by Grace Byron
Grace Byron is a writer from Indianapolis based in Brooklyn. She used to make films. Her writing and work has appeared in AV Club and Hyperallergic. She currently writes an arts column for Observer. She tweets @emotrophywife.
Tara walked slowly out of the venue, slouched over the dewy morning grass, and threw up. It wasn’t even on purpose, she was just dehydrated and overheated.
Relapse! Haha, she texted her friend Aurelia.
Jk sorry haha i’m just super dehydrated and nauseous
Are you drunk?
Tara where are you?
The show’s almost over
this isn’t funny
Her ex made her do it. She wanted to obliterate herself beyond oblivion. It was easier to imagine the pain disappearing that way—not that he ever realized she hurt that much. He just played his guitar and sang to girls with pink hair.
Ever since she started seeing a therapist, Tara had been “in recovery.” It felt like she’d given up on something.
When she saw her ex, she was reminded of all the things she had tried so hard to be. The cis girl was invincible. Aurelia was that way. Aurelia had already started making out with some guy when Tara ran out of the show, past the girls who claimed they knew what emo music was.
“I love Fall Out Boy,” Tara heard one girl say as she ran out. They had probably listened to one Emo Essentials playlist online and considered themselves experts.
A week ago, the ex posted a nude that made her delete her personal account. He had his guitar in front of his dick, laying down in a bean bag chair. It made her run from visibility. Better to hate herself out of the conversation preemptively. Her comics were like that, doodles of herself complaining about not passing or being bad at drawing. All her drawings about being an egg. About not realizing she was trans and feeling dumb in front of all the hot trans girls she met. Sometimes it made her hate them, sometimes it made her want to have sex with them. More often than not, it was both.
It was easy to remember when the ex first followed her back on the internet. She was exiting a Whole Foods with stolen seltzer and some strange keto chocolate. Aurelia had paid gingerly for her organic bananas, chocolate, cider, and hummus.
“He followed me back,” Tara said.
“Uh oh,” Aurelia said. The alarms failed to detect her petty larceny.
She kept moving past the guys flicking ash under the streetlights. One guy in a green baseball cap was talking about the best music to have sex to. “I think we can all agree on Radiohead.”
Before taking her to the show, Aurelia had repeatedly asked if Tara was sure she wanted to go. They sat pregaming, drinking vodka and lemonade, and talking about their high school friends.
“You’re sure he’s not gonna bother you?”
“What if he’s with a new girl?”
“What if he tries to talk to you?”
Tara sighed. “I’ll walk away.”
“What if he, or someone else, says something about their body?” Aurelia sounded like she was reading a script now.
Tara took a second to pretend like she was thinking about it. “Fine.”
Aurelia raised an eyebrow. “What if they say something about your body?”
“It could happen. I’ll beat them up, but I want to know we’re going into this fully equipped.”
“Thus the vodka.”
“Thus you’re being stupid.”
Tara held her tongue. She needed a temporary truce in order to get close to the ex. She just needed to see him in the spotlight swinging his guitar like an asshole. Then maybe she could move on. It wasn’t like they dated that long. They never even had a label.
On their third encounter, the ex brought Tara to a garden in the middle of the night. Being alone with a man was predicated on her ability to play a part. Martyr, hot girl, brain, comedienne, minor comics celebrity.
“You up for something dirty?” the ex growled.
Smiling, he started kissing her and took her Bright Eyes shirt off. They both hit the ground, rolling ragged in the garden plot. If someone called the cops, she worried her whole life would end. But she wanted to taste him in the dirt, she wanted to bury herself in him. In the end, he came quickly and laughed. She didn’t finish but acquiesced to being driven home like a toy.
No one asked her if she was ok. A few of the guys smoking in the parking lot moved away from her. She was freezing under the lights, a light mist had formed while the music droned on inside the venue. She wished she was drunk.
She ignored Aurelia and clicked the button for silence. Behind the trees that lined the parking lot, a small stream flowed patiently. The only good thing about Ohio was the ability to run from a large building directly into nature. Though, of course, the deeper the suburbs, the more likely someone was to call the cops.
Tara tried to open a pack of cosmic brownies. Her therapist told her it was good to have fear foods on hand, even if she wasn’t ready to eat them. She’d only had one cosmic brownie since seeing her therapist a few months ago. This would be her second. She was worried sad-eating would count as binging. She stared too long at the pink stretch marks on her long pale legs.
haha ya i’m ok sorry
She ate half the brownie and threw the other half in the stream among the cans and cigarette butts. She curled into her knees on the rock and scrolled through pictures of old Japanese movies on her phone. Sometimes she looked at the old comics she’d made. Now she only posted pictures of ceramics she made and architecture she admired. When she made comics, sometimes guys found her interesting. They thought she was brave.
Maybe she should go to 7/11 and get coffee.
tara wtf come back inside or im gonna find you
Aurelia wouldn’t come find her, she just wanted to make sure she was more or less in one piece. Tara stopped scrolling on her phone and tried to take a few deep breaths. It didn’t work. She still felt like shit. The venue had been too crowded, packed with young anxious sardines wanting a piece of the action. They would learn. Emotions sucked. Eventually they would get really into feeling their feelings, go to therapy, learn buzzwords like “vulnerability” and “active listening” before learning words like Doxepin and Buspirone. Then maybe one or two of them would come out as gay. Maybe one other person in their shit town would end up transitioning. She was ruminating. She tried to imagine her therapist saying something helpful. She imagined her therapist gesticulating wildly with her pen. Her therapist always sat in a nondescript green chair and only rarely said anything Tara deemed important. The river, tune into the river, she thought.
Her ex hadn’t been a fan of her comics. Eventually, she told her D&D group about him. They unanimously voted him a bad guy, though they were all intrigued by the garden sex.
“The sex is so good,” Tara lied.
“So?” Riley, the other trans girl at D&D, chimed in. “Fuck him and stop complaining.” Riley liked her comics, actually.
“I don’t just wanna fuck him,” Tara said.
“Then tell him that,” Riley said, rolling a die and not making eye contact.
“Yeah, but how?”
Riley laughed. “Like it matters. The last time I fucked a chaser I found out he had a fiancée and two other t-girls on the side.”
Tara wanted to throw the stupid board at Riley. Sometimes she imagined Riley standing above her with a water bottle forcing her to drink something other than caffeine.
The stream bubbled on. She wanted to dissolve into the stream. The show seemed to be winding down. People were slowly trickling out, drunk and disheveled. Her ex’s band was the last on the bill but their songs normally went six minutes long. Secretly, Tara thought that’s why they could never book a real tour. It was always unclear to her what their songs were about.
“Ennui,” the ex said one night after dabbing his torso with Kleenex, making a mess of things. Tara said nothing, nodding and getting her clothes back on. She had one hard line with him: don’t tell him how she was feeling unless he asked. He never asked.
“Ennui,” Tara repeated hypnotically.
“Oh, I know,” Tara said.
Aurelia was dancing around the lot with her newly acquired meal ticket. Good for her. A souvenir is healthy every once in a while. She waited until Aurelia was out of sight and headed toward the road.
It was getting close to two in the morning. She got up off the rock and walked back into the parking lot. Her ex was loading gear into a van. She hadn’t caught him in her cautionary scan. He saw her and turned quickly to gift his crooked smile.
“Tara,” the ex slurred. The drinking portion of the evening had begun.
“Hi, James,” she said, the little girl caught sneaking off. She was caught between seeing him and being seen by him. Maybe she just wanted to hear his voice, see his friends, see his green eyes.
“I’m surprised you came.”
“I’m friends with one of the openers, Lockjaw,” she lied. Aurelia was the one who wanted to see Lockjaw. She hadn’t known one song.
“Oh, they suck.” He paused, catching his balance. “You really know them?”
She narrowed her eyes and waited.
“Doesn’t matter.” He smiled. “What are you…” He turned to his bandmate who had fallen down on the concrete. She watched the ex hover over his puking friend for a minute. Quietly, she started walking off hoping he would be too busy or too drunk to notice.
Moments like this were for vaping. But she’d quit. Bad for your skin, her estrogen prescriber told her. The doctor was a bitch. Always telling her to be a certain weight, counter to what her therapist seemed to advise.
The ex probably never noticed the way her weight shifted. It probably never factored into his lack of interest. If she could move from toy to trophy. Once she joked in a comic about being an emo trophy wife. It was aspirational. She wished she could align herself with her personal beliefs, but instead watched herself recreate all the same dynamics around dating she hated.
Fuck it, she was going into the 7/11 for a vape and coffee. It was only a mile and a half down the road and then the last half mile to her place. There were enough street lights for her to get by. She saw a text in the D&D group chat pop up as she was looking at directions.
everyone ready for tomorro ?
It was Riley. Typical Virgo. Little arcane texts of excitement bubbled in from the rest of the group. Then she saw a text from an unknown number.
sorry my friend puked lol what u up to ?
She knew it was him. Aurelia made her delete his number. She deleted the text and hit the call button. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but she wasn’t going to call Aurelia. She didn’t want to backslide to the ex. She could file this under “made a new choice” in therapy.
“Tara?” The shrill voice said. “What’s going on? Oh my god, you idiot, did you go to his concert?”
“Are you ok? Where are you?”
“I’m fine, I’m walking home. I saw him. He texted me. I deleted it.” Tara tried to get it all out in one breath. She envisioned Riley having a quiet night in painting her D&D figurines and smoking a spliff.
“Good girl. Where are you?”
“You’re drinking. I shouldn’t have called. I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m not.”
“No, Tara, I’m literally walking around my apartment looking for my car keys. Sober.” Tara heard a deep, angry breath. “Where are you?”
An owl hooted.
“Eldridge Street. By the venue?”
“I’ll be there in ten—fifteen minutes. Don’t fucking move.”
She looked down, saw a beer can, and thought about the ex’s bedroom. He had a bunch of posters, beer cans, and a giant ficus. His roommate had a dog that always barked whenever he started to climax. It wasn’t that the room felt luxurious, it just didn’t feel empty. Her apartment always felt like an ice box, even when she tried to paint the walls cerulean. Cute little furniture, neatly washed dishes, tea, plants, and little cheap lamps never created home. They were just toys trying to look responsibly expensive.
The ex had never been particularly kind, but one night he asked Tara if she wanted kids. It was after they’d been seeing each other for a few months, close to the end. They were laying in bed listening to some stupid new hardcore band.
“Do you think you’ll ever want kids?”
“I can’t have biological kids.”
They paused until he realized she had evaded his question.
“Would you adopt?”
She turned away from his scrawny arms and put her top back on.
“This band sucks.”
Tara was staring at some mushrooms when Riley pulled up in her red pickup truck with a braced, horrified look and a ripped-up black tee.
“Did I wake you up?” Tara said.
Riley unbuckled, got out, and almost hugged Tara before choosing instead to sit beside her for a second. Riley spread her tattooed legs wide and sighed.
“You really have to not do that.”
“Go see my ex?”
“Yeah, that. And Aurelia said you relapsed.”
“Just don’t relapse,” Tara mimicked Aurelia’s nasally voice. “I’m cured. Besides, I didn’t relapse. She was too drunk to understand the joke.”
Riley sighed. “Come on, let’s go find a drive-through or something.”
“I just need a new vape or some coffee or something.”
“Well let’s get some McDonald’s coffee and some food. Or something.”
Tara let herself be dragged through the motions, careening down the night road to the last blinking neon fast food joint on the main strip. There wasn’t exactly a downtown, just an area with bars and a dwindling DVD shop.
Riley took care of ordering, ignoring Tara’s instructions for coffee. Tara sat with her hands slightly shaking and turned off her phone. Aurelia had gone to bed, knowing Tara was with another caretaker.
“Would you ever leave town? Start over somewhere else?” Tara asked as they sat behind a trucker waiting for his order.
“I don’t have the money.” Riley paused. “I don’t know where I would go.”
They pulled into the Whole Foods parking lot and slowly sipped their milkshakes. Riley seemed afraid to break the silence. They stared at the megastore that looked too bright against the quiet, empty night.
“Why did you call me and not Aurelia?”
“I knew Aurelia was with some guy.”
Riley laughed, snorting fries and shake. “Glad I was the first choice.”
They went back to Riley’s little apartment, the porch light blinking with moths. Riley gently guided her to bed. The bed was covered in yellow sheets, the color of a lemonade stand day. Tara could tell she wanted to fuck. The apartment was quiet, humming with a sweetness that Tara’s place lacked. Wine glasses, mugs of tea, and old movie posters. A bunch of books by the bed with dog-eared pages.
Riley turned on a white noise machine and went off to the kitchen to make breakfast. It was seven in the morning. She kissed Tara on the forehead before leaving for work. Her hair fell over Tara’s face like a veil. She smelled like vetiver. Tara’s lips went dry in retaliation.
“Stay here today, there’s plenty of food. I’ll be back around six and we can watch My Neighbor Totoro or something.”
“Ok,” Tara whispered.
“Don’t do anything stupid before I get back from selling people two dollar t-shirts and frog statues.”
“I’ll try to do minimally stupid things like steal your good dresses or drink too much coffee.”
“I’m gonna ignore that. You’re okay though?”
“I’ll be okay.”
Tara let herself fall asleep, drifting in and out. She let oblivion swallow her dreams of architecture and comics whole.
A few hours later, Tara crawled out from under Riley’s weighted blanket and looked out the window at a small scrap of trees. A few stray rats stirred in the thistles. It was a cheap excuse for a yard, barely a market selling point. Good morning, the rats screeched. The apartment was humming with emptiness. She went to the kitchen to find coffee and start again.