You’re Awful, I Love you
Doing household chores with your significant other sounds like the best non-sexual thing any couple can do. Cleaning the house together. Keeping everything in order, together. How romantic! Domestic fluff. A lot of people dream of this.
Imagine the weekend routine:
You sweep the floor, they mop it afterwards. You cook lunch, while they set up the table. You wash the dishes, and they pat everything with a towel, then leave on the rack to air dry. In the living room, you dust the furniture, they vacuum the carpet. In the garden, you water the vegetables and flowers, as they bend down and talk brightly to the plants. Plant children are the best.
Now imagine the mornings:
They fold the blankets, you fluff and arrange the pillows. If it isn't late, the both of you hit the shower together. You think it's cheaper that way. The way you eat off on the same plate sometimes, so it's just one plate to wash, one pair of utensils to clean. Still, you believe, this is true love.
But things aren't always smooth. Real life isn't a creased bed sheet that one can run a hand over, or replace anytime. Life is more of the scalding mug of coffee that you forgot to blow before sipping. An innocent tongue is stabbed with the heat.
"Honey, why didn't you tell me it was—"
"I did, m'darling. Right after I laid it down, yeah."
The absent-minded Octavius opens his mouth to argue, but shuts it before anything coherent forms in his head. He knows how engrossed he can be while reading, thus forgetting the simplest things, like the coffee. It’s no one’s fault.
Octavius pushes the textbook on Ancient Civilizations aside, then begins to stir the teaspoon. The stirring continues as he looks up at his husband, who is standing in front of the stove, holding an egg on the right, a fork on the left. Jed cracks it. The frying pan hisses a welcoming surprise. And so did their cat, Esperanza, sprinting right behind Jed's foot. It's orange fur brushing lightly at the back of Jed's ankles. He drops the eggshell in surprise, along with a loud "Fuck!"
Nevermind about the coffee metaphor. Life is definitely a sneaky cat.
"You're lucky you're cute, Mr. E!" Jed hisses at the cat while picking up the shells, then dumping it in the nearby bin. "Otherwise, I woulda thrown ya out. Christ, ya almost gave me a heart attack, buddy."
"And who says I'll let you take Esperanza away?" Octavius smirks. "This cat cleans up after herself, more than you, Mr. Baby."
"Hey now, babe," Jed raises his voice louder than the running water. He washes his hands before taking another egg. He spatulas a sunny side-up and carefully places it atop a slice of bread. Then he cracks the new one. “Who ya calling messy, Mister My-Books-An’-Everything-Ain’t-None-of-My-Business?”
“It’s exam week, I told you!”
“Hey, I’m just kiddin’ here, partner. Lighten up, buttercup.”
Octavius blows on his drink, gives a side eye to the towering pile of books and stapled readings on the table. Sighing out loud, he mutters a “Jupiter, strike me…” out of habit.
“Hey, Octi, I'm tryin' alright? Tryin' to get my shit together. Just picked up all the visual aids you told me to. Look at the living room. You can walk like a free man now without trippin'!"
He chuckles, but says, "You're awful." He finally takes a sip. The coffee slides down his throat with a delightful and tolerable burn. Little bursts of sweet honey in the overall bitterness, the creaminess of it, everything is perfect. Just the way he likes it. Jed always makes his drink so special. He gazes at him, who is staring right back in anticipation. He smiles in satisfaction. "I love you."
“Aww, thanks. I love you, too.” He steps forward to place a kiss on his forehead before going back to the egg.
Then, Esperanza the cat pawed at Octavius' lap and dropped a tiny black rat on the floor.
"Oh, gods! Not a way to start my Sunday," he groans, putting a palm over his face. Jed places the egg sandwiches on the table, right in front of him, before sitting across. He takes one and starts munching.
The table, a big sturdy wooden one, has a lot of space, if not for Oct's readings and books that occupied an entire corner. There are drafts of a lesson plan, scratch papers with scribbles of historical periods, crumpled timelines with aggressively sketchy X marks. Exams are obviously coming this week. Hell week is upon him. And he hasn’t even prepared a lesson plan on World History 120, due Tuesday at least.
"Jed, I'm sorry, but I don't have the time. Will you please pick up the rat?" He takes the other sandwich, and puts it in his mouth as he picks the book on Ancient Civilizations.
“Sure, m’darling. After breakfast, alright,” he promises. “Anything for ya, m’Octi.”
Ten years later, he is completely, absolutely, a hundred percent positively certain, that he can spend the rest of his life with Jedediah Strong Smith. There is no other person for him, Octavius believes. He says this in his vows when they got married.
“You’re not perfect, but you fit in my heart like nobody else.”
“Well, Octi, I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you, for all my life.”
“Oh, Jed.” Octavius rolls his eyes. He’s surprised he didn’t sing it out loud. “You’re unbelievable.”
“Hey, I used to think, marrying the person I love the most is unbelievable. But we’re here now.”
"And this is just the beginning."
And long before ten years, before they even got married, Octavius has never dreamed or thought of such a moment. See, to him, Jedediah is nothing but a stranger who lent him an umbrella once.
Their paths cross in America, one stormy day. Both are standing by the information desk, inside the Museum of Natural History. Octavius, looking disapprovingly at the downpour beyond the doors. How has he forgotten to bring an umbrella, today of all times.
Then this blond stranger appears out of the blue, asks, “Need an extra?” and produces a second foldable umbrella in his bag. Octavius is wary, and asks, “Thanks, but how will I return this to you, sir?”
“Ya come here often?”
“It’s, um, it’s my first time.” He is visiting America for a month. It is one of his last days as a tourist. This is probably his last, too.
“Well, I’d love to see you a second time, if that’s alright? We can meet up at three. Tomorrow.”
“Alright, thank you, sir.”
“My name’s Jedediah Smith,” he extends a hand. “But you can call me Jed.”
Slightly reluctant, Octavius takes it and gives it a quick firm shake. “I’m Octavius. Just, Octavius.”
They meet again the following day, a windy grey afternoon without rain. He goes back to the museum with the sole purpose of returning Jed’s umbrella. Nothing more. He admits, he has forgotten the blond’s name already after a day. So, to avoid anymore embarrassment, he hands it over with a simple thank you, then turns to leave. But Jed takes his wrist.
“Ah, are ya, um, busy tonight?”
“Are ya goin’ somewhere? Tonight? ‘Cause, I…”
He plans to pack, for his flight back to Italy. Three days more and he’s out of America. But he is curious to hear the end of his sentence.
“Maybe ya want to… stay a bit. Roam around? Oh! There’s a new collection of, um, animals! Animals, yeah! Up in the Hall of African mammals. What's your favourite animal, by the way?”
“If it’s alright with you, Octi!”
Struck, Octavius’ heart flutters, he feels his cheeks burning. Why, no one ever bothers to give him a nickname. Nobody at all! And this man, one unknown American with a Southern accent, just calls him something, as if they have been close friends. A spark explodes inside of him.
“I mean, I mean, oh— Oh! Octavius! Sorry, I—”
“I got nothing better to do tonight. Do you want to grab a snack?”
A complete 180 degrees turn.
He doesn't know this part yet, but in less than a month, Octavius will make another 180 degrees flip. He'll go back to America, to meet up with Jed, to stay with Jed, to be with Jed. He doesn't know he's fallen in love in a span of three days, nor does he think it's love. He calls it fascination, he says he's alluring, enchanting. Deep down, he longs of him, the moment they part ways, the moment he boards the airplane, the moment he steps in his home, alone.
In three days, he is in love with Jedediah.
But for now, they eat in an artsy cafe, close by the museum. In the middle of sipping frappes and some sweet pastries, Jed confesses that he actually almost forgot Octavius’ name, hence calling him Octi by mistake. He apologises for this, and to his surprise, Octavius bursts out, laughing so hard, face all red like cherry. Less embarrassed, Octavius admits in return that he still has no clue what Jed’s name is, and they both laugh until they are shot with judging looks from others.
Jedediah and Octavius, once again, re-introduce themselves. This time, they won’t forget, they promise.
You can quite say that it’s love at second sight.
“Say, Octi? Do you ever think about kids?”
They are already three years married when Jed pops this question.
Saturday night, the two are in their bedroom. Octavius is reading on the bed, a pencil tucked on an ear. He occasionally grabs this to underline, or make notes on the margin of the book. His professors wince at this, for marking a book felt like defiling it, but not in his opinion. Annotation is one of many ways of studying. It helps him remember more information, too. Meanwhile, Jed is cutting up shapes on the floor, in a cluttered circle of coloured paper, glue, and glitter. He recently resigned and now works at a different school, as an Art teacher in kindergarten. He prepares his visual aids the old-fashioned way, never ever using PowerPoint. Why, he even writes rhyming songs to teach the members of the family, how to take care of yourself, and animals to see at the zoo, among other topics aligned within the curriculum. (A few years later, he'll be promoted to also become a Music teacher!)
“What do you mean, Jed? Like, adopting a human child? Or baby goats?”
“Of course, human children! Unless you want to take care of goats?”
Octavius looks up from reading, giving it a bit more thought before confessing, “I… I’m sorry, but I don’t really have a strong opinion about children. I’m not exactly fond of them. It’s expensive to raise one, especially in this economy. Also, they’re quite noisy, and, rather messy? I already have you to deal with.
Why do you ask, my love?”
“I dunno, I just… Well, ‘course I like kids, why would I be teaching ‘em if I ain’t. It’s better than junior high. But, sometimes, I do think, what’s it like, to like, y’know, um, come home with a, with a…”
“With a goat?”
“Dagnabit!” The blond throws the glue stick at his partner, who swiftly catches it midway.
“With that attitude? I don’t think you’re fit to raise a kid of your own, sorry. Might get called for child abuse right away.”
Jed shakes his head at the half-joke. “Yeah, and you’re too cold to give a fuck. That kid’s gonna grow up sad and lonely… ‘Cause his dads are two idiots… Poor kid.” Jed sighs. “Let’s get a cat instead!”
So they do. A male orange rescue cat. Octavius insists that he be given a short name, for convenience’s sake. Jed jokingly calls the cat Esperanza.
“But that’s four syllables! I bet, even real kids would hate long names!”
“Well yeah, that’s true, but this ain’t no human child. Plus, he responds to it. Come here, boy! Come here, Esperanza!”
The cat, emerging elsewhere, suddenly leaps into Jed’s arms. He gives his husband a darn smug look, as if saying, “See?” Soon enough, Octavius starts calling Esperanza that way, too.
Ever since Octavius got accepted in the Masters program of the History department, their house gradually sinks from tip-top shape to topsy-turvy mess.
Octavius, not having the time nor energy to do any chores, asks Jed to take care most of the things. Since Jed only teaches in the morning, he has the whole afternoon for chores. At least for sweeping, dusting furniture, and cleaning the kitchen daily. That’s what the Italian expects. But Jed sometimes— an underestimation, really— forgets.
See, he isn’t inherently organised with his own things, let alone try to manage the whole house. That chaotic personality extends to the way he dresses, the way he let his hair fly out, the way he stacks his students’ worksheets (unalphabetized and uncategorized), and even the erratic schedule of feeding Esperanza. He even forgets important things, like paying the bills, or even eating. Unlike Octavius, who sometimes skips meals due to lack of time and other factors, he skips meals because he’s too engrossed in making visual aids, or writing a new song, or watching television, or accidentally dozing off.
Unfortunate for him, Octavius endures three-hour long classes every Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. On these days, he goes home late, very hungry and very tired. To make things more difficult, the department has given him 18 units of teaching this semester. There are ugly days when he is extremely too tired to even share his day with his husband after a long day, be it a good one or fine or one hell of a day. Especially on Wednesdays, when he drops dead on the bed, after teaching from 10 AM til 4 PM and attending classes from 5 to 8. Only an hour long of break, for lunch, for breathing, mostly for napping. Sometimes, he’d phone Jed to ask if he’s alright (mostly just to hear his voice to recharge himself from fatigue). Although sometimes, Jed forgets to bring his phone, unintentionally upsetting him, but it’s alright. He knows he’ll come home to him later.
On Saturdays, he never forgets to remind Jed to clean up before heading out to his 1-4 class. He doesn’t expect a spick and span house, but at least, good-smelling, pleasant, liveable. Bearable.
Yet he comes home, to where books are sitting all over the place. Shampoo and conditioner lie down on the drain. Rinsed plates and glasses aren’t even slotted on the rack, at risk of tumbling over. Pieces of scratch aren't thrown properly. Small things. Common sense. How he wishes for Jed to be more mindful.
The first few times, he tells him off, re-reminds him. Nowadays, he keeps quiet and simply fixes it all by himself. He’ll just do it, because Jed often forgets anyway (despite living under the same roof for almost eight years now). Besides, it’s tedious to constantly remind a forgetful person, as if school and work doesn’t wear him out already.
But, finding two black rats on the bed— on their bed— is where he draws the line and yells for his husband, who comes rushing immediately in the room.
“I can’t believe you!” is the first thing he shouts, jabbing a finger on his chest. “The bed? The bed has rats!? The bed has rats, Jedediah!” He throws his head aback, balled fists shaking in anger. “Have you been eating on the bed?” The tone, high-pitched in accusation, cuts through Jed’s skin.
“Look, I…” The blond tries to explain, but he's immediately cut abruptly.
“But what? You forgot? You forgot that we have a no eating on the bed rule? Seirously!? You forgot THAT!?”
“Octavius, please, calm—”
“I’m so. Fucking. Tired! From work, and class! And on my goddamned bed. There’s not one, but two fucking rats! How the hell am I suppose to calm down!? How the hell am I supposed to rest!? I just want to,” he breaks into a sob and he weeps almost incoherently, “I want sleep.” He buries his face on his palms, falls on his knees, drops to his side. "I-I-I want to be in a clean house," he cries. "I wa-want things, to be, where it is. I want things t-t-to not f-fall apart, because I'M A WRECK!"
Jed reaches his lover, placing a hand on his neck. “Come on, sit up, Octi. Your nose gets too stuffed and ya can’t breathe from all that cryin’.”
Octavius lets his partner’s arms guide him to sit up on the floor. He feels his embrace, and the gentle whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” as he strokes his dark curly hair.
“Sorry that I’m a mess.”
“I’m tired, I’m so tired...”
“I know, an’ I’m sorry, for makin’ ya mad.”
“I’m not mad-mad, but Jed, let me be direct."
“Alright, hit me.”
“You’re a mess.”
“I know, partner. Is that all ya gotta sa—”
“I’m not finished,” he sighs. “You’re a mess, quite disorganized. Not just with your things, but with your life. You’re forgetful, you leave things like your cell, or money, or leave the door unlocked when going out. You don’t know how to mark important dates, like deadlines. Overdue bills. Submission of grades. You always rely on other people to tell you things, instead of having the initiative. Then there’s… well, you don’t take note of chores, or have the initiative to do the small things. I pick up the pooling hair by the drain. I replenish the tissue when it’s all gone. I take out the trash, segregate them properly. And who makes the grocery list?”
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, I’ll try to keep track of all this next time. Promise. And, uh, I’ll be more independent. Is that all?”
“Jed, there’s so many things going on, I know I have been neglecting and lacking in a lot of aspects, but I do expect you to, hopefully, work on... well, at least the simple things. I don’t want to come home and have a house falling apart. That’s just not a home!”
“Okay, I understand, Jedediah understands. I’ll be trying my best to be better, alright?”
Octavius believes in this promise. They take out the blanket and bed sheet, and replace it together.
After breakfast, Jed cleans up, then leaves Octavius to his studying. He calls the cat, but sees that it is curled up on a chair, resting. He makes his way to the living room, where his visual aids are stacked upon the coffee table in helter-skelter.
He takes the pink cartolina and unrolls it, pinning it down with some of the board books he borrowed at the school library. Tomorrow, he is teaching a new song, about emotions. There are two children with special needs in his class, and from the parent-teacher conference, both parents confided that their kid has a hard time telling emotion. Thus, he says he’ll try to make a simple song, maybe one or two, about feelings.
Jed is on the chorus part, writing the word “love," but stops midway, and drops the Pentel. He goes back to the kitchen. His husband looks up, an eyebrow arched in query.
“Almost forgot something,” Jed answers, pulling out a drawer to take two clear plastic bags. He wears it, then kneels down on the floor, picking up the dead rat that Esperanza gifted to Octavius. He pulls the plastic out and the rat is inside. He twists and knots it tight, stands up. He notices Octavius staring.
Jed smiles, leans in to give a surprise peck on his lips. “Don’t look incredulous, I almost forgot. But I was writing somethin’ so I remembered.”
“What were you writing, a new song?”
“Yes, and it’s called Things that Make Me Happy.”
“And you remembered the rat?”
“Of course, not, ya silly!” he chuckles. “I remember I love ya, ‘cause ya make me happy, an’ ya told me, to pick up the rat, an’ I did say after eatin’ but I did forget. But now, it’s ok, I’m doin’ what I gotta do. I’m sorry I’m slow sometimes, I hope you’ll forgive me.”
A devilishly handsome smile lights up Octavius' face. “I’ll forgive if,” and he slowly taps a finger on his lips, “if you give me a longer kiss. For strength. I need to recharge.”
“Wait, let me throw this first. Is this, um, biodegradable…?”
Almost ten years of being married and Octavius is still completely, absolutely, a hundred percent positively certain that he can spend the rest of his life with Jedediah Strong Smith. There is no other person for him, Octavius believes. Anyone can tell that Jedediah mutually feels this in his heart, too.