Chapter 14: Even Deleted Texts Can Be Found Again
Dad bursts into the living room with our aging Monopoly box containing all the pieces - it’s still intact by some wonderful occurrence through our constant use of it over the years. His face screws up into a look of shock when he notices what I’m doing.
“You’re doing homework?” he asks like me doing that on Christmas Eve is the most scandalous thing in the world.
I pop the lid back onto my highlighter and throw my head back in irritation when Leah and Mom then enter the living room, chirpy smiles and competitive auras filling the atmosphere.
“Game night!” Dad waves the board far too enthusiatically, so vigorously that the green houses and red hotels rattling inside are probably intertwining income.
Mom begins to take away my papers and laptop with her excuse of, “come and join us.”
“No,” I reach to grab my belongings back but she’s got Gorilla Glue hands. “No, no, mom. Game night? Really? On Christmas Eve?”
Dad snorts so hard I think a piece of brussel sprout from dinner has come up his tubes and is dangling from his nose. “Homework? Really? On Christmas Eve?”
I glare. “Christmas Eve will always exist, the completion time before my deadline won’t. I’m at college for a degree, Dad, which means sacrificing my holiday breaks.”
“Yeah, your breaks not your fun,” he sticks his tongue out at me. Really? “Hey, I have a joke. Where did Tommy lose his fun?” He gets all giddy, bouncing on the heels of his feet. I wait, unamused. “No guesses? Alright, here it is... Up a frat guy’s ass!”
Then he bursts out in laughter. I roll my eyes so hard I see into the windows of my own soul. “Your gay jokes aren’t funny or gay enough,” I say.
“Yeah, Alex,” Mom backs me up, winding up a middle finger at Dad. She’s only trying to butter me up enough that at least a 0.01 percent part of me decides to take part in an inescapably rivalrous and heated game of Monopoly. Four hours. It’ll probably last four hours before anyone is allowed to leave. I’d rather get backhanded by an orangutan.
Luke enters with a glass bowl full of tortilla chips and another overflowing with guacamole, brooding like a child. I take his unwillingness to be here as a vote alongside mine to terminate game night.
“See, even Luke disagrees with this,” I comment, poceeding to grab my laptop and papers back from Mom. She’s got birth-sized disappointment on her face etching a couple more years into her appearance.
“Luke hasn’t said anything,” she laughs softly.
Luke sets down the two bowls on the coffee table and tosses himself back lifelessly on the couch. That in itself says everything. He starts to protest with, “yeah, I totally disagree with game night,” but Leah cuts him off with a guac-coated tortilla chip going arrivederci! down his throat.
I sulk shamelessly as Mom begins to take the Monopoly board out, which gives Dad this time the opportunity to take my laptop and papers from me. I snatch it right back. Dad pouts, crunching down on a tortilla chip.
“My not-gay-enough gay joke applies. Quit ruining game night. Anyway! Monopoly! Leah, you’re gonna be broke today, babygirl!”
“L.O.L. Dad,” young girls and their abbreviations, “sashay away.”
“Hey, no Ru Paul’s until you’re thirteen,” Dad scolds her.
“Okay, I’m just gonna...” I gather the entirety of my things, including my materializing baggage - hi, anxiety - double checking, triple checking, infinity checking I haven’t left anything so I don’t have to come back down to this cesspool.
This time it’s Luke who takes my things from me.
“Little bro, if I’m going to suffer, so are you.”
He pats my back, dragging me back down onto the couch. I hear the crunch of a now deceased tortilla chip under my rear end but, unapologetically, I feel more sorry for myself. My patience is skeletal. I pull my hoodie over my head, tugging the drawstrings taut to hide from this intolerable family moment.
“I call dibs on the hat,” Mom takes the gameboard piece, “I’m feeling fancy tonight.”
Dad smirks, “I hope you feel fancy later,” then winks. Winks. Luke and I both let out indescribable noises that could be regarded as new synonyms to ‘protest’ in the dictionary. Anxiety who? Game night sucks more. First place. Platinum trophy. Help.
I think Luke’s ripped off his ears. Through my hoodie’s anus, I can see how tight he’s gripping them. He’s SOS-ing so hard he’s popping a forehead vein.
“Dibs on the ship,” he says, then as he rocks back and forth, hands still clutching his ears, “dibs on the M.F. ship,” young boys and their abbreviations, “I said dibs, Leah!” A smile reaches his face. “Dibs on the ship so I can sail away from this sinkhole and into the seas of Allison Schneider’s vagina.”
“Luke!” Mom whacks him on the back of his head. “Your dad’s unfiltered sentences around Leah is bad enough.” We all act like Leah doesn’t then say ‘vagina’ in a chipmunk’s voice as she picks out the cat piece.
I remove the drawstring-anus from my face so quick I almost rip strands out of my scalp, and I get up with the most zeal to leave I’ve ever experienced being a Carpenter. I get my things, clutching my laptop and papers to my chest and head for the staircase successfully.
“Bye!” I make it known.
I hear Dad grunt and sigh as I climb the first few steps. “We should consider becoming a family with less boundaries. Maybe Tommy will tell us who put the stick up his ass.”
Mom snorts like he snorted and I understand why they were made for each other. “Now that’s funny.”
I yell down the stairs that I can still hear them, then I slam shut the door to my room before they can chatter on about how they wanted me to hear.
It’s best you hear, or you’ll start worrying about what they really think of you. Thoughts that can’t be integrated into a joke. Homework on Christmas Eve is worthy of submission to an insane asylum.
Setting my homework on my desk, I sit in the swivel chair that Luke’s sunk in spending an eternity at my computer. At least he’s been home for a while...infesting my room with vodka bottles, joints and ashtrays with ash mountains he can’t be bothered to empty.
Amid scanning the room to see the damage Luke’s done, my phone pings. I open the message.
were you meant to go on a date with christian?
I rub my eyes, but the text from Gemma is still there. Even deleted texts can be found again.
No, I text back. I get to my window, pushing it open.
i thought it was a lil bit suss when christian was bothered about ‘megan’ ditching him a month ago. and like, i was just eating a donut and it came to me. it was you. you were the one who ditched him
I type and delete, type and delete, type and delete. Of all the thoughts I think of on a daily basis, of all the excuses I make, I have none for now. Even deleted texts can be found again. I try to suppress the growing anxiety by hanging out the window.
i see those dots appearing and then disappearing. you don’t have to reply
you. ditched. christian. WHY?!!! he’s literally candy!
christian acosta is one of the good ones
just know i support and care about you. don’t be mad i figured it out
free the lgbt! merry christmas eve!
And there’s the inescapable feeling of the mental deterioration anxiety causes creeping up my throat, gangly limbs entering every crevice of my mind, military personnel equipped with military tactics and military ammunition, building trenches to form an outskirt situated beyond my skull, which means the entire expanse of my brain is No Man’s Land. Charge. Can’t avoid the bombs. Throw in a triple dozen tanks and machine guns and it’s World War Three.
Even deleted texts can be found again.
But through the whole episode of start to sweat, then you think about how you’re starting to sweat and then start to sweat some more, I think about how I ditched Christian, and guilt joins the war.
I tap off Gemma’s texts and finally open the one Christian sent me a month ago. As I read, the anxiety is killed off and the guilt begins to dominate.
I understand your anxiety causes you to make safer decisions that may mean you ditch me. Fair enough, but you could have at least told me you were gonna ditch me. So yeah...thanks for that.
He was bothered...
I didn’t think I could feel something more profoundly than anxiety. I’m ridden with guilt through all the precarious, melodramatic reasons why Christian’s lying, and I want to pitchfork my eyes out. Wallowing in my anxiety gets to a point where even Luke gets fed up with my introversion and leaves, or so that was his excuse. Everyone knows he’s gone to party or something.
Laying on my bed, I stare at the ceiling. I’ve been doing this long enough for da Vinci to paint me. I’m pathetic. I should invest in a journal to flush out my trainwreck thoughts in, or at least find a hobby unrelated to being stagnant.
I put on something from Netflix and try to distract myself from the budding guilt, but a forty minute episode later it’s still eating up my system. I try to nap it away, or Leah it away through the second last day of the year, but when afternoon approaches, I’m germinating into a pitiful carcass.
I grab my phone and do the one thing that will put me at ease.
I’m sorry for ditching you, I text Christian. I sit back and realize how bad I look sending that a month too late, and after leaving him on read for days.
So when evening rolls around and he’s left me on Read, and the fiendish voice in my head is jabbering on to the point if anyone took me to a psychiatric hospital I would be tagged as demented, the one thought driving me to restlessness is you deserve it.
I agreed to go on a date with Christian because I wanted to lighten up my anti-social habits, and bcause maybe maybe his intentions are honest and not selfish and Mom was right when she told me he’d have a lot to lose, but I’ve regressed instead.
Never thought I’d get wasted at a frat party and risk blabbering about my secret because my tongue loosened. Never thought I’d sleep with a girl, and I never thought I’d turn a dorm room into a coffin. Never thought I’d tell anyone the truth.
Definitely never thought I’d be smothered with that decision, but I’m not worried about Gemma - we’re even with the secrets we’ve tucked away. I’m worried about Christian.
Because he’s a frat guy. Because he’s bothered.
I check my phone again. Nothing from him.
Tapping into my conversation with Gemma, I try to type the question that particle by particle derails and grinds up any common sense I’m lucky enough to still harbour. Because I’m a particle into believing the reason why Christian’s bothered. But I can’t type it because my anxiety won’t let me. And so I guess I’ll never know the answer because I’ll never form the question.
Then I remember the look on his face after he kissed. How he disappeared into the evening so effortlessly but like he also didn’t want to, and how he had nothing else to say but what he said.
My anxiety has to know. We have to know.
Did Christian go home for the holiday? I text Gemma.
no, he doesn’t go home. didn’t you know?
“Mom, Dad, Leah?” I come down the stairs.
“Yeah, baby?” Mom answers. Dad switches off the television and Leah stops playing with her slime. They notice how I’m all packed with what I brought and ready to leave...on New Years Eve.
“You’re leaving?” Dad tilts his head in confusion, the sheer sadness on his face molding all kinds of guilt into my gut. “You’re not staying for the countdown?”
“Tommy, don’t go,” Leah says, “why are you going?” She’s distraught past it being bearable, so I look away.
Every bone in me is walking out that front door because my anxiety has to know. All I’ve done in my time here is stare at my bedroom ceiling, overdo myself with studying and internally bleed. None of my time I’ve spent with her, because to lock out the world, you have to lock out everyone.
One day I’ll regret it.
I play off the guilt. Distract myself with a lie. “Homework.” Cobweb. “I’ve fallen behind. You guys are loud.”
Dad breaks out in a smug laugh, giving a complacent look to Mom. Smug Lord. I get his indication. Cue throwing up my entrails. Mom almost rips his ear off. I sympathize with his ear lobe.
“Not that kind of loud,” I glower. “Can we not be a family with less barriers. I meant loud in general.”
“We’ll take it,” he pats Mom on the thigh, white teeth on full display. Smug. Lord. I pinch the bridge of my nose in frustration.
I hear Mom mutter, “no, Alex, we won’t take it. Look at him, he’s barely surviving. Stop making everything sexual. Men...”
“Alright, I’m going,” I finally say. I’m nearing the front door when they spring up like pogo sticks and rush after me. I have the urge to say hello to the second head I must have grown with the way they’re looking at me.
“Wait, are you really going?” Dad asks. “I thought ‘homework’ was code for I’m going to see my boyfriend now, bye?”
“Alex, he doesn’t have one or he would have told us.”
“What Mom said,” I get my words in before I get buried.
“Freya, he would tell you not ‘us’.”
“Okay,” I swing open the front door, “I’m not going to be the cause of a petty argument,” face them, “love you,” escape, “goodbye!”
I begin walking down the driveway only for them to follow.
“But Tommy,” Mom tries, “you’ve never spent a New Year’s away from us.” I can hear Dad’s whining in the background behind her. Now we’re that embarrassing family that can’t agree to disagree. Then again, I never gave them much of a chance to pre-argue.
“Not to mention Luke’s fucked off like usual,” Dad complains. “Now we have too much food left over.”
Mom blows the whole situation out of proportion with, “wait, do you actually have a boyfriend?”
I stop and turn to face them. Mom’s looking ready to blast out of her skin at the opportunity to mother me towards marriage and money, and the best thing I can do is let the universe take the wheel to now convince them both I don’t have anyone.
“Mom, Dad, if I say I have a boyfriend, will you leave me alone?”
They look at each other, then both say, “no.”
“Is it that Christian guy?” because, of course, Mom has got to bring up his name. One conversation after an unpredictable kiss that threw me off to the point I had to confide in her, and now she thinks she can NASA in the ‘let’s be TMI with each other’ rocket.
“Who the fuck is Christian?” because, of course, Dad likes to invite himself into the graveyard performance that is my life without my permission. It’s the fatherly thing to do, but everyone knows he’s still stuck in high school in the class of ’96. How can you parent when you’re still a kid?
I don’t know what to say. They’re pummeling me with care but being cared for is not something I like to feel when my mind is going at meteorite speeds. I can’t be cared for. It’s stress on my brain, because I don’t think they understand there’s no ‘fixing’ me.
They will spend the rest of their lives rotting looking after me. My madness multiplies by the millisecond, so does the level of care required to keep me stable. Even then I’m only at the suburbs of sanity. They will exhaust themselves. They will kill themselves.
That is why I keep my distance from everyone and everything. Being reminded of that runs an unwelcoming shiver throughout my body. I forget I’m stood here.
I snap my head up. “Yeah?”
Mom reaches for my face and thumbs at my cheeks. I stare at her in confusion, then I realize why she’s done that. Dad pulls me into a hug with her.
“Alright, Son,” he speaks softly, Mom holding me tighter, “you go... Seriously, though, who’s Christian?”
“Alex...” Mom breaks the hug. “Go inside.”
Dad backs up the driveway, chuckling nervously. He can’t be serious for a minute. “Love you, Tommy!” he says before I hear him telling Leah to come and say goodbye to me, his voice dissolving into the house.
I look Mom in the eyes now that we’re alone.
“It’s not really homework, is it?” she asks. I struggle to find the words to talk. She ruffles my hair like she didn’t have high expectations that I’d respond in the first place. “It’s okay. Talk to me when you’re ready.”
Leah comes running up to me, crashing into my legs. I pick her up and enjoy the moment, for it seems unlikely I’ll be in a good state of mind to do so when I see her next. “I love you,” she tells me once, but it echos a thousand times. “I love you too,” I say back.
“Are you sure you can’t stay for the countdown?” Mom questions, wind brushing her locks over her shoulders. I don’t comment on the tears in her eyes. It feels too wrong to acknowledge what my anxiety has caused. You can’t keep blaming me.
I spot the license plate of my ride approaching our driveway. “My Uber’s here... I already bought train tickets,” is my final answer.
“This is about Christian, isn’t it?”
“Consequence of not having the guts to remove him from my life,” I laugh to myself. It’s all kind of funny. Sad funny. Bad funny.
“Go,” she gestures to the car. “I love you. Stay safe and call me.”
As I’m about to open the car door, she comes up to me, quietly asking, “have you gotten a therapist yet?” I only smile at her, and she knows that’s a no.
Right through my journey I try and erase the look of disappointment and worry on her face, the face I’ve known all my life but can’t seem to be fully honest to.
It’s minutes to midnight when I find myself meters away from the frat house. I don’t care what time it is. I have to know. Even if I’m still on Read and being ignored.
I have to know if he likes me.
I’m ready. I’m ready to drag it out of the filthy gutter and push it through the meat grinder, but then I see him.
Then I see Dom.