Wind moves through a dusk-lit coastal stretch of beach. Pine branches and hang-gliders rustle and flail, silhouetted against the deep blue Southern California sky. The sharp angles and lines of bleached lifeguard huts stand out against the mounds of sand, abandoned princess castles. State flags churn wildly atop an oceanside shack filled with a drunken coterie of losers and academics. On the nude stretch of the same-sex beach below, the sounds of horny rogue gays blend in strange concert with the din and fizz of ocean surf.
* * *
I walk along the gay nude stretch of Black’s Beach. The large cliff where gliders jump off sits above me like a question mark. I pass a gay wearing a surgical mask but no pants. I pass another with a face shield on, sunning himself. I’m the only lesbian for a mile in all directions.
I think about the conversation, a professional warning really, I had this morning with my supervisor at UCSD, dean of the Visual Arts department and formerly a Young British Artist, but now an Old Asexual. The department has a sordid history of experimental sculpture, conceptual film, and body performance art. As an adjunct, my only job is to teach and make my little art projects for an audience of approximately 11. I quit Adderall and haven’t made a film in 5 years and the last one was only 17 minutes long. My supervisor is concerned. According to her, I offended one of my grad students by calling her found footage of leprous armadillos "colonialist" while rapping her on the head with a ping pong paddle. I don’t remember doing that.
Sitting on a piece of driftwood with a discarded jockstrap wrapped around it, I begin jotting down more notes for my next film: The Druids and the animals are the only ones rooting for the character. Tight frames. Let the small picture accumulate seeds. Bathing in the big nature sink is connected with a fear of rocks! Interview taking place in fuck swing = not psychotic. This will be branded a luxurious salt cleanse: She doesn’t think thinking sounds like this. The bridal uncanny. Shots of portly men with flags waving, shots of anorexics, shots of faux-skin pants, fossils, gaping mouths of blurred generations: Final shot is the poet’s body being wrapped up in the tablecloth and carried away to the morgue—
“Honey, you’re talking to yourself,” says the young man without pants on.
“Sorry. I didn’t realize.”
He scratches his inner thigh.
“My dad died a few months ago. I’m having trouble knowing what’s real. I guess if it stays this bad, I can always kill myself,” I say, trying not to stare at his junk.
“Don’t be afraid, girl. Everyone’s already dead anyway,” he laughs. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“What makes you think I’m already dead?” I ask, uncertain myself.
He points to my Amy Winehouse shirt.
I look down at my shirt then back up: the chatty gay is gone.
My cell phone rings. “Cringe” pops up. It’s how I’ve coded my flaming younger brother in my phone. Christian is in his mid-30s and lives somewhere in mid-Brooklyn.
“Veronica! I’m coming home!”
Despite myself, I feel rather excited and relieved, thinking my brother is about to tell me he finally is coming home so that we can grieve together, weep over childhood photos, and help take care of my mother, who has lost not just her husband but bits of her mind.
“I reached out to Cosmo online! They’re doing a segment on terminally online gays with non-terminal cancer!! I told you about the basal cell carcinoma on the crown of my head? Well, they’re sending over an interviewer and director’s chairs this week for me to sit in and tell my truth surrounded by my ‘loved ones.’ If the chairs get there before I do, just put them inside. Cannot wait to see you and mom!”
* * *
Our dad was a screenwriter from Morningside Heights, and our mom is a painter from suburban Long Island. We were really eating shit until dad wrote a film about a post-apocalyptic wagon train. He got offered a teaching gig by the fledgling film program at UCSD, so when I was 3, we moved from a studio apartment in Harlem to a beautiful one-story house in Del Mar, California. We went from the constant smell of exhaust to salted air, from intellectual bohemia to a community of surfer bums dragging themselves naked across broken dreams.
Christian was born soon after we touched down on the sand. I was excited by the prospect of having a brother because my parents were a handful to deal with all by myself, but Christian was reluctant to exist. He spent an additional three weeks in the womb and had to be pried out of the cavity by two beefy Jamaican nurses. He was 11 pounds at birth and very, very long. The crib wasn’t large enough for him, so he slept in our parents’ bed until he grew out of that and had to be accommodated with an elongated bed designed for a “giraffe princess,” as he called himself.
As a child Christian was popular with other children. He was called “amazing” by everyone, but it was often unclear if it was a compliment or more of a Side Show-like appreciation. Still, he wore the fanatical look of someone who had garnered constant accolades, despite never having done a single notable thing in his life.
I, on the other hand, was ignored by everyone in school. I have a small, angular face and very dark hair that has always made me seem foreign. I showed an innate talent for writing bad poetry and for making things out of seaweed. I got awards and scholarships, accomplished notable things, but received no accolades. Lacking Christian’s knack for self-promotion, I remained invisible.
Christian was untroubled with the ideas that I grappled with — our drug-inclined parents, a handsy neighbor, a dead seal on the shore. Every now and then a school girl would take pity on him and try to bring him into reality by asking him to name the President or count back from 10, but instead Christian would try to indoctrinate the girl into whatever Optimism Cult he had recently been taken with.
When Christian was 13 his hair became very light and thin (which remains to this day), his cheeks went narrow but pink, and his nose widened, showing traces of dad’s Hungarianism. He also started wearing dresses. By that point, I was a full-time gothic depressive and budding lesbian. At least we’ve always had that in common: homosexuality.
That year, even though I was in high school, I would come home from school every day and eat lunch in the backyard by myself (peanut butter on graham crackers, black coffee). One sunny afternoon Christian was eating sashimi and waiting for his piano lesson to begin when he saw me talking to someone other than him: my new girlfriend (though we were closeted, badly). Christian saw her and got very excited: fresh meat! He took off his shoes and sweater and put on a short, racy yellow underslip. It was not the most pleasant sight to behold, because Christian’s torso was very short while his legs were long but wide at the ankles. At least he shaved.
He ran out onto the lawn and told us to watch him dance.
“Don’t take your eyes off me!” Christian demanded. “I’m going to do a dance of worship to the sun. I’m going to show you that I’d rather have sun and God, rather than no God and no sun! Do you get it?”
“Yes, I understand,” nodded my surfer-girl girlfriend, who was very uncomfortable with the whole thing. (I know this only because she broke up with me later that day, citing my family).
“I’m going to do it right here!” Christian began the dance abruptly as if possessed. It was an odd dance and his gestures seemed to be improvised depending on where the sun landed. When our dad came out of the house, Christian was running backward and forward with prayer hands toward the sun like a lunatic.
“What is she doing?” dad asked us.
Dad caught himself. He did this often. A lot of people did. “I mean, he, what is he, Christian, your brother doing?”
“A dance to the sun I think?” said my girlfriend.
“A big gay dance for God, or something?” I offered, clearly unenthused.
“You narcs! Don’t ever tell the adults what I’m doing!” Christian yelled at us, and pushed the peanut butter crackers out of my hand. “I’m trying to bring positivity to the world!”
And with that, Christian hit dad’s arm, opened the sliding glass doors to the library, then fell into a heap on the sofa and sobbed. We watched from the other side of the glass like zoo-goers. Moments later, he got up like a jack in the box, grabbed a giant copy of the DSM-V (dad was writing a script about madness and Modernism) and flung it in the direction of everyone outside. Weighing 30 pounds, the book only made it a few feet past his body.
The fit ended as fast as it started. Christian splashed water on his face from his nearby unicorn mug and sat at the piano, staring into the garden where we were seated. He then turned his attention to the keys and began to play the theme from Wicked.
“Tell them how I am defying gravityyyyyyy!” Christian wailed. “I'm flying high, defying gravityyyyyy!”
Dad turned to me disappointed. “You should be more supportive of Christian. He isn’t like you.” I stared at Christian, tall and high-breasted, singing his brains out, taking us all out of wherever we had been moments before.
* * *
As an adult, I’ve continued to be a shrinking hermit while Christian remains a giraffe princess. He is a great favorite among twinks especially, who seem to enjoy endangering their lives by going to bed with him.
Christian is very proud of his ideas about lettuce, denim, male facial hair. He speaks a great deal about his love of the common person but never meets an overpriced item he can live without — raw tuna belly, gilded tweezers, $100 yoga pantaloons, which of course someone else always pays for. He loves theater but gets bored easily, so whenever the action isn’t swift or the drama at a fever pitch, he slumps in his chair and dozes off. Whereas some of us feel we are at the mercy of the world’s energy and make ourselves smaller, Christian attacks it and tosses it back into the ether. He is the performer, the stage, the audience, the set, the theater, the snack bar in the theater, the theater district, the world all at once. Nothing is too small to make large.
Like right now. Just as he’s preparing to be on camera for his Cosmo cancer debut — applying BB creme to his extremities — he gets a text from one of his current hookups. “I'm invited to a drag party next week!” he squeaks at us. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it until then — I live for parties. There’s no good way to make the time pass until then!” Christian starts spritzing himself with perfume, to which he’s recently become addicted. “This Grief Tour is important and everything, it’s important to grieve what’s lost and what will be lost,” as he points to the cancer on his head, “but I miss having fun.”
“But you’ve only been here 3 hours,” my mom says. “What about spending time with your family, Christian?”
“I’m sorry but, no offense, I’m not like Veronica, who lives like a monk off of 1/10th her income, eats canned lentils, and deprives herself of joy at every opportunity!”
I’m sitting nearby my back turned to them, half-reading a book about attachment theory, thinking seriously about his criticisms when suddenly — a bottle breaks across the side of my forehead, drenching my face in perfume and making a little cut above my eyebrow.
“Sorry, I didn't mean to draw blood!” Christian screams in my direction.
Just then, a young woman from Cosmo walks through the front door, which was open because Christian says he needs fresh air when he’s around us. She’s holding a clipboard and wearing cat eye glasses. Her lanky assistant follows her and erects the folding chairs that arrived earlier near dad’s urn and some seashells on the fireplace mantle. The assistant sets up an iPhone on a tripod. Christian jumps ecstatically into the chair, almost knocking it over.
Even though the interviewer has not asked him anything, Christian begins answering. “Seriously, I want to be somebody who people look to and say: that person is an angel from heaven, like Angels in America, but not with the HIV stuff, because that’s legit sad.”
The interviewer put up her hand, to stop Christian from speaking any more. “We get that?” the interviewer asks the assistant. The assistant gives a thumbs-up.
The interviewer sits opposite Christian. “Why don’t we just dive in. I have to get to three more fags with curable cancer today, so our time is limited. I’m sorry about that. Just start in the middle, if you can. And speak directly into the Cancer Cam.” The interviewer points to the lens of the iPhone.
Christian lights up and pivots instantly. “So, my name is Christian not Chris. I’m 30-nothing years old, it’s none of your business anyway. My dad was old when he had me and died at 78 years young. RIP papa. And my mom, she’s over there, she’s the best but she’s always been halfway between worlds. And my sister has been mourning since forever and even when she was a baby she would hide in boxes. So this meant I saw death every day. And I’ve always known that health is a wavering thing — one minute you’re on top of the world playing Annie the next minute your ankle is broken because some jealous bitch pushed you off-stage. One day, dad said to me ‘Christian, I have cancer.’ I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything and hung up the phone. Now dad is dead and I have cancer, but it's totally curable and what's the saying? What doesn't kill you makes you more iconic! Not that there’s anything wrong with dying. Dad tried not to.”
“Are you gonna make me cry?” says mom, somewhere, like her voice is disconnected to her body.
I feel the thing happening, the fracturing from the present. I start to dissociate and watch Christian’s interview continue as though I’m watching a movie on a screen across the room. He’s sitting in his director's chair, performing a compelling little drama about attention, real and fake cancer, and psychopathy. I take out my phone and start filming, zooming in on his head, then on mom’s wrinkled hands, then on his tapping feet. I notice a seagull outside carrying a human middle finger. Or do I?
The entire world starts slipping away, layer by layer, pixel by pixel, frame by frame. Time collapses and expands like an accordion. I feel like I’m floating on the ceiling. And then, nothing at all.
* * *
Fifteen minutes of fame later, it’s over. Christian and I go outside on the beach. “What’s your new role about?” I ask Christian, wanly. He recently posted something on Instagram about an acting job he got in an NYU student film. I only downloaded Instagram to look at Christian, reaching in vain for a connection I never seem to find.
“It’s really fun! A tale as old as time, about forced birth in a dystopian version of our reality.”
“Like the Handmaid’s Tale.”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone says, but I haven’t seen it — sounds bleak! Anyway I play a Southern drag queen afraid of lesbians. They told me to use something personal to get into the role of the character so I told them about the time you and I tried to burn the house down and also that you’re a lesbian.”
“We never tried to burn our house down.”
“I know, but I wanted to try out what it was like to be a nymphomaniac.”
“You mean a pyromaniac?
“But the point was to use something personal in your acting?” I ask.
“Yeah, but sister, we live in a world where everyone is becoming someone else. But what happens when you become the person you're pretending to be? Like what if I actually get cancer?”
“You did get cancer.”
“I mean real cancer. What if it mutates and spreads? What if I don't want to die, V. What if I drop dead? Would you come to my funeral? I want you to speak at my funeral and for the original cast of Rent to carry my coffin.”
We continue walking. I don’t know how to respond, so I say nothing. I realize I’m doing to Christian what he did to our dad when he told him he had cancer. “I mean, of course I’ll speak. But you’re younger than I am, so I’m not sure you’ll be the first to go.”
“Oh true. Lesbians don’t live very long. I’m sorry about that.”
Feeling more desperately lonely in that moment than I have ever felt in my life, I pat my own heart.
“Speaking of lesbians,” I say. “I have a date I have to get ready for, sorry.” And with that, I abandon him on the beach. When I look back, he’s headed toward the gay nude area of Black’s Beach, pulling off his enormous short-shorts as he approaches the water.
* * *
“Luann’s cabaret is fascinating but also the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” says my date for the evening, an anthropology professor in her 50s.
We’re sitting at Cliff’s Dive, a divey cafe-bar on a rocky cliff, filled with locals and tourists, driftwood and drifters. My date is getting worked up about her recent experience seeing Luann De Lesseps from the Real Housewives do cabaret in Los Angeles in between giving talks at an anthropology conference.
“You take a middle-aged white woman who probably just spends her days jumping up and down in front of a giant mirror in her bedroom and then goes out and does the same thing at this cabaret show, and the people think it’s Art. It’s truly fascinating, anthropologically. I study shared delusions. They’re a fundamental part of many cultural practices.”
“Oh cool, that’s interesting. Delusions between people can definitely be a source of cohesion,” I say. “Like a shared language. Like cabaret. I’ve watched the Housewives a few times.”
“This might sound like I’m collecting research data, but you don’t get out much, do you?”
“I do. Sort of. I just basically go to the same few places, or really one place. This place. I like Cliff’s because I know what I’m going to get. It’s stable. I feel like the repetition of things adds to the enjoyment of life. I mean, sure, I guess I don’t talk to that many people, but I like to go out. I like the world.”
“Doesn’t that make you feel uneasy, that level of estrangement from other people?”
I’ve asked and answered this kind of question so many times, mostly in my own head. I change the subject.
“So, um do you think Luann is… dangerous?” I ask. “Like anthropologically, or culturally speaking?”
“Oh yeah, it’s a disaster!” She gets very excited.
I become uneasy as I always do when someone else gets excited. It’s a stress response, and I’m positive it’s related to Christian.
“There’s this natural history museum in Hungary. My father and I once went to a ‘geology’ exhibit that consisted of just rocks, no labels. The museum guards were carrying 8-inch knives and one had a Judas Priest ringtone. That’s what I call a culture.”
“Speaking of dads, and Hungary, my dad was Hungarian and now he’s dead!” I am suddenly in terrible, embarrassing pain. “And now my brother has a piece of cancer on his head and he’s acting like he’s dying. And my mother is in literal outer space. She talks to pine nuts. I haven’t made a film in years because of this mess.”
She crosses her arms. “I’m really sorry, this is too much for a first date. I’m an academic. I study people. I don’t really connect with them emotionally. They honestly kind of terrify me.”
I am relieved. We agree to be friends and send each other articles about lunatics.
* * *
After my date I head home and find my mother sitting in a lawn chair wearing her sunhat, even though the sun set hours ago. The chair is on our neighbor’s lawn.
“Are you okay, mom?”
She doesn’t answer.
“I think we should all play a game to chase the gloomy thoughts from this young girl’s head.” She points to her temple.
She takes off her hat. “We could throw acorns in my hat?”
“Okay, let’s do it inside maybe, so we don’t bother the neighbors.”
She gets up and I take the lawn chair, hoping the neighbors haven’t noticed our trespassing.
I go inside to see Christian lying on his back talking into an iPhone in his hand. He’s speaking to his Instagram followers wearing a Speedo and pink baseball cap. “This hat symbolizes my journey from denial to acceptance. I may only be 34, but cancer doesn’t recognize age.”
“Mom wants to throw acorns into her sunhat, as a game.” I look at Christian, hoping he understands I know how perfectly insane this request is, but that it might make my mom feel better if we all shared in her fantasy.
“I don’t care for games,” he says, not looking at us. “Except for the game of life,” he says to his followers.
Mom’s face drops. I go up to Christian. “Well, maybe there is something else we can do together?” I stare at him, begging for sibling sympathy.
“I’m not really into that sort of thing. Besides, my mind’s on business.” I look at his screen: he’s putting a radish filter over his face.
“What if you played us a tune?” I ask.
Suddenly, like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, Christian leaps up as if being entered by a phantom. He runs to the piano. “Mom, come here, forget acorns, let’s duet!”
Mom’s face turns upward. She tosses her hat dramatically across the room, knocking over a framed picture of dad holding his beloved 16mm film camera. She goes up next to Christian, and puts one hand on his back, as she has countless times before. Christian’s fingers begin to assault the keys. I take a seat nearby but not too close.
Then, for what seems like an eternity, Christian and mom sing songs about going somewhere and never coming back.
* * *
The next morning Christian and I take a walk on the beach.
“I recently watched the movie Nell with Jodie Foster for the first time,” he tells me. “The end, when sad Nell looked toward the lake remembering her dead twin sister, the one who slipped off a rock, it made me cry so hard. Beautiful movie.”
I look at the water.
When Christian was 9 and I was 12, he was already larger than I was and liked to carry me around. One time we were playing by this exact place on the shore. He told me to pretend I was a sick woman who needed help over a rough current. “If you put your arms around me, I will feel less cold!” he said to me, and swooped me up. “In my arms, don’t be afraid. You are a weak woman, I will carry you to safety.” He liked performing little feats like this that he was sure to succeed at.
I clung tightly to him as he sang, carrying us over rocks and inlets, the tide coming in.
“This isn’t as easy as it looks, you know!” He shouted. “If I were to drop you on one of the rocks, you’d get a hole in your head!” I became very scared, and very mute. Seeming to sense my fear, Christian slackened his hold. He was thrown off balance and we both fell. My head hit a stone. I was bleeding profusely and wasn’t so sure I wasn’t dying. Christian was crying and yelling, “My sister! My sister!” But he didn’t move, he just yelled. Some beachcombers came to help, wrapped me up in one of their towels, as I cried rhythmically along with Christian, even though he was totally fine.
“Bad things always happen to Veronica! She has the worst luck! Good thing I’m the opposite,” he said to the people who drove us to urgent care and called our parents.
I blink and watch a naked gay saunter pass us.
“Do you remember that time you fell?” Christian asks, knowing I was thinking about that. “That was like Nell looking for her sister who fell. For a moment, I was Nell and you were the dead sister across the lake.”
I almost believe that he cares about me like Nell did for her dead sister. I badly want to believe Christian cares about me. Whenever I’m with him, I feel like an ambivalent traveler on the evening of a departure to a foreign land — should I stay or should I go?
We watch the waves drown a seagull, kick up glitter, and wash away our sorrows. Or do they?
Christian’s phone dings and he looks at it. “Ride’s here!” He hugs me theatrically. “Bye V.”
* * *
There were these strange twins who lived in San Diego in the 70s. Grace and Virginia, or Poto and Cabengo as they called each other. They spoke in their own language, a bizarre combination of English and German and other sounds that only they could understand. A local paper headline described the language as being “like Martian.”
The girls were high-strung and manic, prone to seizures. They had many ways to say “potato salad.” Therapists and scientists tried to interpret and translate them so that adults could communicate with them. Finally, when the researchers felt they had captured the language, they spoke it back to them. When the girls heard their language spoken by the adults, they couldn’t stop giggling at the sound of it.
My dad’s colleague Jean-Pierre made a film about them. A Frenchman in one of America’s most temperate and banal cities, he felt an affinity with their foreignness, felt connected to their sense of estrangement. “You can only be a foreigner in a language not your own,” he says in his voiceover. “But they were foreigners in their own language.”
Poto and Cabengo’s parents agreed to the film because they were excited by the prospect of their children attracting Hollywood dollars. They didn’t realize that Jean-Pierre was an avant-garde Marxist whose films intentionally languished in and luxuriated in their obscurity. The films had their own strange language, and did not attract any dollars, Hollywood or otherwise.
As a kid, I was obsessed with the film and the twins. I wished Christian and I could be like Poto and Cabengo, bonded together by a shared language. I made up little stories in my head about us, CeCe and Vivi, two young girls just trying to make sense of the world. It’s not that we couldn’t understand adults, it’s that we didn’t want them to understand us. We had adventures — hatching plans to rescue bread from the mouths of seagulls, giggling uncontrollably, our language becoming faster and more excited. People on the beach would stare in awe as they watched us speak in a language they had never heard before. We would be in our own private little world.
Christian always had his own strange world, but I wasn’t invited. Or I was invited, but only if I played by his rules and made myself very small.
But after watching the footage I took this weekend of Christian shooting his cancer video, of B-roll on Black’s Beach, of him playing show tunes with mom, I get an idea. I cut sequences from Christian’s cancer influencer performance with Poto and Cabengo on television speaking their language, being studied by scientists, being looked at by adults with a mixture of concern and fascination.
I call the anthropologist, my new personal expert on the subject of hallucinating. I ask her to do an improvised voiceover for my film. I tell her to just talk like she’s watching raw footage from a nature documentary about an exotic tribe of one person. She’s excited by the project and stops by my studio with a flask of whiskey. “Drunk history,” she says, as I put the mic close to her mouth and hit Play on my video editing canvas.
* * *
SHOTS OF WIND MOVING THROUGH A DUSK-LIT COASTAL STRETCH OF BEACH. PINE BRANCHES AND HANG-GLIDERS RUSTLE AND FLAIL, SILHOUETTED AGAINST THE DEEP BLUE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SKY.
LONG SHOTS OF CHRISTIAN AND V ON BEACH AS CHILDREN.
Shared delusions are incredibly powerful. They give people a common purpose. Self-deception evolved as a way to deceive others and gain advantages in social interactions. We all know that person who manages to convince us of the most asinine shit and yet — we believe. These hallucinations allow people to come together and work towards a common goal, even if that goal is not based in any kind of reality whatsoever.
LONG SHOTS OF CHRISTIAN AND V IN PARIS AS SURLY TEENAGERS NOT TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER.
Think about the sort of tribe that believes in the power of a certain cactus to heal all illnesses. You can find these people in Silverlake. Even if there is no scientific evidence to support this belief, the tribe will continue to use the cactus because it’s part of their belief system. It creates a bond, albeit a somewhat demented one. It gives them a sense of purpose and identity they can then market to others and be part of a brand.
CLOSE UP OF CHRISTIAN TALKING ABOUT HIS BASAL CELL CARCINOMA.
Or maybe it’s all irrationality, or mental illness. Or maybe, perhaps, it’s all religious ritual and fetish play. A manifestation of the divine or supernatural in a clownish form.
CLOSE UP OF CHRISTIAN SINGING AT THE PIANO, CHEERING UP HIS MOTHER.
Even a way to get God’s attention. A way to distract from the pain of living. A way to whore oneself out for attention. A delusional and beautiful human cabaret.
SOUND OF CHRISTIAN OVER SHOT OF LUANN SINGING HER ORIGINAL TUNE “GIRL CODE” TO A HALF-EMPTY AUDIENCE.
* * *
In a few weeks, Christian has 30,000 new followers, a branding deal with a sunscreen company, a feud with Bethany Frankel over how to cover up skin blemishes, and more incentive to continue using his own life as material for attention.
I show a rough cut of my film to my colleagues, other academics, my grad students, the anthropologist. They hail it as a masterpiece, the best thing I’ve ever done, a queer intimate portrayal of a broken sibling bond. It plays at TIFF, at the Berlinale. I get a raise and more classes to teach, more sad art students to mentor into obscurity.
I email Christian a link to the trailer and an invitation to its New York premiere. I tell him he doesn’t have to look at it, that he probably has better things to do, that it’s an homage to our relationship however weird it is, that I love him and that I hope he comes home soon and that his cancer wound is healing. He responds quickly: I can’t wait to see it and you!!!!!!!! <3333333333
I don’t know if he ever opened the link, but before I headed to New York we talked on the first anniversary of our dad’s death. Mom and I were going to scatter dad’s ashes into the ocean that day. But we couldn't get the urn open, even with a screwdriver and a shoehorn. I called Christian to ask for any ideas on how to pry open the box of cremains. Christian said he couldn’t talk because he was auditioning for a student film about a corrupt zoo and he hung up.
* * *
At the premiere, I search for Christian’s face in the crowd and wait afterward. People seem to like it and tell me, but I can’t concentrate. I go outside for air because I feel like I might cry for the first time since dad died. But I can’t cry in public. Depression has no catharsis. It’s boring as fuck. It’s not a one-way ticket to divine madness. It’s over-intellectualizing into garden-variety neurosis. I need to stop reading books.
Once outside, I try to focus on the sunbeams ribboning through the clouds, not the stench of streetside corn dogs. To distract my nostrils, I open Instagram. A notification pops up that says Christian is “live,” as he often is. He lives only 10 blocks away, but it seems that was too far for him. Or maybe too close. This is his idea of close. Masochistically, I click on the video. Christian is holding up a picture of us as children — in the photo, he's stridently carrying me across Black’s Beach, a bodyguard escorting a fragile celebrity away from a mob of toxic fans.
On my screen, Christian is waving the photograph violently and telling his followers it would be a grave injustice to not see my film, which he’s calling an It Girl masterpiece. “I taught V everything she knows,” he’s saying. I’m positive he hasn’t seen the film given the way he’s describing it. Still, I decide to join in his delusion. I reply to the video: You’re the real It Girl. He grins maniacally and screams "Love you, ViVi!!" into the camera. Then he blows a kiss, either at me or his followers. I close the app and change his name in my phone from Cringe back to CeCe.
* * *
Eventually, Poto and Cabengo’s intimate connection was severed by adults. They were forced to attend different schools and live separate lives, forced to rely less on each other. It was to help their progress. Honestly, it likely did. Closeness can be weird as shit, I try to convince myself. When they met again after the separation, I imagine Poto grabbing Cabengo, holding her and shaking her hard. Neither would speak, but they would still understand.