the semiotics of love and disappearance (or; on the phone numbers we delete in self-protection).

At the age of 19, I believed I was in love.

His name was Ryan. I met him through a musical I was performing in. He was the cellist; my age, olive complexion and lithe, calloused fingers that danced skilfully across dead space to pluck and pull at the strings laid out in front of him. We met officially during production week, after a lengthy tech rehearsal gave way to “mental health” beers. Before then I’d held a hyper awareness of his position within the crew: he was brash and quite fey, whereas I was, for the most part, not out, unsure of how to embrace the burgeoning fact of my sexuality. Because of this I’d quickly rolled my eyes and dismissed him as “one of those” gays (whatever that means, exactly – I didn’t really know what it meant then, only the tired notion that femininity or “gayness” was a weak and therefore bad thing).

Regardless of this, we hit it off right away, found several similarities and interests, as one does, and that night I invited him to spend the night at my house – my parents, overseas at the time, would remain none the wiser –  and he accepted.

And this is what happened:

I lie in bed, in the half-light, shirt off, underpants on, and wait, drunk and immeasurably anxious, for him to enter the room. It’s weird, I think, that he’s gone to change in the other room. We’ve been making out all night. These half-formed thoughts are quickly dispelled as he appears, frame caught in the doorway to my childhood bedroom, willowy chest pulled taut as he leans against the door, shadows casting images that dance across his stomach and downwards. He wears a pair of oversized silk boxer-shorts with some kind of novelty print emblazoned across them; the kind no man should wear past the age of sixteen.

He flicks the light off and is, in an instant, on top of me, slipping his tongue deep into my mouth. I am not a virgin, but I am not confident, and my hands bely my fear, shaking across the contours of his body. He stops, in an instant, and holds my hands to him, warms them. This is lovely, encouraging, but with my hands entwined in his he’s no longer holding himself up and his shoulder clips me in the larynx. He slides down next to me as I attempt to not choke. We laugh, his eyes dancing, and look at each other, eye to eye. In one fluid moment, I reach down and place my hand on his crotch. He falters, for a second, and pulls my hand back up to his chest.

“Not yet,” he whispers, though there’s nobody else around to hear. “I don’t want it to just be…” He trails off, wry smile playing off his face. “You know.”

“Yeah,” I reply, feeling childish, stupid.

“Good,” he smiles, and pulls me closer. We kiss.

The show hurtles on without a hitch, and for one week we are inseparable, finding new and exciting places around the performance space to make out in, texting each other on the constant, holding hands with a sense of openness and freedom that I had never felt before. He wears my clothes, and brushes his teeth after eating meat so that I don’t have to taste it (oh, teenaged vegetarianism). The after party is at my house, and we are typically inseparable, retreating to my bedroom as the first rays of morning begin to break.

The next day he wakes up before anyone else and cleans half of the house, as a surprise. He leaves, the last of anyone, around lunchtime, kissing me on the lips before driving off.

This is the last time that I see him.

Two days later:

Hey, hope your uni work isn’t too crazy :). x

Another two days:

How’s it going? I think you left your jacket here – I can bring it when we catch up, if you want. When’s good for you? x 

A week, now: 

Hey, is everything okay? How are you?

A week and a half:

Hello?

Then:

Have I done something?

And this is what happened:

I cut my losses, called him a cunt, and moved on.

I am swift in my action – I delete his number, messages and block him from my Facebook feed – but it’s too little, too late. There is a strange disquiet that comes with the sudden disappearance of a friend or a lover, and it falls over me with a heavy and tranquil insidiousness. It sits with me, at the core of my being, and whispers to me my fears with quiet confidence: You were wrong. You fucked up. You weren’t good enough. You were never good enough.

I can see him, a phantasm, walking along with me through the halls of my now-empty house. I have a couple of weeks off – it’s university holidays and I only work nights. I should get up. I should leave the house. I don’t. Instead I sit, frustrated and aimless, waiting for my phone to spring to life. I can see it now – the messages, the calls, the proclamations of desire, of apology, of retribution! He’s left his jacket – an unassuming black hoodie – crumpled up on my floor, forgotten, and with the utmost care I straighten it out, iron it and fold it up.

I find, to my horror, that my pillow smells of his cologne, and I wash it – the whole thing. It comes out of the drier lumpy and ruined, but at least it doesn’t smell like him.

And this is what happened:

I convinced myself that this wasn’t a joke. I told myself that this boy and I had a future. When it turned out that we didn’t, I felt cheated, a child.

A message from a friend, posted on my Facebook wall:

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches” – Dita Von Teese.

I understand what she means, but personally I’ve always preferred apricots.

And this is what happened:

It turned out he got hit by a car, a few kilometres down the road. No, wait – it turned out he had a genetic defect, a heart weakness, maybe, that struck him down out of the blue, and – no. Wait. It turned out? His plane crashed.

Yeah.

The engine just up and burst into flames, and the flight attendant – a pleasantly chubby woman in her mid thirties named Beryl – screamed at the top of her lungs: “WE’RE GOING DOWN! ASSUME THE BRACE POSITION!!!”. She did this not as loud as she’d have hoped, yet still she tried: she should have given up smoking years ago, she knows it, but she’s been so busy and she’s been waiting for the right time, only there’s never a right time, is there? In any case, as the rows of bright yellow oxygen masks began to descend like plastic snakes slithering from the heavens, Beryl raced down the aisles, prepping the aeroplane for an emergency landing and trying not to throw up in her mouth. She knew she shouldn’t have had that second donut. Though really, if they were going to crash, what did it matter now? At least if they survived she’d get to jump out of the plane and onto that huge inflatable slide thing. That was always fun.

Beryl survived. Ryan did not. Before the real impact hit, opening the cargo hold opposite his seat and sending the hard plastic Hello Kitty toiletry container belonging to the passenger in front of him several inches into his cerebral cortex, forcing him off this mortal coil, the last thing he saw was me. Making out with 2001 Jake Gyllenhaal (before he got super-buff – y’know, when it looked like he might dabble in drugs, but in a kind of hot, non-threatening way) and being super successful while doing it.

Like, super mega ridiculously successful.

I am at my friend Katie’s house, smoking cigars and drinking wine between bouts of Mario Party 64.

“I’m sorry,” she smiles between puffs, and pats my hand. “At least it was just a show-romance?”

She’s sincere, but I can tell it’s wearing thin: I know I shouldn’t care this much, there’s no reason I should care this much – he had weird eyebrows, for Christ’s sake! – yet still I cycle through the experiences we shared on sick repeat, over and over and over ‘till I can’t make sense of them. I think that I hate, most of all, the fact that I feel so stupid. Stupid and powerless.

And this is what happened:

He calls me, late one night. I stand with friends in the cold night air of the Rooftop Bar and my phone rings with an unknown number.

I answer: “Hello?”.

Nothing but his breath, slow and deep and regular. Then: “Hey.” My heart instantly sinks down into my stomach. Lower. I’m basically shitting it out at this point, and with it my intestines, my lungs, the whole shebang.

Silence again, except for the sudden and insistent interference of the late Autumn wind whipping itself past my ears. Finally, he speaks: “Who is this?”.

“Chris,” I snap. “It’s Chris.”

“Oh,” he replies, voice slow, laboured, thoughtful. “Sorry, I think I called the wrong person.”

I am silent and vindicated in my fury, the winds still raging about my hot and throbbing skull.

He speaks, almost sheepish: “How’re you going?”

After we finish our cigars, Katie and I head inside, the pleasant warmth of good red wine (and a slivovitz or two) sitting happily in our stomachs. We begin to play the Nintendo 64.

I find something incredibly calming about the N64 game system. In the same way that, whenever I’m sick I find myself possessed with the intense desire to watch Anne of Green Gables (since a nasty bout of chickenpox where I spent two weeks curled up in bed, my mother nursing me and showing me her favourite VHS tapes), or the way that the theme-song to The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh can inexplicably bring me to tears, it catapults my brain back to that place I can never return: the golden palace of an imagined, simple childhood, days of innocent pleasures and definable, safe emotions. They make me believe, on some microscopic level, that even if these things aren’t possible now, maybe, just maybe, they used to be. It tells me: there was a time where, unequivocally, everything in the world was alright, and even if it’s a lie, I let myself believe it for that short and blissful period.

We start off in Wario’s Battle Canyon, fighting over the difficulty level of the computer-run competitors – Katie wants a real challenge, whereas I’m happy to keep them on level 1, basically ensuing a human win – and we’re on our way. With the haze of alcohol (and frequent breaks to pet her numerous dogs) the game takes nearly an hour, but finally we cross the finish line.

The mood is tense as the game’s umpire – here represented by a high pitched toadstool wearing a blue vest and shoes – doles out the final points and “bonus” stars. Both Katie and I take our Nintendo particularly seriously, so much so that Katie’s mother doesn’t flinch but indeed laughs when I yell out some variation of: “Fuck you, Wario, you fucking rude slut!”. The night is late, and I’m almost falling asleep as the game suddenly bursts to life: a winner has been chosen. Thousands of shining golden stars rain down upon the character I’ve chosen as she dances and twists in computerized joy. And then the phrase, booming out in robotic, sputtering, cartoon glory:

PEACH. WINS!”

Dita Von Teese would be proud.

And this is what happened.

At the age of 19, a boy showed interest in me. I returned that interest and I fell for what he showed me; what he had to offer, and then… nothing.

And this is what happened.

After a few days of pain, I was fine. I healed. I accepted that not all damage is intentional, and I forgave him – not that he needed me to.

And this is what happened.

I learned to hold my heart, just so: with poise, with caution, with care.

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1 comment
  1. I love the repetition of ‘And this is what happened’ it holds the disparate nature of the story together and delivers an even sense of emotion and loss. Cheers – Callum

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