|The Transformation Story Archive||World in Flux|
FLUX: The Great Grass Dance of Iowa
"Okay, now do blue for me," I say. I hear him make that little noise he sometimes makes when he smiles, a half-chuckle of approval.
"Blue," he says. "Blue it is." He leans toward me. I am lying on my chest, with my arms crossed beneath my chin, and I can feel the mattress compressing beneath his knees, hear the creak of the springs. "And what kind of blue would you like?"
I scrunch up my forehead thoughtfully. "Why not blue like a lake on a cold winter day?"
He smiles audibly again. "One lake." I feel his hand press down next to my shoulder. His body heat radiates against my back.
"Not so close," I say. "Blue is not so close."
He draws back. "I knew there was a reason I didn't like blue." He smiles. "Okay, relax, then."
I do my best.
I feel him lean again, not quite as closely this time, and then his fingers tickle through my hair, moving in little swirling patterns. He brushes my hair with breezy strokes, his fingers dancing as carefully and as measured as the precision of his feet when he dances at the university. He outlines my ears, traces my jaw line, and brushes my eyebrows the wrong way. He pencils tear stains down my cheeks and paints a glistening on my lips. He reminds me how I wish I could see him dance and revel in it, how I wish I could do more than just listen to the music and know that somewhere before my obstinate eyes, he is being carried away by it. I grow a little sad.
"Enough blue," I say. "Lakes are lonely places. How about a nice, deep green, with just a little hint of yellow."
"Green?" he asks, dropping into his mock British General accent. "I say, my boy, don't you think you've had enough color for one night?"
"You can never have too much color."
"Forgotten my last family reunion so quickly, have you?"
I reach for a pillow and throw it toward his voice. "Oh shush! They weren't that bad." He grunts in mid-sentence as he dodges the pillow, and there is the distinct sound of a very annoyed cat running under the bed.
"Not that bad, eh?" His voice curves wryly. "I do suspect, my dear Franklin, that the phrase 'colorful characters' was invented just for them."
"Nope, nope," I say. "The phrase is older than that. I read it in a book from the eighteen hundreds. Some Jane Austen thingy or other."
"Well, it would just about work for Aunt Genevieve, then, wouldn't it."
"You don't have an Aunt Genevieve. Now do green. And by the way, I'm not your dear Franklin."
"It's true. You're my dear Benjamin and I'll not have another word from you."
"That was another word. See if I do green for you now."
I huff. "That was not another word, it was a name. Names don't count as words."
"Well, those were words."
"Ok, ok. Green it is then."
"With a hint of yellow."
"With a hint of yellow." He smiles again.
I spread my arms out to my sides like I sometimes do on the swings. He leans forward again and beats a temperate tattoo across my shoulder blades. It is quick and uneven and frantic, like raindrops. He moves up and down quickly, jostling the bed around as he goes, typing up and down my back and butt and thighs and calves, sometimes increasing in intensity, sometimes lightening up, tiptoeing up and down my legs, moving out my arms and finally grasping at my hands. "Green," he says. "With a hint of yellow."
"Ooh, that was good. One more."
A falsely put-upon sigh. "Oh, very well. If I must."
"Oh, it's maroon ye'd be wanting, is it, lad?"
I giggle, "Aye," and roll over. He takes my arms in his hands and lifts me toward him, and his lips meet mine. That's maroon. Darkening lava and ripe plums and plush sofas that you could sink all the way down into. I kiss him back, slowly at first, then wrapping my arms around him and pulling him down back against the bed with me.
He breaks off the kiss too soon for me. "My favorite color."
I brush my hands across his chest with as much casualness as I can muster. "When do you dance again?"
He tousles my hair. "Tomorrow afternoon."
"Who's the audience?"
"The grass and the mice."
I giggle confusedly, running my fingers across his face. There's a sly grin there. "Who?"
"Whoever shows up," he says. "Want to dance with me?"
"I don't know. Are you a nice boy?"
"Do nice boys dance in hayfields?"
"Well," I say, "I dance in hayfields and I'm a nice boy."
"Oh, you're too nice," he mutters. "Great. It'll be just us, then. Jeremy and My Dear Benjamin, performing in the Great Grass Dance of Iowa. Witness this marvel of human clumsiness if you dare!"
"Cut it out," I say. "You're not that bad."
"No, but I'm getting there."
"Oh, shut up and show me maroon again."
Later, I make dinner. I make baked chicken and long wild rice and hot rolls. I sometimes think that my blindness makes me a better cook, because whenever Jeremy hovers over my shoulder and says, "It looks done," it never is. The eyes lie to you more than the other senses. You can hear when things are sizzling just right, and smell when the rolls are just at that perfect moment of crispness outside and melt-in-your-mouth perfection inside. There's no way to mistake the quality of a good simmer. As long as the spices are kept where I put them, things turn out great.
All the time that I cook tonight, I keep thinking about dancing tomorrow. It's a silly thing to obsess about, but it means something to be held in his arms, following every movement he makes as if they were so natural that, really, no other movements could be possible. There's nothing to bother us, either. No telephone, no radio, no television, no visitors. Just the feel of his arms and the wind blowing through the grass, and the sound of crickets, and the smell of hay and... rolls burning.
I groan and grab for the hot pad and open the oven. The heat's up too high, it must be; a blast of heat hits me in the face like a wave. I make a grab for the pan of rolls with the hot pad and lift it up out of the oven. I'm too quick, too panicky. I'm not doing things carefully. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Blind people can't afford to be stupid. They fall down basement stairs or electrocute themselves or get hit by cars. I get off relatively easily. The rolls slide off of the pan and hit my bare feet, but the pain is so startling that I drop the pan. It lands against my leg and my foot, and before I realize what has happened and can jerk my leg back, the skin is burning.
I jump away and shout and then I'm falling backward against the opposite counter and slumping to the floor. My foot feels as if it's been lit aflame, and my shin isn't much better. Suddenly Jeremy is running into the room with a noisy clump of sneakers and "What happened?" hanging from his lips.
He scarcely finishes. "Oh my God," he says, and I hear him walking quickly toward the refrigerator, one sneaker connecting with a fallen roll and sending it skittering across the floor like an escaping squirrel. "Oh my God," he says again. He opens the freezer door and takes out what must be an icetray, for I hear the ice crack as he twists it within seconds, a cold, bulky, damp cloth is pressed against my foot.
"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," he is saying. "It's my fault, I shouldn't have let it happen, I should have been more careful, should have checked on you." He pauses for a breath. "I'm so sorry."
I feel my face becoming exasperated. "Oh, stop it," I snap, not meaning to sound as angry as I do. "It was an accident. Accidents happen. I can be responsible for myself."
"I'm sorry, you're right," he says without a hitch. "Here, hold the ice pack there and I'll finish dinner."
"No," I say, getting up and trying not to wince. "You'll only screw it up. It's almost done anyway." I put my hands across his shoulders. They are slumped over, reminding me of what he calls the "scolded puppy-dog look". I give him a squeeze. "It's not so bad a burn anyway."
"But it could have been."
"But it wasn't. Could have beens never did anyone any good."
He takes my hand. "But we can learn from them, and not make more mistakes."
"Oh yes," I say. "And then I can be more like all the seeing people who never burn themselves." I cringe at the sarcastic tone in my voice, but don't quite regret having said it.
He sighs. "You're right. I'm sorry."
I finish cooking dinner in silence, and it is strangely quiet. This is how things have been lately, a continual flip-flop between happy play and uncomfortable silences. There's something going on, and I know it. There's something bothering him, something that he's been thinking about lately that he didn't ever think about three years ago when we first got together.
I know I wasn't quite right to snap at him, either. I got angry with him for not dismissing it as an accident, but I was quick to blame myself for being stupid. Sometimes I think Jeremy is just too much like me.
I apologize over dinner. "I'm sorry for snapping at you earlier."
I hear his fork tick against his plate. It's a little habit he has when he feels awkward. He taps things. tictictictictic "No. You were right. I shouldn't be so protective."
"Well, I shouldn't have gotten angry with you. I was just... just in pain, and I lashed out. You know how it is."
"Yeah." tictictic "Great chicken, by the way."
"Thanks. How are the rolls?"
I hear the smile come back to his face. "Aptly named, I'm told. And they taste so different. What is that flavor? Something new..."
"It's Eau de Mop."
"Really?" He says this word with the interested tones of a man being told an amazing fact that he doesn't quite believe.
"Oh yes. And probably a little ground cucuracha as well."
"Oh, I say." He makes little smacking sounds with his mouth, as if he's tasting a rare wine. "And... can this be... partially burned, processed grain?"
I laugh. "You make it sound so clinical."
The fork isn't ticking any more. "Ah, my dear, never let emotion sully the purity of a good meal. Always be objective. That's the key to healthy eating."
The evening progresses in relative peace, with Jeremy tossing out wisecracks like he is on stage. I'm grateful for the cheer, of course, but that thing, that wretched sense of foreboding hangs over my head like a sinking balloon. Uncomfortable silences that are covered up by cheerful conversation are still uncomfortable silences. They're just dressed up nicely. It's like throwing a colorful tablecloth over a termite-eaten table that's going to fall apart no matter how pretty you make it look.
I study while he cleans dishes. Braille books and audio cassettes, the learning tools of the visually impaired. I hate that phrase. Visually impaired. It makes me feel like I have to be handled with care. Blind is better. There's no beating around the bush, which is incidentally what Jeremy and I have been doing all evening. And I find it difficult to study, as I have for the past three weeks, because of the stupid thing.
My mind wanders like a mouse, going in and out of all the holes in the house. I give up and kiss him goodnight and go to bed.
Later he joins me, waking me, sliding his arm around my chest from behind. "How goes it, Franklin?" he teases.
"Mrmph," I say, too groggy to joke. "What time is it?"
"About ten thirty. Were you asleep?"
"Not too deep. Whatcha been up to?" I try to sit upright.
"Why, practicing for tomorrow, of course."
"Tomorrow?" I say, feeling a little dense and foggy.
He sighs suddenly, turning away. "Yeah, for the dance."
I reach for him and find his shoulder. "Jeremy?"
"What's wrong? What's been going on lately?"
He tries to avoid my questions. "Not too much. You know, just the daily grind."
"You know, you may have worn that axe down to a nub."
"So now that we've gone through the prerequisite bullshit, what's really bothering you?"
He turns toward me again. His breath is bad. He hasn't brushed. "You really want to know?"
I consider asking him to take a mint first and then change my mind. "Yes, I really want to know."
"Don't get upset."
I remain quiet.
"I've been worried about... about a lot of stuff."
"I kind of gathered. What kind of stuff?"
"Like being able to take care of you."
I sigh. I've heard this one before. Many times. "I don't need you to take care of me, Jeremy. I know I rely on you a lot now, and I guess maybe I shouldn't, but it's easier for me that way, and I think for both of us."
He turns again, restlessness betraying his calm voice. His foot is tapping against the foot of the bed. "Ben... loving you is a bit... overwhelming. I don't know how to say this. I guess that maybe I would think that about any relationship, I mean, love itself is overwhelming, isn't it? But with you, it's different, and sometimes it's hard for me to take."
I feel myself starting to cry. "Why? Because I'm blind? Is that why it's different?"
His foot taps for a second or two. "Yes. It isn't easy. Surely you understand that."
All thoughts of sleep are gone now. My eyes are welling up. "But that's not fair. The only thing that's different about me, the only thing that changes me from anybody else is that I can't see. Why does that mean I can't have real love?"
He sits halfway up and puts his arm around me, but he puts it there too late. "Now, nobody said it wasn't real love. I didn't say I was going to stop loving you. You know I can't do that."
I feel the tears streak down my cheeks. "But why can't it just be normal? Why? Why does everything always have to be special?"
His arm tightens around me. "Because it's not normal, Ben. It's not. Normal people are able to see. You can't."
"So what? I'm just supposed to accept that I'm abnormal?"
"I didn't say abnormal."
"But you did. You said I was not normal. That means the same thing as abnormal."
"It's an ugly word for it, then." He is quiet for a moment, and so am I. "All I'm saying is that you try so hard to be same, you try so damned hard, and you never accept that things can't be."
"I know I can't be the same as everyone else." My gut tightens and I'm half-angry again. I don't really know why. "I know I'll never be able to see. But why does every single thing in life keep driving that fact home? I have to take jobs where I don't have to see. I have to be concerned about school because I can't see. I can't drive, I can't count change, I can't read road signs, I can't do anything like that without taking into account the fact that I'm blind. And you have the gall to tell me I can't accept it? I can accept it! I can!" I'm positively shaking. "But it's really, really tough for me when even my relationship and my love for you is stilted because of my damned blindness."
He is quiet. I wait for him to talk, but he doesn't. His foot just taps against the edge of the bed like some maddening metronome that can't keep beat.
"Jeremy?" I almost feel bad for what I said. No, check that. I do. "Jeremy, say something."
"When you forget that you're blind, so do I," he says. The tapping stops.
I try to sort things out in my head, but can't quite. "What?"
"When you just forget that you have to be treated differently, when you stop noticing it, then I stop noticing it, too. You don't let me help you, Ben. You don't let me do anything for you. You don't let me just be there for you. Whenever I do, you always think it's because you're blind."
"No," I say, a little shaken. "No, that's not true. When I dropped the rolls tonight, you called yourself stupid. You blamed yourself for my mistake like it was your job to look after the little blind boy."
"It is my job!" he shouts. "Not because I pity you, but because I love you! Why can't you see that? Why can't you see that all I want to do is care for you?"
"Do you pity me?" I ask quietly, trying to offset the tone of his raised voice. "Do you pity me at all?"
"I feel sad," he says. "I feel sad because I stand with you and I stare at the sunset and I know you can't see it. I feel sad because I can look at magnificent works of art and I can't share them with you. I can't take you mountain climbing, I can't play video games with you. Hell, I can't even take you to a movie without everyone shushing me for telling you what's happening. I feel sad because there's so much in my life that's beautiful that I can't share with you, and I want to share everything with you. Everything. But I don't pity you."
Now I really don't know what to say. I lie there for minutes, feeling like some emotionally screwed-up idiot. The clock in the other room chimes ten forty-five.
"I'm sorry for shouting," he says. "I'm sorry." His breathing is heavy.
"There's something else wrong, isn't there?" I ask.
He laughs, sounding a little manic in the dark. "There always is, isn't there?"
"What do you mean?"
"No matter how deep you dig, there's always something else beneath it. You never ever get right down to the core of a person, do you?"
I sigh. "Well, maybe you can, but it can't be easy. So what's bugging you?"
"Do you love me?" he asks.
I don't know what to say. I'm shocked that he even asks the question. "How can you even ask that?" I finally manage, feeling a lump in my throat that threatens to choke me.
"I guess it seems like I ought to know the answer to that question, but I don't."
"What would make you wonder?"
"Maybe because you called your love stilted and not real, just because we have some problems. I mean, I don't think I've ever heard you just say it, just say 'I love you' without any prompting from me. I know some people just don't work that way, but I think there's something else going on with you, and I'm not sure what it is. If I don't know it, don't know it for sure after three years, there's either something wrong with me or with us."
I feel a sudden horrified despair creeping up my body and sinking me down into the bed. How could he even ask this? And why can't I answer right away? What is stopping me from practically shouting, "Of course I love you, don't ever doubt that?" I hate myself for what I say next.
"It's hard for me to tell, Jeremy. I think I love you, but I don't know. The thing is that I really need you for so much. I don't usually want to admit it, but I do. I depend on you, and that feeling of dependence clouds out my feelings so I don't know what's real and what's not. I want to love you, I do, but it's very hard for me to know what is actually loving you and what is just trying to validate my staying with you. And I hate needing you. I really hate it. It makes things so... so non-mutual."
His voice is choked. "So what you're saying is that if you weren't blind..."
I suddenly sob. "Maybe there would still be problems. Maybe I'd feel guilty about being gay, or maybe I wouldn't be able to support myself and would have to rely on you for that. I don't know. I do know that there's a hell of a lot more to my problem that not being able to find my way around, and like it or not, you're a part of that. You chose that."
"I didn't choose to be involved in a relationship where my partner doesn't love me," he says.
"Yes you did," I begin, and then I realize what I have just said and the rest of the argument doesn't matter. Who cares if all I meant to say was that no promises for love were made when we got together, that it was a relationship that was just understood and didn't need to be said out loud? It doesn't matter. Nothing I can say would matter now. I have just acknowledged his implicit suggestion that I don't love him at all. I have unconsciously denied everything on which we together have based the last three years.
"Wait, please," I say pleadingly. "Please, forget I said that. I didn't mean it, okay? This is all stupid. We're just tired and have had a bad day and this is a stupid time to talk about things. Please, Jeremy?"
"I'm not tired," he says. "And I had a pretty good day."
I want to turn to him, to tell him that of course I love him. How could he ever doubt it? I want to kiss his face and hold him in my arms and tell him that he never has to worry about it. But I can't. Some self-destructive part of me is holding me back, whispering nastily that it is better this way, with the truth out in the open, and that just by saying what I did, I have acknowledged what was in my own subconscious. Also, I feel that it would be useless, seeming insincere and desperate, like a criminal who begins to plead for forgiveness and promise reform only when his arms and legs are strapped into the electric chair.
"I'm sorry," I say.
He is quiet.
Neither of us sleep much that night.
I finally do fall asleep, and when I awaken, it is late Saturday morning. The day is tinged with a vague sort of disbelief over what happened the night before. Jeremy is not in bed. I get up and get dressed and go downstairs. The kitchen smells like stale eggs. I find a plate of breakfast for me on the table and I call Jeremy's name. There is no answer.
A sick feeling in my gut takes away my appetite, but I force the food down. It tastes good, but I feel distant from the taste, and can't enjoy it. I put my dishes in the sink and go outside, feeling in the driveway for his car. It is gone.
I turn toward the field and walk out into it a little way. We live next to this huge field of grass, stalks that come to nearly chest height and are topped with bristly heads. Jeremy says that the field stretches out for as far as he can see, an endless pattern of yellow and green. Fields are dangerous for the blind. You can get lost so easily, with no landmarks: no trees, no buildings, no dips or mounds or even smells to let you know where you are. Your only guide is the sun. You can feel which side of your body is facing it, feel the heat. But if you're out in the field too long, the sun moves, and you may as well be out in the middle of the ocean. You just have to stand and call and wait to be found.
It's so easy to get lost, so laughably easy. I usually don't go out into the field, certainly not when Jeremy isn't with me. It's just not smart. But today, I do. I walk carefully, remembering my direction and the distance I've traveled. And then I hunch down in the grasses.
It smells magnificent here, all earth and grass and wild things. It can almost, almost take you away. I brush my hands across the ground, stroking them up the bristly stalks of drying grasses. And then, strangely, and I'm not even sure why it is strange, I remember our date. The dance we were supposed to share this afternoon. It could fix everything. I'm sure it could. He could dance with me and I could lean against his chest and tell him that I'm sorry and that of course I love him and I always will, that it's a burning, undying love that nothing can ever end or destroy. He will hold me tightly and say he loves me too, and that he's sorry we ever worried about such a thing. Then he'll kiss me and we'll go down in the grasses together and dance a different kind of dance. It will all work out just fine. We just need to dance.
I smile to myself in almost relief, and fantasize that he's there before me. I nod, bow, and pretend to take a hand in mine, and waltz off into the grass, my arm around an imaginary waist. I can hear the violins, playing the Blue Danube, a common piece but still my favorite. He spins me around, and I am caught up in the dance, not even noticing the way the grass heads beat against my chest and back and scratch my legs. One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three. I take his hand and bow to him and a grass head goes up my nostril. I jump up and laugh, caught up in the silliness of it all, and go around again. I'm getting a little dizzy, but it doesn't matter. I'm caught up in the moment of it where everything is right, everything is good, as if in music the problems of the whole world are just swept away and don't exist anymore. Everything is just dancing.
The flutes take the melody as the violins fade into the background as I pirouette. And I suddenly realize that I know the steps. I couldn't dance before I met him, not one step. But now I know every move, without even thinking, my foot goes here, my arm swings just so. I know his exact height, where his hands would be. I know how his body would move, just when it would move up and when it would dip and when it would turn.
"You've learned the steps," he says suddenly.
His voice startles me and I stumble and fall to the ground. "Oh, god, Jeremy, I didn't hear you come up."
"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay," I say.
"I just wanted to tell you goodbye," he says.
My chest feels like a rock. "What?" I say. Maybe he just means he's going to the store, I frantically hope, but I know otherwise.
"This isn't just because of last night," he says. "I've been thinking about this a long time. I think I ought to go."
"But..." I say, tears leaping to my eyes. "But, wait! You never said anything to me before last night. We can work stuff out. Why does everything have to be over because of one stupid argument, one slip of the tongue?"
"Because." His voice cracks. "You don't love me."
And even now, even after dancing, even after all my panic over finding him gone, even after last night, I still cannot tell him that I do. I don't know why.
"Please, Jeremy," I beg. "You love me, don't you? How can you just leave if you love me? How can you?"
"You don't need me anymore," he says. His voice sounds bitter, with an almost childish tone to it. "You've learned to dance on your own. You were worried about needing me, worried that it would get in the way of things. But it never did." He sniffs, my only real clue that he is crying at all. "It replaced things."
"But you were happy yesterday," I protest.
"I was trying to forget," he shouts. His voice is hoarse. "I was trying to pretend just like I have for the past year and a half that everything was okay between us. But it's not okay. It hasn't been."
"It has," I cry.
"Ben, did you ever once kiss me, ever once in the whole time we've been together, for any reason other than a sense of duty?"
My blood feels cold. "Duty? I like kissing you. It gives me pleasure! I like making love to you."
"Me, Ben?" he asks. "Do you like kissing me, or do you like kissing? Do you like making love to me, or does it only give you pleasure?" He stops for a second, and I just sit there and shake. "Did it give you pleasure to know that you were kissing me?"
I rub my face, smearing dirt across it. "It was..." I falter. "I did kiss you because I felt you deserved it, yes. I did think you deserved my love and affection for everything that you've done for me. But there was something else behind it. I know that."
"It was duty, wasn't it?" he asks, and it doesn't sound like a question. "You feel guilty for not doing for me what I've done for you."
"Yes," I say slowly, and look downward, a subconscious movement, not one born of sight but of reputation. "I do."
"Ben," he says, and I can tell by the way he's speaking that the corners of his mouth are turned down, "I can't spend the rest of my life waiting around for you to love me. It's hurting me too much."
"Why didn't you say anything?" I ask, burying my face in my hands.
"Why didn't you?" he returns. "You had just as much problems with things as I did, and you never wanted to talk about it, either."
"Well, let's talk now," I plead. "Let's work things out while we still have a chance." Inwardly I'm seething over his sense of pride that won't let him relent, that won't let him back down.
"I can't anymore, Ben," he says. "I'm sick. I'm sick over it, and I can't take it anymore."
"I can't believe you!" I shout at him. "You accuse me of not loving you, and you're the one who's just walking away and not even making a go of it. What kind of dedication and commitment is that?"
"I've been making a go of it for three years, just waiting for things to get better. And they haven't."
"Waiting? You thought that if you just sat back and let things happen they would get better? And now that they haven't, you're just going to walk away? I think it's you that doesn't love me!"
I wait, hoping the accusation will goad him into defense, break him down, make him give things one last try. And I continue to wait. There is no sound from him. I am surrounded by the wind and the noise of the insects and birds in the field. "Jeremy?" I call.
There is no answer.
"Jeremy??" I'm almost frantic. I stand up and turn around, and realize that in the middle of my dance and the confusion of the confrontation, I've forgotten the way back out of the field. "Jeremy, please! I'm lost, I can't find my way out."
I stand up and move toward the direction I think his voice was coming from, feeling my way through nothing but endless grass. "Jeremy?"
He is gone.
And I panic. I break into a run, stumbling and tripping through the grass as the bristly heads beat against my arms and chest and sides in a strangely familiar rhythmic pattern. Green, with a hint of yellow.
I don't know where I'm going, I don't even try to stop and feel where the sun is, I just run. There's no time. I have to catch him before he's gone, gone for good, before he leaves me to dance the Great Grass Dance of Iowa with nothing but the memory of him. The Great Grass Dance, starring the memory of Jeremy and the blind man too stupid to say he loves him. Witness this marvel of human clumsiness.
I run and run, out of breath, my sides cramping, my balance threatening to lose me in every direction. I'm not used to running. It's not something most blind men do often. Suddenly the grass is gone and I'm out in the open, and running toward what I can only hope is our driveway.
Then there is a terrible blow, my whole body stops, wracked with pain, and for just an instant, I imagine that I can see. My mind fills with what can only be colors, and I don't know their names, only that they float in unrecognizable beauty somewhere deep within my imagination. I fall to the ground, and all the sounds fade away.
When I awaken, the air is bitterly cold. It must be night. My body is very painfully sore and stiff. Wincing, I get to my feet and feel out in front of me. There is a mess of wet stickiness down my left side that tugs at my skin when I stretch my arms out. My hands reach around with out any guide or direction and brush up against a wooden surface. Our house. My house, now. It must have been what I crashed into when I ran. Strangely fortuitous. I could have run out into the road and been hit by a car.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. There's no excuse for that kind of stupidity. On second thought, maybe there is. When you're losing the only thing that matters to you, then who cares if you run out into the road or hit the side of your house? What difference is that compared to the calamity of losing the person who made your life worth living?
Or maybe there's an excuse for all stupidity. Maybe I just have to let myself be human. It's pointless now.
I trail along the side of the house, nearly tripping over the AC unit, and find the front door. It's open. I go inside and call hopefully for Jeremy.
There is, of course, no answer. I find my clock and push the button on top, feeling strangely numb in spite of the pain across my left side.
"At the tone, the time will be. Five. Forty. Five. Ay-em. BEEEP." I must have been knocked out good, though doubtless my lack of sleep the night before contributed to things. I've been out for almost an entire day. If Jeremy were here, he would surely have brought me inside.
I can barely even think, so I go upstairs and go into the bathroom. I peel off my clothes bit by bit, but the sleeve and pant leg of my right side are difficult to get off, as my limbs bled heavily and the blood congealed and partially dried in the clothing. I have to cut the clothes off and remove the mixed bits after soaking them in warm water. Fortunately, I seem not to have hit the house head on, but glanced off the side.
I treat my gashes with peroxide and then shower off, finding another clot of blood on my head that has clotted in my hair. The word "concussion" flitters worrisomely through my mind, but I don't care too much. I dry off, bandage my wounds, and go downstairs and turn on the television. Infomercials.
There's something in me that yearns toward grief, but I can't even feel it. I can't recognize the fact that Jeremy is gone and he's not coming back. My cat Terrible jumps up into my life with a plaintive meow. "Hey there, Terrible," I say, and rub his head. He meows again and pads around in my lap. He always knows when something's wrong.
"He's not here," I say. "Did you get to say goodbye?"
Terrible meows again.
"Me neither." I suddenly bury my face in his side and start crying, and he rubs his face along the top of my ear in what passes for cat sympathy. In a moment he becomes annoyed with being squeezed by this hot, damp, noisy thing, and hops off my lap, but I can't stop. Everything seems hopeless.
And it's all my fault. All I had to tell him was that I love him. That was all I had to say, and he would be here and things would be fine, well, maybe not fine, but we would have some kind of future, some solid hope of being together, and I wouldn't be sitting here on this couch using a cat for a hanky and dissolving into despair.
Things aren't ever going to be right, I know that now. There's no way they can be. I just threw away the only good thing I ever had.
I go back upstairs, and my mind feels strangely heavy. I go back to the bathroom and take one of my razors and go into the shower. I run my thumb across its top for a long time, and think.
Death at this point seems much more desirable than life, simply because it was Jeremy that gave me life. Why couldn't I have just let myself need him? Why couldn't I have been okay with that? Don't people who love each other need each other? Isn't that the way things are supposed to be?
I close the shower door. What if he comes back, though? I think. What if he comes back and finds me dead? What if he changes his mind?
He won't, though. He doesn't change his mind. That's not the way Jeremy operates. He's too proud, too stubborn. And so am I. It's why I couldn't relent, why I couldn't back down, why I couldn't just let him help me. He's not coming back.
So why haven't I slit my wrists already? I guess it's because even if he doesn't come back, even if he never knows, that would be the biggest betrayal. There's something almost disgustingly selfish about it to me, something that says that maybe the only excuse for killing yourself is if you genuinely believe that your life belongs only to you and you live it only for yourself. And I guess I don't believe that. Maybe I can mean something in this world besides what I can do for myself or for Jeremy. And I do love him. I know that. He's a part of me. If I kill off myself, I kill off part of him, too, the part of him that is me, the part of himself that he invested in me. I can't do that.
I step out of the shower and put the razor back in the drawer.
My decision to live has not much affected my quality of life. I go back downstairs and turn on the television, listening to the news. They are saying something about the aurora borealis, and how it has never been seen on such a worldwide scale before. Normally this would vaguely interest me, but today it does not.
I go the clock and press the button.
"At the tone, the time will be. Nine. Fifteen. Ay-em." Terrible has lodged himself in my lap, so I remove him, ignore his complaints, and go to put some clothes on. Then I head outside.
The weather is already warm, as if it's trying to get me to forget the cold of the night before. I head toward the field and walk out into it, being smart this time, pushing down the stalks of grass, leaving a beaten path that I can use to feel my way out. About seven steps in, there is a crackle and the sound of thunder. I hear the television inside go off, and then a peculiar laughing sound, a strange high-pitched chortle.
Wondering if something happened to the cat, I turn around and head back toward the house, not running, being careful to feel my way. I open the door and go inside. Everything is a strange, unearthly quiet. Something is missing. For a moment, I can't place what it is, but then I realize: it's the noises of the house. The whirr of the air conditioner, the hum of the refrigerator, the ticking of the clocks. They've all stopped.
The power must have gone out, I think, and I reach for the clock to push the little button. There is no sound. Why would a battery operated-clock stop working when the power goes out, I wonder? I push the button again. Once again, there is no sound.
I sit down on the couch. "Terrible," I call, waiting for his inquisitive meow and the jump up onto my lap. It doesn't come. I call him again. No answer.
Everything seems very, very quiet.
I sit alone, running my fingers over my schoolbooks, and after time, Terrible comes out of hiding and sits on my hands. He always does that when I read. I push him away, but something feels strange. Something about the way his tail brushes against my arm. When he comes back again, I stroke his spine, and find out why. I can scarcely believe it. He has two tails.
I feel again, but it's quite true. His spine forks into two separate branches just behind his hind legs. I am now quite convinced that I hit my head badly and am in need of medical attention. Hefting Terrible up under one arm, I head for the phone to make a call to the doctor. Of course, the lines are dead.
I wish more than anything else that Jeremy would be back, because it wouldn't matter how strange everything is if I could only be in his arms. He's not coming back, though. I am alone.
Time passes as if it were far away and unimportant, and to a degree, it is. I do not know what time it is, and I have only a vague idea of how much time has passed. I eat, I sleep, and I read, and occasionally, I cry. Not much else happens.
And then I hear my name. "Ben?" The voice is immediately recognizable, yet somehow different. It's not a change in the word or in the sound itself. It's a change in the drive behind it almost impossible to describe. It is like feeling the rain and knowing the wind has made it change direction. I jump to my feet. "Jeremy?"
"I'm sorry I left, Ben, I--"
I interrupt him. "I love you."
"What?" he says. His voice shakes.
I have no problem saying the words now. "Jeremy, I need you."
He sounds a little unsure of himself. "You don't need me anymore."
"I didn't always need you, Jeremy."
"But... yes... you did, you--you needed me right from the start."
"I needed someone. Now I need you. Because I love you. That's why I need you. That's what was confusing me, what I didn't understand, what frightened me so much. No matter how self-sufficient I got, I couldn't stop needing you, and I need you because I love you, because part of my life is tied up with yours and when I live my life, I have to live it along with you, even if you're not there."
"I'm sorry for going," he says.
I don't say anything. I don't know what to say.
"Do you know what's happened?"
"Well, the power's off, and I think the cat's got two tails, but I hit my head pretty hard."
"You might want to sit down, Ben."
"Why?" I don't want to sit down, I want to run into his arms, but I don't, because I don't want to damage an awkward situation.
"Here, take my hand, then," he says.
I step forward and feel for his outstretched hand. His grip is different, too. It's surer, stronger. There's a purpose behind it, a reason for grasping. I furrow my brow. "What? I don't understand."
"The world changed this morning, Ben. Everything's different. I'm different."
"What do you mean, different? You mean... your feelings? Or like the cat?"
He lifts my hand toward his face, and I brush my fingers across it. The lines are relaxed, the stresses so often there have ebbed away as surely as the tides. But there is worry as well. The ends of his eyebrows are raised. He does not blink or close his eyes as my fingertips trace over them, and the lids are half-closed. They feel sad, but sure.
"I don't know," he says. "People are calling it the Flux. It's everywhere. People are different. Many are dead. There's no electricity at all."
My chest tightens, but I firm my resolve. "Well, you're here with me," I say. "I don't care about anything else."
"I'm scared, Ben," he says. "I'm really scared. Nothing is the same anymore, nothing at all. Everything that we've learned to rely on is gone. But that's not why I came back."
I unfreeze and take him into my arms, stroking his back slowly. "I know." I think, He came back because he knows he hurt me. He feels sorry. Some vague, nasty part of me that's still there still whispers that he feels sorry for me. I simultaneously resent that notion and resent the part of me that thought it up.
"I know why you came back," I say.
"I came back because I need you. I should have told you a long time ago."
"You need me?" I ask, in awe and overwhelmed, but not wanting to stop holding him. "Why do you need me?" The answers have changed, and the nasty whispering voice inside vanishes like grains of sand in the wind.
"Because you are my eyes, Ben. You teach me how to see. You teach me what it means. Without you, it doesn't matter if I can dance. Why dance if you have no one in your heart while you're dancing? What good is it to see all the colors of the rainbow if you can never tell anyone that you saw them, if you can never share their beauty?"
I hold him a little tighter, and don't say anything.
"I'll never give up on you again."
He puts his hands on my back, and queer little pricks dance up my back, not chills, but some indefinable color. Bright purple. I think, Everything else is gone. It's strange, and bizarrely inconsequential. The world has come crashing down around us, and it's unimportant. Worthless information.
He doesn't ask about the bandages on my arm and leg, and I don't tell him for a minute, because I know why he's not asking. But it's okay. "Could you check my bandages?" I ask. "I was running and I hit the house."
He makes the little noise he makes when he smiles, and my heart seems to leap when I hear it. "Sure thing," he says. He unwraps them carefully, and then I feel his lips brush across the wounds. It hurts but is strangely soothing and I run my fingers through his hair and with a sort of disconnected mental smile think how odd all this is.
"Just think," I say, "what a cow your Aunt Genevieve would have if she saw you behaving this way."
He smiles again, his hands firm around my leg. "That's no way to talk about my cousin," he says. "She's solidly built, but she's no cow. And if you use a pun with the word 'udder' in it, I really shall smack the hell out of you."
"Oh, come on," I say. "I wouldn't stoop that low. You're the one who milks the puns for all they're worth."
A pause. "Ben?"
"Would you show me green?"
"With a hint of yellow?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Okay, but not here," I say. "Outside." I take his arm and lead him outside, and Terrible jumps off of the couch and follows with an inquisitive meow. We turn left at the edge of the porch and go into the field that is just beginning to fill with the sound of crickets welcoming the night. And I take his left hand in my right, and put my hand on his waist, and then the Blue Danube starts playing in my mind.
We dance, and the grass heads beat against us as we spin and step with our own music. "Feel?" I say. "Green."
"And a hint of yellow," he says.
"I didn't think I'd gotten to the hint of yellow."
"Fireflies." He smiles again.
And we dance the Great Grass Dance of Iowa, Jeremy of the Catlike Grace and My Dear Benjamin, for what must be long into the night, and when the chill gets too intense, I warm him up by showing him maroon.
FLUX: The Great Grass Dance of Iowa copyright 2000 by Jason The Skunk.
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