It was seven o’clock on a Saturday night and I was in my bedroom taking a nap when Jonah woke me up. He did his knock and open the door at the same time routine that always left me startled and I wanted to scream out: “What’s the purpose of even knocking!” but then Jonah would always flash a sheepish apologetic smile as he stepped into the room and so I never did.
“Yo Daren,” Jonah spoke quietly in the darkness. He stared at me as I groggily sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes, trying to pretend I had only closed my eyes for a second. “I thought you said you weren’t gonna take any naps this semester?” I was a compulsive napper, always preferring to sleep and escape the stress of the world over actually dealing with it.
I was caught. “I tried, I’m just really tired, and I’ve had a busy day. Plus Bobby’s gone and it was just so quiet so it was bound to happen.” Whenever Bobby, my roommate, left the awkward tension between us left with him.
“Well get up,” Jonah said to me, as if it was an order. “I’m about to start watching United States of Tara and was wondering if you wanted to join me.”
I sat quiet for a beat, pretending I was mulling over the option.
“Sure,” I said in a faux-casual voice. I hopped off my bed and took off my shirt, which was soaked with sweat. I’d had a nightmare: I’d dreamt of walking around New York City with shards of glass filling my shoes, blood soaking my Converse, and making a squishing sound with each step I took. For some reason in the dream I never thought to just take off my shoes, which made me feel very foolish now.
Jonah leaned on my door frame, looking at me through the fluorescent light flooding in from the kitchen, and said: “You look like you have more muscle…”
“Yeah I think so too.” I held my arms up and flexed for him. “I guess going to the gym with you hasn’t been pointless.”
Jonah smiled and gave me a once over. “You should keep going with me.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I lied. I had stopped my tag-alongs to the gym with Jonah a week before because I couldn’t stand the out-of-place-feeling in there. I’d be the scrawny guy standing above Jonah, who’d be lustfully sweaty and straining, as he lifted the heavy weights rhythmically. I would spot Jonah even though we both knew if he actually needed me it would be of no use. But that was Jonah’s usual effect on me, driving me to do things I wouldn’t normally do just so I could please him.
I don’t know what it is about him.
I remember walking into my dorm for the first time on a sticky late August day and seeing two extremes for my roommates. Bobby being scrawny, unimpressive, and socially awkward, pushed his glasses back into place, looked up from his computer game, held out his long, limp arm, and simply said hi. That was the extent of conversation we’d the first day. But then there was Jonah. He sauntered in with confidence and an infectious energy.
“Yo,” Jonah said in a voice that sounded like Seinfeld’s. “I’m Jonah.” For some reasonI was entranced by the short, muscular, tan guy with a five o’clock shadow who wore plaid shorts and a baggy, faded polo.
Jonah and I first bonded over photography; Jonah being the photographer and me, the model. One morning, during the first week of school, Jonah performed his knock and enter routine for the first time with a camera in his hand, snapping pictures of a sleeping me. I enjoyed being studied by Jonah through his lenses, knowing, even if for just a couple of seconds, that I was his focus. Then we would print out the pictures, sitting close to one another, and admire them. He would say things like: “look at the boca in this one!” or “you see the way the shadow falls on your face!” or my favorite: “you look amazing here!”
One gray winter day Jonah and I did a photo shoot in Central Park; I shivered inside Jonah’s warm fleece coat during most of the shoot.
“When did you know?” Jonah asked after taking a picture of me standing on a giant rock with a dramatic hand-in-the-air pose.
“Huh?” I asked through clattering teeth.
“When did you know you were gay?”
“I don’t know.” I grappled for a suitable answer while trying to figure out why Jonah was asking me this now. “That’s a hard question to answer. All I can say is the cliche ‘you just kinda always know’. ”
“You were never confused or unsure? I mean everyone goes through that right?”
I was taken aback by why he was asking me such direct questions. “It’s different for everyone,” I said. “I just mean deep inside I always knew the truth. I just tried for a while to ignore the truth, though the truth never goes away.”
“Huh,” Jonah said and for the rest of the time in the park he stayed painfully quiet. Once we were through taking pictures we stood above the ice skating rink looking down at the moving circle of smiling faces skating around. I looked over at Jonah, who stood looking down at the rink with clenched teeth and piercing eyes.
Later, I walked into the living room after changing my clothes. I wore my pink baja hoodie, which was really hot and made my skin itchy, but Jonah said he liked it.
I sat on the couch next to Jonah, who was busy twisting his weed grinder back and forth, and stared at the ridiculous fifty inch flat screen Jonah bought for the dorm so he could watch his treasured movie collection. I poured a shot of vodka into my red solo cup of orange juice and took a sip, the vile taste burning the back of my throat, as I awkwardly waited for him to press play.
Thirty minutes into the show I began to feel the alcohol drip into my brain. I cycled over the idea of reaching over to Jonah, placing my hand on the back of his head, clutching the curly strands of his bushy black hair, and reaching in quickly to kiss him before he could refuse. I would feel the stubble on his chin rub against my face and the softness of his lips. Instead I tried to focus on the show we were watching. It was about a woman with multiple personality disorder, who commonly lost her shit and went bat-shit crazy yet her family was always there for her, especially her husband. No matter what she did, even when she changed into a toddler alter ego and peed on her son while he was sleeping, her family just shrugged their shoulders and forgave her. And most importantly, they always loved her. I wonder if I’d peed on Jonah would he just shrug his shoulders and say: “It’s cool man.”
I would if he did it to me.
Jonah paused the movie again for what seemed to be the twentieth time, which pulled me out of my drunken reflective trance. He held his glass bong, which had turned a dirt brown color from constant use, up to his lips. He lit the bowl, inhaled, holding the harsh weed smoke in his chest for as long as he could and then exhaled. Then we sat in silence for a little while. It was annoying and I wished we could’ve just watched the show or talked, which I almost said every time Jonah pushed pause, but I silenced myself by taking a sip of my drink.
“Hey Daren, you want a hit?” Jonah said to me, holding the bong out in my direction with a smile. “Come on, you know you want to.” The last time I smoked with Jonah I ended up lying paralyzed in my bed because of the heavy laziness that crushed me and endured what felt like a psychotic panic attack in my head. The whole experience was traumatic yet Jonah laughed every time he thought about it.
“No,” I said resolute. Then I smiled playfully to make Jonah think he didn’t bother me with his jokes.
“Alrightttt, you don’t know what you’re missing out on,” Jonah said before lighting the bowl and placing his thick lips on the bong.
“That’s okay. I have this,” I said, holding up my drink and taking another sip. I knew I was getting drunk when holding up my cup took way more concentration than it should’ve.
Jonah’s vibrating phone broke the long resulting silence.
“Louis just asked if I wanted to come downstairs to smoke with him and Ernest.”
I shook my head. “Don’t you get tired of smoking all day?”
Jonah looked up at me with dagger eyes. He spat out, “Well what else is there to do?”
“I don’t know,” I whined, stopping an argument before one started.
Jonah sighed. “Well I’m going down to Louis’ and Ernest’s,” he said while getting up in one fluid motion. “You can come down if you want.” Jonah went into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.
“Mmmmm,” I grumbled dissatisfied with the way the night was going.
To be honest, I didn’t want to go to Louis and Ernest’s room because I didn’t want to see Ernest. Two nights ago, while drunk, I had bluntly asked Ernest if he cut himself after hearing Bobby and Jonah talking in the kitchen that afternoon about seeing a flash of a red and black scar on Ernest’s wrist. Ernest slowly nodded his head and pulled up his black sleeves and showed me the deep scars covering his pale white arms. But somehow the night ended with me crying on Ernest’s shoulder, sobbing and saying: “I just wish Jonah loved me.”I was self-centered and embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t even want to change that fact about me.
Then, Jonah came out of his room in grey boxers.
“What are you doing in your underwear?” I squealed, crossing my legs.
“Calm down, don’t get too excited. I got the munchies.” Jonah rummaged through the kitchen cabinets, pulling out a bag of chips that were mine. I didn’t say anything.
“You couldn’t wait until you put pants on?”
Jonah looked at me, throwing a sheepish smile, and shrugged before he filled his mouth with a handful of chips.
“You’re torturing me,” I said.
“I know.Eh, you get to look at me and I get attention. Win-Win.” Jonah flashed an unapologetic smile at me.
I wanted to say: “No, Win-Lose.” but again I reached for my solo cup instead and imagined what I would do if I woke up to a crazy Jonah peeing on me.
In Louis and Ernest’s room I sat on Ernest’s bed scrolling through Facebook on my phone, trying to block out the sound of the blaring music, and Jonah and Louis’ voices struggling to talk over each other.
“P.T. Anderson didn’t write The Master to be about scientology!” Jonah yelled.
Louis finished taking a hit from the bong and passed it to Jonah. “Come on it was about a cult!” Louis shouted, egging Jonah on.
“Yes, but it wasn’t about scientology specifically. And the movie was about so much more. Freddie and Lancaster’s relationship…” Jonah stopped and took a hit and signaled to Louis for the smoke-buddy to blow into. Jonah exhaled and began to rapidly talk again while passing the bong back to Louis, “…was actually the central focus, I mean look at Joaquin Phoenix…”
I laid on Ernest’s bed exhausted from just listening to the conversation.
“You okay Daren?” Ernest asked, who sat at the foot of his bed and looked down at me, worried.
“Yeah,” I croaked out. “I just can’t take any more of this conversation.”
“I know right?”Ernest said with a laugh. He made a dramatic face of exhaustion that made me laugh with him.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, sitting up. “I’m sorry about the other night.”
“No, it’s nothing,”Ernest said, waving his hand, “it’s good to let it all out sometimes y’know?” I believed him. Ernest had a likable mid-western accent that made everything he said sound genuine. “So how it’s going with him?Any luck jumping into that car?” Ernest asked, pointing to Jonah.
“One day,” I said looking over at Jonah, who was still arguing with Louis over the central theme within P.T. Anderson’s The Master.
Ernest shoved my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll find the right guy.”
I shook my head. “I just want him. No one else.”
“Just promise me this,” Ernest said seriously, “don’t let him be the only guy you spend your time thinking about. He doesn’t deserve that. Don’t give him that much.” Ernest suddenly turned joyful again. “Hey, maybe you could get with Louis?”
Louis had a nice smile that always appeared when he saw me. He shared the same deep love for pop music as me, always playing new tracks that he thought I’d like while I sat back and watched Jonah and him smoke. He also had a likable personality, becoming friends with almost everybody. And I liked his curly brown hair. Louis was a good friend and just that.
“No, no, no, not Louis,” I slurred, turning my head and noticing the wonderful separation I felt between my mind and body.
“Come on take a hit.” Jonah said before I felt the wet glass pipe touch my lips. Then burning smoke entered my chest and I wanted to blow it all out as if I were a fire breathing dragon and then cough my heart out. Then I was on the bed crushed with laziness. I laid spread eagle on the bed; my body feeling dead other than the occasional violent shiver that would pass through it, but inside I was fighting a mental war. A tidal wave of vivid memories crashed down upon me as if they were actually taking place again. I was trapped in the memory of a fifteen year old me crying alone in my dark room at night, as if I was lying in the same bed and crying the same tears over the same heartache.
I tried to keep it all together and make Louis, Ernest, and Jonah think I was asleep but tears began to fall down my cheeks.
“Is he okay?” I heard Ernest ask, his voice had a heavy echo to it.
“Yeah he’s fine.” A deep chuckle. It was Jonah. “This is ridiculously funny.”
I sat up slowly. I needed it all to end. So I laboriously reached for my cup and took a big gulp. The normally vile vodka tasted refreshing to my dry, scratchy mouth.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea Daren,” Jonah said.
And I closed my eyes, hoping my mind and heart would do the same.
I woke up in the dark, disoriented in Ernest’s bed. I sat up, shivering, and still felt the schizoid frenzy of from the weed in my head. I looked around to see Ernest sleeping at the foot of the bed and Louis snoring in his own. No Jonah around.
“Ernest,” I whispered into the darkness. “Help me.”
“What’s wrong,” Ernest said while rubbing his eyes and trying to see me through the darkness.
“Just, can you help me back to my room?”
I leaned on Ernest’s warm shoulder as we walked up the stairs and down the hallway. I tried to keep it all in but every now and then a tear would betray me by falling down my cheek or a sob would quiver in my chest.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah,” I whispered slowly.
Finally we ended up at my dorm. “Bye. Thanks,” I said, before turning around and clenching my teeth to keep the tears in and stop my body from shaking.
“Wait. What happened? Do you want me to stay with you for a while?”
“No,” and closed the door behind me with a bang.
“If you need me just call me,” Ernest shouted through the door.
Many times I have run through that night and I can never understand or remember much after I closed the front door and was alone in the pitch black of my dorm. I look back and all I can remember are the feelings but not the cause behind them. I laid down on the cold tile floor of the common room and sang to myself in a slurred voice, feeling alone. I had come to an acceptance that this beating sadness laced with anger and self-hate would last forever. There was nothing I could do about it. I’d decided that Jonah viewed me as a joke and I’d never matter to him as much as he did to me. I remember feeling I didn’t belong here in the city and that it was time I stopped pretending I did. All of the self-hate bubbled inside of me and I needed it to leave me, for the first time tears, sobs, and wails weren’t enough. I crawled my way to the kitchen crying “Why Me?” repeatedly in a voice that sounded too broken to be mine. Was I asking the question to Jonah, or maybe myself, or maybe God? I’m still not sure.
I grabbed onto the kitchen counter and stood up. I wobbled over to the light switch and flicked the lights on. Then I remember the sound of glass hitting the floor and how it gave me pleasure. Then another, and another, and another, and another. It was all fluid and quick. It all played out in less than thirty seconds and I sat down beaten and shaken but relieved.
I pulled out my phone, my hand no longer shaking, and texted Ernest: “Come.” The glass crystals on the floor sparkled from the light that hit them and I was mesmerized. That amongst all of those broken pieces the light could touch them and make them beautiful. I looked up, my head heavy and my body still tingling with numbness, and stared at the light.
I woke up the next morning in bed with my clothes still on. My mouth bitterly tasted of vodka and I felt groggy and submerged in a thick cloud of confusion. As I sat up, my body heavy with exhaustion, I remembered some the foolish things I had done. I sat up and stared at the beige wall thinking that I could stay like this for the rest of my life.But then I went into auto pilot, my method for coping with problems, deciding it would be easier to ignore the catalyst.
I tip-toed to my door, swaying a little along the way, and immediately saw the mess of my emotions beautifully materialized on the kitchen floor. Cherry red pieces of dish-ware sprinkled the tiles and even spread out to the common room. The trash can laid defeated on the ground, spilling out near it were smashed cans of beer and plastic bottles, browned banana peels, and crumpled stained brown napkins. The trash just needed to be swept up and things would be rebuilt, better this time. But I knew Jonah and Bobby wouldn’t see it that way. I closed the door, locking it, and pulled my blankets over me, pretending they were my castle walls.
I woke up to Jonah banging on my door. Boom. Boom. Boom. My heart dove into my stomach and I quickly chickened out and decided I would just ignore him. Boom. Boom. Boom. “Come on Daren. Open up… please,” Jonah pleaded, in a voice I’d never heard from him before. It made me feel guilty for pushing him into my dark hole of sadness. I turned onto my side and stared at the beige wall again, trying to make figures out of the random stucco blobs. Boom. Boom. Boom. “Daren, please.”
I heard a tense voice. “It’s whatever! I’ll get my stuff later, but this is ridiculous!” It was an angry Bobby.
“No, no, no. I’m going to get him to open up.” Boom. Boom. Boom. “Daren, Bobby just needs to come in and get something real quick, that’s all.” I sighed, Jonah wasn’t going to give up. I inhaled like I did before the doctor stuck a needle in me and prepared for the pain. I opened the door, leaped back into my bed, and pulled my castle wall blankets back over me. I peeked out and saw Bobby with a clenched jaw and dagger eyes swoop in and grab his backpack. He flashed me a quick glance of judgement that I’m sure he relished and slammed the door behind him.
After an hour of laying in bed, still shaking from my hangover and fear, I finally got up. I kneeled down on the kitchentile and endured the small pain it drove in my knees because I thought it was a beautiful punishment for what I had done. Jonah came out of his room and sat in a chair facing me and just sat there, blank faced with his eyes locked to me. For fifteen long minutes we just stayed like that: me violently shaking on my knees, in my sweat soaked green sweater and jeans from the previous night, cleaning up my emotions and Jonah in his grey boxers staring at me for God knows what reason. I felt as if he was watching me pee and I just wanted him to stop. Finally Jonah broke the silence by rising out of his chair with a sigh and saying: “Let me help you.” I looked up at him and it felt like he’d risen over me like the sun over dirt, but maybe that was because his intense stare made me feel hot. I was confused. He should have been angry with me, but he wasn’t.
“No. It’s fine,” I whispered, averting my eyes to a streak of rainbow inside a piece of broken glass.
“No,” Jonah said resolute. “Let me help. It’ll be much quicker this way.” He wasn’t going to run away. I obliged and handed him the broom and dust pan before I started scrubbing crusted patches of dried food off the floor.
“I think this is the best thing to happen to the dorm,” Jonah said to me after some minutes of silence. “We’re actually cleaning up for once.” He looked at me expecting a laugh but I did nothing.
After Jonah cleaned up there were still pieces of glass small like sand that I had to clean up myself. I wished he would’ve just let me do it myself because then I wouldn’t’ve had to clean up after him, even though it was nice just to have him there.
When I was done, I laid lifeless on my bed. My left arm limply hung off of my bed and my face was blank as I stared at stucco blobs again. Jonah knocked and walked into the room and snapped above my head while saying “Yo”.
“Yeah?” I asked, not moving. I don’t know why he insisted on talking, it felt like he was dumping whole salt containers on my open wounds.
“I’m just trying to understand,” Jonah said while sitting on Bobby’s bed. “What exactly happened last night?”
“I don’t know,” putting my hands over my eyes, hoping it looked like I was trying to think when really I just didn’t want to look at Jonah.
“It was just everything. I think it was the weed plus the alcohol. I’m fine. I don’t know… I think I was just stressed out…I’m fine now. I am.” I looked at Jonah to see if any of my lies stuck.
“Did something happen when you came back here? Everything was alright before then.” “I don’t know. I don’t really remember much.”
“Was it something I did?”
“No, no, no. I don’t know what happened.”
Jonah sighed, looking at me suspiciously, and started to walk out of the room but then he stopped and turned back around towards me. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, telling the truth for the first time.
“Alright,” Jonah said with a sigh and started to walk out of the room again.“Oh, Ernest and Louis came by while you were sleeping. Ernest wanted to make sure you were okay,” he said over his shoulder.
After I texted him, Ernest came up and sat by me on the cold kitchen floor, rubbing my back as I sobbed into his soft cotton t-shirt until I fell asleep. I probably should have texted Ernest to thank him and let him know I was fine but I didn’t see much purpose in it.
Jonah slowly closed the door behind him while throwing glances at me. He opened the door again. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“For what?” I asked, raising up.
“Just everything. I feel like I’ve been an asshole to you sometimes. We’re cool right?”
I nodded rapidly. “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?” I asked, pulling my voice down a couple octaves to sound cool.
“I don’t know,” Jonah said, shrugging his broad shoulders. “I can never tell if you really hate me or like me. It always feels like a back and forth kind of thing.” He grinned and I realized he did it because he was anxious.
“No we’re fine. We’re cool. Really.”
After that I emerged from my room and sat on the common room couch with him. We sat in silence for a couple of minutes until Jonah asked me if I wanted to watch something.
“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled and Jonah threw me the remote. I put on the show about the crazy woman who peed on the people who always loved her.
Jonah and I sat in silence as we stared ahead at the T.V.; I sat on the couch balled up- trying to pull in every limb of my body to become as small as I felt, and Jonah sat tense, staring blankly ahead. I stared at him from the corner of my eye and I could see the confusion on his face in the way his mouth sat slightly open and his brow in a deep furrow. I thought to myself, He probably thinks I’m crazy. That thought made me want to burst into tears but I stopped myself because then Jonah would have definitely thought I was crazy. For thirty minutes we sat in silence, attempting to put on airs, and I wanted to say thank you to Jonah for it but I never did.
I moved out of the dorm two days after that as Bobby never got over what I did and complained to the RA that he didn’t feel safe living with me. I guess I understood it. I guess he wouldn’t let me pee on him. Ernest helped me move out. Jonah and Louis were too busy smoking to help.
My new roommate Justyn was gay and we got along well. I didn’t hang out with him like I did with Jonah but we didn’t passively hate each other like Bobby and me. I messaged Jonah a week after I moved out asking him how things were and then he replied:“Do you think you’re going to have sex with him?”
I joked and messaged Jonah no, but that I would be sure to message him if I did it.
Jonah never messaged me again.
The rest of the school year I tried to hang out with them again but Ernest and Louis would always say they were busy or simply not text me back. I guess they chose Jonah over me.
It took six months for me to talk to Jonah again, when I ran into him on the 6 train, and sat next to him. When I asked him how his life was going Jonah simply said: “Good.” and stared out the window.
I tried to joke about how the turtle neck sweater he was wearing was a major step up from his old style but Jonah just sat stone faced and said: “No, I still dress the same.”
As I followed him out of the train station Jonah complained: “I could never walk barefooted thanks to you.” I stopped and Jonah just looked back, threw his hand up, and kept walking.