Before you’re awake, I come downstairs and your boyfriend is playing the record player in the living room, loud, as he cleans up the house. He lives with us now, somehow, without a lease or rent or any real claim beyond the fact that you live here and he’s your boyfriend, and no one’s questioned his being here yet.
But I like him. And though you’ll deny this outright later, when everything falls apart between you, I think in many ways he’s been good to you.
It’s early now. Later, while I’m at work, you two will go exploring in the subway tunnels, looking for mole people and the abandoned station. We’ve talked about it; we’ve heard there’s a piano down there, and maybe fancy carpets and a chandelier? Anyway, imagining it entertains us. And the station does exist: that part is true. If you look out the window on the train, you can see it between Central and Harvard Square if you press your face up to the window as the tracks curve and the train slows to a crawl. I’ve never seen any piano, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be there.
I’ve asked if I can come too, when you go exploring, and you’ve always said maybe in that way you have that means, maybe not. And when you do finally go, it’s while I’m at work. Just you and him.
My mother would say three is trouble. Two is a couple, and four makes a group, but three—with three there’s always an odd one out. But we aren’t a threesome; definitely not. There’s you and him, and you and me. You seem to want each of us all to yourself, and that’s fine; you’re the one we both care about.
Someday soon, one of you will die, and the other will move far away, south. To Jamaica, or Florida. Louisiana. Who knows where? Somewhere hot.
But for now that’s a deadly surprise within a future that hasn’t unfolded yet.
For now, you and your boyfriend are both here in this ridiculous house where we all live: two in the attic, two in the basement, and every bedroom full. We love it here: the shambling porches and the pink carpet and cement backyard, and the record player in the living room right this second spinning “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”:
Well I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m going
I’m on my way
I’m taking my time but I don’t know where
Goodbye Rosie, the queen of Corona
See you, me and Julio
Down by the schoolyard.
It’s just the kind of song your boyfriend would love, just the kind you would pretend to hate in front of us: it’s so perky, so catchy. So where then, from within your box of Black Flag and Dead Boys and Submission Hold records, did Paul Simon even come from?
The record plays while you’re down in the basement, still asleep. Your boyfriend is putting things away and doing the dishes, which makes me like him. And he loves you so much, which also makes me like him.
Soon, one of you will get the other hooked back on heroin. I won’t know who’s who, though I’ll run into each of you high at different times, and it’ll hurt to see your slack faces and dead eyes. I’ll snap my fingers in front of you, say your names, ask, Where you coming from? You okay? Hey, hear me? You okay?
This house will slowly rip apart, and you’ll go one way and your boyfriend will be gone another, and I’ll hover awhile between you, carrying a box of old records, wondering what happened.
It won’t be my fault or yours, what happened with the house. We will insist this to each other after: it was their fault, meaning our other housemates, meaning everyone but us.
And when you blame the breakup on your boyfriend, and the heroin—when you tell me in confidence that he robbed you and he beat you and he hurt you, and that I have to believe you—I will.
I will believe that you broke each other.
I will believe that you are brokenhearted in a way I can’t fix. And I’ll be on your side without ever knowing what really happened between you, what happened when I was at work or just not there, because this is what you will need from me, desperately.
I’ll take your side, but I won’t forget these mornings, either: when he and I have both gotten up before you, and I watch him cheerfully collect last night’s beer bottles and balled-up socks. Dump out the ashtrays on the porch. Pile all our combat boots and Doc Martens and your dirty Chuck Taylors by the front door. For once, nobody’s sleeping over; there are no guests on the couch or nested in blankets under the dining room table or on the living room carpet.
The windows are open and it’s summery-sweet outside. He dances and sings along with the record, and when he catches my eye, I sing too: Mama pajama rolled out of bed and she ran to the police station! When papa found out he began to shout and he started the investigation!
He’s putting the house in order, though nobody asked him to, while I sit here not helping him at all, just watching.
If—when—the day comes that you ask me to take your side over his, I will. I always will. But I’ll go on liking him, too.
You’re maybe at the very center of this house: you’re certainly already the center of us in this house. But maybe this is the problem, that you can’t have both of us all to yourself if we all live together. Maybe it’s the problem. For the time being, though, it’s still early. You aren’t here right now.
You’re still asleep.