My Those Quiet Eyes Become You
“It’s like the smell of burned toast. You made the toast. You looked forward to it. You even enjoyed making it, but it burned. What were you doing? Was it your fault? It doesn’t matter anymore. You open the window, but only the very top layer of the smell goes away. The rest remains around you. It’s the walls. You leave the room, but it’s on your clothes. You change your clothes, but it’s in your hair. It’s on the thin skin on the tops of your hand. And in the morning, it’s still there.” -Seven Types of Ambiguity
I pull up in front of his house and put my car in park, then turn off the engine. I sit frozen for a moment and then open my mouth: “You don’t have to do this. You can just leave, go home. He doesn’t have to know you were ever here. Just drive away and pretend…” But that’s what I’ve been doing, isn’t it?
I’m ready to get out of the car, but I find myself clenching the wheel like it’s the only thing preventing me from falling off of a cliff. My sight isn’t blurry, it’s like it’s nonexistent. My eyes well up with tears, but I keep them at bay and clench my jaw. Shaking, my hand pulls the keys from the ignition. I open the car door and take a step out. Walking is challenging. It’s like there’s a force pushing against me, a gravity pressing in the direction opposite the house. My body is fighting me. Then I see his car, and I find my calm.
61. He always drives when we’re together.
62. I’m his front seat friend.
63. He puts his hand on my thigh when he’s driving and hasn’t seen me in a few days.
64. His car is the only thing not cluttered in his life.
65. Except that his trunk is overflowing with junk.
Climbing up the steps to his front door, I feel like my shoes are made of lead. When I finally make it to the stoop, I clam up in front of the door. I feel dizzy just looking at it. It’s hard to breathe. I can feel the heat in my face. It must be red. I shut my eyes. Take a deep sigh and summon the strength to pull my hand into a fist. As I raise it up to knock, it freezes inches from the door.
66. He has an adderall prescription despite having graduated college nearly a decade ago.
67. It changes the smell of his sweat.
68. His natural scent.
69. How it makes me lose my mind.
70. And then nauseates me.
My right arm is paralyzed. Even if I could get my fist to knock on the door, I wouldn’t be able to hit it hard enough for The Writer to hear from inside. I grab my right wrist with my left hand and pull it close to my chest. A dog barks. Its owners, a couple with graying hair walk past gabbing about their new car. I turn around, holding myself, eyes glossed. They don’t notice.
71. His tumor, which I named Fred. (He doesn’t really have a tumor.)
72. But he thinks he does.
73. How he absolutely cannot dance.
74. The way the length of his hair goes from perfect to ridiculous in just a day.
I turn around and stand closer to the door. There’s no air inside me. I’m a balloon, ready to float away. I wait for a gust of wind to take me into the sky like the nannies in Mary Poppins. But southern California isn’t stormy London, and this certainly isn’t a Disney movie. The best I can do is lean up against the door. It’s so comforting having something else hold me up that I can hardly fathom the thought of having to support my own weight again. I truly wonder if I’ll ever have the strength to even ring the stupid doorbell, so I shut my eyes and try to pass the moment.
75. How he’s surprised every time I remember something special about us.
76. How sparse his facial hair is.
77. How his memory is about as short as his emotional capacity.
78. His innocent, quiet eyes.
I open my eyes. I pick my forehead up off The Writer’s front door and stand up straight. “What the fuck are you doing?” I ask myself. “Seriously, what is your fucking problem? Are you stupid?” I smack myself across the face as hard as I can, which honestly isn’t that hard. I sit down on the top step and bury my face in my arms. “You’re fucking pathetic!” I scream into my arm, trying to muffle the noise.
79. How much I can tell about him based on the state of his hair.
80. I know every piece of clothing in his wardrobe.
81. How he uses axe body spray because he thinks it makes him seem younger.
82. I definitively know more about one thing, and he respects me for it.
I hop up and manically jump up on the stoop. “Do it. Just do it. Do it. You can do it.” I stick my hand out flat, ready to hit the doorbell. But it’s like my arm is petrified. “No. No, no, no.” I turn and sit again. When I pick my head up, a woman in her 50s, wearing a bright pink shirt and white pants has stopped to look at me. When she notices I’ve spotted her, she turns and scurries away. If it weren’t so psychotic, it would be hysterical. Or at least endearing.
83. I have a toothbrush at his house.
84. He has one at mine even though he almost never sleeps there.
85. He hates conflict.
86. How terrified I’ve become at the thought of losing him.
Stepping up for another round with the doorbell, I use my left hand to support my right hand as I try to smash it into the little button. But I really just can’t. “I can’t. You can’t. Don’t ruin this. Please, don’t do this. Please.” I get my hands far enough that they’re touching the bell, but not pressing it. I feel like I’m going to die. But you see, I’m a clever kid, so I use my right foot to kick in my left leg and fall over, my weight pressing into my arm and by extension, my hand mashes into the doorbell. I hear it buzz as I collapse against the wall. (I did just trip myself.) I scramble to collect myself, not wanting him to see me crumpled up on the ground. But even as I stand up and hear him shuffling out of his bed and toward me, it feels like an eternity. And I panic. Then am overwhelmed by nausea. Please don’t throw up. I gulp and know I won’t. I have no idea what I’m going to say. Well, what’s important? Why are you here? I ask myself. I recite about three sentences before my thoughts clam up. And then it happens. The door opens.
The Writer looks a little startled but in his own charming way. Remarkably, this is the first moment in which I actually feel crazy. What am I doing here? “Hey…” he says. “Hi,” I manage. “What are you doing here?” “Sorry for just showing up like this. Do you…have a minute?” “Sure, why don’t you come in.”
I follow The Writer into his bedroom. He sits down against his pillow at the head of his bed, but I stay standing with my arms folded until he pats it, and I sit. “So what’s up?” He asks. I swallow and remember my lines: “I’ve been thinking a lot. Really a lot. And what we have is really important to me. So I just wanted to ask you…” That’s as far as I got in my head. I panic for two entire seconds before the autopilot swoops back in to save me… “Are we really just friends?”
He looks at me very seriously but doesn’t speak. Not for a long moment. My hollowness is replaced with a melting feeling. I imagine myself dripping. I’ll be a puddle on his floor soon.
“I don’t know. I guess, yeah. Why?”
“I care about you so much. And…I want more.” “I care about you, too,” he says. “I care about you more than I should,” I say in a way that sounds more like a confession than anything else. “Well, what do you want to do about it?” He asks. “I want to be with you,” I answer as simply and honestly as I can while I search his eyes for a hint of hope. He shifts his position and his eyes pierce me. When he speaks again, his voice becomes nasally: “I…I like you a lot, and I love spending time with you. I just don’t have that feeling. I want to, I just don’t. I didn’t have it with my ex…” Him again. “And I don’t have it with anyone right now. I wish I did, but I don’t.” “You don’t even want to try?” I ask at the risk of sounding naively desperate. He gives me a look that says it all, and I recoil.
“You look uncomfortable,” he says. “That’s because I am uncomfortable,” I mutter unable to look at him as I force back a sob. “Come lay next to me,” he says, clearing off the bed.
“I don’t…I don’t understand how you can just wake up next to someone every day and not feel anything.” I expect more silence, but instead he says, “I thought that might be a problem. I guess we shouldn’t have any more sleepovers.” His words slice into me, and I feel as though I’ve lost everything. “You said you were OK with this situation…” “I was. Or I tried to be. Now, I’m not. Clearly…” The tears come pouring out. He just watches. “I never wanted to hurt you. I hate seeing this.” I’m ashamed.
“Will you hold me?” I ask humbly as more and more tears drag down my face. “Of course,” he says sliding over and wrapping his arms around me.
87. He likes to be bitten.
88. He gets embarrassed about the porn he watches.
89. How he kisses like a surgeon.
We lie there for several minutes. Silent. He’s being so good to me right now. I can’t imagine having the patience or the courage to handle a situation like this with someone else. He strokes my hair and presses his nose against the back of my head. I let it out. I don’t have a choice. I have to catch up with my breathing. I haven’t cried like this in years.
“I have to pee, but I’ll be right back,” he says, getting up and leaving the room. When I hear the bathroom door close, I gasp, sinking down into the mattress. I can’t process the chaotic emotions I’m experiencing. My thoughts are out of order and discombobulated. This is the end. Of something. And it’s terrifying.
90. How we almost broke his dishwasher.
91. How he makes me want to be better than I really am.
92. He wouldn’t eat my chicken.
When I hear the toilet flush, I sit up and begin to put my shoes on. I have to get away from here. I’m so disoriented, I just want to go home. But I feel like this is home. This is where I’ve spent most of my time since I’ve moved here. He’s the one I feel safe with. No. How did I get here? I’m the strong one. I’m the one who’s supposed to have it together. I hastily smear the wet off my cheeks.
93. He made the first move.
94. He knew I was different, not like the other boys.
95. He tried to fuck me anyway.
The Writer appears in the door way and looks at me. “Are you leaving?” “Yes.” “Are you alright to drive?” “I made it here, didn’t I?” He comes and sits next to me. “I understand whatever you need to do, but if you need some time away…” “No, our friendship means everything…” I immediately realize how desperate this sounds, and it’s the one thing I wish I could take back.
96. I think about him every day.
97. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t read The Writer.
“Don’t spend tonight alone. Promise?” I nod, and he embraces me.
98. I make him pause.
99. I’ve never understood.
“Call me when…you’re ready.”
100. But I always knew.