do the only thing I can – I bury the wound deep, put on a brave face, and stumble through life on the other side of this gulf as best as I can.

Years pass.

Old selves are destroyed, new ones are created, over and over.


It is a Saturday. I am at my bakery when I receive a text message. “They are moving her to palliative care.” I put my spatula down on the metal table and walk over to our tiny staff room. My partner catches my panicked expression out of the corner of her eye and leaves her post in the overflowing dish pit to see what’s happening.

ggg is in palliative care. I have to go see her but I don’t know how I’m gonna do it.” I can’t seem to catch my breath, and it just gets shallower and shallower. My partner grabs my shoulders and tells me to breathe deeply but I can’t. I am unraveling.

The last time I saw ggg outside of a hospital room, she was glowing. It was the kind of glow that only someone who had faced down death and survived could emanate. We got caught up quickly. She told me how she and her husband are getting a puppy. I told her how happy I was to see her smiling, to see her healthy. Over the years, we’d found a way to fit into each other’s lives as our paths diverged. We slowly and quietly laid bridges across the gulf, even though we never found a way back to each other fully.

After that blurry Saturday shift, I make my way to her hospital room. I can see that the shadow of death loomed close. She smiles a pained smile and shrugs, acceptingly.

I want to tell her everything. I am not even sure that I even know what “everything” is, but I want a sign that it wasn’t all just in my head, that I meant something special to her too. I want to know whether our love transformed her, like it transformed me.

Instead, I do what I always do. I say the truest thing I can, and censor the rest. I hold her face in my hands and press my forehead against hers. I try to transport it all through a sincere “I love you,” one for the ages.


I click into a Zoom session with my therapist at my dining room table in my sub-floor apartment. My cat is sitting upright on her perch, looking out the window even though her gaze is obstructed by the thick bushes. I hope one day we can move into an above ground home. I think it would be better for her, to be able to see her world from a less vulnerable vantage point.

My therapist asks me the same question she always does when we begin our sessions. It has been this way for almost six years now, off and on. “How are you arriving today?”

“I, um…was hoping to talk through some big feelings I had recently. I haven’t been so overwhelmed since before the meds.”

“Sure, of course. This is your time.”

“Well, I attended an event recently – an overwhelmingly straight event.” My therapist smiles and nods, knowingly.

“In the lead-up to it, I was verging on a full-blown panic for the better part of a couple of days. The anxiety snuck up on me. When I thought about being myself in that space, my old fear of sticking out started creeping in. I can’t contort myself like I used to.”

She nods affirmingly as I continue. “I was afraid that my clothing choices and my life choices and all the ways that I am different not by choice are too apparent. I was afraid of being judged quietly, by people I knew and didn’t know. I was afraid of the questions whispered about me, real or imagined. I was afraid that I was still afraid of all these things. I’m so frustrated that I still care, that I am still self-conscious about everything. What’s that about? Will that ever go away?”

She asks me to tell me how my body feels when I talk about this. I tell her that my hands are freezing and I have a headache developing behind my eyes. We talk about old fear, and how it shows up in our bodies until we develop another narrative. We are working on that together, slowly. It often feels like one step forward, two steps back. It has taken 35 years to get here, but I like my queer life and I am proud of who I am. So why am I still so scared?

She goes on to explain more about the wound.

“Adults try to ‘correct’ kids’ behaviours to align better with society’s rigid standards. They themselves may have bought into this rigidity, or maybe they act out of fear or misplaced protectiveness. Either way, they try to shape you into something you are not, and it takes a lot of time to heal from that.”

I stop and ponder that thought carefully. “It is like pruning a tree to make it grow a certain way, I guess,” I respond. A library of flashbacks rushes through my mind, of all the times someone told me, directly or indirectly, that who I am is wrong. The cuts that shaped me, so to speak.

“I don’t know if that is the right analogy,” she responds. “Pruning removes dead or sick parts of a plant to help it grow. What is done to children is the removal of healthy parts, and in turn, those parts of them die.”

I came to this writer’s retreat to see if I can unblock myself. I can’t seem to uncensor myself long enough to figure out what it is that I am trying to say. I’m trying to become a writer, but how can I, when I don’t even know which stories are mine to tell?

“You have five minutes to write. We won’t be sharing these pieces.”

I let my pen glide across the page, and hope that something breaks through.
In my attempt to gain closure from everything—
her death, the wound, the world—
I write stories of joy, pain, and longing. A book’s worth.
Amputate them into more palatable forms
If I butcher the truth into unrecognizable pieces and string them in a poem, will anyone understand what I want so desperately to say?
I am collecting a trove of stories in a vessel I keep locked up
I am looking for some meaningful way to describe a wound
But every time I try, I just cut
and cut
and cut
and cut.

“Ok writers, put your pens down. Time is up.”


“Severed” also appears in Here and Now: An Anthology of Queer Italian-Canadian Writing, Volume 2, edited by Licia Canton (Longbridge Books 2024).

Jess Carpinone loves to get lost in a good memoir and hopes to write one of her own someday. Most of her time is spent operating a bustling bakery & cafe, and making bread. She lives in Ottawa, on unceded Algonquin Territory, with her partner and cat.

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