I’m hungry and my throat is hurting and I text my friend to come over for dinner consisting of meat and tortillas. I’m not familiar with cooking or reheating or eating meat, because I don’t, except now that I found some already cooked in the fridge—belonging, I assume, to my roommate who’s out of town and, thus, very generous—which goes well with tortillas, I think, and so here it is.
I invited this friend because I enjoy eating with him and because he’s about to leave. This is what many of my friends do. We come together and fall in friend-love. We enjoy it for a time before the friend admits that he’s been planning to move to some grand city. In most cases, New York, but now, Berlin. I’m not sure what it is with me and my favorite friends, but this is how it almost always is. I don’t take it personally. But I still have to take it.
Tortilla, I say, with lettuce dangling from my lips. Tortuga. Tortura. I smile at him and his plate and say, Look at us! Here we are eating beef.
Animals are curious because my friends care about them and I care about my friends, but I don’t care about animals to the extent that they do. If everyone has a cause around which they must rally, mine would be aligned with concerns troubling my friends rather than animals that such friends support emotionally and financially in their homes and on various weekends at the shelter. My friends support animals, and I support my friends. I also support animals. But less obviously. I eat them when I find them in my fridge (Figure 1). But I never eat my friends.
Figure 1: Another animal I found in my fridge.
My friend has a slight frame. He wears a filmmaker’s glasses because he’s a filmmaker, and his blond hair is in a ponytail. He’s gentle and effeminate. (Just because he’s gentle doesn’t mean he’s effeminate. But in this case, he’s both gentle and effeminate.)
Here he is now, having his third taco. I look at my friend and my friend looks at me, and I glance down at the bell pepper pieces on my plate. I don’t know when to trust my gut and when to tell it to shut up. Especially when it hurts. I’m afraid of food as poison, especially when it’s meat, which is why I don’t cook it.
Do you ever, I ask my friend, feel like you can’t breathe when someone tells you to breathe?
He narrows his eyes. How often are people telling you to breathe?
Not very often. Just, you know.
Right. Yeah, I don’t know.
OK, fine, I say. I don’t mean someone giving you orders or anything, but aren’t there times when you can feel some eyes watching or someone touching you, like when you’re sitting close to someone on the couch, and you know you’re supposed to inhale, but you can’t, you just absolutely can’t, because that other someone is watching or maybe touching you?
Um. Still not sure.
Not just like you’re creeped out by the fact that they’re “watching you,” but more like you can feel their eyes like hands on your chest, making it difficult to lift, to expand, you just can’t bring yourself to inhale like you need to?
He laughs and, otherwise, doesn’t respond.
Earlier today, we were both invited to an art event for “folx” identifying as “womxn.” I think of an old friend from high school who, on social media, has recently been identifying as “Latinx”. I don’t understand this, but I would like to. I messaged and asked my old friend, but she hasn’t responded. I messaged and asked my current friend from Brazil, who said, It’s complicated. I tell her that I’m afraid that—societally, rhetorically—I must have missed something.
I miss a lot of things. I miss people as soon as I leave them. This happened today, when this friend—the one with his head bent over his fourth taco—and I met for coffee, during which I found myself wanting to be alone. About an hour after we went our own ways, I found it impossible not to text him, even though we had just been together, simply because he was texting me back. This is the problem, really: the ease of addiction to a person’s response. How can anyone resist a reaction? I know people say they don’t like attention—on their birthdays, for example, or when they accomplish something—but I think these people are lying.
Part of what I see in and how I relate to this friend is having exterior and interior qualities that don’t match. Many people interpret him to be one kind of person because of how he looks, but internally, he’s different. His hair is long, not only on his head, but on his chin, and he wears skirts and saris and mala beads. He has a slight smile on his face and comes across as calm. Such an aesthetic causes people to develop a certain impression of him, that he’s chronically smoking weed, that his life is so easy. But this impression is incorrect.
I look at the meat in our tortillas and remember one day when my Latinx friend—my old friend who hasn’t yet answered—said that she disliked the way everyone in the United States would put anything in a tortilla and call it a taco.
What actually is a taco, then? I asked her. Is it defined by essential ingredients, like cheese, rice, beans? Must it be spicy?
My Latinx friend shrugged, then said, It’s not pineapple or mint or whatever vegan shit everyone’s so obsessed with.
At the time, I jotted thoughts down in my pocket notebook, my pocketbook. I wrote pineapple and mint, then slashed through them once. I wrote vegan shit and slashed through it twice. I found this pocketbook the other day, and seeing these notes again, I remembered one night when a guy, in an effort to hit on me, bought me overpriced sushi from a truck, which was sprinkled with granola. I’m glad I never mentioned this to my Latinx friend.
Remembering this reminded me of another strange date experience, involving beer and a man and conversation that went flat as soon as it began, which led the man to ask what I wanted to talk about. Before I could respond, he asked if I wanted to discuss whether or not it would be possible for an all-powerful being to create a burrito that the being himself couldn’t finish eating?
Or a she, you mean? I said. Just kidding, I said.
Right, he said.
I like this paradox, I said. I like any paradox involving burritos.
As my friend eats his last taco on this last night, he asks me about how I’m feeling about the day, now that it’s ending.
Well, I say, I did some fun things and some unfun things. I researched compost, then got coffee with you. I flirted with a girl, the girl who served us coffee. I tried to tip the girl, but I ran out of dollars. I talked with you about sex and women. I borrowed two of your dollars. When I went to put them in the tip jar, I said hello to the girl and, not knowing what else to say, ordered a chocolate donut, extra chocolate, with coconut, that one that we shared.
I was wondering about that donut, my friend says, with meat juice spilling down the sides of his mouth. If you ran out of dollars, how did you pay for it?
I came back and got my card, remember?
Then, while you were eating your half of the donut, I ordered books online. When we left, I slipped on some ice.
That sounds like a decent day, he says.
I nod. It really was.
My friend rinses his fingertips and we move to my room so I can think. Oddly, I can think better with him in the room. Usually, I can’t think at all when someone is in the room, which, I think, is why I think better.
He’s lying on my bed. Moments ago, I showed him an essay that I read, and now he’s reading it. The essay is about reincarnation. I ask him if he knows any evidence to support the phenomenon, and when he says, No, I say, Me neither, then ask why everyone believes in it.
I think that, sometimes, people want to believe in things because those things don’t have any evidence, my friend suggests.
I can see that, I say, then tug on the tassels of the pants I’m wearing, which are someone else’s. My stomach makes a sound. My friend scratches his foot.
I look at the art that I’ve made and that hangs on the wall. Whenever I show anyone the art I’ve made—just about everyone—they ask if I have art that’s bigger.
No, I always say to them. Why do you ask?
Whoever it is that I’m speaking with always shrugs. I don’t know, they say. I’m just wondering if you have anything that’s bigger.
I don’t understand. Everyone makes such a fuss about size in this world. My therapist tells me I should be like Goldilocks: not too big or too small. I don’t know why she tells me to be like this when nobody else in the world tells me to be like this. They want my body to be small and my art to be giant. It’s ridiculous.
Figure 2: My “small” art.
I mention my need to become like Goldilocks, and my friend says he doesn’t know the story of Goldilocks, which makes me sad. He’s also never seen the ocean, which will no longer be the case when he flies to Berlin.
He keeps reading the article about reincarnation. Inside, I feel rotten.
I wonder about who gets to hear fairy tales and who doesn’t. I think about puzzles and who knows how to solve them. I think about how some people are impressed when you solve a puzzle, and how others know that anyone can solve such a puzzle. They know that you aren’t special or impressive even for a minute for solving that puzzle, that you aren’t any more impressive than anyone else, which is true. These people see you and what you can do for what it actually is, which is what everyone can do. You just might be, for some, the first exposure to such a thing. By being first you aren’t better. You’ve just got novelty working for you.
Figure 3: A puzzle I can solve that really isn’t difficult to solve.
The novelty-thing is why I still think fond thoughts—fairly often—for the first male and first female with whom I had sex. Sometimes I feel embarrassed for having such fond and often thoughts, because I know they probably don’t think of me, because I wasn’t the first one for them, but they were firsts for me. Sometimes I want to explain to them that I only care so much because they were novelties. But then, of course, they don’t know that I even need to explain this, because they don’t know that I think of them so often and so fondly. Then, I feel embarrassed again about thinking of them at all.
I know this isn’t revelatory. Everyone has known it all along. But still, I can’t help but think about it, and wonder if others think about it too.
I look at my friend, who does child’s pose, then downward dog, on my bed. He isn’t a child. He also isn’t a dog. I watch his feet inch closer to the area where I rest my head. I feel queasy with thoughts of germs, images of germs I can practically see slip off the soles of his feet and onto this pillowy surface, the cheek-to-bed interface. I feel a wave of excitement. This friend’s foot dirt is so close to contacting the surface upon which I place my naked head. How terrifying! How enlivening! This interest, of course, has nothing to do with sex. He and I have had enough of that. Maybe the interest and feelings are because, soon, he’ll be leaving. But maybe not. Whatever the cause, I feel excited. So excited that I think I could give my friend the biggest hug I’ve ever given anyone, such a big hug that he won’t be able to breathe when I tell him that he should.
We lie down next to each other and stare at each other without talking. It’s an experiment we started one night, without saying it was an experiment. He just started staring, so I started staring, and that was that. We kept going for an hour. Maybe more. Or maybe less. Regardless, it felt like a very long time.
Tonight, we only stare for a few minutes before he gets out his camera. He holds it at arm’s-length, pointing back at us. We move our noses closer. Our sides are smooshed against the covers. He locks his arm into place, keeping the camera overhead, and I watch him breathe as he watches me breathe. I feel tired and content, but not as tired as my friend, whose eyes flutter. Closed, then open, then closed. He holds the camera for as long as he can, and then, his arm slips down like a clock-hand, in an arc. I think about tomorrow, when I’ll wake up in the morning, and he’ll wake up too. We’ll get dressed and maybe even swap clothes, so that when he leaves, on his way overseas, he’ll have to think of me—at least for a few hours—as much as I think of him.