OVERHEARD PHONE CONVERSATION
OCT-1972, BUS STOP, BERKELEY, CA

“It’s just not a good idea, okay? Yes, I know. But listen. You understanding is important for both of us. Okay? Let’s take certain things as a given. I draw and withdraw from you more than a frightened turtle. Yep. I know. I know I’m touchy and not all that easy to be with. My parents are clueless and I haven’t even told my sister. But I think she knows. So…and you know all this, but this constant anger of yours and getting mad when I’m moody or mad at you—it’s just too much. I go back in the shell. I’m shaking in there and it leaves me spent. Not knowing if I peep out and show you what I’m actually feeling or say what I really mean to, something genuine, not knowing if that will cause another explosion, all because you don’t trust me. It’s true. Just say it. You don’t trust me. Granted, going into this thing I shouldn’t have deserved a lot of trust if I couldn’t man up and tell my parents, but even after showing you all that insecurity I have—you’re still cold. There’s no comfort, no security from you. So I go inside my shell because at least I know it’s safe. If I told them and we make this work and you feel I’m here for the hills and bumps and the whole shebang and I was truly ready, would that help? Can you see how even thinking of that takes so much courage from my part? Can’t you see I’m blind in my shell? That it’s dark even if it’s safe? I can’t tell you I’m here for you every five fucking minutes. It’s just too much. Don’t you see?”

“Look, this isn’t one of those five-minute reassurance check-ins. We do that enough. That’s not why I called. This is…this is…understand that—hills. They go up. They go down. Sometimes we’re up. Sometimes we’re down. But you don’t ever want to be down. Down isn’t allowed. Don’t you think we’ll be down after my parents meet you, know what you are, what we are? Any time I try to explain this you think it’s over. That’s because you think it’s going to be down and up will never come after it. It’s forever deeper and deeper into the depths once they know. But know I’m not leaving. I just need to say something.”

“See? See? This is exactly what I mean. I want to say something true and something you have no control over and you slam your panic button and get all defensive. I bet you’re about to say ‘See, you said you wouldn’t leave, but here you are saying all the reasons why you should, how hard this is going to be, and it’s not your, meaning my, fault for being so insecure.’ I know that. But I still want to try to tell you this anyway. So just listen for once. What I’m about to say will not change you in any way, or confirm the quadrillion reasons you have for distrusting me. Okay?”

“I know that sucks. But, see, this is my head out of the shell trying to fix this, and trying to shoulder some of this pressure you put on yourself. I’ve been watching it build for weeks, months even. But this thing I have to say will bring us past a hilltop and we’ll be going down. Okay?”

“Okay. Ready?”

“So why I left yesterday and didn’t call back…I was at the hospital for—”

“No, I’m not hurt.”

“No. I’m just—I got some results back. Test results. You know how I’ve been sick for a month now, but just sniffles, a little cough? Well, yeah, my immune system’s in the tank. T-levels are down the drain. The doctor thinks it’s it. That’s why he wanted me getting the tests in the first place. Some came back positive. So it’s not you, I haven’t been saying what I’ve needed to because I figured that I might have it, don’t want it spread. That’s why I don’t kiss you back, haven’t given anything back. It’s why I’m cleaning the house like a meth head, just to be safe. Nobody knows how it goes from person to person. I care for you and want you alive as you can be.”

“I know. It’s probably for the—Hello? Hello?”

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