Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.
I cried last night. Everyone did. Three a.m. and drunk, overcaffeinated. We clumped into the house and pulled Mathea away from studying. “I’m feeling a good vibe,” I said. “Let’s keep this going.” More caffeine for me and Will, and we all fell into the living room. We don’t go out much in the going out sense, with Uber and barhopping and dancing, and tonight had left us giddy and flushed. Seven of us remained, the housemates and a girlfriend and a friend, now lounging three to a couch plus Nathan on the floor.
“Tonight was perfect,” Will said, and Nathan murmured “I fucking love you guys” from the rug, inebriated into fuzzy memory and already wrapping himself in sleep. We could have continued confessing ideas about God and sharing hopes for our jobs and joking about sex (always joking about sex). We could have kept roaming among our two- or three-person conversations like dancers in a Jane Austen novel, trading partners and topics in a warm, happy improvisation. But I wanted to wrap all of them into a hug, or gather them to me like dreams. I wanted all of them at once, to pull them over myself like a blanket and nestle beneath them, safe and known.
“Let’s go around the circle,” I said abruptly, and with the blatant authority of intoxication. “And for each person, let’s say one sentence of what we like about them. Each of us says a sentence.”
“I like that,” Will said. He used his tender voice, which used to make me uncomfortable and fascinated and a little repulsed, but which these days I know too well. Will’s tenderness gave us permission, like it often does. I often forget to appreciate it. Nods and smiles followed, some loose and drunk, and others not yet sure whether they should be embarrassed.
“You might need another drink,” and I tipped rum into a mason jar and gave it to Mathea, because she had been studying and I don’t do these things. Nathan had fallen asleep, so we started with him. A warm-up, like mumbling interview answers to a mirror.
No one said a sentence, not a formal one, or even attempted to. Even the sober ones whose sobriety I didn’t like thinking about rambled their run-ons into paragraphs, and sloppy feelings overfilled their words and sloshed over the sides. Each person started with a drip, drip, and then the tap broke and things impossible to say were being said, and we listened. All of us listened, and no one laughed except when we were supposed to laugh, to remind us that we were still here, together, and not too far gone to deny this later.
And then we were at David, who could hear me, and who I have lived with for a year and a half. I was telling him “you keep your guard up,” and that wasn’t right, and “when you don’t, it means a lot, like when we walked and talked through the neighborhood—or lately it’s been whenever, like watching a movie or you just come home—” and that was closer but not what I meant, and I babbled and squeezed his leg because touch was harder to fuck up. David’s love is tactile, and mine is not. But when the turn passed to Rachelle, and then to Mathea, I was rubbing David’s back like a nervous tic, or like self-soothing. I pulled Rachelle into me with my other arm and she put her head on my shoulder, and I don’t do this. I don’t do this, but Will and Kirsten and Mathea on the other couch had melted together, too.
Will cried when the sentences turned to me. “I’m just going to say one thing,” he said, and he had to stop for a while. “Because you’ll know what I mean by it,” and he had to stop again. I knew what he was going to say, or something like it, and knowing it made the feeling ours and inevitable. “You’re my family away from family,” Will said, and the words made it more real. They gave the feeling a time and a place, an anchor in my memory. Three-thirty on our living room couches, with a shaky cadence and averted eyes and salt. I was crying a little, which I am learning to do. “And I have another sentence,” Will said, “even though I said I was only going to say one.” Everyone laughed a little because he was bringing them into this, sharing this, and because they were stepping into the memory. Will gave a second sentence, and I drank more.
I don’t do this. Easy compliments feel cheap or false, and the real ones are too sappy, or forced, or vulnerable. Maybe I don’t do this because I get hung up a joke that didn’t stick the landing, or I see prudishness or licentiousness or stupidity, or someone’s bad taste, and I stay there. People’s faults make me feel better. Or maybe it’s competition and grit, or just stoicism—and not for tough-guy reasons, but just because it’s comfortable that way, and I like it. And I also like this. These people help. This helps. I can’t remember if we all hugged at the end, or how we went to sleep, but it didn’t feel alone. I don’t do this, and yet we did.