Disentangling

I.

I realised I was probably in love with you. It was that day we were all building things at my rambling junk-strewn house, hammering and sanding and painting the chassis of the old trailer that we wanted to fill with tools and use as a mobile bike workshop. Do you remember trying to pry up the splintered lino with a chisel while the sun beat down outside? Later we retired to the porch, cracked tinnies, and watched the chickens mow the front lawn while the gums across the street pinkened in fading light.

Earlier on you’d offered to accompany me on a walk to the bottl’o, and I was excited and terrified because the whole time all I wanted to do was touch you, but I knew instead that I’d have to find some way to spit out what was gnawing at me. I was supposed to tell you that we just had to be friends now, that I wanted to touch you too much. We made it to the shops and mostly back and still I’d said nothing. I remember we walked past a big brick building, then down a backstreet, and you grabbed my arm and tugged it and your teeth were seated so full in your grin, as ever, and I knew then that I wouldn’t force out the lines I’d half-rehearsed.

And then we found ourselves alone in the shell of that decomposing trailer rifling through the piles of twisted wheels and other bits of scrap, and I was nervous still but you kissed me and it was a most confusing, longed-for kiss. I staggered away down the driveway and I plugged in the angle grinder, pulled a bandana over my face and pretended to myself I wasn’t thinking about you.

In the evening we all lit a fire in the backyard and smoked a spliff, and then they trickled out, our mates, until it was just us. It felt inevitable, and I’d twisted my resolve so that our aloneness fit neatly within it, and I asked if you were hungry. We ate by the fire, just pasta with a bit of spinach, and I swung a leg over your knees and leaned into you, and there was nothing I wanted more. When the embers had faded we went inside and found our way to my bedroom. You usually became so talkative afterwards, but this time we were both just gazing upwards and then you said,

“Do you worry we might be getting too close?”

“Yes,” I said, and nuzzled into your chest. Yes.

So we would just be friends after all, and not friends who slept together, but that night we lay so near and I remember feeling electrified just because our feet were entwined. That felt like the most simple and honest expression of closeness I’d dared to make in years, and it saddened me so much that I couldn’t sleep.

In the morning you pressed into me like you always did, even bleary-eyed, and you said,

“This morning doesn’t count, right?”

and you pulled me toward you. That morning we came at the same time, didn’t we? Even now when that happens, I’m still astonished. After a coffee you left, and I sat in a fold-out chair in the dusty backyard and it was a damn beautiful day, and I smiled with the utmost melancholy, because it was pangs of love that were coursing through me, and I hadn’t known it before.

II.

I realised I hated you a little bit. I’d been trying so hard to be just friends, to do that honourably, but it felt like the more we decided not to be involved – and you would agree, fervently – the more you wanted to draw me in, to win me again, and I was never fully disengaged so always you got your way. And we’d had our big fight, when you accused me of being a bad friend to you, of betraying you by sleeping with a mate, by flirting in front of you. I couldn’t even respond. If my white-hot anger could have unearthed words in me, it would have said, But you’re the one in a relationship.

Our make-up was fraught – on a park bench, our bikes tossed to the grass. You gave me a graduation present, the only one I’d received, and it was so personal and thoughtful that I shocked myself by beginning to cry. We rode through the cemetery and lay on the ground and it started to rain, big plummeting splats, and you pulled your jacket over our heads and I knew what you wanted, and I leapt up and said,

“I have to go home.”

“Why?” you asked.

“So I don’t do something I shouldn’t.”

The next day we went for a bushwalk, and I wasn’t conflicted with wanting to touch you, because I didn’t really. I just wanted to show you all the birds I knew and breathe deeply with the eucalypts. But later, when we got off the train and you wanted to go to the pub and I said,

“Let’s get take-aways and go sit in the park. It’s still so gorgeous out,” you read something in my words that I had never intended. After the first beers we got seconds and still I held out, turned my head when you leaned towards me, until eventually I turned it back again and we were rolling around by the duck pond, and you were clinging at me with such urgency that I found it alarming.

We went to our bikes and we rode, and we found ourselves right back in my room, where we’d spent so many nights and mornings and afternoons, and you took me too hard this time. I couldn’t find the strength to tell you to stop, and afterwards I pulled on a nightie and turned away from you and you pleaded with me to let you stay, and I couldn’t summon the words I needed to tell you to leave. And I hated you then, I realised it with alertness, but in half-sleep I felt you behind me and I wanted you so I pulled off the dress. We did it six times that night and when finally you left I barely knew who I was.

III.

I realised that I didn’t care anymore. I realised things would probably be okay. I’d caved and agreed that you could come to the Christmas picnic. I felt stronger there, surrounded by friends, and I got steadily drunk and acted on my wants.

That friend was there, the one from our fight before. It felt so long ago that the three of us had snuck a bottle of whisky into the queer festival after pride parade and made out in turns, and he’d asked us both home. I declined because I was bleeding like mad, and because I knew you both only really wanted me, and I only really wanted him, and whatever went down would be all pretend.

That day at the picnic I chased him with water guns, and we wrestled in the grass and I pinned him down and kissed him gently. I’d loved you and hated you and failed so many times to disentangle myself, but that afternoon I was happy and I let go, falling into myself as if from a great height. I knew you could look after yourself.

Later at the show we danced together, me and him, the way couples do in crowded venues. I leaned back into him, holding his arms. We all moved across the street and sat at a table getting drunker, cussing and yelling. At one point I noticed you gone and I felt a pang. I wondered, in that half-formed fuzzy way, if I wasn’t being too insensitive, and I yanked myself out of the hard-earned plastic chair and went to find you.

When I stood in the doorway of the band room and watched you and her making out, lit up spangled and loud, first touching like a scene in a movie, I smiled a real smile, a steady one, and I went back outside, wrested another chair, sat down and listened for the thread of knotted conversation.

The night went on, and on, until it was five hours before my flight left for Brisbane. There was my brother in the car in the alley, telling me I should get in and go home. And there was a line of people to say goodbye to. My friend kissed me on the lips, and my other mates hugged me and urged me to come get pizza, to go home later. And then the end of the line was you. You smiled with warmth, looked me in the eyes and embraced me. I might not see you for a long while. Maybe I wouldn’t see you again. Somehow we’d both figured out how to get away. You said goodbye and in that, all the rest of it mattered less and I knew that probably we’d be okay.