I have a habit of obsessing over whatever mundane thing I am currently doing in an attempt to distract myself from the disarray of my life. For instance, right now I am drinking a cold brew coffee. Yes, and it has salted cream in it. The cream is what makes the drink.
Look at me, drinking my fifth coffee this evening and reassessing the rhythm of my heart.
Now I am searching for the straw with my giant giraffe tongue. Sometimes it disappears into the depths of the Starbucks cup. They’d made me ask for this straw. An indignity.
I feel hopelessly alive. My brother’s funeral was seventeen days ago and I’m already forgetting what he looked like in his coffin, his hands clasped together over his skinny chest. I am trying to think of alliterations related to his death. They help me organize my grief. Gordon in his grave growing gaunt. Gordon in his grave glimpsing the gloomy galaxy. Gordon in his grave guilty of ghosting. I’m on a roll today.
I am driving ten miles under the speed limit in an effort to piss off the asshole in the Prius behind me.
Now I am looking at Bo in the passenger seat, willing him to trade places with my brother.
I can’t decide if my obsessing is a bad habit or a good habit.
Bo has his bare, calloused feet up on the dashboard like this is a Third Eye Blind music video. He reminds me of my first boyfriend, except with a terrible blond mustache and a dire need for approval. The first one was solid. An ice hockey player with a biteable jaw. He was eight years older than I and fucked with the stamina of five men.
Now I miss Isaac. I hate that this happens. I am actively hating that this happens.
“You know what I realized?” Bo asks, wiggling his toes, something Isaac would never do.
“What?” I ask.
“Everything we do counts as chemical alteration. Not just drugs and alcohol.”
I don’t know why he says this. Maybe he’s thinking of the fact that Gordon died of an opioid overdose, how my parents lied in his obituary and said that he’d had an undiagnosed heart condition. There’s no telling how many people actually believed that.
The thing is, I knew he snorted Percs, but I always thought he had it under control, only did it with his group of wrestling friends, itching and scratching and nodding their way through movie nights. Maybe I didn’t want to admit how bad he’d gotten because then I’d have to actually do something about it.
“Why are you saying this?” I ask, flicking the straw with my tongue.
“Because I’m chemically altering you just by being here with you. I’m like a wizard,” he smiles a dumb, proud smile. Just once, I wish he could feel the weight of his words.
“That’s assuming that I enjoy your presence and that my neurotransmitters respond accordingly.”
“Oooooh, burn,” he laughs. I can’t help it, I laugh too. It pisses me off that I laugh at something so lame, but Bo has that effect on me. He reminds me of a Golden Retriever—so happy to be alive and without any discernible reason.
I’m trying to love him less so that I won’t miss him when I leave.
Bo and I see each other every other weekend. He lives in Brooklyn and I live in Boston. He’s usually the one who visits me. On the weekends that we don’t spend together, I swipe on Tinder until I find a woman with whom to meet up. I always cover my tracks and Bo is never the wiser, and if he is, he never says anything, which I appreciate.
Now I am slurping up the remnants of cream and sugar and wishing that lies were transferrable. That way maybe my heart would randomly quit on me.
Bo sticks his goofy head out the window, just like a Golden Retriever. I’m paranoid that he can read my mind.
This past occasion I got lazy with my cheating, though.
I met a cute girl named Chelsea for drinks at some fancy whiskey bar I couldn’t afford. When we went back to her apartment I discovered a folding pocket-knife in her waistband. Never can be too safe, she’d shrugged. Of course, that had made the sex even better. I blindfolded her and ran the blade down her freckled cheek, pausing at her throat. She shivered when I got to her waistline.
The next morning I woke up to Chelsea making coffee. She sat down on the edge of the bed and ran her fingers through my curls. I hadn’t washed my hair in at least five days; the curls had begun to tangle, to wind themselves into worry the way I so often do.
“I have to go to my mom’s house for a month, but do you promise to be here when I get back?” she asked.
What a strange question. I didn’t know how to respond, so I thought about how I was a body in a bed, doing whatever I wanted with said body.
“Did you hear what I said?” she pressed.
“Do you think life is just a product we've all been sold on?”
Chelsea was quiet. She picked up her suitcase and tossed it onto the bed next to me.
“I get it,” she said, releasing me.
A few days later she sent flowers to my apartment, although I didn’t know they were from her. I figured they were from some well-meaning asshole sending their condolences about Gordon in his grave, and thus, I didn’t want to read the message, didn’t want to think about the pain those flowers represented. I chucked the flowers in the trash and promptly forgot about them.
Bo’s train got in two days later and when he arrived at my apartment I was in the shower, counting water droplets. I heard him open a new pack of cigarettes and toss out the plastic.
“Who are the flowers from?” he called into the bathroom.
“Oh, my mom sent them because she knew I was having a rough week,” I replied. The ease with which I can lie terrifies me.
His voice sounded off, shaky. Before I knew it, he’d climbed into the shower with me. He pinned me against the wall and started to fuck me, which was okay until he quoted a rap song, “Yeah, yeah, let me beat that pussy up.” I stopped him abruptly and kicked him out so that I could recover and rinse the conditioner out of my hair.
He ran out to the corner store to get some beer and I got out of the shower, quickly rinsing off so I could investigate the dead flowers.
A card was still attached to them, although it was covered in something red and sticky. I could still make out the signature: “A Hopeless Romantic.”
Finally, the man in the Prius lays on his horn and illegally passes me. I smile and wave at him. He looks like Gordon. So much so that I take a double take and swerve, nearly driving into oncoming traffic. I would have killed us both if it wasn’t for Bo reaching across me and grabbing the wheel.
He wants us alive. We have too many differences.
“I wish I’d made you up,” I say once I return to myself.
He doesn't respond. I wonder why he isn't angry with me. For this, for everything.
Bo pulls a flask out of his jacket pocket and pours it into his coffee, taking a sip before offering it to me. I’m convinced that this small act, repeated, is what keeps us together. We are either trying to erase ourselves or each other, and I am fine with either.
About the author:
Marisa Crane is a lesbian writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Pidgeonholes, Hobart, Pigeon Pages, Cotton Xenomorph, Drunk Monkeys, Okay Donkey, and elsewhere. She currently lives in San Diego with her wife. You can read more of her work at www.marisacrane.org.