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A Russian Novel
When I was ten my mother took me to a party for her work. I sat with my feet against the window of the car door as I leaned back in my seat, using my seatbelt to support my head. The warm spring air seemed to bloom so that one could not help feeling a certain vitality when breathing it in. Unfortunately the car smelled only of dirty upholstery and the stale, musty air that came through the blower. I wanted to open my door though I feared that we were close enough to the city that even the spring air would be poisoned with exhaust.
The car turned up onto a steep hill whose point could not be seen over the sumptuous brick mansions that climbed its sides.
“Is this where we’re going?” I asked my mom.
“Yup, do you think his house is big enough for you?” She asked me with a twinkle in her eye. My mom knew that I had always wanted to live in a big house.
“I like the house,” I said hesitantly. “But if you can afford a house like that I don’t get why you would get it in the city. Why not buy a slightly smaller house in the country where you can have a yard?”
“Well, some people like living in the city. It’s more convenient.” My mother said as she turned into the stone driveway.
“Mmmhh,” I grunted.
“I agree with you though. I wouldn’t want to live in the city.” She unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to look at me and my brother. “So the man who lives here is the CEO of Children’s, though he certainly didn’t get this much money as a doctor, and he lives here with his husband.” I averted my eyes awkwardly, staring out at a bush of violet flowers. “Is that okay? Are you comfortable with that?” she asked us, lowering her eyes.
“Mhm,” I said noncommittally as my brother nodded vacantly, he had found a rose bush on the other side of the car that seemed to have suddenly become equally as fascinating as the purple flowers I had found. “I don’t care” I added.
I spent the entire party eyeing the couple in the center who greeted everyone, two tall men, one balding with a higher voice than the other. The other had marginally buck teeth and a slight lisp. Both were wrinkled and seemed overwhelmingly imperfect to me. They couldn’t possibly be happy, I told myself. It must be depressing to be old with no wife or children. I knew that when I had a house like theirs it would be with a beautiful woman and kids, two boys and a girl. The eldest boy would teach my youngest son how to be cool and how to be a man. He would show him how to start a fire and how to catch frogs in the marsh. The girl, the middle child, would act as a motherly sister to both of them, chastising them when they came home dirty and half-naked from the pond behind our house. To this they would only grin sheepishly before cleaning up for the dinner that my wife had made and whose smell would hurry the boys’ showers. The evening would end with a civilized discussion of politics during which we would all agree wholeheartedly with each other. My Harvard diploma would be mounted on the wall of the study behind my leather chair. Everything would be just so.
Had my life been a fairy tale that is precisely how it would have gone. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how one chooses to look at it, life much more closely resembles an 864 page Russian novel, full of proverbial unpronounceable names and subtle psychological plot points on each page, than it does a fairy tale.
And so, about 200 pages later, I find myself walking back to my dorm room of a college located in The Middle of Nowhere, Vermont. I am reconciling the subtle plot points that have occurred over the last 50 pages with the basic axioms of life that don’t seem to make sense anymore. My roommate, Logan, and I are talking when a pretty girl with electric blue eyes, wavy blond hair and a rich, alto voice comes up to ask Logan to dance. Logan looks at her with his contrastingly dark brown eyes, the slight fuzz of his brown hair that sprinkles his cheeks, hair which makes his fifteen-year-old face seem somehow older and sexier, looks blond from the back light.
“Uhh,” he says, glancing at me. “I’d rather spend the last night with my friends, thanks” he says as politely as his awkward teenage manners allow him.
“Oh,” said the girl, bashfully making to walk away.
“You’re probably better off without me anyway. I can’t dance,” He tells her, giving her an awkward smile. That’s what I love about him: he always tries to make people feel good (whether he succeeds or not). When the girl walks away, I immediately draw his mind off of her so that he doesn’t feel guilty. We talk, joke, laugh and, sometimes, trail off into silence and experience nothing but each other’s company. It is during one of these silences that the camp counselors tell us it’s time to go back to our dorms. Without saying a word, we turn and walk shoulder-to-shoulder back to our room. The silence that I had been enjoying suddenly becomes unbearable. I look at him. He is deliberately not looking at me.
“So.” He looks at me. I wonder where I’m going with this. “Ready for tomorrow?” I ask in my most convincing falsely-cheery voice.
“F***.” A melancholy, not melodramatic, but sincere, honest, and vulnerable emotion makes his response one of the most elegant I have ever heard. I have never heard a swear word mean so much. After a silence, one that seems to elaborate on his ‘f***’, he asks me, “you?”
“I guess.” I might as well lie since I have no means of saying anything as meaningful as what he said. It is possible, however, that my lie reveals just as much truth as it conceals. By the time we reach our room, we’re playing along with several other boys and seem to be back to our old, goofy selves. Then, when we enter our room and close the door, we continue the charade, teasing each other about our accents. My New England accent and his Texan one.
“You sound like you’re on helium” he laughs at me.
“Whateverr you say, partner” I mimic a cowboy tipping his hat. We’re in the very center of our room. In each other’s faces, laughing. We’re surprisingly close. I can smell his T-shirt. I don’t look at his eyes. My laughter trails away as I look at where his neck meets his chest- the smooth skin that disappears under his shirt. We’re so close now, neither of us is laughing anymore. It’s silent but for the thump of my heart. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but I know something will happen if I look up. But I don’t know if I have the will to look up because I have never experienced what I know is about to happen and, like all people, I have a natural fear of the unknown. By now there’s no real choice. We’ve been standing here too long. I’ve already made up my mind. One, two, three...
His eyes meet mine for an instant. I hear a slow breath come from him, moving his chest up and down irresistibly. Then, a second later I don’t see anything. My eyes are closed. We’re touching now, soft lips on lips. My heart’s beating is the only suggestion of the passing of time.
A moment later, my eyes open and look into his.
Hot Damn! What the Hell just happened?!
Another 200 pages later, Logan is more of a metaphor than a main character. He has faded into the mix of numerous plot points in the book that must be remembered in order to understand the main character’s motivations but that are often forgotten and consequently leave both the reader and main character quite confused.
I am sitting on a bed in my room. My father is sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. I told him that there was something I needed to tell him about a week ago and now he has come to hear what I have to say.
“Can you guess?” I ask. I had dropped him more than enough hints that he should know by now.
“Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Why don’t you just guess?” We sit at a silent impasse for a moment.
“Is it about you wanting to be in a relationship?” I nod very slowly. “Is it about the kind of relationship you want?” I continue to nod, holding my face behind my pillow. In my hiding place I grin a wide, stupid smile as I often do when I am nervous. My limbs are jerky and I feel every slightest movement. Consequently I hold myself unnaturally still. “Do you want a relationship with a boy?” My heart skips a beat and I hesitate for a few seconds, I’ve stopped nodding. If I continue the result will be as permanent as the stroke of a sword. I wait a few seconds too long. Just like before there is no real choice left. I made up my mind 200 pages ago. Then, so as not to appear overly dramatic, I smile at him and nod patronizingly as if he had just come to the conclusion that 2 + 2 = 4. My heart, which has been in a flurry, drops and sinks into my stomach at the impassive expression on his face that tells me more than I want to know.
“I’m gay.” The words feel strange on my tongue. I never thought I’d say them before. Now, I speak them to impress the truth upon him and to grasp for myself exactly what I have just told him. I brace myself, tensing all over, realizing for the first time the enormity of the distance I have travelled with this inevitable truth.