We’re watching a documentary about private zoos in which everyone is a terrible person, and it makes me curious. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” I ask.
You tilt your head back against the fake-leather of our couch, considering. The air conditioning hums to life and I curl my legs closer to my body, my wet hair heavy on my shoulders. Just hours before, you lit a candle and drew me a bath, to celebrate that I was done grading papers for the year. The room smelled like juniper berry and skin.
“I don’t know,” you say. On screen, a man explains why his private zoo is ethical, and another man’s isn’t. “I think we all have our mistakes.”
“I know that. But everyone has one thing that’s worse than other things. Like, when I was in ninth grade, I stole another girl’s boyfriend. I knew she was dating him, but I asked him to come over and study with me anyway. We weren’t even in any classes together.”
You shift, wrapping your arm more tightly around me, my hair making your T-shirt damp. “I always knew you had a sneaky side,” you say, keeping me close.
Later, in the middle of the night, I wake up to pee. You sit up in bed when I get back from the bathroom. “I brought a gun to school once,” you say. “Back in high school.”
“What?” I blink, feeling my way back towards the bed. The room is so dark, it’s fuzzy. Have you ever talked in your sleep before?
But you are awake, and I can feel you drawing lines on the duvet with your finger. You say, “The worst thing I ever did. I brought a gun to school.”
I say nothing, and you continue. “It was my dad’s. I was fucked up. Young and stupid. It’s no excuse. I don’t know if I would have actually done anything with it. I didn’t plan it, or anything. But, only for like, a day, I liked knowing that I could, I guess. That it was there.”
In my mind, there is an image of you, a different you than the one I hear right now in the dark. It’s the you who loves my red lipstick almost as much as the fact that its name is stolen Parisian kiss; who buys toothbrushes in bulk so we always have extra on hand for after we’ve been sick; who clips wildflowers from the backyard in perfect diagonal angles at the base of the stems; who picks the corn kernels out of boxed cornbread mix and cooks it together with chili in a casserole dish. I lie still on the bed next to you, wondering how long it takes to figure out if something is a dream. Three days ago, four kids were killed at a high school in a neighboring county. A week ago, six died at a college upstate.
“Did you hear me?” you ask, your voice thick and desperate.
I think of my own students, my ninth grade English classes, and how every few months we lock the classroom door, turn off the lights, and crawl under our desks, silent and motionless. In theory we’re waiting for the principal to announce that the drill is over, but what we’re really waiting for is the sound of something unusual, the stomach-pitting horror of finding out that this time, it’s for real.
In bed, I roll over so I’m facing away from you. “You’re asleep,” I say. “You’re sleep-talking.” For a moment, I think you’re going to protest—to keep speaking—but you don’t. I feel you flop back down onto the mattress. I squeeze my eyes shut, overwhelmed by the urge to get up again, to take another bath, but I stay put. I think of all our best memories together: burying you in the sand at the beach, rigging a blanket fort with fans when our AC went out, driving East to the mountains to feel like we were part of a different kind of earth.
In the private zoo documentary we finished earlier, the man who didn’t go to jail said that there is no good or bad, there are only perceptions. I contemplate this, listening to the rush of your breath until the strip of light between our curtains is purple again.
Usually in the morning, you smile, roll over, drape your heavy arm across my chest. Usually, when you do this, I say, “Hey! Just who do you think you are!” and usually, when I say this, I am laughing. This morning I’ll wait anxiously for the weight of your arm, and for what I will say when you offer it.