You Are An Object:
A place to treat bros like girls.
The Greeks used to do the same thing, only in caves and with sculptures and stuff--there's books about it. It's like a whole thing or whatever. I Googled it.
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“Ok, so, let’s see if I’ve got this worked out—you planned on writing this letter during dinner.”
“I didn’t plan it. I told myself that I would write it today, so, the way that usually works is, I do all the things I have to do during like usual, and I just sorta think about it all day—the thing I have to write—and then when I sit down to write it, it just sort of…works itself out. Or doesn’t. But sometimes, during the day, when I’m out doing what I gotta do, it just hits me.” He taps himself lightly on the forehead. “And I just stop whatever it is I’m doing, and I start writing. I know it’s dumb. Talking about it, I mean. Right now is one of those times, though. I’m sorry. By the time the spinach dip comes, I’ll be outta steam. I promise.”
You put up your hands, put them back on the table. “I was just asking. I mean, I was asking so I could gauge how rude I was allowed to be, but your answer makes sense. Does this guy know he’s getting a letter from you?”
Ollie looks up at you in a way that tells you all you need to know. When guys got a here, a little bit ago, he blindly grabbed the scrap paper out of his bag, and started going. “Is it any good?”
“Hm? Yeah, I get it all the time. Wait—the letter?” “Yeah.” “Oh, ha. I dunno. I’m trying to be honest without being scary.” “Is that possible?” “I think if you say something honest, then immediately follow it up with something bullshit, then say something honest, then immediately follow it with bullshit, then it’s okay. People feel better knowing you can pretend. I guess it’s useful, ‘cause you might potentially be keeping their secrets one day.”
You nod, look at his hand scribbling as if an invisible person was whispering dictation to him. You look at your menu—closed, on the table—and try to remember the name of what you want, exactly how it’s phrased on the thin cardboard it’s printed on. You have this thing where you need your waiters/waitresses to like you. You’re older than Ollie, but after a couple interactions, most people know to just defer to him for stuff. “How was your day?” He asks you this. You go, “Um…it was okay.” Days are just the space that you occupy; you don’t think too much about them. “You talk to that girl?” You exhale through your nostrils, open the menu because now you can’t remember the name of your chicken sandwich, and you go, “The waitress is coming.”
When you came up here for school, your big thing was coming out. It was so big, you couldn’t even call it that in your mind—coming out—because it was some thing people did in movies with “unconventional romances” and in musical theater classes, but it wasn’t something you did; it was only, well, you kinda had to do that. But when you got here, you panicked. Your roommates were raucous party animals, the kind of good-looking guys with whom you could blend in, in photographs, but who gave off the kind of energy that made you afraid to be any part of yourself that wasn’t entertaining, that ever threatened to alter the mood, and bringing up the reason they would probably go on to bond without you—not in a way that would matter, but in a way that would overwhelmingly feel like it did—wasn’t that entertaining. In Algebra class, you met Ollie. It wasn’t one of the algebra classes for smart people, and Ollie sat near you, had a sense of humor about it—about basically taking a two-semester long math class, that most of your peers had tested out of—and so he became the easiest person to talk to, that you had access to. Your professor was late to what must’ve been about the fifth class, and Ollie was writing in his notebook next to you, and you were playing with your cell-phone, the more social people in the class chatting at a healthy volume, the lecture hall door open, nearby classrooms likely just closing their doors, rather than deal with you all. Ollie stopped writing and said, “You have friends here?” You blinked at him. You were playing Super QuickHook on your mobile, which is a hard game to play, but you let it go on without you and said, “Yeah. I mean…when I’m not alone, I’m with my roommates, so.” He nodded. “That counts.” He went back to looking at his notebook, but he wasn’t writing anymore. You hit the home screen on your phone and just scrolled through the applications, as you do. He said, “I spend too much time in my room. When I’m not in class, I’m there. I’ve started, like, getting lunch—or dinner—-and sneaking it into the library, just so I could be someplace different, and have an excuse. I’ll study there, too, but…would you wanna, like, eat in the cafeteria with me? Like, do you have other people to do that with? I don’t. I guess, technically, you do, though…forget I—” “No. Yeah. I mean, I want to. I don’t already have people to do that with. Either. I mean. I didn’t realize what you were asking me.” He snorted. “Alright, sweet. I’m afraid to just sit in there and eat, usually.” “I hear you. I eat in my room, usually, or, like, while walking.” He smirks. “I chew with my mouth open and burp a lot, just so you know. Talk with food in my mouth, laugh while swallowing milk, the works…” You lifted your butt up off your seat, so you could more easily slip your phone in your pocket. “I have Tourette’s, but only when I’m eating.”
The professor showed up eventually, but you were out of there by 1:30, both had lectures before that, and so both were ready to eat the shit out of some…tuna melts; the ‘special’ that day. On the walk over, he talked to you about how he wanted to be a writer, but he didn’t know if he wanted to be an English major. Like, he knew the kind of writer he wanted to be, and so wanted to read the books that would make him better at that, instead of the books that would make him better at being something everyone had already agreed to be okay with, that they already approved of. Not that that isn’t the goal, ultimately—their approval. Anyway, he’s talking, and you start to get that feeling you had in the summer, like you were angry enough to be yourself, to hold a middle-finger up in your parents’ faces and tell them to fucking deal with the shit, only, instead of anger, it was like…a string was dangling from your heart and someone was tugging at it, surreptitiously, pulling it away from your cowardly body, while the scared parts of you were distracted by Ollie—the sunny day probably helped, everyone around, seemingly happy just to be walking to classes they’ll barely pay attention to, or to be walking away from them. “Ah, great,” Ollie said, interrupting an unrelated tangent of his own, as you were about a hundred yards from the dining hall. “My sister,” he said, as a qualifier, giving you a sideways smile. You looked up and saw a pretty girl tossing dirty-blonde hair over her shoulder, walking with a boy. A boy you live with. Johan. Your roommate. “Amanda,” you said. “You know her?” Johan has been fucking her for the last three days. “That dude is my roommate. I’ve heard of her.” Ollie snorted. “Lucky you. Let’s pretend we don’t see ‘em.” You snorted right back. “Fucking deal.”
But you felt gutted already. If you told Ollie, he would tell his sister; his sister would tell Johan, who would tell the guys, and then everyone would know, and then you’d be that. You wouldn’t be you, you’d be that. You’d be him, with a pointed finger. There would be no you. You would be dead, insofar as you’re dead already. You’d be the guy they found out about, not the guy who told them. So you kept hiding it, even as you learned everything about him, and he learned everything about you…everything about your history, anyway; a history that painted a very different picture of the kind of guy he was becoming friends with, which you were allowing, not because he’d hate that guy, and, as months past, no even so much because he would tell other people that that guy exists, but more because one you were officially that person, you might still have to sit through him pointing people out all the time, all the “jeez, look at that guy” alerts, and the “some guy in my intro to art class asked me out” anecdotes; the writing letters to guys he saw in the computer lab one day, or in the gym, or at the coffee vending machine; letters with his phone number attached, so if they were interested they could call him, and if they weren’t, he wouldn’t have to be embarrassed about it, could still ogle them from afar without them getting bent outta shape about it, at least not in a way he had to deal with.
You even had a girlfriend for a good two months of this just-now-ending semester. The winter months. There was this guy that Ollie played up as “one of the nicest people” he had ever met, and with whom he started spending a lot of time, and it was snowing a lot, and if you weren’t paired off already, you’d be keeping your hands warm with your own cock and the rest of you warm with tears and whatever other warm fluids you could find; booze. That ended as soon you could drive out of the dorm parking lot without skidding on dry ice, for the both of you. It was warm, and you were a team again. Yesterday, your roommates even chided you about how much time you and Ollie have been spending together, the way bros do; you laughed it off, now knowing if they were doing the thing where you express disapproval through humor, or if they were doing the thing where you try to open someone up by showing them it’s no big deal to you, but that it would be nice to be included, to not be the recipients of such low regard in your mind. You got a text from the girl you had weakened and accepted the advances of, set up a date with, as you stood in the living room of your suite, your three other roommates playing some drinking game that involved beer, shot glasses, and a Grey’s Anatomy Season 3 box-set. You from winter would’ve blasted an air-horn and hooted along to your I-GOT-A-TEXT-FROM-A-GIRL-YOU-GUYS dance, but the yesterday you just sighed and ducked out while they laughed at Katherine Heigl and knocked back shots of Keystone Ice. Yes, Ice. Your date was at a restaurant that was nicer than you deserved, though you felt like she did, since you were duping her, and anyone deserves better. The goodnight kiss was even solid, overcompensating makeout, on the stoop of her off-campus apartment. “See you again?” … “Definitely.”
Dinner today, though. You think how you have to stop eating out when it’s not covered by your financial aid, but then you think how the semester’s just about over. You’ll be going home and…looking at stuff with a somber expression for a few months. Smiling under the influence sometimes. The waitress, here, right now, takes yours and Ollie’s menus away, tells you that your dip will be out in a moment. You and him raise your eyebrows at each other, “Ooooh,” he says, “A moment,” you say. “Okay, I’m done,” he says. You were smiling out the window-wall by which you sat, judging passerby, while simultaneously creeping them out, you are sure, and you’re like, “What?” He slides the paper across the table, onto the spot where your place-mat would be. He says, “I’m finished. With the letter.” You look at it, then at him, trying not to smile goofily at you. He covers his face with his hands and then laughs into them, and you get a goofy smile of you own, that, obviously, you don’t want. “Am I supposed to read this or something??” He laughs, leaning sideways onto his backpack, which occupies the seat beside him. “You’re a dick,” you say, and, lying across the other seat, out of sight, Ollie goes, “Just fucking read it, dude.” “Fine!” Exhale.
Hey. We’re going away next week, and we don’t live near each other. In a lot of ways we’re better off that way, ‘cause we both have shitty things at home that we have to deal with, and if we had each other to lean on, it might end up too tempting to only deal with them enough so that the other pats you on the back for trying, instead of really doing what you have to do. You get drunk sometimes and tell me you love me, and I give you something to make it okay that you said it without ever actually saying it back, and I’m sorry,
‘cause it’s not that I don’t‘cause it’s not that I don’t want to. Sometimes I just think about me and you saying I love you to each other and it being a thing that we’re both okay with, but I know it’s not, and so I pretend I want out of life what’s available to me, instead of what’s not, which is you. And that would be fine, and I would sleep at night, and I wouldn’t cry during superhero movies, or commercials for sitcoms, if I didn’t know you were doing the same thing, and that we were both suffering for everyone else, because we were, for some reason, not allowed to think the world of each other, like the rest of these people were doing, with people only half as worth it. Because a certain way of thinking went along, unchecked, for way too long. And it’s chemical, and I know that, but you should know that I think I love you, and I don’t know what to do about it. So if you know, you should tell me. ‘Cause I don’t wanna feel like this anymore. And more than not being alone, I don’t want you to be. I would probably be the most happy if you weren’t. So say something. To me, I mean. It’s worth it, I promise.
You look up and the waitress is here, and she’s putting artichoke-and-spinach dip in the center of your table, and Ollie sits back up, says thank you to your server, which you already did, and so he looks at you like you guys are being those guys as she walks away, finally taking his soup cup. You look at him and laugh, and it’s cool, ‘cause he does, too. You shrug. “I dunno what to say. I feel like a dick.” He nods and looks down at the spot on the table where the letter was, his hands clasped beneath. “Me, too.” “Don’t, though.” He snorts. “You too, then.” “Alright…can…can I, like, call, though? If it goes bad? Like, with my folks, I mean.” Ollie scratches the back of his head, still looking at the table, nods. “Yeah.” “Can I sit next to you?” “Yeah.” He moves his backpack, and you slide back your seat, and walk around to his left, sit on the cushioned bench beside him. You kiss him on the cheek and it’s like the world is the softest place, and anything good that could ever happen is going to happen here. And he kisses your cheek back, slower than you did, exhaling as he does so, then pulls back into his hands-clasped position. A pause. “Can we eat now?” he says, and you remember the dip is here, and you laugh and say, “Yes, please. Definitely.” Then you eat, trading awkward eye-contact with the waitress across the dining room, breaking it as fast as you can.