Trigger Warning at the end. Please take care of yourself.
I don’t know why it takes over a year for the reality of it to hit me; denial or repression or shock, take your pick. Maybe it’s Gabby, the only real connection to my past, sprawled on my living room floor, setting up her ancient Nintendo 64. There had been such a strict divide, before and after the Incident; a Venn Diagram of two separate circles, but now those circles crossed. The smallest of collisions created a ripple effect of memories and emotions in my head, and it can’t be undone now.
“I’m really glad we were able hang out before I head back to school,” Gabby’s saying as she untangles some cords.
“Yeah, totally.” I wonder if she can hear the hollowness in my voice.
“I ran into Vicki the other day–you remember Vicki?”
“Badass tattoo girl,” I mumble.
“Yeah, exactly. Dude, I really thought you had a crush on her when we were freshies, even if you denied it. But anyways I ran into her the other day and she was telling me about her job at the mechanic’s down on 4th Street, and…”
This is how my life used to be. People came over and we talked about ourselves and other people and we complained about our teachers and discussed the newest Marvel movie and we ate pizza that our parents had ordered without a second thought to how much it cost, and we just were. There was no other way to be. Now it’s as if I’ve lost that ability. I can’t even re-contextualize the me that cares about how much the pizza cost into a situation of sociality that is so much better suited to the old me. I try to fit who I was over top of who I am, but that Kip is a mask made for a different face.
She’s just a person, I tell myself. She’s probably different now too. You’re not the only one who can change.
That helps a little, gets me out of my self-pitying spiral just enough to sit down next to her on the floor and play some fucking Mario Kart, the cure-all for existential breakdowns.
“Where’s your roommate?” Gabby asks after she beats me for the third time in a row.
“Working. She’s a bartender down on central.”
“Cool. How’d you meet her?”
A fuzzy memory of nausea and dulled terror hits me, a glass of water being set it front of me, a voice, tough luck, I don’t enable already drunk underage kids.
Gabby laughs. “Super safe, Kip.”
“I am the model of adulthood.”
“Hell yeah you are.” She starts another round. “I’m like, still fully depending on my parents, and look at you, out here living all responsibly with your own apartment and job and shit.”
“I did a week’s worth of dishes like five minutes before you came over.”
“Well, one step at a time.”
One step at a time. Step one was getting out–was not immediately putting myself into a hole six feet under. Surviving. It’s all I’ve been doing, all I know how to do. Clinging to the edge of the cliff, unable to pull myself up, unable to let go.
“I like your hair longer, by the way. You look older. All cool and hipster. Bet it’s long enough to make a man-bun.”
“Oh yeah, thanks. I’m… trying something new.”
I’m aware of the fact that she’s making all the conversation, asking me all the questions, but I can’t think of a single thing to ask. I try to pull up information on her parents or siblings or an interest she has that I can inquire after, but the only question I can think of is, does your life suck as much as mine?
She wins the next round too. “Dude, you suck. You used to be way better than me.”
“Ah, I accidentally dropped my console and haven’t been able to get a new one yet.”
“That’s no excuse. You can’t untrain your brain how to play Mario Kart. It’s burned onto your hard drive.”
I shrug. “Well then maybe it’s you who’s gotten better.”
“Finally, I can take my rightful place as Queen.”
“You know, when I invited you over, it wasn’t so that you could usurp my throne.”
“That’s the thing about usurping, honey. You’re not supposed to see it coming.”
This, the banter. This I can do. This has been burned into my hard drive, an automatic button that gets pressed and allows me to slip back into something normal for a couple minutes.
Right before Gabby finishes packing up, she sighs, back towards me, and begins tentatively. “Kip.”
I ignore the unease in her voice. “Traitor to the crown.”
“I, uh. Heard about what happened.”
My stomach flips. I haven’t done this yet, not even with Deanna, and I don’t want to do it now. “What d’you mean?”
“C’mon, don’t play the Dumb Kip card. ” She turns to look at me, eyes roving my face for answers. “I know you better than that.”
“It’s…” I sigh. “Who told you?”
Gabby looks far too pitying. “Everyone knows, Kip.”
“Everyone?” I sit down on the couch, my head spinning.
My head nods, a movement independent of thought.
“But um.” She’s looking at me hard now, like she’s really trying to drive her point home. “I just wanted you to know that… uh. I’m cool with it, and. If you ever need anything…”
More nodding. “Thanks, Gabs.” I manage a half-smile. “Hey, at least now you’ll believe that I really wasn’t into Vicki.”
Gabby wraps her cord around her hand, then shoves it in her backpack. “Yeah, you know, maybe it was me who had a crush on her.” It’s a joke, but she’s fiddling with her backpack zipper and no longer making eye contact.
“For real?” Something like happiness bubbles up into my throat.
“I don’t know.” She shifts. “Yeah, maybe.”
“That’s awesome, Gabby.”
“Are you kidding?” My happiness bubble bursts into laughter. “This proves the theory that queer kids flock together before they even know they’re queer.”
Gabby’s laughing too now, and I can see a familiar relief in her shaking shoulders. “Wow, I haven’t seen you this happy since graduation. I would have led with this if I had known you were gonna go full puppy dog on me.”
The overlapped Venn Diagram of my two lives–absolutely panic-inducing just a couple minutes before–feels different now; a reassurance that both exist, separate and together at the same time.
“Okay.” Gabby stands up and swings her backpack over her shoulder. “This has all been very cathartic, and I think I’m drown in a pool of my own relief now.”
She kisses me on the cheek and gives me a big hug, that energy she’s famous for building back up inside her like a balloon. “Text me, my beautiful gay boy. We’re really stuck with each other now.”
Yes, we are.
Trigger warning: brief mention of suicidal thought.