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I Become You

Isa Mazzei (author)

Isa Mazzei

Isa Mazzei is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, fascinated by the intersection of technology, identity, and horror. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in comparative literature and went on to write and produce Blumhouse’s film, CAM, now on Netflix. Her writing has been featured in New York Magazine’s The Cut and Glamour. Her memoir, Camgirl, was named one of NPR’s best books of 2019. She is currently in post-production on an adaptation of Faces of Death for Legendary Pictures.

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Isa Mazzei    Hussein Shikha   

Cassidy works at Jazzy's Afterlife Relations, a theater where customers can talk to deceased loved ones. However, when dismembered body parts begin appearing on stage, Cassidy is tasked with cleaning up the mess…

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Published 14 Mar 2024


min read
Illustration by Hussein Shikha

She said she shouldn’t date me. I was desperate to understand why. If she couldn’t… that would imply a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a marriage, a religion that forbade it. Wouldn’t, well, that would mean she didn’t want to. But shouldn’t? She wants to, but it would be a bad idea.

I perched on the edge of her bed in her room in the squat, co-op, whatever this was. When we met I jokingly called it a trap house. “Not a trap house,” she corrected, “a trap home. But there are no addicts. Poets maybe.”

She romanticized everything: covering the beams and exposed wiring of her walls with scarves and tea lights (a fire hazard, I’m sure of it), gluing pieces of broken mirrors together, calling it kintsugi. I stared at myself in that broken mirror: shaggy brown hair, grown out stubble, lanky limbs swimming in the most basic hoodie and jeans. I didn’t look like a catch, exactly. But I wasn’t a loser either. I regretted telling her I didn’t own a car.

“Look, I understand if the word girlfriend is too much,” I started, haltingly, keenly aware of the fact that I was begging at this point. The quad shot over ice I’d downed ten minutes ago wasn’t sitting well in my stomach.

“That’s not it.” She smiled, almost sadly, her long red hair dancing in front of her eyes. It made me want to reach over and push it back. I could, I could push her hair and kiss her and melt with her backwards onto the bed. I could touch her warm skin and remind her how together, our bodies felt like magnets and how she was the only one who had ever made me feel safe.

“Then what is it? Please. Tell me.”

“Look, I understand if the word girlfriend is too much,”

She chewed her lip and looked around her room. I followed her eyes, taking in the piles and racks of clothing that made up her room. She had shoes, accessories, costume jewelry littered around, haphazard. Her room was how I imagined the inside of a crow’s nest: full of glittering objects.

We had met at a rave at an underpass nearby in mid-city. That night, when she took me home, I marveled at her collection.

“I want to work in the film industry,” she explained. “I mean, I have been a PA a few times. I’m nowhere close to what I actually want to do.”

“Costumes?” I asked, holding up a mesh shirt dotted with pearls.

“Something like that.”

“You’re incredibly talented.” I could tell she had an eye for style. I could see her dressing people in movies or television or even theater.

“What do you do?”

“Also nothing close to what I want to be doing.” I smiled at her.

That night, I already loved her. And here we were, a month later, basically inseparable.


“You won’t believe me if I tell you. No one ever does.”

I turned to her as calmly as I could, trying to remember that I had to handle this delicately. This was my dream girl. I couldn’t fuck it up.

“Is this the part where you tell me you’re just not that into me? Or the part where you say you’re not ready for anything serious? Because, whatever we’re working with, we can work with it.” I took both her hands. The blue polish on her nails was chipped, chewed off in places.

“No,” she said, trailing off.

“You can tell me anything,” I ventured again.

“Can I?” She looked down at her arm. “Sometimes I tell people and then they… don’t take it seriously. But maybe you’re different.” She looked at me hopefully, then lifted her sleeve and gestured to her left arm. There, on her arm, I saw the faded outline of…something.

“What is that? A birthmark?”

“Look closer.” She ran her fingers over my left arm, pulling it towards her until our arms sat side by side, wrist side up on her lap.

“I don’t understand. What am I looking at?”

On my arm was an old stick and poke my friend Aaron gave me at a house show four years ago. It was a stick figure carrying a 40 that looked more like a jug of milk. On her arm, there was a faint blue line - almost like a vein. But no, if I peered closely I could see the shape of the jug within the faint fuzzy lines.

“You…. got my tattoo?”

“I didn’t get your tattoo Devon.”

“I mean, it’s like, a smudge of my tattoo?”

She paused, took a breath. “Anyone I love I turn into. I can’t help it.”

“What does that mean?”

“I become you.” She gestured to the faded outline on her arm again as if that would make it make any more sense. “When I fall in love with people, I slowly morph into them.”

I wasn’t sure if she was trying to say she, like, lost herself in relationships, or maybe she meant that she adopts all the traits and preferences of her partner, but honestly I was entirely thrown by the fact that she said the l-word.

“You love me?”


“When I fall in love with people, I slowly morph into them.”

I could’ve cried. Okay so this girl is weirder than I thought. That didn’t make her less of a treasure. I slid my arms under her and kissed her shoulder. She giggled, so I pushed her back onto the bed.

“I love you too. Whatever you need to be safe, let’s do it.”

“You don’t care?”

“I don’t care. Not at all. We’ll make sure to do all the things you like to do too. You don’t have to lose yourself in this.”

She looked at me. She stroked my face, then grabbed my cheek and stretched it out. It almost hurt. “I love your face. I guess if I had to look at it every day, it wouldn’t be the worst.”

“No, it certainly wouldn’t.” I kissed her nose and told her everything was going to be okay.

I wish I hadn’t.


Over the next few weeks, she kept bringing it up. Subtly, but insistently, like she was picking at a scab. “It’s happening,” she said, holding her arm up to the morning sunlight streaming into her bare windows. From her mattress on the floor, the ceiling seemed impossibly tall - the light spilling in - a church. I looked at her arm. I just saw an arm. Although, maybe that faded tattoo-like smudge was a bit darker? I blinked it away.

Later, we took a shower together. She climbed out and I watched her through the slit in the shower curtain while I rinsed off. She stared at herself in the mirror, running a finger over every line in her face, stopping at her jaw. She seemed fascinated by it. She opened her mouth and ran her finger along her teeth, as if memorizing the ridges. She pushed so hard I thought she might break one off.

She seemed hornier too, fascinated by her own image. I came over one afternoon and found her masturbating on the floor, her two broken mirrors leaning across from each other so she could watch herself from behind. Excited, I dropped my bag and knelt down, hoping she’d let me join.

“What are you doing?”

“Enjoying her before she’s gone,” she said, without even turning to me.

She was so hot. I decided to play ball.

“So,” I said, running my finger over her bare shoulder. “If you become whoever you love, does that mean that the girl I’m fucking is the last person you dated?”

I waited for a smile or an acknowledgement of the joke or maybe a frown, a defense now that I had found a flaw to her logic. Instead, she came, a loud release of breath as she arched her back, her eye contact unbroken in the mirror.

She relaxed and turned to me, as if fully registering my presence for the first time.

“Somewhat,” she said, sliding her wet fingers into her mouth.  “It fades over time. I’m usually blonder.”

I laughed, still looking for a way in.

“Well, I’d like to enjoy her too…”


Days passed, and I kept thinking I saw something –– a flicker in my peripheral vision. But whenever I turned to focus, things were normal.

Days passed, and I kept thinking I saw something –– a flicker in my peripheral vision

Then we were sitting across from each other in her bed, eating pizza. She had rediscovered music videos. Her laptop was playing 90’s top 100s on a loop. The Red Hot Chili Peppers danced across the screen in a greasy black and white. I was staring into her eyes, and then, suddenly, I wasn’t. They weren’t her eyes anymore. I dropped my pizza. She grabbed my wrist. I looked down. Her thumbs weren’t her thumbs. They were my dad’s thumbs, square at the top with short nails and deep, tan, lines at the knuckle.

I pulled back, tried to remember if I had smoked weed that day. She smiled at me, wistfully, and placed my abandoned slice back on the box.

Illustration by Hussein Shikha

I began to watch her. At the bar with our friends I noticed her hair seemed duller, less red, than it used to be. She hugged me goodnight, I kissed her forehead. But I could’ve sworn I used to kiss the top of her head. She was growing. But that was impossible.

One day she was giving me head and I looked down and saw my brother. My brother’s lips around my dick, my brother’s hand on my balls, my brother’s face moving backwards and for–- I shoved her away and, panicked, fell back against her wall.

“What’s wrong,” she asked. Was it my imagination or was there a sparkle in her eye when she said that? She had returned to herself but something was off. Her eye color, maybe. Her teeth.

“I… I… I don’t like this anymore,” I choked out, not sure what I was trying to communicate.

She stood up from where she was kneeling, stretching her body out, luxuriously like a cat. Her tits were smaller. Almost gone in fact. More faded, blurry tattoos mottled her skin with blues and blacks. She looked sad. “I warned you.” Her voice was deep.

“This isn’t funny. It’s gone too far. This prank, or whatever.” I grabbed my clothes.

She reached for me, my father’s thumbs, Aaron’s tattoo.

I left, winding through the maze of the warehouse. Her roommates looked at me and nodded.


For weeks I ignored her missed calls and long, drawn out voicemails. “Ignoring me just makes me love you more,” she crooned into the phone, “it’s a personality trait. Please just come back to me.” She left notes on my doorstep, books, poetry books annotated with her thoughts and dreams. I don’t know what’s mine anymore and what’s yours. But I have a feeling you’ll like this, she wrote on a sticky, affixed to a copy of Pablo Neruda. I left it where it was, the pages getting warped, soggy, and bleached as they sat outside my door. I hid.

“Ignoring me just makes me love you more,” she crooned into the phone, “it’s a personality trait. Please just come back to me.”

When I stopped hearing from her, I felt bad at first.  But I had come to the conclusion that that was probably a projection, an ideal I had mapped onto her that didn’t really exist. She was strange, which I liked, but that could be bad too. Obviously. I downloaded the apps and started over.


My first coffee date was in Culver City at a place that looked a bit too minimalist to promise any comfort. I arrived too early and decided a jolt of caffeine might make me more excited for the date I was already second guessing.

“Back already?” the barista grinned, her lip piercing sparkling with a drop of spit.

“Uh, what?” I never had anything charming to say in front of cute girls.

“The iced quad shot didn’t do it for you?” She smiled again. I frowned and sputted, “that is what I want. An iced quad shot.”

“I know, weirdo…” She wrote my name in wax crayon on the side of a paper cup.

I turned to leave but stopped. I had never said my name.

“Sorry, do you know me?”

“I can’t tell if you’re joking.” She stared at me, running her tongue along her piercing.

“We know each other,” I repeated, a fact this time, not a question.

“You come in here every day dude. Same order. Iced quad. I told you you’re gonna die of a heart attack. You make fun of my Red Bull.” She lifted a half empty can of Red Bull Orange to demonstrate, “it’s our bit?”

“Right.” All I could offer was a half smile as I wandered over to the bar to wait for the drink I no longer wanted.

I was only half a mile from her house. Less, if you walked through the park.

The front door of the warehouse was propped open with a brick. I wove my way through the maze-like rooms and makeshift yoga studio someone was building out in what looked to be a commercial kitchen. I reached her room and opened the door without knocking.

She looked exactly like me now. A man. I was smaller than I thought, seeing myself like that. More hunched and crooked. I felt the bile rise in my throat, hot and burning. She turned to me wistfully, as if she wasn’t surprised I had just barged in.

“Get out!” I shouted, before I was even aware I was having a reaction. “Get out and love someone else! I don’t like this and I don’t like you.”

“This is the final part,” she said softly. Except it wasn’t her voice, it was my voice, and it sounded weird, distorted coming from myself, disembodied. I felt dizzy.

“What do you mean?”

“It always turns out the same way.” She faced me, head on. I looked myself in the eye. She squared my shoulders. “You’re going to try to kill me now.”

“It always turns out the same way.”

My face felt wet. I was crying for no reason. “No, I wouldn’t do that.” But I was somehow already across the room, hitting her. Slapping her. “Get out of my body!” But she wasn’t in my body, was she? No words came out anyway.

Suddenly, a kick to my chest. I collapsed to my knees. Something warm ran down my side. Flowing. Pouring. I looked. Everything I thought about being stabbed was wrong. It wasn’t sharp. It was nauseating. Like a heavy pit in my lungs and my stomach. I was going to hurl. I fell to my side, coughing up blood, and looked up at her, kneeling beside me, a long, thin switchblade clutched in her hand.

She stood.

I knew I was dying, I could feel I was dying. It felt weird to be dying on such a beautiful day. Outside her window I could hear birds, leaves. The sunlight was streaming in through gauzy curtains, covering the floor in tiny diamonds. She bought curtains, I thought, hazily. They looked nice.

“This is how it ends,” she said, gently, sadly.

How, I wanted to gasp out, even though I knew what came next.

“This is how it always ends. Like I said, I become you.”

She knelt down beside me, and touched my face. My mouth was warm, hot, and tasted of iron. She reached into my back pocket and took my wallet, my phone.

“This is how it always ends. Like I said, I become you.”

I watched myself leave.

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