it’s a living #13

CONTENT WARNING: implication of intent of nonconsensual sexual activity (i.e., includes creepy man at a bar). Please take care of yourself.

I’ve been hanging out at the bar a lot lately. I haven’t even been drinking–Deanna’s Kip Shouldn’t Be Close Enough To Alcohol To Smell It policy is still going strong–but that hasn’t stopped me from showing up several nights a week about an hour before they close, sitting myself down at the very end of the bar as to not get in the way, and nursing hot tea in a margarita glass that Deanna or another bartender brings me if she’s busy. I don’t know where the tea comes from, or why I always get it in a margarita glass, but I don’t really care.

On week nights, it’s vacant enough that Deanna has time to talk, but I don’t always want to. I’ll write in my journal, curate the bar’s playlist, roll my eyes when Deanna groans at my taste. I’ll scroll through Twitter, Grindr, close the apps, check my texts, write some more, change the song, forget about my tea and grimace through drinking lukewarm Earl Grey. I go round and round, trying to satisfy a hollow stomach, hollow chest, empty hands.

I don’t usually go on Friday nights. It defeats the purpose. But earlier there was a customer at the gas station who came in wearing a beanie, and my head turned into putty for the rest of the day, so I came here looking for clarity.

When the group near to me leaves, I barely notice. When someone takes the seat next to me, I don’t look up from my notebook.

“What kind of margarita is that?”

I look up and see a guy, probably in his early twenties, smirking down at me. He’s hot, but in a straight way.

“The kind for a nineteen year old.”

“I see.” He shifts so that he’s angled towards me, grabs the tea tag and flips it over. “Earl Grey, huh? Preferred tea of Captain Picard.”

I look at the tea, then back to the guy. “Who?”

Star Trek.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Never seen it.”

“Oh damn.” He clutches his chest and leans back in his chair. “Nevermind then.”

It’s a setup, I know, but I fall for it anyway. “Nevermind what?”

“Well, I was coming over here to chat you up, but if you’ve never seen Star Trek I’m not sure I can do this.”

“I’ve seen the Chris Pine ones.”

“Of course you have. It’s Chris Pine.”

I give him a laugh, because straight-hot or no, his voice is coaxing the emptiness from my body one syllable at a time.

He points at my journal. “What’s with the notebook?”

“I’m a Vulcan anthropologist. Studying humanity at its most deplorable.”

He looks around, then back to me with raised eyebrows. “You think this is as bad as it gets? I can show you so much worse.” His hand goes to my knee, and the suddenness of this situation knocks me back a little, but his touch syphons away a little more of the null, and I lean into it.

“Can you?” I ask.

“Why don’t you let me–”
“Kip.”

I glance up absently, ready to brush off whoever’s bothering me. It’s one of Deanna’s coworkers–Rob?–who’s glaring at Star Trek dude. I try to catch his gaze so I can let him know it’s fine, but when he does look at me, his severe eyes catch me off guard. “Deanna needs your help with something, kid.”

I hesitate. “But I–”

“Kip.” Rob’s a big guy, and his muscled arms are folded across his broad chest, and sue me, he’s intimidating. I grab my journal, hop off my stool, and walk down to the other end of the bar, glancing back at Star Trek dude as Rob says something to him in a low tone.

“Deanna, do you actually need something or is Rob just trying to cockblock me?”

Deanna looks up from her sweeping, expression comically scandalized. “What?”

I gesture back towards the other end of the bar. “Grey shirt over there? Looks straight, totally not.”

Deanna goes from scandalized to shocked.

“Right? I was surprised too. But Rob–”

“That motherfucker,” she mumbles under her breath.

“Damn, Dea. Rob’s not that–”

“Kip,” she squeezes my arm, eyes lingering on Rob and Star Trek dude. “If you ever see him in here again, if he ever tries to talk to you again, you kick him in the balls and then come get me or Rob or any of the others right away, okay?” She takes her eyes off them long enough to give the same severe look that Rob did.

I stare back for a moment, confused. Then it clicks. “Oh.”

She sighs, runs a hand through her hair, leans against the broom. She looks older than her thirty years, like an industrial age factory worker, breathing in miasmic air and slowly killing her youth. “You okay?” She asks.

I can still feel his hand on my knee. I’m drained, drained of warmth, light, touch. Gravity pulls at my sternum and gut and knees, and I want to join Deanna’s pile of bar debri on the floor, as used as a crumpled straw wrapper. I think if I get any emptier there’ll be nothing left. “Deanna, can I ask a weird favor?”

“Weirder the better, kid.”

“Can I hug you?”

The age on her face disappears like it’s been carried off by a breeze. There’s no hesitation as she pulls me into her side, tousling my hair like I’m a little nephew that needs to be teased. Her fingers press down on the top of my scalp as if to keep me from floating away, her arm around my side gives weight to my existence. I feel fuller.

it’s a living #12

I didn’t see the collision coming, didn’t suspect there would ever be one until I saw that dumb black beanie and hipster glasses over the chip shelf I was restocking. He’s talking on the phone, doesn’t seem to have noticed me, which gives me time to properly freak out.

The last time I saw him was a clear June morning, nothing like this rainy September day. I remember silky black robes and stiff, square caps. A golden tassel tickling my face in the breeze.

Friends–Gabby and Luke and Mara, mostly–crowding around me for pictures. My parents look proud, my dad says he knew I could do it.

The memory gets a little foggier after that.

There’s the after party at Summer’s fucking mansion, getting more drunk than I would prefer, Luke calling me a dumbass and offering to walk me home.

Me, thinking that Luke looked very pretty, then saying it out loud, then kissing him on my front lawn.

Then there’s yelling, a lot of it, and none of it mine.

My dad’s distinct, deep bellow ricocheting off Luke’s reedy, defensive whine. It’s the opposite of everything normal, where I’m too confrontational and too rash, and he’s too quiet and too nervous. Besides a couple choice slurs thrown in Luke’s direction by my dad, any specific words being exchanged are lost to panic and alcohol.

There’s blood dripping from Luke’s nose, and the sudden clarity of knowing we have to get out.

I take his hand and run, and then things get foggy again.

We run for what seems like hours, and when we finally stop, Luke is running his hands up and down my arms and through my hair, and I love it, then I hate it, then I’m the one who’s yelling–it’s unbearable.

Next thing I remember is Deanna telling me she doesn’t serve underage drunks.

After that, I wake up on a lumpy, musty-smelling couch, and that’s where I’ve woken up every day since.

It’s all so goddamn cliché that over the past year I’ve tried to replay it differently in my head. There are versions where I come out bravely and soberly, versions where I stand between my dad and Luke and yell right back, versions where everything is the same up until we run, where I don’t let go of his hand and don’t make him stop running his hands over me, versions where we figure it out together.

This isn’t one of those versions, obviously, because he’s standing across from me, absurdly focused on the nutrition facts on a bag of trail mix.

Before I can tell myself to shut the fuck up and hide in the storage room until he’s gone, I say, “that’s probably the healthiest thing you’re going to find in here.”

He looks up, glasses slipping to the edge of his nose. “Oh shit.”

Panicky laughter bubbles up from my tumbling guts. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, shit.

“My manager’s not gonna be happy with that customer response.”

He stares for a moment, then begins to walk quickly down his aisle. At first I think he’s bolting, but instead he makes his way up my aisle, arms outstretched in what I don’t recognize as a hug until it’s already happening.

“Kip,” He clings to me like vice. “Oh my god, I’m super glad you’re not dead.”

“Dead?”

At my tone, he takes a flighty step back, a retreat that I didn’t know I was intimately familiar with until seeing it again makes me want to punch something. “Yeah, I just mean. I mean.” He’s gone from elated to flustered, looking down at the box of dorritos to my left, then up at me, back down again.

It takes me a moment of reacquaintance with his mannerisms to realize he’s not going to finish that thought. “Hey, why the fuck would you think I was dead?” I press.

“I mean, not… not literally dead, I guess. Or maybe. I don’t…” He pulls his beanie off his head and begins twisting it in his hands. His hair is a shock of electric blue, a deep contrast to the mousy brown it had been the previous five year I’d known him. “I just… like—I—I tried to ask your mom about it one time when I ran into her at the grocery store, and she started crying? Like, that can’t be good, right? Gabby knew something but she was being tight-lipped and I just.” He stops abruptly. Shakes his head, shoves the beanie back on his head and pulls it all the way to his eyebrows.

“I’m…” I should say I’m sorry. He would say he was sorry, or at least try to, if our positions were reversed. He would write it on a cake and bring it to my house and offer to marathon The Office until I felt like forgiving him. “What did you want me to do?”

He pulls the beanie lower—it’s covering his eyes now. “I want to leave.” The words are mumbled, quiet enough that, for a moment, I think I imagine them.

My heart plunges to a depth that I didn’t think I was capable of feeling anymore. “You can go.” I step out of his way as fast as he withdrew from the hug.

“No, no I…” He takes a deep breath, uncovers his face. “Are you okay?”

What an infuriating question. Way to make me look like even more of an asshole. “I’m fine, Luke.” It’s the first time I’ve said his name in over a year, and it feels one quarter amazing and three quarters excruciating. “How are you?”

“Good, yeah, good. So you’re not, like, well. You work here, I guess. So that’s good. Money is—money is good.”

“Yeah, I’m a fan.” It comes out all wrong, short-tempered yet teasing.

“I should–go—” He makes an abrupt move to step around me, then aborts, and we end up shoulder-to-shoulder, facing opposing directions. “I wish…” He shifts, our shoulders almost touch. “I wish you had texted me and let me know you were okay. Just. One text. I—I was really worried about you.”

I scoff, and immediately hate myself for it. “What, send off a quick ‘hey, FYI, I did not commit suicide after horrifically outing myself, laterz, fellow homo.’”

He chuckles, and even though I can barely see his profile in my periphery, my memory fills in the gaps of a crinkled nose and toothy grin. He whispers, “Yeah, that would’ve been alright.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I sigh. “Luke—”  

The entrance bell rings, and I jolt like my manager had caught me stealing supplies. The woman who just entered barely glances at us, walking straight to the counter.

“I’ll be with you in a moment, ma’am,” I choke out.

Luke’s voice, softly: “I’ll leave you to it.”

I look back at him, and even through my daze I know I don’t want him to go anywhere.

He takes a step backward so that we’re face-to-face again, and for one absurd moment, I think he’s going to kiss me, right here in the dorito aisle, like we’re in a teen romcom. Instead, he takes my hand in his and squeezes it once, then smiles. “Later, homo.”

I laugh, genuinely. When he steps away, I’m trying so hard not to feel his absence that I don’t see him leave.

I’m at the counter, on autopilot. “Sorry about the wait, ma’am. How can I help you?”

Cigarette preferences are given, but I don’t hear. I ask her to repeat, and I still don’t hear. I’m about to ask a third time when clarity hits me square in the chest, and I’m left breathless. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll be right back.”

“Luke!” I catch him on the sidewalk. He turns, eyebrows pinched, looks me up and down like he’s looking for an injury. “Hey, Luke. So.” I giggle. I don’t know why. “I uh… may have deleted your number? Is there… any way I could get that back? Like, if you’re okay with that. If not I totally get it, it’s no big deal I just thought…” I inhale, pathetically out of breath from my short sprint.   

He grins. “Yeah, I think I’d be okay with that.”

it’s a living #11

08.02.18

 

Grab N’ Go Gas Station, a capitalist machine. i’m not 100% sure what’s up with capitalism but i think it has to do with this hole that digs deeper in my chest as i stand behind the counter and listen to tinny synthpop:

low

persistent, infuriating

i don’t hate it, but i hate it’s constance.

like a migrain.

that’s a bad metaphor, because i do hate migrains.

and capitalism.

 

i don’t know.

deana said to write.

so i’m writing

i think.

just, whatever comes to mind, she said.

i had this high school english teacher who used to have us do this thing called freewriting. she’d give us a word or a phrase and we had to write about it, just go and go and go, until she told us to stop. maybe i should try that. don’t stop, don’t think. not thinking is what got me into all this shit to begin with, but who knows. well, i guess me, historically.

generous. that’s the word. don’t stop until a customer comes in.

generous:

the word’s been cycling through my head all day. you know when words do that? there’s a collection of syllables sitting up there, without their original meaning or attachment, like they’re waiting for their asigned seating. i had to asign it meaning eventually, cause it was getting annoying to have the word floating around up there without a purpose.

i’ve been wondering if generosity really exists, if people will actually do something just because it would help someone else. it seems like there’s always going to be at least a small part of you that wants to do it because it’ll make you feel better about yourself, right? like i know deana wants to help me, but also, she’s got her own issues. she’s got a guilt complex and i don’t think she has a lot of self-worth. so maybe some of it is her trying to alleveate that. i mean, i’m a good candidate, right? random kid with no connection to anyone else she knows, would probably be homeless and/or dead without her. that’s a hell of a drug for someone who wants to feel important.

i used to think my dad was really generous. he gave a lot of money to a lot of causes, and never really boasted about it. the only reason I knew about it was because he would make me help with bills and shit at the end of every month. wow, I always thought. what a generous guy.

and then I learned there was a difference between financial and ideological generosity. my dad has the first in spades. the second he’s still working on.

 

the ironic thing right now, of course, is that i’m being  incredibly ingenerous in my descriptions of them, as if i’m any better. let me be clear, if someone 100 years from now has found this notebook and has gotten farther than the first three words, that i am not better than deana. i’m probably not even better than my dad, and he’s a homophobic asshole. and he likes capitalism, probably. i’ve never asked him, but he seems like he would. pull yourself from your bootstraps and all that.

i don’t know why i’m stuck on capitalism today. it’s not the first thing that should come to mind when i’m supposed to be writing about generosity.

do you still have capitalism in 100 years? do you still have homophobia?

i assume after a century we’ll either be living in a dystopia or a utopia. it could go either way at this point, but my money’s on some hunger games shit for sure.

hey, person in 3018, if you ARE living some dystopian horror, would you mind travelling back in time and letting me know that i don’t have it so bad? just pop your head through a portal or some shit and say, “so what if your dad’s an asshole? at least you’re not being hunted by the government for harboring sugar rations and sentient android” or whatever.

generosity seems to have been a bad word to choose. i’ve got a way of

it’s a living #10

Sometimes the world crumbling around you doesn’t look like a shitty job and bad relationships and packs of ramen noodles that you lost the flavor pouches for.

Sometimes it’s far more abstract: staring at the page of a book and forgetting how to read, counting out a customer’s change and willing yourself to not think about how currency works, because if you do you’ll forget the simplest combination of coins to total 67 cents. Your brain on autopilot is numb and indifferent; it cannot enjoy or analyze, but it can function.

That’s the choice: functionality or presence. Functionality lets you go to work and wash dishes, presence is feeling like a living, breathing person with autonomy.

I explain this to Deanna.

“That’s dramatic as fuck, bud.”

I shrug, embarrassed. I’m sitting at the bar she’s tending. My head is in ‘presence’ mode, so even as we speak I’m breaking down the words leaving my mouth, analyzing our conversation like they’re lines in a play and I’m scanning for errors. Deanna plays a dual-role of bartender and therapist, I play the part of the man who’s had one too many drinks, only all I’ve had is half a sip of Pepsi. An actor needs to keep their wits.

“Why do you think it has to be one or the other?”

Another shrug, “That’s just how my brain works. If I turn it on, it starts breaking shit down to the micro level and it won’t stop until I make myself go brain-dead.”

“Has it always been like this?” God, she really knows her lines.

“No. No, just kinda recently. I used to… I mean… I think I broke my brain.” Why don’t I know mine?

“Hm.” Deanna leans on the counter, ignoring the glare she’s getting from a coworker. “Wanna know what I think?”

“No, Deanna, I came out here at 2:00 a.m. because I don’t give a shit about your opinion.”

“I think,” She pauses, stares at the drink in front of me, “that you don’t like Pepsi and I totally forgot.” She grabs the glass with a ridiculous flourish and turns to dump it down the drain. “You didn’t even say anything, idiot.”

I would have had to change the script, would have had to tell the props department that the soda machine should be Coke products, explain that the solid red logo matches the lighting better than the red and blue. “Too much work.”

“Tea?”

“Sure.” We won’t have to get the props department involved for that.

“But for real, wanna know what I think?”

“That Pepsi is better than Coke? You’ll never convert me.” I pluck the lemon from the edge of the glass and squeeze it. Juice dribbles, the cut on my thumb stings. That’s not part of the script. You can’t fake sharp, cleansing pain.

Deanna rolls her eyes. “I think you’ve had a lot of changes in your life recently, and that maybe it’s causing you to question things you didn’t even think to question before.”

I open my mouth to make fun of her Freudian tone, as my roles demands–my character is sarcastic and drunk, why wouldn’t I?–but what she’s saying makes sense.

“Plus you’re depressed and anxious and your brain doesn’t know how to chill the fuck out.”

“I actually figured that out by myself.” I grab a spoon and begin fishing the lemon seeds out of my glass, making sure to add the action to the scene. I can’t hazard getting a seed in my mouth and then trying to say my line.

“You have a lot of downtime at the gas station, yeah?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Will you get in trouble if you bring something to do while you’re not working?”

“I could kill a man and they would not give a shit.”

“Not the activity I had in mind, but you do you.”

Deanna’s coworker slips past her with a rag slung over their shoulder and a scowl: “Stop encouraging children to murder, Deanna.”

I delete their line from the script. They’re irrelevant.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Bring a notebook. Whenever your brain starts to over-analyze, try writing it all down instead of just ignoring it. Catalogue the fuck out of whatever you’re thinking. Let your brain do what’s it’s gonna do, you know?”

“That’s…” I frown at the lemon in my glass. It’s soaked up the tea, no longer looking clear and bright. Bad colors, bad lighting. I’ll have to fix that on the next edit. Maybe add sugar instead. I don’t like sugar in my tea, but maybe play-Kip does. “That’s smart.”

“I know.”

“You’re good at this.”

“What kind of bartender would I be if I gave shitty advice?”

“The normal kind.”

She laughs. “Hey, why don’t you head home and try to sleep, m’kay? If I don’t help Daniel clean up around here I’m not gonna be any kind of bartender at all.”

Like she’s called end scene, I snap out of the analytics and let myself drift back into nothing. “M’kay.”

“You work tomorrow?”

I nod.

“Top shelf of the bookcase in my room, there’s a couple empty notebooks. Put one in your bag and take it with you, alright? Just to try it out.”

I nod again. Stand up. “Yeah, sure.”

She looks me over. “Hang in there, bud. It’s either journaling or murder.”

“I take back what I said about good advice.”

“Hey, don’t knock it till you try it.”

“G’night, Deanna.” I sling my backpack over my shoulder.

“A little murder might be good for the soul.”

Good night, Deanna.”

“Night, Kip.”

it’s a living #9

Trigger Warnings at the end. Please take care of yourself. 

Deanna sits me down on July 25th, the day after my little sister’s third birthday. She grabs me by the shoulders and steers me to the couch, gentle, like I’m a porcelain doll that she needs to take care of so she can sell me to a consignment shop. She’s perched on the coffee table across from me–determined, grim–and I haven’t been this nervous since senior-year-Zach and sophomore-year-me made out behind the Waffle House.

“Is this a sex talk?” I joke. “Cause like, I did get the talk, but it was a really straight one, so if you wanted to give me the gay version I’d actually really appreciate–”

“Kip, are you suicidal?”

“Um.” Wherever I thought she was going with this, I was wrong. “I’m…”

“We don’t talk about–well–that stuff.” Deanna rubs her eyes. “At least not like we should. And that’s shitty, and… I just. I don’t want to not talk and not talk and then… I don’t know. Something happens. And I’ll think, what if you had just said something, you know?”

“Yeah, sure.” I can feel myself retreating, distancing myself from the intensity of her gaze.

Maybe she can sense that, because she continues to ramble, “I’m not trying to be confrontational, but… I can’t just like, casually bring it up. Or like, I could, but I’m too much of a coward so I gotta like, psych myself up, and–”

“I get it.” I don’t get it, but I want to shut her up. I don’t know why she has to bring this up, why she has to see me. Why can’t she ignore it?

“Oh good. So like, if you wanna talk about anything… um. I’m listening.”

I fidget in my seat. “What do you want me to talk about?”

“Whatever you’re thinking?”

“Wellllll, I was thinking about washing the dishes. Might even dry them if I’m feeling really feisty.”

Deanna sighs. Bites her lip. “Kip, c’mon.”

“What?”

“I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay.”

“Cool. I’m fine.”

She sits back and crosses her arms. “You’re fine.”

“Fine.”

“Fine?”

“I’m fine, and you’re deaf, apparently.”

“Kip, stop it.”

“Stop what, Deanna? You wanted to know how I’m doing. I appreciate that, really, but I told you, I’m–”

“Fine,” She scoffs.

“Yeah. That’s the one.”

“That’s such bullshit, Kip. Why can’t you talk about it? Why won’t you let me help?”

“If this is you helping, I’d hate to see how you hurt.”

Her frown deepens. “Hey–”

“Also, if you wanna help someone why don’t you start with yourself? You spend every fucking day of your life in a stupor, you don’t remember half the conversations we have because you’re never here. You just wander through your life like it doesn’t even matter. That’s not healthy.”

“This isn’t about–”

“You keep saying you’re going to get your shit together, that you’re going to get a real job or whatever, but you can barely get out of bed most days.”

“Kip.”

I’m standing now, hands clenched at my sides. “You spent your teens and twenties fucking wasting away, waiting for life to come and pick you up off the ground. You’re such a hypocrite, Deanna. You’re a fucking–”

“Hey!” Deanna slams her fist down on the coffee table, and the violent sound jolts me out of my anger. I sink back into the couch, fold in on myself. “Oh. Hey.” Deanna’s voice softens. “Hey, sorry.”

I nod, but I can’t look up. It’s not safe yet.

We sit in silence for a minute while Deanna plucks fuzz off her sweatpants and I sit stock-still, waiting for the numbness to wash over me so we can brush past this. When three minutes tick by and still my pounding heart doesn’t settle into a slow, indifferent beat, I begin to panic; indifference is a necessity, the only thing that keeps me from paralyzing anxiety at all times.

“Kip, sweetie, try to calm down, okay?”

I shake my head.
“You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to, I swear. I’m sorry, I’m really not very good at this.”

She’s sorry? I’m the one who–

I run to the only other room in the apartment–Deanna’s room, since I don’t have one. I’m still sleeping on Deanna’s couch, in Deanna’s apartment, another reminder that she’s done so much for me and all I can do is yell at her and judge her life like mine isn’t a dumpster fire.

I close the door. Lock it. Even in my panic I feel absurd, like Lucy having one of her temper tantrums.

There’s a muffled thump against the door, and the shadow through the crack lets me know she leaning on it with her full body. “Kip. You don’t… you don’t have to let me in or anything, but um. If you need anything…” She groans. “I’m so fucking bad at this. I don’t know how to make you understand that I honestly just want you to feel better. I didn’t mean to lose my temper, and I’m not mad about the things you said to me either, okay? A little hurt, but not mad. So just–I don’t know–take a nap? And then maybe we can talk about this later. Or not, if you don’t want to…”

I nod my head as if she can see me, lowering myself onto the floor and curling up at the mere mention of sleep. “Okay,” I mumble.

Her sigh is muffled, but I can hear her relief even through the door. “I care about you, Kip.”

My chance to let her know it’s reciprocated slips by as her footsteps fade away.

Trigger warnings: discussion of suicide and depressive episodes. 

it’s a living #8

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.

“Craigslist.”

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.

“Yeah, man.”

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.”

“Yeah?”

“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.”

“Honestly, same.”

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. 

it’s a living #7

“Do you think,” Deanna grabs a jar of Jiffy peanut butter from the grocery store shelf, “That buying new underwear instead of washing my dirty ones makes me more or less adult-ish?”

I pluck the jar out of her hands and replace it with an off-brand. “I think it makes you gross.”

“Because, like, if I wash my dirty underwear then that’s very responsible of me, but if I’m able to afford buying new ones that means I’m making even a little money, which is the American Dream.”

“Is destroying the environment with your wasteful approach to undergarments the American Dream?”

“Um yeah? Haven’t you read The Great Gatsby?”

“I must have missed the part where Daisy throws all her underwear off the edge of her dock at the end of every week. No wonder I barely passed high school English.”

Deanna holds up a loaf of whole wheat bread.

I groan. “Do we have to?”

“Yes. It’s better for you.”

I waved a loaf of white bread in her face. “Look at it. Fluffy. Sweet. Like a kiss from an angel.”

“Yeah, the angel of death.”

I scowl and put the bread back.

“Good boy.”

The produce section–a battleground where the winner decides what our fresh fruit/vegetable of the week will be–is more crowded than usual. We spend our time there brandishing our preference from across the rows, making increasingly insistent faces and gestures to avoid yelling through the crowd, until I’m told by a tired-looking employee to “please handle the oranges gently, sir.”

“Yeah, Kip. God. No respect for mother nature.”

I give Deanna the finger. A soccer mom sees, scandalized, and works her way across the apple aisle for some good old-fashioned confrontation before Deanna pulls me into the flower section.

She’s giggling, looks present and childlike, eyes clear of that glaze that I assumed was just a part of her.

“We are a menace to society,” I sigh.

Deanna’s looking at me with something akin to pride, which is a weird reaction to me being scolded by a supermarket attendant and then escaping murder-by-soccer-mom. It makes me feel shy, like when a teacher you want to impress gives you a smiley face on your test, so I avert my gaze to the left, eyes landing on a bouquet of tulips. I pick them up.

“Pretty, huh?”

I nod. “My mom used to get flowers for the kitchen window every week.”

“Yeah?” Her tone is cautious.

“Yeah. Once, uh–once she wanted to get a fresh batch of roses because she had some important people coming over, and I. Um. I asked if I could take the old ones up to my room, you know, cause they were pretty and still perfectly fresh looking.”

“Mm. How’d that go?”

“She let me take them; said it was good for a man to appreciate the more delicate things. My dad, though…”

“Not a fan of the ‘men’ and ‘delicate’ combo?”

“Something like that.”

Deanna nods, somber, and I chide myself for bringing the mood down. She motions to the tulips in my hand. “You wanna pick some out?”

“What?”

“Flowers. You wanna get some for the apartment?”

“No, no.” I put the bouquet back as fast as I can. “They’re expensive and we don’t need them.”

She shrugs. “We got off-brand peanut butter. We can afford it.”

“We got whole wheat bread. No we can’t.”

“Bananas were our fruit of the week. Cheapest there is.”

“Good, then we can save our money.”

“Kiiiiiiiip.” She picks up the bouquet closest to her and sticks it under my nose. “Stop and smell the roses, Kip.”

I cross my arms. “Those are baby’s breath.”

“Kiiiiip,” She swings them back and forth like she’s trying to hypnotize me. “Don’t be a pedantic dick, Kip.”

The smell of the flowers seeps into my brain, sending me back to that bright kitchen with its nearly-fresh roses. I gently push the flowers out of my face. “Dea, seriously. We’ll just get what we got and save some money.”

She appraises me for a moment, then shrugs. “Fine, spoilsport.”

The next stop is the gas station. When we pull in, Deanna begins texting her boss about scheduling, and asks if I’ll hop out and fill up the car.

I feel heavy. I can’t unbuckle.

“Kip?”

“My mom called the other day.”

“Shit,” she mutters. “You answer?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit.” She’s looking at me. “Wanna talk about it?”

My gaze remains in strict dashboard territory. “No, I just… ” I squeeze my eyes shut until the prickling feeling behind them goes away. “I just wanted to tell you.”

“Okay, well, if you change your mind–”

“I’ll get the gas.” I unbuckle and throw myself out of the car, slamming the door behind me. Good. Good job, Kip.

 

It’s a wide, unbusy two-lane road surrounded by empty fields that Deanna pulls over on, shifting the gear to park with an edge of defiance. I think, this is it, though I’m not sure what “it” is. A lecture, at best, a “your life is too much and I need you to move out” at worst.

Instead she points to the field and says, “flower time, baby.”

The bark of laughter that bursts through my chest, unexpected and giddy, is enough of a catalyst for me to undo my seatbelt and follow her out into the open air. The wildflowers are small, insignificant. Free, in both senses of the word. Dandelions are the only ones I know by name, but there are tiny white ones with petals that look like they’re made of porcelain, purples that work their way up the stem like a vine, and the yellows attract the most bumble bees. Deanna is brave enough to fetch those for me. By the time we’re done, we’ve got two bouquets of chaotic, brambly weeds that are already beginning to wilt.

She holds up our bounty with a combination of horror and delight. “Look at our perfect, ugly children.”

I giggle. “I can’t wait to watch them succeed in their perfect, ugly plant lives.”

“They’re gonna grow up, get married. These are 401k flowers, I can tell.”

I should say thank you, I want to say thank you, but I can’t. Thanking her means acknowledging that she helped me. Which means I needed help. “Deanna.”

“Kip.”

“My flowers are better than yours.”

“Fuck you.”