I Will See You in the Morning

Illustration for I Will See You in the Morning by Alex Nolos

I don’t walk in wooded areas enough to know what it feels like underfoot; in theory, I wouldn’t even consider that it feels much different than pavement, but I’m learning that the ground is deceptively stationary and what looks like a leafy floor is actually a slick plate that can give way under my shoes at any moment. This is not the most luxurious of walking paths. Evidence of human intervention and eventual abandonment can be found in the structures buried in lichen. The overgrowth makes shapes that look like topiaries of an alien species. I was told hiking boots would be ideal, but I didn’t see how anything could make me feel more stable than the flat sole boots I’m used to, and now I have regrets. Regrets in more ways than one, as I watch the brassy bleach blonde head loping up in front of me. Blonde with traces of blue, purple, red; ghosts of trends this guy cycled through before I met him. It’s one of those gutsy days in early fall when the rain is freezing me but the humidity is making me sweat buckets under the synthetic fibers of my cheap jacket.

Laurent is really stunning; angelic enough to distract me, which I’d thought was a good thing until now. Now, I wonder at my lack of mental fortitude, such as it has led me to a consensual hike through wet woods on my day off with someone who is essentially a stranger, no matter how many inches inside of me he’s been. When I’d shown up at the meeting spot, marked by a big rock he’d pinned as a landmark since we were not abiding by any particular well-trod hiking path, I was late. He propelled off the tree his back was up against to greet me with a hug that brought my face just over his shoulder, my nose almost in his neck. I was so preoccupied with the discovery that we must be the same height that I didn’t bristle at the overfamiliarity of the gesture. Now though, as my heels are making sucking sounds on the odd steps when I pull out of the ground and my ankles are twitching with fear on the even steps as they slide a little farther forward than I intended, I squirm at the tenderness of that greeting.

Laurent was meant to get me out of a bad spell I’d been suffering under for an embarrassing length of time, to the degree that the people who care about my well-being felt the need to intervene. As we walked, the humidity reminded me of how the bars have felt lately. The icy winter air was starting to blow, and no one really knew what kind of jacket to wear, meaning that varying levels of steam combined on the dancefloor to create an environment that wasn’t quite the sloppy drench of summer, but still dense. Some people find that the strongest trigger for a memory is smell, but for me, it’s sweat.

I wouldn’t say I’d been at my favorite bar, but certainly one of my regulars. It’s really something, how I remember so little but I can put myself back there so easily. Everyone is pressing in on each other and I’m wondering how much of the air in the room is breath. The oxygen feels heavy, and I see the mirrors along the back wall fogging up from the heat, but everyone is so happy and present that there’s nowhere I’d rather be, despite the alcoholic shaking and jealousy I’ll wake up with. I have had far too much to drink, but when I take breaks from dancing to cool off, I would much rather get another glass of something icy and searing from the bar than the tepid water from the sweating carafe on the counter. As long as I don’t forget to close my tab, it’ll be fine. I must have looked as fucked up as I was, because after a few hours, someone calls a car for me. My right hand, which feels detached from my body, bops around to make sure my card is in my wallet. I’d remembered to close my tab, or maybe someone did it for me, good on them. Whoever it was, I hope they tipped. I’d been convinced to go out far from home, so I had plenty of time in the car to breathe heavily out of my mouth and get myself together so I wouldn’t scratch up the door trying to get the keys in. I open my phone, scroll through videos. I click on a hashtag that shows me reel after reel of industrial rug washing videos. I find these to be very therapeutic, because a rug is one of those things that is almost certainly riddled with filth but can’t be put in a washing machine, like a mattress, and watching the procession of water buckets and rakes and shampoos and all that it takes to make the water running off of the pile go clear makes me believe that nothing is impossible. When we reached my building, I realized that for the entire ride, I’d had my volume on full blast, no headphones.

I was distracted from my memories by a dog, roaming around in the woods. He slouched behind a rock; no collar, no leash, but lacking the fierceness I’d expect from something feral. He was soaked, probably from rolling around in the leaves I was sliding on. Wiry black and brown fur covered his shivering body, but his belly was round and healthy, and his forelegs were strong. As we made a broad turn, a smell hit me in the face like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was such a complicated scent, one I could almost hear; it stopped me in my tracks and Laurent turned, the only time he faltered at all on that walk. Frankly, I was surprised he even stopped to check on me, since his footing had been so sure and quick that I felt like I was stalking him. As I grimaced with curiosity at the smell, Laurent’s face remained still. 

“You good?” He asked. 

“You don’t smell that?” I replied, and he shook his head but came closer to me to try to get a whiff. He waved his head around in the air less like he was trying to sniff and more like he was doing some odd pilled-out club dance. The scant light that came through the trees hit him on the nose and, unfortunately, the way it showed off his sharpness was an unbearable turn-on. “I’m not getting anything.” Maybe I was crazy, so I let it go.

When I woke up that morning after the bar, my skin felt like it was doing the bare minimum to keep my organs in. I found a piece of bread in the fridge and took a few raw bites before going back to bed to sleep off the remainder of the shakes. Wes was probably not the person to put me in a car, because he’d been busy elsewhere. He went home with someone, someone who was not me but might have been if it hadn’t been for some promises I’d made. The promise not to ruin anything, the promise that I’d sacrifice what I had to to be a good friend. You know, over-sentimental self-flagellating bullshit. I know that there must be a part of me that gets off on self-martyrdom, a part of me I should be ashamed of, and I am ashamed–consciously. My subconscious is a wily bastard that tricks me into thinking this nonsense will serve the plot of my life that ends with a sweeping romantic finish where it turns out to have been me, the love of his life, in arms’ reach all along, and oh, how noble of me to have kept it hidden for so long. I could kick myself in the head.

Love is such a beautiful thing, and it is rotting inside of me. A while ago, I’d been talking to someone about manifesting or whatever. They told me about a kitchen spell you can do with common spices, a way to purge the mind so you can rid yourself of something that troubles you. I thought about it. I thought about how if I could make a wish, it’d be that love was a choice, but I couldn’t find fresh coriander leaves at the store and that was the end of that. The fact that I’d considered resorting to witchcraft only made me feel more pitiful.

Had I done something embarrassing at the bar? No, I barely remember talking to him at all that night, but I wished I could so that I could lay out the pieces of our conversations and shape them into something I could hold onto. I only remember that he was beautiful, he was moving, and every time I looked in his direction my body shot through with a cold burn that was excruciating, but lovely. The way smiles break on his face rhymes with the way meadows come to life in old technicolor movies.

Laurent continued on, still several paces ahead of me, and when he got further down the path the sun played games on him, running around in the fibers of his sweater, dipping into the acne scars on his cheeks, hovering in the mouth that dropped open just a few centimeters as his eyes brightened. He waved me down the path to meet him, and as I caught up I realized what is meant by the “sickeningly sweet” smell of death. Before I saw the carcass, I was almost willing to forgive certain notes of that fragrance, but seeing the source of it corrupted the faint traces of cherry and sugar the rotting flesh gave off. Laurent’s face shaped into an O that looked alarmingly similar to the face he’d made when his clit was in my mouth. He’d brought me here so I could suck his dick in the woods, a typical, trashy faggot thing that I’d always wanted to try. A historical re-enactment of park cruising.

For a few moments, Laurent and I watched the infant wriggles of nursing maggots in the crevices of the body. It had been a deer or something, too much of it was gone for me to tell how old it might have been when whatever happened to it happened. Clearly, that dog I’d seen had been feeding on it. Growing up around here, I was used to deer being semi-lethal creatures, through no fault of their own. They just chose the most god-awful times to run out into the road, causing crashes, injuries, and sometimes death. The street I lived on had one of those ribboned-up street pole memorials for that very reason. 

The sun broke through the trees and glistened on the tissues that used to hold the body together. The mist blessedly dampened the gasses that could be seen to emanate from a bloated abdomen. The carcass was the most bruised thing I’d ever seen. I thought of a black banana and believed that the organs must be as soft and pulpy as that, which I tried to quickly get out of my head because the image combined with the smell made my stomach squirm.

If Laurent and I knew each other better, maybe we’d be talking, or holding hands. As it was, he stood in silence, and I couldn’t tell if what was going through his head was sociopathic morbidity or poignant reflection on mortality. For my part, I wondered if he’d still let me get him off after this.

My friend Liz brought me coffee for my hangover. While we sipped they fiddled with their fingers for a while and eventually said, “I have this friend from work….” It took all my love and patience not to cut them off there, but I let them continue. “He’s single, he’s pleasant, and he makes more than I do.”

I am repulsed by the idea of an arranged date. It’s one thing when you wind up in intimate quarters with someone by accident, realizing afterward that there was something beyond conversation, but to be cooped up with a total stranger? Even worse, one that comes to you by recommendation? I don’t do that Bridget Jones shit. I visibly grimace to try to get Liz off my back, but then she says “honey, you gotta get out there sometime,” an expression that usually comes out like stop and smell the roses but Liz delivered it to me like I’m concerned you may put on a gauze gown and throw yourself off a balcony. There are many people I wished I hadn’t confessed certain things to, because now I feel like they look at me like I’m a bomb about to go off. Truly, the idea of putting someone who isn’t him in my path for anything other than sex isn’t so much painful as it is impossible. I don’t like lying, I only do it when honesty would come out like blood and guts, so the thought of entertaining another human being as if there was any chance I had room for them would make me sick. Then again, it’s been a while since someone touched me.

I refuse Liz’s work friend, but to comfort them I promise to grab someone off of an app. I’ve done this once or twice before, and it’s one of those things I only do because I forget how awful it was the last time. I tried the lesbian one and the gay one, hoping that by spreading my resources around something would be caught in the venn diagram middle that I could work with. This method has been good to me a few times. I advertised myself as a thorny transsexual, seeking only sex but nice enough for one not to feel used despite my staunch intention to hit and quit whoever took the bait and my fancy first. For days, my net caught only creeps or sexless adult children. The problem may have been that I was too picky, or maybe too scary, I couldn’t tell. Liz kept checking in on me, doing their level best not to come across as a nanny, and though I could have chosen to be irritated, I knew that if I asked them to back off, they would. It wasn’t the text messages I wanted to stop, but the worry. I wanted Liz and anyone else close enough to me to be able to say comfortably that I was being normal and that there were solutions ahead. I wanted the solace of knowing that I had enough self-discipline to feel better, and that I wasn’t being a drama queen. The way people talk about unrequited love, it’s as if a normal person is able to convince themselves that it’s time to move on and actually follow through with it, whereas I can tell myself that’s the case, but then a feeling like an evil centipede crawling in my ear will tell me “yes of course, move on, that’s the healthy thing to do, but you and I know what’s up.” I suppose there are people who can make that stop. The best I can do is accept that I might be crazy and try not to think about it until it goes away. 

One day, scrolling, Laurent found me on the gay app. His opener read hot. Great. I like someone with few words and clear meaning. I looked at his profile, reading all the little tags: leather, kink, oral, t4t, rope. Further down the page, he’d put himself down for hookups, but not relationships or friendships. Every photo of him showed him in a different hair color, but always covered in all-black clothing of the semi-outgrown emo phase, though he was distinguished by the fact that it actually fit him. Same to you, I replied, and after a brief conversation that quickly turned explicit, we planned for him to be at my apartment the following night.

What ensued was one of the most violent orgasms of my life, and some of the prettiest bruises I’ve ever seen. When in the aftermath he had gathered his things and left my place within the half-hour,  I was incredibly charmed. He’d been pleasant and entertaining and wanted to see me again, and best of all, he was as aloof as a cat. I felt like I’d won something.

Laurent continued to stare, so very closely. I decided to try to meet his eyes, get his attention and a sense of whether we were to keep moving or be traumatized. After I studied his face for a while, I found something that was not anything I could have expected: kindness. He seemed to be relieved, joyful even. He was not smiling, but his brows were slightly lifted and his eyes were so open. I was curious to know what was happening in that head. He moved just a few inches closer to me, and said, “that will be you someday.” In my head, I thought what the fuck, but I did feel a twitch in my crotch that reminded me I’m not an entirely unmorbid creature myself. He chuckled a little to lighten the statement, then he said, “well, all of us.” He sighed, and kept on, “but the love you leave behind will still be here.”

I thought, he is saying something much too intense for our second meeting. But now I wonder if that’s fair. Being there with him, the way neither of us shrank from the corpse, the way we were both so quiet, thinking before reacting. It made me feel that we must be alike. I suddenly became aware of the sounds of the woods. Somewhere, water ran, and at a just slightly higher pitch the wind weaved through the grass, waking it out of its dampness. Though it seemed he wanted to, Laurent did not go any closer to the carcass. Instead, he put an arm on my waist, turned me to face him, and brushed his teeth against my lips, then down onto my neck. I thought, here?, but before I could seriously consider if I was willing to drop to my knees next to a dead animal, he took my hand softly and led me away to keep on. He knew where he wanted me.

As we kept on, I thought about what he’d just said. “The love you leave behind will still be here.” I thought about the phrase “leave behind.” Of course, to my dismay, Wes came to mind. What’s wrong with me is I think I would miss how much this hurts if it stopped. But maybe I’m not that ridiculous, maybe what I need isn’t the pain, but the hope, because the hope is the thing that really digs, the thing that tunnels into my head when the breeze blows him and his memory around. When I realized the way I was feeling, not long after we met, I was so mesmerized. There’s something so gorgeous in finding you have feelings for someone, especially when it’s someone you want to have feelings for. It’s the miracle of the world being so big and a person who matches your wildest dreams exploding into your life out of nowhere. And when time goes on and those feelings just settle deeper and deeper into your layers, it’s confirmation. You got lucky, you found someone. But then more time passes, and more, and nothing has happened. Are you fucking up? Did you miss a cue somewhere? Is this what you think it is or are you stupid? Are you sure you know how to read a room? And then you realize that you’ve been carrying around something heavy to no one’s knowledge but your own, and that to open up at this point would be a major inconvenience, the thing that gives you butterflies could be a blight of locusts on another.

I don’t want it to go away, I want the companionship of someone I love. But, I can’t have it, or maybe I can, there’s no way to know but to keep on living and see what life does. “The love you leave behind will still be here.” Yeah, I know. Leaving it behind, is that any different than trying not to think about it? How do I put it down? If I could get it outside of me, maybe instead of rotting it would just be able to breathe. Or maybe, it could just lay there while time does its work. It could break down, the smell of it wafting away, traces of memories exhaling from it, its pieces shrinking and sinking into the ground, bits of it taken by birds, dogs. It might be visible in the way it nourishes other things. Is that possible?

Laurent stopped. He’d told me the other day that there was an old hunting shack around here he’d seen once, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find it again, and now it seemed we’d come upon it by accident, or maybe in his case, instinct. It was not a ruin, like he said it would be, though I can understand mistaking abandonment for decay. The door opened silently, as if the hinges were oiled regularly. It was just one room, which smelled like an old wood thing that hasn’t been used. Like a piano. As soon as he crossed the threshold with me, the fragrance of whatever shampoo he uses leapt off his head and into the sunny dust-speckled spot over a mass of something unidentifiable. A gas has never moved so fast. My eyes tried to figure out what we were looking at. It was a big pile of melted candles under a makeshift cross. I recognized the shape and knew it had to be something Christian, but the context made me feel like we’d stumbled on an altar to an unknown god. “Was this here last time?” I asked Laurent. “It was lit last time,” he said, pulling a matchbook out of his pocket. Despite the damp, he was able to ignite one and light the last few inches of some of the candles, then, he took my hands and placed them inside of his jacket, under his shirt, onto his bare stomach.

I wanted to touch the melted wax and see if I could come away with any grease on my fingertips left by the hands of worshippers past, but I would have had to let go of him. In the glow of the dusty stained glass, Laurent’s body filled with color, and my hands were warm for the first time that day.

I saw myself living the kind of life that people envy. A life dyed with reds and deep greens. Something rich and beautiful; a life you’d dip your hand in and not come away clean from. Mess, sticky and bright. Taking my hands from his body, Laurent tossed me backwards, pinning me, and opened my lips with his tongue; I felt unknown debris make impressions on my back while he maneuvered his fingers through me; the inside of his mouth tasted like blood and gas. With his teeth in my collar I stared up at the high ceiling, feeling every inch of me dampen with old and new sweat, gradually falling apart. When I came, instead of holding my mouth to his dick he sat behind me and wrapped his arms around to pet me while I lay on him. My muscles were sore from the hike and its conclusion. I almost forgot Laurent was there while I breathed and stared at the surroundings. “What do you think?” he asked. I didn’t answer him.

Alex Nolos is a writer, editor, and drag king from Brooklyn. He is hot on the heels of publishing his first novel Cut and Save the Line, a trans work of fiction about gay transness, romantic absorption and obsession, and the parts of transition that happen on each end of the coming out event.

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