Slighty Out of Place
“Maybe it’s just me. I know I was at home for too long. Some weeks I’d never leave the house unless it was to get some groceries. You don’t talk to people getting groceries.”
“Well, you do but I didn’t. Wouldn’t. So I’d feel my personal space become more, like, demanding. Because sometimes — it was like a smell you couldn’t escape, you know? I physically needed to be alone. I didn’t want to hear or talk or touch or be touched.”
“No, yeah. I can relate.”
“It’s like I couldn’t breathe sometimes. It’s just…just wanting to be alone, you know?”
“What are you waiting for, then? I said alone!”
“Oh!” He moves to sit up, pretending to hesitate and trip over his legs before we both collapse into a fit of laughter.
He lays back down, smiling right up against my face. We lay on the floor, our heads side by side, our bodies angled away from each other. Our day has gone to waste and we’re utterly revelling in the chaos of it.
He’s gone and transformed most of the first floor into one gigantic pillow fort—though most of the pillows are just scattered about the floor so it looks more like a tacky tent. Mismatched blankets and bedspreads hang from every lantern, pinned onto every flat surface and held together by the few spindly kitchen clips he’s managed to gather.
Who cares what happened yesterday; who cares what’s going to happen tomorrow? I smile widely, unflinching in my happiness, for once basking in how ridiculous I sound when I laugh, forgetting to hide my mouth. I am happy when I am alone, with him.
He turns to face me, his arm curling around my head to reach my ear, gently tugging with careless intimacy. “I get it, I do,” he says after a sigh. “Sometimes,when I go back home I—”
“Aren’t you done yet?”
I gasp, a bit too loudly I think. I whip my head all around me before turning and facing my boss. She isn’t even looking at me though she doesn’t seem too upset. In fact, she looks as distracted as I feel, the day’s activities weighing on her shoulders before it’s even begun. She gives me a pointed look; clearly, she’s asked me a question.
“Nothing. I mean…sorry. I-I kept miscounting the, uh…” I stare at the measuring spoon in my hand, then up at the coffee filter. It’s filled nearly to the brim.
“Do I need to show you how to use the coffee machine?”
“No, no. Sorry. No,” I say, gently lifting the filter and pouring the coffee back into the package. My face burns as I purposefully count every spoonful and every measure until I can finally press BREW.
My boss pulls out her phone while we wait, already typing, already working. She gives me another pointed look. I whip out my own phone with enough force to nearly fling it across the room and begin typing in the emails she’s requested. I just want to lie down and feel warm.
Leaning my chin on my hand, I read through today’s jumble of files. It’s 9:02 in the morning, plenty of daytime left to genuinely focus on work. There’s an ever-growing list of approximately twenty emails I need to send, a stack of paperwork to be filled, and a few meetings after lunch scheduled only to pretend we work as a team. I plug in my earbuds, the smooth tones of my Chill Beats playlist making me feel slightly better, slightly out of place. It’s now 9:05, my coffee going cold beside my laptop as I pretend to read and read and read and let go.
“My family…my family’s old-fashioned. They can be of an open-mindedness sometimes but…I don’t know. It’s hard to talk to them. They don’t know I’m out yet or like…they don’t even know. I hadn’t realized until very recently that I didn’t trust them even though I live with them, you know? I mean, I lived— live—with them but it was as though my chest was tight around them.”
I turn to look at him, hoping the tears in my eyes are mistaken for the haze of the smoke. He’s looking straight back at me, meeting my soul with his gaze. And I love him. He sees me and I can breathe.
Shit, it’s already 10:00? I jerk in my seat, glancing around briefly to see if anyone caught that. My browser displays the same email I’ve been trying to type for the last hour — I didn’t think I was out of it for that long—the number of pending emails on my left growing with each minute. My files are due and I’m still dreaming.
I am an ocean. I hold no bearings. I come and go, I greet and I part. I would lay stagnant within the walls of the people I thought knew me well when it turns out, all they really knew was a stereotype of me and not the person bubbling underneath the skin.
His hand gently curls into my hair, weaving in and out in small patterns. I lean in—
Wait! No time! I chug down my now cold mug of coffee—the cold helps me find my center a bit—and I just plow through the following ten emails, completely removing my earbuds before I lose myself entirely, again. The clock now shows 10:43 and I’m not done. I am not done.
What else? What else?
—So I lean in and I kiss him. We’ve done this before; I decide that now. I have traced his mouth with love. We kiss and there are no barriers, no expectations.
In his living room, here, we hold no labels. I don’t need to know what we are as a unit. And does it really matter? The inconsequence of being? I don’t want to know. Locked in together, his mouth on mine, hands grasping with a strange desperation lurking just beneath the surface, we can be who we want to be. Together.
“I said it’s time for lunch. Do you want to come with?” I look up. Three coworkers stare at me expectantly, the clock screaming 12:07. My heart sinks as I look into their faces and I fail to recognize them. Who are these people and why should I care?
I shake my head. “No, I have too much work to do.”
“Stop pushing yourself so hard and come. You need to eat.”
“Yeah, fifteen minutes won’t kill you.”
I shake my head again. No. If I go I won’t be able to do anything. This is my time. I don’t care.
My head lolls to the side mid-sentence, my face against his, and I fall asleep without noticing it. His breath upon mine, my nose touching his cheek, I can lay there peacefully and dream. His hand never leaves my curls. He smiles, using his other hand to pluck the joint from my limp fingers. A haze of smoke billows up to the ceiling, the sky a clear golden as the sun sets steadily through the blinds.
He watches me. He watches the colors set over my shoulder. We lay on a pile of crumpled blankets, Christmas lights dangling from the ceiling fan—imagine if one of us forgot and turned the switch on—the air cozy and crisp.
He turns onto his side to reach over my body and gently cover me with one of the blankets. However, I lay too heavily on it so he manages to only cover my abdomen and down to my knees. But he’s satisfied and—
“Are you busy?” My mom asks, peeking her head into my bedroom. Is there a time when it would be appropriate to say yes, yes I am?
“No,” I sigh, gritting my teeth, even though the book in my hands has been open to the same page during the last 10 minutes or so.
“I need you to drive me to the bank, they won’t accept the payment online or something—” she frowns at her phone, “—and I need to get some vegetables and cream for tonight…oh, and we need toilet paper.”
“Yes, now. Please, I’m asking you a favor.”
Her favors sound like demands; she did her part by asking and not ordering yet I’m expected to comply. I’m not busy. I’m never busy. I can’t be busy for her needs.
“Can you give me a minute?”
“Nevermind, I’ll call a cab,” she huffs and turns, yelling out of sight, “I can see you’re too busy!”
“Just…” My hands curl into fists and I can’t, I just can’t breathe.
Stop. No tears, not worth it. I can wait in the car and think in peace. I trip over myself running after her, grabbing a pair of tennis shoes and tossing them into my bag. I can always put them on in the car.
I slowly blink awake. He’s still there, his right arm curled under his head like a pillow. At the same moment I open my eyes, he opens his.
“Do you want to do something?” He asks.
“Stop! Do you know what you’re doing? Do you?”
I look down at my hands, empty. My head is fuzzy and I just want to escape. For a moment, the street extends before me, endless. I can’t see what lays on the other side. The colorless landscape of business and commerce—where were we going? — it weaves together into a single note.
I bite the swearing on my tongue, driving on through an air of molasses. I throw a quick glance at my mother, who stares down the same road, maybe feeling the same entrapment as I do. She clearly doesn’t and I hate her for it.
“…because it’s not as though it’s all the same.”
“Or anything so different.”
Our hands lace together with ease as we walk. The sun has set in the horizon with faint wisps of orange coloring the darkened sky, the nighttime breeze pricking at my skin, the promise of winter in the air, of rebirth.
“I was thinking, you know, of that tightness you were talking about. I think it’s normal but I do not think it’s right. What’s so normal about suffering?” He waves his hands in front of him as he speaks, never letting go of mine, dragging me along into our conversation and shared words.
“The human condition, perhaps? To suffer?”
“Well…Yeah, could be, but it’s worse than revenge. If we all have a right to happiness, then why do we need to suffer? People mostly suffer through other people but you can’t share in suffering, you can only empathize.”
“Is that bad—”
Whack! I yelp, the woman in front of me screams as well. My mother is nowhere in sight and the woman whirls around, getting all up in my face.
“What the hell are you doing? Watch it!”
“I’m-I’m sorry, I—”
“I saw you! I saw you were prancing like an idiot around the fruit! Are you blind?”
I want to try and find my mother and escape this nightmare but already I can feel the stares of other shoppers, quietly glancing towards the sound of the angry woman, loudly casting their judgement in my direction.
“I didn’t mean to, I wasn’t looking and…”
I didn’t even notice I had been pacing. How can I explain that? How do I explain that my mind vanishes into a complete different world, one full of endless possibilities and longings that give me the smallest of hopes in order to live in this one?
“You stupid girl,” she knocks against my shoulder as she walks off. “I have a back problem you know!
“Okay, okay, umm…it’s a gangster film for kids.”
“Yeah, there’s gangsters and, like, a mob rivalry but for children.”
“How is that a thing?”
“You don’t know?”
“No! What is that, a rejected Pixar film?”
“No, you idiot. It’s as old as you are. Or maybe younger. Or—I don’t know, it’s old.”
“Old? What? I didn’t know any gangsters when I was a kid!”
“You don’t have to! Just guess the movie!”
“God…gangsters for kids…is it anything, like, Bugs Bunny related?”
“No. You’ve got the name close but no, it’s not a cartoon. It has people in it. Real people. Actors, whatever.”
“Real people… Just…I just, I don’t know. How would that be for kids though? Do people die?”
“Yes. No, but yes. Quickly!”
“People die by mobsters in a kids’ film?”
“Not like that! Like, they through pies or something and those are supposed to be their weapons. Not actual death. The characters who ‘die’ just get creamed.”
“You are…you are speaking in a whole different language.”
The buzzer goes off in his hand. We stare at each other and laugh—
“What are you laughing about?”
I want to jump out the window, have the ground swallow me whole, have all of us spontaneously combust and burn away with the strength of my shame; maybe it’ll burn stronger than the embarrassment of everyone in the classroom staring at me, the professor just waiting for an answer. What did he ask?
“Sorry,” I say, looking away. Just stop just stop just stop.
It’s late, it’s been a long day and he’s aware I work in the mornings then study in the evenings. I could pass it off as slaphappiness—me being slaphappy, dazed, out-of-it…is that how you say it?
“I can’t perform and make this class more interesting for you. Half of you are asleep, the other—” he glances in my direction, “ — are somewhere else. It’s a late class, I understand, but you chose it. You be here.”
I hold him firmly, his entire body quivering against mine. The worst has passed. Around us the rain falls in a light but constant drizzle. The hallway is empty save for the echo of voices, the building feeling larger than it is.
I rest my head on his shoulder, tightening my hold. He grips me back just as desperately. I wonder what this feels like, to open your arms and know—no, not know but feel, like an extension of your very self—that someone is going to meet you halfway, their arms open and waiting for you.
I can’t think of what’s passed, I don’t give in to imagining it. What matters is he’s here. He’s always here. And in here, he is 100% mine. I can breathe.
I wish it were always this way.
I wish it were always this way.
Without opening my eyes, I concentrate on the warmth of his body in my mind, cradling my own with my spindly arms, hugging the air around me, dreaming.