On the train we are sharing earbuds and I am listening to DMX because you hate DMX. You ask what I am thinking and I don’t say, “A man in your mouth.” I say nothing. The ferry from the train station to our hostel is slow and the air is cold, but we are in Venice and it is hard to feel bothered. Our skin is stinging and it is so wrong to feel so bothered. Every street of sinking buildings looks the same.
The first night I let you scroll and flick and swipe through my phone, alive only with hostel wi-fi. You find a conversation I’ve had with Jack, someone I kissed some summers ago. It is nothing more than banter but I let you spin out in jealousy. It is something I have that you do not — men. I wrongly believe this is the part that bothers you.
I take longer in the morning to get ready than you, I have worse skin to cover up than you. This is something I resent you for. You will, in a month, send me an article about breakouts and food. We will fight about this for a week.
Away from the hostel, we take our time, flowing through cracks in the massive crowds and searching for landmarks and pasta. In the nicest moments, our mouths are full.
I have my camera with me and teach you how to use it. You pick it up quickly, you have such a visual mind. At home, you were a painter, a Painter, a label more than anything I’d had.
A couple takes our photo on the bridge, I see it and hate the shadows under my eyes and around my nose, painted on by the curves of my round cheeks. You were always Classic Pretty that men liked, the easy smile that men liked. Narrow nose that men like. I resent you for this, too.
It is the poster child for the perfect childhood, the 80 pounds of mulch your dad bought that time I visited so he could landscape the yard of your five-bedroom home. This mulch, and that home, would upset me. This mulch and that home became ammo for fights about privilege, the home where you were given a Grand Cherokee at 16, a drunk boy’s sloppy touch at 17. I resent you in a way that I justify as academic.
We eat gelato in a courtyard behind an apartment building.
At night we scroll our phones and watch video blogs of queer celebrities. They are everything we are not — proud, public, happy. I hate them for the love they so easily share. I hate your mom for how she hugged you as you introduced me, for how my mother ignored me when I came out by starting to absently vacuum our hardwood floors.
You want so deeply with such yearning to be the person forbidden by your old life. The older you get, the easier it will be for you to find this. You will grow. I see this growth already, I am already afraid of its honesty. I creep along my own ridge between -sexual and -phobia, hating myself and hating you with me. I hate myself as I refuse to hold your hand on the ferry back to the train station, or tell you I love you in a way that is not currency. You are just collateral damage, I wish I had said I already knew that.
Huddled against the window on the train back to your Italian dorm, we are watched by the watchful Them, the public of both my reality and my anxiety. Staying awake for me, you barely notice. You are propelled by the purity of your kindness. It is a real kindness, a loyal kindness, a kindness that hurts you as it lives in the world without armor. It makes you delicate and easily worn.
When I ask what you are thinking, you say, “You. Us.” Always, you say, “Us.”
Stepping away from our silhouettes, I see my body stricken by a fear that was unfamiliar to you. It is that fear of difference, of knowing no matter the makeup or the boys-in-the-phone I will never be able to blend any of it—and you, grown up perfectly blended and blemish-free, you find depth and truth in this.
I tell myself suffocation is some sign of nobility. I have started to believe it.
While I tread in rage, fearing the stereotype of difference, you plunge deeper, fearing the stereotype of same. You breathe easy in your own cracked jar.
When I stare at you, I see you bare. I see you past flesh and into something that felt like a memory from the instant we met, felt like a vessel of wishful thinking and a lifetime of self-imposed lack. Mere puzzle pieces, we were substitutes for the things we weren’t and couldn’t become. We were so perfectly attuned to fit one another’s grievances, but so disastrously lacking in the ability to hold one another’s shame.
The trip ends in hope. In five months, away from Europe and in that Jeep, we end in sorrow. I will accept a rose from someone I work with and you will hurt. You will destroy my room and I will destroy your spirit. I will enter with false hope into a new world of boyfriends and broken condoms and new misplaced substitutes and roles that I believe I want more than you. I will choose to not see the You in you, but only the shame of everything I could not be for you.
All I have left to say is both an apology to the You I attempted to destroy with expectation and manipulation. To ask of someone the ability to save what has never existed as a guise for a slow, endless separation.
It is me, myself, my hopeless empty self so afraid of being so different, that I chose to leave. It is not us that I left. Not us trying to stay afloat amidst a sinking city, beautiful and alive but only temporary as all beauty and life is. Had I not hated my own love, I’m sure, I am sure, that I could have loved you, too.