For five years, the family has left the sanctuary of Gray House every impending winter on what we call vacation, and for five years, Adam has brought me home again after the holidays to commemorate our anniversary - the night we had sex the first time.
I think I've written about that night so many times, I could recite the prose from memory. I could also recite things Adam has written about it, in his journals, with more romance and greater dexterity than I ever could muster. Was it the most romantic, most pivotal, most important event of my life? It's possible it was, because after that night, everything changed.
It was the dead of winter, and the first time I approached Gray House. The Old House as we call it now was a fraction as grand, decimated by the damp, and missing more than two thirds of the rooms we now possess. Some of us like to admit, and some of us don't, that there was life before we found Gray House, when we lived in a small farmhouse inherited from our parents. Adam and I had exchanged four letters and two telephone calls, but hadn't yet met face-to-face. I had come to see him on a night I knew he was alone in the house, the then-meager numbers of us off elsewhere for the night.
Our such meager beginnings. The Genesis of Gray House.
It was the house Adam had grown up in, and I came in through the back door, into the kitchen, which was dark and nicotine-stained. What struck me first was the gold resin that clings to everything in a kitchen where too much frying goes on. What struck me second is how certain I was that he had grown up here; how well this place helped to define him as a man and a human being. The smell of cooking oil hung in the air and most of the lights were off, but for the hood light on the stove, and Adam was listening to the radio softly, his back to me where he sat. The surface of the table was worn smooth at the edges, and browned with the gum of human touch. The chair creaked as he adjusted, and the amber ashtray into which he flicked his cigarettes was overflowing with butts of other brands. The cups on the counter were all mismatched, aluminium foil showing plainly he had eaten re-heated leftovers for his dinner. I felt grit under my feet as I walked into the room, the screen door closing loud behind me with a squeal, and then a bang.
And Adam had stood up, and turned around, and said, "Hello."
In the half-light of the kitchen he was cautious, he was overdressed in a gray suit, he was nervous that I'd come, he had tried hastily to clean, he was sweet, and he was hopeless.
"Hello," is what I had said back.
We had sex in the kitchen, as if the rest of the world beyond the room had long ago gone to sleep, and we were awake and frozen like moths in the light over the stove. I had kissed him because we were already pinned under the thumb of the fate of us, and because I knew he wouldn't.
Every year since, when the time returns, we turn to one another and say, "Do you remember?" in reference to this moment when everything changed. And every year, he tells me he can bring me home again, by returning to the now-abandoned kitchen of the Old House, to wait for me to arrive, wearing white.
It's beautiful, I think, and tragic to the point of heartbreak. And it's something that has the power to draw me from anywhere else in the Universe, to feel at home. To feel Home, there with Adam, in the chaos of all things.
But I was busy this year, so.
"I made you a mix," I told Brad, and I had seen him get anxious and suspicious.
"Isn't it your anniversary?" was his first question, and I could tell by his expression changing from confusion to regret that he didn't really want me to say what I did.
"Yeah, it is."
But then he had to respond, and something fragile between us was forced to become steel, or die trying.
"Aren't you going home with Adam tonight?"
But maybe that's where Brad lives, at the intersection where things become steel or die. If he had been more polite or delicate, I wouldn't have been made to choose between them this way, or vocalize my attempt to be diplomatic and see both, or explain why that was okay and not inherently disingenuous in my heart, but Brad is neither delicate nor polite.
I could see in that moment how his bluntness often mistaken for emotional stupidity was really a manipulation styled as ignorance, to get people to explain things to him in the black-and-white of their truest and most despicable motivations. See, well, Brad, I was thinking we could hang and then when it got late, I would hit up Adam and maybe we could just keep it between us...
I immediately opted for a reversal of the burden of explanation.
So, what could possibly be wrong with that, Brad, do tell.
His skin was blotchy and dark, how it gets when he's upset, especially low on his cheeks, by the jaw. He stared at me long and cold, and then out into the distance.
"So, are you still gonna see him?"
I shrugged, and refused to answer.
"I don't know."
The blotches got darker as he chewed on the insides of his mouth and thought. But of course the question betrayed that he wanted me to choose; to choose him over Adam, because of all that it might mean. He wasn't asking me if I was still going to see Adam, he was asking me if this was on purpose, this timing of this mix on this night. Could he mean that much to me? And he wanted me to say yes.
"What's the mix about?" he asked, and I could feel myself blushing in the same place, along my jawbone, as my heartbeat picked up.
"Well. Denton. It's about our house."
"You made me a mix about our house," he repeated, his eyes flat and erased of all emotion as carefully as he'd erased his voice.
"You want to listen to it tonight," he repeated, his tone still cold.
When I'm confronted with the same situation between me and anyone else, I'm usually in Brad's role, thinking through their words and underlying motivations. My repetition is the same, my consideration the same. I see how we're alike in this moment, but where I understand what he's asking me to do, and why he is asking me with a valueless blank chill, others mistake it in me for derision. Mhm, okay sure, we can do that. Idiot.
He clenched his jaw and unclenched it for almost ten seconds, and I could see the two dark freckles on his cheek moving as he did. He hadn't gotten me to say anything either way, hadn't been able to push me anywhere but the suggestion of what I wanted.
Finally, he tugged with both hands on the ends of the scarf he was wearing, and agreed.
Is it the choosing which is wrong, or the not choosing? Is it a lie by omission, or have I told the truth?
Would I sell Adam for Brad, if given half the chance, and would I ever really be given that choice?
To me, the answer is obvious. Because of Adam, I'm a waste. I will always and forever owe the rest of the world half my soul because it's tied up in Adam, physically, and I can never get it back. The choice is a luxury Adam and I are only pretending exists in the first place; to put anyone before him.
And if it's only symbolic, and we know it is, the color drains away from the action itself. Why do anything that is only symbolic? Why would I choose at all? Why have I done all these things, mouthed apologies to my brothers, stood and put my hand over my heart to pledge allegiance? The world is full of symbols kept alive by the CPR of their repetition, insisting there's something they all mean.
Making the choice would mean I wish it were true. Not making it means that I know it's not even possible, but moot.
As long as Adam exists, maybe I'm just a lie to everyone else we pretend is real. Maybe I'm the shadow of Evelyn and we all carry on pretending that I'm actually real and actually married to them and actually have a life and a love and reason to keep moving forward. Maybe it's me that's the symbol, repeated over and over again by all the other men who love me, performing some ritual of CPR on the cardboard cut-out of myself I trot out to say, "I choose you first, before Adam. I hate Adam, I fucking want away from him, God please help me."
But what could they do, anyway? Who would I be if I wasn't Eve?
Maybe this whole thing is just for nothing.