by: Todd Andrew Clayton
I was sitting in that red swivel chair I had in my office when I heard her knock. Her knuckles trampolined against the glass pane that was next to my door and sent bullets of sound ricocheting off pictures, and books, and the potted plant my boss had given me on my first day, which I’d managed to murder. It pouted — brown and spineless — next to a picture of San Francisco on the black Ikea shelf I’d hung above my desk. I spun around and crabbed my chair toward the door with my feet.
I could see her through the window: she was wearing her puffy, faded blue vest — the one that her friend said made her “look a little lezzy” one morning when she walked into class. Her hair was sexy-messy and rested behind her head in an I-hit-snooze-eight-times bun while her army-green vinyl backpack lazily dangled from her left shoulder. She was still knocking — now faux-frantic, which made me laugh.
“Holy hell,” I mouthed, “I’m almost there.” When I reached the handle, I punched it down and the door swung open, bumping against my knees. I pushed my chair back, she walked in, and we hugged — the same way we had two months earlier, when I told her everything.
“Gaaah! Hi!” she excitedly said, unzipping her backpack. “I got you something yesterday at this concert I went to.” Her hands plunged inside and — after some foraging — pulled out a copy of Camus’ The Plague. She grabbed what looked like a bookmark that peeked from the top of the pages and handed it to me. “Read the back first,” she explained. The words were scrawled in olive letters at the top of what turned out to be a bumper sticker.
“This is so normal!” it read. She was casually leaning against my wall, arms folded, and smiling, one leg kicked behind her.
“Well, turn it over!” she insisted. I flipped the sticker in my hands, and was greeted by a picture, one that would hem me in with hope for weeks.
It was a bedroom: modern, tidy, wooden-dressered. A few socks littered the floor, and the sheets of the bed were tangled and loved. The bed itself was simple, boasting a modest headboard, and it sat between two nightstands that each carried frames filled with family, and half-filled glasses of water. Asleep on the left was a scruff-haired man, with the kind of facial hair that told you he liked to camp. He’d put his hand over his eyes, like you do when the sun’s crept through your windows too soon and you’re hiding in grumbled protest from its rays. Seated on the edge of the bed in black, thick-rimmed glasses was a second man — this one clean-shaven and strong-jawed. He was blond, broad-shouldered, and shirtless, his arms half-raised with palms to the ceiling. You could tell he was shaking his head, and he was smiling toward the bedroom door, which was open. Through the threshold ran a laughing, 2-year-old girl with licorice-black hair that shot from her head in two, firework-like pigtails. She was wearing an oversized dress shirt, the one the man on the edge of the bed was missing, and she was running toward her dads.
“See?” my friend said. “You’re going to be fine!” We hugged again, and then laughed until our stomachs hurt, the way you do when you find out that you got the job or got into the school or that he likes you back. I remember jumping, too, which is embarrassing. “I thought you’d appreciate it,” she said. I said “thank you” as she slipped out the door and let it shut behind her. After she left, I sat back in my chair and rolled up to my desk, setting the sticker on my computer’s keyboard. For minutes I stared, I scoured, I investigated the picture, bewitched by its promise of peace and companionship and family. I laughed a few more times before the tears started collecting in the crooks of my eyes and crawling toward the floor. When I decided to go to Point Loma, I remember my mom crying. “These are happy tears, son,” she said, which were the same kind I was crying that afternoon in my office.
Growing up, I never saw healthy portraits of my sexuality, never caught glimpses of what life could be: not in movies, not at church, not with friends. Whenever homosexuality was mentioned, it was usually hushed or laughed at or — worse — ignored.
“Homosexuality is a perversion and only leads to immorality,” I remember one pastor explaining. “There is no healthy expression.” When who you are is lampooned and demonized, dreaming becomes difficult.
My cartoon sticker screamed otherwise, though. It said, “Look! They’re like you, and they’re happy.” It said I might get to laugh at my daughter one day when she takes my clothes. It said my husband might sleep later than I do, and that we might have nice furniture. It said the pornographic picture of my future that had been painted by people I trusted was wrong.
I carried it with me everywhere, that prophetic vision — to class, to lunch, to chapel, to bed — and I stole glances whenever the familiar voices spoke, the ones that said what I wanted wasn’t possible.
“Someday,” it’d faithfully whisper. “Someday.”
Todd Andrew Clayton wishes he were good at soccer. He lives in San Diego & writes at coffee shops & in his living room. Someday, he hopes that he can write & get paid for it. Until then, he’s going to grad school. He likes Thai food & wants to go to Ireland before he dies.