Category Archives: Aftermath

This Time

The third one is of a giant woman riding a giant leopard, with giant hair billowing around her head. Behind her is an eagle, swooping toward her, talons outstretched.

It isn’t attacking her. That’s what some people think.

She isn’t supposed to be me.

“She looks like you!” says a lady in the locker room.

“You don’t look like her,” my friend tells me.

“Cool,” I say. “That’s not what it’s supposed to be anyway. They aren’t supposed to exist. you don’t have leopards and bald eagles organically in the same place. The world wasn’t made for that. But my body was. And she isn’t real, but she exists anyway, and maybe that’s powerful.”

I can now pull myself up if I subtract 80 pounds. Last week it was 90, the week before that it was 110. I don’t know what’s changing. Most days I’m too tired to really work out, now that my day has been extended.

“I hope you’re making more money than Oprah, with how busy you are,” says the only other Congolese person in Flatbush.

“Je travaille plus pour l’humanité que pour l’argent,” je lui répond, but I’m not even sure if that holds. It sort of does. I’m happy not to have immediate financial worries, but I’m also terrified of getting cancer, or getting locked out, or breaking technology, or losing health insurance and having to pay for birth control again. So when it comes down to it, there are more lucrative things I could be doing if I believed in a future after four years.

I also wish I hadn’t picked this month to go back on bc. I wish I could know the reasons behind how I’m feeling at this moment. If it’s the administration, my own mental health, the changes in hormones, or the anniversary.

“I should apologize. I know I haven’t been a good friend, and I was supposed to make it up to you tonight, and I came so late we almost missed the concert,” she tells me on the train. “You must hate me. I bet you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this fucking bitch!’”

I don’t use that word. I look down and see the leopard’s paw poking out.

“I didn’t expect to see you out last night, even though I invited you,” I tell her, slowly. “So when you showed up, it was beautiful and amazing. I was so happy to see you because it was such a surprise. But tonight, when I needed you, and you knew I needed you, you sort of let me down. And it feels like things work so much better when I expect nothing from you, because then it can always be nice. But I don’t think I can count on you anymore.”

They ride away.

Five days later, the friendship is over. Apparently telling her the truth about my feelings was uncalled for. It’s wrong to say that I can’t count on her, she tells me, but I shouldn’t have expectations for her either. So, you agree with what I was saying? What? Oh…yeah. Whatever, it still shouldn’t have been said. She doesn’t need that in her life right now.

“What you have to understand,” he explains later, “Is that people want the truth but not really. You are a no hold bars kind of lady, but not everyone can handle that.”

“What I am JUST realizing,” I say, “Is that people really aren’t honest, but I always assume they are. I operate under the assumption that everyone is being 95% straightforward with their thoughts and feelings, just as I am. But everyone else just assumes I’m like them. So when I’m being honest and up front, they think I’m being shady and hiding things still. And if what I’m saying bluntly is harsh, they assume I’m much nastier underneath.”

“…Yeah, actually,” he agrees.

“But honestly, I think I’ll keep the vice,” I tell him. “I’m trying to spend as much time in reality as possible, and I don’t need already-toxic people dragging me away for their own sakes.”

It’s only ever been the most negative, the most toxic, the ones who stole the majority of my energy, who haven’t been able to handle my honesty. Who have left. The toxic ones, and you.

Were you toxic, Edward?

I don’t think so. I definitely think you unleashed a swath of demons into my life, I know The Man used you as a gateway, and too much of my energy got tied up into yours. But I’ve let it go. Or I’m still letting it go, and it gets better all the time, and I can feel myself getting harder. I just have to remind myself of that during this time of year.

But you definitely didn’t like my honesty, either. You didn’t like that I saw parts of you and pulled them to the surface.

Your sexuality. Your body negativity. Eating disorder. Drug problems.

Suicide attempt.

So you lied to me, a lot. And in the end, I believed you, because I wanted to. And it was so much worse when a jogger ran into the dead truth on the morning train tracks.

2016 was about being conscious of energy. 2017 is being mindful of time. Where is my time going, what am I doing with it, who am I spending it on, and Is It Being Wasted? I don’t have time to waste on people who will steal my energy. I don’t have time to waste with lies. I only have time for the truth, for understanding, for enlightenment, and for advancement. Shadows, go away.

Edward, come back.

I’m just kidding. I know you can’t.

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Who Wants to Be in a Piece?

I wrote this to be performed, then realized I have no performers. Eventually I want to turn it into some sort of visual story. As my visual skills are lacking, that may take a while. So in the meantime, here.

 

I heard that after she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her, so that she could walk outside and be sad without wearing sunglasses.

I wish I could do that. All of that.

I wish I could be publically sad. I wish I could walk around crying when I felt like it. More than that, though, I wish that I could want to go somewhere that no one knew me. I wish that living amongst strangers were an attractive dream, and not a nightmare. It would allow for the possibility of escape. But right now, walking amongst strangers is one of the most terrifying experiences I go through.

What are the social rules for when you walk through strangers?

Repeat: “After she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her, so that she could walk outside and be sad without wearing sunglasses. I wish I could –”

Whom do you greet? At whom should you smile? I want to be friendly; I want to be kind.

In high school, a speaker came to our school to talk about bullying. He told us the story of a man who was so depressed that he jumped off a bridge. In his suicide note, the man said that he would turn around and commit to living, if one person smiled at him on his walk to the bridge from his home.

I think about that story every day.

I think about calls I never made, and texts I sent too late.

I think about my own jumper.

I don’t want to be the inadvertent cause of another.

BUT –

I don’t really want to be that friendly, either. To strangers. Who don’t know me, and who could misinterpret my intentions in smiling. I don’t want to smile at the wrong person and then regret it.

Hidden Thought: “Edward”

What I didn’t realize would happen after I was raped: I became afraid of men. I don’t think many people think about the extent to which this happens. You think, Oh, well of course. A man did this to you, so you’ll have trust issues. What you don’t realize is that there will come a time when you’re walking through the city with an acquaintance, and you will pass by a group of guys on the corner. You will notice them noticing you, and why shouldn’t they? You look good. Hair nice, new lipstick, skirt with the slits. Let ‘em watch! you’ll think as you walk by, until you notice them peel off the corner and start to walk behind you. And for three blocks, as they continue to walk behind you, your acquaintance will talk and talk and never notice how silent you are, how rigid you are becoming. As you hear the low murmur of their voices, punctured by sinister laughs, as you begin to be confused about whether their footsteps are shaking the Earth, or you are just shaking, you’ll be thinking about the keys in your purse, wondering, if I push them between my fingers, can these work as brass knuckles? Or will that just make them mad, and rougher with me? If I just submit without trying, will they be gentler? Will anyone believe me after? Will they blame me?

Thought: “Of course they will.”

*Everyone pauses, Thoughts look at Khalilah, then all resume walking*

Repeat: “What I didn’t realize would happen after I was raped: I became afraid of men. I don’t think – ”

You will be scared out of your mind, because you will know that those guys are there to rape you, that they will rape you. This you will know, even after it turns out that the guys were just walking, and have turned off somewhere else, because this is what you have internalized: if someone you know and trust, someone who could be a friend, could do this to you, then there is nothing to stop a stranger, someone with no connection to you, and no reason to care about you, from violating you.

From One side: “You’re stupid to want to look nice. You’re an idiot, trying to be attractive, just luring them in, and expecting them not to touch you. *Getting closer to Khalilah’s face* Don’t smile at anyone! Do you want to be asking for it?”

From Other side: “Edward.”

*Thoughts begin to walk in imperfect circle around Khalilah, stepping out of the circle to speak, and then re-entering as she speaks*

There are too many dates on the calendar. On February 16, we found his suicide note.

“Don’t let him die.”

On December 24, he told me that he was better. That he was committed to being healthy.

“What’s wrong with him, Khalilah?”

On March 25, a jogger found his body.

“Why can’t you be friendly?”

On May 20, he told me he loved me as he invaded my body.

“I never said, ‘he did not rape Khalilah’. Stop worrying that I’m spreading a counter narrative about you, and worry about yourself.”

*Khalilah stops smiling, turns from a Thought*

“Well fuck you then, bitch.”

From other side: “Edward.”

*Everyone stops walking*

You ever get to a place where your traumas seem to trump you? Where you’ve got to choose to let one run wild over you, so you can combat the other? It’s like a game a whack-a-mole where I am both batter and target.

*Resume walking randomly, not in a circle. Thoughts should be pretending they have somewhere to go, intersecting Khalilah/each other like traffic, but without forcing anything (if that makes sense)*

He is 1,728 days dead. And she would be 301 days old. I’ve got ghosts on each shoulder.

Does he have any? Does he have ours? The man whose name I am legally no longer allowed to say. Would he deny his daughter? My daughter? The proof of his perpetration. His friends, fellow activists, would no longer be able to send me hateful messages, or accusations, or spread their guilt-induced counter narratives, not with her around. She would have to be female, I know, because I would hate any son in his image. Any man.

“Edward.”

Please, please stop saying his name. I’m not even thinking it. I’m not saying it.

Thought from other side of the room: “You can still feel his dreads sometimes. You still see him when your eyes are open, and feel him when your eyes are closed. You can still hear the contrast between your moans and his laughter – ”

*Khalilah runs over as it speaks, faster now*

I don’t want to, I don’t want to. Those aren’t things I want to hold onto, those are memories I want out of my thoughts –

Thought from the other side of the room: “Edward.”

*Khalilah whirls around*

NO! Stop. He isn’t here. Why don’t people understand the power of names, the power of calling someone? Call a living person, and you summon an idea of them. When someone is dead, the idea of them becomes their essence. I do not want to deal with his ghost right now. His nonexistence. He left. He left – me. You cannot call him; I cannot call him – 

*Thoughts have been moving closer to Khalilah as she unravels. They pull cords out of their pockets, and begin to move quickly around Khalilah like a Maypole, binding her*
*Different thoughts begin to speak, in round form. After the first gets out two sentences, the next begins, and the next after the second’s first two sentences*

“He is seventeen-hundred, twenty-eight days dead. And she would be 301 days old. There are too many dates on the calendar. On February 16, we found his suicide note. On December 24, he told me that he was better. That he was committed to being healthy. On March 25, a jogger found his body. On March 20, he told me he loved me as he invaded my body. You ever get to a place where your traumas seem to trump you? Where you’ve got to choose one to let run wild all over you, so you can combat the other?”

“I wish I could be publically sad. I wish I could walk around crying when I felt like it. After she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her. More than that, though, I wish I could want to go to a place where no one knew me. What are the social rules for when you walk through strangers? Whom do you greet? At whom should you smile?”

“You think, Oh, well of course. A man did this to you, so you’ll have trust issues. 

*When Khalilah is sufficiently bound, one Thought moves to cover her mouth. She struggles around, moving her head to get out the last bit of monologue, while one Thought goes to get tape*

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT MY THOUGHTS ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER MY EXISTENCE. SOMETIMES I THINK I’LL HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN GETTING BY AND LIVING, AND ACTUALLY MAKING SENSE OF WHAT’S HAPPENING.

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT I’LL GO INTO MY HEAD TO ORGANIZE MY THOUGHTS, AND I’LL GET LOST. I’LL LOSE CONTROL, AND MY THOUGHTS WILL ALL SWIRL UP AND CONSUME ME AND I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO COMPLETELY SPEAK AGAIN. IT’LL JUST BE ME, IN MY HEAD, MUTE, WITH MY TRAUMAS.

*Thought finally succeeds in taping Khalilah’s mouth shut. It gently runs its hands over the tape, pressing it down more firmly, as the others stand watching, still holding their ends of the cords*

*A New Person enters, dressed in ordinary clothes*

New Person: “What are you thinking about?”

Spirits

A few weeks ago, I had a terrifying thought: at the time, the last man to kiss me had been the second rapist. I hated that thought, hated that feeling. It made me unclean, stained. If my body was a ledger, there was nothing below his mark; nothing to make him forgotten.

Tonight, the train doors open, he steps onto the train, and I’m saved. I’ve only ever dealt with bad ghosts. Ones who have made me afraid. But here, I have a happy spirit. A safe one. Lindo.

It’s funny, because the first summer he saved me, he definitely associated me with the extraterrestrial. My eyes he told me were planets into which he was afraid to look. My aura reminded him of that of a goddess. He called me the Princess of Enlightenment and Higher Powers. Yet he never worshipped me. He just washed me over with appreciation, and allowed me to exist in his space as I needed to. My only safe space in the world for a brief period of time was in South Africa, in a drug dealer’s small apartment.

He’s on the train, now. His clothes, his hair, his smile. He’s dancing around, sliding in slippers, hoping for tips. I don’t want to give him money (his dancing isn’t great) but I don’t want to ignore him, either. It would be wrong to just let him go.

It’s not really Lindo. But it’s his spirit, inside this guy. This is where he could be, were he not where he is. It’s nice to know that there are others like him in the world, and that they are doing okay. More spaces are being created for other people. It’s hopeful.

He sits next to me on the train, debating out loud whether to take off his shirt (sweating from dancing) or put on a jacket (it’s cold outside). He miscalculated and still has a few stops before he needs to get off the train. Classic.

One time, we went to get burgers, and he was so lost in thought he didn’t realize the elbow he wanted to lean on was in the air, not on the table.

“You remind me of my ex,” I tell him.
“Your ex?” I nod. He laughs. “Oh, he used to dance around, too?”

“No,” I tell him. Although as I shake my head, I flash back to the morning I woke up and walked into his living room to see him standing on his sofa. Smoke wafted equally out of his blunt and lungs, swirling around the room, picking up the light of the morning to make an ethereal haze. Twisted, he sang with the music, and jumped off of the couch, spinning around the room and kicking out his legs. He loved me, he said later, because I let him be himself. Because I could be in his space without taking up his space, and he still felt free to do what he wanted. So yes, in every way, he danced.

But I don’t say this to the spirit on the train. Instead, I hold up my palm and move it in a circular motion to encompass his body-space. “It’s more – “

” – The aura, huh?” he says happily.
“Yeah,” I agree. Auras.
“Well, you remind me of my ex,” he responds. “The aura again.”

Then it’s his stop, we say goodbye, and he leaves.

And I remember.

All of those memories are from the summer of 2015. I only saw Lindo in the summer of 2016 once. The night after the rape. I hadn’t wanted to see anybody, but he came by, and came up to the room, and sat on the bed and talked to me. He sat where the guy had been as I folded my body far away from it. I never told him what had happened. I never told him anything that happened, the entire time I knew him. His safe space came with forgetting. Midway through his visit, he stopped, leaned forward, and kissed me on the forehead.

“I can touch you now,” he said, “I’m not afraid. That’s the kiss I wanted to give you last year. It’s for someone to watch over and guide you always, for protection. Now you have it.”

He’d been the last. Immediate protection, to begin to cancel out the ledger mark. I’d forgotten.

Every day I unpack something new that’s been repressed. Thank goodness for the dancing spirit, reminding me there are positives that can come slipping into life as well.

Clarity and Panic at Orientation

It doesn’t get easier the second time.

It just takes longer to sink in.

In the moment, when you realize what’s happening, you go inside of yourself and tell yourself that you can spin it. That even though you’re fighting and pushing and not wanting to be a victim, he’s stronger than you are, and he’s not letting go, so your last escape from victimhood is to pretend it isn’t happening. Make sure there’s a condom so you won’t have another thing to worry about later, use your last bits of assertiveness to ask for one if you can’t tell (and understand that even though you’ve been saying “no” and “what are you doing” and “stop” repeatedly, and pushing and arching and pulling away, he’ll take this to mean consent), then go into your mind and seal it shut so that you can’t remember anything afterward. The first experience has taught you this much. Seal your mind to everything but the memory of his unfortunately “sized” penis, so that you can laugh at him, instead of being afraid of another monster. Even though that’s what he is.

And then, you’ll dull yourself to everything else. Dull, dull, dull, and not think. Because when you think, you feel pain, and fear. You don’t want to process this. You’re tired of processing everything, always. Tired, tired, tired. You want to forget everything, forget feelings, go to sleep forever and drift away.

The only thing you embrace is laughter. You recognize how hysterical it is, how outrageous it sounds. How your coworkers, who know you mainly to be calm with splashes of whimsy but ever-poised (there’s that word again), are always taken aback by the laughter that rockets out of you. Perhaps, to them, it seems disingenuous at times. It’s not that funny, or there’s no need to laugh so hard, are things you’ve been told all of your life. But ____ that, because you know that laughter, mirth, is the only one of your feelings that’s acceptable. It’s the only way to release the tension, the stress, the craziness of your mind in a way that can lift the spirits of others as well, so ____ anyone who tries to stifle it.

Laugh your heart out, laugh so that tears can freely pour out of your eyes, laugh until your face is red and your stomach retches. Scream out syllables of jolliness that rise into the air, and let them carry you away from your body. Forget how Not Okay you are, then come back into your cellf and consider antagonizing a cop.

He said he loved you. He flew out of the country.

He knew he loved you. He stayed in the architecture studio.

He wanted to love you. He rolled out of your bed, and out of the hotel.

He said he loved you. He stopped being your friend; closed the Skype.

You don’t leave people. You get left.

What does that say about you?

And now what will you do?

Where Are They

“So, have you thought about it?”
“About what you asked the last time I saw you?”
“Yeah.”

I look across the table at Ramses. The last time I saw him was before Orlando, before the second heartbreak. Not that he hasn’t still sporadically talked to me, wishing me good morning, saying sweet things. I’d kind of hoped that we’d be able to eat, chill, and then part, but it makes sense we do this now. It’s only fair.

“I did think about it,” I tell him, “And I think that we would work much better as friends.”

His face changes. I get an “Oh,” and then the meal is being wrapped up and we’re leaving. He asks me how I’m getting home, pays for my cab, kisses me on the cheek, then peaces out to the train station. He took a train to be disappointed.

Later on, he texts me.

“I see the potential in us together…If you ever change your mind just say the word”

He would be amazing, if I felt anything for him. I’m so stupid with my feelings.

I moved today. Out of Westchester, into a burrow. I went into my old store to buy some professional dresses, as a last stop before getting out. The anxiety was real, and heightened by the fact that my mother was with me. I could feel everything pouring out of her, mixing into my own nerves. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never been in this store since walking out of it, telling my managers that I would contact them over my Spring break when I had no intention of coming back. I’m only coming for the deals and discounts, but the longer I’m on the floor, the more I want to run away. What is wrong with me?

There has only really been one other time my anxiety was consistently this bad, and it was after Armani. I’m falling into the same patterns now that I did then. Setting my alarm early so I can take an extra hour to talk myself out of bed. Holing myself up in my room (and my new landlord doesn’t allow eating upstairs. What will happen? Will I force myself out, or just starve a little?). Sleeping too much, but always feeling exhausted. Aversion to social activity. Except –

“It’s you! How are you?”

I’ve been recognized.

“Come’eeere! Oh, it’s been so long, how you doin’, baby?”

I’m being hugged. I’m hugging back. It’s Alyss and Michelle, maybe the only two people left in the store that I genuinely like. These women watched out for me, talked to me, showed me around. I never realized how much love I felt for them until they popped back up. Michelle has me go to her register, where she gives me her discount and listens to my plans.

“You know, I always knew you’d do something great,” she tells me. “Always such a good worker. And so sweet, and kind. We miss you around here.”

I leave the store feeling good.

That’s kind of how it’s been, recently. The more time alone I spend, the worse I feel. I get stuck replaying the sad, scary, terrifying episodes in my mind until I don’t want to go outside again. But then I do go out, and I find friends, and they make me feel good.

That’s when I realize that I was right to deny Ramses. I don’t want a boyfriend right now. I just don’t want to be alone. I feel alone so much of the time, and I get scared that I’ll just be alone forever. But what I really want, is to be with friends who love me, who make me feel good, who let me have fun. I miss having friends nearby. It’s part of what made the aftermath of South Africa so terrible.

Once, I had a very good friend. I fell in love with him, and he fell in love with me, and we told each other. I fell in love with him because he was such a good friend to me. He was there for me when I needed him, and he could tell if I needed him before I even knew myself. He introduced me to new things, new phrases, and to new people. We went out together. We had fun. We had talks. We opened up to each other. We hung out. I made him watch movies and television shows that I thought were hilarious or cool, and he hated most of them, but he watched anyway. Things were good. Love grew out of trust.

But when we said that we loved each other, we weren’t completely friends. We were halfway back to friendship, after not talking for a while. It was the wrong time to talk to each other. Instead of growing closer together after that, we just drifted further apart. Mentally and emotionally, if not physically. It got sad. I lost my friend. And I miss him. I miss that friendship.

Shame on You

The Man is in the doorway. Hunched over, watching me.

Watching, or looking?
Look – regarderOn regarde la télévision. Am I a show to Him? Or a subject, animal, to be observed? I cannot tell if He is more detached or active in what He does, but the fact that He’s present at all, for the first time in a year, is more concerning than how strong His presence actually is.

The look on His face. It isn’t a smile or a sneer, because sneers lack delight and smiles are too kind. It isn’t a smirk either. Maybe it’s this look to which people refer when they talk about twisted smiles. As if He turned up the corners of His mouth, took the half loop this created and used His eyes to braid into it hate and delight and fascination and longing and anger and just a dash of care, with an overwhelming amount of sadism.

I see Him without looking, without opening my eyes or lifting my head. I couldn’t do either of those things, anyway. I’m terrified of making eye contact with Him. It’s never happened, but I know that this would be the morning for it. Pure contact, and what would happen after that? I’m afraid to find out. All these years, and The Man still has me petrified.

I don’t want to look at Him, but I know that I need to acknowledge Him. The longer He stares, and the longer I stay frozen like this in bed, the worse off I’ll be. There’s a reason he’s here now. I’m not in good shape. When I came to South Africa, I knew that things wouldn’t get better. You can’t run from your problems, or your feelings, I understand. Still, I hadn’t expected things to get worse, either. And they had. Isolation in the cold, punctuated by visits from monsters will wear a person down. Nightly panic attacks followed by insomnia will just about wreck you. I’m low. So low, I guess, that The Man has decided to reappear.

So He’s come into the doorway, and He’s watching me. And I am low, and I am terrified, and I am tired. So very tired. I’ve lost a lot of sleep, a lot of happiness, and a lot of hope. I’m an easy target. Except.

Except that I don’t want to be a target. I don’t want to be a victim. I’ve spent a year digging in my heels and fighting monsters and I’m starting to get fed up with this continuous process that is ever-draining. I want it to end, I sort of want to give up, but I don’t want Him to end me.

Shame on you.

It’s my strongest thought. From amidst the why me‘s and the I’m tired‘s, the please leave me alone‘s and the how dare they‘s emerges a single Shame.

The Man’s face blanches, and His shoulder jumps. I can see it without looking, feel His energy skip without moving. I wonder if anyone has ever chastised him in this way before. I’m sure people have cursed Him, screamed, yelled, put His awfulness before Him in indictment. I’ve done it myself. But all of this has always been done because of Him, in reaction to Him. I don’t know if anything has ever been done to him or at him. Until now.

Shame on you! I think again, more forcefully. He stumbles back a step. It’s involuntary, and he is surprised, so He straightens His spine to stand, giving up hunching in the doorway. At full height, He towers. Or he would, if I wasn’t so busy thinking at him. Shame, shame, shame for all the monsters He’s guided who have stuck me in bed, for all the other feelings He’s caused that press down on my body, and all the thoughts He’s cultured that cloud my head. He’s trying to work them up now, and inside my mind I feel like I might suffocate from the cloudiness being created, but through it all I lock onto the SHAME. And I scream it, blare it out at him until the walls of my mind are trembling and the last bits of my energy are just spent from the effort, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it, because the Man is leaving, running away from me, finally. I know he’ll be back, and he’ll probably be harder when he is. But for the moment, I have made myself safe. And this mental activity, after a full night of tossing around restlessly, has left me wiped enough to pass out.

I wake to my cousin coming home from work, incredulously asking me how I could have slept all day.

Blasts

WecantbetogetherbuttheworldisburningandlifeissoshortandtakenfromyousosuddenlyandIfeelsadandalsoscaredandIwanttoreachouttoyoubutIknowthatIcant.

Please, comfort me.

At the top of their stairs is a wall of bookshelves. It used to be like a house library, except filled with children’s books. The kind of children’s books that aren’t necessarily classics, but ones that every child should read. A collection of all the stories you vaguely remember, only it’s been such a long time that you aren’t sure whether the books exist, or if you made up their ideas. And then suddenly, you see the book in front of you at the bookshelf, you understand that everything was real, and your memories transport you back to that time period. The last time I was here, I found the Crestomanci chronicles. The last time I was here, I was by myself, and it was three years ago, and William hadn’t overdosed. Most of the books are gone now.

At the top of the stairs is a shrine.

I am facing photo after photo of the dead brothers. I’m even in one of the pictures. Edward’s arm is around me, and we are smiling into the camera. It’s Christmas of 2010, the year I caught onto his alcoholic and anorexic tendencies enough to worry, without knowing to be alarmed. It had still been a great Christmas. They used that photo in his memorial service. Proof of how apparent it was to everyone that we were connected. My aunt stays looking out.

I can look at our photo, and be okay. I know that he isn’t around, and I truly believe he’s in a better place. But what they left behind. Two parents who don’t like each other, are miserable together, but stay together for the benefit of their only surviving child, the daughter who graduated, who broke into tears during her graduation speech and then pulled herself together to thank her family and friends. I look at a picture of William, young enough to still be blond, before his hair naturally darkened to brown, smiling and pretending to work as he sat next to his father at his desk. It’s connected to a picture of baby Will on Uncle Steve’s shoulders.

“It was never so clear,” another cousin would tell me, “Two parents who absolutely had favorite children. Aunt Lori found Will’s body. She lay down next to him and told him to take care of Edward. Her speech at his funeral was all about how they could look after each other now. And Steve’s was just a really specific memory of Will. It was hard to watch.”

“No one chooses to be born,” Will said, at Edward’s funeral. “So I guess it’s good he got to choose when he died.”

I wonder if Will chose his death. It’s hard to tell. He’d been clean for a minute. It seemed like he was turning his life around. And then

I look at the happy babies with their happy parents. I look at the cards from their funerals. I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of, What’s the point?

You’d think it would be hard to go into Edward’s room, but it’s surprisingly easy. It’s also right next to the stairs. His cats lurk around like ghosts. They don’t run away from me like they used to; they just watch me as I sink into his couch. I wonder what that means, and then I try to stop myself from romanticizing the situation. Maybe our energies just match. We’re all still hiding together. Them from the family, and me from the babies.

What’s the point of crafting a life with someone, if that person will hurt you? Love fades, love sours. I guess that’s why people have children. So there will always be something to love. But then even when white, even when wealthy, your children can still grow up to hate themselves, and their lives, and maybe even you, a little bit. And they’ll leave you, and your suffering will only increase.

I guess it doesn’t have to be like this. These are just the examples I’ve been given.
I cry, silently, and Edward’s cats watch me.

“You know, Lucas believes in the same things we do,” their sister is telling me. “Like gay rights. He knows that Edward was gay.”

Lucas is her crush. They’re friends, and she wants more. I wonder if she knows about Orlando, and how she feels. Maybe Edward didn’t kill himself. Maybe he and Pat were just on vacation and got shot up for their orientation.

She shows me a picture of him.

“He’s pretty cute,” I say, and she side-eyes me. “But don’t worry, he’s all yours.” I put my hands up.
“Hey!” She says. “You take my guy, and I’ll take yours.”
“You couldn’t, even if you tried,” I tell her. “I don’t have a guy. I don’t think we can even hang out very much anymore.”
“Why not?” She wants to know.
“Because, it’s painful.”
“When I’m with Lucas,” she tells me. “It’s painful. But I keep spending time with him anyway, because he’s important to me. We have a connection. And I think that one day he’ll realize it.”
“But that’s why it’s painful,” I say. “We know we have a connection. He already realized. And it just gets stronger the more time we spend together, but he isn’t ready for it. It’s a tease.”

The next morning I wake up, and fifty people have been killed, with fifty-three injured, at a nightclub. Brown people. Gay people. I spend so much time worrying about my future, and theirs are gone. Taken.

America is burning out, and we don’t have very many friendly places to go, and hundreds of legitimate refugees have been and are drowning. Does anyone have a future? Does anything matter?

This is when I want to run back to Niles. Because with all the uncertainty, why would you not want to hold onto something that is sure? Like the fact that two people are in love. And if the future isn’t guaranteed, then why even think about it? I consider the guys who currently, actually, want me as a girlfriend, and wonder if it’s something I even want. Not because of him, or them, but because of myself and where I currently am, home for a few weeks before going somewhere and becoming unreachable, preparing to start work, trying to get it together enough to move into the city. Being In Love with one person, sure, but also loving different people in different parts of the world. Do I actually want to be in a strictly committed relationship right now? Not really.

But I do want to be in love, and be a priority, and not have to worry about seeing someone I care about hooking up with someone who isn’t me at a party. I want to be able to call someone when I’m down, and have them make me feel better, if only through distraction. I want to nestle in bed with someone and make them feel good. I want to hold hands, and feel safe, and truly believe that we’ll be together when we’re meant to.

So what does that mean? What is the healthiest option? For me, for him, for now, for the future that might not even be there?

And all I can think about now is how there was a moment last year, during our big fight, when we almost hooked up. I’m not sure he’s even aware of that, but it happened. I looked at him, and in the midst of all my anger and sadness I felt this overwhelming attraction, and I knew that if we hooked up, I would enjoy it. But I also knew that if we did hook up, that would be the end of us. So we didn’t, and here we are now. Now, I don’t know if we’re at the end, if I’m supposed to kill my internal flame, or if I’m supposed to run on hope that eventually things will work out. If one of us got shot tomorrow, would the other have regrets?

I’ve been exercising my arms, like he told me to. I can do fifteen pushups now. Next week, I’m going for twenty.