Dustin Hendrick

Don't Read This

        It's my third vodka tonic and I wait for my husband to come home. He works later than I do and when he gets home he's tired. I'm tired too, but I stay up later than I should so I can spend time with him. Sometimes I don’t want to, and sometimes I don't want to have sex, but I do it anyway because he wants to and it's not his fault I'm so closed off; he probably didn't know that about me when we were just dating. He wants sex more than I do and it makes me feel guilty, and it makes me feel just old. I am old, at least compared to him. I married a younger man and I'm insecure about it. I'll be the first one to visibly age, or perhaps I already am. Each glance in the mirror these days makes me cringe and turn away, even though I still look comparatively good for my age. It was only a few years ago that I thought I was in my prime; a late bloomer but a good one. Now I look like I drink a lot because I do.
        He doesn't care. He sees something I don't, or can't. I'm afraid it's some kind of elaborate lie, and that he's secretly disgusted by the sight of me.
        If I was left to my own devices I'd probably drink less, or at least that's what I tell myself. I'd eat mostly vegetarian. I'd weigh less; it's all booze weight, I say, though we cook like genius maniacs and I always indulge. I come from a long line of hedonists. Resolve always takes a backseat to the moment with us.
        I'd sleep in more, be social if I felt like it, fuck whoever I want – empty, lonely sex but just as satisfying in the moment. I'd read more books and watch less television and be constantly, constantly physically active like the people I see in their shiny form-fitting exercise gear, running down the street like their pretty, fulfilling lives depend on it while I sit in my car at another red light, on my way somewhere to sit some more.
        He drinks more than I do. I worry that I married an alcoholic sometimes. Not that I would have said no. My prospects have always been few -- other gay guys don't like me much. They think I'm offensive; not at all funny, too weird, too goofy, too emotionally inaccessible to date. They're probably right, but my husband doesn't think these things about me, it seems.
        He's home now, sticky and ruddy and tired-eyed from working in the sun all day.
        "Honey, we might have to go to the rollercoaster park while we're in Milwaukee. I miss it." he says as he pours us vodka shots. I already have an almost-full drink sweating down to the coaster on the coffee table, but it doesn't matter.
        We're going to Wisconsin in September to get married again, in front of his family this time, and his lifelong friends, even though we were married in our kitchen in May. I'm not nervous, I say, but I imagine they are, if only to bolster my own confidence a bit. Their only son moved to the big city and found himself a husband. They'll be so disappointed when I show up and I'm all average-looking and plain spoken with weird eyebrows. They'll wonder what falsehoods I invented to trick him into marrying me when he's the thin one, the one with the cool career, the one with the tattoos and piercings, the born extrovert.
        I have nothing inscribed on my skin. My body is a blank canvas of time already spent. A long time ago I was fat. I lost it, through panic and worry more than anything else (Hollywood diet secret, take note). I've gained some of it back, though, mostly by trying to be the fun boyfriend. It worked, apparently, and now I'm the fun husband. But now, by default, I'm the heavier of us and it kills me every day. It's not his problem, but he reaps the "rewards" of it in the form of my obvious discomfort in my own skin, my inability to stand crowds for long, my fear of any perceived spotlight.
        "Did you really just write a story about us?" he asks.
        "It's more about me, but yeah."
        He's sitting on the couch in his underwear. He's so uninhibited I want to scream. I never will be – and I never was -- and I don't know how I can explain that to my almost-and-often- naked husband who has always been rail-thin, perfectly lean, and never gives it a second thought. He doesn't seem to care at all that our relationship might have been attained by way of me sacrificing my resolve to be perfect. I should run endlessly, I say to myself constantly, silently. I should do yoga until I can contort myself into a human pretzel, horrifying but accomplished.
        I can't. I can't. I'm too busy, and that's what I'll always tell myself. I get tired easier than I used to. He's early-thirties, still in possession of some fragment of youth that keeps him going, no matter how overworked, no matter how exhausted, no matter how little sleep we allow ourselves. I'm so close up to forty that I want to die whenever I think about it. I want to die in a crystalline tornado of cocaine and martinis and all of the other unhealthy shit I was still filling myself with when I was almost-thirty.
        He texts me every day to tell me how much he loves me. I always text back right away, but the truth is that I don't know how to love like he does. I'm afraid I'm a liar. I'm afraid that I tricked this person with a void inside into filling my void because I was afraid of starting the process in which someone finds a way to die. I was hungry for something new, something to distract me from myself, and it came, at last, in the form of him, this obvious madman who loves me more than I could ever love myself.
        I did what I had to in order to keep him. I didn't want to be found someday in my sad one-bedroom apartment, dead for days or weeks, unused champagne glasses gathering dust on the kitchen shelf where they'd been placed and had never moved since; placed lovingly, optimistically, in days where there'd been more hope and something to look forward to. I'd rather be someone who let himself go for the right reasons. I'd rather be a liar.
        "Can I read it? Your story about us."
        "No. It isn't finished." I lie, but sweetly.


Dustin Hendrick is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, shopping lists, and the occasional scathing internet rebuttal. His first publication, a collection of essays entitled Where to Begin, will be released in July 2018. He lives with husband Nathan, a filmmaker, in Portland, Oregon.