— Life’s Riddles
“So, what are you going to do?” Claire’s voice croaked beneath her blankets.
“I don’t know” I said brushing my teeth in Claire’s bathroom, “Grow some boobies; live a little; then die.”
“Not what I meant.” She said.
“Well; then, be more specific. There are a lot of angles I’m dealing with right now.”
“What are you going to say to…”
“My parents?” I Interjected, “I don’t know; how do you tell your mom her kid is a freak?” Fear was a product of my interactions with reality, a place I strived to avoid. The internet was my true parent; they taught me the ABC’s as a baby; they taught me why my body felt weird; they taught me how to get the razor blades from within pencil sharpeners; they taught me to hate myself, and told me to kill myself, yet they reached out and asked how I was, and talked with me in the most vulnerable moments of the night when loneliness drove my lips to bottles.
Why did the edge of a knife feel warmer than honesty? My parents may not kick me out of my house, and maybe they will hug me, and maybe they will say, ‘that’s okay, sweetie. We will figure this out.’ Which would feel great in that moment, but what happens in two months when I say the same thing? Will they still love them then? Will they look at me with hesitant eyes uncertain that what they did was right? If respectful tolerance was all there was to gain; then, there was little point in trying. Their obligation of love would fester into disdain towards their cursed child. My pain wasn’t beautiful. My sorrow could not be romanticized. I was a scarred, untouchable, thing. There was no redemption in this. Loving a mess took effort that I could not expect others to return; I could not ask them for that.
“You are not a freak.” Claire laughed, “If anything you’re saner than Sam and Jason- who would want to be a boy anyways?”
“Boys do.” I grumbled.
“Exactly. Monsters want to be monsters. Do you want to be a monster?” Claire said.
“Depends on what kind.” I said sarcastically.
“No, you don’t. So, you aren’t a monster.” She reasoned.
“That’s stupid. I can’t just say I’m a thing, Claire. I’ve accepted that I’ll be faking it anyways.”
“Faking what? Being a girl?” She scoffed at that, “Who decides anything but ourselves? How would I know I was a girl if I wasn’t told I was one since birth?”
“I have a penis.” I said.
“Some women have two uteruses. Some are born with none. Some girls are born with dicks. You’re proof of that.”
“Maybe.” I said trying to think of something else to say to steer this conversation away from myself.
“I guess we have time to figure that out. Do you want me to use ‘she’ and ‘her’? I can also tell Jason and Sam, only if you want of course. It may be easier for you if I do it though.”
“Its fine, Claire. Thank you, but I don’t know.”
“I care. So, about that name?” Claire threw open the curtains and the city revealed himself once more to us. The sun had barely risen above the city line, but the streets were already congested with traffic.
“Alex is fine for now.” I said panicking. I had spent so long on figuring this out, that I had never put any thought into what I would do afterwards. If I did not die soon; then, I would be forced to live, and to live I’d need a name.
“Alex is a pretty name for a girl, too. I knew an Alex at Soccer camp.” Claire said cheerfully, finally pushing the sheets away and grabbing a shirt beside her bed.
I had woken unusually sober. I could not figure out if it were the coke or Euphoria that blessed my body. There was the faint taste of sweetness that remained in the back of my throat, which covered the taste of gasoline.
“Was she good?” I asked.
“Not really. Super nice though.” Claire said tossing on a pair of sweatpants, crumpled against the corner of her room. “Can I just ask one more thing?”
“Sure.” I said, feeling the pace off my heart quicken.
“Who else knows? Did anyone at your school know?”
“No.” I said flatly.
“A teacher? Anyone?”
“I saw a therapist once.” I said bluntly.
“Wait.” She said, “I thought you were going to live with your roommates in New York? Sam said you had an internship planned.”
“Why? We wouldn’t care, Alex. Sam works for his dad. I’m a waitress. You graduated college. What is there to prove?” She reached out to touch me, but I had already taken a step back.
“I thought I could figure out a plan by now.” I explained. The warmth in my throat was replaced with barbed wire. Shame was once again holding me by the jugular. “I didn’t want to come home. I didn’t want anyone to see me.”
“You didn’t want to tell anyone.”
“Yea.” I admitted.
“It hurts me that you thought you had to keep it hidden.” She said.
“What if it wasn’t true? It still might not be true, Claire. I don’t know.”
“I’m not blaming you. I just feel bad.”
“It wasn’t your job.” I said a little more aggressively than intended.
“I’m your friend. It is my job. If it wasn’t true then we could have dealt with that together; I just hate the thought of you being alone for so long.”
“I don’t even remember most of those days. After I started, I think I woke up, a little bit. Does that make sense?”
“Like, nothing that happened before mattered? Do you think that’s healthy?” She asked sincerely.
“No,” I said, “It all matters, Claire; I just don’t know how to reason with it all. I still don’t understand how I was me a year ago, and now I just feel strange, like worms are wiggling in my brain. I thought, that if I was honest with myself; then, maybe I would feel better, but it just feels worse and I don’t know what to do.”
“You need to talk to someone.” Claire said touching the side of my arm.
“Who?” I asked, “No one would understand this, and what if they told everyone else?”
“Fuck everyone else.” Claire stated, “Everyone sucks. Take what you need to make you happy.”
“I don’t know what I need to make me happy.”
“Neither do I.” Claire giggled, “I’m not the poster-child of mental health either, Alex. I just don’t want to see you keep hurting yourself.”
I subconsciously reached toward the scars on my wrist, “Okay,” I said, “I know I need to better. I’ll figure it out.”
“I’m proud of you, Alex- or, whoever you turn out to be.” Claire said embracing me.
“Don’t be proud. I didn’t do anything.” I laughed.
“You don’t actually believe that?”
A knock interrupted our conversation. Silent whispering and giggling came from the other side, “Are the lovebirds awake?” Sam cooed through a crack in the door.
“Shove it.” Claire said throwing the nearest thing she had at the door, which just so happened to be a bra.
“Woah, thanks. I’ve never seen one of these before.” Sam said before scurrying away with the cups covering his eyes.
“Hey, I want that back!” Claire yelled. She stormed out of her room in pursuit. Jason came in with a glass of water.
“Figured you’d need this.”
“Thanks.” I reached out to grab the glass, but winced as I heard the sound of Sam crashing into the TV and Claire telling him to check whether he owed her five hundred dollars or not. Jason rolled his eyes and I grabbed the glass sticking the cold water to my lips. I had not even realized how thirsty I was. Within seconds the glass was drained.
“I guess it’s worse than I surmised.” Jason said grinning, “I could throw together some eggs just because your home.”
“Thanks, Jason.” I said not expositing it was my sadness and now the alcoholic that burdened my body.
“Of course; we must ensure the intellectuals of the group are fed first.” He took the empty glass from me and joined the chaos in the living room. I heard the sound of a bra string snap as the elastic contacted skin.
“I am going to fucking murder you!” Claire screamed.
“Everyone heard it. We all heard that!” Sam cried.
“I didn’t hear anything.” Jason said.
“I thought Sam, didn’t come home last night?” I said, joining the rest of the group. Claire had crossed the straps of her stolen bra around Sam’s throat; the elastic left red marks crossed across Sam’s jugular.
“I still don’t hear anything over the sound of this stove. These eggs sure do smell good.” Jason said over the sounds of Sam’s death gurgles.
Jason and I sat down to eat, while Sam rubbed ice around his throat. “Well It’s been nice seeing you guys, but Daddy calls.”
“What did we say about daddy?” Claire called from across the room.
“Sorry, sorry.” Sam said, “Not trying to get manhandled again, but my dad does need my help. Alex, you want to earn a little cash?”
“No way, Sam.” I said, “Last time I worked with your dad I broke my ankle.”
“Yea, yea, whatever. A little mountain air is too pure for the prince of higher education.”
I waved the comment away; I needed to be home.
Jason collected my plate and hugged me goodbye. Claire followed me out to the car, whispering a soft “I love you”, before returning inside. Sam spread his arms out, but Claire walked past him.
We left with Sam grumbling about second-wave feminism. The drive out of the city was rough. Sam’s car sounded like a rusty chainsaw. The undercarriage occasionally scraped along the bricked streets.
Once out of the tunnel, the drive smoothed to a steady loll. The drive back to Clearwater was silent. Sam queued a soft playlist of acoustic covers and lo-fi beats.
If a cop were to pull us over right now I am not sure as to whether Sam would get away without being breathalyzed. Open cans of beer, which I had not previously noticed, rolled around in the back. Sam had his sunglasses on and a redbull in his right hand.
I felt the flask of Euphoria in my pocket, but I feared Sam would ask for a sip, if I were to pull it out. I decided to endure sobriety for an hour longer.
The hills surrounding the city turned to farmland, which returned to the mountains of the western lakes. Sam pulled off highway and through Clearwater.
“My shits at your house.” I said pointing out a turn Sam was about to miss ahead.
“Oh yea, my bad.” Sam said skirting around the corner.
I turned to say goodbye, but Sam had immediately fallen asleep on his steering wheel. He had not changed much since high school; I don’t think I changed much either.
I thanked him for the ride, despite his unconscious state.
The air in Clearwater was cooler and less humid than Peregin. I felt my lungs cleansed through the mountain air just as energy had returned slightly through my chest toward the tips of my fingers.
I reached into my pocket, lifting the flask of Euphoria to my lips. As the sap touched my lips I praised myself for keeping us safe last night; I could find pride in that; There was strength in perseverance, and maybe with enough time, I can fix whatever holes were left unattended. The scars remained, but so too, did I.
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