She’ll iron her work shirts on your bathroom floor. She’ll drench your carpets in water she spills carelessly from sturdy plastic cups, and impressive torrents of tears the average hetero would never expect based on her knee-length shorts and buttoned top button. Her skin will erupt in violent violet bruises under the mere graze of your teeth, but she won’t even notice she’s hurting if you are—the reverse of those safety demonstrations on airplanes.
The dimensions of this downtown apartment will require you to turn sideways and shuffle when you need to forge a path between the desk, dining table and bookshelves. But when she tells you, fondly, that you remind her of those plastic-bag tube men they keep outside car dealerships, it’s an instruction to take up as much space as your flailing limbs desire—an unspoken agreement that you’ll never tell each other to “chill” or “quiet down” or “stop being so dramatic,” or use any combination of words that implies “too much.”
This does not apply to resources. Use only two or three squares of toilet paper when you pee. Did you take a shit? If not, why flush? Did you know flushing once wastes up to seven gallons of water? Remind each other constantly that our Earth is dying, and that we’re all personally responsible.
On the other hand, she’ll work her way through a 40-count box of tampons every period because she doesn’t know how to pee without taking them out. Do you briefly consider whether this defeats the entire purpose of using a packaging-light, environmentally friendly brand? Lift the corner of any cohabitation and you’ll find a latticework of contradictions like these. Some matter. Some don’t.
Rid yourself of unnecessary tasks. There’s no need to close the door while you’re peeing, or wrap a towel around your body when you come out of the shower. Never do the cooking, except the pancake batter. In return, she’ll never do the dishes or remember to dump out the coffee grounds.
Always marvel over minor home improvements like adding a shoe rack to the bedroom, or swapping the position of the futon with that of the armchairs, or hanging the scarves on a hook on the HVAC door. Continue making thrilled remarks upon said improvements for days and days. Doubtful? You will crane your neck, bewildered by the heights to which such flimsy braces can prop up something that’s crumpling.
If she’s working on a Sunday, get the groceries. Don’t buy bagels in a package from the refrigerated aisle; she won’t eat them (wise, you’ll learn—those bagels are disgusting). Maintain two bottles of soy sauce at all times: the large backup for refills, and the quaint, shapely one she prefers for easy pouring. Did she offer you a homemade smoothie? Politely decline (trust me).
You’re responsible for heating up the leftovers and refilling the sturdy plastic water cups while she’s finding the link to illegally stream the latest episode of The Bachelorette. You’re responsible for cleaning the guts off the wall after she kills the giant house centipede with your Adidas flip flop.
You’re both responsible for acting as walking trigger warnings. If you’re watching something and the content begins to stray into a minefield, turn it off and replace it with Fleabag or The Great British Bake-Off or anything British, really.
Outside this apartment, you’re both responsible for pretending you know nothing of The Bachelorette.
Are you ashamed when you pass out on the futon late at night, unguarded Tupperwares and ripped bags of chips strewn about in the wake of yet another binge because you aren’t feeding yourself quite enough during the day? When she comes home, she’ll collect the dirty dishes, rubberband what you’ve discarded, press lids firmly into place. She’ll touch your shoulder gently—not so you wake all the way up, just enough so your lips part in confusion and she can slip your nightguard into your mouth. Now your subconscious won’t grind your teeth into useless stumps. Now you can skip your litter-fueled punishment.
With few exceptions, she’ll sleep when you sleep, like parents with newborns, but she won’t be able to unless you keep the blinds in the bedroom closed all the way after dark. Note: The blinds in the living room can only close halfway, thanks to the decrepit aloe plant on the windowsill.
Does it amuse you that this means the divorced middle-aged man who lives next door may walk by, glance inside and be scandalized at any moment by a flash of breathless flesh on the futon or the kitchen counter or the floor? If not, consider finding a new home for the aloe plant; no sunlight graces any splinter of this basement apartment, anyway.
You must never give up on the aloe plant.
There’s an unspoken agreement that every morning when the Orphan Black theme song drags you both from sleep, you’ll lock bleary eyes and decide to keep holding each other up, that you’ll stay, and stay, and stay, and stay, even when it’s too much (but don’t say it) or too little or so, so heavy: every leaden thing.
Does it bother you that her mismatched socks loiter everywhere except her sock drawer? Try passive-aggressively draping them over the backs of chairs she’s sure to sit in, or placing them primly on top of her pillow.
Do you feel like borrowing her letterman sweatshirt? You don’t have to ask. She’ll wear your hoodies so frequently that they’ll become her hoodies. She’ll wear your low-prescription glasses so frequently that they’ll become her glasses.
Your uniform here is boxers only. Soon, whenever you leave the apartment, your street clothes will strike each other as unnatural, like the lies she’s started wrapping around herself, like the engorged expectations and baby blocks of blame you’ve started stacking carefully between you.
You’ll share a hairdresser and sport the same undercut for almost the entirety of your relationship. On National Sibling Day, she’ll post a photo to Instagram not of her and her sister, but of the two of you on vacation, squinting identically into the sun. All your friends will laugh.
By “your friends” I really mean hers—the spoils of growing up in this city and staying for 24 years. The friends you, a solitary transplant, thought you’d made your own, until the day you run away and, like shaving your head, every one of them is abruptly gone. When it dawns on you that you’ll never hear from them again, you’ll wince at how alone you didn’t notice yourself becoming, at your adolescent conviction that you could inhabit someone else’s world so devotedly it would become your own.
She’ll tell you over and over, “I could draw your face from memory,” but you’ll never see the evidence. Of the hundreds of love poems you start to write for her, you’ll finish four or five. You’ll give her two or three.
The night Trump is elected, she’ll turn to you, tear-stained, and say, “I want to put you in an egg.” In your grief, you’ll both believe something so fragile could shelter you from all the storms gathering in your mutual periphery.
One night you’ll realize the truce you had with the flying ants living in the windows dissolved while you weren’t paying attention. You’ll both flit around the bedroom maniacally, crushing as many as you can find between your fingers, against the walls, before collapsing on the bed in an exhausted triumph. It will be weeks before you realize your bedroom is decorated with corpses.
Is she crying or stressed? She’d appreciate it if you’d place your palm on her chest right below her neck. Are you crying or stressed? She might try to touch your hair; sometimes she forgets your experience of physical affection is something like a down comforter inside a swamp.
There’s an unspoken agreement that when your unspoken agreements begin to crumble, when you notice you’re each inhaling what the other is trying to expel, you’ll both keep holding on far too long, until your palms are cracked and bleeding, until the strongest ties between you are these instinctive rituals, this knowing by heart.
As you lean deeper and deeper into each other’s darker corners, be prepared to start saying “We” when you mean “I.” Be prepared to blend in ways that make it impossible to distinguish her feelings from your own. Nestled snugly here inside each other, a couple of properly matched and folded socks, be prepared to feel simultaneously safer than you ever thought would be possible, and terrified of sudden drowning. Not the kind you could fend off with a life jacket or swim lessons—the stupid kind, like that king who got drunk and suffocated on a puddle.
Be prepared to trade and harbor secrets you’ve never wanted to tell anyone else. When you notice her letting some of these tumble out to the friends you’re still mistaking for yours, keep in mind she’s your opposite: an external processor, an enneagram 7, an ENFJ. Keep in mind that you, too, are trying to change for the better, that all of us are locked in an endless becoming bound for some degree of disappointment. Keep in mind that you’re both Cancers.
“That never works,” your new hairstylist will say, shaking her head as she buzzes yours in the small town across the country you’re about to run away to. “The ideal match for a Cancer is a Taurus.” You’ll think about the Taureses you know: your dad and your little brother, men of scruples and few words. You’ll wonder why you’re able to surrender trust so wantonly to something as distant and indifferent as stars, but not someone who labored every day to earn it back.
Are the crying, stressed episodes becoming more frequent? When you’re not speaking, text her “I love you” so she doesn’t forget, and refresh your Gmail every five minutes for her apologetic prose poem. She won’t expect an apology from you, though you both know this is unacceptable. Work harder at feeling sorry. Work harder at saying it.
During the least forgiving of many brutal fights, she’ll confess that she briefly pictured hitting you over the head with the lamp on the dresser. Do you feel like laughing? It’s OK to let this fight dissolve in an inappropriate crush of joy, even if, somewhere buried and troubled, you understand there are many ways to inflict harm.
Be prepared to burst into tears when your boss tells you, “You have to prioritize your empathy. There are a lot of ways to lose yourself.” Do you feel guilty, like you have no right to have such a bitter taste in your mouth? Expect that to linger. Expect flavors to subside in its wake, so much that you drop 10 pounds your body desperately needs. Expect to blame her for that, too.
One day you’ll notice the soil in the pot of the aloe plant is bone dry, and you’ll do nothing. One day, much later, you’ll weep to your sister about how you feel like you gave up on becoming a person you could be proud of, and you’ll remember this moment with the aloe plant, when you didn’t yet understand there’s never a good excuse to drift passively into endings.
When you finally, finally vocalize an agreement that it’s time to leave this place, separately, you’ll find yourself batting away regrets like flying ants. Do you want to crush them between your fingers? The Turkish lamps you never strung around the hallway? The books on her shelf you never got around to reading? Every love poem you started and never finished?
All the times you twisted her words to force an argument? All the times you laughed while her face leaked tears on your floor? All the nights you spent closed off in separate rooms, headphones turned up loud, home mute in a divided quiet? All the ways you took for granted how fiercely she loved you?
Perhaps you can stop spinning around in circles of why. Perhaps, instead, you can listen to the pulse of the crowded room—every transformative moment you two tucked between the furniture. You can crawl into those rare empty (sunless) splinters where you tripped and reacted, pushed and pulled and stayed and grew, clumsy and impetuous and stupid: two young women, fumbling around at a bottom, picking up objects and squinting at them. Colliding blindly and belonging to each other, eagerly, even if it was just for three percent of the average human life, even if now they know better than to call someone else Home.
Perhaps, you can hear the quiet miracle: that you figured out a way to detach slowly, with great care, without losing bits of skin in the process; that although you’re empty-handed, you’re leaving this place with a firmer grasp on what it will take to feed yourself tomorrow.
Can you feel it—this new sustenance that will keep you both alive? Here is the holy intimacy of a shared place and time. Here is something sacred and true and incontestable: an enduring familiarity with the women you’ll never stop helping each other become.
Jackie Connelly is a queer editor and new writer with work forthcoming from The Atticus Review. She studied creative nonfiction at Illinois Wesleyan University, where she won the 2012 Nikki K. Pape President’s Club Award for Excellence in Writing. Her essays aim to dismantle heteronormative and patriarchal structures while exploring how identity is shaped by unstable bodies and mental illness.