My mom told me I should give a gift to the downstairs neighbors. My apartment was on the second floor, a one-bedroom with big windows and a stink bug problem. It was an old suburban house, converted into a duplex. When I first moved in I stood outside, looking up at the stone walls and two floors, imagining that the whole thing was mine, the back porch, too, and the garden.

A young couple lived downstairs. I ran into them only casually and said, “Hey, guys!” in that way I have, already pulling faces and doing a little dance with my arms. They’d nod back. It was a guy in his early-thirties with some sketched-looking tattoos on his forearm but an otherwise straight-laced demeanor, and his girlfriend who was so beautiful I started fantasizing about her privately. She didn’t smile much and had reddish hair. When I ran into her alone I’d say, “Hello there!” and she’d raise an eyebrow. The boyfriend wasn’t much friendlier, but seemed to enjoy patronizing me. “It’s pretty hot out,” he said once when he saw me coming downstairs in black jeans and a long-sleeve. I considered dropping trou then and there to see how he’d react. I figured he’d sort of nod and hold the door open for me gallantly, not looking at my hooha.

On the phone with my mom on a Saturday evening I said, “I think they hate me.”

“Everyone hates you,” she said. “You think you can just say anything.”

“I mean it, Mother.”

She told me to bake them cookies. I asked if she was making fun of me, and she was. I’d never baked cookies in my life.

“Write a little note,” she suggested.

I bought them a box of grocery store sugar cookies, the kind that always feel cold against your teeth and are decorated with a thick layer of too-sweet icing dyed bright blue. I sat on the kitchen floor, smoking a j out the window, shuffled some girly pop and wrote them a note: Hey, neighbors! Maggie here, from upstairs. You can call me Mags. Been too busy with the move-in to actually introduce myself. Enjoy some of these sweet treats. Looking forward to talking soon!

I wrote the note and read it twice over, thinking how very strange it was that I’d written this. I thought of the downstairs neighbors reading this note and thinking of me as the type of person who went out of her way to buy “sweet treats” for her new neighbors. I was pretty high by then. I went downstairs, dropped the cookies in front of the door, rang the doorbell, then ran back into my apartment, my heart vibrating in my chest.

The following Monday on my way to Parks Elementary for teacher meetings before the school-year started, I saw the neighbors had hit me back with a gift of their own. It was a bag of baby carrots, with a note that read: Maggie — we’ve talked it over, and decided we’d like to invite you for tea in the backyard. We know the backyard is ours, but we want to give you the opportunity to use it.

I brought the note with me to work, and the bag of baby carrots, which I made everyone pass around the room at the morning meeting.

“Nobody wants baby carrots for breakfast, Mags,” Dana said. She thought she was a big-shot because she taught fifth grade. I said, “Is that so?” and started eating my way through the bag. I made chewing noises so loud that Principal Gutierrez asked me to quiet down. He had to ask me twice because I was looking out the window, thinking about the downstairs neighbors and wishing I could tell my ex-girlfriend Taylor about them.

“Stop being discriminatory, Gutierrez,” I said.

“Don’t push me.” He had no irony about himself, the type of man who called us “ladies” when he told us to quiet down, even though there was a handful of men on the teaching staff.

During lunch break I stood across the street from school, smoking a cigarette. There was no smoking on school property. The fourth and fifth grade teachers always busted me. Emilia, my classroom assistant, crossed the street to join me. She was a sophomore at Wheelock College, where she studied elementary education. Her hair was in lots of little braids down her back, dyed purple at the ends, and she had perfect skin.

“Smoking’s bad for you,” she said, leaning on the tree next to me and rummaging through her 7-Eleven bag.. “Cigs are so 2007.”

I blew smoke into her face. She coughed artificially and waved her arms around until the air was clear. “It’s gonna be a long year,” I said, “if you keep that up.”

Emilia shrugged and pinched the black nub off her banana. “I’m just saying.”

That night I wrote the downstairs neighbors back while waiting for my Dominos delivery. It was a hot late-August day so I had my AC on full blast, but then the air started smelling like the disinfectant from my gynecologist’s office so I opened the windows, too. I wrote: Thanks for the carrots. Was a strange breakfast. Would love the opportunity to use your garden. Let me know when.

It verged on hostile, which was how I wanted it. What kind of person gives a newly-moved-in neighbor a bag of baby carrots? The girlfriend had a little muscular body. I heard her leave the house early most mornings, and watched her bike down the road with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder. It occurred to me that the sugar cookies I’d given them were the worst possible gift for a pair of health freaks, and that they probably liked me even less now.

I was feeling self-pitying so I put on some Billy Joel. When “She’s Always a Woman” came on I closed my eyes and imagined looking like the downstairs neighbor, like somebody who could hear this song and imagine it was about her. This was the first time I’d ever really been alone — this apartment, this new school year. The loneliness of it made me shiver. I thought about Taylor, who I’d been very preoccupied with not thinking about. I imagined us meeting as strangers, at a park on a summer evening, and this song would be playing. She never would’ve left me if we’d met like that.

I opened my eyes and walked to the full-length mirror. I saw the pockets of dimpled flesh on my upper arms, the garish pinup tattoo on my calf that I had to cover up for school, the acne scarring on my cheeks. There was a smudge on the glass. I wiped at it with the bottom of my t-shirt, making it worse.

Junior year of high school I was prom queen. It was the most alt thing my high school ever did. I was the president of the GSA — back then it was still that, the Gay-Straight Alliance — not because I really cared, but because bitches loved my slam poems. Wo-what? wo-MEN. I could argue with my teachers and none of them said shit. I was “spunky” and “opinionated”. When they put the Prom Queen sash around my neck, I was wearing a pantsuit, like Ellen. James Derry, the basketball captain, won Prom King. He kept a healthy distance from me when we took pictures for yearbook.

When the pizza came I ate it on the couch. The cheese was rubbery between my teeth. I got stuffed-crust. I had to refill my water so many times I brought the pizza over to the kitchen sink and stood there to eat it, periodically turning on the tap and drinking directly from it. Partway through, I got the hiccups.

The doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anybody. I let myself imagine it was Taylor, that she’d found out my address and realized she’d made a horrible mistake. She’d kiss me hello, before I even got a chance to be surprised. If that was the case, my mouth was too cheesy. I rinsed it out under the tap then opened the door. It wasn’t Taylor. It was another note from the downstairs neighbors: Baby carrots are a great snack to make sure you get vegetables in. We’d recommend against breakfast in general — the digestive system needs a break in order to function quickly and healthily.

The next morning I got up extra early and made pancakes with Aunt Jemima mix. “I hope you’re smelling this,” I said, hoping they could hear me through the air vents. “Enjoy not breaking your fast.” Seriously, these people were even more in-your-face than me. I imagined them downstairs sipping herbal tea, talking about me. I imagined them watching me walk to my car, commenting to each other on the movement of my thighs in my pants.

On the way out, I left them another note: go fuck yourselves.

Taylor had broken up with me in early June, right after school let out. It was just about the saddest thing that had ever happened to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Now I blacked out all the bad parts of our years together. When I thought about her it was just her smile, and how rare it was to make her smile.

We’d met three years earlier, at Bank of America. I went in to get my first-ever credit card. She was sitting at the teller’s desk with a suit jacket on. She had short inky hair and a nose ring. She took me into an office.

“I don’t know anything about money,” I said, crossing then un-crossing my legs.

“Clearly,” she smirked. She told me about automatic payments and building a credit score. I asked her out to dinner, which felt like a very sophisticated thing to do. Taylor shook her head and said, “Sure,” as if surprising herself. We went to a Vietnamese place in Cambridge, one she said she liked. I’d never eaten Vietnamese food before. When we kissed that night, her mouth tasted like cinnamon. She’d just put in a fresh stick of gum. She passed it into my mouth and I kept it as long as I could, even after all the flavor left it.

It was the first year the changing seasons meant anything to me. I used to long for Orlando, the endless sun that would turn my skin pink and freckly, the highways and stripmalls, the kitsch. That year I saw the leaves change and thought I must be the only person in the world who appreciated it, watching the trees through the window as Taylor snaked her tongue down my neck.

I was coming out of a year-long tryst with a woman in her forties I’d met on a lesbian chatroom. In college nobody was a lesbian, just a ton of thin girls with hair fried from straightening who considered teaching to be their calling. Boston’s a liberal city but man, are people straight. I thought I’d come up north and find a haven of butch ladies waiting to roll around on a sofabed with me. Turns out, I was that butch woman, and the pickings were slim. Online I met Beth, who lived in Arizona and was a fire watchman. She sat under the sun and waited for things to set ablaze. We Facetimed, and on weekends I walked around Boston, imagining her sizzling in the desert with sunglasses on. She turned out to be totally batshit. I cut things off before she was set to visit me. You said you’d never leave me, she sniffled into my voicemail. I’d never said such a thing. I had to change my number, actually.

With Taylor it was different. Before her I always thought I’d end up working at a fairground in Ohio and living in a trailer. When we started dating, it felt like something real was finally happening to me, that I was a person like all other people. We talked — about everything. This was hard for me.

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” she said. “Everyone either loves you or hates you, because you never leave anything unsaid, do you? And even when they hate you, they’re secretly just jealous of you.”

“Jealous of me?” I played coy but I’d long suspected this about myself, that there was something magnificent about me. Taylor, in turn, was quiet. She didn’t like idle chatter. Her words meant something. Nights when her eyes glazed over I’d take her chin in my hand and say, “You’re such a little chatterbug, aren’t you?”

She was promoted to branch manager. We moved into a studio downtown. At night she brushed my hair out, rubbing her face in it. We watched movies from Japan with subtitles and lots of women crying. Taylor came to Orlando to meet my family over Thanksgiving, and confirmed that my younger sister was prettier than me but she liked me better in general.

“But you already knew that,” she said, touching my shoulder under the covers.

Taylor never said anything bad about my body. Sometimes she held my hand in public. At night I had dreams of bank robbers holding her at gunpoint. I didn’t think it was possible to love someone so much. I thought, if loving Taylor was the only thing of significance I did in my whole life, I’d be happy.

And then, once the initial excitement drained, we were just two people sharing a life. I liked it better that way even, the normalcy of it, like we were playacting. Taylor started going out with her work friends in the evenings, and visiting museums alone.

“I’ll come,” I’d say.

“I just need some quiet time,” she’d reply, shutting the door behind her.

I liked fighting with her. It was a domestic scene like any other, and I had somebody to fight with. She fought quietly, which was worse. I was always the one to apologize, because it didn’t mean anything to me, it was all just an act.

“I was just kidding,” I’d say, that feeling kicking up in me, when I knew I was doing everything wrong but didn’t know how to stop it.

Taylor would close her eyes and say, “Not everything’s a joke.”

It got bad when her dad got sick. I’d wake up to Taylor crying at night. I pretended to be sleeping until she stopped. I made french toast for breakfast on Saturday mornings and she’d push the plate away.

“Don’t go anorexic on me,” I said. She barely cracked a smile.

When she finally broke up with me I almost didn’t hear her. The school year had just ended and I was lying on the couch watching Mrs. Maisel when Taylor got back from work. She turned off the TV. “This can’t be coming out of nowhere,” she said, but it was, for me. “It hasn’t been the same for a while.”

I shook my head, uncomprehending.

“We’re not going anywhere, Mags. I mean it. We’re stagnant.”

“You don’t mean that.”

Taylor sighed. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”

“But you’re an Aquarius.”

“This is serious,” she said.

“I’m a Leo,” I said. “We’re compatible.”

Taylor stood up from the couch and said, “I just can’t take it. I’m moving out. I’ll stay with my parents until you find a place. Need to help out with my dad, anyway.”

There were so many things I could’ve said. I turned the TV back on and put the volume up to drown out the sound of her packing up boxes.

I spent the summer getting high and ordering takeout. I put on thirty pounds. I had dreams that Taylor was in my bed and my hand was on her breast, then she’d disappear and the breast was my own. When she came over to check on me, a look of disgust came over her face. I knew the place smelled rank. “You were right,” I told her. She didn’t know what I was talking about. I meant, about me.

One night she told me she was going on a date with someone, a graduate student at BU who she met at kickboxing class. “Are you gonna be okay?” Taylor asked me.

“Who, me? Oh, yeah. I’m great. I’m golden. Have fun. But not too much! Ha, ha.”

I got drunk alone and put my phone on the top kitchen shelf so I wouldn’t drunk-text her. The next day, I found an apartment to rent, I did laundry, and I bought a succulent.

Two weeks into the school year, the whole class already had beef with Maria, who had silky dark hair that fell in her face and black eyes. She rarely spoke, and wore oversized t-shirts every day. I privately wondered if she was a budding psychopath. Nobody talked to her, even after lots of pointed readings of picture books about bullying.

When Maya came into the classroom, I looked away and didn’t smile back. I turned the book around to the class. “That’s not very nice of her, is it?” I said. “How would it make you feel if nobody smiled back at you?”

There was a meek chorus of “bad” and “sad”.

My throat filled with all the things I wished I would have said to Maya. Each kindness I had never shown. As I read, my own throat started to get stiff with a loneliness deep as a lake. I tucked my hair behind my ear then went to confiscate the marbles Teddy was rolling across the floor.

My daily storytime was in vain. Maria started to come see me during recess. I’d be in the classroom at my desk with my feet propped up eating tortilla chips from the bag after a long morning of teaching the first-graders how to count coins and use an analog clock, when Maria would slip in through the door. She’d shuffle to her desk and put her head down.

“Why aren’t you outside?” I asked.

“Don’t wanna.”

“Why not?”

“Nothing to do.”

“I see, I see.” I nodded and touched my hand to my chin, putting on a show, wishing Taylor could see me.

“I used to be friends with Caitlin,” Maria said, sitting up, “but she doesn’t like me anymore.”

“Why not?”

Maria tossed her hands up in the air like a bone-tired mother of five. “Don’t know.”

We struck a deal: she’d eat lunch with me, and go outside with the others at recess. At first it bothered me, I wanted to kick my feet up and eat some Fritos then sneak across the street to smoke my cigarette, but Maria didn’t talk much, and ended up being pretty good company.

One day in late September I pulled my hand out of the bag of Cheetos, licked my fingers, and opened my desk drawer, pulling out a worn copy of Matilda.

“Here,” I said, handing it to Maria. The book used to make me sick, especially when Miss Trunchbull forces Bruce Bogtrotter to eat the entire chocolate cake. It made me want to be a teacher. “This is technically a third grade book, but I think you’ll find it easy.” There was a darkness in it that might resonate with Maria, who came in from recess stoic and unblinking, who the other students still ignored.

Lunchtime with Maria reminded me of that time when I was home from college over winter break. At home I went on lots of drives around Orlando with the windows down, soaking in the southern heat as if storing it up for my return to Boston. I returned home one evening and stopped in my sister Angela’s room to say good night. She was in eighth grade at the time, and had friends sleeping over. Her room smelled like sickly-sweet peppermint candle from Bath and Body Works. “What’s up, ladies,” I said, sidling into the room and blowing out the candle. In the hallway I heard Angela say, “My sister’s funny as hell, but she’s not really a good person.” I called back, “I’m a Leo, it’s in my nature,” then lay on my floor of my old bedroom for a long time with my eyes squeezed shut, trying to keep my breath shallow.

“What do you love, Maria?” I asked one day at lunch as she bit into an apple. She shrugged.

“My dog.”

“Do you love to read?”

She wrinkled her nose. “No.”

She brought back my copy of Matilda, and I gave her Charlotte’s Web.

“Do I have to read it?”

“Yes,” I said.

Maria sipped on a carton of chocolate milk. “Books are boring.”

“But they make your brain bigger.”

“Mine’s already too big. That’s what my dad says.”

I laughed in spite of myself, and pulled her into a hug. It was so unlike me I thought I’d been taken over by the spirit of a kindly middle-aged librarian with an adjustable eyeglass cord. “That’s not a bad thing.” I pulled away then held out the bag of Fritos.

I had the same lesson plans from the year before, and the year before that. First grade was no big rodeo. When Taylor and I first started dating she couldn’t believe I taught elementary school. “I’d never trust you with my kids,” she said, and I couldn’t blame her. “I’m actually a good teacher,” I said. I gave my students fun whimsical projects like costume contests and imaginary show-and-tell. They thought it was hilarious when I was grumpy, because my tone made it sound like I was joking. I couldn’t help it; it was just my voice. And when the school day was done, I could head on home, eat some dinner, do some easy grading, and go to bed. Without Taylor there I could peel off my bra and sink into the couch. I didn’t have to feel too bad or think too hard about my loneliness, because my days were long and full, and by evening I was exhausted.

The downstairs neighbors left me alone for a while. I learned by looking in their mailbox that their names were Marcus and Jane, which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. They had people over for dinner on weekends. I could smell chicken roasting. I’d listen to the din of conversation through the vents. I tried to hear what they were talking about, because I’d discerned that these were the people who did well in the world. It was still swampy and warm in Massachusetts, so they and their guests went into the back garden. They drank craft beers from pop-art cans. The women wore floral dresses and their hair down. I sat beneath my kitchen window, watching. It filled me up with something, a hatred and longing, and I wanted briefly and ridiculously to be among them. Sometimes I wished I was an addict so I’d at least have some group to go to. I’d drink gin from the bottle, trying to become an alcoholic.

On weekends I talked on the phone with my mom. She’d update me on Angela’s sophomore year at Miami — it had been years since my sister and I spoke one-on-one — and she’d ask about my students. I didn’t tell her about Maria. She’d tell me about the drama from Zumba class, like, “We had a substitute teacher today who was a total fox, he distracted all of us. But, come on. A male Zumba teacher?”

“Is this a gay joke?”


When I was a kid my mom went to church on Sundays to gossip with the ladies of the neighborhood, and dragged me and Angela with her. I pulled at my Sunday dress and left chewed gum under the pews, making Angela go, Stop. In high school my mom discovered Zumba, which effectively replaced church. She made me go with her when I was home. I was nervous the first time, given my on-principle aversion to exercise, but I soon discovered that the women don’t actually dance, they just stand in the back and talk to each other while bobbing up and down off-beat to the blasting reggaeton. Sometimes the song would end abruptly and one of them would be screaming mid-sentence. It was a riot.

One morning the doorbell rang. It was another note from the downstairs neighbors, the first one in several weeks, folded into a wooden bowl and accompanied with little glass containers of spices from Trader Joe’s. The note read: We couldn’t help but notice the number of takeout boxes in the trash bin. Cooking can be quite easy and fulfilling if you use the right seasoning!

My face flamed. I wanted to go downstairs and smash their windows with my bacon-fat-caked frying pan. Instead I wrote back: why are you peeking through my trash, you perverts? But I took to avoiding them, after. When I opened my door to head downstairs and saw that one of them was on the landing, I waited. I didn’t like this about myself. I walked to CVS and bought an electric razor and shaved a strip off my hair, just above my ear. It made me look even worse, which was the point.

The next day, Principal Gutierrez called me into his office. “You’re not allowed to drastically change your appearance during the school year, Margaret.”

I touched the pink, exposed skin on my scalp. “Are you serious?”

“We don’t want to influence the children.”

“I thought influencing children was the whole point.”

He was leaning forward on his desk. He had the window open, and the chilled October breeze came in, ruffling his hair and the papers on his desk. I entertained a vision of a first grade classroom full of butch punk-rocker kiddos with shaved heads.

Gutierrez went on about setting a positive example, how teaching goes beyond the actual lessons, et cetera. I studied him. He had thick eyebrows. Gutierrez was kind of a daddy, if you were into that sort of thing. I’d never been with a guy, and the only willies I’d seen were my little cousins’ when they were still in diapers.

“Where’d you go, Margaret?” he said, snapping his fingers. “Did you hear anything I just said?”

I shuddered. “Mags. And yes. I’ll have you know that I’m actually a great example for the kids, when it comes down to it.”

He studied me for a second, then sighed and shook his head. “Get back to your classroom.”

That night I called to order a pizza delivery. There was too much noise in the background, people shouting orders to each other, a hissing sound like an industrial dishwasher.

“ONIONS,” I screamed into the phone.




I realized I was crying. I hung up. I was always crying when I felt like people misunderstood me, which was often. It drove Taylor crazy, how often I cried, and for no reason she could identify.

I went to CVS and bought a bag of Dove dark chocolates then collapsed back into the corner of the sofa, taking off my bra and unbuttoning my pants. I ate through the bag square by square, amassing a ball of crinkly pink foils with stupid quotes printed on them like, It’s definitely a bubble bath day! I pulled out my phone and downloaded Tinder for shits, choosing “Men only.”

Brighton wasn’t a mecca for sexy men, it turned out. One guy had a mirror selfie in a tie and no shirt, with his head cut out of the picture. His description read: DOMNANT LOOKN FOR SUB. CANT SHOW MY FACE BECAUSE I SEE MY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS ON HERE SUMTIMES LMAO. His age said 23. I flirted with the idea of creating my own fictitious dom profile so I could beat up guys for fun, but thought I’d probably end up dead, which wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I deleted my account.

Maria’s dad came to visit my classroom after school in late October. I was at my desk trying to finish grading before going home, when there was a knock at the door. He was short and had sweat stains in his pits.

“How may I help you?” I asked, sugary-sweet.

“You’re Miss Margaret?”

I laughed. “Mags.”

He didn’t laugh. He approached my desk, and threw the copy of Because of Winn-Dixie I’d lent Maria last week onto the only bare spot of wood among the mess of papers and chip crumbles.

“I need you to stop giving my daughter presents.”

I sat upright. “They’re not presents, sir.” He was looking beyond me. “She’s gifted, and I want to help her.”

“Who’s the Asian chick?” he asked. I followed his eyes to the framed photo on my desk. It was me and Taylor in Rhode Island last winter. Her thin, red-painted lips were pressed against my cheek, and I was smiling so hard my eyes were closed. It was embarrassing that I still had it. I looked at the photo then looked up at him. A drip of sweat was rolling down his forehead.

“That’s my girlfriend.”

“Ah,” he said.


He put his hand on the book and pushed it further toward me.

“No more lunchtime with my daughter,” he said. “Got it?” He left. I didn’t have it in me to give him the finger. I didn’t have it in me to do anything. I sat at my desk with my stomach burning, sinking deeper and deeper into the chair. I stayed there until the sun started going down. I took the photo off my desk when I finally left. On the drive home I called Taylor. She didn’t pick up.

The fifth grade teaching staff finally tracked me down for recess duty a few days after Maria’s dad’s visit. I’d lied my way out of it every day prior, carving out the precious hour for me to fill my lungs with toxic smoke until I got lightheaded. But that day, Dana knocked on my door as she shepherded her classroom of fifth graders out in a single-file line.

“Coming?” she said, but it didn’t sound like a question. I put on the yellow vest and stuck a tube of mini M&Ms into my pocket, following them outside.

I leaned against the brick wall and looked out at the first and second graders jumping over the woodchips. That feeling bubbled up, the one where I wonder what I’m actually doing this for, how these kids would remember me, if at all.

Emilia was over by the baseball field, reffing a game of dodgeball. She had a whistle in her mouth and her hands on her skinny hips. There was something beautiful to how earnest she was, about everything. It almost killed me to admit it, but there was.

Maria was pumping away on the swings across the playground. A group of my students was huddled beneath a tree, building a little house from twigs.

“Kids are so weird,” I said to Joan, Antonia’s classroom assistant, just to make conversation. She said, “Huh?” then ran over to two boys who had started wrestling on the woodchips.

I watched Maria. I’d have to stop letting her eat lunch with me. I knew that. It hurt like hell, but I knew it. She had dirt stains on the knees of her jeans, and her eyes closed. She swung with so much force I was half-afraid she’d flip over the top bar and get tangled in a mess of metal chains. I was always afraid of that as a kid, swinging too high. I wanted to be her, just then. My eyes closed and the wind rushing past me, a world of movement in that back and forth.

At home that night I took out a piece of paper and wrote some resolutions while drinking lukewarm white wine from the bottle:

Be a better teacher (talk to more students individually, do recess duty, etc)

Anonymously mail Maria’s dad DVDs of lesbian porn

Go grocery shopping; fill the damn salad bowl with lettuce, etc

Try to make friends (art class? zumba? tbd)

Make amends with the downstairs neighbors

Using another sheet of paper, I wrote: It’s been a rough few weeks I’d love to have you guys over for fruit, or whatever you eat in the afternoons. Let me know when.

I ran the note downstairs. In the mirror I saw the punk-rock shaved strip of hair, the blue in my eyes. I had long eyelashes; it was Taylor’s favorite compliment to give me. A few minutes later the doorbell rang. It was a note from downstairs:

Maggie - we’re expecting, so we bought a place in Needham. Moving out tomorrow. Wish we’d told you sooner, but didn’t know whether that would be appropriate.

I laughed out loud, then poured wine into a glass and put on some Black Sabbath. I started dancing around the apartment. The place was still essentially empty, save for the couch and the bed and the lamp on the ground. The apartment’s emptiness used to make me feel flat as an artist’s sketch, waiting to be filled with color. It was different now. The cardboard boxes with the duct tape cut open, the fridge empty save for leftovers and a carton of milk. It was perfect now, how empty and temporary it was. It couldn’t be that anymore. I shook my hips and tossed my hair around, letting the wine spill onto the floor. I could start all over. Nobody was watching me. I had everything I needed, just then. I thought, if nobody ever loved me again, if I never found a support group for people like me, it didn’t matter, because I had this, yes, I had this.