"Metastatic Soliloquy" by Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge
By Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge
Originally published in The Rampallian (Winter/Spring 2014)
I’m glad we’ve finally been introduced. It was getting awkward toward the end there, being so close to you, wondering if you knew about me, gently trying to signal my presence.
I know you’re probably not thrilled about me being here, but I want to assure you that you’ll barely notice me. I think the fact that you’ve been ignorant of me this long speaks well of my ability to lay low. So don’t worry. Nothing has to change right now. I’m just glad you finally know I’m here. It’s nice to be acknowledged.
I hope you didn’t have trouble sleeping last night. I’d hate to think that I disturbed you. Though, I have to admit, the idea that I haunted your dreams is flattering.
Maybe “haunted” wasn’t the best word. We’ll say “graced.” Trust me, it won’t always be like this. Most of what you’re feeling now is novelty. Of course, there will be other feelings later, but once the freshness wears off, life will feel a bit more normal. Your sleep should improve again, anyway.
What shall we do today? It’d be a shame to waste this spring day. Never know how many of them we’ll have.
I hope you won’t resent my use of the word “we.” I know it feels invasive now, but you’ll get used to me before you know it. As a matter of fact, I predict you’ll come to think of me in just the same way I think of you. I hope it happens sooner rather than later.
I remember when I met you.
You were in college, the end of your second year. A bright May night like tonight. You and your girlfriends went out to McGarvey’s. I remember the bartender (I had my eye on him, too), the way he looked at you, at your ID, at you again. I knew from the look on your face that it was fake, and so did he. He smiled and asked you what you wanted. Do you remember what you said?
That’s when I knew I liked you. Who sneaks into a bar to order an Amaretto sour? I had to get closer to you.
I hope you won’t think it creepy that I’ve followed you ever since that night twenty-eight years ago. Think of it as a testament to my self-restraint. There were so many times when I wanted to grab you, shake you, make you see me. I thought about you constantly. I still do.
You are my obsession.
This is feeling too fast, isn’t it? I’m sorry. There’s so much story on my side that you’re just now realizing. I promise we’ll take it slow from here on out.
Can I tell you what it’s like to be inside you? Do you mind?
It is my whole life.
It’s not a feeling I imagine you to understand, but of course, that’s me assuming. “I experimented a bit during college” seems to be the new rule instead of the exception. God bless us, every one.
Inside you, everything else disappears, and all I can see or think or feel is your heartbeat, your breath. Your every move, every pump of adrenaline, every vibration of your being as you laugh, cry, and shout registers in me like a seismograph.
I remember when I first came inside you. I can’t say I found you particularly inviting. Hostile, I think, would be the word. But they say good things are worth fighting for, and so I fought and clung to you, and I think that gradually you came to accept me as just another part of you, whether you knew it or not. I know that’s not exactly the most flattering kind of reception, but you have to start somewhere. You have been my pearl of great price. I staked my life on you, hoping that you would do the same for me someday.
July eighteenth. We’ve got our appointment today. Hope you remembered. I’m looking forward to hearing about our progress.
How are you feeling? I was excited to put a timetable on our expectations, but I didn’t like the way the doctor spoke of what we have together. This “thing” growing inside you. So cold, so clinical. I like to think that what we’ve got is more than just a matter of cells and tissues. A part of you, not a foreign body. An organic life that eats your food and breathes your air and pulsates with your blood. Why impose a distance that doesn’t exist?
Did I ever tell you that I knew your grandmother?
She was much older when we met. Funny how people raised their eyebrows less when they heard she and I were together. Not like some of the reactions you and I get, especially from those who know I was with her first. They stare as if I were positively incestuous. I prefer to think of our family connection as hereditary, like a treasure, or a legacy, passed down from mother to daughter. Though I never had much interest in your mother. Nothing wrong with her, just a matter of personal preference. No accounting for taste, they say. Funny how they only say it when they think the object is distasteful.
What do people say about us? Do they think I made a good choice? That’s how I interpret their looks when you tell them about me. Sadness that you’re off the market, regret at losing you to me, jealousy that you’re with me instead of them. It makes me swell with pride, which I know makes you uncomfortable. But really, can you blame me? I’ve got you and the world doesn’t. What greater victory is there?
I keep going back to that first night I saw you. Your tanned skin radiating from under your loose linen blouse. The gentle rise and fall of your breasts as you leaned against the bar, your elbows propped behind you like wings that would carry you over the tables and stools. Up, out of the room and away from those girls who kept distracting you. I remember following your eyes as they watched the smoke curl and billow around your hand and mouth. In those eyes I saw a world of dress up and make believe, a little girl who stood on the edge of parties and watched the princes flutter around her like flies around a fresh kill. Her eyes meet one across the room, quiet like herself. He smiles, and immediately they have an understanding. Slowly they move towards the doors and slip out to the balcony, just as I slipped out the bar doors with you late that evening.
There were so many moments after that that I treasured, so many long, fall nights like tonight, with you hunched over your desk, a beer in one hand, pecking at the keyboard with the other, smoke wreathing your head so thick I could read your thoughts in its hieroglyphs. There were the quick afternoon snatches, the pauses where you would stop what you were doing to nurture, whether you knew it or not, what we had. I counted every second with you. But nothing surpasses that first night, that first realization that I wanted to make a life with you, I wanted your life to be mine, I wanted to consume you.
I’m sorry if I’m scaring you. I’m just trying to find a way to tell you how much I adore you, but all I’m left with are these clichés and catchphrases that lovers preempted. Metaphor is dead. What their words impotently approximate is exactly what we have. We are the form and they the shadows on the wall.
You could show some pride in such noble stature. You are living every little princess’s dream. Is it everything you hoped for?
I heard what you said in Mass this morning. In the intercession part. I didn’t appreciate it. It’s not religion itself I resent, or even your particular flavor of it. After all, when you’ve been together as long as we have, what’s a little fling on the side every now and then? No, what I mind is the way you use your religion against me, against us. Light your candle, sprinkle your water, eat your wafer. But don’t use them as weapons, particularly when you’re so bad at wielding them. If waving your hands and kneeling and standing and sitting make you feel better, by all means. Your happiness is my happiness. But don’t pretend that anyone — not God, not the doctors, not me, and (let’s be honest now) not even you — is fooled into ascribing some effectuality to your rekindled piety.
Let me say it another way: Our time together is fairly fixed. Your options are limited to what you do with it. If you want to fight, I can’t stop you. But neither can you stop me. You know this.
Since you seem to be seeking spiritual clothes for the dusty old soul you dug out of your childhood attic, may I recommend that you glance at the four noble truths of Buddhism? I think you’ll find they fit very comfortably, rather than the liturgy of resistance you are awkwardly trying to don.
I’m sorry you’re not feeling well today. Don’t believe me? It’s true. You can say this is my fault, and you have a point, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy your suffering.
I suppose I can be honest with you and tell you what you already know: It will get worse. Ever heard of a bucket list? I don’t know how the Buddha would feel about it, but then you’ve never been strictly orthodox. Don’t get defensive. You won’t find my name inscribed on any pew or window. I’m just trying to help you do what you do best, which is make things work for you in the moment.
Speaking of which, have you thought about the benefits of our relationship?
You laugh. I was being serious. You need to adjust your framework. I really can’t overstate how much things are going to change for you soon, for us. I’m worried that you’re not prepared. I know it’s not really what you asked for, but that’s life, right? I’m not trying to preach at you; I just don’t want you to be caught with your pants down, as they say.
I hope you’ll give this some thought, for your own sake.
And really, think about what I do for you. I’m feeling a little unappreciated.
You startled me! This is the first time you’ve ever initiated a conversation.
What was the question?
Oh, right. That sounds familiar.
First, I’d like to think that I provide some kind of companionship. Who else is up with you late at night as your bones ache and your breath shortens and all you can think about is worms and flames and what comes in the instant you close your eyes for the last time? What happens next? What happens when the word “next” no longer applies?
I’d also like to take credit for adjusting your perspective on life. Think about what was important to you before we met. Work, of course. (That’s always the first thing on the list before I meet someone and the last thing on it afterwards.) Acquaintances whom you felt compelled to call friends, but have somehow slipped off your radar. In place of those parasites, you’ve reconnected with your mother and spent time with those friends you’ve been meaning to visit for the past ten years.
Tell me I’m not enriching your life.
There’s a real healthiness in purging, you know? Cleansing your calendar and your psyche from all that accumulated baggage. Imagine if you had spent every day of the past forty-eight years as you’ve spent the past five months. Who would you be?
I was disappointed that you decided not to have a party. I love parties. I love meeting new people. Not that I don’t enjoy spending time alone with you, but, well…
Can we be frank?
I get the feeling that you’re moving on. Don’t try to deny it. It’s been a long time coming, and I think we both knew we’d reach this point someday. I knew it anyway. This is how it always goes. Story of my life. And now, the story of yours.
Do you know what I’m celebrating today?
It’s the twenty-ninth anniversary of the night I met you. I wouldn’t expect you to remember. You weren’t officially celebrating your birthday at the bar. It’s conspicuous to celebrate your twentieth birthday when you’ve just shown the bartender ID that says twenty-three. But I could tell that something special was happening that evening, and when I found out it was your birthday, your glow made all the more sense.
Twenty-nine years is a long time. It’s hard to think that we might not make it to thirty together, but them’s the breaks, they say. Though I don’t really know what “them” is or what a “break” really is. Language is a funny thing. Everybody says things that nobody understands but nobody knows that they don’t understand it. What a way to live.
So you’re forty-nine. Fifty is such a nice, round number. But forty-nine really is quite a way to go out. Like one of those flashbang fireworks that’s all up and then at the peak of its flight, in a bright, glorious, stunning instant, it’s over, without the slow letdown of falling ash. Imagine those people who partied like it was 1999 when it was. What on earth did they do the next day? How do you do life the day after the climax?
I got you a present. Well, you got you a present, but I saw you at the counter, when you didn’t think I’d notice. So here’s my part of it:
Go ahead. Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em, as they say.
I don’t know why you thought I’d care. Actually, I think it’s pretty romantic. And (forgive me if I’m reading too much into this), but I think it speaks volumes of the progress you’ve made. The Dalai Lama would be proud.
So here’s to you, and to us. We’ve had a great run. It’s time to start saying goodbye.
Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge is the fiction editor at Oyster River Pages and a high school English teacher. His work appears or is forthcoming in More Queer Families (Qommunicate Publishing), Embark Literary Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, and Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs (Wipf & Stock, 2017). He lives with his husband and their son in Maryland. He sometimes haunts Twitter: @jdcoppadge.