“Is this when you were heterosexual?” Chris laughs beneath his breath. His tired hands thumb through the old photos, the days of formalwear and acne.
“Love,” I say. “I was never heterosexual.” I laugh, too. Chris is joking and laughter is rare relief these days.
The past week has been a little like high school for me- a tortured love song, the kind that feels too dangerous to sing aloud. Dare you hope too hard, dare you get too optimistic, dare you prepare yourself at all. We do not speak in “what if” terms here.
The small round waiting room table is covered in everything from baby food to doughnuts to old newspapers, a week’s worth of stress piled like dirty dishes in giant sink. The TV chatters from a dark corner above. Outside, a Thursday morning rain crawls down the windows. No matter the angle you look out, the backdrop is the same: dirty yellow buildings and empty windows. Hospitaland- the place without hours or minutes where we tick on without realizing it.
In this hospital waiting room, my teenage history slumps against sturdy patterned chairs in new versions of the same Chuck Taylors it wore seven years ago. Some of us have kids now. Some of us have fancy jobs. Some of us still have bands and credit card debt. Me? I have half a job, an enchanting faggot love, and queer family in constant gender crisis. It’s a good life, but it’s not always easy to reconcile with the one I left for college, the one that fidgets nervously in the waiting waiting waiting room, the one hooked up to a breathing machine through the sliding glass doors.
We’re a Midwestern bunch, as evidenced by a wide selection of junk food and fleece jackets. We’re supposed to grow up to inhabit the houses and heartaches our parents inherited. But I’ve floated too far from that self to ever fulfill that promise.
Every time I come back home, I wonder if and how there will be room for me. There are new faces here now, important faces I don’t know. And I have to ask if I haven’t fallen out of good grace. I’m going to get ordained and marry Chris to my high school best friend when she wakes up. But I don’t believe in marriage. I’m really really really queer. Even people from my ultra-liberal alternative college say so. Can I return to my small Midwestern town and find community?
Chris looks me up and down and then turns back to the photo. In the picture, I’m happily swept up in the arms of my high school boyfriend, the sequins of my turquoise dress reflecting a spring sunset.
Today, I’m in my usual uniform of baggy pants, Doc Martens, a button-up, and a tie. I flip through the faces of my high school best friends. I’ve looked at the pictures so many times since going away to college and then coming back. But this is the first time Chris is seeing them. His fiancé, my best friend who now lies comatose, giggles through the images.
“Look at her,” Chris shakes his head. “Look at how hot she is here.”
I nod. She’s strikingly beautiful. She always has been.
Chris squints at the pile of pictures. I can see him re-mapping all of our histories through these images. I know he’s wondering if I consciously lied about who I was all those years, if I pretended to be straight even though I knew better.
“When did you realize?” He asks. “When did you know?”
I sigh. I explain that I always liked the guys I dated, but it wasn’t until his fiancé told me she was “bi” that I realized it was possible to like more than one sex or gender.
Chris beams. “I like you better now.” He nods at my outfit. “This is you. I mean, you’ve always been a sweetheart, but this, this is you.”