Can I take my Pants Off?
As I got the news, a wave crashed into the room, filling it with water. I fell under, looking everywhere for the surface but failing to find it. A pair of lips continued moving across from me, but the words floated away. I left like that, still submerged and stunned, my hand gripping papers with more words I couldn’t understand. This drowning would be long and slow. I had to get used to life underwater.
Later, when I got a text message asking if we were still on, I remembered that I had plans to meet some guy for a date. Or a drink thing. Or just sex. It’s hard to tell how these things will play out. I never know what I’m doing. But I sent him a message back, saying sure, why not? Let’s meet, let’s see how it goes. That’s the story of my life, moving from one thing to the next, always waiting to see what happens.
We were to meet at a nearby bar, close enough from my place to walk. It’s one of the many college bars lining the street. I’m here for grad school. He’s a local, someone I know very little about. I liked his pictures. He liked mine. That’s usually enough.
The news hadn’t devastated me, at least not yet, so I figured meeting up with this guy would be fine. It might offer a distraction, at least. And though that day would forever be the day that separated my life into two distinct parts – before and after – I guess I was trying to hold on to the old me who still lived on land, the one who existed just that morning. He was so close I could almost reach out and touch him. If only I could go back, before that morning, to the moment it happened to me. Honestly, I have no idea when it happened. I’ve always been careful, almost obsessively so. Maybe the doctors and counselors don’t really know what they’re talking about. Maybe bad things just happen, no matter how much you think you’ve protected yourself against them.
So we met up, had beers and burgers. How all American is that? He was about five years older than me, had dark hair that was just beginning to recede, and matched the pictures he sent. He was the boy next door, all grown up. Sitting out on the patio in the fading sunlight with no one else around, I stared at his lips moving up and down, suddenly aware that he was telling me something important.
“It’s different from what most people think,” he said, sighing into his beer.
“You know, being married, having a kid.”
Oh, another closeted married guy, I thought. Figures. You’d be surprised by how many I’ve met down here. He seemed genuinely nice, and at least he was being honest. Without the wife and kid, without my recent news, it could have worked. And then, unsure of how or why the words spilled out, I told him my news.
“Gee, I’m sorry man,” he said.
We finished our beers, split the check, parted ways. About ten minutes later, he sent me a text asking if he could come over. Sure, I texted back. I sent another message with my address.
When he arrived, I looked around my mostly empty living room and wondered if I should be embarrassed for the lack of furniture. There was the futon and a couple of lawn chairs, as well as a television propped up on a large plastic bin filled with books. Since I was only there for grad school, I didn’t see the point in buying real furniture. Being a real adult was something I had put off.
He made himself at home on the futon. I handed him a beer and popped one open for myself. After taking a long gulp, he looked up at me. “Can I take my pants off?”
He stepped out of his sandals and awkwardly removed his pants. He folded them neatly before setting them aside. Sitting in his underwear, he looked at me from across the room, telling me about his wife in between sips of beer. The rush of water returned, filling my ears, holding me under. He was on an island of his own, still above the surface. But just barely.
After finishing his beer, he placed it carefully on the floor. He pulled his pants back on, stepped into his sandals, retrieved the beer bottle and brought it over, leaving it on the counter. Before heading out, he gave me a limp hug. “Hang in there,” he said.
I never saw him again, and I didn’t tell anyone else about my news. It was easier to tell a stranger. Somehow, that was enough. As for friends and family, I’m still not ready to see the new me reflected in their eyes.
Days, weeks, months have passed. I never knew it could take so long to drown.
Cameron L. Mitchell grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. His work has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Queer South Anthology, Literary Orphans, Gravel Literary Magazine, and a few other places. He lives in New York and works in archives at Columbia University. Find him on Twitter: @CameronLMitchel.