[Image: “The Groundhog Forever” by Malcolm Oliver Perkins]
The Groundhog Forever is a queer sequel to the movie “Groundhog Day.” Two film students in post-9/11 Manhattan get stuck reliving the same day over and over together: the day they meet Bill Murray at a screening of “Groundhog Day.”
Thing 1 stood in the bathroom and debated the need to brush her eternal teeth. Thing 2 sat using Thing 1’s computer. It felt right to end their days in her dorm room, this cozy abnormal space.
Thing 2 read a short email from his mother, an email that he’d missed on previous iterations. He knew that she was about to go to sleep when she wrote it, about to say her prayers, down south. He knew that if he replied there’d be no way she’d see it until after six the next morning, when he’d already have jumped back. Defiant of time, he typed and sent sonly XOXOs into the void, in hopes that she’d be restless, or rise early and check.
A melancholy slid into his insides with the last of the beer. They decided to sleep, side-by-side on the bed, and for hours they couldn’t. Thing 2 waited, awake, to teleport away. Thing 1 waited for him to be gone.
Thing 2 coughed and shifted. “I think I’m getting sick,” he said.
“You won’t,” said Thing 1.
He rolled over and faced the wall.
“What?” she asked, drowsy.
“I was really kinda looking forward to 2005. Looking forward to having a new president.”
Thing 1 and Thing 2 decided they had superpowers. Besides knowing the short future of Tuesday, they could also stay up all night, no sleep necessary, because they’d always be rested at the same level upon waking. All superpowered people need a code. They sat in Thing 1’s dorm and made separate lists, word-processed and handwritten. Thing 1 titled hers The Code: what we won’t do. Thing 2 titled his Dumb stuff we never have to worry about now that we have forever.
Never hook up with a soldier, typed Thing 1.
Student loans, wrote Thing 2.
Never leave the city (not even Brooklyn), typed Thing 1.
Having a career, wrote Thing 2.
Their lists grew comically long. They could see the world shrinking, and were gleeful. Each line they wrote felt like a goodbye, like they were waving from a train at a person sprinting down the platform, a person they were ecstatic about not having to see again.
As they wrote they considered the absence of consequence. Thing 2 thought of a TV personality he loathed. Thing 1 fixated on the professor who always squeezed her shoulders in the hallway. Violence inside them swelled and abated. And simultaneously— Thing 2 on his notepad and Thing 1 on her computer—they added: We do not torture.
We do not torture.
If they could time travel they’d be able to see themselves from the outside, in the act of list making, and they’d laugh. They must have looked ridiculous, working hard on manifestos that would disappear with the morning, every bit of ink and every digital tally mark gone. But there was only one version of them, locked inside their bodies. They didn’t have the privilege and excitement of narrowly avoiding other versions of themselves to prevent paradoxes and catastrophes. That happened in some other movie.
On page five of Thing 2’s notebook this futility hit him and he ripped out the pages, balled them up, and threw them into the bathroom, missing the tub by inches. Thing 1 turned and looked at the crumple.
“I’ll remember the important ones,” Thing 2 promised.
Thing 1 went back to her document and put a finishing touch on the third page, making sure to save the changes. Saving changes felt important if they couldn’t effect real change, or couldn’t see the effects of that change.
“Can we change the fact that one shitty thing someone says about you can haunt you every day for the rest of your life?” she asked.
“No, but that happens with good things though, too,” he countered.
“C’mon, you know that’s not true.”
Their real superpower was impermanence.
People with superpowers also need missions. Thing 1 went first. “Ask me what I’ve never done.”
“What have you never done?” Thing 2 complied.
“I’ve never broken up with someone.”
She’d been broken up with, though, a handful of times, times she’d largely repressed. The first time she’d been dumped via answering machine at the end of a summer spent apart before middle school started. She could still remember the boy’s voice but she couldn’t remember his face.
“It has to be in person,” she said, and thought of New Rochelle’s outstretched hands.
At Thing 2’s request, as they sat on the bed in what was now their ritual, Thing 1 recounted the Monday night spent with New Rochelle. “I asked her why she was having trouble sleeping and she said she was thinking of Palestine.” They called it Monday night, always, to signify that bygone naturalistic time, in place of last night. Last night was fast becoming a meaningless phrase.
New Rochelle’s leaving every morning already bordered on permanent abandonment, and Thing 1 couldn’t let this be the final word. “I think I can catch her next time,” Thing 1 said and cracked just one knuckle of one finger.
Thing 1 felt the punch of New Rochelle shutting the door, and as usual it pulled her eyes open. She shouted, “Wait,” but only a hoarse rasp popped out. She gulped and swung up to perch on the edge of the bed and try another, and this time the “wait” worked but bounced off the closed door and the thick old walls, and she knew it had gone unheard. She swung open the door to see the emptiness that stretched to the curve in the hall, and belted the loudest “hey” she could manage around it.
There was no echo and no response and as she waited for New Rochelle’s possible return, she looked down and remembered how little she was wearing. Embarrassment seemed stupid, but she shut the door and went to her drawer for pants and a shirt, anticipating footsteps to signal New Rochelle’s return. None came.
She went to the door again, and before opening it, felt woozy from all the dressing and thought better of running out. Instead, she sat down and stirred the possibilities around in her mind, how the confrontation would go:
“I don’t know what this is but I don’t want to do it anymore, I’m sorry,” she might say.
She imagined stoic silence from New Rochelle, then, “Can I have my bow back?” New Rochelle might demand. They’d borrowed the bow for their film shoot from New Rochelle; she made weaponry for a fantastical afterschool program.
“Yes, take it, take it all,” Thing 1 imagined she might say, a solid ending blow. This was all projecting. Projecting bloomed a lot from the stuckness.
She sat and felt sick, but she was more than ready to hurt someone’s feelings.
When she could manage to stand, Thing 1 called Thing 2 to wake him and share how she’d struck out. They started to work out a plan. Since Thing 1 had the power to wake Thing 2 early, he would hustle over a few avenue blocks and intercept New Rochelle downstairs or on the street or as close as he could make it to her escape path. New Rochelle didn’t own a cell phone, couldn’t be stopped with a “come back” call.
“What do I say?” he asked. He’d only met New Rochelle once. She mostly steered clear of the film school and any of Thing 1’s friends.
“Just tell her I forgot to give her her bow.”
“What if she doesn’t want it?”
“Figure it out. You feel great and I’m all messed up, so it’s your duty.”
She scrunched her hand around her hair and envisioned New Rochelle’s train chugging north, New Rochelle gazing out the window, indifferent to the space growing between her and the city and the girl in it. Thing 2’s voice punctured the thought bubble.
“You want to hang out?”
“No, I want to go back to sleep.”
Thing 2 had worn passable basketball shorts and a T-shirt to bed, another advantage. When his cell phone woke him he was able to obediently toss his shoes on and sprint toward Thing 1’s dorm without so much as hearing her voice on the other end of the line. To others, he probably looked like a scrawny out-of-shaper doing his first run in a while, but he had a jolt of purpose rocket-fueling him all the way to the claustrophobic lobby of the Fifth Avenue building. New Rochelle wasn’t there. He waved to the security guard and found the left stairwell, stood for a moment and listened for anyone coming down, keeping one eye on the square glass panel back into the lobby to see if she emerged from the opposite side, which she didn’t.
It was an off-hour, most dorm residents already ensnared in their morning classes or hunkered down sleeping. He saw only a couple people pass, neither with any semblance of the curly mane that he knew New Rochelle to have. Since Thing 1 only lived on the third floor, after ten minutes of waiting, Thing 2 went back into the lobby and stood before the two ancient elevators. The one on the right was broken, its doors blocked by a sign. The one on the left was coming up from the basement. It opened and he saw one person inside, shielded behind a hamper full of clean laundry. He looked back at the guard, made awkward eye contact, and decided to step into the elevator to avoid weirdness. Social conditioning was hard to shake.
“What floor do you want?” said the girl behind the laundry. Thing 2 looked at the button for floor three, already pressed.
“Um, PH,” he panicked. “I got it,” and he pushed the highest option. At least once they got to floor three he could see if New Rochelle was there, waiting to go down.
“Hey!” said the girl behind the laundry, a familiar face, Thing 2 now noticed, from Cinema Studies.
“Oh, hey,” he replied, with an attempted smile.
“Where’s Thing 1?” she asked.
“Are you two… together?”
“No,” he replied. “We’re in a relationship with today.”
The door opened and no one was waiting on floor three. To make sure, Thing 1 leaned out and looked both ways while he held the door open for the bobbing laundry hamper.
“We should hang out sometime,” the girl behind the laundry said from the hallway. “I feel like every conversation we’ve had is about the film program.”
“Well, what else is there?” Thing 2 asked, as the door closed.
Thing 2 rode all the way up to PH. It wasn’t a legit penthouse, just more dorms. Thing 2 took the stairs down to Thing 1’s room to confirm his failure.
The Things didn’t catch New Rochelle on the next few tries. Thing 1 lost faith in Thing 2 and stumbled out and into the hallway, but she met him in the stairwell on one repeat, at the elevator on another, their quarry never between them. Thing 2 circled the blocks around the dorm looking, checking delis, imagined turning a corner and bumping into New Rochelle’s hair, but it wasn’t meant to be.
They couldn’t imagine how she was eluding them, how they were fucking this up. They had the numbers, the advantage. There was no bigger advantage than to wake up every morning and find everyone else still the same.
Thing 1 stepped inside her windowless bathroom and closed the door without turning on the light. In the darkness, she wasn’t there, in the mirror or anywhere else. The room wasn’t there. She was erased in the darkness.
Outside of the darkness, New Rochelle got farther and farther away.
Thing 2 considered New Rochelle a lost cause, but Thing 1 wasn’t ready to give up. She had one more longshot in mind: Grand Central. She knew the train New Rochelle left to take, the time and the destination.
But no matter what cab they grabbed or subway they dove into, New Rochelle was already on the train and beyond their reach when they arrived in the atrium of the station. It went without saying that Thing 1 wasn’t chasing beyond Manhattan’s limits.
“You could always do it by phone, when she gets home,” Thing 2 suggested, but then shuddered at the never in Thing 1’s glare. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking at the big clock above their heads. “I’m not usually up yet.” The space was vast and golden and people were moving quickly, upset. The Things stepped outside.
New Rochelle was as unreachable as if she had taken off in a plane, crossing time zones to an island in the Pacific, an angel already. The sun hit them both from behind. They looked at the street and finally realized what they had missed in all previous repetitions, what had been absent the entire time. When the sun hit them, they no longer cast shadows.
If he had the ability to go back to any day, Thing 2 might go back to being a kid, before his major was declared, to his house in the country near the airport. From the first sermon he’d heard his father give, Thing 2 had been obsessed with the afterlife. It went beyond faith to fixation. He spent the weeks and years in between Sundays watching planes from his bedroom window and drawing storyboards of what Heaven might look like. He drew a fuchsia music video, a coastal city.
His mother took him to visit colleges. San Francisco was like a rock at the end of the world. In Los Angeles he could tell that every tour guide was lying to him. It had to be New York, and in New York, he wasn’t sure.
Thing 1 was sure. She came from a town outside that rock at the end of the world, a town preserved in the style of an earlier decade, a place where her father felt most American. When she was little he told her he would someday take her to where he’d been born and grew up, somewhere far away across an ocean. But then he died and the idea of his birthplace became sad.
Thing 1 got into palindromes, the reversibility of them. Her name was a palindrome.
The first away message she had ever typed was Go hang a salami I’m a nostalgia god.
She wanted to get as far away from her hometown as possible, to the city at the other end of America, and stay away.
As soon as I leave I’m not going anywhere, she thought.
She had chosen her place. If she had to choose a day to repeat, Tuesday was as good as any.
Thing 1 woke up on April 27th and made her away message There are 8 million stories in the stupid city: you’re an idiot, woke up and made her away message You wanna go where everybody knows your pain, woke up and made her away message Each day is a gift/ curse/curse/gift, especially this day.
Her dead fallen shampooed strands of hair anemonied up from the mesh in the shower drain.
Can you stay under the hot water for an entire day?
The answer is yes.
For two days?
“Not if you want to stay friends,” Thing 2 said on the other end of the phone when Thing 1 finally sloshed to it. “Come on,” said Thing 2. It was his turn for a mission.
Thing 1 looked down at her wrinkled toes. Pruning for hours under the shower scald was a way to simulate old age, but a half-measure. I’m not becoming some other person, she thought. I am her.