After my best friend broke up with me for Jesus, my other best friend invited me over to watch his favorite film. I was crying, not at the film, which was actually a porn, the action ramping up as we pried open Pad Thai, but about Caleb, who suddenly felt that Jesus had died for his sins, for him wanting to fuck men, though he hadn’t actually used the word fuck, he’d said, “You know?” and I’d said, “No, I don’t know,” because I didn’t.
“Please tell me you’re not thinking about Jesus,” said Kevin, other best friend, as he poured vodka into plastic cups.
I was thinking about Jesus. At Caleb’s church Jesus hung naked and muscular, HE IS RISEN etched into a wooden pulpit. “Dear Lord, thank you for providing forth this vodka,” I said.
“So what’s he going to do? Never have sex? Has he seen his own face?” Kevin and I both found Caleb attractive. Dewy. His looks a gift from, ahem, God herself.
Kevin turned up the porn. Frat brothers in gym shorts sat on ratty couches, legs spread, drinking beer and shooting game controllers at holographic deer. The newest pledge had forgotten to order pizza, and the older brothers were angry.
“Never,” I said, twirling rice noodles around a plastic spork. “How could I not have known?”
“What were you supposed to say? Nice to meet you, new co-worker, are you, like, really into Jesus? Do you plan to try and convert me?”
The brothers began to undress. How quickly hungry anger turned to hungry passion, the pledge apparently about to be a snack.
“That one? He’s the pepperoni,” said Kevin.
“Going forward, I’m celibate,” Caleb explained as he ended our friendship over gluten-free scones, the conversation matter-of-fact, as if declaring oneself unable to engage in sex happened every day. Last year we would’ve been downing craft cocktails before wandering the city’s Christmas displays. A skinny red-soled heel submerged in ice. Leather hobos strung from a flocked tree. Two Assistant Policy Analysts tipsy and unconcerned with tomorrow’s return to Pennsylvania Avenue, the endless meetings on improving workflow productivity.
“So? I’m basically celibate. We can be the Celibate Sisters. Hilarity ensues.”
“My celibacy’s not a joke,” Caleb said. “Everything’s a joke with you.”
Oh, really? Really? I wanted to shout: What about this seems like a joke? Our BFF meet-cute in the break room? Our post-work happy hours, brunch on Sundays? You charming bartenders into extra birthday champagne. Speeding top down past the Russian embassy belting the golden oldies. Finagling invites to the White House bowling alley. Remember the selfies? Blowing goodbye kisses to the Secret Service? Nightcaps at marble-trimmed bars, gas-lit and buzzing with politicos, everyone discussing bills and bribes, everyone ordering another round, birdbaths sloshing with ice-cold gin? Remember a friendship that is a kind of escape? Remember a friendship that is a kind of love.
“Why did you even go to that awful place?” Kevin asked. “You should’ve bled all over their pews. Homophobic asshats.”
Right before the break-up I had agreed to attend Caleb’s church, the one where he learned being gay was an unforgivable sin. I was curious. If Caleb was so well-adjusted, gliding through life on the good graces of strangers, maybe God was the answer. “It’ll be good for you,” he said before explaining I was going to hell unless I accepted Jesus Christ. Of all the things—lack of productive eggs, lack of productive career, lack of official Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis—this hurt the most. Here was my best friend who made me believe there was joy in the weekday mundane. Now he was unrecognizable, humble in khakis, reserved in manner, offering grace before scones, saying he too felt lost and Jesus was the only direction we needed.
The frat boys were down to their boxers, the bad one tied to a lawn chair with bungees.
“Gently tied,” Kevin said. “You know why I like this film? And yes, Monica, it’s a film.”
“Yes,” I said. “I admire the production quality.”
“No, no. Look. Look at this,” Kevin paused the video, close-up on the bungeed one, scruffy face, nostril pimple. “See: I’m this guy, super hungry, excessively flabby, living in my mom’s basement, managing a Zumba studio. And you’re frat president. Alpha Gamma Gay Gay. Organizing toga parties, except the togas are made of Gucci. But then you’re like, who needs this flabby brother? Here’s a fancy new one with cool shoes and a crystal goblet collection. Except then you realize the new guy thinks Jesus is coming to walk the earth again, and you’re like, OK, I see, the actual way to enlightenment is takeout and porn.”
“Yeah, OK. That’s it,” I said, crying but also nodding.
“You can trust me. I heard it from Goop.”
The super hungry frat brother tipped the pledge who had forgotten the pizza. There was bobbing and sucking and the sloppy sounds of skin contraction and body part expansion.
“Hey. Don’t worry. In Boys With Secrets II no one forgets the pizza.” Kevin squeezed my hand.
“Can’t wait,” I said, squeezing back. The sweaty palms, the sucking and the bouncing, the bobbing and the grieving. The getting up and dressing up and being average and going to work and living with your parents and helping the Zumba ladies and paying off your debts and scanning social media for old lover’s engagement photos and organizing spreadsheets and flirting with religion and finding out your best friend is not who he says he is and packing your own lunch to save money and eating out for lunch anyway and not contributing to your 401K and looking up vacations you’ll never take and flights you’ll never board and voting in elections and drinking cheap vodka and working for weekends of watching porn with your oldest friend—it too takes faith.
© Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice
[This piece was selected by Valerie O’Riordan. Read Kaitlyn’s interview]