Winter of 1999
It was the thirty first of December of 1999. The street lamps were turned off, leaving the street to be occasionally lit up by the fairy lights shadows on the backyards of the houses, now and then shining from all the Christmas lights that peaked from the chimneys and the window frames. White snow was falling onto the black road and there it melted, slowly, into invisible little puddles.
It wasn’t only the NEW YEAR’S EVE, it was also the turn of the millennium. A group of drunk girls, dressed to impress in black and silver dresses, were making sure the entire neighbourhood wouldn’t forget that. Two of them wore fake sunglasses with “2000’s” embellished on them, one of them carried a champagne bottle that dripped from her hand, and each one of them took turns sipping from the bottle.
- Do you think it’s true? - one of the girls asked.
- What? - another replied.
- That the world is really going to end tonight.
- Of course not, everybody knows it. - said a third one, mid-stumble, but not falling. When she finally gets a grip on herself she takes a bow and smiles widely, her eyes closed and her head tilted.
- I think it’s a stupid joke made by desperate, lonely men who want to get laid trying to trick foolish girls with low self-esteem into fucking them. - the fourth and last one of them chimed in.
- But it was predicted centuries ago. - returned the first.
- Well yeah, because there has always been lonely man with nothing better to do than come up with idiotic ideas to have sex. It’s nothing new. - continued the fourth.
A car passed by, scaring them just enough to make them burst into laughter, spilling all of the champagne on the third girl.
- No, no, no! - one of them shouted.
- What? Oh god, look at that mess. - another came quickly to respond.
- Fuck that, it’s almost midnight!!! 5, 4, 3, 2 - she didn’t finish the countdown, for she was cut off by a screeching noise of car tires, at a distance, trying to break against the road tar... and then fireworks explode in big and spectacular displays of color and light.
The group of drunk friends tried to run down the sidewalk in a hurry. At the end of the street a car was jammed against a tree, the front completely ruined, smoke coming from the inside. The darkness made it impossible to see if there was anyone inside the car. One of the girls took her phone while the other ones tried to get closer to the car and see if there was anyone inside.
How can the world come to an end? In many different ways, at many different times. For some it ends on a winter night, with fireworks on the background, without the chance to find out if the world would really come to an end at the turn of the millennium. And then for others...
The middle of the Republic Square was every now and then the stage of several street performances that filled the dull Sunday mornings, when everything but some coffee shops were closed, with joy and life for the ever so growing group of tourists and residents that passed by, either just for a walk home from the market or to contemplate the blend of architectures and backgrounds of that secular town, in the west end of Europe.
James Mathews, with his soft facial features that almost attenuated the pain behind his eyes, was one of these artists. Whenever he had a day off from his waitering job, there he was, standing still in the middle of the town’s square, dressed and painted like a human statue, his face and his entire body covered in white chalk. He wore his usual outfit: a white sweatshirt and tights, a white sheet folded to resemble a greek cape on top of his clothes, on his head a vine crown that made him look like a greek warrior or a prince and finally a thick layer of hardened chalk coating all of it to look as if they were made of stone. Besides that, the only accessory that he carried and that could probably shatter the illusion, making it obvious he was not a statue, was a childish sort of dragonfly silvery ring in his left hand’s little finger.
Jamie stood still as people walked by and every time one of them put a coin on the silver plate that laid by his feet,
Jamie took a silver flower that he hided beneath his cape and offered it to the person who had given him the coin.
First came a little girl, wearing a pink laced dress and two ponytails, one on each side of her head. She walked over to him, timid and fearful as she put a coin in the silver plate, but her face quickly changed to a wondrous smile as she watched Jamie, slowly, moving and taking one of his flowers to give her. She reached her hand to the flower, took it to her chest and ran to her mother’s embrace, giggling in euphoria.
Right after, an old woman approached him and he did the same. People came closer. They watched him, tried to make him laugh, took pictures and tried to touch him, but he never moved. Not unless someone gave him a coin.
A young black woman, two years younger than Jamie, with teal braided hair and a piercing on her nose, came all over to him and put a coin on the plate. She was wearing a dark blue long coat and beneath it a dark orange hourglass dress with a pair of black knee length boots. He took a flower from his vest and gave it to her with a smile. He knew her, CASEY, his roommate and friend. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and walked away.
More people walked by. Children asked their parents for a coin and received a flower in return, and so it went on until it started to get dark and Jamie was too cold to stay unshaken.
With his eyes closed, he was about to stop his act when a young man put a coin on his plate. The young man was a tall, handsome, light brown hair and shy smile, early twenties vision, that Jamie didn’t notice at first. Again, he took a flower from his cape and only when he was giving it to the boy he opened his eyes. And then his hand shook for no reason.
They looked at each other. The young man smiled as he took the flower from Jamie’s fingers, and at their fingers brushing one another, Jamie looked away and got back into position, his cheeks colored red. Noticing this and, finding it amusing, the boy started speaking:
- Words do not come from stone figures and white chapped lips, I see, silver flowers and questions about his smile shall be the moonlight and stars I take with me. How much, this night, will I not sleep, daydreaming of thee... And with a silver flower he leaves me thinking the color of his heart, if it’s gold and radiant as the sun that sets or if it is as the night that rises, silent and dark.
The young man walked away smiling, saving the silver flower in the pocket of his jacket and leaving Jamie behind confused and blushing, warmed up in a rather chilly early November afternoon.
Summer of 1999
It was the summer of 1999 and four young boys, around the age of ten, were making fun of a seven year-old Casey, taking her teddy bear away and throwing it at each other as if it was a ball and they were dogs playing a game of fetch. It was dark, even though it was only half past five, which could indicate that either the sun was finally catching up with the winter time, going to bed sooner, or that the sky too was mad about what was happening to Casey. One might think the last is less probable than the first, although more lyrical for sure, but mother nature only has a way of working that could be taken as unpredictable for the unpoetic, the others know exactly what is coming.
Casey was crying, sitting on the sidewalk, her eyes swollen, her best-friend on the hands of silly boys, when suddenly an eight year-old Jamie came in his bicycle and started throwing bang snaps at the four boys’ feet. At the unexpected and loud noises, the boys got scared and started running away, calling him names and flipping their middle fingers at him. Casey had short hair, twisted tightly against her scalp in a swirl braided design, tied down at the end with rainbow hairpins. She smelled like vanilla ice-cream and Dove body lotion, which were two of his favorite smells, for both of them reminded him of his summer vacations at his Grandma’s house. He didn’t notice what she was wearing, but he did notice she had her fingernails painted silver and a ring on her pointing finger with a dragonfly. She was sitting on the sidewalk, sad and teary, so Jamie did what was supposed of a gentleman, he approached her and handled her the teddy bear.
- Here. - he said.
- Thank you. - she replied.
Jamie sat beside her, but Casey moved herself a little far away from him.
- What’s his name? - Jamie asked her, truly curious.
- SHE doesn’t have a name. - Casey answered, a little bit mad and confused of why that boy was still there, when all that she wanted was to stay alone with her teddy bear, the one she had almost lost forever.
- She? - Jamie was intrigued.
- Yes! - She said, very concisely and dry.
- Sorry, I thought it was a boy. - Jamie didn’t understand why she was treating him like that, after all he had just help her get her teddy bear back.
- Well, it is not. - She continued.
- How do you know it? - He asked.
There was a small pause. Casey didn’t immediately answer him back, so he knew he was on the right track to capture her attention.
- What? - She finally managed to ask.
- How do you know it’s a girl if it doesn’t have any girly parts?
Casey wiped her tears on the sleeve of her shirt, and looked at him both disgusted and amused.
- I don’t know, I just do. - she said.
- But what if it’s a boy? - Jamie insisted. He wanted her to laugh, he didn’t know why, but the glimpse of a laugh on the corners of her mouth made him curious of what a full-on smile would look like on her. But most of all, he was curious he could make it appear at all. It was a challenge and he was a boy, what else was left to say?
- It doesn’t have any boy parts either... - she told him.
- Well, I guess we’ve come across a problem... How are we going to solve this? I think you should name it.
- Why would I do that? - Casey asked and Jamie answered:
- Everybody needs a name.
- I guess... - she rested her elbows on her knees and her head on her elbows, after all she was pensative, and that made her head heavy.
- I like Charlie, there are boys and girls called Charlie, so it can be whatever it wants, a boy or a girl. You don’t have to decide. - Jamie jumped with a solution.
- Most of all, he doesn’t have to choose and I like that.
They both smiled. Casey wiped the remains of her tears from her face and Jamie moved closer to her, leaning in as to tell her a secret.
-Did you know that laughing too much can cause wrinkles? - he asked.
- Really? - she was surprised, she didn’t care that much, but still she was surprised.
- Yeah, my dad told me, he said that both laughing and crying make wrinkles, you know what that means right?
- No. - she did, but she wanted him to keep talk, he made her calm and she was starting to like him for that.
- It means that if we’ll get wrinkles anyway we should laugh more, because one day, when we get old and we look at our wrinkles we will remember the happy times and not the sad times.
Casey didn’t answer him, she just looked at him confused.
- I’m very smart. - Jamie continued.
Casey smiled and then she started crying a little more.
- Why are you crying? They’re gone now, I won’t let them come back. - Jamie told her.
- It’s not them. It’s... I don’t like the noise. - she said as she curled into a little ball.
They were on the sidewalk, in front of a house. From inside that house screams could be heard. A man and a woman were arguing.
- It’s okay, don’t be sad. Tall people are always arguing, my mom and dad argue too. - he said.
- I know, but this time is worse. I can tell. They’ve usually said sorry by now. - Casey carried a permanent worry shadow on her eyes, Jamie was coming to know. He didn’t speak for a moment, he didn’t know what to say, they had just met. He kicked a rock on the ground and then looked at her:
- I’ll make you a promise.
- A promise? - she asked.
- Yes. I promise that when we get married I’ll never scream at you, okay? - he smiled.
- I’m not going to marry you. - she said quickly, embarrassed by the proposal.
- That makes me sad, but I guess it’s fair. I promise that I’ll never scream at you anyway, okay? I promise. Pinky promise.
Jamie pointed her pinky finger at her and after a moment of hesitation she crossed hers with his.
- Pinky promise. - she said.
Casey was warm. She had been cold for some time, but she was starting to feel warm again, on her face, on her hands.
- Why? - she asked him.
- Why what?.
- Why do you want to marry me? I want to know if it’s for the right reasons. - she sounded very posh, like one of the girls she had seen in the movies she would some times watch with her mother about dames and gentlemen.
- I want to marry you because you’re my best friend now and that’s what best friends do, isn’t it? - Jamie said.
- I guess. - she liked that answer, even though it wasn’t what she was expecting and they had just met, but she did feel he would be her best friend forever. This things have a way to show themselves, no one knows when one becomes friends with another or why, but she felt that was their start. The start of a beautiful friendship as she had heard in one of those movies, that she couldn’t ever remember the names.
- That’s it. It’s simple. - he continued.
- Hum... - Casey thought out loud.
- What? - he inquired her, curious of what was going on this girl’s mind.
- Will you marry me? - she asked him, leaving him perplexed.
- But I just asked you that and you said no.
- I know, but now things have changed. Now I’m the one asking you.
- I thought the guy was supposed to ask the girl.
- Why? - her tone was coming back to the one earlier, so Jamie did what he had learned to do from the five minutes they had been friends, he asked her back.
- I don’t know, it’s always like that, isn’t it?
- Just because most people do something some way it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.
- I guess you’re right.
- Will you still marry me then? - she asked again, taking her dragonfly ring from her finger.
- Yes. - he said happily, extending his finger for her to put the ring on, which she did with a smile.
- Cool. - she said seeming anything but cool, and he loved her at that moment. He didn’t know that yet, but that would be the moment that he later remembered as the moment he knew he loved her. Then he asked her: - Where do you want to get married?
- In a church, that’s where people get married.
- But that’s so boring. - he said, hopelessly sad.
- Where do want to do it, then? - she said, bringing all his hope back.
- I’d like us to get married in my tree house. - he said ecstatically, finally showing off his age to her.
- Do you think everybody will fit in there?
- Everybody who?
- All of our friends. - she responded as if it was something obvious.
- No, but it doesn’t matter because it will be just the two of us.
- Why? Don’t you want a big party with pretty dresses and cake and music and clowns?
- Clowns? - Jamie was starting to question if he hadn’t just got himself engaged to a crazy person.
- Yes, I don’t want it to be boring. Clown are funny.
- We can have clowns. - he said. Marriage was half compromising, so he had heard his mother said once to his father.
- Yes! What do you want? - Casey asked him, and he was a child again.
- I want a swing on my tree, a big one, we can make it of an old tire and ride it after we say yes.
- That would be cool.
- The coolest. Dad said he would make me one, so I could see the world from above the clouds, I hope he does it in time. Now, we just have to wait until we’re old enough to get married and live together with Charlie.
- Yeah. - Casey was calm now. - I think I should go now or they’ll get worried and start looking for me.
- OK. - was all that Jamie had to say, and so it was all that he said.
- And my mom won’t like if she sees me talking to you, she’s always saying I shouldn’t talk to strangers.
- She’s right, but I’m not a stranger, I’m your best friend, future husband, stepfather of Charlie!
Casey laughed, gave him a kiss on the cheek, got up and started heading to the front door. Jamie got up, his hand on his cheek, like he was holding a bird he didn’t want to see fly way.
- You’re weird, but you helped me and I like you. Anyway, bye. See you at the wedding.
- Bye. Don’t show up late! - he shouted as she opened her front door.
- Won’t you wait for me if I do?
- Of course. - he managed to say before she closes the door.
Jamie wiped a little speck of dust from his knee. Casey waved at him from inside, through a little window on top of the door and Jamie waved her goodbye back. And then he walked away.
Casey was tired from climbing up the stairs up to the tiny apartment she and James had been sharing for two years now. She carried two bags of groceries and three full of clothes in each hand (not even her knew how she had managed to do that) and with every flight of stairs she climbed up she would add something to an imaginary list of things to never buy again when you’re walking alone and you live on the fifth floor of a centenary building with a non-working elevator (if it had ever work). Clearly, food was dispensable, clothes not so much... or was it the other way? She finally reached her apartment door and now she had to face a dilemma: would she ring the doorbell and spare her the gymnastic routine she would have to do to take her keys of her purse without letting any of the bags or what was inside them fall and open the door or would she make do it and make that her cardio exercise for the day. Obviously she decided for the latter, refusing to put the bags down, after all she was a young adult woman who needed no man to help out. Was it that bad to need help sometimes, though? Who cares, she was on a mission, she always loved those Charlie’s Angels movies and she was determined to become one of them. That was her chance. She was going to do it.
She twisted and curled her body in ways that in her head looked like a Japanese fight scene, full of elegance and grace, but the reflection on the tiny smoked glass window on the top of their door shattered those pictures from her mind and brought her back to the messy reality she was. When she actually made it, she stared at that window and gave it a look that said I might not be a ballerina but I get the work done.
She came in, put the bags down and hanged her dark green coat behind the door revealing an eggplant purple colored scarf, a burnt yellow shirt and ripped blue jeans. She took off her red boots and left them in the corner of the hallway adding it to the pile with all the other colorful shoes that she owned. She took her big golden rings and earrings and left them on the little worn wooden table besides the pile of clothes and shoes. The corridor was almost too narrow for her to walk through with all her bags. No matter how she moved, she couldn’t help the plastic bags from scrapping the walls and tearing little holes on them. She could pretty much imagine the whole bags ripped apart on the floor and all the work she would have to do picking up everything, and she was not feeling it. She was tired from school, her day hadn’t gone as she had envisioned, hence the food and clothes, and all she wanted was to pretend to be wedding shopping on one of those fancy places where you drink champagne and eat cake, the champagne here being a cup of hot and cake ice-cream, weird? What’s weird anyway if not something out of usual and what is usual but lack of originality, she thought. She wasn’t on the right mood to over analyze the tendencies of contemporary societies to cast aside critical thinking and own opinion in order to blend in and add to the ever so growing blob of individuality dilution. Humans are fading away to make space for humanity, she didn’t like that thought. She liked being a self and not a part... In the corridor there were pictures on the walls of Casey and her family. There weren’t, however, pictures of Jamie and his or of Jamie and Casey. Every time she walked by them she took a split second to think of her mom and dad, she missed them. And then she went on.
- Jamie? Blueberry Jam? James? Anyone? Is anyone home? - Casey shouted throughout the house .
- In the bedroom. - a voice shouted back at a distance. Casey went to the kitchen. It was small and looked like a war zone full of dirty dishes on the sink and the dinning table, the bin overfilled with trash, she fridge door smudged with chocolate. When was the last time they had chocolate? Halloween? It seemed right. What month was it again? November... they must still be edible, right?...
She took two spoons from the sink, rinsed them over hot steaming water and came back to the corridor. She picked one of the bags and knocked on Jamie’s bedroom door, opening it without waiting for an answer.
Jamie lied in bed with his laptop on his chest, blankets covering his entire body up to his ears and a bag of a salt and vinegar chips that he tried to reach with the tip of his tongue not wanting to move his arms from the warmth of his cocoon. His bedroom walls were covered with giant posters from old movies like “Rebel without a cause”, “Casablanca”, “The godfather” or “Titanic” and actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. He always loved the younger years aesthetic of cinema, the color scheme, the type of film, the heavy grain on the frames and the light murmur you could hear if you paid close attention to the back noise.
As Casey came into the bedroom, she took her scarf off and sat on the bed besides Jamie, over the blankets, tightening Jamie’s embrace, trapping him inside. His hair was messy, in a cool Clark Kent way, look which was even more strengthened by his stylish black rounded frame glasses. He totally looked like a super hero’s alter ego, if any of them had curly hair, taking a rest from saving the world.
Jamie jiggled trying to make some space, loosening her grip up, but soon he gave up and went for some more chips, unsuccessfully as Casey would always reach them first, pushing the remaining further from his reach.
- What are you watching? Is it porn? - Casey asked.
Jamie closed his laptop, with his left arm, the only arm he could move, and stared at her with a mix of disgust and wonder.
- Ew... No, who asks that?
- Sorry, what was it? - she continued.
- Nothing, how was your day? - he said, trying to deviate the conversation, something that Casey was way too familiar with to let go unnoticed.
- Secretive... Interesting... I won’t insist, but very interesting, indeed. - she told him, knowing too well that sometimes one just wants to be left alone with his own thoughts.
- You’re an idiot. - he responded.
- Thanks, it takes a whole 45 minutes in the morning. - Casey flipped her hair and blinked her eyelashes quickly.
- Oh, my god, you did not just say that.
- You love it, just admit it. - she said, giving him a sneaky wink.
- Sure... - he said as cold as one can while one’s trying to hold back a cheesy smile.
- That’s harsh. - she went on, pretending she was heart-broken by his mono-syllabic response. - Thankfully, I brought ice cream to ease this pain of rejection.
- Banana. - she said in her best british accent.
- What kind of flavor is banana? That’s not a soul-comforting, mind-distracting, heart-contradictory-warming ice cream flavor. Besides, you know I don’t like banana. - he sounded disappointed.
- I knew you’d be an asshole when I came back, so I brought it for me. I LOVE BANANA.
- That sounds oddly sexual and nasty.
- Good, that was the intention so mission accomplished. – she said with a taunting smile.
Casey proceeded to take a buck of mint and chocolate chip flavored ice cream from the bag on the floor and they both start eating.
- Beat any teacher today? - Jamie asked her.
- If only it were that easy, but I’m against animal cruelty, you should already know that. - she said between bites of chocolate chunks.
- Oh, right, I should, I had forgotten it... How did it go? - he continued.
Casey was frustrated and angry. She started eating faster and faster, more and more with each spoonful until there wasn’t any space left on the spoon.
- It went as good as it could when you’re doing a presentation on discrimination to a racist homophobe. - she sounded defeated - The man didn’t even let me finish.
- Do you want to go over it with me? Maybe just the key points? Finish it for someone, I know I would like that.
- You want to hear it? - she was incredulous. They had been friends for years now, with a small break here and there, as all friends do, but still he managed to surprise once in a while.
- You had so much work I think it’s only fair you talk about it with someone who actually cares. Come on, let’s hear it.
Casey got up. She took a last spoon of ice cream to her mouth, chewed it, which made Jamie’s eyes make a weird twist, and nervously started making her speech:
- Okay, long story short: discrimination as a biracial bisexual woman. Being discriminated for being gay or bisexual is something very different from being discriminated from being a woman or black. It starts with the fact that you are visually black and a woman from the first second you are born, but not obviously bisexual. A black woman from very little will have conversations with her mother about what she must expect from her condition. And notice that I say expect and not accept. However, contrary to race or gender, sexuality is something that can go unnoticed, that can be hidden if you want to.
Casey took another spoonful of the chocolate mint ice cream. She was starting to get excited, so much she didn’t even had time to taste that frozen after-eight delight, swallowing it as soon as she could. She moved back and forward in the room, never taking her eyes from Jamie:
- It may probably be the only form of discrimination in which the victim can hear what others think of “their kind” in first hand without “the politically correct” filter they would use if they knew. While a white man will always talk with care around a black man, even if he’s not “racist”, he won’t be careful talking about homosexuals if he’s only surrounded by “heterosexuals”. This has its advantages and disadvantages. You have the disadvantage of having to affirm yourself. A bisexual woman doesn’t have to disclaim her gender but will have to come clean about her sexuality of she’s bisexual, or at least that’s what society expects from her.
Jamie watched her as she made vigorously hand gesture, almost spilling the ice cream. She was going for it, determined. Angry. He stared at her in awe as a proud father listening to his daughter’s graduation speech.
- This is enough to start feelings of misplacement and shame, which people sometimes forget doesn’t happen only in matters of sexuality but also of gender and race. And you have the advantage that you can protect yourself, hide yourself, and know what people really think of you. I see this as an advantage because being a target of discrimination lets you see people for who they truly are, know their arguments and build the perfect intelligent responses. Neither race, gender or sexuality are choices, they’re not human actions with all that comes with it and therefore it can’t be wrong. Being a minority automatically gives a sense of empathy to others and a responsibility to be better and make better.
She finally took a deep breath, then another spoon of ice cream and she sat on the bed, trying to act calm, composed and cool.
- That was it. - she concluded.
- Caseydilla, you’re my idol. You’re going to be the best lawyer in this world to have ever existed. - he clapped and cheered, pretended to take pictures of her and asked for autographs. She posed and bowed. They were a family.
- I know, you should kiss the floor I walk, maybe some of my particles would rub on your skin and you’d get a little smarter. - she said.
- Beautiful, smart and now funny... what have I married myself into? . Jamie glowed.
- You wish! Anyway... Anything unusual? Extraordinary? Mind-blowing? Unprecedented? How was your day? - she asked her.
- Like what?
- I don’t know... Did someone say you were handsome? That would be a first, something we could actually celebrate. - she bumped him in the shoulder.
- Stupid. - was his only response.
- I was joking, come on... Nothing? I sense something. - she waved her hands around him while se closed her eyes and made deep sounds with the back of her throat.
- And we have a psychic! There must be a way we can monetize that.
- I do it for the people, not the money. - she said very seriously.
- Obviously. - another very serious response.
- So... what was it? You’ve got a promotion? Your father called? - Casey asked.
Jamie looked at her with a dozen years of hurting behind them. How can you hold wave from coming to shore, from wetting the sand, from salting your cheeks?
- Casey... - he said long and longing.
- Sorry... you met someone? - she asked, trying to take his mind off whatever he was thinking, she most certainly could guess what that was and she was starting to regret ever bringing it up.
- What? - he asked, red all over his face.
- You did. - she shouted enthusiastically and non-believing.
- Where would I meet someone? - he asked, not very convincing.
- In the subway, in the coffee shop, in the street, in the bathroom... so many options, just be creative.
- In the bathroom?
- Yeah, some kind of love at first piss.
- You’re mental. - he laughed.
- How is she? Is she a she? Is she a he? Is he a he? Who cares, anyway... - she talked so fast she almost didn’t have time to breathe between her sentences.
- I didn’t meet anyone. It was just something weird that happened today with this guy? - Jamie said shyly.
- A guy? Hum... Was he a tuna? - she asked ordinarily as if that is something that you go around asking people.
- A what? A tuna? Like the fish?
- Yeah, a tuna, like the fish... Never heard the phrase “There’s plenty of fish in the sea”? - she continued on her seemingly usual line of questioning.
- Sure. - Jamie said intrigued.