Every nerve in my body is still humming on my way home. From my super sexy coffee date or all the caffeine I kept nervously pouring down my throat to keep my mouth from leaking stupid words, we’ll never know. My date, Ruby, teaches 1st grade. She has a loud, carefree laugh that can fill a room. Oh, and she is beautiful! With deep brown skin, a bright easy smile, and wavy mahogany hair that just kisses her collarbone. Oh my god, her collarbone. I want to kiss her collarbone! In fact, just shrink me down so I can live in that hollow space at the base of her neck and use that sleek bone as a hammock. AHHHHH! I’m not entirely sure why she agreed to have dinner with me. I also don’t know how I, a homebody usually riddled with social anxiety, even had the guts to ask her out.
Ruby and that seductress of a clavicle will be entering my incredibly disgusting hovel at 7pm. My intestines coil and threaten to rain the shit down with the sudden realization that I have invited this elegant being, this fashionable, and intelligent person to my sad and depressing hobbit hole. My 1950’s cracker jack box of a house is my home and I love it, but it isn’t going to make a very good impression in its current state. I live like I’m stuck in my twenties; completely allergic to cleaning, oblivious to the clutter and thanks to my massive case of the dropsies, my cabinets contain only plastic dishes. Ruby, with her professionally ripped jeans and scuff-free black Vans, is probably used to the finer things in life like, real wine glasses, a clean toilet, and maybe a set of stairs.
I step into my itty bitty trash heap, assessing everything with fresh eyes. The tiny living room consists of a well loved sofa, covered with piles of bright pillows and throw blankets, a bookshelf dedicated to pictures of friends, tacky knick-knacks and all the published works of Alice Oseman, my personal patron saint of queer joy. Dirty dishes clutter the coffee table, garbage is strewn about and what looks like a solid inch of dust covers every surface. The rest of the house follows suit. Ok, so I haven’t cleaned in awhile, but it’s not too bad! It has been worse. I can do this! For gorgeous Ruby and her sweet, kissable collarbone, I will do this! I turn on my Spotify playlist and get to work.
Am immediately distracted by MUNA’s Number One Fan, singing to myself in the mirror and dancing around because that track fucking slaps.
I make quick work of the living room and bathroom and pat myself on the back for selecting a tiny ass house with very few rooms to clean. See, I make good choices!
When I finally make my way to my bedroom, I’m confronted with discarded garments of unknown cleanliness flung about the room. This. This is my dirty little secret. I am completely incapable of putting away laundry. I can get them washed and dried no problem, but clothes only come out of the dryer when I need to switch a load. And then, it usually ends up on the floor because I can never find what I’m looking for. Hanging and folding, though I do see a point of it, is so damn tedious and I haven’t had the strength to summon a single shit to give about what I wear. Which is why the housewarming gift my dad sent years ago is still hidden away in the closet. A HEMNES 8 drawer dresser from IKEA. It stands in the corner, almost giving me the stink eye and I swear I can hear a demonic cackling coming from inside the box, just daring me to get it out.
I bet Ruby has a dresser. I bet all the 30 somethings out there masquerading as adults own dressers, except me. Surely, Ruby has never dug around in the dryer, trying to find a set of matching socks that she washed over a week ago or has ever had to give her shirts the sniff test before putting them on. She’s probably been folding her underwear Marie Kondo style and hanging her dresses in rainbow order since her popular high school days. I mean, I assume she was popular. She just gives off that vibe of someone who knows what it’s like to have lots of friends. She is definitely out of my league. But I must not think about that for fear of even just a tickle of IBS, which would spiral quickly into a panicky text canceling it all. Why am I like this?
I walk over to the mirror and give my pale, freckled face a stern look. “You can do this, Jess! You are not the slob that lounges in holey sweatpants every night, eating popcorn for dinner. You are not the shy, anxious woman who prefers to keep her nose pressed into a book or to watch Heartstopper for the thousandth time, rather than go anywhere or do anything with anybody. No, you put yourself out there! You smiled at this gorgeous woman at the farmer’s market. You even let her have the basket of heirloom tomatoes you were eyeing. You conjured up some real Golden Retriever energy and talked to her! You made the first move! You are a badass bitch! You should build that dresser.” This last bit is surprising, but feels right.
Scrawny by Wallows begins to pump its pop-rock rhythm from my Bluetooth speaker, amplifying my motivation. Why yes, I am a scrawny motherfucker! No, I do not have a cool hairstyle, but I am a grown ass woman and I need a place to shove my wrinkly shirts to declare them clean! I will build this dresser!
Me: Hey Dad, what’s up?
Dad: Hi Jess, whatcha doing?
Me: I'm finally getting around to building that dresser you sent me, if you can believe it.
Dad: What? You haven’t asked one of your boyfriends to do it yet?
Me: Dad, I’ve been gay since like, 2003.
Dad: You know what I mean! A friend. Who happens to be a boy. I'm sure you can find one to do it for you.
Me: Given that I’m 35, it would be weird to have friends who are boys.
Dad: *groans because I am ultra annoying*
Me: You also don’t build this with your genitals, you know.
Dad: *a woosh of air can be heard whipping over his head*
Me: Anyway, dad, gotta go, busy building stuff like the grown person that I am. Love you, bye!
I do love my dad. Although he is convinced that I’ll eventually settle down and marry a man. He thinks it would be easier, for some reason. I do have to wonder, how would it be easier to be with a man? Would it be easier to, I don’t know, achieve an orgasm? Evenly divide household chores? Talk about feelings? These all seem to be much more challenging for the straight women I know. Honestly, I’d rather be alone.
Growing up, though, I was definitely a ‘daddy’s girl.’ I always wanted to do the right thing and make him proud. The truth was that I was incredibly boring, didn’t have many friends and really didn’t go anywhere outside of school. I never took the opportunity to get into trouble.
His concern about my homebody status surfaced during my junior year of high school. He started asking why I wasn’t going out with my friends and wondering when I would get a boyfriend. All my friends had boyfriends and I didn’t want to be the only girl stuck at home on a Friday night, did I? (Yeah, I totally did! I mean, did he even see the douche bags I went to school with?) Looking back, I think he smelled the lesbianism on me and was doing his best to snuff out that fire, not that it worked.
I knew that I liked girls, but I didn’t really know what being gay actually meant. There wasn’t anyone out in my small school, though it was not hard to imagine why. The word ‘gay’ was only hurled about as an insult. We also didn’t have any good queer content to consume; no Queer Eye, no Alice Oseman and Heartstopper. The only lesbian media I could find was definitely made by men, for men. E.g. two busty blondes making out while a group of drooling boys watch. Because I was ‘supposed’ to have a boyfriend and my dad was so happy to see me dating, I spent the rest of my time in high school trying to be straight.
It wasn’t until college that I met more of ‘my people’ and felt comfortable coming out. And now, finally, I meet new queer people all the time. I can turn on the TV and find plenty of joyful and hopeful queer stories to watch. It seems like a small thing, but it makes me feel more normal and less alone. If only my dad could see this joy too and just let it be.
I haul the massive box out from the depths of my closet and start laying everything out. Holy shit, there are A LOT of pieces! Flipping through the instructions, I realize there are zero words explaining how to do any of this. Just pictures. A lot of slightly confusing pictures of things that look vaguely like what’s in front of me, but also, these pieces all look eerily the same. I can do this though, right? The cute, little blob-like person on the pages looks to be giving me a thumbs up as if to say, “Yes, yes you can!”
I AM AMAZING!! LOOK AT ME, TAKING THESE SCREW THINGIES AND GETTING THEM INTO THESE PRE-DRILLED HOLES! I AM A FURNITURE BUILDING GOD!!
There’s a rug drawn in step 11. Is a rug supposed to come with this? Am I supposed to assemble these parts on an actual rug, or did the illustrator just want to jazz things up a bit? This is confusing. Also, I don’t own a rug.
I DON’T HAVE ANY OF THOSE SCREWS LEFT! FUUUUUCK!
I suddenly feel myself leave my body. I am a ghost, hovering over the shit show below. Or maybe I’m a centuries old witch, finally released from my meat sack prison? Too soon to tell. My corporeal self lets out a blood curdling scream, shaking sheets of paper into the air and then violently shreds them with her tiny elfin fingers. I float overhead as she begins to whack at the dresser with some ultra strength she must have summoned from deep within (yes, a witch, definitely), while screaming out a string of obscenities. I clutch my phantom pearls in horror.
“NO, IKEA, I WON’T FOLLOW YOUR EVIL PLAN TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD WITH YOUR SLEEK, FUNCTIONAL, SCANDINAVIAN DESIGNS! NO, DAD, I WILL NEVER GET A BOYFRIEND!! I AM A LESBIAN AND NO, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE TOOLS! YOU CAN ALL SUCK IT! !@#$%!@ #$!@#$% !@#$%!&#$!”
I come to slowly, curled up in an exhausted heap on my bedroom floor. What just happened? Was that not an aspirin I found in my purse? I sit up cautiously, my head spinning, and look around slowly. Among all the scattered cardboard and leftover hardware is the most beautiful sight. A mahogany dresser. It wobbles a bit as I pull myself up off the ground. It appears to be lacking a few drawers, but look at this structure! Look at this masterpiece! Look at what I built with my own two hands! I am a furniture building god! It makes me want to fold my underwear.
I glance over my shoulder and catch a glimpse of my ratty self in the mirror. My short blonde hair stands in spikes, I have grease smudges along my jawline, and my shirt is crumpled from the disaster of the last few hours. I had entered a fight, was beaten and bruised, but emerged the victor. Sort of.
As soon as I step out of the shower and pull on jeans and, what I think is a clean t-shirt, the doorbell rings.
I say a quick prayer. Dear Saint Alice, creator of joyful queer tales. Help me with mine. Help me write this story, give me eloquent words to say to this beautiful woman, or at least help me sound like I have half a brain cell. And then I remember. All of my obsessive rewatches of Heartstopper have prepared me for this exact moment. I breathe in all the confidence of every straight white guy ever born, fling the door open and to the goddess before me, with her tantalizing collarbone, I breathe, "Hi!"