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A General Guide to Hiding
Lucky seven. My dad once told me that he would take all the time he needed to count to seven and think of something he actually liked when he got nervous or angry. I’m a murky petri dish embellished with all kinds of emotions in any of their given forms right now, and they’re attacking from all angles. I should do something to distract myself, but I can’t ring the doorbell. I can lift my hand up and maybe even allow it to lurch forward like it’s going to press the stubby white cylinder, but I can’t seem to clump together the strength to do it.
I sigh, sit next to my roller bag on the stoop, and check my phone to procrastinate. I should’ve texted her, being this spontaneous is rude. She’d go for a spontaneous approach, but would I? I’m not brave enough.
I’m about to try texting her when my screen blackens and a rusty low battery icon appears. Oh God, where the hell am I going to charge it now, who’s going to pay for that electricity, who’s going to pay for a new phone if I idiotically break this one, who’s going to pay for—
Lucky seven. My parents never had the best opinions on things, but I’ll give it a shot.
1. When she was three, her father took her shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding. I know because my mother took me to the same children’s boutique to shop for the same wedding and was delighted by the coincidence, sure that I’d be best friends with this new girl, the daughter of a friend from the workplace. She felt drawn to an eccentric outfit: a vest and dress pants washed over with colorful frogs. Her father shook his head. “No, sweetie,” he told her. “That’s for little boys. And you don’t have a brother yet.”
2. Her grandfather was an introverted man, barely left the house; I didn’t even know that he existed for years, though he was inhabiting the same street as I did. Right after he died when she was eight, she unwittingly entered his room, which he liked to have to himself. It smelled of cannabis and mothballs, and hanging in the closet--from the same rack on which she found him dangling in that instant, right after he died--were lavish, painfully accurate outfits from every era you can imagine. Imperial China, the Roaring Twenties, the French Revolution, ancient Greece…and most of them were designed for women. She found solace in the fact that perhaps her grandfather was finally with the people that he’d tried to connect with for so long.
3. She carries a blue pen knife in her pocket at all times. A tiny thing, barely as long as my little finger. Occasionally, she would ask me to hold onto it for the day, and I wouldn’t question her as she handed it to me, wrapped up in my game of seeing if I could get our hands to touch--not that I liked girls, of course, I just wanted the social interaction of someone who was braver than me. That had to be it. I never mentioned any of those thoughts, but I would always wonder. At first, I thought her trust in me was so that no teachers would find a blade on her, and nobody would suspect me. Then, one day in our freshman year, her sleeve slid up as she was passing it to me, and I saw the parallel scars, some of which looked horrifyingly recent and were veering towards her vital blood vessels. I wanted to throw the knife in the garbage for hurting her, but I could tell that it was an important object, so I didn’t.
4. Room 411--a biology classroom--has a secret identity. It hosts GSA on Tuesdays after school. As we left our English class, I would see her briskly walking down the hall. I looked in once. An LGBTQ flag was draped over the inside of the door, and a group of eight or nine kids from all four grades sat in a rough semicircle, perched on lab tables and seriously debating stigma jokes. Her chestnut legs swung off the counter, and she argued with bobby pins in her mouth as she tamed her dark hair back into an intricate bun. I wanted to join the conversation, I wanted to sit next to her and lean on her shoulder and laugh and exclaim along with everyone else. Whatever she was arguing for, I wanted to be a part of it. But I was so paranoid that if I went in there, somehow my parents would know that I liked girls who wore boot toppers and pins that said stuff like “#ILLGOWITHYOU” and “RAINBOW SHEEP OF THE FAMILY” and often had hair tinged with green or pink or some other miraculous color. So I stopped hovering in the doorway and walked away as briskly as she came. But not before she caught my eye.
5. She wants to be an actress, but not like most girls do; most girls are in it for the money, flashing lights, and the concept of being so physically attractive, but that’s not what she has in mind. She told me that she wants to capture human emotion in such a compelling way that anyone who watches her would be shaken to the core by her character’s message, and as long as she can accomplish that she doesn’t need to be on the cover of any magazines…but she also said that she’ll probably do the selfish, bitchy thing and commit suicide before she can reach her potential, and that’s what makes it a fantasy. Yet when I told her my fantasy, she said that I should go for it.
6. “I love you,” I breathed. We lay on our backs between the curtains in the auditorium, stripped to our souls, fiery skin nestled close, and far from desperately hoping that nobody would find us. She stopped stroking my side and frowned. “Why would you do that? I’m awful. I’m awful. I don’t deserve love, why would you do that?”
7. I broke my arm falling down the steps at school. I didn’t tell anyone why: because I was so keen on trying to get a routine glimpse of her between classes that I missed the next flight of steps as I was scanning them for her. Oblivious as to where she really was. Two hours later, I trailed behind my mom in the hospital, tuning out her criticism of my recklessness and how angry my dad would be at my inexplicable clumsiness. I passed by a disturbing scene that just happened to have left the curtain gaping open. It didn’t matter much; I’d have recognized that voice anywhere. “Just leave me alone! Everything would be fine if you’d just let me die, so leave me alone!” she shouted from her bed. Her family took a step back. A machine next to her measured her heart rate; it was going up, and I panicked at the thought that the beeping would suddenly go on forever in one angry note, because she was wearing a hospital gown, but I couldn’t see her scars anymore since they were covered by new, crisp white bandages from her wrists to her elbows that looked like big shackles. I choked on the lump in my throat and ran, absolutely ready to go home before she or my mother saw me staring, before she could unravel those bandages, before she could make this reality complete by saying “Oh, hello. I tried to kill myself.” Before she could say that, I stopped talking to her. She wasn’t in school for awhile, but despite her weekly text monsoons and even when she came back, I left her alone for weeks because I was afraid of how I felt about her, if she was dangerous, what any of this meant, what kind of a person it made me. I tried to choose against it. I tried to choose to stay away from her and everything that she represented. But I didn’t have a voice in that matter. All these years I was straining my voice trying to speak in the wrong place. I can’t change that I’m gay. I can’t change that I love her, I worry about her, a lot. What I can do is accept (hell, maybe someday embrace) and react to these things, no matter how anyone else may choose to react.
I’m shaking; I don’t really feel better, but I do feel just motivated enough. I take a deep breath and ring her doorbell, stepping back immediately afterwards. Her parents were always nice, though it’s not like I got to know them very well. Peeking through a window, I see that they have a little pride flag in a vase in their living room; that’s a good sign, isn’t it?
My heart skips a beat as the door clicks open. A tall, scruffy kid who looks to be a little younger than I am opens it and tilts their head, confused. They have freckles and roundish features like her. “Going somewhere?” they say, noticing my luggage. I press my lips together to keep from crying. “Is your sister here?” I ask. They nod. I stutter, “Um, say that it’s Amy, from school. She should know who you mean.”
They nod and retreat into the house to get her. She bolts downstairs to greet me, slowing as our eyes latch together. She’s toned her outfit down to a t-shirt for a band that I don’t recognize and yoga pants, now that she’s at home and doesn’t have to pretend to be untroubled for anybody. She doesn’t have to pretend to be untroubled for me. In spite of my estrangement, she somehow knows this; at least, she doesn’t attempt to hide her snugly scabbed forearms dangling at her sides. I can’t decide whether I don’t want to look at them or can’t stop. After a moment, I do stop.
“Hi,” she says, only somewhat surprised by my being here. I nod. “Hi, Arya.”
A couple more seconds escape us. Then I take a deep breath. “So, I did what you said. I came out to my parents.”
We’re both silent.
“Did it feel good?” she finally asks.
“Yeah, I think it did.”
“Wh-then why do you have suitcases? Amy, what’s going on?”
That punches me in the gut; I can’t hold it together any longer. “They kicked me out,” my jaw falls loose as I start sobbing. “I was just trying to be honest and they kicked me out and now I don’t know what to do.”
My twiggy legs won’t hold me up much longer. She hugs me, and I bury my face into her shoulder. Her shirt smells pleasantly like her. My arms wrap around her perfectly, and I don’t understand why they weren’t there before, from the beginning. She murmurs how she’s so sorry and I deserve better and she’s proud of me. I manage to squeak “Thanks,” a couple of times between waves of upset.
We stay like that for a while because right now it’s the only thing that can make me feel any better. I eventually step back and try to stay calm. She kisses my forehead, and I’m almost happy. “I need a place to stay,” I confess.
She nods. “Do you want to stay with me?”
I’ve pictured it, what I’ll look and feel like entangled in the life of her and her parents and gruffly silent sibling, trying to stay in school while returning to an unfamiliar home, but capping every day by telling her goodnight.
“Yeah, if that’s okay.”
“Okay. Of course it is. I’d like that. I think my parents would, too. Hey, hey, look. I missed you, dammit. From here on, we’ll take care of each other. All right?” I don’t know who initiates it, but my hand slips into hers and I feel like I’m glowing from the inside out. From here on: I think I’ll be happy living like that.
“Yeah.” I say. “Yeah.”
San Francisco, California
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"There is no greater agony than an untold story within you" - Maya Angelou