The Rat Bath

Last week, we were in New York City. I'm speaking for us both, Josh and me, when I say "we." We were twins if you passed us on the street and didn't inspect our faces, our bodies, our hair. We're husbands otherwise, if you get to know us, but we don't wear rings, and we don't call each other husbands. Marriage is now available to us even if we're unavailable to marriage. Like New York isn't home even if it seems otherwise on the outside, marriage isn't home either. Marriage is a place we travel when we're together and joking, another cute shirt we can share. But it's not our bodies like clothes aren't our bodies. Marriage seems so small compared to the rest of us.

We couldn't be on vacation while strangers accused us of being local, so we were Manhattan residents for a week. A woman asked me directions to the Whitney. I told her we were standing right in front of it. "I knew you were going to say that," she said. I didn't tell her I knew her question before she asked it. Someone else stopped me in Times Square and asked me where it was, where was the Times Square? "All around you," I said and gestured out with my hands like the place was rain and we were drenched. Our hosts gave us directions we didn't need. We live in a city, too. Smaller, sure. Kansas City is still a city, though. Right there in the name.

In other words, we've been around. Sitting on the fire escape one night, our first host called us Midwestern and unassuming, which was an assumption itself. If we don't seem regional it's because we aren't. A few years ago I tried to carry some of my Southern youth with me. Not just childhood signifiers. It was icons and tastes like smoking on porches and sipping bourbon and saying, "Ah." Nothing I ever did as a child. I attempted a foreign adulthood. I only grew up in the South; I didn't stay grown there. By the time I'd invested in the costume, it didn't fit. I donated it all to my stories. Read my first book, and you'll find the pieces there, the rags I couldn't wear in my actual life.

One afternoon in New York, Josh and I tried on rings at a clothing store. Fashion rings. Not the other kind. We're uncertain about jewelry. I used to wear a watch, but for the past eight years I've had tattoos on my wrist. A watch would intrude on the lines, cover what I want seen. That's my issue with marriage, too. Maybe it started out I wanted validation and rights, but in the meantime Josh and I built something better. The same way we can be regionless, at home in any city, we can be apart from marriage and appear married at the same time. Not above or below. Apart. 

Our umbrellas collapsed in the wind and rain. Friends warned us about hot city summers. The unexpected rain brought the temperature down. We waited for a train underground where the heat never left and watched water drain down the center of the track. Josh called it the rat bath. We saw rats and pigeons and squirrels, but not once did we see a spider anywhere. Maybe we weren't looking in the right places. Maybe we only saw what we wanted to see.

On the way home one night, another couple of men passed us and wished us Happy Pride. We were tired, and responded to the men as if they'd just awoken us. Not pleased, one of the men said, "You better get into it!"

We couldn't respond before they were gone. We didn't have the words ready to convey our pride.

"We're so far into it, you don't even know!"

New York and Now

Josh and I are on the bus. I don't know what state we're in, but it's grey and wet. We're curling up to Boston from New York. I think that's the direction. A northerly curl around some serious water. Bays? I'm unsure. I've seen a lot of seabirds. One of these states beckons to the Atlantic like a witch's finger.

I looked it up. It's Massachusetts. It has a tail sticking out in the ocean.

At least one other person on this bus is going to AWP. The woman standing between us in line tried to play matchmaker. "Oh! He's going to the writing conference, too!" The other person looked at me and said, "Great."

We just passed an IKEA. I made the sign of the cross for all those poor horses in the meatballs. No, I didn't. I admit curiosity about horse meat. Odds are strong I've already eaten it in something somewhere. I'm being blasphemous. I'm from Kentucky. Horses are chestnut gods.

I've used context clues to figure out we're in Connecticut. It's like when someone asks if you feel older on your birthday. I'm in Connecticut, but I don't feel any different. I felt different in New York.

Josh is asleep. His mouth is wide open.

We were in New York for a week. We stayed with friends. Their dog licked me awake from a nap. She licked my arm tattoos. Other people have licked my arm tattoos. Some of them only kissed. I don't get the allure. My tattoos have been a part of me for so long. I want more. I have ideas. You don't care, I know.

When I say I felt different in New York, I mean I felt like no other place in the world existed. That's dangerous. We saw five plays. The ticker in Times Square was delivering news, and it seemed like fiction. People are right. New York is a bubble. It should be no surprise I want to move there.

I had a hard time taking in all I saw. There were so many beautiful men. I've been overstimulated all week. A flawless young man was onstage last night in his underwear. Sigourney Weaver climbed him like a pole. She tongued a wall sconce in failed seduction. I got to see that on Broadway.

I get to see you soon.