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March 28, 2021


Mingpei Li

After dinner, Johnny waved us into the living room and put on a new DVD he’d gotten, some teenage sitcom that was supposedly all the rage.  Charles and I looked at each other, and it was as if we were back at Dome, sitting next to each other in Dr. Janssen’s class or the auditorium.  His eyes went slightly wide, while I narrowed mine, a subtle choreography that was equal parts muscle memory and trust.  The tilt of his head asked if we should stick around for a bit.  Craig, who had invited us, stood by the sink stacking dishes.  I pursed my lips: either way, but my eyes darted back to Craig.  Charles nodded.  We’d stay for a bit.

The unease I had felt seeing Charles again in a foreign country was starting to fade, replaced by the warmth that in my best memories I had always felt towards him.  It seemed like we were friends again.

Craig brought over the half-drunk bottles of wine and settled in beside me on the couch, while Charles sat on the floor with his back next to my legs, his head occasionally lolling onto my knee.  I mussed his hair jokingly, and suggested that maybe he needed a haircut.  He ducked his head.

In the show, some high school kids were milling about at a school dance in a garishly decorated gym.  I only caught every third or fourth line; Craig had tried to explain the show to me but we digressed to talking about work.  Charles seemed more into it, and I wondered if he was remembering any of our dreadful high school dances.  Dome, for all its faults, was thankfully not a school that hosted many dances besides the obligatory rites of passage: homecoming, which our group rarely went to, junior prom, which I skipped, and senior prom, which I definitely skipped.

“Did your school have dances like that?”  I asked Craig.

“I suppose so,” he said.  “Or I guess we’d go out somewhere.  What about you?  You and Charles went to quite a serious school, right?”

“Yeah.  We did have some dances, but I didn’t go to that many,” I said.  “Charles, what were Dome dances like?”

Charles craned his neck and made a face.  “I mean, pretty bad.  Terrible music,” he said.  “I don’t think I went to many more than you.”  Then, “I’ve tried not to remember that period too much, if I’m honest.”

At those words, I felt myself tense.  Why wouldn’t he.  I thought about the catastrophic trip to Boston, the blow-ups we had over Alex and Rue, the secrets I kept from him and what he must have kept from me.

“No,” Craig said.  “I don’t remember it all that well either.  School was years ago now.”  As if sensing something, he calibrated a perfectly flat tone, putting this to bed.  I exhaled. 

The show ended, and Johnny clicked around in the DVD extras.  Some jumpy behind the scenes footage came up, shot by the actors.  I stopped paying attention, before Johnny and Craig’s laughter snapped me back.  On screen, a distressed looking man was filming some kind of monologue.  He was saying, “All I have is a body.  It gets dirty and needs to sleep.  Sometimes I wash it and sometimes I go to sleep.”  Johnny howled. 

I felt a chill of recognition.  Without thinking, I pitched forward to look at Charles, nearly spilling my wine.  The sudden motion made me nauseous, and when Charles turned to face me, I could see that he had heard what I had heard, the dark undertone of that joke.  It was just like something we’d have said at Dome, maybe something we had said, the kind of simple, nearly nonsensical mantra that you held onto and repeated through chronic sleep deprivation. 

Wasn’t that a torture technique?  How had they been allowed to do that to us, four years of sleeping a couple hours a night, staying up for interminable amounts of problem sets and essays and projects and gossip, staying up to stave off the panic of a future they spun for us?  How had we just let them? 

All I have is a body. 

Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. 

“Did he go to Dome with us?” I said, weakly, trying to make a joke.  Charles shook his head, then said quietly, “I think I’m going to go.”


(*With apologies to the Joe Thomas video diary in The Inbetweeners Series 1 DVD.)