Johnny America


I Mar­ried a Lunatic


The city’s emer­gency re­sponse unit has threat­ened to sue if Bil­ly di­als 911 again. No more calls about ter­ror­ists, no more calls about se­cret mis­sions for the CIA. I love him so mad­ly, I let my moth­er die alone af­ter a long rain. Bil­ly and I lost all but one pho­to­graph of her. On the back, she wrote her last words: Please, son, don’t make my mis­take. Don’t ru­in your life over a man. When Bil­ly kiss­es me, I for­get my­self. He wants to vis­it the dri­ve-in across town, and on­ly a closed ve­hi­cle can con­vince Bil­ly to in­dulge a crowd. They might scan my brain, he says.

​Dr. Love­less thinks tak­ing Bil­ly to a hor­ror movie will end bad­ly. I love him so mad­ly, I promised to sew shut my eyes if he ever caught me gaz­ing at an­oth­er man. Bil­ly grins like a boy smash­ing a bug when­ev­er the masked slash­er guts an­oth­er co­ed. He has so few plea­sures out­side of watch­ing old pres­i­den­tial de­bates on C‑SPAN2; he warns me my eye­glass­es will shat­ter if I switch the chan­nel. You’re too nec­es­sary to my plot against Hi­lary Clin­ton, he says. You need your eyes. Dr. Love­less sends emails damn­ing our love af­fair to dis­as­ter, big­ger than a hur­ri­cane, more dead­ly than a pan­dem­ic. Bil­ly start­ed ig­nor­ing him the mo­ment he sug­gest­ed my lover en­ter the hos­pi­tal — the one with strait­jack­ets, not the one with IV drips.

​I met Bil­ly Gross six months ago. He went to an out­pa­tient clin­ic for myr­i­ad emo­tion­al mal­func­tions; I was killing time so my pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer would think I was se­ri­ous about con­quer­ing my pesky ad­dic­tions. We shared a bunk bed. He thought we had deluxe ac­com­mo­da­tions since the room fea­tured its own air con­di­tion­er. Every night, I lis­tened to him toss about on the top bunk, watched the wood­en slats shift and scrape in­side the oak frame. On­ly af­ter the noise ceased did I al­low my­self to drift. Af­ter two weeks to­geth­er, two weeks camped in front of CNN, two weeks swap­ping so­das and cig­a­rettes, two weeks of brief kiss­es in the back­yard, stolen while our house man­ag­er slept, I reached for his mat­tress while he lay atop it, un­aware, and promised my­self I’d mar­ry Bil­ly Gross. I knew I loved him. My ther­a­pists want­ed me to love my­self. I told my group Bil­ly and I were for keeps, for re­al, for­ev­er. If you’re un­sure whether an emo­tion is gen­uine, lend it voice. You’d be amazed how you re­al­ly feel about things.

You give my lift meaning.

​I nev­er lived be­fore your love.

I don’t love you any­more. Goodbye.

​Can­dice dubbed him the Sexy Schizo, this poor bas­tard zip­ping among the pa­tients, beg­ging for a smoke. A soiled white fisherman’s cap perched up­on his head of dark curls. Two days of stub­ble dark­ened his face, re­mind­ed me of swarthy sailors from Shake­speare­an dra­ma. His lips flexed like limp mac­a­roni when he spoke, shy­ly ask­ing Can­dice if I was her boyfriend. She and I ex­plained the del­i­cate dy­nam­ics be­tween queer men and lone­ly women. I’m free and clear, I said. He’s quite a steal, she added. Bil­ly chuck­led and glanced down at his bel­ly as it stretched the thick hor­i­zon­tal stripes of his shirt. He con­fid­ed that he wrote for Pixar and Para­mount — did we have any sto­ry ideas? Can­dice sug­gest­ed an in­spi­ra­tional film about an al­co­holic with breast can­cer. Billy’s hazel eyes crossed while he re­vealed his plan to buy a man­sion out­side the clin­ic with his in­her­i­tance. I of­fered my num­ber, in­formed him my group home had an open bed. Af­ter he left, Can­dice asked me to text her lat­er, make sure her chemo went well. You’re go­ing to get through this, I said. That Bil­ly is one scrump­tious moth­er­fuck­er, she said. She slugged my arm.

​In the movie, a creepy girl with sunken eyes be­heads Ethan Hawke. Now, Bil­ly can’t face for­ward in his seat. He twists his head over one shoul­der, then the oth­er. I know ask­ing whether the voic­es have re­turned, whether the men in yel­low rain­coats lurk out­side, will lead to on­ly con­fu­sion and frus­tra­tion. He bats his fists against his head, hairy knuck­les strong and quick; grasp­ing at them re­minds me how weak I’ve be­come. I was al­ways help­less. I love him so mad­ly, I pum­mel my own head so he won’t think he’s sick. Dr. Love­less di­als my cell first then tries Bil­ly. I urge him not to an­swer, warn him the doc­tor doesn’t com­pre­hend our bond. Bil­ly asks the doc­tor where he fa­ther might be hid­ing — the at­tic? the mail­box? the toi­let? I’m sob­bing, I can’t stop. He shush­es me, fin­ger graz­ing his lips. I want to kiss him, but first I want to die. Af­ter hang­ing up, Bil­ly asks me who will get my vote to­mor­row; the elec­tion was three years ago.

We sleep in sep­a­rate twin beds like Lucy and Ricky. When­ev­er I slip be­neath his cov­er, hard and ea­ger, Bil­ly muf­fles his laugh­ter and says on­ly bad boys get their dip­sticks dirty. Af­ter his cock­tail of gener­ic med­ica­tions takes ef­fect, I wait like a ju­nior-high girl be­side her princess phone, wait for the sweet sting of grat­i­tude when he leaps atop me like a jun­gle cat. It has to be his over­ture, nev­er mine. I taught him how to make love. It in­volved much pa­tience and much pornog­ra­phy. His moth­er turned stark white in­side the kitchen door­way af­ter Bil­ly boast­ed he knew how to fuck like a man. I love him so mad­ly, I cut eye­holes in a de­sign­er sheet and dragged through our apart­ment, pre­tend­ing to be his father’s ghost. It’s my fault he’s dead; I ru­in every­one. Bil­ly will nev­er es­cape from the hall of mir­rors be­neath his curls. In­side my lover’s head re­sides the on­ly place our de­vo­tion can survive.

​You take my life’s meaning.

I nev­er loved be­fore you lived.

​I don’t love any­one else. Nice try.

Candice’s doc­tors fil­ter through her room one by one, speak like chil­dren at a spelling bee. All of them de­liv­er the sad, sad pieces of a sad, sad puz­zle. Please, she says, bring Sexy Schizo to see me. I’ll give him a dol­lar when he re­mem­bers my name. This time, it’s doubt­ful she’ll leave the hos­pi­tal — the one with IV drips, not the one with strait­jack­ets. Every damn bone in my body is dis­eased, she says, flip­ping through chan­nels as her ma­roon toe­nail pol­ish dries. I need lots of things, she says, but bour­bon tops the list. I slip her a flask, she hands me lit­tle pink cap­sules for the pain — mine, not hers. You bet­ter whip up a four-course meal when I bust loose, she says. We smile like a dance coach smeared our teeth with Vase­line. I leave and imag­ine her grin fad­ing. Rid­ing the glass el­e­va­tor down eight sto­ries, Bil­ly zooms in­to fo­cus from his po­si­tion be­side a cop­per-plat­ed foun­tain. Apol­lo in mid-flight, un­no­ticed by Bil­ly. I love him so mad­ly, I re­sist the urge to stop dead still while cross­ing the busy street. He bursts with joy to learn Can­dice wants to see him. He points to each body part, recit­ing what I’ve told him: she has bad cells on her spine, bad cells in her brain, bad cells on her hip, bad cells in her neck. We’re con­nect­ed by a se­ries of tubes and bolts, he says. Can­dice went un­der­cov­er for the CIA. Dou­ble-du­ty un­der­cov­er. I pin a buck on his shirt collar.

​Bil­ly doesn’t un­der­stand that mar­riage is re­served for het­ero­sex­u­als. At least in this state, its name boast­ing more vow­els than con­so­nants. We should come to­geth­er be­fore they scan your brain while I’m not here, he says. He promis­es not to skip a dose; he promis­es to ig­nore any voice com­pelling him to scream, thrash or strip in pub­lic; he promis­es noth­ing ab­surd. I love him so mad­ly, I pre­tend every cou­ple makes sure vows.

​We fly to Mass­a­chu­setts. Bil­ly knows the streets down to each gut­ter since he took a vir­tu­al tour be­fore the trip. In our linen suits (beige and char­coal) and silk ties, we seem like refugees from a le­git­i­mate wed­ding. As we take our places be­fore the jus­tice of the peace, Billy’s eyes grow soft and bleary. I kiss him briefly on the cheek. I love him so mad­ly, I stop de­bat­ing which of us is tru­ly in­sane. On­ly death shall part these two men, the of­fi­cial says. A tribe of oth­er queer cou­ples ap­plauds. Bil­ly and I link el­bows and pa­rade down an aisle bor­dered by peach crêpe pa­per draped from fold­ing chairs. Do I love you for­ev­er, Bil­ly asks.

​You give me life.

​I nev­er lived before.

​Dr. Love­less re­turns our wed­ding an­nounce­ment; I pluck it from the mail­box af­ter our re­turn. In sprawl­ing script, he in­forms Bil­ly that he can no longer treat him. My re­lief jack­knifes in­to pan­ic — who will write his pre­scrip­tions? I’ve nev­er told Bil­ly, but love is a busi­ness: let too many de­tails slip and you’re bust. I love him so mad­ly, I’ll find a way. I love him so mad­ly, I’ll find an an­swer. I love him so mad­ly, I’ll find what he needs. Af­ter fret­ting to Can­dice over the phone, she soothes me with wise words, no less per­sua­sive when de­liv­ered in her weak, tremu­lous voice. Bring Sexy Schizo to vis­it, she says. He makes me laugh. I ask when would be best. Soon, she says, as soon as you can.

​I don’t live any­more. Goodbye.

​Care­ful with those big damn meat hooks, Can­dice says when Bil­ly em­braces her, jerk­ing her from the bed. She’s giv­en up on van­i­ty; free of scarves, her wispy blonde hair ex­pos­es her scalp while her lips and cheeks are bare. She fix­es me with her cerulean eyes — yes, this is what’s left of me. She’s ask­ing Bil­ly sim­ple arith­metic. Two plus five equals a ba­nana. Six mi­nus four equals Jodie Fos­ter. She’s a les­bian, he an­nounces, proud of him­self. Can­dice laughs. We knew that be­fore she knew it her­self. We con­verse in hushed tones buoyed by chuck­les. We speak the lan­guage of the dy­ing. She re­fus­es to say good­bye; she in­sists we say, See you soon. Yes, this is what’s left of her. Out­side by the Apol­lo foun­tain, I stop pre­tend­ing. The tears fall as I hold Bil­ly, his warmth my on­ly mir­a­cle. Are you go­ing to miss her, he whis­pers in­to my shoul­der. She’s still here, I say. The wa­ter rip­ples, spray cas­cad­ing in­to a small re­flect­ing pool. I’m still here, Bil­ly says. And don’t for­get the fly­ing man in a dress! He ges­tures wild­ly at Apol­lo. It’s a sun­ny day. I love him so mad­ly, I fi­nal­ly let him love me back.

Filed under Fiction on February 21st, 2014

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