A short story from my newest book Under The Callous


“yeah I don’t know man, I feel like, why would I want to sleep with someone you’ve slept with, and care about, when we live in a city of like… a couple million people, ya know? It just lacks, like… integrity.” I wiggle my fingers at this last sentence, and bring them together in a neat little tipi to illustrate that I have found the word I am looking for. That I give it a home in my palm.
 

“Hmm, I mean in a way I can’t say anything because I’ve done it. But I did it when I was denying that I’m a garbage human. Now I know I’m a garbage human.”
There was conflict in her eyes, the insecurity she felt coagulating with the anger of the situation. I’m not sure I even know what the situation is or if we are discussing the potential of one. Wondering if either was justified. “I feel like she’s just doing it because she can.” 

“Maybe. I can’t speak for her, obviously, but it seems like if you’ve talked about you liking him before and she knows that you’ve slept with him, then why even bother pursuing it? I think it would be different if there wasn’t any knowledge, or if she had had feelings for him before hand. But this seems almost like a seed was planted or something? And she has some like, competitive thing to prove to herself? Or maybe she isn’t even aware and is just insecure in the way that she’ll go after him because she knows he’s interested in someone else. Like a power ploy.” I was trying to justify the way she felt about the actions without giving away that I think she is the one who needs to do the work. That analyzations of others don’t amount to an understanding of your own feelings; feelings she would be in denial about until she could face them with something that would transform them.
 

“Yeah, I dunno. I did say that we were just friends. And if he wants to fuck her then whatever.”Then whatever. The finality of that was irritating. Like that explained why we were having this conversation or what the issue was.
 

“Well. Does he want to fuck her? I thought this was about her wanting to fuck him? Have you even talked to him about this? And do you know for like, a fact, that she is trying to bang him? Because I feel like she may just be flirtatious and want the attention. I totally am guilty of that – having no real intention but liking the attention.” I didn’t know where the conversation was going, but with her it always took ebbs and flows. Self-pity to self-assurance. Irritation to confusion about that feeling and its causes. It was hard to follow, hard to know where she needed my support. Hard to know how I even felt about it. There was exasperation on the surface, but below it was some kind of compassion for the fact that I could tell she didn’t know what she wanted. That she was trying so hard to control her feelings yet didn’t know what feelings she held in her hand to morph. 

“Yeah, I mean we’ve talked about how we’re just friends. We’re both garbage humans. That’s why we get along so well. I don’t know, honestly the more I talk about it the less it makes sense. It’s probably nothing. Even if they do sleep together she won’t be around. It’s not like they’re genuine friends.” I could see those eyes like open windows closing. The breeze that fluttered their curtains and danced inline with her emotions fell stagnant and stiff. I couldn’t read her for long, because she refused to feel for long. 

“Well. Are you scared that maybe they will like each other? Or I dunno, that maybe they will talk about you? I’m always terrified that my mutual friends talk shit about me but would never tell me. Even when it’s irrational or maybe just doesn’t even matter, it’s like… I’m out of control of a perception of myself. Nothing really to do with their character or how I think they are and everything to do with my own insecurity.” I try to open up, knowing that she won’t reciprocate. I wonder if she does this on purpose – this vacillating between open and closed. The warmth and the cold. Does it help her feel like she’s in control? To be able to put the top on things and know it will be at least a while until it explodes?

“I dunno. Maybe. Like, yeah. A little bit but also like I’m open about who I am you know? And it’s also a little disappointing because she kind of sucks. I mean… I can’t really talk I guess but she just doesn’t have anything interesting to say…” Out of steam. Out of belief for the anger of her own feelings. No longer able to really justify it. Perhaps never able to justify it. She doesn’t feel well but she does think well, I will give her that. Although feeling is half of our human condition is it not? How can you live to deny half of yourself without running into trouble? Can you?

“I get ya. I don’t know what to say. It sucks, if it does happen, but also you guys aren’t together and you’ve even said that you’re just friends. And you don’t seem to be that close with her so it’s kind of different than like, if I slept with him? Right?” I say this knowing then it would never happen. That there would never be a time that I would pursue it. We had met before, He’s all the things objectively, but there was no spark. Even if there was a spark, I feel that with every 10th person I meet. In high school I had purposely avoided sleeping with people not only in my friend group, but in my entire school. I don’t think I hooked up with anyone who was in or from the city until the end either. It was too messy. People had big feelings and big egos and little hearts. Hearts that could contain only infatuation and jealousy. Not yet big enough for real empathy, for real love, for selflessness – the kind that asks us to own our feelings but also to not let them be the most important feelings. Hearts not big enough to be humble because we were all still learning one side of the coin. How to ignore or how to be ignored. How to have a crush, and how to flee when someone undesirable has a crush on you. How to be the one cheated on, or the one cheating, or the one someone was cheating with. We hadn’t experienced the spectrum yet.

“I know that you won’t, but please don’t sleep with him. Like I know you’ve never done that before but I just feel like…” A closed window is still made of glass. There was a vulnerability present, peering through. Wondering if it was safe to show herself. 

“Don’t worry. I have no intention, and even if I did I have self-control. You know me though, I’m like instantly in love with a person or there is no chance. We’ve met before and like, I get it, but it’s not there for me. And I also just respect you dude. I don’t think you would sleep with someone I cared about, whether what I had was in the past or not.” This last sentence wasn’t true, but I wanted it to be true. I knew that she wouldn’t do it maliciously, but the intent wasn’t what we were talking about. If actions were just intentions I would do a lot more in my life – or perhaps a lot less. It was, again, about the integrity of it. About being able to see yourself and your actions in a bigger scope. This was a time I believed that being selfish was mostly something to abhor. That there was no control or thought in purely living and experiencing and loving for yourself. That to be selfless was to be a better person than people who did things that brought only them joy. “And honestly just fuck all the reasons too, justified or not, you don’t need to worry about me.”

I was used to selling myself short for her. Of making myself more easy to swallow than I felt I really was because I didn’t understand what she really wanted or why. I didn’t think that if I asserted myself fully that her forgiveness would find me. It had been like this since high school. I cherished our shared experiences as if they themselves were us. As if the way our actions fit into each other is what made us compatible as friends. I suppose that makes sense, her requests of me never of consequence to my own course of action and for the most part they were fun. Often times, looking back, I feel like she had indirectly saved me from an experience I only wanted because of the opportunity of that experience more than what I would learn from it. But it still made me feel small because I never felt the need to ask anything of her and I saw this as a way to prove that I didn’t have it in me to ask, that she was a switch but I was the hand that yielded it even though it came up and saddled itself right in my palm. I don’t think we ever meant to hurt anyone, but there was a power between us in the way that we didn’t give enough fucks about anything to be truly affected by anyone. That we seemed invincible in the night purely because we chose the mirth of laughter over the weakness of screaming. We laughed in the face of danger – especially the danger that we had brought on ourselves.

As it is, I was never truly the kind of person to bend to another whim without reason. Although I moulded myself to her, I was also someone who asked to be warmed into this kind of reason. Drinking so much that I became flammable instead of drowned. Wanting attention so much that if she would give it to me for listening to her rules that I would be rewarded with a night of her attention. Her attentive ways that let me know she was pleased. To see a genuine smile upon her face as I watched the crowd, as I do anyway, and to hold the secret that I knew it was fleeting. To be in a room and be the only one that knew her real name. To know that what we shared between us was usually of her own devising, that if there wasn’t any mischief on her part then I wouldn’t have much too offer. Perhaps this isn’t entirely true. I tend to sell myself short in her presence; or maybe it’s just that I don’t feel the need to be so big. The world is my stage, but when she takes the stage it is my favourite performance.

These kinds of pacts were the most common declaration of our friendship. Calling people as if they already belonged to us. As if the primary attraction of how someones jaw line looks as they laugh across the room is enough to determine who one will go home with. I often wonder if her nights of unfulfillment were due less to circumstances of people and more due to circumstances of stubbornness. Of proving to herself, and perhaps to me – perhaps to anyone, or even no-one – that she could command the attention she wanted without ever considering there were things she might want that she didn’t yet know about. Her insecurities dancing across her logic like they were a stage perfectly procured for them. Like logic was there to act as a placeholder for fantasy and feelings. 

I spent many a night in the warmth of the halo of her spotlight, not realizing that her fair skin was being burned in the process. Not knowing that the hands that held her in these strange dances were ones that pinched her. That she laughed in the face of fear even when fear called her bluff, so I never knew the difference.

It’s funny, the kind of pacts we make. The things we do and don’t think about. The way circumstances change, the way we forget things we have said in the same breath that we forget ourselves. Sometimes to shed the past means to shed a promise too. It is easy to let go of the nights we made vows in order to remember the one in front of us better. It is somehow easier to remember others how they were to try and gauge how we think we should be. 

A promise to never sleep with someone. The name we try to call you by when you don’t want to admit your real one. Recounting the actions of intoxication like it will alleviate the cloudiness of our own inebriated forgetfulness. The way I used to love to bend to your whim; but now I love to question it. Sometimes when we get lost in versions of ourselves, we also forget the progress of those around us. How we are all connected in a way that grows independently of one another but are still hard-wired into each other. Like how moss creates a network in the roots of trees, individual living organisms with something else pulsing inexplicably and inextricably between them. Telling them how they’ve grown. Warning them of diseases. Of dis-eases. Of how I hold you to be the person you were when you asked me to make that promise when I become the person who broke it. Regressing back into those instances to see only that which I fear, to try and justify the worry I had. To misplace my own nausea at the idea that I might be just like the girl we talked about, or like a person you will talk about. 

How it feels to no longer fit into a place I do not want to be, but forgetting to look for an exit. Refusing to open my eyes to see that I have backed myself into the corner of an empty room to struggle against a foundation that wants to hold me. That friendship is a home we’ve built and we’re taking our time to furnish it. That we can paint it any damn colour we want, and do it again when change suits us. That you are a minimalist, devoid of clutter but dependant on what you choose to keep. That I am an anti-sentimentalist, curating comfort but not attachment. Where do we meet? What is the difference between a room full or colour and a room full of coloured things? I do not ask for much except vibrancy of being. I know we are both blind-sided and crash into things easily, but I’d like something that doesn’t ask me to keep it clean all the time. I am not pristine [and neither are you.] In this space we can drop pizza on the floor, and organize the drawers but still keep one for junk. I will ask you to keep the windows open because how will the golden light reach us? How will we know when what burns us has passed so we can walk into the night, hand in hand, and tell the world to go fuck itself? Because how will you know what love is until you learn that it’s not getting what you want? That it is defying promises and beliefs? That it is cherishing you even in your doubts and fears but not indulging them in the behaviours they seek to comfort them. How will you ever know you are so much bigger than the ring of those nights; that your hugeness is determined in your ability to let them echo through you without collapsing you. Our home is an amethyst cavern.

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