Tyler McCabe’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.
Truth often finds its way to the mind close-muffled in robes of sleep, and then speaks with uncompromising directness of matters in regard to which we practice an unconscious self-deception during our waking moments. –Nathaniel Hawthorne
Frankly, when I was ready, it only took a small measure of effort to declare myself queer to family and friends.
I scheduled the coffee dates and I made the phone calls and I took the long drives in the car in no particular direction. I let the cats out of their bags, and I let the chips fall, and so on. I smoothed my hair and checked my phone for the time. The whole thing felt like yelling SURPRISE for a surprise party that had happened last Wednesday. I was happy to continue celebrating, but I had already privately lit the candles and sung myself a song.
The arduous part of the process—the part that took decades—was the tectonic action of my unconscious mind coming out to my conscious self. That is, I didn’t even realize I was queer before 2014.
I am certain I’ve been queer my whole life, and for most of that life I could not have told you so.
But the boundaries of repression are only so flexible. Back in 2010, I kept two journals: one was a log of daily activities and the other was a description of the dreams I experienced that year. Now I hold them side by side and marvel. In the dark there is a mind as unknowable as starry space; at the same time, that mind is the most concentrated version of us, like the orbit of salt left rimming a pot when all the water has boiled away.
Met my new housemates today: James and Terrence, who Kyle introduced me to. Skyler’s in the group as well. I’ll be the first moving in at the end of summer. (Lease starts in August.) We’re calling the house Muscle Beach. We tacked up a photograph of bodybuilders flexing on the wall. I’m told the walls inside used to be white.
I found out that I got the internship for fall—plus the editor-in-chief job, plus I’m using those standby passes to try to fly to Hawaii this summer. Mom says my life is “charmed.” Everything is exciting.
My jeans are ripped at the knees. I don’t know why. They are very new (just purchased in fact). Now ruined.
Stephanie asked me today, What’s been the biggest change since I moved up to Seattle? I said something stupid about a heavier workload. But really? I think it’s that I finally feel ready to date. (How to feel ready for this after a lifetime of indifference?)
There is a girl in my creative writing class who might be interested? She’s away right now, but I could send her a letter. James says I should go for it.
I am carrying a man who is wearing no shirt. In my left arm I cradle his knees (exposed through torn jeans), and in my right, I cradle his shoulders. I pretend I am going to throw him over the balcony but it is just a little joke. I count up the moles on his chest and quickly forget the significance of this number. We laugh like predatory animals. Spittle from his laughter lands on his chest, my arms, my face.
I ran face-first into a tree. The guys and I were playing capture the flag. I have a gash on my forehead and my nose is raw. “Embarrassed” hardly covers it. I feel like hiding all the time.
Tonight I stared in the mirror for what felt like a long time and I wondered, if this were to scar horribly, if all the photographs in my life would be divided into Before and After.
I am in the front row before a stage. On the stage is James and his older brother (note: he has no waking-life brother) who stands beside a projector that is tossing up childhood photographs on the back wall. The slideshow splashes along. First they are very young (they hold plastic light sabers) and then they have matching buzz cuts and then matching side ponies (like immature Jedi) and then their hair is longer, and then short. Their foreheads elongate. In one photograph James’ brother wraps his arms around James so carefully pretending to choke him, so careful that he would not harm his tender neck.
A dude came into the ice cream shop and tipped me twenty dollars. Maybe he thought I was cute?
James has just finished cutting up a pair of jeans. He holds them up: they are for you, he says to Kate. They have been cut at about 3/4 length and have big holes in the knees and one pocket is exposed near the hip. Kate responds, They will be perfect for this summer.
I wrote the creative writing girl a letter. I also send her some sprigs of lavender, which is probably heavy-handed but Oh well. I have no idea if she will write me back.
I’ve been using Mederma gel on my forehead. I texted a picture to my mom and she’s pretty convinced the scar will go away. I texted some pictures to James to make him laugh.
Lady Gaga is playing a song for a live audience on the set of a talk show. I stand out of the way. There are tons of people watching as she keeps hitting the wrong keys. Where she places her fingers appears like a parody of piano-playing. She has no makeup on and her wig is red. The producer is crying because she can’t get it right. A technician hits play on the studio version, which smears away the sound of her. She stops playing. She exposes her teeth. She picks up her microphone and noiselessly sings.
I’m in flight! I just held a plastic cup of ginger ale in my hand, held it up to the bump on my nose and watched the carbonation shooting like champagne. The bump still hurts. When I look through the cup the world is amber and everything falls out of focus.
It took me twenty-four hours of standby in the airport to get on this flight. It seems possible I’ll get stuck in Hawaii and miss my first days of work. But I feel framed by the gold from the sunset, the gold of this drink. I want to let myself go wherever I’m taken.
I am on a stage, an actor in a play. No costuming that I recall. Predictably, I don’t know my lines. But my role is not central so I follow various cues. At the edge of the stage there is a ladder and I begin to climb while my peers sing a tune. The music crashes along.
I make exaggerated, impossible movements as I climb. I hit a curtain and feel for a way through and find one. And then I emerge onto a second stage, and as if I’ve entered a vacuum, all sound is sucked away.
There’s no audience. I stand under cold (impossibly cold) lights.
I can’t remember whether this happens before or after I slip and find that the floor is so slick, or if it happens before or after I call to everyone in the first stage below, saying something I forget, but there is a point at which I am running among the empty seats of the theatre among the very few cannons of light among nothing else in every direction.
We did yoga poses on the WWII Lanikai pillboxes at dawn and laughed, hard. I have never felt so thin in my life, so breakable.
A woman named Anna approaches me in a Holocaust museum. The hall is so dim. She is a survivor or a ghost, and we mourn together. She says, But I have been living as if I’m a sad person, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be this way.
If you can believe it, I saw a rainbow around the moon last night.
I can’t spell the name of the cliffs Travis snuck us to. It was night and some fog passed over a full moon and voila, a rainbow ringing the moon. The ocean shushed us. I thought about how hard the last year has been—moving to a new city feels like shedding a skin painfully—and how full of listening I’ve become. I thought of unreturned letters. I thought of “Dover Beach.” Ah, love, let us be true to one another. Is there anything that sounds emptier than the word alone?
James and Mitch are there, and some others, all padding across a wide circle of grass. Underneath our feet (mine are bare), the grass transforms into ice. The circle breaks out into an iceberg floating nowhere. But the sea is not angry. The wind is not so bad. I notice my feet are red. I call James over. He bends down, and with the seriousness of a doctor, diagnoses my feet as: cold.
I tried to scrub the un-white walls of Muscle Beach with bleach, but I’m not sure how much of a difference it made. Everyone arrives tomorrow.
I am in a well-lit basement housing a coffee shop, and I am staring at its pastry display with pink muffins with streusel topping. I am trying to decide if they are French. I decide to order one (are they berry flavored?) and as I pay, I set down a five dollar bill on the counter.
Abruptly I am pushed aside by someone who hands me another five dollar bill and tells me they are in a hurry and would I please use this to pay for their coffee? As I mumble in response, they grab the five I placed on the counter and rush out the door. I realize they took my money. I hand the five they gave me to the barista. She pauses over the bill and smiles apologetically. It’s a fake, she says.
I pull out more money to pay. I am angry. I peek out the window but don’t see anyone. But then as I sit at a table with my muffin, I am suddenly struck by lucidity: I am dreaming. In an instant I know I am the whole fabric of this place: I am the coffee shop and the muffin and the money, and I am the faceless trickster and I am the elaborate, benign hoax.
I actually can’t imagine having time to date anyone this year. Between the job and internship and school and friends and everything. I mean.
I am standing nakedly in a large room. There is a table of tiny cupcakes with extra rings of frosting. I approach and choose a cupcake, and then take a seat in a metal folding chair near Kate. Behind her I see Lady Gaga painting at an easel. I call to her but she denies who she is. She winks at me and jokes, You should pray for me! And we all laugh at this joke but I am wondering why it is so funny. She appears lovely. I look down: through a tear in her jeans, I see she has a peg leg.
Holy smokes, last Saturday: Sufjan Stevens wore shiny pants and a pair of feather wings. He threw on two neon visors and shook his ass to the beat. He beckoned for us to dance along.
I was sitting with James when Sufjan motioned for me to get up and dance, and it hit me that I am allowed to dance, even on this balcony where nobody is dancing. Nobody is allowed to stop me from standing amid the chairs and splitting out of my skin. James stayed in his chair for the song but I shattered like a window and felt captivating.
I am reading a book and in the book there is a boy who meets Lady Gaga. She is dressed down in sweatpants. She holds her arms out to him and kisses the top of his head like a proud father. I set the book down and walk into my kitchen. The tips of all my knives have been broken off.
Someone showed me footage of myself at the college band fest last year. I had forgotten about it. On the camcorder screen, a miniature of me pumped his fist. I watched him pick up and shake a tambourine, I watched him press it over his crotch and play it like a bongo.
I am flying sans airplane over a lake fortress I saw in the film The Fall. Very exotic. I fly straight away from the earth and then I see a flock of black Pegasuses below. I dive and chase one. I spin through the air like steam.
I sat with James tonight on the front porch. He held a cigarette in his teeth. Thumbs as milk-white as rolling paper, lips blue as smoke. And whatever he said I forget, but at the time it sounded so good I wanted to French-inhale the sentences.
I find myself in a log cabin with James and Kate, whose jeans are splattered with paint. Outside one window I watch a waterfall pour by, and Kate passes out paintbrushes. We spend the day painting the inner walls of the cabin with mountains and trees and animals and water. I look into the artificial distance of our murals and watch salmon jumping. Kate collects our paintbrushes and washes them carefully.
James looks out the window and remarks, shouldn’t that waterfall be filling this house? So it does. It dumps through the window and pools around our feet. I can hardly hear my friends over the roar. There are snails everywhere in the water and suckling our shins. I pull one from my cheek.
And then the cabin bursts like a water balloon. Outside there are mountains and trees and animals and water with salmon jumping.
Overhead the stars are not mute.
Tyler McCabe lives in Seattle and works as the director of programs at the literary and arts quarterly Image. His nonfiction has been honorably mentioned in Best American Essays and most recently placed in The Other Journal and in a forthcoming book about the television series Breaking Bad through Bloomsbury Academic. He also loves Twitter and would love to virtually meet you: @tylermccabe