Chapter 20: Imagine A World Without Labels and Defaults
I want to go. That’s ballsy. And I agree to go. I said I wanted to be with Christian, that’s still true, and although he’s always going to be second place to my anxiety, I can’t give up a weekend at a lake house where there’s complete privacy.
On the journey there I watch him. When he drives he’s so focused, his coffee-brown eyes fixated on road. The sun hits him from a great angle. There are golden hues all over his skin, a shine on the high point of his cheek in view. I wonder what moisturizer he uses. My attraction to him overshadows my anxiety as I watch him and I realize all it takes is to stare at stolen art - in so many ways I’m running away with him - to make my thoughts that had hit the fan years ago and splattered all over the streets of my mind finally trickle into the drains, flooding ceasing to exist. Everything is just quiet. Halted. I think back to a short while after I first met him. Everything stopped then too.
I don’t often have epiphanies, but pulling up to the lake house, my mind flips the switch from isolate yourself to isolate yourself with Christian for the rest of your life; he’s the only one who can make everything stop, all the while making everything worse. It’s the most questionable epiphany I’ve had in my life - how can someone be bad and good for you at the same time?
When Christian gets out of the car, I see my heart on a cliff. I watch it get ready to dive into a sea of Christian Acosta - I can’t swim - and I see my anxiety holding it back. I’m sure the fight of their lives is about to occur.
“It feels scandalous coming here,” I say, getting out.
“Isn’t it? We both have secrets no one can know.”
I listen to the gentle lakewater, the various tweets from the birds in the trees surrounding the lake house, and the leaves rustling as the breeze picks up only to settle back down and repeat. It’s fresh out here. I’m not smelling pollution or cafeteria food, although I do miss the scent of freshly brewed coffee in every direction.
Looking back at him I say, “We are secrets no one can know.”
He simply smiles, outstretching his hand for mine. I take it like it’s becoming the regular. “Let’s come back for our stuff after,” he says.
The first thing we do after checking out the place is head for the kitchen and rummage for coffee, as two would naturally do in each other’s company after establishing that coffee is the shit. I put a pod into the coffee machine as Christian plugs it in, then I grab a mug and get the coffee pouring.
I take in the brick accent wall of the kitchen and the white cabinets that match in color. The black granite countertops contrast with it and every other pristine, light-colored object or material in this place. Maybe it’s just the style but nothing about this place screams half-assed or cheap. I’m reminded I. Still. Haven’t. Got. A. Job.
“Your parents have a nice lake house,” I say.
“Yeah? It’s new. I’m seeing this for the first time myself.” Which explains why he was looking at this place like he never saw it before.
As we fall into a comfortable silence, I hop up onto the kitchen island. I watch Christian as he fiddles about with everything: objects only serving as clutter, the faucet and the water that comes out, the large roll of paper towels he spins off its holder and drops off the countertop when I’m pretty sure he could’ve just dried his hands on his jeans or something.
Of course, it’s discovering the little things like Christian actually being clumsy that makes my heart gain the upper hand over my anxiety. I’m still watching the fight - it looks like my anxiety could lose.
I can’t help but laugh at the sight of him, which he narrows his eyes at me for. “Sorry,” I say, “it’s just...”
“Yeah? Haven’t you ever seen a humble dude send a paper towel to its death before?”
A whole new laugh rips out of me. Next thing I know I’m in the world records book for having a bazillion different laughs all the result of Christian. “What is it with us and tissue lately?”
“I don’t know. What is it with us and coffee? Who knows? But I do like the sound of ‘us’,” he says, and I agree. He hands me my mug and starts a coffee for him.
As he’s waiting, he comes close to me, slotting himself between my legs, and he just stares at me, eyes flickering back and forth between each of my own. I put my coffee to the side to stare back at him as our bubble gets that little bit more resistant to everyone and everything out there wanting to come in between us.
I wish there weren’t any of those things trying to hurl us into Harm’s way, all because we don’t fit their standards, their circumstances, their category...
“Imagine a world without defaults,” I say, my fingers finding a place in Christian’s hair. “What if surviving wasn’t the default? What if white wasn’t the default? What if straight wasn’t the default? What if there was just nothing?”
He furrows his eyebrows. “Where’s this coming from? Wait, who am I kidding? You’re a philosophy student.” Then the cogs in his brain turn loudly. I know I’ve opened up a can of worms for him, one of those places in our brains we’re not supposed to go.
“Yeah...” he says breathlessly, my questions causing that much of an impact. “Imagine a world without labels too. If there were no labels then there wouldn’t be defaults.”
“But some people need labels to know who they are.” Like I’m the anti-social guy with a coffee addiction. Or I’m the introverted, closeted gay with anxiety issues. Yet when I think about it, why do I need to label myself with all of those things?
“What if just me was the only label and the only default that mattered?” he says, hugging me close. “Skin color wouldn’t matter, sexuality wouldn’t matter, weight wouldn’t matter, gender wouldn’t matter...”
I wouldn’t matter. “And we’d all just be able to breathe,” I exhale.
“Yeah,” he smiles. I’m beginning to think he thieved that look from an angel. “I hope one day we have the tools and the energy and the hearts to do whatever it takes to change this world and make that one real.” His eyes are so gone I think he genuinely believes there could be the end of this world and the beginning of that one. I imagine that too.
After a while of letting him hold me while the world outside keeps going I say, “Can’t we just play pretend as we wait for that world to happen?”
“What kind of pretend do you have in mind?” he speaks into my chest. It sends one of those squirming sensations through my body and I can’t help but shiver. He pulls away to look at me and there’s something different in his eyes.
“What?” I ask instead of answering his question.
“Let’s go to bed.”
“It’s... what? Seven? Seven on a Friday evening and you wanna go to bed?”
He winks. It takes me a good few seconds too long to get the hint. When I do, I feel the hint, so we go to bed.
That’s when I see my heart shiv my anxiety in its gut before plummeting off the cliff, and I feel the face-first impact peeling away my insides to make space for the water from a sea that will drown me.
Is this what happened to Mom and Dad?
It’s not the most insane thing to stare at someone for hours after they’ve fallen asleep... I think.
I hope it’s not because I’m still here staring at Tommy. He’s turned an infinite amount of times in his sleep and I’ve had to save the covers from ultimate doom on the floor just as many times. I feel like his dreams are so vivid they could be converted into gameplay if us humans had the technology to extract dreams. At some point, the turning eventually stops and everything’s quiet - I figure his mind is too, the only time it can be - sometime about three a.m.
Sometime about three a.m. is when something shifts with the way that I feel about him. I’ve been laying here ever since then trying to understand exactly what it is I’m feeling. Sometime about three a.m. I find some comfort in tracing his skin with my fingers. He snuggles close to me.
“I can hear you thinking from here,” he says, voice groggy. How long has he been awake? I didn’t notice any difference in his breathing. He’s as calm awake as he was asleep.
“I can hear you thinking from here too. What’s that? Oh, that was some great sex? I’m gonna have to agree with your thoughts.”
I feel the gentle rumble of his half-asleep laugh, then he finally opens his eyes, and I almost lose my mind somewhere between fuck and fuckityfuckfuck when he bites his lip softly. “And what’s that? You want more what?”
“Coffee. I could really do with some more coffee. We never actually drank ours...”
“I’m offended. Am I not coffee enough for you?”
When I don’t answer, he sleepily drapes himself over me, like a human-sized teddy bear, holding me close in his attempt to smother me to death for my meanness. Only him and for some reason at three in the morning... For that I know he’s special.
I’m finally able to close my eyes to sleep for the first time all night. As I do, I say, “You’re the coffee I’m talking about, dumbass.”
That’s when he says, “‘Dumbass’? You’re the dumbass, dumbass.”
And that’s it. That’s when I know I’m gone for him.