When I asked everyone their opinion, they all said the same thing: “You always seem happy to me.” So I took their words to heart, because if the whole world tells you something, it’s probably true.
Things were so much easier afterward—free from the deliberation of what to feel at any given moment—that I took the natural next step and relinquished the rest of my responsibilities to the world. And at first, I was embarrassed to look to others for decisions as small as what to eat for breakfast or when to laugh at a movie. But I learned soon enough that it’s foolish to underestimate human beings’ desire to tell someone else what to do all hours of the day. I’m really just doing what I’ve always done, consciously or not; the only thing that’s changed is that, now, I’m leaning my full weight into it.
I open my eyes each morning and gaze upon a room of posters and book covers and muted TV screens, awaiting marching orders to get out of bed. As I slide on pants straight from the cover of the latest men’s fashion magazine, I listen to radio DJs discussing my taste in music, my sense of humor, and my take on the day’s news. On the bus to work, I move from seat to seat, hovering over the shoulders of this man or that woman, listening in and clicking my tongue until I have a pretty good sense of how I’ll act once I get off at my stop.
At work, my boss walks over and says Hi, and I say Hi and walk over, and we do this dance for eight hours, a coffee cup and ballpoint pen in each of our hands as we circle the printer. As he gives me an order, so too do I give him an order, and though nothing gets done as a result of this exchange we both look busy doing it. By the time we’ve pirouetted back to our desks and found them untouched since morning, it’s time to pack up our briefcases and make our way to parallel elevators, unsure once again who exactly is managing whom. But that’s the beauty of another day.
The grocery store was once a source of tremendous anguish for me—there were always too many options for what to buy, half of which could cause me grave humiliation at the hands of a judgmental cashier. Now, I peer down its crowded aisles with something akin to lust. I run near-numb fingers along the cardboard edges of red and blue cereal boxes and let the music lift my feet to the beat. Each brand and slogan and nutritional promise whispers dreams of stronger, better, louder personalities in my ear, and by the time I reach the produce section I’m something to behold, poking and sniffing at melons and peaches like I own the place. A woman asks me if I can tell if the avocado she’s holding is ripe or not, and from the mirror of her face I know exactly how to position my mouth as I tell her it’s absolutely perfect, better use it tonight. She smiles and nods, and I nod and smile and turn back to my peaches, already bruised beyond redemption.
It was at a grocery store that I met my partner. He was wearing a tight sweatshirt and baggy basketball shorts, but as I approached from the deli section I caught his mad scramble to twist sleeves and fabric this way and that until they more closely resembles my jeans and t-shirt. I turned my body to the right to move past him, and he turned as well, though not quite as smoothly or quickly, and we ended up colliding our carts, identical pairs of cans and apples laid bare on white linoleum. Before I could finish my apology he began his own, and it struck the same wry earnestness I’d intended, even if his was a bit marble-mouthed by the end. I took his hand in mine and found its rounded warmth refreshingly familiar.
We went everywhere together, him lagging just a half-pace behind. On cold winter nights, we’d spend hours on the rug in front of the fireplace, talking about our mutual interests and pushing slice after slice of warm pizza into each other’s mouths. And though each bite went down my throat as easily as water, just a touch of gooey cheese always managed to find its way through the corners of his lips. In the summer, we took long walks on the beach, each of us stooping down at the same moment to pick up lovely white seashells (his, admittedly, always had a crack or two).
We had so much fun and spent so much time together that I stopped reading my magazines and books. On the bus to work, I stopped hovering behind this and that man and woman, so preoccupied was I with the back-and-forth of my partner in the seat opposite. In the mornings, I woke up when my body told me so, and a half-second later I felt the stirring of my partner, whose own internal clock had patiently waited for me the whole night through. I turned off my TVs and radios for the last time, and my partner watched and mimicked my motions, twisting his pointer finger and thumb clockwise in mid-air and making a static sizzle noise with his tongue and teeth.
Is it any surprise at all that we married, with symmetry as good as ours? We recited homemade vows in near-unison, tears trickling down from two very happy sets of eyes, and even though he messed up a word or two toward the end I knew he meant what we said. The priest only had to ask us once if we took this man to be our lawfully-wedded husband, so obvious was the answer to everyone in attendance.
After drinks and food and pictures, it was time for our first dance. And it felt obvious to me that I should be the one to lead, but as I did, he immediately took up the lead as well, the tip of his right foot landing on my toes. I yelped and tried to start over, but he started over at the same time, and this time it was his left foot that stamped down upon my shoe. We went back and forth a long time, the crowd silently urging us forward, until finally I could think of nothing else but to pull us into a spin. So we spun, shoulders back, feet mashing up and down, my cries of pain only making us more determined to press on. Eventually, our arms got linked, our bodies became too close, and our backs started bending at uncomfortable angles. We spun slower and slower, the slant of our spines pulling us toward the ground. We started moving so slowly I was sure the music had stopped, but by the sway of the heads in the crowd I knew I simply could not hear it anymore. In the teary eyes of my partner, I saw a sad, lonely face, and a joyous, beaming face, and that’s when I knew the truth. Our spiral took us closer to the floor, first crouching, then kneeling, then simply rolling around in circles; the tops of our heads touched, our fingers were laced, and our palms were pressed firmly together. If you laid on the hardwood right beside us, your chin resting perpendicular to our own, you’d have been able to catch the clownish grimace of our faces, one just a little more grotesque than the other.
Jean-Luc Bouchard is a writer living in New York City whose work has appeared in PANK, apt, NANO Fiction, BuzzFeed, Vice, Epiphany, One Throne, and other journals and anthologies. He is also a contributor to The Onion. He was the winner of Epiphany Magazine’s 2016 “Writers Under 30” contest, and was selected for Honorable Mention by the Speculative Literature Foundation for their 2016 Working Class Writers Grant. His work can be found at jeanlucbouchard.com, and he can be followed on Twitter @jlucbouchard.