Stories

Brief Interview – MJ Szalay

“Yeah, so we met at this party, and the theme was– you know, Minions? Like from the like – well, it really doesn’t matter, but so as part of the theme for the party everyone was wearing face paint, yellow face paint. And I came in late, I was trying to get into this other club, but you had to reserve tickets like two, three days in advance, which, first of all, some fucking gall, to think I’m going to be what? Glued to my phone waiting for your lame ass club to drop tickets on some fucking– well, but that’s not the point. The point is, I came in late, so I didn’t have any face paint on. And maybe you’re unfamiliar, but as a dyke – this is like a thing – whenever a girl does your makeup for you… Actually, no, let me put it another way.

“Imagine her face, close enough to count her eyelashes, and she’s focused on you, entirely on you, but not looking at you, so you can look at her all you want, she’s focused on gently applying cool, pleasant smelling like lotions to your face with the tips of her fingers or some soft brush and in that moment it’s all you can do not to like… and anyway she offered to do my Minion makeup, which I hadn’t wanted to do before, for obvious reasons, but was now sounding like not such a bad idea.

“And so I ended up in the bathroom with her, and when I saw us both in the mirror, we almost looked like… have you ever seen a Rothko painting? They’re impossible to mistake once you’ve seen one. It’s not that we were like twins or anything, but there was something about us two, a similarity, like we’d been painted by the same hand, like that distinctive look of a Rothko. Even with the makeup on. And the makeup was really awful, the black circular glasses bleeding into the sick, almost fluorescent yellow. It should have been totally disfiguring, but it wasn’t, on her.

“And we went out and everyone was dancing in that mostly sober, self-conscious way. But not her. And not me, I had this shiver in my whole body that needed exorcized, and instead of thinking about what that meant, I threw myself into dancing. And without getting into it too much, I think I should probably explain at this point that I had a girlfriend. Have a girlfriend. And my girlfriend and I – we’re not some casual thing – we have a home together with a chicken coop out back. Every year we plant pear trees, so that in five years we’ll have pears, if you get what I mean.

“Anyway, it turned out she had a girlfriend too, she told me later, we’d ended up at her house to drink Smirnoff – the whole group I mean, of probably seven or so of us – still in the face paint. It was pretty laid back, everybody sitting on the couches. I still had this shiver, but I wasn’t cold, and it was getting so bad it was practically making my teeth chatter. We ended up alone, in the room with the couches.

“She told me she loved her girlfriend, I told her I was calling mine three times a day, which was true. I asked how they met. They’d hated each other in high school, then after they’d graduated, the girlfriend and her got really close. She said she hadn’t seen her that way, but they’d hooked up anyway, and she said she wasn’t really sure how, but all of a sudden it was their two-year anniversary. I said I met mine online, I was on a gap year, and I was hooking up with three other girls when I met her. I realized I didn’t know how we’d started dating either, I just stopped messaging the other girls and all of a sudden two years had passed. There was that glint of something again, like the one I’d caught in the bathroom, that sense that we were similar in some very fundamental way. It’s always fundamental things, I think, that are the hardest to describe.

“Anyway, we got to talking in a very serious way, the way I think probably any two people alone together at a house party end up doing. We were both studying abroad and very far from home – I’m from the US, and she was Australian, and we were both in England – and neither of us could stop talking about our girlfriend. At some point, her girlfriend and my girlfriend kind of merged into the same subject so that when we would say ‘my girlfriend,’ we were really talking about the same entity. She was totally loyal to her girlfriend, and I was totally to mine.

“This is essential, it’s the piece that all of this hangs on. We loved our girlfriends, totally. We could see a future with no one else. But she was so far away. It would be so much easier if she were just here. But she wasn’t. We kept saying things like that. Like everything would be fine if she was here. But she wasn’t.

“And it hadn’t been long at all that we’d been away from our girlfriends, for her about two months, for me about a week. And what really scared both of us – I think – was a deep fear, that fear that permeates everything in our very scientific world. It is the fear lurking inside of everything– in the tables and chairs of this world. The sense whatever seems to us solid, is – they say – not so solid after all, and is really only atoms, atoms that, far from being solid, are themselves mostly only empty space. There’s nothing to trust in the world, and nothing is – fundamentally, I mean – what it appears, least of all our own unknowable minds. That dark and swirling wake, that black sea from which thought and action, like sea foam, froth. To know that it is from this, this strange, black sea that it all – I don’t know – originates, to know that I – that slippery, unavoidable I- have certain obligations but only symbolic control over what I do, and the certainty – a scientific certainty – that even my own mind is not what it seems. This was the fear that kept us both chattering about our girlfriend.

“We said to each other: I am loved and love, I am good to someone and am made good by it. We said it in so many words, in so many ways. My teeth chattering, the muscles of my chest and arms tight with energy, I realized I was exerting great effort, somewhere in my unconscious. I was holding back the black tide, that cold and insistent tide. I really was shaking then, and also trying to disguise the shaking, which was only another exertion. An incredible tension passed between us, and I noticed that whenever my shaking would subside, she’d clench her jaw and cross her arms tight across her chest, and I realized she was shivering too, and trying to keep from showing it. Of course. Of course, she was. And I felt this sudden rush of tenderness for her, or something close to pride. She seemed even more lovely in those moments, face paint scrubbed off but still showing yellow in patches at her hairline and straining temples. And I know you think you know this story. But we didn’t do anything. Never. We would never do that to her. We would never do that to her.”