You’re sprawled across your criminally unkempt bed with your feet swinging in the air, thumb worrying at a nondescript pen as you trace aimless designs onto the unfilled page in front of you with the fingers of your free hand, trying to find enough courage to finally write what you mean.
It’s a fairly innocuous composition book—earmarked by the classically hideous, black and white ‘no signal’ looking scatter of dots and dashes, the space on the front reserved for writing the subject it’s being used for labeled with only one word: ‘Lacuna’
Your pen approaches the paper and darts away, flirts with the idea of writing and then harshly denies it. You could say you don’t know why putting this down in ink is so difficult for you, but you’d be lying.
When you’re like this, drunk on ostracization and your own personal culture too ‘counter’ to attract even the most indie of crowds, his words are like graffiti on a subway wall, replaying in your mind: vibrant and very visible, but gone too quickly for you to get a proper glimpse, to look into them for the insight you want, the hope you need.
Falling limp on your bed, you let the stress and anguish drain out of you, heaving a breath with more character to it than one would expect, and remember.
You meet Jake on a Pesterchum chat roulette soon after your eleventh birthday, the solitude of your own skin catching up to you in ways you rarely let it, making you indulge in interactions you’d normally just as soon not.
Shamefully, you can’t quite remember the first thing he types to you, though you’re positive it’s relentlessly cheery—strange speech patterns and what seems like a genuine urge to want to get to know you throwing you out of your comfort zone.
You try to type something sanguine and cavalier back, uncharacteristically terse, maybe ‘Cool story’ Or ‘Whatever you say, man,’ but the words get caught in your mind, drain cold and unpleasant down to your heart and swell like a crescendo, and instead you’re suddenly telling him about recent developments in modern circuitry and the Arabian horse show that’ll be blowing into town next week.
This is usually the point where some joke is made about ponies and preteen girls, followed by your swift and vicious verbal retaliation (it’s dignity, dignity that makes you defend your life and your choices, not hurt, and maybe if you tell yourself that enough times it’ll come true,) but for once your faceless conversation partner from across the world wide web just… listens.
No, that’s stupid; it doesn’t matter if the intent of the word works, you can’t listen to text. You’re not one of the many insipid, apathetic masses that use the words interchangeably, because ‘what does it matter’, and yet…
It feels like listening. There’s a profound difference between someone reading your text and someone really paying attention to it, someone caring enough to give a fuck when you elaborate on the fact that Arabians are particularly unusual because they have extra vertebrae, and that despite uranium’s unstable nature it’s a much more effective and viable power source than modern science gives it credit for.
You’re eleven and rail thin, with knock knees that you know (
hope) you’ll grow into eventually and elbows almost as sharp as your wit, and you're so damn lonely it winds you sometimes, makes you stop cold in the middle of the day and just breathe until your diaphragm stops quivering with it.
Your room is bright and filled to the brim with paraphernalia pertaining to your interests. Sometimes you like to think keeping yourself occupied enough is a more than acceptable substitute for human interaction.
Then you remember that’s bullshit, warm hand sliding mechanically down into your boxers, just a psychological response, to stimulation and the cocktail of hormones coursing through your body, nothing to be embarrassed about, not when the beaded sweat these hot Texas nights create makes the noise of you tugging at yourself, all efficiency and no pleasure, wet and vulgar.
You always shower the instant you’re finished, climbing into the jarringly hot spray and scrubbing fanatically at the nonexistent gunk beneath your fingernails until the skin around them is raw and pink and—
—god, you’re so ashamed, and it kills you because you don’t even know why, why you can’t leave that scalding, comforting stall until your cuticles are pushed as far back as they can be and all the phantom semen and shame is gone from the under your closely cropped nail beds.
Your chest is tight, pulled taut by emotion that makes your tongue feel thick and useless in your mouth, makes you want to scream at the tiles and the showerhead and the ghost of your too long absent brother, panhandling to you for sorrow and comfort every time you catch sight of yourself in the mirror, but especially when you leave your hair down (there’s enough hairspray and gel stocked up in your cabinet to drench all the sponges in the great barrier reef, and that’s just how you like it.)
You never actually scream though. That would be stupid, illogical, and more than anything you want the world to make sense, the way it should, the way it would if people weren’t in it.
So instead you sing, and pretend it’s irony, the anguished preteen boy belting out lyrics in the shower. You’ve begun to pride yourself on honesty being unable to tell if it’s water or tears streaming from the corners of your eyes anymore.
Sometimes you sing real songs and sometimes you don’t, The Guggenheim Grotto meeting Iron and Wine in your vocal cords, turning into crooning gibberish halfway through that you don’t let yourself listen to (you always make sure the cascade of water is loud enough to stop you from hearing your own lyrics—for all the ways you bring yourself down, you can’t, won’t do that to yourself.)
Your hair is thoroughly lathered up, hands scrubbing viciously at your pinked shoulder blades, warbling things you’re careful not to think about too hard.
The kid from earlier—kid, kid, you don’t know why you talk about people who are presumably your age as such, and yet…
He seemed… nice. Not the kind of nice that makes a guy do the minimal required amount of civic duty, to give the token one buck to every hobo passed on the street and have two point five kids with a perfectly bland little wife that they’re nice enough to feel bad about cheating on halfway through life, in some misguided attempt to figure out at what point they stopped being real people.
The kind of nice where the apples of their cheeks are really pronounced when they smile, and they make little forts out of ketchup and french fries if their meal takes too long getting to their table.
None of that in practice, of course—it’s unrealistic of you to just assume the apples of his cheeks show up instead of oh, say, dimples, and from the sound of it he’s isolated enough wherever-the-fuck he is not to have any burger joints to saunter into and create miniature fried potato civilizations…
If this were one of your usual metaphors, now would be the time you dropped it as a lost cause, but you can’t escape feeling that the principle of the thing you’re thinking is correct, that you just haven’t spent enough time around real people with working social lives to know how to phrase it.
You’re probably wrong.
You hope that you’re right.)
You’ll consider pestering him again tomorrow to see.
For all intents and purposes, when you do finally drop out of your perpetually busy orbit from exhaustion, depression or some mixture of the two, Lil’ Cal is your pillow.
There are a lot of things about yourself that make you twitch—and it’s odd, utterly bizarre, how you can genuinely think you’re awesome but not actually like yourself—but your love of the admittedly gaudy puppet is not one of them.
You’re—god, you’re a freak, between the puppets, the horses and the other hobbies you have no intention of going into, but Cal’s never going to call you on it, never flinch away from a bro fist or deliberately spill something down the front of your rainbow dash hoodie. (That was about two days before you pulled yourself out of public school and enrolled yourself online, typing your brother’s name and information into the required slots infinitely more painful than you’d anticipated [but then, isn’t that the story of your life?] It had been the last straw, the final stand—a progression of small, snide instances leading up to that final hurrah of sneering bullshit.
You’ve not been oblivious to your sexual inclinations for a long while, nor have you been shy about making them known—you don’t flaunt yourself, not more than any other kid your age freely expresses budding affections and schoolyard crushes, but that’s enough. Enough to garner animosity, enough to ensure that your locker is defaced with horribly drawn, frightfully anatomically incorrect male genitalia and words like ‘faggot’ [bundle of sticks, it means bundle of sticks, and you really can’t bring yourself to be honestly offended by that one] and ‘fudgepacker’ [you wish you couldn’t bring yourself to be offended by that one either.] By the time Chris Low from your third period with his connect-the-dots pimples and disgustingly gelatinous face pours his spaghetti down the front of dear Dash’s snout and mane, you’re fucking done. He’s laying flat on the cheap linoleum floors of your middle school’s cafeteria shrieking like an infant before his friends can tell him ‘nice one’, as you pound your bony knuckles again, again, again into the ample meat of his maw, the repulsively spongy ‘thwap’ of impact gradually turning into more of a ‘squelch’ sound as the blood pouring from his nose and mouth saturate the target area. It takes three kids in upper grades to pull you off him, the populace of the room at large staring at you like you’re deranged.
You didn’t hold it against them: flecks of blood that had flown off your pummeling fists mixed in with the tears and snot pouring down your face, leaving ruddy tracks down the twisted, snarling grimace of your expression.
When they brought you into the office to detail the terms of your suspension, you fucked off and didn’t look back.)
No, Cal’s a downright fucking gentleman, to you and to everyone, and you’re keeping him with you through hell and high water.
These rationalizations make you feel less strange as you bury the side of your face into his torso and mumble things about green text and vaudevillian speech patterns, asking questions that don’t seem quite so suffocatingly rhetorical when Cal’s around.
“Maybe he was just playing along, or silent out of shock, or waiting for an ideal moment to pull out the intellectual ‘big guns’ of Neanderthalic cyber cackling and technophilia jokes.”
You seemed to think he was nice. We both know you’ve got a good eye for that sort of thing.
“I’ve thought people were nice before.”
Yes, and then you retreated into yourself in a fit of fear and shyness, proceeding to be hurt when they didn’t jump through hoops to contact ‘that guy they’d only messaged once’.
You bristle a bit, hands clutching more tightly at his oversized blue T-shirt. “That shit was justified—I should be worth the paltry task of typing in my fucking chumhandle and clicking ‘pester’.”
In your head, Cal’s voice goes soft and kind. You are worth it; you just need to put yourself out there long enough for them to realize it, too.
You try to sigh—instead it comes out high and keening, almost a sob, and you choke back on it before it can warble into something uncomfortably honest. Your next admission is slow in coming, rubbing your throat raw as it tumbles, uncouth, from your lips.
“I’m—I’m so fucking scared, I can’t even stand it some days.”
You’re eleven, Dirk. You’re allowed to be.
It’s stupid stupid dumb dumb, and on some level you know this is you talking to yourself, to the severed bits and pieces of optimism you’ve set up a wall in your head to preserve—
—but there’s no way to adequately describe how much better that makes you feel.
Shaking off the pessimism, you get up, putting more of a bounce in your step than you actually feel, and step off the precipice of your comfort zone.
timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering golgothasTerror [GT]
TT: If you’re on right now, I’d like to inform you that you passed the prestigious gauntlet of ‘not boring me the fuck to tears’ yesterday, and your new challenge is, should you choose to accept, joining me on this unquestionably rad and admittedly occasionally fucked up journey to proper brodom.
TT: Think you’re up to the challenge, Terror?
Your fingers are literally trembling with nerves, your heart lodged so high in your throat that trying to swallow would be a fool’s errand.
Two minutes later, he replies.
GT: If i didnt know better id call that a challenge, sir testified.
GT: As a man of unquestionable honor, im obviously left with no choice but to accept!
GT: Ill have you know though, im no slouch when it comes to adventure!
GT: Are you certain youll be able to keep pace?
You honestly can’t help yourself this time: pulling away from the computer for a split second, still trembling like a leaf with nerves, you nearly bowl yourself over laughing with giddy delight.
TT: Bring it on, Captain Vaudeville.
You’re fourteen, and golgothasTerror (Jake English, you know now, his name is Jake) is the best bro a guy could ever ask for.
It was startling how simple conversing with others became, after that initial hurdle was overcome—Jake ended up sending a few of his contacts your way when they were having computer trouble (or, in Roxy’s case, when they just wanted to snoop into Jake’s contact list,) and it’s… wonderful, more uplifting than you ever expected, finding a group of people who have your back unconditionally.
Jake is still your favorite, though—and to everyone who says that picking ‘favorite’ friends is poor form, that’s utter, noisome bullshit. There’s something endlessly endearing about his old time speech patterns, something uplifting and fantastic about the easy camaraderie and rapport he always manages to establish with you, bringing you up from the depths of even your pissiest moods.
Bit by bit, you’ve been stumbling (and stumbling is the right word for it, embarrassing as that is) out into the wide open plains of human interaction even beyond your machinations on your beloved computer—not that you go out of your way to intercept people on the street, but you don’t shy from chit chat or pleasantries where they find you anymore, either.
Your name is Dirk Strider. Your agility is a point of personal pride, your proficiency with a myriad of different strife specibi and all forms of robotics pretty much legendary to the three people who know about them.
Your name is Dirk Strider, and for the first time in a long while, you think this might be what it feels like to be comfortable in your own skin.
You and Jake have been having gif wars for the past two days—long, involved conversations facilitated only by brief video clips swiped from the equally feared and revered talons of the internet at large. His very gracious, emotionally aware offering of two horses bunping hooves has just been rebuffed by one of two male lions getting their rad snuggle on, countered once again by something from a show called Adventure Time—not having a TV, Jake goes out of his way to get the episodes of this diddy on his PC. He’s almost as enthusiastic about it as you are about Friendship is Magic—almost—and you’ve sort of bonded over, among numerous other things, an avid love of oddly specific children’s shows, albeit for vastly different reasons.
A wicked idea brewing, you decide to open up your personal content files and send him a much abridged clip of one of your… ‘specialty’ puppet videos, hitting ‘deliver message’ and waiting eagerly for a peculiarly worded exclamation of shock, horror and amusement (he’s always been able to take even your most ‘out there’ aspects in stride, and it’s something that hasn’t done anything at all to dissuade the foolish case of calf love you’re self aware enough to realize you’ve got for him.)
When he replies, it’s not to drop the ball and revert back into text as you expected—instead you get a generic file, vid003.gif, implying he’s retaliating with something he made himself. Cautiously, you click it open.
He looks like someone who’s spent a decade under a friendly sun, bronze with exposure, eyes startlingly green against the dark tan of his complexion.
It starts off with him making an obviously exaggerated expression of horror—brows quirked to an impossible angle, mouth distorted in a shape so perfectly ‘bleh!’ that you don’t even need the accompanying sound bite to know the noise he was making. After freezing in this pose for a few seconds, he makes a big show of shaking it off, black hair flopping messily around with the motion of his head, and holds his forearm up to the camera, where the word ‘Truce?’ is written in green ink for you to see.
Then he stops, words on flesh still visible, and smiles at you.
His teeth, too big for his mouth, make his grin wide and inviting, oddly genuine seeming.
He’s the most gorgeous boy you could ever fathom.
In a frenzied scrabble you’ll never admit to, you snatch your state of the art digital camera off one of the adjacent tables and dash into the bathroom, shaking out your hair and then combing your fingers carefully through it, preening.
On an average day you have a matter-of-fact appreciation of your aesthetic appeal: aware that, by most standards, you’re exceptionally attractive, in the same way you’re aware of exactly how many times you can scale the side of your apartment building or flash step to the corner store and back before keeling over out of exhaustion.
Today is not an average day. It’s irrational, you realize that on the level that makes a point of keeping you and your oddities grounded, but you just—
—just have to look perfect for this. First impressions and all that tedium.
Fifteen minutes later and feeling sufficiently groomed, you scrawl, in your neatest handwriting, a carefully careless ‘Fine by me.’ onto your forearm and hold it up next to your face as you set the camera’s timer to five seconds and wait for the telltale ‘click’, allowing just a hint of the smile in your mind show up on your face.
Trotting back to the computer, you upload the picture to your hard drive and send it on over, regurgitating simple, expected answers for the rest of the conversation as you zone out, ogling what you now know is the face behind your very bestest of internet bros.
It’s hot again that night, the same kind of hot it always has been in the summer months, a sweltering Texas heat that you’re too acclimated to for you to really despise it with any vim or vigor, and when you slide your hands down into your boxers this time, it doesn’t feel like failure.
Not like shame, or loneliness, or the pressing isolation that’s been an earmark of this task for as long as you can remember.
All it feels is good.
One day, you’ve vowed, you’re going to tell Jake all of this. To impress upon him the story of your life, the impact he’s had on it.
You’ve already tried a few times, as a matter of fact, but you’ve found that it’s not something you can type up spur of the moment, or even draft and edit to perfection.
The things Jake English means to you are deeper than conventional letters, than structured paragraphs with main points and supporting ideas can show.
It’s the lexical gap between what you mean and what words can convey, the three thousand six hundred and eighty four ways you’ve found to love a boy anachronism half a world away.
Instead, you’ve decided to count them for him.
1. You’re willing to talk to me.
You started small, that day months ago when you decided compiling this list in an official capacity was something you wanted to do; create a broad foundation, the solid kind that anything good that means to last needs to have.
2. You know that it’s okay to be you.
You’re not taking anything for granted, not assuming any of the things you appreciate in him are a given—this is a slow and steady seduction, a campaign of adoration rooted too firmly in your aortal artery to be anything but achingly sincere. Your eyes skip ahead, tracking, already knowing this list like it’s etched on the back of your eyelids but still compelled to read it over from time to time. You suppose this confession should’ve come right after entry number two, but it was too raw to just put out there without intense forethought, easier to let this sit for a little while and address other features you appreciate in Jake than to rip this one out of yourself like one rips off a band-aid.
23. Sometimes you make me feel like it might be alright to be me, too.
The list goes on, gets more intricate, calling to mind specific instances and emotions as the pages rack up—you’ve got quite a collection of these admirations by now, if you do say so yourself.
Maybe even enough to make a difference. The game is going to start soon, you know, in an urgent, acute, visceral way even Roxy lacks—do or die time, the gauntlet you were all born to face.
Foot twitching with nervous energy, you pen in the last entry.
When the time comes, and you two are finally face to face, you’ll tell it to him straight, but you feel it needs to be archived here, too, for both closure and posterity.
3,685. You’ve managed to make me love you.
Your name is Dirk Strider, and against all of your much coveted logic, you have hope.