“I was getting ready for bed,” I told him. It was partly true, but not especially helpful.
“With him in the room?” my cousin wanted to know.
“I guess so,” I said. It was lame, and we both knew it. I can’t outright lie in important situations. Call it a character flaw.
“Go to bed,” he said disgustedly, and went out onto the terrace.
By this point, we all know I’m a spiteful person. I knew it would look immature for me to point out that he wasn’t my father, and couldn’t tell me when to go to bed, but I sure as hell was not about to go to sleep right then. For one thing, no one was tired. Without everything else going on, I had to finish packing. More importantly, MC (we’re going to refer to my cousin as MC) was really upset, and I wanted him to say why. Not that I couldn’t guess. He’s an extremely possessive person, and had been rather protective of me the entire week. With the exception of times he’d been off drinking or smoking, I had not been left alone with his friends, and he’d even turned down fun activities like parties and swimming with friends whom I could tell he thought were into me. The only reason This Guy had gotten past MC’s protective fence was that it was his apartment in which we were staying. I was sleeping in his sister’s room (we hooked up in his sister’s room. I guess that was okay with him).
I followed him outside, figuring that if I could get my cousin to confess to his overprotective instincts, we could have a healthy conversation about his internalized misogyny, and how he needs to recognize that I’m a Person. That I can make my own decisions regarding the people in whom I’m interested, and that I’m not going to be charmed by every friend who finds himself interested in Me. I’m not stupid, or overly acquiescing, and I’ve had increasing experience in getting guys to leave me alone. People need to stop acting as though male interest equates male entitlement, and automatically results in male satisfaction. That’s what I would’ve told him, if he hadn’t immediately told me to go back to bed, and denied that he was feeling any type of way about the situation.
“I’m fine, everything’s good,” was all he would say.
“You’re clearly Not fine,” I told him. You’re just being a stupid man, unwilling to admit to any of your feelings, and creating more drama right before I have to get on an airplane! I thought. To add to the complication, The Guy chose this moment to join us outside.
“This isn’t just some skank you can use!” My cousin told him. “This is my cousin! You respect her! Fuck with my family, and I’ll kill you. How’s that for serious?” He stared at The Guy for a minute, then left.
I was so shocked, and pissed. I was aware that by telling The Guy that I wasn’t a skank, MC was completely putting me into the position of Being A Skank. Clearly, if I hadn’t been related to him, he would have viewed me with less respect. My value as a person should not be tied to the identities of my family members. It also shouldn’t be tied to my sexual expression, but I guess female sex positivity and the problems of slut-shaming have yet to be accepted in that apartment. Furthermore, I was annoyed that MC seemed to have put me into the Victim’s Position. I was someone who had been “fucked with”? This Guy was getting warnings and threats (which were ridiculous, given that TG is about twice the size of my cousin, the majority of him being muscle) for going near me, and I was just an innocent flower whose chastity needed protection from someone who wasn’t even myself. There’s never a good way to explain Not Flirting and Experimentation without making yourself seem like an asshole and minor sociopath, but I had serious problems with the huge power flip that had just taken place. All of a sudden, I was a girl who had been tricked by some player, who also had to beg for her male guardian’s forgiveness, and finish packing, and eventually sleep before leaving for at least a year. I was thinking about all this when TG came to sit next to me.
“Did you tell him?” he asked.
“He kind of already knew,” I replied.
“He came into the room, right after you left, and I wasn’t wearing any pants.”
“What happened??” This was another cousin, who lived downstairs. He’d just come outside. Why was he in the apartment? This situation was so ridiculous, and I didn’t feel like explaining it, so I started to laugh, instead.
“You’re here? I didn’t know you were here!” I told him.
“I’m here!” he said. “What happened? I just heard MC say ‘I’ll kill you’? What happened?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “Go to sleep.”
He went back inside, and what followed was maybe thirty minutes of silence, with intervals of conversation. I was doing a lot of reflection. TG was confused, ever-dramatic, and somehow still in the mood.
“I just have one question. I just want to know one thing,” he kept saying, before asking his question. The questions went all over the place.
“Did you ever kiss MC?” he wanted to know. Did I ever WHAT? I thought.
“You mean, like peck him on the cheek the way everyone kisses each other in greeting, or like the way I kissed you?” I asked to clarify.
“Like, kiss him.”
“Well, he’s my cousin,” I emphasized, “So, no.”
“I just think you two are really close. Like he’s oddly close to you. Sometimes I really thought you had. And I think that’s why he’s so mad.”
“You think he’s jealous? Of you? For kissing me?” This was too much to handle. He really couldn’t be going in this direction right now. I shut down that conversation, and we went back to silence.
“I’m not blaming you At All, but why did you do it?” I wanted to know. “Why did you kiss me? I could’ve just left. The flight is in a few hours.”
“Because I’m attracted to you,” he said. “I couldn’t just let you leave. I’ve wanted to do it since I saw you, but I wasn’t sure how you’d react. You’re quite scary, you know.”
“I know,” I said, glad that he remembered.
“I even would have done it this morning, on the balcony,” he told me. I thought back to the morning, when MC and I had been outside. I’d been in my oversize sleeping shirt, and TG had come up behind me and kissed my cheek. At first, MC had started at seeing “some shirtless guy kiss [his] cousin”, but had relaxed when he recognized who it was. Funny how quickly things change.
“Would you have kissed me if I hadn’t done it?” he asked.
“No,” I told him quite honestly. It clearly hadn’t been as necessary for me as it had been for him.
“Then I’m glad I did it,” he said.
“You know what the worst part about this is?” TG said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m still attracted to you,” he told me. It had been less than an hour. I would hope that I didn’t become unattractive within an hour’s time.
“That makes sense,” I told him.
“But now it’ll be hard for me to come back later,” he lamented.
“You still want to come back later?” I was incredulous.
“Yeah, don’t you want me to?”
“No,” I told him. For some reason I felt like laughing, but didn’t. It wouldn’t have been happy laughter, anyway. “I don’t want to do anything right now.”
“You know, I’ll probably never see you again,” I said.
“What, why would you say that?” he wanted to know.
“Well, do you really think MC will let me be around you when I come back to South Africa?”
“He’d have to,” he said. “It would suck if I couldn’t see you again.” There was a pause. “Would it suck for you, if you couldn’t see me again?” I had to think about it.
“Yeah,” I said quietly, although I wasn’t sure. At this point, I’m becoming more used to people fading out of my life, and I’d only known him a week. I’d already made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t see anyone from Cameroon again, and I’d been there for four months. Still, he’d been good company, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Funny, that even though I was supposedly the victim in this situation, I was still looking out for the victor’s feelings. That’s some mess of bullshit. I would miss him, though, so it ended up being the truth.
When MC finally came back, he’d obviously been crying. TG left the balcony, and I set about trying to pry my cousin’s feelings out of him. Difficult does not begin to describe it, for multiple reasons.
I don’t have much tolerance for people who say they are fine when they are clearly not. I know that this is something of which I am guilty of doing, but only because I have a system by which I abide when it comes to this.
If I’m upset with someone, I will lie to them twice about my feelings. If I’m still not okay the third time they ask, I will either exit the situation so as not to have to lie again, or put up a finger to show that I am too overcome with my emotions to speak at the moment, but will attempt to organize my words to bring them up to date on the problem. Making a point of showing someone how upset with them you are, but refusing in words to admit to the existence of a problem is one of the stupidest wastes of time and energy of which I can think. It honestly does no one any good. Not the person who wants to try to fix things, and definitely not yourself. Why do people sit on their emotions? It only makes them feel worse in the end. When people refuse to tell me their problems, I’ll eventually change the subject, or leave them alone about it. You can stew in your unpleasantness by yourself.
This was just harder to do with MC, the leaving him alone part, because of the intense time pressure. I was leaving soon, and I didn’t want to leave with my cousin hating me for some nonsense. No one needs that. I kept wheedling him.
“If everything’s really okay,” I finally said, exasperated, “Then you won’t care if I go kiss TG again. What would you do? Should we find out?” I was so close to doing it, too. Part of it was for spite. The other part was also curiosity. I’d had increasingly more time to reflect on the first kiss, and I was trying to figure out if it had been sweet, or nefariously calculated. I wanted to kiss him again, to see how it would feel, but my wiser side told me to stay where I was and not be a brat.
“It’s all fine,” he said. “It’s all fine for you. You can just go back to America. I have to stay here with him, and when he brags about you to everyone, I’m the one who’s going to have to hear about it.” I realized right then that although I loved him, my cousin was a bit of an asshole.
“You’re not upset about me at all,” I exclaimed. “You’re upset about yourself! You’re mad because you think of me as some conquest TG made, and not as a person who thinks and feels and does things and has a will of her own. Did you even ask me if I’d wanted to kiss him? Did you think at all about my own power as a person?” I considered explaining The Experiment to him, again, but decided that would probably lead down a long conversation about asexuality and more of his misogyny that I didn’t have the energy to address. It was late.
“You know, you don’t actually talk to me,” was what I ended up saying. “Or, you tell me your problems, but you don’t actually know anything about myself, or my life. You think that when I don’t want to watch movies where Idris Elba is about to abuse women, it’s because of some annoying feminism on my part. You don’t understand what my triggers are, because we’ve never had a deep enough conversation for me to express my scariest thoughts to you. And even now, you’re too caught up in your own hurt, irrelevant feelings of betrayal to actually hear me as a valid person arguing for myself.”
“Well, whatever,” he told me. “You can do what you want. That’s what you do. I don’t care.”
I looked at the cousin I loved, the cousin who’d seemed like a magical rescue angel last year, and looked over the balcony, thinking about how I’d been using South Africa and my time with him as an escape from thinking about my actual problems. But the problem with escaping from your problems is that you attempt to hide any traces of them in order to avoid dealing with them, and our great relationship was based on a foundation of shallowness, which was probably being ruined over this shallow hiccup. I wondered if I was about to lose my cousin and my place of refuge, and realized that it was Christmas. I started to cry. I was about to go home to what was now the worst time of year from me, when the real loss of my other cousin, the one person I’d been able to share my scary thoughts with, is inescapable. In a few hours, I would be going home to nothingness. I would sit in my room and be surrounded by Edward’s absence. I would come downstairs to my mother trying too hard to keep holiday cheer going, guilting me through the activities I would not have been doing with her anyway, were he still alive. I would leave, and try to imagine him behind me on the stairs, eventually giving up in recognition of my need to stay sane.
I didn’t want to deal with any of that. I wanted to stay here, and pretend that I wasn’t replacing him with the people around me. But if the people around me hated me, or just didn’t see or respect me as a person, then I would have a double emptiness with which I’d have to contend. I was so tired, of everything.
“Edward,” I said into the hands now covering my face, “Why would you even let me come out here, if it was going to end like this? I thought I was progressing. Is this what it’s going to be like forever? Why, Edward?”
I did not care how confusing all this would be to the ignorant MC, who had a three-second understanding of my family history. If this seemed dramatic to him, then it was just my turn to be the dramatic one. At least my issue was real, and pertaining to myself, and not a simple problem of lust or stupidly misplaced masculine pride. I continued to cry.
“Hey,” said my cousin. “You know I love you, right? And I’d do anything for you.”
That was nice.
“Then talk to me,” I told him.