vivoboard July 7, 2018

Mirah was dropping me off, and neither one of us wanted to say goodbye. In a July storm we sat in her car listening to the rain. I played with the red matte lipstick she keeps in her cup holder, opened the mirror to put it on and unscrewed the top, where I found a long black hair wound around the inside of the tube.

Holding it up between us, I said, “Dude, you may be a femme. But you are a sloppy one for sure.”

She laughed hard, leaning forward and covering her mouth. Then she calmed, suddenly serious, and said, “What if it’s you?”

I wasn’t sure what she meant.

She said, “What if we’re here in five years and we’re it for each other?”

“Like, what if in five years we look at each other and realize it’s time to date?”

“No,” she said, “like what if in five years it’s you and it’s this friendship and maybe we date other people but at the end of the day it’s you?”

I smiled, imagining the two of us older than our mid-20s, still sitting below big trees in rainstorms, laughing and not wanting to get out of the car.

She gazed ahead. “I am so terrified of hurting you.”

I put down the lipstick and reached for her. “Mirah, you are the safest person I have ever loved.”

She put her face in her hands and cried, and all I could see was her thick black hair, her jean jacket with the “fierce love” pin.

That night was the first time Mirah and I acknowledged just how much our lives had molded around each other. Neither of us knew how to describe what we were. When someone asked if we were dating, I said, “We’re in love.”

Mirah smiled when she heard the story. She made her profile picture the two of us laughing on a bench. One day she said, “It’s the best when I show up to parties and people ask me where you are.”

We spent evenings on my front porch reading articles aloud with titles such as “Marriage Is Murder,” “The Future of Queer” and “Against the Couple Form.” We dreamed about what our lives could look like if we gave ourselves permission to be free from conventions. I was mortified at the thought of absorbing into a couple, and I knew it would be difficult, but I wanted to build a life of commitment where friendships mattered as much as romantic partnership.

She emailed me a tweet from someone that said, “The best decisions I have ever made were made possible by my inability to invest in heterosexual narratives of love. The fact of being queer weirdly saved me from so much loneliness, even as it demographically made intimacy so much harder to find.”

I sent back a line of heart-eye emoji, and later, parked below my apartment windows on an early winter evening, Mirah put her arm around my shoulders and said, “Sammy, you are my epicenter.”

And for a while I was. Mirah picked me up for work every morning, I made her lunch on Sundays, and we made a beeline for each other in crowded rooms. She became No. 1 on my speed dial; we talked every day.

When I thought I had bedbugs, she was the one I called in a panic. She came over with an acupressure mat, an iPhone tuned to the sound of waves and a flashlight.

“I’m anxious,” I said as I lay crying on the floor.

“I know,” she said as she stood above me.

For the first time I admitted (just to myself, in a whisper) how good it felt to rely on someone. Mirah pried me open and slowly I trusted she would be there, every time, solid. I started picturing my life with her always in it. Whatever shape our relationship took — because we had insisted on the permission to let ourselves change — I expected the changes would be small and that she would be central.

But then Mirah told me about a woman she was going to date. This person wasn’t like the cute queers Mirah had dated during our friendship, all of whom were already dating someone else, or emotionally unavailable, or not nearly astounding enough for her. This was someone Mirah had an actual, genuine crush on.

She told me, like a confession, that she wanted romantic partnership, and that she might even want it to be primary, the central thing she builds her life around.

And I wanted to shrivel that feeling inside of her until it atrophied and died. But I couldn’t, so I strained to fit her vision of what she wanted.

“Maybe we should date,” I said. Couldn’t we make that work? Weren’t we already in love and spending time together and talking every day?

She shook her head and said, “I don’t want to kiss you.”

And I had to admit that sometimes I imagine her lying next to me, and like a thought experiment I pretend we’re lovers. I picture us laughing, and I brush her hair behind her ear. I hold her hand and count the rings she wears. I feel how small she is, only 5 feet and skinny, and I say, “Tell me everything about your day.”

She looks at me with bright eyes, but it stops there. I never kiss her. Just imagining it gives me a tight, wound feeling, and I know we’re not the ones to do that with each other.

So I was silent for a long time and then said, “The question for me, Mirah, is in the event of an apocalypse, whose house are you running to?” The tender part of me that had come to rely on her was screaming. I added in a terrified but certain voice, “I am running to you.”

And then the woman who had pried me open, who had told me in the same car and under the same windows that I was her epicenter, stared through the windshield and said coldly, “I don’t believe in hierarchies.”

In the days afterward I tried to talk myself out of feeling hurt. I convinced myself I was holding on too tightly, asking too much, being unreasonable. But the truth is I wanted Mirah to turn to me and hold back laughter while she said, “Of course I would run to you,” as if it were the most obvious thing.

People tell me, “This is normal” and, “This is what happens when friends fall in love.” But I was completely unprepared.

We were queer! We were supposed to refuse the primacy of romance and sex! At the least we were supposed to run to each other in the apocalypse, and invite whoever else needed to be there, including our lovers (I have been in romantic love and don’t question the value of that for a second). And then all of us would wait together for the end times, dancing and buzzing each other’s hair, eating ice cream and bursting with gratitude for our beautiful, improbable friendships.

But Mirah wasn’t choosing me. Worse, I was going to have to watch her choose someone else. And worse still, I couldn’t rail against her decision because we had promised to let each other change.

I didn’t have a book or a podcast or a movie that reflected my story back at me. I felt totally alone in a loss I had no words to describe. A loss not just of a person but of a relationship and a life I so deeply wanted.

I almost walked away, as if this all had been an experiment and a terrible mistake. But I couldn’t. Underneath the hurt that she would choose someone else and the embarrassment of having come to rely on her, I didn’t want to give up on radical friendship.

And I didn’t want to give up on Mirah. I would have to put her down by saying, “She gave in to the thing we reviled.” Or put myself down by saying, “My dreams are impossible, I expect too much.” And none of that felt right.

A few weeks after our apocalypse conversation, Mirah and I went to a party together and she cupped her hand around my ear. “I put you as my emergency contact,” she said. “Where it asked for relationship, I wrote, ‘family.’”

In that moment, under dimmed lights, I got the same beaming feeling I get every time she chooses me, and I saw that she doesn’t want to lose me, either. But something had shifted, and I didn’t smile. This time, I was the one who sat rigid and stared ahead — because it wasn’t enough. I was quiet, wondering how it all fit together, and I realized, not with relief but with clarity: Neither of us knows how to do this.


Sammy Sass is a graduate student and writer in Boston.

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