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And other things we lose in the fire.

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I swallow back bile as the door slowly opens.

SLAM SLAM SLAM. My heart is exhausted from all that thrashing against the pre-war floorboards.

She can't make eye contact with me. She's rushing around getting ready to go to the Catskills to stay with our mutual friend Blaine, in the gorgeous mid-century modern he bought during his "What does it ALL MEAN?" phase of the global pandemic. He painted it black—squid-ink-pasta black—which would be viewed as a gothic choice if it were my home.

Anytime a sallow-skinned brunette chooses any shade besides sunny yellow—it's chalked up to our glowering gothness. Sandy-haired gay boys like Blaine could lope around town maudlin as a Fiona Apple ballad dressed in Morticia Adams drag and would be considered high fashion and playfully edgy. Meanwhile, I dress like a Sapphic Barbie doll; head-to-toe in Miami pinks and blues; have a monochromatic pastel bedroom—yet have never managed to shake my Vampira reputation. Sigh. Things could be worse, I suppose. I could be one of those translucent blondes that always look Republican even when they're rallying for reproductive rights, hairy toes exposed in Birkenstocks with the words "keep your laws off my body" tattooed across their foreheads. That I couldn't handle.

I think about the squid-ink house. The floor-to-ceiling windows, I used to peer into and study what was inside, like the backyard was an aquarium. I loved that view. I loved watching the snow blanket the sprawling lawn and lightly parmesans the tops of the sparse maple trees. I think of the living room, where I wrote the proposal for the only book I have yet to sell. Curled into the corners of Blaine's swarthy leather couch, a luxurious cream blanket covering my naked knees, words spinning out of my fingertips gracefully, like a ballerina. "It feels so good to type." I boasted to Asa who was buzzing around me like a bee, screwing lights into bulbs, re-wiring his speakers, as any good lesbian house guest would. "It feels like playing the piano! Like dancing with my hands!" I grinned into the screen. Life was so different then. My life was on an upswing. I was sure of it. Right now the ship isn't sinking. It's just not moving. It got stuck on its way to the harbor.

I walk over to the window, press my nose up against it. I ask her who else is going with her to the Catskills? If anyone?

I don't need to turn around to know she's staring at the floor. I'm so sorry, she whispers. She doesn't mean to hurt me, she whispers.

I ask her what she means, my voice loud but muffled against the glass. She's *allowed* to go to the Catskills and hang out with Blaine, I tell her. She's allowed to do whatever she wants to do. That's the tragic beauty of being a party of one, I think quietly, because sometimes if my thoughts scream too loud she hears them and I don't want that right now. I want privacy. Hence why my nose is making love to a fucking window in Brooklyn.

She takes a breath. The breath is loaded like a gun. She releases it, pulls the trigger. Shots are fired with every name. Mia and Taylor; a married couple we both adore. Traveled all the way to Florida for our Wedding. Serena and Luisa; two of our closest mutual friends. A brood of boys-who-boy that I've spent the past seven summers in The Fire Island Pines with; sipping and twirling into high tea; sniffing poppers on dance floors; trying on wigs and putting on makeup. The lesbian bar owner who's a downtown staple, she coming as well. She officiated our wedding, you know. A sparkly charismatic lesbian bartender who once told me she doesn't need to be on stage, the bar is her stage, she'll be meeting the crew in the morning, after her shift. Oh and how dare she forget? Sarah and Ray; a beautiful couple who've amassed a colossal Instagram following, breaking barriers in the beauty space. I met them at a women's "empowerment" coven years ago and fell in love with their passion and brilliance. Just a few months ago we were at their wedding in Greece. They both donned grass-skimming white dresses and their Mediterranean skin bore fabulous Aegean sea-kissed tans. I made a speech; during which the strap of my dress broke. A fleet of girls rushed into the bathroom and turned the top of my gown into a fierce halter. I emerged back to the wedding looking so much cooler. Girls are so fucking resourceful. If I wasn't born gay, I'd go to conversion therapy to become gay. I take a deep breath. I think I've survived the gunfire.

Until she mentions her sister is joining and it's a bullet through the heart.

All that heavy metal style smashing into the ground—that I could take. A bullet? A bullet'll kill you every damn time.

Are you doing anything special, I ask, flatly, fucking the window harder with my nose bone.

Again, I'm really sorry, Asa's voice is also flat. I can hear her stuffing stockpiles of shiny black pants into a suitcase behind me. The sound of wax-coated denim scraping against wax-coated denim makes me want to cry for some reason. I hear her fumble with the stubborn zipper. She tells me they're all going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The rustle of packing halts. And it's silent for a moment. Glaringly silent. I'm sorry, she mutters softly. I know this sucks.

Maybe it's because I just really love those shiny black pants she always wears. Maybe it's because we've been going upstate to see this live theatre rendition of Rocky Horror in the Catskills, together with Blaine, for the past five years and it's a sacred tradition, I look forward to it more than any big holiday. It symbolizes so many things: the end of hedonistic summer and the start of cozy fall. Drag and pleather juxtaposed against mountains and farmland. The feeling of belonging. A feeling that was missing until I moved to New York and came out and met all of these glittery-loving people. Or maybe my sadness isn't that poetic. Maybe it's pathetic. Maybe I'm just sad because I just feel really, like, left out, guys. Like a little girl showing up to the popular girl party in desperately parted pig-tails, her smocked dress puffy with sleeves—only to discover there is no party—she dressed up for nothing. I release a sob so guttural the dogs skitter away. I turn my head and meet her eyes, finally. They look like the beach; seafoam and damp. And I can't tell if the wet twinkle dancing inside her irises, splashing down her cheeks, are tears of sadness—

or relief.

I'm sorry she says for what seems like the millionth time. These are just the things we lose in the fire, she says zipping her suitcase closed, finally.

I nod and beeline to the bathroom. Furiously spritz my body down in her fragrance: Chanel Bleu. I chose her signature scent. I always choose their signature scent.

I WILL NOT FEEL THIS I murmur into the mirror. My heart is perforated but I don't have the luxury of tending to the bullet wounds. Not now. I have a fucking event to go to. I swish mouthwash around my tongue.


I look at my reflection one last time. My hazel eyes look muted, far away. I am far away. I decide this is a good thing. As long as I stay as far away as possible from this scene, these feelings, and mostly myself, I'll survive the small talk and social hell of this event. I slather a thick layer of gooey mascara on my lashes. My eyes look rimmed with black spider legs. I look harder than usual, older than usual, my face is both puffy from crying and sunken from starving. I WILL NOT FEEL THIS.

When I open the bathroom door, Luka is right there, quietly standing guard like a Buckingham Palace soldier with fur.

I might've lost a lot in the fire. The light-filled Cobble Hill apartment. Trips to the Catskills with enigmatic, fabulous friends. My love. My life. My assets. But this dog? It's never been more clear: This dog is mine.

Asa drags her suitcase out the door. I stand on top of the stairs and watch her crawl into the back of an Uber and wave goodbye. I am imbalanced. Seesawing between total numbness and feeling like I'm wearing a melancholy backpack so dense if I climb back into my body and give into the weight of it, like truly give into the weight of it—I'll be crushed like a bug beneath a Bentley. I wrote in my debut book GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP—the one whose proposal was birthed in the Catskills—that feelings are temporary. That they aren't monsters that will kill you in your sleep. I write that it's not feeling your feelings that can kill you in the end. It's running from them through drinking or doing drugs or suicide even, that can actually physically kill you. I realize for the first time I was—indeed right. Feelings don't kill you. They break you.

But not until after the party.



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