Two Boys Kissing

Page 23


We yell at him, yell after him. Even though we no longer have voices, we scream at the top of our lungs. We crowd ourselves into a mangled chorus, and in anguish we hear the nothing that comes from our lips. We try to block him, and he walks right through us. We try to pound on his car, raise an alarm, but we can’t do anything.
Cars pass by. He is, to them, just another teenage boy. Out for a walk. Crossing the bridge. They see him throw something into the river. They don’t realize it’s his phone.
We try to catch it. We cannot catch it.
He feels the railing under his hands. No. The railing is under his hands, but he doesn’t really feel it. He walks toward the center of the bridge. It will take him about two minutes to get there. Maybe three. He’s in no rush. He watches the dark water undulating far below.
He cannot see his mother crying in her bedroom. No matter what his father says, she will not let go of her phone.
We howl at him. Beg with him. Plead with him. Yell at him. Explain to him. Our lives were short, and we never would have wanted to have them be shorter. Sometimes perspective comes far too late. You cannot trust yourself. You think you can, but you can’t. Not because you are selfish. You cannot live for anyone else’s sake. As much as you may want to, you can’t stay alive just because other people want you alive. You cannot stay alive for your parents. You cannot stay alive for your friends. And you have no responsibility to stay alive for them. You have no responsibility to anyone but yourself to live.
But I’m dead, he would tell us. I am already dead.
No, we’d argue. No, you are not. We know what it is like to be alive in the present but dead in the future. But you are the opposite. Your future self is still alive. You have a responsibility to your future self, who is someone you might not even know, might not even understand yet. Because until you die, that future self has as much of a life as you do.
We can see that future self. Even if you can’t. We can see him. He is made up not just of your present soul, but of all our souls, all our possibilities, all our deaths. He is the opposite of our negation.
You are not worthless, we shout to Cooper. Your life is not disposable.
You think there is no point.
You think you will never find a place.
You think your pain is the only emotion you will ever feel. You think nothing else will ever come close to being as strong as that pain.
You are certain of this.
In this minute—in this, the most important minute of your life—you are certain that you must die.
You see no other option.
You need to wake up, we cry.
Listen to us. We fruitlessly demand that you listen to us. We shit blood and had our skin lacerated and broken by lesions. We had fungus grow in our throats, under our fingernails. We lost the ability to see, to speak, to feed ourselves. We coughed up pieces of ourselves and felt our blood turn to magma. We lost the use of our muscles and our bodies were reduced to collections of skin-encased bones. We were rendered unrecognizable, diminished and demolished. Our lovers had to watch us die. Our friends had to watch as the nurse changed our catheters, had to try to put aside that image as they laid us in caskets, into the ground. We will never kiss our mothers again. We will never see our fathers. We will never feel air in our lungs. We will never hear the sound of our voices. We will never feel snow or sand or take part in another conversation. Everything was taken away from us, and we miss it. We miss all of it. Even if you cannot feel it now, it is all there for you.
Cooper is nearing the center of the bridge. Cars continue to pulse past him; when a truck rolls by, he can feel the bridge shake, can feel the air displaced. This he feels. Even if he has closed himself into his decision, he is still in the world.
The last minute.
The last thirty seconds.
Our ends were never this precise.
We want to close our eyes. Why can’t we close our eyes? We who did nothing more than dream and love and screw—why have we been banished here, why hasn’t the world solved this by now? Why must we watch as Cooper steps up to the railing? Why must we watch as a twelve-year-old puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger? Why must we watch as a fourteen-year-old hangs himself in the garage, to be found by his grandmother two hours later? Why must we watch as a nineteen-year-old is strung up on the side of an empty highway and left to die? Why must we watch as a thirteen-year-old takes a stomach full of pills, then places a plastic bag over his head? Why must we watch as he vomits and chokes?
Why must we die over and over again?
Cooper lifts himself into the air. Here we are, thousands of us, shouting no, shouting at him to stop, crying out and making a net of our bodies, trying to come between him and the water, even though we know—we always know—that no matter how tight a net we make, no matter how hard we try, he will still fall through.
We die over and over again.
Over and over again.
Cooper jumps onto the railing and he is slammed from the side. Before he can know what’s happening, before we can know what’s happening, he’s being brought back to the ground, tackled to the ground. He cries out, but the cry is ignored. A driver, seeing what’s happening, screeches to a halt, and the car behind almost hits him. Cooper is struggling, Cooper is trying to get back up, but the man on top of him is telling him not to move, to stay still, to stay there. Cooper feels the man holding him, feels the man not letting go. They get a good look at each other at the same time. Cooper sees a uniform, a badge—a traffic cop. The cop sees Cooper and says, “Jesus, you’re just a kid.”
Other people are running over, are asking what’s wrong, are asking the cop if he needs help. Cooper starts to shake, all of his emotions bursting out at once. Anger and sadness at having been stopped. Humiliation. Self-loathing—he couldn’t even do this right. And somewhere in there, a small voice of relief.
The cop is still holding the wallet he found in the car. Not letting go of Cooper, he hands the wallet to the concerned woman next to him and asks her to tell him the boy’s name. She does, and then the cop lets some of his weight off Cooper and turns him, so he can look the boy in the eye.
“It might not feel like it,” the cop says, “but, Cooper, today is your lucky day.”
It does not bring back the twelve-year-old who put a gun to his head. It does not bring back the fourteen-year-old who hung himself. It does not bring back the nineteen-year-old strung up on the side of an empty highway and left to die. It does not bring back the thirteen-year-old who took a stomach full of pills. It does not bring back any of us.
But it does bring back Cooper.
Less than an hour’s drive away, Craig and Harry reach their final hour, as Neil and Peter watch from the crowd.
Craig feels strangely awake, immensely alive. His body is sore, his mind is overwhelmed, and the air smells like sweat and pee, but after thirty-one hours he can’t see himself or Harry dropping before they hit thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds. He’s even allowing himself to take in the crowd, to wave to the people who are cheering and to all of the cameras that have gathered.
Harry, however, feels like his body is about to fail. He can’t bear the thought of another minute of this. In some twisted way, we know how he feels. When our bodies were failing, we’d often feel like the space between breaths was centuries long. And then sleep would be over in a blink, leaving us more exhausted than ever.
He’s tried shaking his legs, moving his legs. Doing the small workouts they’d planned. But this is it. He can’t anymore. He can’t imagine disappointing all these people, can’t imagine disappointing his parents and, most of all, Craig. But he can’t imagine fifty-six more minutes of this. He’s trying to think of a way to communicate this to Craig. He’s trying to think of a way to ask forgiveness before he lets go. He needs a break. He needs something.
Out of desperation, he wraps his arms around Craig, pulls him closer, pulls him tight. Craig does the same thing. First, just an embrace. A hug. Then squeezing. Harder and harder. With all the energy they have left.
Only there’s more energy after that, too. Because he’s still standing. He’s still holding on. He’s not letting go. Neither of them is letting go. They’re making it more intense. Runners sprinting at the end of the marathon. Despite the exhaustion, there’s the need to see it through.
The crowd in the back cheers louder. The people in front have a different reaction. Tariq is near tears, because he can see the pain his friends are in, can see them struggling. Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez must fight off the instinct they have to keep Harry safe, to protect him from any pain. Smita worries about what will happen if they don’t make it, how they will deal with that kind of failure. Sure, people will say it’s amazing they lasted this long. But it will still be a failure.
Harry doesn’t have to write any letters on Craig’s back for Craig to know he’s going to have to hold tight for the remaining time they have. This is now the way things are. So Craig holds tight. And as he does, he tries to take in all of the sensations, all of the things he is seeing and feeling and hearing. Nothing like this will ever happen to him again, and he wants to remember it. And nothing like this will ever happen with him and Harry again, a fact that he is trying to place in the context of his love for Harry. Now that they’ve shared this, it would be natural to want to try again. And part of Craig does want to try again, wants to see if there’s any way to carry some of this intensity over into their real lives. But he’s also remembering what Harry said to him when they were breaking up, how they would still be important to each other, and that was the important thing. Craig hadn’t wanted to hear it then, and he wouldn’t really want it repeated now. But he also knows it’s true.
So now he’s back to the question of why he’s done this crazy thing. From all the camera crews, he knows the story is going to spread, and he hopes that maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give. So there’s that. But that’s not a personal reason. What is his personal reason? If it’s not getting back together with Harry. If it’s not making his family see who he is, and having them cheering him on.
What Craig finds when he takes all of these people out of the equation is the single variable of himself. He realizes: He is doing it for himself. Not for glory. Not for popularity. Not even for admiration. He is doing it because he feels alive. There are so many minutes and hours and days we spend taking life for granted, not feeling it so much as going along with it. But then there are moments like this, when the aliveness of life is crystalline, palpable, undeniable. It is the ultimate buoy against drowning. It is the ever-saving grace.
Forty-two. Thirty-four. Twenty-six! The crowd calls out numbers on minute-wide intervals. They filter around Harry like the temperature, but he has to stay focused on the kiss, on making sure his lips stay on Craig’s. He is sure that if Craig lets go of him, he will fall to the ground.
Twenty-two! Nineteen!
A car pulls up to the side of the George Washington Bridge, and Cooper’s parents come running out. They find their son sitting in a security booth, a traffic cop at his side, allowing him his silence. It should not be the case, but at that moment, they have never loved him more.
Seventeen! Sixteen!
Merrily, merrily, a blue-haired boy and a pink-haired boy row on a quiet river, serenaded by their own conversation. This is now their place. They will return here many times.
Thirteen! Twelve!
We wish we could have been there for you. We didn’t have many role models of our own—we latched on to the foolish love of Oscar Wilde and the well-versed longing of Walt Whitman because nobody else was there to show us an untortured path. We were going to be your role models. We were going to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world. Those who survived lived to do this. But we haven’t been there for you. We’ve been here. Watching as you become the role models.