His phone lists my number as Gemini. We are a pair of Geminis. On our 20th birthday we went strawberry picking and posed for what a judge from America’s Next Top Model might identify as the shot. In the shot, the camera captures our backs walking side by side through the strawberry patch. A box filled with strawberries dangles from my right free hand and the other clasps his hand. He wears a t-shirt and pants. I wear a tank top and shorts. Sure, we had other cute pictures, but nothing as iconic. We make the strawberry patch our Facebook cover photos. He captions it, <3 Twin <3, and my heart spins when I look at this birthday moment of peace and joy and connection. Eventually, I change my cover photo to one of our cat, but his cover photo remains—it still is—the strawberry patch.
Twins photograph well. Twins are cute, and people love to see cute pictures of twins doing cute things together. As we got older, we insisted on themed cutesy photo sessions. We did some basic birthday shots and for our high school graduation we posed with our empty diploma cases while making faces at the camera. And we’ve done some more elaborate photo shoots—one with matching feather masks and another session in a friend’s instrument-filled basement where we pretended to be in a band together. Over college spring break we did a photo series using our cat to reenact a Portlandia skit about dog parks. In the summery Chicago streets, we pedaled our bicycles side by side until our fingers come close enough to latch our hands together, and we squealed with delight begging our mom to take a picture! She kinda tried, but she mostly repeated it’s too dangerous; you should stop.
PHOTO SHOOT ONE: Sophie’s Graduation
I pause in front of the camera as I walk down the aisle. Mom mistakes my expression for smiling, but E can tell I am crying. I wear a red gown and mortarboard, and I have a little black bow tie poking out with tastefully exuberant make up flicks along my hairline, lips, and eyes. E wears a white Viking Room t-shirt with jeans and painted converse. A sweater clings to his waist.
At the post-ceremony shoot, E and I take a pic: “Gazing out at our bright futures.” We stand with our hands linked, and our heads face out in opposite directions. Then a candid, I’m laughing and E’s looking at me his body turns in. Then another each of us glowing as our arms wrap around each other—my graduation capped head leans into his shoulder. My mouth smiles but is perpetually open, and he smiles peacefully at the camera. His mouth is closed. I see happiness in his eyes.
PHOTO SHOOT TWO: E’s Graduation
Three weeks after my graduation E wears a black gown and mortarboard, and he has a black and white scarf—a keffiyeh—lain around his neck with painted converse poke out from the black gown. I am plain—plain in the way someone not getting out of bed hasn’t bothered to wake up their skin and eyes and lips yet. I wear a striped shirt buttoned up to my neck overlaid with a hooded jacket for protection then a fanny pack drapes over my torso, and I hold a book arming me from the lucid, waking world. The neck buttons, the jacket, the book, the fanny pack are my raft, subduing me to safety.
During these photos, irritation and tension ping in the air, and it shows in the unattractive angle of the three-sibling photo and awkward/dispassionate expressions. E and J both have grimaces in place of smiles, and I tilt away. They look off to the distance, and I stare at the camera, pleading. I plead with the words in my book, the eye contact, and the space between my teeth—heavy and solitary. I cautiously study this family with new eyes and things do not look good.
PHOTO SHOOT THREE: A Month Later
E asks for pics at the airport before his trip abroad. He wears a long-sleeve, buttoned, plaid shirt and tortoise-rim glasses. His head tilts in, his eyes squint, and his lips press into a u-shape, tense with anticipation. I look off in the distance with relaxed denial. My open mouth smile returns, and I wear a striped tank top, but the fanny pack still belts me for protection.
We take a few side by side with his arm around me. And then some of me standing over him, my right arm wraps around his hunched shoulders, and my left hand pats his head. Our posing personifies our prepared-caption, “She gingerly tousles his hair and wishes him well.” Nothing is different.
He slides my mango lassi from its place in front of me. the straw slips into his lips only for a moment before he swiftly returns it. He smiles at me. It never happened. What mango lassi? What am I talking about? Oh, that joke of a sip? You’re still thinking about it? Nothing even happened! It was so long ago. There’s a secret volcano bubbling. The secret seeps out from the white tablecloth that the mango lassi sits atop. But first, the secret slithers out from the dance floor and whispers from under the wrinkled bed sheets. And then it dribbles down his guilty cheeks. The trickle oozes into murmurs through the phone and into a volcano inside my ear. A volcano that had lifetimes of dormancy with lava gushing bruises and blood inside my brain and her brain and her brain and her brain and her brain.
The covers cloak the drunk boy and the friend . . . well, she was his friend. Not anymore, and she never will be. The covers of the bed blanket him until he speaks. The sheets saw what happened. It seeps out from privacy, and it’s not playful; it’s not small.
Two weeks after my red gown picture but one week before his black gown picture I return a missed call. His words stagger: Sophie? I’m in bed. Can I talk to you? Mom bikes past me smiling. His words stagger: Sophie? I did something really bad. Mom waves at me. His words stagger: Sophie? No, no one’s pregnant. I wave back at Mom, hoping she will keep pedaling. His words stagger: Sophie? There is one incident I feel so bad, especially bad about. I exhale relieved she didn’t stop. His words stagger Sophie? I didn’t understand consent. He pins a teal ribbon to his black cap a week later. His words stagger: Sophie? I’m scared I’m going to get in trouble. I walk slowly down the street. His words stagger: Sophie? I should kill myself. The sun is setting; it is dusk. His words stagger Sophie? I’m sorry for hitting you all those years. A teal ribbon on a cap is a visual tourniquet that will never be enough. His words stagger: Sophie? I’ve brought so much harm in the world. A tourniquet or a noose? His words stagger: Sophie? I won’t; I don’t want to hurt you more than I have. I’m pacing under the bridge; the stars are out. His words stagger: Sophie? When I do it, it will be after you die because I love you so much.
better off dead I want I love you so much once you die I will I love you bye
I feel terrible about all the harm I’ve brought into the world, he said. He said, I feel bad about it. sometimes I feel so bad.
I trudge tiptoe among setting Chicago streets. Midnight I pace up and down the block. In my slog is an uncomfortable jitter rousing pouncing no sinking rising fluttering no lethargy no weakness.
Evisceration: seeping then going farther, deeper, it’s not stopping. Past the explosion erupts and leaks staggering through the telephone. Staggered into me on the telephone. On the telephone I saw a child throwing blocks and an adolescent stealing hood ornaments and I saw pants slinking lower and lower coming into full view. I study and things do not look good.
Who in these pictures should know? The colleagues, the pets, the other activists, the mentors, the professors. the friends, the viewers, the commenters, the likers, the love wow sad angry haha reactors. Who should know? Perhaps No one. No one needs to know until they become potential sex partners, until he is cooking them pancakes or slowly inching his arm around them during a movie or sitting on the bed scrolling through facebook while you lay there sleeping completely unaware that he is imagining what it’s like to be in the same bed as you. Perhaps even then they don’t need to know because it’s all in the past and it was a long time ago and we hardly even know what happened it was so long who can even remember and we were all drunk it was college and I dissociated and no one was even in the room because nothing even happened because we all dissociated and now we’re in an alternate realm. How can sexual assault happen here if No One was even here, and No One can assure you that in this other world assault does not exist. I was not on the dance floor or in the bed. No One was.
There are no pictures of those nights.
I am not taking pictures with him anymore. I can’t. No pictures means no evidence to incriminate me. No evidence means safe from what viewers might see. Photos say, I love him, and we’re cute side by side, and we are great and not rapists. Photos lie, and I am an honest person. Photos say, I love you, and I excuse your deeds. Photos pretend oh, I had no idea he did that. Photos pretend: Do you really think he would do that? Photos lie, and I am an honest person. I am not taking pictures with him anymore because my guilt knows the pictures are wrong. No photos.
PHOTO SHOOT FOUR: Cuz’s Wedding
We are at a wedding when guilty indulgence snaps. We are dressed well. Will you take some photos with me? Dread and desire war at this question before he asks. I say yes and then walk away. I agree again and then look away from the camera. He continues earnest with eager hope; I am masked in motion. The war in my uneasy gut swims; I am desperate. The scintillating yes tempts me but I am loyal to my principled vow to self-preservation and stiff upper lip: no,no phony lies. Longing looks like awkward photos. The camera aims from below. We take several bad pictures—neither of us is photogenic, and my hesitation makes us less so. My moving figure is a blur, and I’m not smiling, and I pretend to do something else. This agreement to take the photo is contingent that it is quick enough that we actually don’t and that I don’t smile in the photo we didn’t take. I just happen to be in a cute picture with him.
Will you take some photos with me? We’re both smiling teeth show. Small details might tell the story. Perhaps you can sense it in his uncharacteristic toothiness or the way his smile is tight. His eyes shrink and folds of skin pull taught around his chin. His mouth partially opens as if with a tense, awkward laugh. My smile is toothy and tight too. I am looking into the camera—perhaps my eyes are pleading it’s not what it looks like; please, let me explain. Rather than side-by-side, my body angles inward ready to face E and let the lens document the silent war. I silently fear and hope and dread posting it on Facebook. There are 95 Facebook likes that I thoroughly examine—offended that the people who know like it; ashamed imagining my equally militant friends who know scrolling by and not liking it. He captions it “Twins at Wedding.”
Eugene Massey is currently reading and thinking about class inequality, vegan nazis, and the history of the pledge of allegiance. They work as a server at a taco restaurant and hope to attend grad school next fall. They are passionate about wrestling, and they are a member of BLOWW (the Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers).