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if we're gonna heal

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INTUITION
(n.) the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.

 

They meet at a summer session, Alicia Kensington (of the Kensington Family, Manchester, New York), 20, #2 on Samwell’s Hottest (Issue 62) and Robert Z. (of Zimmermann General Store, Mahone Bay, pop. 900), 21, #1 on Samwell’s Hottest (Issue 61 & 62).

 

They’ve seen each other before, the way that all popular, hot, people do. Bob signed her petition for vegan options on campus the fall semester before, smiling at her briefly before turning and walking back towards the hockey team. It’s a faded memory in her mind by the time they have Orgo together that summer.

 

He’s a terrible student. He spends class doodling and taking his Samwell sweatshirt on and off. Alicia studies him. Sometimes, when she goes to stare, he already is.

 

“Don’t you care about passing?” She finally asks him one day. He spent class asleep. She doesn’t know why he even bothers to come.

 

“I was waiting for you to offer me help,” Robert replies, a grin with a missing molar. “Isn’t Miss Samwell supposed to be generous?”

 

“Suicide missions don’t interest me,” Alicia says, shielding her blue eyes from the sunlight whipping through the window. Despite herself. She smiles back.

 

(They fall in love that summer. His father gets sicker. His mother right after. The scouts come. He gets a prosthetic tooth. He buys a black suit but it’s not for the draft. She says, “I’m so sorry, Bobby.” They fall into something deeper than love.

 

He believes in astrology. She says that’s why he’s so bad at real science and he sticks his tongue out. “Twin flames,” he explains, while they’re huddled together in the nearly empty library past midnight, “Is like...deeper than soulmates.” She rolls her eyes. “And generational curses,” His voice does something weird when he says it, and she feels her eyes sharpen to look closer at him. “They’re inescapable.”

 

They fall in love that summer.)

 

...

I tried to make a home out of you.

But doors lead to trap doors,

a stairway leads to nothing.

 

Unknown women wander the hallways at night.

...

 

It’s not like she finds out all at once.

 

It's the little things. Women’s voices saved under men’s names. Bills from cities she hasn’t been to in years. Shorter calls when she’s away on set. These little things begin one of the worst years of her life.

 

She wishes she could say she set his car on fire and stole off with Jack and the dog in the middle of the night. But she doesn’t. She didn’t.

 

She sits and considers herself, and her husband. The twelve-year old that lives between them. 

 

Her body changed after Jack, but more than that, who she was changed after Jack. She wonders if her husband could feel the loneliness, the ache of it all, the way she feels like she’s giving birth again every day. Why didn’t he stop her? Why did she need him to?

 

(She’ll talk to Jack about this years from now. He’ll say, “Good moms need help too. Good moms have bad thoughts too.”)

 

Alicia had been ashamed of needing help. She had been ashamed that her husband, her one true love, hadn’t offered any. Or, he had, just not enough. He hadn’t reached between her legs and sewn the wound himself. More than the light entered her there.

 

(In the end, he does put her back together. The therapist guides his hands. He tells her how scared he is for Jack. How old he feels. How he knows what his bad memory + headaches + 10 concussions equal. 

 

“Growing up is hard,” He says, which should be appalling for a 30 something-year-old man. But Alicia understands. She was at the retirement ceremony. She’s too old to be the pretty girl in movies anymore. She finally understands. Bob reaches out. “Especially without my parents.”

 

The therapist says, “How do you think Jack feels?”

 

They both go silent. They all live on different planets, that terrible year.)

 

. . .

Where do you go when you go quiet?

. . .

 

The first time they take Jack to the psychiatrist, the receptionist smiles at them in the lobby and comments on how he looks just like his dad.

 

When it was just her and Bobby, there were still pauses between them. She remembers reaching across the table and knocking on his forehead once, laughing out, “Where did you go?” He looks back at her with the saddest eyes she has ever seen. Alicia lets her own smile drop. “Where—“ The waiter comes and asks for their order.

 

She moves Jack’s bangs out of his face as he stares at the patterned wallpaper of the lobby.

 

Where do they go? Where do they go?

 

Why can she never follow?

 

. . .

You remind me of my father, a magician.

Able to exist in two places at once.

. . .

 

In this life, two versions of her husband exist. They have to make peace with each other in the same house.

 

Bad Bob Zimmermann, 6’6”, 220 pounds, the legendary starting center for the Habs, beloved by all of Canada, a smile that stretches from ear to ear and two fists that steamroll over all who come in his way. Women saved under aliases in his phone, cheers from his teammates as the stripper tugs on his tie. The dancer will tell her children about it and they won’t believe her, they’ll say, No way, Mom, have you seen Alicia? And they’ll all laugh. Bad Bob comes home past midnight. Has he seen Alicia? Jack tears the old version of her out when he’s born. Have you seen Alicia?

 

She stares at the magazine cover, at the blur where her crow's feet are.

 

Have you seen Alicia?

 

Robert K. Zimmermann, 6’6”, listed in the obituaries as the only survivor to Roberta and Karl Zimmermann, found crying in the bathtub after the funerals, beat a cocaine addiction the year before he met his wife, smiles like the sun when he holds Jack for the first time. Always missing, always gone, eyes always flashing like anyone is going to be the next one he hurts, constant headaches, a bad memory, 10 concussions, a missing tooth. Women saved under aliases in his phone. The strain on the edge of his smile that terrible year. The way he and Alicia sit closer and closer together every time they go to therapy. The way her parents had looked at him the first time she brought him home. Them, 20 and 21, Miss and Mister Samwell, huddled together with a library lamp between them. His calloused hands around hers at her first premiere.

 

It’s always been them against the world.

 

Her and her two husbands.

 

The most frightening part, Alicia has always known, is the way their son tries to be both.

 

. . .

The past…

. . .

 

Their hands brush against each other in a dimly lit corner of the library. He looks at her like she could stop the world at the snap of her fingers, and settles for his knuckles grazing hers where they rest at the top of a book.

 

He explains, “Twin flames happen in stages.”

 

“Like a developing disease?”

 

“Miss Samwell.” Bobby admonishes. Alicia smiles. “The first stage: seeing. Then, loving. Outer turmoil and inner cleansing. Surrender.” He looks up at her, his brown eyes carefully studying the lines of her sun-reddened face. “Oneness.” He declares at last.

 

Their first kiss is during the hottest summer recorded on Samwell’s campus. Alicia says, “Fucking global warming. Fucking Reagan.” Bob nods, kisses her again and again.

 

“Fucking Reagan.” He concurs. They laugh.

 

(The mental health crisis is far away from them, then. A ghost inhabiting a distant house.)

 

. . .

...and the future…

. . .

 

(The haunting was.

 

Not as distant as youth made them believe.

 

Jack looks everything like his mother, in that hospital bed.)

 

. . . 

...merge to meet us here .

. . .

 

It’s summer again. The hottest in Montreal history, and the sun has been beating down on them all day. She puts her legs over his on the couch and they pretend to read books until they erupt into little giggles. “Fucking global warming,” Alicia says, grinning. “Fucking Reagan.” She is kissed again and again.

 

Bobby throws his head back and laughs. “Fucking Reagan!”

 

(She touches her fingertips to his in bed that night. “Singularity.” She whispers. He furrows his eyebrows. “Oneness.” She corrects.)

 

The heat breaks that night.

 

. . .

What luck.

. . .

 

That year—that terrible, beautiful, painful, gut wrench of a year—Jack sits upstairs. Words he needs to hear are stuck between the walls of their too new house.

 

Jack remains. He grows flowers. They all have thorns.

 

The heat—breaks.

 

...How were they supposed to know?

 

 

 

. . .

 

 

What a fucking curse.

Chapter Text

ANGER
(n.) ANGER, IRE, RAGE, FURY, INDIGNATION, WRATH mean an intense emotional state induced by displeasure. ANGER, the most general term, names the reaction but by itself does not convey cause or intensity.

 

He tries to remember the moment he knew he loved Jack. It feels like someone is asking him if he remembers being born. There is no build up, no grand confession or moment or foot pop; there’s Jack, soaked in his own sweat, collapsed onto the dirty floor of Rimouski’s gym. Kent swallows and says, “Your arms will ache in the morning.”

 

Jack laughs. “I’m sorry you’re too worried about your hair to really work out.” Kent knows that that’s the only way Jack will acknowledge he noticed the difference in Kent’s hair, his unruly curls partly tamed by a thick handful of gel that morning.

 

He knows he can’t say thank you. Instead, he kicks Jack’s thigh lightly and throws a sweaty towel on his face. “You’re just jealous.”

 

They have their own secret language.

 

It takes Kent ten years and 50 missed calls before he realizes he was the only one who spoke it.

. . .

If this what you truly want,

I can wear his skin over mine.

His hair over mine.

We can pose for a photograph.

All three of us, immortalized.

You, and your perfect boy. 

. . .

The ones after him— Camila, the tennis player, and Eric, and maybe that too loud long haired one on Jack’s team— they’re everything Jack made fun of him for.

 

He doesn’t even mean to find out about her. He comes to see Jack (which ends less terribly than it usually does, as in Kent leaves because he wants to, not because Jack throws him out), and overhears, “Maybe Jack’ll ask Mila for a threesome. Him, her, and Kent.” The group erupts in laughs. Kent clenches and unclenches his fists and walks out the party.

 

His dad was right. Fucking college kids. Assholes.

 

It takes him 30 minutes searching the Samwell pages before realizing Mila is a nickname and Camila Collins is everything Jack made fun of him for. She matches her tennis shoes to her Nike headband to her racket. When they’re in the Q, Jack laughs when Kent’s socks match his eyes. 

 

(He wants Jack to say, That’s a pretty color, but he never does. He doesn’t want to get slammed up on walls at parties anymore. He wants to be kissed, like Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries. He wants to be kissed.)

 

He laughs along with Jack anyway.

 

Bittle is easier to find. The look on Jack’s face when he’s standing out in the hallway, like he’s not terrified that he probably heard one of the most intimate conversations they’ve ever had (it doesn’t matter that they were yelling, Kent tells himself, that’s just the only form of intimacy Jack knows). He looks like he’s scared of Bittle thinking he still likes Kent, looking between them like a sitcom character in a bind, about to blurt, “It’s not like that!”

 

But it is. Kent traces the lines of Jack’s bigger hand when they skip practice one day. He’s shaking. “It’s just one practice, Jackie,” Kent says softly into his shoulder.

 

Jack snatches his hand back. They never play hooky again.

 

Eric Bittle is baking and procrastination and hair gel and short shorts, obscene things that Jack would’ve torn Kent apart for. And Kent would have let him. If Jack was hungry, Kent would’ve said, “Here, take me. Take this body.” In his own way, he says that over and over again in Jack’s bedroom. Jack must not hear it.

 

No one hears it.

 

. . .

I don't know when love became elusive.

What I know is no one I know has it.

My father's arms around my mother's neck.

Fruit too ripe to eat.

. . .

 

Alicia is always saying, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Kent never understands it. It’s a line from her and Bob’s therapist, the one she told Kent not to tell Jack about.

 

His Father is nothing like Bad Bob. He’s nothing like Bobby Zimmermann, either. His dad falls into their apartment in the Bronx in the middle of the night, the smell of the train sticking to him, a dead toenail from where he had dropped a keg on it in college, his glory days behind him. His Father was the prodigal son, pride and joy of his family. His Father was a star; brilliant, the very thing of legend, and burnt out before any of them had known to stop it. Kent. Was his mistake.

 

At 21, he doesn’t know where his Father is, or where he could have gone. Kent got the lighter he used to burn all his bridges from his dad’s side of the family, wrapped tight in the worn out tape from the last baseball game he had ever played. One day Victor Parson had stalked out of their apartment and never came back. Kent looks at every homeless man, every John Doe, every passing stranger, and wonders if it could be him. The need to be wanted clouds his memory. He doesn’t remember what his father’s smile looked like.

 

His mother, when she thinks her son can’t see her, breathes a sigh of relief on the fourth night he does not come home. She and her son send up opposing prayers every night. (“Bring him home.” / “Leave him wherever he is.”)

 

And. Well. Kent and God have never gotten along.

 

. . .

I think of lovers as trees,

growing to and from one another.

Searching for the same light.

. . .

 

He watches Bob and Alicia. The Zimmermanns.

 

He’s in the hospital lobby when Bob finally comes back out to talk to him. The older man shakes his head and Kent finally allows himself to let a sob out.

 

He shouldn’t be surprised. Jack has never seen him.

 

Why would he start now?

 

. . .

Why can't you see me?

. . .

 

Alicia sits down gingerly next to him and hands him water. There’s still throw up stuck to his sweatshirt. “Do you know,” she says. “That there are stages to a twin flame?”

 

Seeing. Jack was wearing his hockey jersey and picking at the seams of his pants. They stare at each other. “What color are your eyes?” He asks like he wants to reach out and touch them. Kent smiles.

 

Loving. Do you remember being born?

 

Outer turmoil. 32 missed calls. Kent flies to Vegas alone.

. . .

Why can’t you see me?

. . .

Inner cleansing. Jack is sober for the first time in two years. Kent changes his number.

. . .

Why can’t you— 

. . .

Surrender. Kent turns 21.

Jack turns 22.

. . .

Why can’t you see me?

. . .

Surrender.

 

 

. . .

 

 

Everyone else can.

Chapter Text

iii. EMPTINESS

(n.) marked by the absence of human life, activity, or comfort

 

She sleeps all day.

Dreams of you in both worlds.

Tills the blood, in and out of uterus.

 

In childhood, when Justin spends the morning especially out of it (pouring his parent’s coffee creamer into his juice, watching channels in languages he didn’t understand), his mother asks if he dreamed of fish. Justin would lift up his shirt and inspect his stomach. “No baby yet.” He says, increasingly exasperated as he gets older.

 

One day, when he was sixteen, he dreams of his older sister eating fish. He jokingly tells his mother. His sister has her baby 8 months later. His mother stops making the joke.

 

“That’s the best analogy I have for what it feels like to get older.” Ransom says, taking the blunt from Holster. “My mom won’t say it, but she’s superstitious. Ever since that dream came true, she doesn’t want to hear any more of them.”

 

Holster nods in sympathy. “My mom almost killed me when I lit the second candle first on Hanukkah one year.” They both laugh.

 

That night, he dreams of Holster holding a candle in one hand and a white rose in the other.

 

He watches, helpless, as the petals go up in flames.

 

Wakes up smelling of zinc,

grief sedated by orgasm,

orgasm heightened by grief.

 

They’re almost-seniors when it happens, an unofficial second bye week. School is over but they’re not going home for another few days, the dorms and Haus emptying slowly. “I don’t want to go home,” Ransom groans, putting his cheek on his knee and facing Holster. His expression must be funny, because his teammate (co-captain, he reminds himself) smiles. “I know it’s my last time going back.” Holster keeps staring, but doesn’t say anything. “I don’t belong there anymore.”

 

“I know,” Holster says. They stare at each other a little longer, the wind of the Reading Room whipping Holster’s hair up in different places.

 

Without thinking about what he’s doing, Justin climbs back into Jack’s empty room, staring back out at his friend expectantly. “Come on,” He says softly, the sound of late night moving trucks and final parties partially swallowing his voice. “Come on.” He repeats, louder, reaching out a hand for his best friend.

 

Adam is grabbing him into a kiss before Justin can register he stepped inside. 

 

God was in the room when the man said to the woman, 

"I love you so much.

Wrap your legs around me.

Pull me in, pull me in, pull me in."

 

When Justin has imagined this before, the few times he’s let a fantasy so illicit, so torn out of a bad gay porn from the nineties, breathe, it’s always been them. Stumbling hands and little laughs, Holster giggling from the bed as Ransom struggles to get his too tight polo shirt off.

 

It’s nothing like that.

 

When they kiss again, Justin’s mouth swollen from the previous one, it’s hungry and longing and sad and beautiful. What do you do when you know you’re experiencing something you can never have again? Adam tries to remember the weather, the way Justin looks when he pushes them down onto the too small bed, the halo of light around them, the way the entire world holds it breath, just until it’s given the two of them this one thing. This one time. It’s a small mercy.

 

Adam murmurs words he’ll regret into Justin’s neck and Justin doesn’t listen. It’s—

A small mercy.

 

Dear moon,

we blame you for floods …

for the flush of blood …

for men who are also wolves.

 

After, in the faint glow of the flashing OPEN sign of a pizza parlor, Adam says, “Tell me a story.”

 

There are things they won’t ever say sitting between them, but Justin doesn’t think of them. He screws his face up, imagining his father’s expressions as he told him folktales as a child. He swallows the one he really wants to say and offers instead, “Do you know why the hippopotamus—”

 

“The tortoise guessed his name.” Adam replies immediately, raising an eyebrow. Justin rolls his eyes.

 

“You listen too much,” He mumbles, and Adam laughs.

 

“Tell me another.” A pause. “The first one you thought of.” They don’t ask each other, ever. How they know the things neither of them has said.

 

“Do you know why the moon wanes?”Justin says, like his father used to. Childhood is a thing with teeth. “The moon lived in the sky and hardly ever came down to Earth. She was kind and had a round shape, and she liked to watch over humans while she was in the sky. One day, she saw a woman who was scavenging for spare scraps of food. ” Adam shifts forward, closer to the words. “The woman was skinny, and a ghost of a person. The moon knew she would die soon without help, but the people of the village didn’t offer any.”

 

“Assholes,” Adam breathes, and Justin shushes him.

 

“So the moon came down from the sky and cut some fat off of her body for the woman to eat. Every night, she came down and let the woman’s knife run over her body, cutting more and more fat until her round shape was thin. This became their routine, until eventually the moon was so thin that she barely gave off any light.

 

“The townspeople were angry that they couldn’t see at night time anymore. A young girl who had seen the woman and the moon’s routine told them why there was so little light, and the townspeople were even more upset. They were all suffering so this one woman, who would surely die anyway, could stay alive for a bit longer.”

 

“Sometimes a few days makes all the difference.” Adam mumbles, and Justin doesn’t look at him. Those are days he cannot give.

 

“Maybe. They waited behind the bushes where the woman slept and watched the moon come down from the sky and offer herself. When the woman brought out her knife, the townspeople jumped out and captured the starving woman, scaring the moon back into the sky forever.” Justin thinks about how the knife must have hurt. He thinks of the moon as a symbol of bravery. “The poor woman died, and every month the moon thins out again, in mourning for what she lost all that time ago.”

 

They’re silent for a long moment. “All the woman did was take.” Adam finally says.

 

“She—she was starving.” Justin finally meets his eyes. “How much did she have to give?”

 

The things she did have. The clothes on her back. The blood in her veins. Strong cheekbones. Soft hands.

 

It wouldn’t have been enough.

 

We blame you for the night, for the dark…

 

The things they do have. A smile across a table. Folktales told at midnight. The weight of Adam’s hand on the small of Justin’s back. Strong cheekbones. The feeling of Justin on top of him. Thighs spread open. Sweat pooling on all the edges of his body. Mouth open, waiting for his piece of the moon. Soft hands.

 

It will never be enough.  

 

...for the ghosts.