She was only twenty but had an old person’s name. How she despised her name: its merry singsong, its too many vowels, its very M.L., benign initials that in fourth grade inspired Tommy Sugarman to crow, “Major Loser, Major Loser, Major Loser.” Was she a loser? Yes. Now. But then? An eight-year-old in nubby knit tights, a girl with glistening pigtails who carried a Muppets lunchbox? No. Back then she had been merely a girl. A girl with a certain open-eyed, owlish look, good posture, a knack for the Rubik’s Cube. She had not yet got her period in Algebra or made out with Len Dugan in the janitor’s closet or been fired from Rite Aid for stealing a can of Pepsi. She had not yet tripped over herself at the cheerleading tryouts and gone home to scrape the skin of her forearm with a safety pin. Bobby Miller. Keith Paulsen. José who had no last name, who gave her a pill to swallow, who said, “Think of me as Superman,” and took off his shirt and on whose hairless chest she saw a giant red “S,” and she kissed it, kissed it, full of incredulous relief, believing she had found at last the one who would perform the rescue.
Those things and people had not yet happened. Her nose was still unpierced. No butterfly tattoo . . .