YOU KNOW what, grown-ups? Fuck you. No, don’t give me that look. I’m talking to you. Yes, you, the grown-up with the kids and the job and the bills, the person who pretends you know what is going on. Fuck you.
We spend our entire lives thinking that when we get older, we’re going to know what’s going on and how to handle it. You give us this illusion that you know what you’re doing, so of course in time we’ll figure it out too. It’s a generational lie, and I don’t care if your parents did it to you ’cause I’m talking to you right now. And I know my mom wasn’t mother of the year, but you know, she used the same damn line on me every time.
How dare you? How dare you lie to us like that and give us hope that someday the world will make sense! What possible reason do you have for perpetuating a lie as big as this one? I thought the whole Santa thing was mean. The Easter Bunny, not so much—it’s a giant rabbit, please. But the thought of a magical fat guy sneaking into our house and leaving us stuff is more believable than what you tell us. Why not just say it out loud?
You have no idea what you’re doing either.
Life sucks and, no matter how old a person is, it never makes sense. There’s no instruction manual. Living on your own and paying your own bills isn’t going to give you secret knowledge. If you had just admitted you were adult fuck-ups when people like me were kids, then we might be ready for all the crap when we graduated. We’d know there is no magical bullet for our ignorance, just more questions and a lot of improvising.
Do you get a power trip from making us believe you have answers when you don’t? Is acting all-knowing a survival technique? If you’d told us you were clueless, did you believe we might panic and run around like we were on fire?
I think we could have figured it out together. If you’d told us, “There are no answers and we’re all just making it up,” I really think we kids would have said, “Let’s make it up together.”
But no, you go on about how things will make sense when you’re older and one day you’ll understand. Well, here I am, waiting. And it makes no fucking sense. Instead I’m sitting in an airport typing so hard on my laptop I’m pretty sure they’re going to call security on me. There are no answers at the bottom of that cereal box, just another useless piece of plastic designed to distract us from the abysmal pain that is life.
So tell me, grown-ups, tell me what I should do.
Leave him? Stay? Let her die in a hospital thousands of miles away? Tell me, give me a fucking answer.
Tell me which decision I make is going to be the right one.
Nothing? Not a single word? What a shock! Imagine my surprise! You don’t know what to do any more than I do. I need to talk about this. I need to settle my thoughts and figure out the next best move. My flight doesn’t leave for two hours. So I’m going to figure this out on my own, since you don’t have a freakin’ clue.
I wanna say me sitting here alone started when he joined that idiotic softball league, but I know better; it started well before then.
When we moved into our new place, that first day, I should have said something, but I didn’t.
And now here I am.
She is really going to die.
No, not there yet.
Eight months ago, Brad and I moved into our new place. And things started falling apart.
Part One: Sex, Chinese Food, and Doctor Who
Name three things you want more of the second you’re finished with them.
WE PULLED up in front of the Chinese restaurant, and I was instantly whelmed.
Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed, just… whelmed. I mean, I knew the apartment we had rented was over a restaurant, but in person the building looked so… small? A short, narrow flight of stairs off to the side of the building led to our place… well, to what would be our place once we parked and snagged the keys. My stomach rolled in nervous anticipation. I was about to get the keys to my first apartment.
“This is so badass,” Brad exclaimed from the driver’s side.
I looked over and saw the wonder on his face as he leaned forward and tried to see the upper floor of the building through the Mustang’s windshield. And just like that, my nervousness was gone. He glanced at me and gave me a grin that reminded me of the first day we met in the hallway. That careless nothing can touch you while you’re with me smile was so much bullshit, but he had a way of making you want to believe it. “This is it,” he said, sounding just like a little kid staring at a mountain of Christmas presents all labeled to him.
I smiled back and grabbed his hand. “This is it.”
He started to slide over to kiss me when the guy behind us leaned on his horn and reminded us we were still in the street.
“Park now, kiss later,” Brad said and pulled into the alleyway off to the side of the restaurant.
An older Chinese lady—oh crap, that’s racist. Oriental? Um, Asian? Wow, this makes me sound bad. Look, I don’t know the difference between Chinese, Japanese, or even Korean people, so I’m not even going to try here. Someone who looked a lot like Mulan’s mom came out from the kitchen door. Is that racist too? Shit, this is what I get for being raised in the middle of Foster, Texas. Every word I have for another race is just racist, from a movie, or worse, both. Screw it: an older woman of Asian descent stepped out of the kitchen door, waving her hands at us, shouting that we couldn’t park where we were.
I got out of the car, and her shouting stopped instantly. “Kyle?” I nodded, and a smile broke out across her face. I could tell smiling was her face’s default expression. “Richard! Come out, Kyle is here.”
“You must be Mrs. Phan?” I asked, though we had Skyped a month before when I found out she was renting out the apartment.
She walked over and hugged me. “Lisa, you must call me Lisa,” she said, half hugging me and half feeling me up, but not in a weird way. Well, it was weird, but not sexual. “You’re too skinny!” she decided, taking a step back. “We’re going to change that quick.”
Brad got out, and she glanced at him, then back to me. In a low voice, she said, “You got a looker in that one.”
I felt myself blush.
Her husband came out, a stained white apron on, and gave us both a smile that looked like it came from his wife. “Kyle!” he said excitedly. “Braf!”
Mrs. Phan leaned toward me. “Ignore him; he still has a horrible accent. You’d swear we just walked off the boat.”
“My Engresh is fine!” he snapped at her.
“English,” she said, spinning and facing him. “En-glish! And the boy’s name is Brad, not Braf.” She rolled her eyes and looked back at us, her smile brightening her face again. “Welcome!”
Brad opened his mouth to say something, but Mrs. Phan decided to give him a pat-down hug like she had me. “See? This one not all skin and bones,” she admonished me. “I bet he knows how to eat.”
Brad whispered at me, “Did she just—”
“Oh yeah,” I answered, cutting him off.
“So how was your trip?” she asked, smiling and, just possibly, looking for interesting details about our drive.
“Shut up, old woman,” Mr. Phan snapped, swatting at her. “They want to see place and rest up, not stand in alley and talk to gossip.”
She exploded into a stream of… Chinese? Vietnamese? Sigh. I am so going to hell. She started yelling at him in a language of unknown origin. He fired back just as fast in the same language. I wondered if the stream of sounds was what American talk radio sounded like to foreigners.
Brad chuckled, and I took a deep breath, realizing just a little more that we were living our lives. We weren’t kids anymore.
“The trip was great and we’d love to see the place,” I half shouted into their discussion.
Mrs. Phan stopped in what I assumed was midword, and her smile was back. “Let me get the keys.”
She shooed Mr. Phan into the kitchen ahead of her, and the door slammed behind them.
Which was when we burst into laughter.
“Dude, those are our landlords?” Brad asked me after we caught our breath.
“Looks like it.” I paused and a weird feeling passed through me. It wasn’t déjà vu, but it was close. I wasn’t remembering something that had happened; I was realizing I was going to remember this particular moment forever. The whole scene locked into my mind: the smell of the food from the kitchen, the sounds of traffic from the street, the way the light hit Brad’s face just right and he was all I could see and hear and touch.
Perfect: the moment was perfect. Leaning into him, I kissed him as hard as I could, pushing him up against the car door to keep him where I wanted him. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me back, hungry at first and then more gently. And though I was caught up in the emotion of the kiss, part of my mind whispered something that made my heart glow.
This was the first moment of our lives together.
“You see?” I heard Mrs. Phan say behind us. “That is true love. Not a new vacuum and a card. Romance!” I could hear her smack her husband’s arm as I pulled away from Brad.
“You boys ready to see place?” Mr. Phan asked, not sounding all that pleased.
“Lead on,” Brad answered, grabbing my hand as we climbed the steps. Mrs. Phan opened the door, and I took a step to walk in and almost made it through the doorway. Brad stopped me when he scooped me off my feet so I ended up in his arms like a little kid or a—you know what? I don’t want to finish that thought. I glared at him, but his grin didn’t waver. “I’m walking you over the door… er… thingy.”
I wanted to be upset, but I couldn’t. I just smiled and felt my heart swell in my chest. “That’s for marriage, dummy.”
“Then I’ll pick you up again, won’t I?” He maneuvered us through the doorway, and we both took our first look at our new place.
Our apartment was actually one huge room with a couple of half walls to give the illusion of different spaces. A fridge and small stove next to a sink was the kitchen area. A small partition off to the right looked like it could be a bedroom. The rest of the space, which wasn’t much, would be our living/sleeping room. There were two windows, one that looked out to the building across the alley, and another that was smaller than my head but had a bright beam of sunlight coming through it, illuminating the dust in the air disturbed by our entrance.
The carpet was threadbare and the walls looked like they had been recently painted to cover the cracks that congregated near the ceiling. There was no furniture nor any dishes, getting a bed big enough for both of us through that door seemed problematic, and the only way we were going to get a decent shower was if one of us stood over the other with a bucket of hot water. The only sounds were the steady drip from the sink and the muted noise from the people downstairs in the restaurant, which I had a feeling would be there every time it was open for business.
All in all, our apartment was a dump.
But it was our dump, and I couldn’t help but love it.
“This is incredible,” Brad said, still not putting me down.
“We made it,” I added, and he looked over at me.
We kissed until Mrs. Phan coughed a couple of times and then walked past us into the room. “No parties, no drugs, and no excuses,” she announced, her previously pleasant demeanor gone. “You have paid for the year, but we haven’t spent the money and will refund it if we have to kick you out. You thinking of getting pets?” We shook our heads. “Good, too much trouble.” She took one last look around and then handed me the keys. “You boys want food, come down to the back—we always have extra—and we have a washing machine you can use on Sundays or else you pay for somewhere else.”
She stopped and looked at us, and her face lit up as she smiled. “You boys good together. I have a good feeling about this.” She shooed Mr. Phan out and closed the door behind her.
“You gonna put me down?” I asked.
He just gave me an evil grin.
“You really want to have sex on the floor?”
Biting his bottom lip, he nodded.
“Just on the floor? No blanket or anything?” Another nod.
I tried to keep the smile off my face but failed pretty spectacularly. “Pick a room.”
We decided on the living room first.
SO WE drove for like fifteen hours out of Arizona and made it into Berkeley sometime after three. Now I had driven in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, but nothing had prepared me for this place. There was, like, a street fair going on but there were no signs for it, just people on the sidewalk selling things to other people walking by. The streets were narrow but it didn’t seem all that cramped, like the people who were driving understood the limitations of the road and were willing to deal with them. Yeah, I know I’m projecting here, but the farther west we got, the more… hippie-like the people got.
Man, I’m starting to sound like my dad.
The people all had longer hair; they wore ponchos and stuff. I mean, they were all dressed like they were all going to Burning Man, but none of them were under thirty. Okay, not everyone was like that, but there were enough to make me weird out some. But I kept it to myself because this was where I was going to live for the next few years and I needed to get used to the place….
After we had christened the house—twice—we grabbed our stuff from the car and brought it up. That consisted of clothes and our laptops, which left a whole lot of apartment to fill. The Phans had Wi-Fi, so Kyle could get his laptop up and running and find us a place to buy a bed. I texted my mom and told her we had arrived safely and were unpacking as we spoke. She said she was so excited for me and missed me a lot.
I looked over at Kyle sitting cross-legged in our empty living room, laptop balanced on his upper legs. And I just paused. The afternoon light coming through the window cast a shadow across him, and I was stunned all over again that this guy had ever decided to shack up with me. He was so perfect, so together…. I held my phone out and took a pic of him deep in study.
I posted it to Facebook and called it “New Life: Day One.”
There was no way I would ever love anyone as much as I loved him in that moment.
“What?” he asked, looking up from his work.
I closed Facebook and put the phone back into my pocket. “My mom says hi.”
“Crap!” he exclaimed and pulled his phone out. “Text mine and tell her we made it before she sends out the Marines.” He slid his phone across the floor to me; I unlocked it and sent a quick text to his mom.
“What did she say?” he asked, not looking up from his laptop.
“She said we should have had sex in the bathroom and made it a stand-up triple.”
He whipped his head around to glare at me, and I burst out laughing. “She said to call her when you had a chance.” I handed him back his phone with his mom’s text open to prove it. “You, Mr. Stilleno, are too easy.”
He closed his laptop. “And you, Mr. Graymark, are sleeping on the floor tonight.”
“We both are if we don’t hurry,” I said, helping him up.
“There’s a futon place down the street. It’s probably the best we can do right now because I can’t imagine getting a real bed through that—”
I kissed him before he got himself worked up about furniture moving.
“Two rocks and your arms are good enough for me. A futon will be perfect,” I said softly.
“We need to get moving,” he said. But he wasn’t moving, just leaning into me.
“I know,” I said, feeling my body react to his.
“Stand-up triple, huh?” he asked, bumping his hips into mine.
“Your mom is a smart lady.”
“Come on and stop talking about my mom,” he ordered, pulling me into the bathroom.
We both let out a laugh when he began to strip my clothes off me again.