Smashing by Samantha Colicchio

“Jade is a hippie, but she’s so fucking pretty,” a girl in my grade said, clicking her gum loudly as we stood in line to take our seats in the auditorium. We were freshmen, and we kept a running list of who was pretty, who had turned pretty, and who could be pretty if they tried.   

I had heard of Jade, but I had never seen her in person. She had gotten the lead in Romeo and Juliet as a freshman, which was unheard of at Livingston High School, a northern New Jersey suburb known for grooming young Broadway hopefuls. Now, in her junior year, she was Abigail Williams in The Crucible, the seventeen-year-old who started the Salem Witch trials, endangering the lives of women in her village to seduce a married man. She stalked the stage with power. I was bewitched. Unlike the flaccid beauty of other girls at my school, Jade’s beauty seemed potent, radiant, suffused with something promising. I watched from the audience as lumps of sensation formed in my stomach and my chest. She was pretty, yes, but she was also everything else. 

We love our friends first. We set our moods by them, engage in power plays, obsess about what they’re doing when we’re not together. There are no boundaries: we braid each other’s hair, pick bits of food out of each other’s teeth, share beds, share food, share money. Sometimes we kiss each other on the mouth—for boys, or to practice, or just because it feels good. 

In Smashing: Women’s Relationships Before the Fall, historian and archivist Nancy Sahli quotes a letter written in 1873 to the Yale Courant: “There is a term in general use at Vassar, truly calculated to awaken within the ima penetralia of our souls all that love for the noble and aesthetic of which our natures are capable. The term in question is ‘smashing.’ When a Vassar girl takes a shine to another, she straightaway enters upon a regular course of bouquet sendings, interspersed with tiny notes, mysterious packages of ‘Ridley’s Mixed Candies,’ locks of hair perhaps, and many other tender tokens, until at last the object of her attention is captured, the two become inseparable, and the aggressor is considered by her circle of acquaintances as—smashed.” What strikes me about the term is that, like a “crush”, “smashing” implies obliteration, a flattening of the self, a molding of the thing being smashed to the contours of a heavy weight.  

Up close, I was surprised by how beautiful Jade really was, even without all the stage makeup. Her lips were puffed out only at the sides, like two pillows propped up against each other. Her wavy, gelled brown hair smelled like vanilla smoke. At 5’7”, she towered above my 4’11” frame.  

I can’t remember what I said when I approached her at her locker days after the play. I probably told her she was a great actress. I had performed in plays and musicals as a little girl—my singing voice was strong, and I had landed some leading roles in JCC and Youth Theater productions. But I had stopped in adolescence when the sharp, belted notes of Broadway soundtracks suddenly became uncool compared to the vague, mumbled lyrics of Deathcab for Cutie and The White Stripes. Jade had suddenly made acting cool again. I’m sure I flattered her, my pleading eyes asking to be let into her life, to be taken under her wing. Later, after she gave me her phone number, I stared at the succession of digits in my phone, convinced these were the most beautiful arrangement of numbers I’d ever seen.  

We began to talk nearly every day, exchanging quotes from Anna Deveare-Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist. Friendships often have their own culture, and ours was composed of her favorites: Led Zeppelin, “Blow,” Walt Whitman, “Dazed and Confused.” I studied them all, the hippie-stoner-rock-and-roll vibe making its way into my wardrobe, my speech patterns, my hairstyle, the way I sat careless and cross-legged in class. Boys in my grade noticed we were getting close, and one of them told me I was starting to look like her. I memorized her class schedule so I would run into her in the halls. Her long hair would swing in slow motion as she turned toward me, and she would hold her hand out so our fingers could brush each other’s: a show of intimacy made more potent because it was silent, as though we didn’t need to say a word. 

One evening, we met at the Starbucks in the center of town to read and write together. I arrived early, nearly tripping on my loose skirt. My hair was gelled and crimped to match hers, and I had folded a new journal into my purse. I chose a table and waited. I remember the jumbled thought I had right when she arrived, her hair braided and draped over her right shoulder, her long skirt trailing behind her like a spirit: she looks just like God.  

She sat down. She had brought a book, something Transcendentalist. She was fascinated with the idea that a person could emotionally get to a place where they didn’t need anyone else at all. She held the book in her hand, gesturing with it. “It’s only when you’re completely independent that you can truly love other people,” she said. “Everything else is just obligation.” 

I nodded. Her ideas thrilled me, especially this one. I’d always felt helplessly shackled to the whims of my family and friends. The idea that I could cultivate a pleasurable inner life any time I wanted through journaling, consuming great ideas, lighting candles and incense, and deviating from my high school’s sweatpants-and-messy-bun uniform felt liberating. That night, I journaled about the things I was going to do to be more independent. I would buy more skirts. I would buy more Whitman. I would sneak off to the woods and sit in nature until it spoke to me. I couldn’t see that what thrilled me most was not the freedom from obligation, but even greater closeness to Jade.  

I slept over her house sometimes. Her room was crammed with underlined Thoreau, scented with ribbons of smoke from incense and sweetgrass, and littered with patchouli-smelling skirts in rough linen, which lay like exhausted mermaids across the floor. Hair gel spackled the mirror. The window had a view of the long span of street, giving it an air of authority: a queen’s chambers surveying the kingdom. We’d stay up all night reading to each other from her books, shuffling her deck of Tarot cards, and writing poems one line at a time: first her, then me. We were indoctrinating ourselves, immersing ourselves in the way things could be so we would never end up like everyone else. I memorized her patterns of thought, trying to anticipate what she’d say about a certain line of poetry so I could say it first. I was surprised by the tenderness I felt for her. When we finally went to sleep, I turned toward the wall, terrified that if I faced her, I’d never be able to relax.  

Had I worshipped her because I needed something to worship, because I had no blueprint yet for what I wanted, because loving her made my own life seem noble and shining? Was there something special that drew me to her, or was she simply the only available example of what I wanted for myself? In Lippincott’s Magazine in 1889, L.R. Smith wrote, of “smashing”: “The majority of students, sometime during their college courses, see in an upper class one who they imagine approaches their ideal…All this is only another proof that man is a worshipping animal, and that even in civilized communities the heart seeks to find its ideal in something tangible and near itself.” Was it just her nearness that led me to worship her, or was there true romantic love there? There was certainly an element of the friendship that I thought of as sexual at the time — I remember longing more to kiss her and stroke her hair than to have sex with her. In my fantasies, whenever it would come to that, I would feel a slight revulsion. In my later sexual relationships with women, I would feel something more primal than what I had felt for Jade. My urge to be close to her wasn’t sexual per se—it would be closer to the truth to say that it was romantic. I simply had no understanding of that type of love. 

Today, in my thirties, seeing young women sometimes turn me sour. It’s undeniable: all eyes turn to the bare-shouldered, slim-hipped girls in public spaces. The giggle is a world all its own, suffused with both cruelty and love.  

The power of young women doesn’t necessarily come from their beauty or sexual potency—people of all ages can have those things. The power a girl holds comes from her newness to the world of sex. When I was a younger woman, sex was still novel, mythological, holy. Without the experience to understand that it wouldn’t save me, I worshipped it, obsessed about it, confused it for love or power.  It wasn’t simply a physical act—it was a world I could enter, a contest I could win. I took enormous pride in the way boys and men went out of their way to do what I wanted. I saw that I could change the air in a room just by entering it.  

In our youth, our girlfriends are our co-conspirators, allies in the lifelong battle to be perceived as beautiful. Our togetherness multiplied our power. It was intoxicating to be in public with other girls, to scoff at the advances of men as though they didn’t feed us enormously, to indulge in conversation with girls whom we thought were less attractive, to secretly harbor feelings of superiority. It was easy to believe that, together, the world would unfurl itself at our feet.  

It was summer. Was it always summer with her?  

She brought sunflower seeds out onto her porch and was teaching me, again, how to crack them between my teeth and manipulate the seed out of its shell. Around her, my tongue always became thick, so it scrambled to manage the meat out, spit the shell out into the grass. She was wearing what she always wore: a long skirt ringed with mandalas, pookah shells around her neck, sandals with strings that netted her ankles. Her hair was greased and crimped with coconut oil—she didn’t want to put anything on her body that was unnatural. I thought of my mother and grandmother, of their chemical hairspray, and stole some coconut oil from our pantry.  

“We’re going out tonight,” she said, her eyes flicking to her lawn, which seemed greener than everyone else’s. “Jeff’s getting a keg delivered to his parents’ house.” Jeff was her new boyfriend, a handsome senior at another high school. In the weeks since they had started dating, it became clear that I would now play second fiddle. Our romantic friendship was merely a stand-in for the real thing, which had now shown up.  

As the night thickened, humid, the air like breath on our bare faces and limbs, we dressed. Getting ready with girlfriends felt sacred, witchy, as though the right combination of cosmetics, applied in precisely the right way, could amplify our power like a spell. Looking back, it didn’t matter what makeup or clothing we wore: our bodies and faces were already perfect. It was the ritual, the confidence it gave us, the intoxication we felt while performing it, the conspiratorial agreement on each choice made (These earrings or these? Eye shadow or no?) that made it so powerful. 

I can’t remember what we told our mothers. Freedom seemed like something to which we were entitled, lying a small price to pay for what we were owed. We drove to the party in her cherry-almond-scented car, her velvety seats caressing the span of bare back above my tank top. The idea of meeting a boy at the party was thrilling, the longing to be touched a constant itch in my chest, but going with Jade gave it another layer of potency. I couldn’t tell what I wanted more: getting attention from boys or showing her that I was getting attention from boys, which might impress her or make her jealous—either of me or them. With Jade, the night effervesced on my skin, a sparkle at my edges I have recaptured only occasionally in adulthood. 

We arrived at a large house a town away, its garage door open like a surprised mouth, people spilling in and out with red cups in their hands. Inside the garage was a beer pong table, a couch, and a speaker that played “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” We walked into the garage and filled up our cups from the keg. I took in the space, acutely aware of who was looking at Jade and who was looking at me. Jade found Jeff and threw her long arms around him. Her absence at my side felt cold and bracing. I took a gulp of my beer and approached Leanne, a girl I knew from school who was playing beer pong. 

“You want next?” a boy on the opposite team asked me. 

“Fuck you, dude,” a guy on Leanne’s team said, tossing the ball into a cup and making it. “You just want her to play ‘cuz she’s a lightweight.” He looked at me. “No offense.” 

I didn’t know whether he was implying I couldn’t hold my alcohol and would be an easy opponent, or that the first guy was trying to get me drunk because he thought I was attractive. I hoped it was the latter, but I had learned to assume the worst at parties, where boys were meanest. I chugged more beer and walked away. In the kitchen, another group of guys were huddled around clear shots of Stoli. As I walked in, they invited me over. I felt a surge of warmth and took two shots, one right after the other. We settled on the couch, and I leaned my head against a boy I’d never met before, listening to him and his friends talk about playing guitar. He smelled like sweat and cinnamon, and the feeling I’d had in the garage was replaced by a sense that all was as it should be. I tried to get up a few times, but the boy grabbed my hand to pull me back each time, so I stayed, thrilled at the attention, content to lean my head against his chest for a little while longer. 

Finally, he let me go and I walked back out to the garage to find Jade. She had had quite a bit of beer and was lying on the couch giggling lazily with Jeff. He got up to talk to a friend, and I watched Jade trail him with her eyes. 

Her eyes lit up as I sat down next to her.  

“I have an idea,” she said. 


“Make out with me.” 

It took a few seconds for the meaning of her words to sink in. “Right here?” 

“Yeah, to make Jeff jealous.” 

My eyes widened. “In front of everyone?” 

“Yeah,” she said. “Just climb on top of me and kiss me.” 

I didn’t take much convincing. I threw my leg over hers. Her thighs felt warm. As I leaned in, the pleasant vanilla smoke smell filled my nose. It was the closest I’d ever been to her face, and I saw the little blonde hairs on her cheeks catch the garage lights. I kissed her. It wasn’t the first time I had kissed a girl, but I was struck by how soft her lips were, glazed with coconut gloss. She kissed expertly. One boy saw us and started to whoop, cheering us on. Then the whole garage was watching. 

Jeff rushed over and pulled me off her, his hands rough on my thin arm. “What are you doing?” he asked her. 

“You were ignoring me,” Jade said, laughing. 

Jeff took her hand and brought her through the garage and into the house, leaving me alone on the couch. Jade didn’t look at me as she walked away.  

I’m not sure what happened right after that. Hours later, after Jade had napped in Jeff’s room and sobered up, she drove us home. It was almost morning, and the chilly blue light penetrated the inside of her car. I think I was still drunk, but the effervescence had worn off by then. I hadn’t spoken to Jade since we kissed. 

“Jeff was mad at me,” she said. 

“I’m sorry,” I said. 

“It’s fine. It was fun.” 

I brightened. “Yeah, it was.” 

“I only did it to make him jealous, though.” She turned to face me. “Just so you know.”  

Platonic female friendship is tinged with sadness because its structure hinges upon abandonment. The agreement is clear, even if unspoken: as we prune each other’s hair for flyaways, light each other’s cigarettes, feed each other ice cream from our cones, share clothes like secrets, grow closer and farther apart, explode and reconcile, we prime each other for a later, more “important” intimacy with our lovers. The heaviness of sex often brings deeper entanglement than friendship. We know this. Perhaps female friendships are famously fraught for exactly that reason: all this time, we have been preparing to leave each other. 

I had understood from the beginning that we would fall apart. The relationship required that I remain unthreatening, “smashed” ad infinitum, but playing the part had become more difficult after the party.  

In my sophomore year, Jade’s senior year, the fall play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play has three lead female characters: Hermia and Helena, two best friends who bicker over their lovers, and Titania, the queen of the fairies. I decided to audition. The understanding was that, as the most talented senior girl, Jade would easily be cast as Titania or Helena and that, because I was small, I had a long-shot chance at Hermia, whose height is a key plot point. Jade offered to coach me on my audition. She watched and offered suggestions as I paced back and forth in her basement performing Hermia’s monologue. She showed me how a performance might be shaped by more than just instinct, that it could be crafted consciously. It was the first time I felt like an artist.  

By this time, I had developed a crush on Jade’s best friend, a senior named Chris who was also auditioning. He had played the lead in last year’s musical and, this year, was up for Bottom, another lead role. He was handsome and talented, and he possessed a kind of genteel, old-world, devil-may-care attitude that reminded me of Rhett Butler. He looked at me like he knew my secret, and liked it. 

After the auditions and callbacks, we waited. Thanks to Jade’s coaching, I had given a surprising performance at the auditions and gotten a callback for Hermia. I was hopeful.  

It was common practice for the drama teacher, Mr. Whitt, to post the cast list on the door to the auditorium while classes were in session, to avoid encountering disappointed auditioners. The day the cast list was to be announced, all the drama kids found ways to pass the auditorium door on the way to our classes, wringing our wrists each time it failed to appear, making secret lists in the corners of our notebooks of all the possible ways it could go. Toward the end of the day, I caught an unfamiliar brightness on the auditorium door, a gaggle of kids peeking over each other’s heads to catch a glimpse. Jade wasn’t among them. 

I walked up and felt someone clap my backpack. “Congrats,” said a boy in my grade. I looked at the list. I had gotten Hermia, and two other sophomore girls had gotten Helena and Titania. Chris had gotten Bottom. I skimmed the list for Jade’s name, panicking, and saw it next to Hippolyta, a minor role that’s typically played by the same actor playing Titania. It was a consolation prize, a humiliation for an actor’s senior year. I spent the rest of the day in a daze, tense and confused. Would my accomplishment cause more of a rift between Jade and me? Would I have to pay for this? 

I finally found her at her locker at the end of the day. She saw me and briefly froze, then kept packing her things. “You should have gotten Titania,” I said, leaning against the wall. 

“Yeah,” she said, slamming her locker a bit too hard. “Whitt took me aside and told me I could play any of the parts, but this casting just worked better.” Once she had gathered her things, she leaned against her locker and looked at me. “I spent too much time coaching you and not enough time on my own audition.” I was panicky with guilt. I understood that I had taken something from her, that in allowing myself to depend on her, I had caused her pain. 

Rehearsals began, and I felt the first sparks of creativity. My performance at the audition had been nuanced, but Mr. Whitt explained that we must practice playing to the back of the auditorium, which meant larger gestures, louder voices, more emphatic enunciation. “Be bigger,” he told me, and I trained myself to elongate my movements, to straighten my spine, to allow my voice to carry. Rehearsals became an artistic and personal coming-of-age in which I discovered a flicker of what was possible for me as an artist. I could become a completely different person. It wasn’t just Jade who could change me. 

Jade was busy preparing for college auditions and since we didn’t have any scenes together, I rarely saw her at rehearsals. I became closer with Chris. He sidled up to me when we took breaks in rehearsals, his half-smile like an invitation. He, too, was destined for drama school, and he told me how he was preparing for his college auditions. My adoration for Jade slowly migrated to him, though I was still jittery when I passed her in the halls. Chris asked if I would be going to the cast party, a production-wide sleepover held on closing night. Each time he mentioned it, I imagined our sleeping bags pushed together, our lips locked while everyone else slept. 

Hermia and Helena’s friendship is one of the most famous in all of Shakespeare. When Hermia appears to have betrayed Helena, the latter confronts her, describing their relationship in terms that border on romantic: 

“We, Hermia, like two artificial gods, 

have with our needles created both one flower, 

both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, 

both warbling of one song, both in one key, 

as if our hands, our sides, voices and minds, 

had been incorporate. So we grew together, 

like to a double cherry, seeming parted, 

but yet a union in partition; 

Two lovely berries moulded on one stem; 

So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart; 

Two of the first, like coats in heraldry, 

due but to one and crowned with one crest. 

And will you rent our ancient love asunder 

to join with men in scorning your poor friend?” 

I thought of Jade often when the girl playing Helena performed this monologue, of the thrill that had shaken me when she reached out her hand to touch mine, of the times we sat together in silence in the grass, of our poems, and of the time we had kissed.  

The play was a success. My performance had trained me to take up more space, and I felt bigger, like words suddenly bolded. At the cast party, Jade, Chris, and I, along with a few other cast members, locked ourselves in a separate room to pass around a bottle of whiskey. I was thrilled to be included but being with both Jade and Chris in the same room felt overwhelming. I drank too much, and I spent most of the night throwing up in the bathroom. Later, I cursed myself for missing the opportunity to get close to Chris, for embarrassing myself. 

The school musical was cast in January, and I was relegated to a chorus member while Chris and Jade got the two leads. By this time, Jade had broken up with Jeff, and her focus was on her performance. I sat with her each day at lunch and confided in her about my crush on Chris. “That’s so cute,” she cooed.  

On my birthday, she sat down with her lunch tray like the cat who ate the bird. “Chris and I kissed last night in my basement,” she said, licking her ice cream cone before she even started on her chicken nuggets. I saw how the tenderness we’d shared could turn into competition, how quickly the tides could turn in someone else’s favor. I saw just how dangerous it was to have any real skin in the game. I saw that it had always, for me, been a game.  

In a romantic relationship, the sex act is often spoken of as a “consummation.” There is no such rite for friendship. Is that why, we as a culture, tend to sideline friendship in favor of sex? Is it impossible to recognize the importance of something without a ritual? What would such a ritual look like if we were to create one? A journey? A sacrifice? As children, my girlfriends and I cut our hands and pressed them together, making us “blood sisters.” At summer camp, we crept into each other’s beds after we’d watched a horror movie to comfort each other. After these rituals, I felt closer to them, more like sisters than before. Perhaps consummation must always be physical.  

Jade shone in the musical and went on to attend college at one of the most prestigious acting conservatories in the country. I visited her a few times, enchanted by her cigarette-dusted apartments with candles crowding every available surface. Once, I woke up in her bed and felt such a strong desire to be close to her that I threw my arm over her sleeping body, playing the big spoon. She shrugged me off. I saw that whatever game we had played with each other was over, that there would be no consummation of any kind, that the only way to get out from under the crushing weight was to separate myself for good. 

The term “smashing” has, of course, fallen out of use. Today, it most often refers to casual sex: more proof that, in our culture, consummation is valued above romance, and certainly above friendship. Perhaps, then, it is precisely because there is no physical consummation that female friendship can turn so easily into competition. Perhaps, without a consummation, competition is the only real thing we can give one another: the sense of triumph or defeat a closed loop, the release of victory or rage like an orgasm. Perhaps competition is love with nowhere to go.  

Still, maybe the whole idea of consummation is beside the point—maybe a relationship is more about a constellation of needs that go met or unmet. Today, I meet my emotional and physical needs primarily through my partner, and I often wonder what I am missing out on—what it would be like to run to my friends, instead of to my partner, for comfort and romance. What would it be like to stroke a friend’s hair, to sleep in her bed, to write her a poem? The thought makes me cringe, though not with disgust. Intimacy with friends feels so much more vulnerable because a friend is not bound to me in the same way as a partner. A friend can leave at any time. Perhaps that’s part of what makes a romantic friendship so romantic. Perhaps I’ve felt the sting of estrangement, or of growing apart, too many times and I am unwilling to put myself through that pain again. 

Even without consummation, memory can linger. Maybe that’s what romance is, after all: an impression smashed into the mind forever. When I think of myself as a girl, sitting with Jade on the grass, watching her profile, the way the sky and lawn met at the intersection of her brow and her nose, our thighs touching, her briny hair whipping toward mine, I think there was never anything more precious than to be a young girl and to love another young girl that way, in the way of friendship. I doubt I’m capable of it anymore. The world closes us. But for a time, in the light of a summer afternoon, we were wide open, smashed to each other’s contours, sure it would never end.  

Samantha Colicchio is a writer from New Jersey currently based in Southern California. Her work has been published in the Huffington Post and is forthcoming in Off Assignment, Faultline, and The Rambling. She was a finalist for The Sewanee Review's Nonfiction Contest judged by Stephanie Danler, and her book-in-progress was nominated for the Allegra Johnson Writing Prize. She has attended the Kenyon Review Summer Writer’s Workshop, studying under Melissa Faliveno. She graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and she currently writes for behavioral health brands.