Body Doubles

By Katie R McKay

I’ve always hated the spring, but it’s the time of year I’m most prone to falling in love. When I think back to that spring, I think about so many things, things like the balmy weather, the day drinking, the rolling nature of the days, one blurring into another in a lazy, seamless haze. I think about the hunger, too. Mostly, though, I think about her. 


Olivia was beautiful in a way I’d never encountered in real life. We met the first week of college. Her luxurious, thick hair always framed her face as if she’d just come from the salon, and her eyebrows were like delicate brushstrokes flitting across her forehead. She had a narrow, sloping nose ending in a dainty point and cheeks that were chiseled yet plump. She was also thin, and at that time in my life, thinness was everything. Early on, I was wary of Olivia, of what might lurk underneath her gossamer glow. And yet, I found myself drawn to her. She had this sharp, echoing laugh that made me feel like I was winning a prize each time I drew it out of her. 

When I first stepped foot on my college campus, I didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly realized that I was out of my depth. I met an entirely different subgenre of people than the ones I’d grown up with; these were girls from even more elite backgrounds, girls who had grown up in New York City and its suburbs. These girls dressed better than the Just-Outside-of-Bostons like me, in brands of clothing with names I had never heard before, like shiny Moncler puffer jackets and supple Goyard leather totes, brands with prices that shocked me when I looked them up later. I knew I was privileged, but I had never seen wealth like this, stratospheric wealth that warped the contours of reality and allowed people to move through the world like a knife through butter. 

I’d never been around girls who exchanged dieting tips at the dinner table. When I called myself fat in high school, my friends always reassured me that I was out of my mind, that I was beautiful as I was. When I let some of these college friends go through my clothes to borrow things for a night out, one of them asked, Why do you have a size medium? I stood there dumbfounded. The fact of my body was not sufficient to justify its own existence. Not anymore. 

One girl in particular was our diet-culture ringleader. Mila told us that it was best to eat off blue plates, because blue is rare in nature so it quells the appetite on a primal, evolutionary level. She asked us questions like, You’re having two sweet potatoes today? Or, How do you have room for dessert? When she informed us that spiciness curbs your hunger, we added red pepper flakes to our meals. Once, when I was very drunk, I put red pepper on plain Greek yogurt at the late-night dining hall, better known for its fried food. The rest of the girls laughed it off. (They were eating Greek yogurt, too.) 

The all-you-can-eat dining hall on campus became a site of surveillance. Our friend group would take over a long table and eat identical austere meals off blue plates. Sometimes, Olivia and I absconded to the back room where dining hall hid the frozen yogurt machine and carefully poured ourselves a serving into one of the mugs they kept by the machine, preferably a blue one. 

When everyone got up from the table, we’d often linger with our dessert and go over everything Mila said. We’d roll our eyes and laugh. Oh, I’m sooooo full, we’d say. No froyo for me, fatties! It was mean-spirited, but it felt justified. It also felt like I was winning, somehow edging Mila out, by bonding through our mutual aggression. I swear she’s anorexic, Olivia would say. Yeah, I’d say. They all are. And we’d eat our froyo in careful licks, feeling like we were the only people who truly understood each other. 

Olivia and I started going to the gym together and hanging out afterwards in her room. At the gym, we’d ride neighboring ellipticals for an hour, quads pulsing as we shuffled our legs back and forth, then we’d eat Kashi Go-Lean cereal in her room, or trail mix comprised solely of dried fruit and nuts, no morsels of chocolate to be found. She ordered the exact brand of trail mix I had in my room after she tried it and declared it the best she’d ever had, with its little nibs of dried pineapple providing that essential hit of sugar; my mom bought it for me, but I still felt the halo of Olivia’s approval glowing over me. We bonded over the dining hall’s esoteric vegan options, which we believed were healthier than regular food; we’d mutually arrive at our favorite dishes and request them on the chalkboard for student suggestions. 

I couldn’t tell if the uneasy feeling I’d had around her when we first met was founded, or if I had simply been jealous of her. I knew for certain that I was afraid she wouldn’t like me, afraid of how much I wanted her to like me, afraid of the well of desperation I felt tunneling deeper and deeper inside of me every time I saw her. As we grew closer though, I began to trust her. 

We revealed the things we didn’t like about our bodies as a means of getting closer. She wanted breast implants, said she was jealous of my boobs, whereas I longed for a nose job to even out the bump that I thought was standing between me and happiness. I also wanted to be thinner, like her, and sometimes it almost felt like she was tormenting me, waging covert psychological warfare when she would suggest I borrow her clothes. These would look so cute on you, she’d say, holding up a pair of designer jeans. Try them on! And I would have to say, There’s no way I’m fitting into those. 

I never felt beautiful back then. I didn’t receive attention for my looks until I went through puberty and suddenly had what everyone wanted: in a word, breasts. I was only ten or eleven, but suddenly, men wanted me. By the time I was in ninth grade, I felt my only social capital came in the form of male attention, which I readily accepted in exchange for access to my body. It felt good to be so desired, even if I didn’t believe in my own desirability, even if that desire felt precarious and vaguely unearned. It was desire nonetheless. 

Olivia carried herself like she’d been beautiful all her life. She had milky, ethereal skin, and I would watch her fastidiously straightening and styling her long black hair in front of her mirror when we were getting ready to go out and think, God, I wish I looked like that. I couldn’t believe that she would be self-conscious; sometimes, I wanted to scream at her, You think you have it bad? You look like a fucking model!  But I held back. 

Sometimes, we’d lie in her twin bed together and search Google Images for jessica alba body, selena gomez body, blake lively body, and so on. That’s what I want to look like, I’d say, pointing out a couple of sharp, protruding hip bones. I’d never want to look like that, she’d say, pointing to a set of ultra- defined, bikini-body abs. (Abs were too manly, she said.) I’d never talked about bodies in this manner before, but with her it felt so natural and, in a way, benign, like we were online shopping for a new pair of shoes or expendable winter coats to wear to the frats. 

Other times, we’d sit in her room and simply talk for hours. I wanted to know everything about her life beforehand, from before I met her, before we came to this strange preppy bubble amid the rural, New Hampshire wilderness. What were her parents like, her siblings? What was it like to have grown up in such a big city, and what was she like in high school? Did she drink? Did she have boyfriends? Did she fuck? She asked me the same things. 

I told her I lost my virginity at 14, and it was the first time I truly shocked her. That’s so young, she said, with a look of mixed horror and pity in her eyes. No, I said dismissively, I was into it. The truth was that my first time was completely unsatisfying, as is often the case; the truth was that I laid there and waited for it to end, maybe feigning a sound of desire or two, then I walked home alone, trying not to engage with the strange ambivalence creeping up the back of my throat. But it felt good to impress her. It felt good to feel superior, experienced. It felt good to think about her thinking about me getting fucked. 

The first time we kissed, it was a joke. Leading up to this, one of the girls in our group realized this was something college girls did, that it was something done for attention. That it was silly and fun and naturally low-stakes. We delved into sloppy girl-on-girl make out sessions on the dance floor at fraternity parties, these disgusting basements covered in black, muddy scum and slick, foamy residue from games of beer pong, the preferred courtship method on campus. 

I was disappointed when I realized how formulaic everything was going to be in the college social milieu: guy likes girl, guy invites girl to play beer pong, and the rest is history. Is this what I have to look forward to? I’d wonder, as I watched young men in athletic vests and young women in strappy, dry-clean-only camisoles send the ball back and forth across the hand-painted wooden tables burdened with dozens of flimsy plastic cups of piss-quality beer. 

The kissing gave us something to break up the monotony. As our tongues darted into one another’s sour, beer-tinged mouths, you could really get a sense of personalities. Sometimes, the kisses were quick, delicate, even prudish; lips nearly closed, tongue barely escaping their threshold. This suggested shyness, or even conservatism; perhaps the kisser wanted to indicate as clearly as possible that this was nothing but a performance. Other times, it was exaggerated, tongue sloshing around and mouth gaping open, that it had the same effect; there was no way someone would seriously kiss like that. 

The first time Olivia’s lips touched mine, the kiss was neither prudish nor over-the-top. Her lips were soft, and her tongue slid across mine with ease; her mouth was hot and wet, and I wanted to be inside it for as long as possible. I felt the fraternity basement fall away from us, like we were suspended in a vast expanse of nothingness, all alone. When we pulled away, my senses flooded with frat bros, beer pong, bright overhead lights, stale beer, and sticky floors covered in muck from spilled drinks and dirt from weather-proofed boots. I told myself that this was just another dance-floor kiss, just another performance. Two girls, kissing. What’s so wrong about that? 


One night, in the dead of the frigid New Hampshire winter, we were at one of the more-or-less interchangeable pregames in the dorm room of some other first-year students. Everyone congregated in the inner room that evening; they dropped their coats on the bed in the outer room when they arrived. Inside, someone brought handles of liquor and a careless assortment of mixers: Sprite, pulp-free orange juice, Diet Coke. 

By winter, Olivia and I were spending more time together than ever, and it had begun to irritate the rest of our group. Sometimes comments would make their way back to me. They’re so fucking annoying together! What are they, in love with each other? I didn’t care. Olivia and I knew how strong our friendship was, and we didn’t hide it. Why would we? Sometimes, she’d turn to me in front of people and say, Together, we have all the good parts of a person and none of the bad. We’d laugh, but we meant it. 

I had so much self-hatred, but Olivia’s gaze erased it like a magic spell, showing me a version of myself I so badly wanted to be; I viewed her through the same enchanted lens. I’d never felt this all-encompassing, almost primal reaction to a person, to a woman. I didn’t question our dynamic, the pull was so strong that it seemed to require no further examination. It existed without a purpose, without a name. It almost felt as if to name it would extinguish it altogether. 

We had a somewhat unspoken understanding between us that everyone besides us was annoying and potentially irredeemable. Something about our classmates’ pretenses and striving, how it was so poorly concealed yet such great effort was expended on it, was just so draining. Every event, every gathering was just a holding pattern until we could experience the mercy of being alone again. 

That night, we mingled as long as we could, but while the pregame was still in full swing Olivia and I found ourselves in the outer room, just us and the coats. This night is one of many college nights that’s fuzzy around the edges, but I’ve turned it over and over in my head until it became as smooth and polished as a stone in the riverbed of my consciousness. 

What I remember is this: we were alone. And then, we were kissing. I don’t remember how long, or why we stopped; I don’t remember who initiated. But I swear I can recall the delicate floral smell of her shampoo and the gentle touch of her lips on mine. I swear I can still feel her hand on my cheek. Or was it my neck, or my shoulder? Could it have been my waist?

Maybe it was all just a dream, but it’s a dream I held onto for years, as I flitted from one boyfriend to the next, from one-night stand to one-night stand with faceless, inconsequential men. I kept the memory private, hidden with my deepest, truest self, with everything else I was too afraid to say out loud. 


As the spring wore on, I was going out more and more. I was also fucking. Fucking guys, indiscriminately. It started with a guy who lived in the same freshman dorm as Olivia. He had an obvious crush on me, and he pursued me like he was on a mission get me to convert religions until, eventually, it was easier to just give in. Later, I found out that I had taken his virginity. That’s fucked up, right? I asked my friends, looking for a reason to blame him for my lack of interest. He should’ve told me? 

After him, there was the senior in one of my classes, some random course I was taking to meet a distributive requirement. He was harmless, friendly but somewhat bland. One night he struck up a discussion with me while we were out, and the next thing I knew I woke up next to him. Some mornings, I would walk home and freshen up, only to sit across from him in the classroom less than an hour later, staring at his pinched face and gelled hair thinking, What am I doing? Sometimes, when I was in an especially bad mood, I sat there and wished he would just disappear. 

There was also the pre-Olympic diver, who was short but feisty and fucked like it was his last day on earth. I liked the way it hurt sometimes, liked being thrown around. When he flipped me over to switch positions, I felt lighter than I’d ever been. When he touched me, there was no tinge of hatred or disgust, not like I’d felt from so many men before. He wasn’t trying to hurt me; he was trying to make me feel good. Sometimes I would leave my body and observe myself getting fucked and think, Shouldn’t I be happy to be fucked like this? 

At the end of the day, it was more about the ritual of fucking than who I fucked, more about sleeping next to someone and waking up in someone else’s bed, more about bonding with my friends over it the next day. It was about being touched to remind myself that I was real, because sometimes I felt like I was simply floating through someone else’s life, or like I was a passenger in my own. 


One night that spring, I was sitting on a couch at a party with an upperclassman I appreciated for his cerebral way of speaking and the fact that he was so openly gay. We gathered around a dinged-up old coffee table covered with bongs and rolling papers and plastic cups with sticky residue and some silver bullet-like objects that I later learned were casings from hits of nitrous oxide, all miscellanea of a long night of partying that was somehow just beginning. 

Hey, the upperclassman turned to me. Do you want to get in on this? He gestured to the couch next to ours, where a long, rectangular mirror lay flat across the laps of several people huddled over it. It was covered in a sherbet-orange powder that was rapidly disappearing up their noses. What the fuck is that? I said, even as I accepted the rolled-up dollar bill from him. Girl, it’s speed. I looked between him and the other people seated near us, who were unbothered, and then back at the mirror. Most of us suburban upper-middle-class kids where I grew up had smoked some shitty weed at least once or twice out of sheer boredom, but I had never tried any sort of hard drugs. I didn’t even know what speed meant. 

Fuck it. I said, and he placed the mirror across our laps. He took his college ID and crushed up the powder further until it was almost like a pile of confectioner’s sugar, scraped it into neat little lines, and snorted. I studied the way he plugged his opposite nostril with his free hand, the way he sniffed so hard I could hear it. My turn! I said and pulled my face in close. 

I kept daily journals that spring, and the more I tried to write, the more I had the overwhelming sense that I hadn’t really experienced anything in life. As the old adage dictated, we were supposed to write what we knew. But what did I know? I wanted to experience things, as many things as I could. I didn’t care about the consequences, as long as I stayed thin. Do it for the journal, became the mantra. Do it for the journal, I said before I took Molly for the first time, then the second, and the third. Do it for the journal, I said when I snorted my first line of cocaine, when I looked in the mirror the next day and saw little flecks of dried blood clinging to my nostrils. 

For every intoxicant I put in my body, there was something I denied myself. It began slowly, piecemeal. One food group, then another. I went as long as possible without eating or drinking every morning so I could exercise on an empty stomach before I weighed myself at my emptiest, which felt like my highest and purest form. I got addicted to the emptiness, and I never wanted to eat again. I examined my naked figure in the mirror as it slowly took on a new form, with foreign, sloping angles and a new terrain of sharp points and deep valleys. I couldn’t believe my eyes. 


One weekend, Olivia and I decided to go to the drug store in town and browse. It was the easiest place to acquire snacks, which we kept around even if we seldom ate them anymore. It was closer than any of the grocery co-ops within walking distance and did not require a car like the other big-box stores. When afternoons felt bloated and purposeless, a small trip to walk up and down the aisles could be the anodyne we needed. We would painstakingly pick out our selection: flavored rice cakes, 100-calorie packs of chocolate-dusted almonds, pre-popped popcorn in half-empty bags, and dietetic low-carb brownies fortified with fiber. 

We scanned the aisles that day and paused on certain items to discuss their merits. I feel like we should stock up on condoms, she said. Totally, I replied, knowing full well that when I had sex I barely bothered to ask if the men would use protection. I didn’t see the point; I just wanted to get on with it. Plus, I wasn’t getting my period anymore, so pregnancy felt remote, if not impossible. But she was always the more responsible one. 

I followed her to the family planning aisle. I pretended to consider different colorful, garish boxes until I heard her say, I didn’t know they sell vibrators at CVS? I redirected my gaze to where she was standing, a few feet away. Discreet, lavender boxes with names like Pulse and Touch in gentle script on the front sat there calling to us. I thought this was a family establishment, I said as I reached for the Pulse. I turned the sleek little box over in my hands. I kind of want it, I said. She reached for the box and asked, Should we share? 

Back in my room, we sat on the ground with the box between us. What should we do? I asked. Shouldn’t we try it? she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Sure, I said. If you want. A flash of panic passed through me, wondering how we were going to do this; we’d seen each other naked plenty of times, sat together in our bras for hours as we got ready and talked about life, but this was new. Okay, she said, opening the box. Turn around. I heard her climb into the lower bunk behind me, and I turned towards the opposite wall and waited, unsure what to do. 

Then I heard buzzing. It was quieter than I expected, although it was a little vibrator. I wondered what she was doing with it, how she was holding it in her hands. I imagined her pressing it onto her clit and rubbing it around. I could hear her breathing, could hear faint little sounds coming forth from somewhere in her throat. So this is what she sounds like. I’d never heard another woman come before, not in real life. I imagined her arching her back as her taciturn little moans came faster and louder than before. Wow, she said after a moment of silence. That was great. I laughed. 

Seriously, she said, You have to try it. She handed me the vibrator. Okay, I said and accepted the little piece of plastic from her hand. If you say so. She reached into my snack drawer and retrieved the trail mix, then she sat where I’d sat just moments before. Just having a snack, she said. Don’t mind me. I let out a small laugh and lay back on the bed. I took the oblong object in my hand and pressed its thick, silicone base to my own clit. I pressed the little button on the thin end and the vibrator came to life. 

I usually winced when men tried to interact with my clit, fumbling and pawing and rubbing way too hard. But with this, I could control the pressure, could move it around as I pleased. It sent a course of electricity through my body, shooting down my limbs. I could feel myself contracting already, the tell-tale sign that climax was around the corner. I tried to keep my eyes closed. If I opened them, I would see her, her slim back, her long hair trailing down, and her delicate shoulders poised as she searched for the little bits of the pineapple I knew she liked.

Even though I was aware of what she’d said to our friends, about her attraction, about her questioning, I could feel her holding back. I willed myself not to wonder what would happen if I kissed her again, in the daytime. I could have told her how I felt. Maybe I didn’t even have to tell her how I felt. Maybe I could’ve just reached for her and pulled her towards me onto the bed. Maybe I could have kissed her and held her like I wanted to, on our own, away from the shots of vodka and piles of coats, away from the freshman boys and the frats and the soulless gendered courtship. 

Would my life have played out differently if I had taken her into my arms and said, We don’t have to be afraid. Would I have been with women sooner, or would I still be too afraid of the truth that it might yield? Would I still sit in my room late at night in my first New York City apartment after graduation and change my Tinder preferences to Show Me Men and Women, to Show Me Women, back to Show Me Men the next day? Would I have had the threesomes with the couples I messaged but never met, the couples who wanted to get a drink and see where things go? Maybe I would have met them for that drink, and as the night wore on I would gently place my hand on the girlfriend’s leg below the darkened bar, watching her boyfriend watch me, feeling how much they liked it, how much she liked it. Maybe I would even allow myself to feel how much I liked it. Maybe I would have let that soft animal of my body want what it wanted so much. 

Maybe the world would have gone on. Maybe I wouldn’t have followed Olivia’s life on social media as she moved from relationship to relationship with different men. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt my stomach clench when her smiling, familiar face came up, nearly ten years later, while I was swiping one night on a dating app for queer women. I’d always pictured her in the closet for the rest of her life, finding some middling husband, marrying and having kids with him (though maybe a same-sex affair or two). Maybe when, within the year, I saw that she was engaged to a woman, my eyes wouldn’t have watered with happiness for the life she would live. The life I knew she deserved. The life that we both wanted. 

Or maybe it could have gone like this. She and I are sitting on her bed. We’ve been out, probably on frat row, because where else would we have gone in that godforsaken hamlet of a town. But we’re home now. We’re talking about what stupid things men had said to us that night, because men were always saying stupid things. One of us just said something so funny that we tilt our heads back in laughter, our eyes shut and mouths open wide. As our laughing slows to a halt, silence overtakes the room. Our eyes open again, and they meet. I fight the urge to look away, to make another joke, to cut the loaded quiet short with my own voice. I hesitate, but I notice her lean ever so slightly towards me. I lean in too, and our lips touch. We kiss. We hold each other’s faces in our hands, move our hands down to each other’s shoulders, and then each other’s waists. We’ve never done this before, with anyone, but somehow our bodies know what to do. Our bodies do the thing we would not bring ourselves to speak about. This thing we have been afraid of is happening, but right now there is no fear. Afterwards, we lie together in an embrace, and soon we’re laughing once again. We laugh at how strange it feels now that we had been so afraid of something so natural and so good. We laugh the laugh that belongs to people who understand things. Because we understand everything now.

Katie R. McKay is a writer, memoirist, and practicing attorney based in Brooklyn, NY. She was born and raised in Massachusetts and has a special connection to both New England and New York City. Her work can be found in 34th Parallel Magazine and is forthcoming in the Washington Square Review. She just finished her first year in NYU’s graduate creative writing program, where she is pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction.