Chapter 8: Triple Chocolate Pancakes
On the other side of the room, his bed is a translucent representation of how I tend to wake up, which is disorderly and frazzled. But it’s like, just for a precious moment, I can breathe. The brisk air passes through my throat and expands my lungs, and there, looking at the ceiling, I’m okay.
Then, just like that, Anxiety decides it wants to infest my mind again. Ragged breathing, clammy hands, a sweaty neck - all of this when the weight of yesterday becomes the weight of now, and I realise I’ve got to survive another twenty-four hours more living the way I do because the universe decided to wake me up today. The anxiety is uncontrollable, even with the prescription pills I flushed down the toilet a year ago.
The anxiety is like a spiral; it’s never-ending, and the farther down you wind, the tighter the coil gets, the dimmer the light gets, and the harder to breathe it gets. You start to sweat, then you think about how you’re starting to sweat and then start to sweat some more; your eyes, your neck, every inch of your body until you ask yourself what you’re sweating over.
You realise you’ve sweated over a grim figment of your imagination, that no one is really out to get you, and the only thing that should be running you are the cells inside you that make you up, not the suppressing thoughts that intend to break you that you’ve made up.
Then you realise if cells make you up, and you make up the thoughts that break you, then the only way to stop the thoughts is to kill your cells, and inevitably then kill yourself. And so, you never win.
And the cycle repeats.
I’m broken out of my spiralling thoughts by a knock at the door. I don’t answer it, focusing on bringing myself to a state of tranquillity. It never knocks again, but I find myself sticking my head out into the hallway.
Adrift in the air is the scent I’ve come to know as Christian’s. He was just here. As I look down, I know why. There on the carpeted dormitory hallway floor, a cup of coffee to-go stands. I take it. I really need it.
Then, swallowing my first sip, there’s one unanswered question that runs around dangerously in my mind, one that will submerge me in a train track of dateless thoughts that will literally asphyxiate my brain, therefore my body, therefore me.
Why did I think about Christian that night with Gemma?
I can’t handle myself sometimes. Today is already proving to be one of those fucking days, as I like to refer to them. I get into a steaming shower, but attempting to rinse out the psychological spiral from the outside is pointless. I can’t wash away my thoughts.
At one point through my lay in bed and commit mental suicide phase that lasts a solid hour after I get dressed into black sweatpants and a band tee, I receive a FaceTime call from Mum, Dad and Leah. It’s a temporary fix to my mental issues, but I soon have to face reality again when they leave for Sunday grocery shopping.
I find myself wandering campus for fresh air when I decide an open window isn’t enough, and that actually not being confined in a room may do some mental healing.
The debate I had in my head was insane: “Being outside exposes you to people who get a thrill off destroying people,” but, “Being stuck in your room is literally solitary confinement, you may as well be a corpse,” however, “Society will consume you if you go outside,” and, “Really, you should be writing your assignments, so shut up.”
I’m thankful when my phone rings for the second time today. It’s Christian. I go to answer it, anything for temporary relief from my own self.
Why would you pick up the phone when it’s someone who’s possibly trying to-
"Hi," I say breathlessly down the line, “Hi,” and again, this time more composed.
I hear Christian laugh. It appears like he’s away from his phone, which means I’m on speaker. My hands start to get clammy for the nth time today.
“Were you in the middle of wanking? Is that why you’re-”
"No,” I cut him off, “No.” I take a seat on the grass under the tepid rays of the sun. “No, no.”
“Hey, there’s no shame in wanking,” his reply comes, “only in who you think about.” Please stop. “Are you doing anything right now?” Thank God.
“Why do you want to know?” I ask.
“Meet me outside the frat house.”
I lay back, some dry leaves of grass prickling me through my t-shirt. “No. Why?”
"No,” he mocks me. “You sure do say ‘no’ a lot.”
I hear the shuffling of bed covers, a light thud and the slight creak of a bed frame, then his voice appears louder. For a brief moment, I envision him flopping down on his mattress and springing back. I find myself laughing quietly, away from the mic so Christian doesn’t hear.
And it’s crazy what then happens. Strangely enough, all my anxious, spiralling thoughts just...
Everything stops in a way FaceTiming my family didn’t. Leah was spouting on about being in her kindergarten’s nativity play for this Christmas, and I was excited for her even with Christmas a good few months away, but all I could think about was how I couldn’t stop thinking my way down the spiral, and at that moment like every other moment of being trapped in my mind, I couldn’t stop.
But I’ve stopped. The spiral has stopped. Just for a second, until I notice I’ve done it again - I’ve conversed too much. He will gut you with hateful words, or blackmail you, or something to ruin you if you don’t end this call right now.
“I sort of got involved in a fight here at the house and upset our house mother because I took part in - and I quote - ‘disrupting America’s almost non-existent peace’,” Christian continues.
I sit up, scratching the nail of my little finger on the pad of my thumb. That turns into picking at the hair on my arms, and that turns into pinching the skin of my ankle. I know I’m going to struggle today - I only do those three things when my brain is on fire.
“You have a house mother?” I halfheartedly question, too lost in my head to be present. “Thought those disappeared from fraternities?”
“Yeah, due to frats being smaller than sororities and not having enough money, but it’s a pretty fucking big fraternity we got here off campus. It also turns out we have a serious problem of trashing property during our parties and alerting the cops.”
“Yeah?” I mumble.
“Yeah, which is why this fraternity got kicked off campus a while back, so we actually decided on a housing director to deal with the aftermath of every party from now on. Bit of a problem though, Mrs Morales will be onto us, especially now since its pledging and razing season.”
I hum, barely registering his words.
“Mrs Morales is amazing though - really fun for her age.”
“Yeah,” I pull myself together. “Maybe Dom will hit it off with her?”
"Hey," he exaggeratedly whispers. “You’re on speaker.”
I forgot about that, being so lost in my head. I start to process how someone else could have just heard that, someone like Dom who, for all I know, could already be out to get me.
Christian picks up on my quietness. “It’s cool, no one heard. Anyway, would you meet me outside the frat house? I thought I’d go to a restaurant for lunch and give Mrs Morales some space.”
“Why do I want to be near a place plagued with racism, hyper-masculinity and even misogyny?”
“And homophobia? Yeah, why do you? Why have you come here twice then? Not all of us are racist, or hyper-masculine, or misogynists, you know. You’re stereotyping.”
“Sorry,” I say quietly. “Still no.”
There’s a brisk moment of quiet, then an amplified sigh of frustration comes from his mouth, and a negotiation.
“Coffee for two months?”
“Plus a cinnamon roll?”
“You can do better.”
“Okay,” he says. I find it extremely childlike the clear excitement in his voice.
“Okay,” I say, and the phone call ends.
I never actually show up.
I look up from my position on the floor against the wall to see Christian not too far down the dormitory hallway, a slice of cheesecake in plastic boxing in his hand and a plastic fork. Then I look down at my band tee. “Yeah.”
“They’re an aesthetic. I agree,” he approaches me. “They’re also right. Sincerity is scary. You would know.”
My palms clam up thinking he’s indirectly addressing how insincere I get hiding my sexuality, but I tell myself he only means how I wasn’t honest with him about not showing up.
Anticipating his disappointment in me ditching him, I rest my head back on the wall, only to regret it when I feel the vibrations of the banging that’s been the scourge of my existence for the past hour. A thrilled smile appears on Christian’s face when he’s close enough to hear the muted noises of Aiden having sex in our dorm room.
“Serves you right,” he comments. “Karma is a bitch. Why am I not surprised you ditched me?”
“Don’t take it personally,” I say, “there’s nothing personal between us.”
“Yet,” he’s quick to answer. He finally hands me the cheesecake and plastic fork. In return, I feel a small ounce of guilt that he stuck to his part of the deal and I didn’t. I still take it. “Now you have a reason to come to the frat house with me: your dorm mate’s a selfish dick.”
“I wouldn’t talk so loudly. He doesn’t like frat guys. And no, thanks,” I force a smile. “I’d rather stay here and let my ears die for the future benefit of you not being able to verbally bribe me.”
“Come,” he says.
He starts to walk off and expects me to follow. I most certainly don’t. As he approaches the end of the hallway, I take a bite out of the cheesecake.
“It wouldn’t work, by the way.”
I tilt my head in confusion mid-bite. He turns around, a harmless smile on his face, but I know with how much he shows up pointlessly in my life, his intentions could be very - possibly - harmful.
“Letting your ears die to stop my verbal bribing. I would just lay out an entire buffet, tell you to pick, then pre-order a year’s worth of each picked item if it didn’t seem so...”
I blink. He laughs.
“On that note, would more coffee and more cheesecake persuade you to come to the house with me?”
My understanding of why he wants me to come - why he’s offering something that doesn’t really benefit him - is limited. It’s starting to seem desperate.
Yeah, because he’s desperately trying to ruin your life for social benefit and self-satisfaction. But it’s 2018, he’s smart enough to know that won’t gain him steps up the social ladder, it will only make him look like an ass. He’s in a fraternity, they thrive off the ass-looking ones. But he lives in America, he’s well aware of the basic human rights and equality. His name is also Christian, but he lives in one of those unholy frat houses filled with racism, hyper-masculinity and even misogyny! Oh, and homophobia. You just don’t stop. You are so unhealthy for me. I am you.
“Did you hear? I said, what if I add breakfast on top of that?”
I didn’t even realise Christian had come back down the hallway to me, probably because I couldn’t hear what he was saying over my loud thoughts. I perk up at what he has to say though, I would never pass up the opportunity of free breakfast.
“What breakfast?” I ask.
"Triple chocolate pancakes.”
In the flow of it, I accidentally let that slip, but I’m already so worn out mentally that I manage to dodge entering the spiralling debate of, ‘he’s now going to call you gay’ and ‘but would that be such a bad thing?’
“Withhhh,” Christian continues, taking absolutely no notice of the ‘gagging’ comment, “fudge sauce, strawberries, mini marshmallows and chocolate chips.”
I can’t help myself. “Now, that’s an orgasm right there.”
He takes no notice of that comment either, but him and I both raise our eyebrows at my incredible timing, because it’s pretty evident the girl Aiden has over has peaked, pretty evident with the loud moan the entire floor hears.
I stand, quick to get away from how I just indirectly agreed I’d go to the frat house with him. “Looks like Aiden is done, I can go back in now.”
Then I hear a round four? through the walls followed by a fuck yes. I groan at my bad luck.
“Want to reconsider?”
You probably shouldn’t. “Fine.”