Baggage

“There is so much to be learned about someone from the little they remember and label ‘the past.'” -Seven Types of Ambiguity

I’m sitting in the lounge at work, reading a magazine about the big Oscar-worthy movies this year. Some of them look inspiring, and I start to make a list of the ones I want to see, but I’m interrupted when I hear a buzzing noise. It becomes louder in my ear. Then I feel something pressing, moving across my head. Chunks of hair fall on my clothes. I reach up to feel the area where the hair came from right as my eyes blink open in my dark bedroom. Just a dream.

I run my hand through my hair–still there…although I do need a haircut. The screen of my phone is lit up with a text on my nightstand. I rub my contacts to un-smush them, and the blurriness subsides. “Miss you,” it says. I sit up and swing my legs around the edge of my bed. I see that it’s nearly 1AM.

I power my phone off before clutching it in my hands and pulling it tight to my chest. As I fall back asleep, I wonder what The Writer was thinking when he sent that message. Why now? And just why?

*     *     *

The next morning, I awaken with phone in hand. As it powers up, I remember the text, and it makes me question myself. Not just “should I answer?” I don’t understand why he sent the text, so I should at least understand why I would respond. But I don’t know why.

I moved across the country with a mission, and he derailed me. Or maybe I just used him to derail me. I recognize that something is different now. I feel it within myself. I’ve changed. I’ve been damaged. I healed. I’ve grown. After two months without a sight of him, I decide it’s time.

We make plans. We’re going to see the film Like Crazy. I’ve been dying to see it since I watched the trailer months ago–even that two-minute preview was devastating. I had made my friends promise me that they wouldn’t let me see this movie with a boy under any circumstances (even though at one point I had plans to see it with Drew), but I can’t help myself. I can’t describe why precisely, but I knew I had to see it with The Writer.

But when I arrive at his house, I begin to panic. What if he invited Dalton? Despite feeling collected, there is no way in hell I can do that to myself. So I consider my options. Maybe if Dalton comes, I’ll pretend to throw up next to the car and just go home. Or I’ll get an “urgent phone call” that will require my presence elsewhere. No, that’s not it. I’ll abandon my car altogether and just run, screaming down the street. I like that one–it has strong dramatic effect.

I pull it together and ring the doorbell, preparing myself for the sprint. I hear footsteps inside and hold my breath. (Not a good practice for someone about to sprint.) The door swings open, and in this moment, I realize that there are more silent screams than audible ones.

Someone steps out from behind the door. It’s him. It’s The Writer. There’s a tingle of relief, and its source is very particular: I’m glad to see my friend. I missed him. Not in some longing or romantic way. “You ready?” He asks, and I forget all about Dalton.

We head down to his car, and he opens the stuffed trunk, shoveling around its contents with his arms. “What are you looking for?” I ask after a minute. “My black jacket, you know the one? I let Dalton borrow it, and he definitely lost it even though he’s completely denying it. I’m getting really tired of his shit lately. He lost my favorite sunglasses, too,” he says. I keep my mouth shut. That jacket, the one he lent me after our little rolling experience, is hanging on the back of my chair at work. I’ve been wearing it when I need a little comfort boost.

Finally, he gives up, and we get in the car. The conversation during the ride to the theater starts off mellow. I express to him how excited I am to see the movie. “Me too. I tried to get Dalton to come, but he had a paper due,” The Writer says. I wince a little, but he doesn’t notice. “How is Dalton?” I ask. “He’s fine…taking some classes at a community college. I’m trying to help him out, but it’s just kind of tense.” I don’t really know what to say after that, so we’re silent for a few minutes.

Finally, I speak up. “How are you?” “Good, working a lot, and…” “No,” I interrupt. “I mean how are you. I haven’t seen you in forever. Are you happy?” My eyes are on the road, but I see him turn to look at me. “Yeah.” This is the first time The Writer has ever directly lied to me.

We arrive just in time for the film begins. Immediately, I am captivated:

“I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it, but I didn’t, not really. Only the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered, all-containered, semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn’t realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea. Because it’s the halves that halve you in half. I didn’t know, don’t know, about the in-between bits, the gory bits of you and the gory bits of me.”

But it’s those jagged, ugly bits that we fall in love with. We try to make the pieces fit, but it hurts. I wonder to myself if I would have chosen any of this had I known what I would be getting. But I don’t trust the answer I give myself in the moment.

Around the turn of the first act, the female lead Anna gives her boyfriend Jacob a book that she’s kept of their relationship from the beginning: doodles, mementos, poems, art, writings. It makes me think of what I’ve written and tears come. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot The Writer wearing a smile, the source of which I’m unable to place. He turns to me and reacts to the wet on my face with an expression of concern. But when my eyes brush his gaze, he looks away. The attention he gives the rest of the movie is resolute. Everything that needs to be said between us is realized in its own way in that theater. It’s an emotionally elevated experience, cathartic in many ways.

I cry more before the credits roll, and I’m settled with that relaxed but exhausted sensation that you get after a good weep. I want to watch the movie a thousand more times but never again at all. It will never be watched like that again, not by anyone.

Before the lights turn on, I’ve found my calm. “That was the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen,” I say. It was one of those movies where every object in the frame told a story, and the pieces became a complex and evolving mosaic. “It was incredible,” he says. The cogs are turning. I can read the thoughts sprinting through his head. It’s an expression of wonderment.

“I want to make a movie like that,” he says. “Do it.” “I should, shouldn’t I?” He’s staring into nothingness. It’s one of his meditative states that I’m not sure he knows about.

“I’m trying to figure out what it is,” he continues. I’m unsure what he’s referring to exactly, but I speak anyway: “It’s honesty.” And I don’t mean just truth and lies. Honesty is the only thing of importance that The Writer is missing in his life. He doesn’t have a single person in his life to be honest with him. It’s the only thing missing from most of his otherwise very talented writing. He can’t bear to be the honest, so he shades himself with charm and wit or bitterness.

“What do you mean?” He asks. “I believed every second of that film. In every single conflict, the characters did what was true. Not what was pretty or logical or entertaining.” “I can do that. Honesty is all it takes? I can write a movie like that,” he says. I scoff a little. “That much honesty might kill you,” I say.

“Ouch! That was mean,” he says with a defensive playfulness. “But I kind of like it.” “You are so wrong,” I say. He smirks. “I can’t help it.” “Of course you can’t.” He thinks this is cute, and so did I…once. But it’s not. “It’s my whole self-loathing thing. I think it’s something like I don’t understand how someone would want me, so I don’t have respect for people unless they treat me like shit.” He says it sarcastically, but we both know it’s true, and it makes me sad.

I don’t say anything the rest of the ride back to his house, and he invites me in. “Do you want a drink?” he ask as he mixes himself one. “No thanks.”

I go sit on the couch, and he follows. “Why are you so quiet around me?” He asks. “You’re not quiet around your other friends.” “Who ever said we were friends?” I retort. He doesn’t know how to take it, which is fine because I’m not 100% what I mean by it. So he just laughs. “I want you in my life more,” he tells me. “Then maybe you should call more,” I answer.

“You’re more confident,” he tells me. “It suits you.” I roll my eyes, but secretly revel in his observation.

“Are you seeing anyone?” He asks. “There is so much I have to tell you,” I want to blurt out. Instead, I wonder if I should even mention Drew. “Who wants to know?” I ask, trying my best to avert this line of conversation. “You’re always dating someone,” he says. I throw him my “are you serious?” look, but he shoots back with his best “oh, come on” face. He wins out.

I bite my bottom lip, then: “I had a thing with this guy.” “And now?” “Now, I don’t.” Why so secretive?” He asks. I don’t want to tell him. It’s blurring the line. But I there’s a longing inside me to share, so I do. I tell him about Palm Springs, the painful details. And once again, I find comfort in confiding in him on this level.

When I conclude, I suspect him to take a tone of worry, but his reaction doesn’t even have the slightest hint of shock. “Typical gay guys.” He takes a sip of his drink. “It sounds like something I would do.” “No, it doesn’t,” I say sharply. “I don’t believe that for a second you would.” “Yeah, but I’d like to think that I would,” he says, his charm dwindling by the word. “Why? Why would you want think you’re that kind of person,” I ask with an anger that is meant to make him think. Did it not register that someone he cares about was hurt? He doesn’t have some cheeky answer, so he takes a swig of his drink.

“You deserve better than that,” he says finally. “I do.” “He was lucky to have you. You’re smart and clever. And really cute.” He says that last part as if I’d only suspected it of myself, as though any awareness I had for my own beauty were severely underdeveloped. Perhaps when we first met, but now… “I know.” “I’m glad you know.”

He stares at me intently for a moment before noticing a car’s headlights moving across the front of his house. He gets up and looks out the window. “Who is it?” I ask. “Just a neighbor. I thought it was Dalton. He hasn’t been answering my calls today, and I need to talk to him.” “Is everything OK?” I ask. “Sort of.” He sits back down.

“Obviously, he’s been living here, which is weird…because he’s my ex.” I nod distinctly to confirm this fact. “And I don’t know if you know this, but we’ve been sleeping in the same bed.” Yes, my keen skills of observation have picked up on this as well. “And we don’t hook up or anything, but we…we cuddle, and things get confusing.” Normally, this statement would make my eyes explode out of my head like a gerbil in a microwave. But as I mentioned, I’ve grown.

“I mean, it’s not like I’m getting emotionally involved with him again. I’ve been down that road, and trust me, it’s nothing but dead ends.” And then something of a miracle happens. The Writer begins to develop some kind of grasp on how this might not be my favorite topic of conversation. “Sorry, you shouldn’t have to listen to this stuff.” “No, you can talk to me about anything,” I tell him. “Thank you.”

“It’s just he thinks he can take advantage of me, and nothing I say does anything. He doesn’t pay rent, he takes my car and comes back late, my room is a mess–” “Your room was a mess before he got here,” I can’t help but say. “Well he made it messier! My electric bill went up hundreds of dollars since he’s been here because he never leaves.” “He sounds like your child,” I say. “He is like my child. And I can’t have a life. I feel like I can’t meet someone and share my life with them while he’s here. I’m stuck.” “Why don’t you just ask him to leave?” I ask. “Because he doesn’t have anywhere to go. And I love him, but I love him like a little brother, and it’s weird.” I wonder if this how The Writer thinks of me, but I quickly convince myself otherwise.

“What if you give him a deadline to move out? Does he have a job?” “He had a job. I got him a job, but he quit because he thinks he ‘shouldn’t have to work’ because he should be able ‘to enjoy his youth.'” “Are you serious?” I ask. “Yeah, he gets an unemployment check for a few hundred dollars every week.” For the first time since I’ve met him, my opinion of Dalton declines.

“Do you guys have any close mutual friends that could talk to him?” I suggest. “No. Really my only two close friends are you and Dalton.” His answer kind of shocks me. I ponder it for a moment, but before I can think of what to say next, lights push through the windows. This time a car comes to a stop outside. I can hear Dalton’s voice and the car door shuts. I’m silent when he enters the house.

“Hey, who’s here?” He asks. “Do you remember my friend?” The Writer says, referring to me, as Dalton walks into the living room. “Of course,” he says, giving me a hug.

“Who were you out with?” The Writer asks. “None of your business,” Dalton says. “Was it Renee? Or Edmund? Or a new fuck buddy?” “Why do you want to know so badly?” Dalton shoots back. “I have to pee,” I say and excuse myself.

By the time I get back, they’ve settled down a bit. “Can you just be polite while I have a guest?” The Writer asks as he turns on the television and scrolls through the On Demand menu. He stops when he gets to a show called Episodes. “I love that show,” The Writer says. “You should watch it,” he tells me. “I’ve seen it,” I remind him. “What’s it about?” Dalton asks. “You’ve seen it,” The Writer says. “Remember the British couple moves to L.A. to make an adaptation of their show?” “Oh, I’ve been meaning to watch that,” Dalton says. “We watched it together,” The Writer insists. “No, I’ve never seen it,” Dalton says once more. “Dalton, you and I watched it every week in my bed,” The Writer protests, his tone now tinged with annoyance. I’m mildly horrified by what is unfolding in front of me, but I decide to speak anyway. “Actually…we watched it together,” I chime in. I know he’s already forgotten; it’s just that he tries so hard not to remember.

“I-I thought I watched…” “No, we watched every episode together,” I tell him. “Remember? We always ordered Indian food.” As his mistake washes over him, the room is flooded by its implications.

I don’t know why The Writer argued until we arrived at this place, I just know that it’s a place I don’t want to be, so I excuse myself for the evening. Whatever we had is not only over but apparently also forgotten. Two halves don’t always make a whole and that realization can be a difficult burden to live with.

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3 Responses to Baggage

  1. Linus says:

    Hey i love the story so far. It’s so well writen, cant wait to rrad the next chapter.xx linus

  2. This is a lovely and sad story, so far. I can’t wait to read more.

  3. Matchu says:

    He should consider his ass well and truly kicked to the kerb. Good work dude.

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