We bond over the shared trauma of being queer and raised Evangelical and having emotionally abusive fathers. We share our lives for a few months; after classes we sit in the lounge of one of the buildings and talk, neglecting our homework and prolonging the time we spend away from our homes. Some days we go out for lunch, and I sit across from you and feel like someone cares about me. You grab hold of me and keep me from sinking. For a while, you are my only friend.
We are close, close enough that you tell me about sex, and good enough that I text you, distraught, and tell you I lost my virginity to a guy I didn’t know in Tokyo.You text me about your hookups, and I try and commiserate. You are queer, but only seem to fuck the worst of men. You are non-binary, but they want to treat you like a woman: that is, poorly.
I ask if you want to hook up after several hints which get progressively less subtle, and you ask what took so long. When I come to your house I am shaking. You open the door, and I notice you are wearing makeup. The sex is bad. You don’t know how to ask for what you want, because people rarely listen to you, and I don’t know what to ask for, because I am not listening to myself. We fumble, naive, groping towards pleasure but never arriving. Your hands move aimlessly across my back, like a ritual trying to conjure something I can’t give you. We scramble to dress when you realize your mom will get home soon. We hug, and I tell you I don’t think our bodies fit together, but what I mean is that I am terrified.
I have one quarter left until I graduate and move out, and the promise of distance feels almost like relief. For the first time since I was in high school I can see an exit, and I let myself believe I am close to healing, to sewing up that exit wound and becoming whole. You tell me that spring is always a bad time for you, that you have been hospitalized every spring for a few years in a row. I grab like someone drowning onto my future and will myself into happiness. We drift-- I know that if I sit too long in your trauma I might lose this chance. I begin to leave you behind, like a promise I can’t keep.
We sit on the chairs in front of the tutoring center, bright upholstery masking their poor design. Our conversation is like swimming through mud. I am trying to grasp onto something that will make you smile, or something that we can talk about for hours, but our conversation is thick and black, marked by a silence which grabs hold of my stomach and slowly twists. I am trying to find something, but all we can find in common is our depression. After twenty minutes I tell you I have to do homework, and I spend the next hour avoiding you and trying not to feel like I had failed.
You disappear for two weeks in the middle of the term. Suddenly you stop coming to the class we have together and I can breathe for a while. Your absence is a relief and then slowly your empty seat haunts me with guilt. When you get back we exchange small talk. You mention you had been hospitalized. I had already guessed, but I didn’t want to think about it. You don’t ask why I didn’t text you, and I don’t apologize.
We are on our way home from a picnic. You had spent most of it silent, and I wanted desperately for you to enjoy yourself. We were in a park at the top of a hill overlooking all of Portland, the sun was setting, and the mountains in the distance gently glowed orange in the hazy distance. I stared at the mountains and the buildings and the river and I willed them to make you feel better. But we sat in the grass and you didn’t really look at me and we couldn’t find much to talk about. I drive you home, and before you leave you ask if you can sit in my car for a minute and cry. You sob, and it sounds like hiccups. I put my hand on your shoulder. It’s one of the last times I see you. I drive home and realize I can’t save you, or make you better. You give so much and I can’t give anything, I just take and then I let go. You are drowning and I don’t look back, I can’t. If I do, I know I will drown.
Rowan Langstaff is a student at Western Washington University. This is their first publication.