Advertisements

Monthly Archives: June 2017

Moving In

CAITLIN: Morning, roomie.

DARRYL: Well, isn’t this a surprise. You know, it’s funny, I was just having this dream that you moved into my apartment.

CAITLIN: And then you woke up—

DARRYL: And then I woke up, and boom!

CAITLIN: Oh my God! Dreams really do come true! Especially when they’re an exact replica of the last thirty-six hours we’ve spent moving!

DARRYL: I know! Isn’t that weird?

CAITLIN: You’re such a dork.

DARRYL: You’re one to talk. In your Ninja Turtles pajamas?

CAITLIN: Uh, these are your pajamas!

DARRYL: Are they, though? ‘Cause they don’t fit me anymore!

CAITLIN: Shut up! You want breakfast?

DARRYL: Aw, shit. I was gonna wake up early and bring you breakfast in bed.

CAITLIN: But you suck at breakfast.

DARRYL: I know, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

CAITLIN: Not if you ruin my pancake mix again, it’s not. Besides, we agreed you don’t need to be a gentleman—

DARRYL: I never agreed to that.

CAITLIN: Fine, I agreed that you never need to be a gentleman. We can do the third-wave thing, I’ll do the cooking because you suck at it—

DARRYL: I suck at breakfast, but!

CAITLIN: Ugh!

DARRYL: You said you liked my pesto thing—

CAITLIN: I did like the pesto thing—

DARRYL: And you still haven’t—oh my God, you haven’t had my cookies! How did I get you to move in with me without even tasting my cookies!

CAITLIN: I guess you’re just that good.

DARRYL: You mentioned breakfast.

CAITLIN: I believe you mentioned breakfast.

DARRYL: You spoke of making the breakfast. Mind if I join you? We shall repair to what is now to be known as “our” kitchen.

CAITLIN: Um, I have seen the way you keep that room even when you know you’ll have company over? That is now my kitchen.

DARRYL: Well, look at you.

CAITLIN: You really haven’t ever lived with a girl before, have you?

DARRYL: Other than my mom?

CAITLIN: Definitely not counting her.

DARRYL: I don’t know, you know, in college I did have a roommate who always had his girlfriend over, she practically lived with us.

CAITLIN: Did she bring all her furniture?

DARRYL: No.

CAITLIN: I hope you realize that there is an enormous difference between me having a drawer at your place for sleepovers and us actually living together.

DARRYL: I realize that, just like I realize I am never getting those Ninja Turtle pajamas back.

CAITLIN: Well, good. They don’t fit you anyway. Dork.

DARRYL: Have you ever lived with a guy before?

CAITLIN: Um… well…

DARRYL: You have, haven’t you? It’s okay, I’m not jealous. Unless I should be—should I be jealous? Do I have anything to be jealous about?

CAITLIN: I mean, if you wanna get mad about guys who are completely out of the picture, I won’t stop you. I mean, I’ll leave you, obviously, ‘cause that’s a huge red flag—

DARRYL: Obviously.

CAITLIN: Do you really wanna know?

DARRYL: Do you wanna tell me? It’s okay if you don’t.

CAITLIN: I have not ever moved in with someone I was dating.

DARRYL: OK…

CAITLIN: But I did once have sex with a roommate?

DARRYL: Oh…

CAITLIN: No! Not like—A male roommate, you perv!

DARRYL: How is that pervy?

CAITLIN: ‘Cause it’s—ugh!

DARRYL: How would it not be pervy, just ‘cause it was a guy?

CAITLIN: Oh my God!

DARRYL: So did he become your boyfriend then?

CAITLIN: No. It just got super awkward. And then I finally moved out. Is that it? Is that cool? Is this weird?

DARRYL: You had sex with your roommate. History repeats itself.

CAITLIN: Did you really think I had sex with a girl? Why would you think that?

DARRYL: I’m actually kinda surprised that you haven’t.

CAITLIN: You thought I was bi?

DARRYL: Most of the girls that I’ve dated have been bi. Hell, most of the girls I’ve been close friends with have been bi, to some extent. In college, I used to say society seems to think that girls are bi until proven straight.

CAITLIN: What about lesbians?

DARRYL: Society doesn’t believe in lesbians. They just “haven’t found the right man yet.”

CAITLIN: What about guys?

DARRYL: Men are straight until proven gay.

CAITLIN: Huh.

DARRYL: Because once you’ve had cock, you never go… bock?

CAITLIN: You did that on purpose!

DARRYL: Just a little bit.

CAITLIN: Wait, so you assumed I had been with a girl even though you’ve never been with a guy?

DARRYL: Well…

CAITLIN: Oh my God, you have?

DARRYL: That possibility seems to really disturb you.

CAITLIN: I mean… I don’t know… It just really never even occurred to me…

DARRYL: Well, I’ve never had sex with a man—

CAITLIN: Oh. OK. But???

DARRYL: But I did have one really hot makeout session in college.

CAITLIN: Oh, well, I mean, I’ve made out with a girl.

DARRYL: Oh, good. That’s a comfort, at least.

CAITLIN: A comfort?

DARRYL: At least I know you’re not a complete freak.

CAITLIN: Shut up. No, I mean, yeah, there’s nothing weird about that.

DARRYL: So, no possibility of a threesome, then?

CAITLIN: Oh, is that what you were gunning for?

DARRYL: We lure some innocent girl to our lair—or guy, I’m not picky—

CAITLIN: Every woman dreams of having two men at the same time: one for the ironing, the other does the dishes.

DARRYL: What happened to third wave?

CAITLIN: I’m still making you breakfast. Perv.

Advertisements

Stitches

I’m here.
At least
I think I am.
But where is here?
And who am I?
And what is the place that is not here?
And where is every other me?

You think you know me.
You think you see who I am.
You think the color of my skin
and my male-ness
and the length of my hair
and my beard and my belly
and my long black coat
and my cowboy hat
Tell you all you need to know about me.

But they don’t.
Because they cannot speak.
They can tell you nothing.
I tell you where I’m from.
The short version.
What does that tell you about me?
Now you have one side of the story.
Good for you!
So you draw your conclusions.
You draw your lines in the sand,
all around me.
Now you’ve made a nice little box for me.
But I am a descendant of Pandora
and I don’t like boxen.

So I tell you where I’m really from.
The long version.
And I hatch.
Now you’ve got a newborn on your hands.
A baby dinosaur.
A velociraptor.
And not the cute kind.
You weren’t expecting that.
Things aren’t looking so good for you now.

But maybe I’ve misjudged you.
I do that sometimes.
No matter where I might be from,
I am only human.
I am not a velociraptor.
I can make mistakes.

Who are you?
Where are you
from?
Are you from here?
Or are you from the other place?
Or are we in the other place?
And are you from here?
So where am I
from
to you?

Are you from somewhere
else?
Maybe this place and the other
don’t seem so different to you
as either place to where you’re from;
The whole dichotomy is false.
I’ve been trounced–you’re an even bigger stitch
across an even bigger schism.
My apologies.
My respect.
My
condolences.

What do I know about you?
Why is it important that I know you?
Why is it important that you know me?
Are you one of us?
Are you one with me?
And why would that be important?

It is important to me.
I mind the gap.
I bridge the schism
and most people don’t even seem to care
that the schism exists
and don’t know
why it needs a bridge.

But the differences between here
and that other place
To us are like an open wound
that needs Stitches.


“Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”

The first time I met Kayla, she offered me Midol. It was sweet of her, but I wouldn’t have my first period for a couple more months. It never even occurred to me at the time to think how she might be thinking about things like that.

I’m going to do it. I’m going to talk about Kayla Shaw and what she meant to me.

In grade school, Kayla had been the perfect tomboy. She climbed trees, she got in schoolyard fights, she played wargames with strategy and finesse, and could beat pretty much all of the boys at any physical activities. But the summer before sixth grade, her parents pulled her aside and told her she had to be a lady now. The reason was because she had just told them she’d had her first period.

When I got mine, it was unpleasant. It was scary, I guess it was scary mainly in the way that growing up is scary, or falling in lvoe, or when you wake up and realize that one day it’ll all be over. So it was scary, but there was a sense of wonder to it, I guess, this spiritual… I don’t know, it’s lame and I’m crazy. There was shame to it, too, but the one thing I don’t remember feeling was betrayal.

That was what it was like for Kayla, though. “It’s like, back in elementary,” she confided in me during one awkward sleepover at my place, “I knew who I was, everything my body did made sense to me, more or less. I mean I was jealous, obviously, with the whole penis thing” (this didn’t seem obvious to me, but sure, fine) “but even that, like, I don’t know, there was a place for that.”

“Did your parents not tell you?” I prodded. “Your mom?”

“They weren’t expecting it that soon. Mom got hers pretty late, figured I would, too. Maybe I get it from dad’s side, I don’t know. I was really erratic, too. Well… still am.”

“Don’t they have, like, pills for that, or something?”

“They don’t always work that well.”

We tried talking about boys, too. One day—pretty early on—Trevor came to sit with us at lunch. I’m not gonna lie, I always thought Trevor was kind of cute. Sweet, too. He was a good listener and he gave pretty good advice, too. He was a bit of a nerd, but far be it from me, right?

It didn’t even really occur to me to have a crush on him, though, until later, after Kayla blurted out “He is gay, isn’t he?”

I didn’t know where to put that. “What? Trevor???” I frowned at her, thinking she was joking and I’d called her on it and won. Realizing she’d been serious, I muttered “No,” like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Oh,” she said. “I just thought…” But what she’d thought, she’d said already.

Some psychic I am, right?

Later on, it came out that Trevor “had a crush” on Kayla. This was awkward for me, even though, I mean, it wasn’t really a serious thing, what I had. Or maybe it was, but it didn’t like keep me up at night fantasizing or anything. I didn’t “think about Trevor like that,” but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel possessive. I got totally jealous once I heard. Some psychic I am. Able to read my sibling’s social life like the open book I’m writing, but my own? Ha ha ha ha ha fuck me, right?

“He keeps looking at me,” Kayla complained. “Not even really, like, I don’t know. And now other people are looking at me. Like I’m a work of art. Like I’m a character.”

“Do you feel the same way about him?” I asked her.

“Who? Trevor???” she spat. They were friends—we all were, more or less- but this whole thing was making her very uncomfortable. “I don’t believe he even feels that way about me,” said Kayla. “Not really. I think he just wants to.”

“Because you think he’s gay?”

She hesitated. “Yeah, probably.” After a moment, “You don’t?”

I shifted uncomfortably. We’d never really talked about stuff like this before. Personal stuff. Intimate stuff. Stuff girlfriends talk about.

“Do you feel that way about him?” she asked me.

“Who, me?” I answered truthfully, confused, “I don’t know.” Then I went on the offensive again. “Do you feel that way about anyone else?”

She looked away quickly enough that I knew she was lying when she said “Oh, I don’t know.”

We never really did talk about any girly stuff like that. We never really talked about anything important, except my weird thing that I do. She was my best friend all through middle school, but two weeks from the end of eighth grade, she ran away from home (left me a note so I’d know she didn’t just disappear) and that was the last that anyone heard from Kayla Shaw.

I still miss her. Sometimes. I guess. But I don’t know if I can say how. And it was just one more example of the uselessness of this “power” or whatever it is that I have, that I haven’t been able to find her.


A Half-Blood Legacy

It should be possible, I think–or plausible, at least.

Divorce. Man leaves wife for the younger model. Later, younger wife tires of the little blue pills and finds a younger man. But once the younger man starts to need the little blue pills, he resents his old wife’s wrinkles. Generations may shift, but this trend could go on forever in a long, unbroken line.

So imagine if each permutation, each couple forged in the ruins of the last, had children. One child, at least. What you would get, what you could end up with, is an endless string of half-siblings reaching from here into the dark backward and abysm of time. And what’s more, all of these children, from Timmy to Caesar, if it be, they could every one of them be seen as the same generation, half-sibs of half-sibs as far as the written word can read, and farther. Was that your great-great-grandfather, or your half-sister’s half-bro seven times removed?

Now imagine an object, like a watch or a quilt. An heirloom or a toy, doesn’t matter. Each half-sibling (or one of the bunch) makes a vow to the last to pass on the object to the next half-generation, when it arrives. So out of the tragedy of death or divorce, a living history breathes affection into the future, and the legacy continues until the last bro or sister survives both parents, further childless, and the quilt or toy or time-piece is buried in their grave.


The Battle at the Dragons

Great Diozé was angry.
Why was the Lord Diozé angry, good singer?
Diozé was angry because Sharvin had broken his vows.
Freed from their father’s belly,
Free of their grandmother’s scorn,
Sharvin had vowed obedience.

But Sharvin lied.

Diozé’s anger was everywhere.
The Lord’s fury was absolute.
The Tree shook.
The Egg quaked.
The Garden all but burned.
Diozé pursued his false brother for thousands of years.
They ran through the plains, making rivers.
They ran through the mountains, making caves.
They climbed all the way to the second branch before the Veil rejected them.

With nowhere else to run, Sharvin leapt towards the Undiscovered Country.
He leapt all the way to the Dragons, and his brother pursued him.
The two brothers clung to the scales with their free hands
even as the swung their weapons at each other,
Diozé his Sword, still stained with the blood of Ormalager and of Utnavisor,
but Sharvin had a Staff, a branch from the Tree of Life itself,
which was longer and allowed him to parry out of reach.

Diozé slid around Acarius’s belly
even as Sharvin climbed up Icaria’s back
hoisting himself up her wings to her shoulders.
Diozé leapt with his sword raised high to strike Sharvin low
and Acarius, seeing this and fearing his wife was in danger,
bent forward and snapped at Diozé.
Diozé twisted, then, careful not to strike the Time-God with his sword,
and caught himself on the Dragon’s lower lip to pull himself to safety.

Just then, the Dragon-God and his consort
crashed through a moment in time like a pane of glass
The memories and events of that moment tumbled all around,
shards raining down on the Lord and His terrible brother.
Much as they slapped and ducked and evaded,
Both still ended up covered in the scars of time.

“It’s over,” Sharvin screamed at his brother. “Why do you still pursue me?”
“You have been nothing but trouble to me,” said Diozé,
“since the moment I pulled you from death!”
“And you have been a cut on my heel, dear brother,” Sharvin replied,
“since before you were born!”

At the mention of his own birth, Diozé leapt from Acarius’s jowl,
swinging wide, slicing in circles,
but Sharvin clung to Icaria’s wing.
He swung his own staff back, pounding down on Diozé’s head
and let Him fall Behind, back down to the Garden and the Egg.

But time was too much for Sharvin.
Soon Icaria managed to scratch in just the right place
and caught Sharvin and swallowed him whole.

But Diozé never forgot the lessons,
his pride in leaping between Dragons
or his foolishness in trusting his false brother Sharvin.


Private

What did Gordon Richards have to do to get some privacy?

“Well, what can I say, Gord?” his landlord offered instead of apology. “Should’ve worked more when you had the chance. Made more money.”

“How about you should just keep the damn rent what we agreed on!” Gordon countered. “A contract’s a contract!”

“Your lease is up, Gordon; you wanna blame someone, blame the government for jacking the property tax!”

“What’s it gonna take for you to sell me this place?” Now at last, Old Man Richards was sincere.

“Trust me,” said Phil Mulberry, “even if I wanted to sell, you couldn’t afford it.”

But Mulberry didn’t want to sell, of course—on the contrary, he wanted to buy up the whole building, if he could. And for what? Turn it into a parking lot? It wasn’t close enough to downtown for that to make any sense. No, no, for guys like Mulberry it was all about control, all about conquest. He wanted everything, but he knew what his limitations were, so he’d settle for the whole damn building.

“Why couldn’t I get an apartment from McDowell?” Gordon muttered. But it was too late now. McDowell was the other owner of multiple units in the Leverett building, but he kept to himself—hard not to, really, seen as how he lived in Canada or someplace, thousands of miles away, but he still owned property here and from what Gordon could gather (and he could gather an awful lot) McDowell was a heck of a lot better than Mulberry at managing his property, even though Mulberry lived in the same damn building. Gordon wished he could have that. Actually, no. What Gordon really wished was that he could leave here and go buy some cabin out in the woods or something, out where people weren’t so nosy, out where neighbors didn’t try to strike up a conversation just ‘cause they felt like they knew you after nine years living in the same building. He just wanted his privacy.

But he couldn’t even have that.

“What you need a two-bedroom apartment for, anyways?” Mulberry finally asked.

“That’s none of your business!” Gordon insisted, though to be perfectly honest, he didn’t have a better answer. He just liked his space.

But Mulberry was right—not about doing what he was doing, but about the solution to it, given that it was done. If Gordon was going to continue to live in the Leverett Building (unless he wanted to move to unit 32, which was obviously haunted, so no) he was going to need a roommate. A roommate, god dammit! He hadn’t had a roommate in damn near forty years, unless you counted his ex-wife, and you shouldn’t, even though you might as well. And since he didn’t really know anybody seen as how he didn’t like people, that meant inviting a stranger into his home. That provided some opportunities, of course. There were certain types of peopel Mulberry really didn’t like… Unfortunately, these were the same types of people Gordon was none too fond of, and besides, Mulberry would get final say anyway, so what the hell?

Once the applications started coming in, it was pretty easy to weed out most of the undesirables, mostly the folks with really odd-sounding names like “Kawabanta” and “Laminetsky” and goddamn “Ng”—what the hell kinda name was that? What was harder to spot was the black people—excuse me, “African Americans” (like any of them ever been to Africa)—but he got those at the interviews. Which only left two things to worry about: queers and muslims. He wasn’t quite sure which one would be worse, but he was goddamned if he’d have either one of ‘em in his house. Or apartment.

Finally, though, he didn find one guy looked like he could be trusted. “What kinda name is ‘Laird’?” he asked the guy. “That Scottish?”

“I think so,” said the man, name of Raymond. “Never really gave it much thought.”

“All right, fine,” said Gordon. “If you want it, this is what it looks like, your room’s over there, make yourself at home. Deal? “They’d already hashed out the details by then, so they shook on it.

At first, it was great. Raymond Laird didn’t really have much stuff, so the living room didn’t really change too much except for one painting he really seemed to want over the TV, which was fine, it was this pretty standard landscape with some ducks and a little girl in a dress, utterly inoffensive.

As for what went into Raymond Laird’s room, that was none of Gordon’s business. He kept his own private things to himself, too. That was a part of the bargain neither had even had to bring up while talking.

Yet once the other man had stowed away all his secret boxes, Gordon found himself growing curious. Oh, shut up, you old fool, he kept telling himself. You wouldn’t want him snooping around in your room, either, would you? And what would he think if he caught you? You with your hands on his pretty things?

But how do I know that what he has there isn’t…

What? What was it that he was afraid of?

Well, there were a lot of things to be afraid of, weren’t there? This Laird guy was living in his house now. Gordon’s name was on the lease. Anything this lodger did, Gordon could be held responsible for. He pictured the aftermath of the inevitable postal killing spree—not that Laird was a postal worker, he was an accountant, but that was almost worse. Who knew the sorts of depraved thoughts those degenerates kept hidden under their numbers.

It wasn’t that Gordon objected to guns—his own, for protection of his private property, was stored under the coffee table in case of emergency, and Laird knew that. So if Laird had a gun, too, Gordon expected him to disclose that. But he hadn’t. Which made Gordon suspicious.

There could be other things, too, though. He imagined the police raid and all the things they might find. Drugs, for Christ sakes, kiddie porn! Can you imagine! The Headlines: “Old Man Richards Arrested with New Roommate on Suspicion of Involvement!” “I didn’t know!” curmudgeon insists, but we know better, don’t we, folks?” I always knew that crazy old man was up to something!” says landlord Philip Mulberry, decorated upstanding citizen and whatnot.

No. No, it was too risky. This was his house, dammit, he had a right to know what was going on. This Raymond guy bursting in here like he owned the place—who did he think he was? Who was he? Expecting charity and whatnot—well, Gordon Richards did not believe in charity! Charity was for schmucks who trusted people. And trust was for idiot children.

So he waited until Laird was gone for the day and snuck into his room. Serves him right, he tried telling himself, for not having a lock on his door.

It’s not like he was stealing anything. He just wanted a look around. In particular, he wanted a look in those boxes…

No…

They were dresses. Dresses and skirts. And blouses, and—ugh!

Girls’ clothes!

This was so much worse than Gordon had expected. He almost wished there had been kiddie-porn, or instructions on building bombs, at least then he could’ve called the cops and started over with a new roommate. One who wasn’t some damn freak of nature. But no, nowadays you had to be “tolerant” and “understanding” of grown men playing dress-up even down to their goddamn underwear. It made him sick to his stomach even thinking about it.

After he put everything away back where he found it, he went back and sat in the living-room. He thought about Raymond Laird wearing women’s clothes. He told himself he didn’t want to think about it, but every time he did he got a thrill like you wouldn’t believe. It made him angry, but the anger made him happy; it felt justified.

Then when Raymond got home, he couldn’t even look at him. He didn’t want to. He had a secret, now: that he knew Raymond’s secret, and Raymond didn’t know. And he didn’t want him to.

Raymond acted like he knew there was something wrong, or off, or different, but he didn’t say anything.

Having a secret turned out not to be all it was cracked up to be, though. So the next day, as Raymond was starting to head off to work, Old Man Richards found himself hollering at him from his chair “You gonna go out dressed like that?”

Raymond stopped, confused, turned around, looked himself up and down, trying to see what was wrong with his outfit, making sure his shoes and socks both matched. Finally, he gave a helpless shrug in Gordon’s direction.

Gordon just stared at him, and finally Raymond understood.

He was running late to work, though, so he didn’t say anything. But as he turned and walked out, Gordon could tell there was a look of shame and fear on his face.

Well, fine, he thought to himself, let him do some stewing for a change! These freaks and perverts, it’s about time! If he feels enough shame, hell, maybe he’ll, I don’t know, stop doing it? Christ sakes. 

Sure enough, Raymond didn’t even come home until pretty late. When he did, it looked like he’d been drinking. Couldn’t handle it, could you? thought Gordon. Just couldn’t handle somebody knowing the truth about you. 

Raymond sat on the edge of his seat, leaned forward, legs spread just a bit, and ran his hand across his open mouth, almost like he was making his leaps, you know?

“You went in my room,” he stated.

Gordon said nothing.

“You went in my room without my permission.” He flexed the fingers of his right hand and his joints popped. “That’s not what we agreed to.”

“What you gonna do about it?” Gordon sneered, then added another word, a word he shouldn’t have said, a word that gave the game away and made things unnecessarily uncomfortable in their living situation.

But after a short, tense moment of silence in the wake of that word, Raymond snorted and started to laugh, only a little bit at first, a few rocks before the avalanche, like he was uncovering several different layers of irony over the course of laughing.

“Well, what’s so funny!” a frustrated Gordon finally demanded.

So when Raymond had calmed himself down enough, he finally replied: “You just don’t get it, do you? Oh, it’s not what you think. It’s not the obvious thing.” Then he paused and continued, “But once I tell you what it really is, you’re gonna think it’s so much worse!” And he burst into giggles again.

This was doing nothing to help Raymond’s case in Gordon’s eyes.

“Oh, let me have my fun,” he finally said. “Probably the last time I’ll get to laugh like that for a while. “And then, more thoughtful, “It’s been a while since I’ve laughed like that.” Finally, he composed himself. “I’m not a transvestite.” He was calm by now. “Well, at least… Those women’s clothes. I don’t wear them in secret or anything. I’m assuming that’s what you meant when you used that word. Although I guess technically… But I’m not… exactly… a gay man, Gordon. Because I’m not… exactly… a man. Yet.”

Gordon had no idea what Raymond was talking about.

“That is to say, I am a man,” Raymond continued. “I always have been. In my own way, I guess. It just never occurred to me that I could be, I mean, I kept hearing about it, but me?” He chuckled, then stopped. “I was born… a woman, or… with women’s… I was assigned female at birth. I just never felt comfortable in my skin, you know?”

Gordon still looked at her blankly.

“No, I guess you really wouldn’t know, would you?” she sighed. “I’m still attracted to men,” she continued. “For a while, I thought maybe that was why I… So I guess that word you used earlier does technically apply to me, or to what I want to be—I’m still new at this, see? I’m still… I’m trying it out. Trying to what I want to be—I’m still new at this, see? I’m still… I’m trying it out. Trying to see if it… fits me better, and I gotta say, I’m liking the results. So far. For the most part.” After another moment of silence, “Those clothes in there are mine, or were mine—I don’t know why I kept them, I just didn’t think—I didn’t know… They’re just in case, I guess. Listen to me, I’m fifty-three years old and I’m still experimenting. Going through ‘phases’—“ But he caught himself. “No. No, this isn’t a phase. But they’re still… I don’t know. It’s a safety thing, I guess.”

Finally, Gordon managed to clear his throat. “So are you…” he began, then adjusted, “that is, do you… He wiggled a bit in his seat. “What are you? Now, I mean?”

“I’m a person,” Raymond said coldly.

“But what… what parts do you have?”

Raymond drew himself (herself?) up in the seat and said confidently: “I don’t have to answer that question. It’s private.”

That just seemed patenlty ridiculous to Gordon. They’d been talking about this for ten minutes already, he (she?) just hadn’t made… Oh, hell, hadn’t made it clear in all the rambling monologue.

But that was it. Raymond said no more, just got up and went back to h—to Raymond’s room, leaving Gordon alone to stew.

He’d actually make a pretty nice-looking woman, he found himself thinking. Prettier than my ex-wife, anyway… And he snickered.

But at night, he found it drove him crazy. He tossed and turned as he’d never tossed and turned before. He just couldn’t stand not knowing such a basic fact when Raymond knew so much about him.


“Everybody Hurts”

I guarantee that you’ve known Isabella Millar. If you’re a guy, it’s possible that you didn’t know—or still don’t—that the person you knew was Isabella Millar. But you knew her. If only by name.

Isabella Millar was the It-girl in grade school, the one whose parents threw all the parties and invited everyone, or at least everyone who mattered, and that put the whole school in disarray, but it also meant she got invited to everything, just in case that was a factor.

In grade school, that was fine. We were petty, but we weren’t terribly self-conscious about being petty. Everything was life-and-death all the time, but that was no big deal.

Isabella Millar, though, was the girl who continued to be better than everyone else long after we graduated to sixth grade. She was the first girl with hips, let alone mosquito-bite pecs, and she wasn’t afraid of them like we were. You know this girl. If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably name a dozen of her.

But that’s not what makes an Isabella Millar.

You have to hate this girl. Even if you’re her friend, she really leaves you with no other choice, with her bland perfection. Even if you call her out, you know that it’s not because of anything she can help, you’re just jealous. A jealous bitch, which is way worse than being Isabella Millar, you just don’t get to rub everyone’s faces in it all the time.

But what really makes Isabella Millar Isabella Millar isn’t how many people she’s whipped and slathered and ground into jealousy, it’s the fact that all that’s a façade. A farce. A beauty pageant. Isabella Millar is not perfect—if she was, she wouldn’t really be Isabella Millar. She’d be a bitch.

It happens around seventh grade: one day, she comes to school different. She’s drab, she’s dour, she’s down. Her parents are getting a divorce. Oh. Suddenly, the perfection of the last seven years is shoved into the fluorescents, punching its pastiness and its pores. Those parties weren’t charity. They were a cry for help. Or no, a distraction: see? See how happy we are! You should be jealous of us because of how much happier we are than you! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

And even Isabella Millar fell for it. She believed the lie. Her parents wouldn’t lie to their little angel (both her parents are lawyers, so).

For some of us, the revelation of our parents’ imperfection, of their fragility, comes in digestible waves and stages, but then some of us wake up one day to find our home destroyed and Vesuvius itself a smoking ruin.

I can’t stand to see her like this. I know I hate her—I’m supposed to, anyway—but she was my friend once, or I thought she was, and now she’s not who I know her as, so of course I’m gonna go to her, even if I didn’t see this coming…

Why didn’t I see this coming? Why does my power discriminate? Is it because Isabella is somehow immune? No, she’s appeared before, I know she has. But I know the answer. Isabella Millar is not going to be important in my life, long-term. That’s it, isn’t it?

I don’t care.

I approach her at her locker. I’m not going to say I’m sorry, I tell myself. There’s too much opportunity for snark. Instead, I ask, “Do you wanna hang out?”

She isn’t really taken by surprise, but she is suspicious. It’s been too long, I guess. Or has it? “No, thanks.” At least she’s civil. “Maybe some other time.”

And she does take me up on that. Later.

I guess people aren’t usually as unpleasant as we make them out to be, you know? Everyone has a life and a life is enormous and multidimensional—Picasso couldn’t paint every angle of it. I try to think about that when people talk about bullies, and I try to point it out to boys when they look at girls like Isabella and think they see perfection. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that’s all the eye gets. Anything else, it should have to work for.