Not jokes. Funnier men find our cafeteria table every day. Pratfallers and impressionists. Not basketball. I have no handle. Some hustle. A floater. But I depend too much on my teammates for space. Not Marcy. I am too good at friendship. She clings to a sleeve of cassettes the rest of the table has never heard of. She clings to the deep cuts.
Not my grades. I am an easy B. Or these tater tots. They only serve them on Fridays. Not my body, soft and easily scratched. Not Ralph, whose sleepovers might as well have been two hundred years ago. We sit at the same table but don’t share jokes or kegs or cassettes.
I cannot cling to the house my mother sold or the apartment my father lost. I cannot cling to the sense of threshold I’ve had at some altars and concerts because I never know when I can expect it.
Marcy and I catch the Sunday schoolers cursing their cars and baseball teams. We shove sugar packets in the diner rolls to prove they are reused. Her family lets me sleep in the basement while my parents fight over books of photos and boxes of memorabilia, and we watch old VHS tapes until our eyes burn. When we wake up to crackling static, I ask Marcy if I can kiss her and she says, “My parents let you stay here.”
Not my outcast status, which pales in comparison with the goth table next to us. The keggers crowd the table next to them. My tolerance wilts when faced with the way they chug. One of them recognized me at a rager last weekend. “You sit with the crack smoker, right?”
“Good luck,” he said.
Not the rumors you hear in the locker room. Marcy wouldn’t do that with a football player. Maybe Ralph really did bring a baggie he found in his brother’s room to a party. I can’t even get over the swimming-head stage of menthols. I can’t cling to being high when the sun rises or drunk when the bell rings. And most of these guys can’t either. That’s just the bragging they do in the shower.
Not to the bosses I’ve had sign my paychecks. Most adult options are middle management. They arrange end caps and write up warnings and delay retirement. I tell Marcy her parents aren’t so bad, but she says I haven’t lived with them long enough.
“That marriage should have ended years ago,” she says.
“We eat microwave meals most nights. Everyone has a favorite TV tray.”
Marcy used to cling to the kind of love scored in her favorite VHS tapes. They set the kissing to a zipping synth. Songs carried couples miles and weeks. But she tells me how boring her dates are—how they drag the hours through their most pedestrian observations. The radio is useless.
Not the promise of college or skylines or apartments alone. All of my cousins move home. All of Ralph’s brother’s friends get arrested. They repeat the cliché, “These are the best years of your life.” They rewatch movies written by men in their forties about how these are the best years of your life. But most of mine are spent in the cafeteria trying to keep the flailing to myself. I am not the only one with nothing to cling to, but the only one who seems so rattled.
Marcy and I still kill time in her basement. We open calculators and game cartridges and alarm clocks to pick at their guts. We mock the goths and keggers and kids who spend their lunches with us. “Everyone is so fake,” she says.
“Maybe that’s the key. Maybe if you’re fake long enough, it doesn’t feel like being fake anymore. It feels like you.”
“But we’ll always know,” I say.
Marcy cracks a circuit board. “Yeah we will.”