Friendship LGBTQ+ Holiday

It was the day I was dreading all year, the time of the winter solstice. Festivals have been created around this day when the sun can’t seem to come out. But for me, it’s the day I felt the most like an eggshell that’s on the verge of breaking. Just one more tiny shake, and it would be my Humpty Dumpty ending at last.

Since my diagnosis, I waxed poetic about my condition, but Mr. Miller called it a simple case of seasonal affective disorder, like it’s something normal that other bipolar people (namely, his other patients) have overcome. He said my journal entries this year have been more apathetic than usual, and thus, he had a feeling that when my seasonal episode arrived, it would be brutal… which means, of course, that the coming episode might be the low that I can’t handle.

So, the genius solution that everyone – my shrink and my parents – thought would stop me from hurtling off the proverbial cliff was to make a time capsule. Bless their hearts. They really wanted to believe that showering my future self with presents would cheer me up enough today.

I was supposed to fill it with all the wonderful stuff that I’d want to use in my future. Imported Vietnamese lacquer in the most vivid colors. Paint brushes that are as dainty as dragonfly wings. A gorgeous silk kimono that would have rivaled that of Nezuko in the Demon Slayer anime, my one addiction. Surely, my future self would want these things? They thought so, and I smiled like I agreed with them.

There I was sitting cross-legged in our living room, staring at the bottom of the eBay-bought metal container that was supposed to be the door to my future, piles of expensive future possessions scattered on the carpet. I’d never felt so hopeless.

“Look who’s back, darling!” my mother called cheerfully from the hallway.

I looked up just in time to see her ushering in a boy my age. My next-door neighbor and childhood friend Ken, who opted to attend college in the province rather than stay in the city like the rest of our high school batch.

A mad rush of different emotions swept through my consciousness. First, resentment. Was music education really better in the mountain university he goes? Why couldn’t he go to a school nearby? Second, delight. He does look a bit different, with the goatie he’s trying to grow.

And finally, anger. His smile was too wide, and his eyes were too aware. He knew. And he’s probably here because my parents called him to keep me company today, to talk to me, or to be a friend. I fumed silently. The last thing I wanted right now was pity-friendship.

But the adults were still around, so I had to be civil. I scooted to the side to make space for him, greeting him warmly with the special secret handshake we invented in the fifth grade. He sat down eagerly, laughing his usual laugh as he accepted my mom’s offer to make himself at home and eat whatever’s in the fridge and pantry.

Ken looked on as my parents kissed and hugged me in turn as they were leaving for work. My father’s eyes were a little watery, but my mom was beaming. She was really counting on Ken to cheer me up.

“Anj,” Ken began when we had privacy. I lifted my chin in acknowledgement, but that was it. I refused to meet his gaze for fear of finding pity there.

He shifted closer. I let him gently take my hands, quiet as a mouse, but I snorted in amusement when he turned them over, knowing what he was looking for.

 “I don’t make self-harm marks,” I said scornfully, working to control my mixed emotions. I looked up. His face was impassive. “I don’t crave attention, you know.”

Far from seeking attention. I wanted to be invisible. As inconspicuous as a pile of dust by the roadside, ready to disperse and fade away when a strong enough wind comes along. Like it was never there.

“Is this a coming out thing? Are you afraid no one will accept you for what you are?” He huffed like he wanted to say all of it in one go. “I accept you, whatever your choice is. You will still be you, after all.”

He looked so sincere that my first instinct was to tell him some comforting words like “I’m fine,” but I also knew that if this was a short visit, then I might as well tell him the truth. I owed him that for all the years he had been a friend to me when no one else did.

“You accept me… even if it means we can never be together?” I asked, almost whispering. He never broke eye contact, and I saw his eyes widen slightly as he processed my words. I sighed.

“Yes, I’ve known about your feelings since the seventh grade, Ken. You’re that easy to read. I just didn’t say anything because I couldn’t return them. I’m sorry.” I squeezed his hands, a little surprised that we had been holding hands all that time.

“Because you’re a lesbian.” It was both a statement and a question to which I had no answer at the moment.

“It’s why I left, you know,” Ken continued, “I wanted to see if I could have the same feelings for someone else, and I wanted you to feel free to find happiness with other people.”

His gaze travelled to my shorn head. His hand twitched like he wanted to touch it. “If you’re being depressed has something to do with that, I can help you come out to your parents.” His tone was gentle, but his face was sad. Still, he looked like he was trying his best to smile.

Reminded of my semi-bald head, I was suddenly very aware of the cool breeze from the air-conditioning unit on my bare scalp. Instead of answering, I took my hands from his to pick up a brown paper bag near my feet. I handed it to him, watching his reaction.

“It’s your hair…” he said in what seemed like awe-struck shock as he lifted a curly foot-long strand of hair from the bag to examine it. I took it from him, carefully folded it, and placed it inside the time capsule.

“I cut it so my parents can donate it to a cancer patient someday, if…” I stopped myself from saying the rest, but I knew Ken understood. If I didn’t survive, if somehow, my pain became too great that I decided to finally relieve it, then there would still be a part of me that could be useful to someone else.

He nodded, mute and thoughtful. We worked in silence, filling the metal pod with the future Christmas gifts my parents prepared for me. His eyebrows went up as he watched me fold the kimono and arrange it inside the time capsule with the matching geta slippers. Probably imagining me wearing it.

“Ken… “ I began, hesitating. I had wanted our conversation to be as light-hearted as possible, so I didn’t sound too pitiful. But I had to try to tell him, because I wanted him to understand.

“I’m not a lesbian, but I’m not straight either. I am simply not interested in people! Maybe I’m just too empty to be with anyone, so I don’t even try.” My eyes felt weird, like they were too hot all of a sudden. “My shrink says I could be an asexual…”

 “Asexual? Like an amoeba or a fungus?” He asked suddenly, interrupting me. He seemed genuinely confused, but his mouth was twitching like he was trying not to laugh.

 “No, not like that.” It was a bit frustrating and embarrassing having to explain something so sensitive like my sexuality or lack thereof. “It’s just what they call people who aren’t into anyone, whether man or woman. I guess it means lack of sexual feelings…” 

He sat still looking at me, waiting for me to continue. When I didn’t, he scooted closer and put his arms around me. His breath felt warm on my sensitive temple, and it comforted me that he at least didn’t find my nearly bald head repulsive. We sat like that for a while. I wanted him to ask me whatever he wanted, but also dreading the questions I may not be able to answer.

“Your mom has been talking to my mom about your mood swings since college started. She said you’ve been skipping your sessions and your medication, and you’ve barely been eating.” He started to sway us both slowly, like in a slow dance to a music only he can hear.

“Anj… are you dying?” His deep voice was casual, like he was simply asking what’s for lunch.

Still calmly, and without stopping the lulling movement, he pulled me closer until my head was resting on his shoulders. It occurred to me that he didn’t want me to see his face while he asked this question.

“I might be.” I answered honestly. It felt odd to be opening my thoughts again to a person who wasn’t being paid to listen to my rambling. Odd, but kind of good.

“Sometimes, I feel fine, and it’s like I’ll be fine for the rest of the month, the rest of the year even. But there are times when I just don’t have the energy to take a freaking pill, much less fight the sickness in my mind.” I mumbled that last bit into his shoulder.

It took several rounds of slow swaying before he spoke again.

“Don’t freak out, ok? I’ve applied for transfer to your school for the coming semester. I’ve had enough to cold mountain weather,” he tried to sound nonchalant, but tightened his arms around me like he expected me to break free. “I figured if you’re on your last days, we might as well spend all that time together.”

Shocked. He’s staying? I didn’t believe it. Hearing him say he was going to be in my life again was perhaps the unexpected lifeline I didn’t know I needed, much less deserved.

“But I’m warning you now. It will be like art high school all over again, though. The barely-getting-by music major following the visual art prodigy around like a lovesick puppy.”

His silly warning reminded me of our last years at Makiling, the exclusive high school for the art-inclined that we attended. I made it immediately after the auditions, but Ken had to stay in the waitlist until one music major gave up his slot to attend a science high school instead. His being “less talented” than everyone else on account of his delayed acceptance was our little private joke. 

My answering laugh sounded hysterical to me. I was happy that he wanted to spend time together, but I was equally wary that he might want to leave again if he knew what friendship with me now would entail.

“Even if I’m a little crazy?” I asked flippantly, still reeling from the sudden change in my mood. “Even if all I ever do now is mope around and attend shrink sessions?”

“Especially because you’re a little crazy. You’re going to need a partner in crime,” he answered with a chuckle, pulling away finally. He took something out of his back pocket that looked like several folded sheets of paper.

“I've done a bit of arranging and some basic songwriting during the semester, but this is my first full composition. Inspired by you, Anj,” His eyes were glowing with pride as he proudly unfurled the sheets to reveal his handwritten notations in his tidy script. He never made originals before. I didn’t think he wanted to.

I was reaching one hand out to take the music sheets from him when, to my chagrin, he laid them on top of my kimono in the time capsule and closed the lid. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I wanted to hear his original music so bad!

Ken smiled at my frustrated face, taking my outstretched arms and placing them around his shoulders. 

“Just a little incentive for you to stay until we can both open your gifts next Christmas,” he said, suddenly earnest, his voice full of emotion. “We don’t have to be anything but friends, Anj. We can be whatever you want us to be. Just stay with me longer, please?” 

His face was so close to mine, but I didn’t feel threatened or afraid. This was my best friend, and he finally knew my pain.

“I’ll try, Ken. I promise to try.” I said sniffling as I laid my forehead on his.

I felt like a glow stick that snapped in the middle of a dark arena during a concert. Did Ken take me out from the abyss I was in? Not entirely. But his company made me feel like a tiny phosphorescent creature living inside a deep, dank well.

Even if everything around me was still black, there was suddenly a tiny light within me, illuminating at least the tiny organelles that kept me alive.

October 08, 2020 20:00

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.