Chapter

38

Roxy tugs at a piece of hair behind her ear with one hand as she checks the time on her phone with the other.

John’s not late, but Roxy’s run out of things to do except wait for him, which is both cosmically appropriate and annoying. It’s not like she’d been cleaning up for his visit or anything. More just wandering through the house, looking at everything through his hypothetical eyes. Things that changed since he left. Things that stayed the same.

She figured there’d be some point when they talked face to face again, what with the vast expanse of time laid out in front of them and all. But she’d still been surprised when Jake arranged a “friendly visit” and ended up asking, in hushed tones, if she’d be willing to see John again.

She’d been open to it from the start, but Jake insisted on this absurd sequence of clandestine meetings to ensure that they’d be “safe” from Jane’s “watchful eye.” It took an exhausting degree of assurance for her to convince them that John could just come over, and that Jane didn’t have the house bugged, and she wasn’t about to come and have him thrown in prison for having the audacity to want to see his own family. Now that the day of the reunion has arrived, Roxy is just ready to get on with it.

The knock on the door is almost too quiet to hear. She exhales, fluttering her overgrown bangs, and goes to answer.

He’s even beefier than she remembered, but his posture is turned in on itself like he’s trying to seem small. God, this had better not be another self-flagellation fest. She’s prepared to handle a fair few apologies, but there has always been a cyclicity to John’s contrition, and she can only handle so many self-absorbed attempts at communicating remorse before her head starts feeling like it’ll float away from her body.

ROXY: sup john

ROXY: long time no see

John smiles at her through his hair as he waves hello: one quick slice of his hand through the air, twisting at the wrist. It comes off as shy and boyish instead of hangdog. A good sign. Maybe her jokey casual approach is the right one. That would be handy, because that’s really the best angle she’s got.

She mirrors the movement with her own hand and steps aside for him to come in.

ROXY: well alright then pal

ROXY: i do believe u know the way to the living room

JOHN: yeah, yep.

JOHN: thanks.

He clears his throat and follows her gesture. She walks a little behind him, watching his eyes catch on the things she expected—a coat rack covered in scarves, the wall of family photos, a super badass sculpture some chess guys made for her that John always said was “weirdly sexual, for them.” He looks at it now like it’s something from an almost forgotten dream. Roxy sighs.

JOHN: sorry for staring like an idiot.

JOHN: it’s...

JOHN: i just got done with a whole week of feeling weird about hanging out in my dad’s old house again.

JOHN: I kind of forgot to think about how it would be surreal coming back here, too.

JOHN: some kind of nostalgia whiplash, i guess.

ROXY: fair enough yo

She faces him, seated cross-legged on the couch a polite distance away. He looks past her, almost through her, like he usually does. She knows him well enough to know what he’s politely not asking.

ROXY: harry andersons out if u were wonderin

ROXY: hell scoot back home later so if you make it thru round 1 of awkward ex-family convos im happy to say you can be rewarded with another

JOHN: oh, cool.

JOHN: i’d like to see him, if…

JOHN: if it’s okay with both of you.

ROXY: ya we chatted bout it

ROXY: but like i said

ROXY: one thing at a time

ROXY: lets me n u tear this ol egbert/lalonde estrangement band-aid right the fuck off n see what we got goin on underneath it

John laughs, and there’s a shadowed flicker of warmth to it. Roxy immediately wants to fan it—to make him laugh for real—but she knows by now that it’s not her job to make him happy. That was something she gave up on years ago. But wanting to? That feeling is still as fresh as it always was.

JOHN: sounds like a plan.

JOHN: so, uh.

JOHN: i’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently.

JOHN: and i’ve realized some things.

JOHN: some stuff that involves you and some that doesn’t, but all things i think you deserve to know.

JOHN: whew.

JOHN: ok lemme think where to start...

JOHN: you know how jake left jane?

JOHN: i mean, i assume you know.

JOHN: though, uh, no offense, but jane’s version might be...

JOHN: skewed.

ROXY: oh lmao nah i didnt hear it from janey

ROXY: harry anderson filled me in on wat he got thru the teen grapevine

JOHN: oh!

JOHN: are you guys not...

JOHN: nevermind.

JOHN: i’m sorry, i came to apologize for my shit, not pry into your business.

JOHN: we don’t have to talk about jane if you don’t want to.

Roxy shrugs. She’s still working through what she feels about distancing herself from Jane, but John actually isn’t the worst person she could talk to about it. If he’s truly about to be real with her for the first time in forever, she might as well try to meet him halfway.

ROXY: janey n me havent been super tight of late

JOHN: ah.

JOHN: what about politics not coming between friends and all that?

ROXY: lmao well turns out sometimes someones politics make it p clear what kind of friends they value

ROXY: or dont

ROXY: and idk sometimes people you used to like when you were a teen grow up to be assholes or w/e!!

ROXY: i think i was clingin to somethin just to prove to myself that i was doin stuff right

ROXY: ol rolal

ROXY: hella normal

ROXY: v good at sticking with friends

ROXY: the more i thought abt it the more i figured holdin on to that one thing made me lose out on some other shit

ROXY: u might relate

JOHN: haha, you got me there i guess.

ROXY: anyways

ROXY: im not tryna take up all ur big speech time w/ my stuff

ROXY: you were tellin me about how jake n janey finally went splitsways and how it gave you some kind of epiphany

JOHN: no, it’s cool!

JOHN: i’m glad to hear it.

JOHN: we can come back to your shit after my shit, maybe.

JOHN: but yeah, jake, he uh...

JOHN: he and tavros are living with me now.

JOHN: i think for the foreseeable future. we were expecting jane to have kind of a fit about it, but all we’ve gotten so far are some divorce papers.

JOHN: if she knows where jake is and she hasn’t had a drone fleet dispatched to nuke my house off the planet i think that’s a good sign she’s actually just letting them go?

JOHN: which is kind of surprising, but, uh. good, i guess.

ROXY: ok ill b the first 2 admit that janes turned into kind of a jerk lately but u no shes not actually like

ROXY: literally evil

ROXY: lol

JOHN: that’s debatable!

ROXY: sry to disappoint but janes just a person and you cant actually blame her for everything that went wrong in our marriage like i was her helpless thrall or somethin

JOHN: that’s not what i was saying...

ROXY: ok neither of us came here to argue about janey did we

JOHN: you’re right. let’s just not talk about her.

ROXY: yea

JOHN: anyway...

JOHN: i’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how things got to be like they are.

JOHN: i guess i’ll just come out and say it.

JOHN: i completed fucked up your entire life.

JOHN: i’m not going to pretend like there are two sides here. it’s my bad, totally.

JOHN: like, not just what happened to our marriage, though it’s also true that that’s completely my fault.

JOHN: but even before that...

JOHN: i think i fucked up on just this massive, fundamental level, and it’s what i did—

JOHN: or, well, what i didn’t do—

JOHN: that caused every stupid bullshit thing about the way this world is.

JOHN: none of this was supposed to be this way.

JOHN: honestly, it doesn’t feel right that we got married at all, does it?

JOHN: your life was heading in this whole other direction with callie, and i just...

JOHN: i dunno. i just kind of took that from you.

JOHN: i think i ended up taking a lot of decisions from a lot of people.

JOHN: everything took a backseat to what i wanted.

JOHN: whatever cosmic significance the lives here do or don’t have, all the pointless suffering i’ve created is... inhumane. and—

ROXY: oh nah ill stop u rite there my man

She feels a little bit bad cutting him off. This conversational space they’ve carved out for themselves is balanced on a tenuous trust, and she doesn’t want to scare him away. It’s just that she could feel his whole speech gathered up inside him, poised to gush out in a long rote ramble, and it’s frankly just. Some bullshit. She knows more than he does, and she doesn’t need to hear it. She’s not a kid anymore, and she doesn’t have to pretend someone else is right just to keep the peace if she doesn’t want to.

ROXY: im sorry john ilu but this is some hot steamin horseshit

JOHN: what?!

John’s gaze slides over to focus sharply on her face for maybe the first time since he showed up on her doorstep. Goosebumps trail down her shoulders, but she doesn’t let the closeness of it distract her from her frustration.

ROXY: its some real jerkoff emoji stuff is all im sayin!!

ROXY: you think you choice mattered so much that no one elses could measure up?

ROXY: n then what

ROXY: did u get what u wanted?

ROXY: did your life end and the points got tallied and you came out on top or like what?

ROXY: still p much seems like were movin to me

ROXY: and you sure dont seem like ur winnin so wheres all this good shit you got that you gotta go around handin out apologies for?

ROXY: also damn dude while were at it!!

ROXY: u forgot to actually say sorry in that apology!

JOHN: no, i didn’t — i just meant...

JOHN: i’m sorry for fucking up your life, or making it not—

ROXY: i like my life!!!

ROXY: i mean it aint perf and i got my share of fuckups n mistakes in there but you dont get to tell me its fucked up

ROXY: or that it isnt real or somethin

ROXY: its mine!

So much for the jokey, comfortable approach. She tilts her chin up and tries to breathe evenly as she holds eye contact. He’s been looking at her, really looking at her, and she doesn’t want to blink, just in case that shatters it. John doesn’t respond. He just sits there with his mouth hanging open, staring. He blinks a few times, slow, but he’s still focused completely on her. The corners of his still-open mouth pull themselves up helplessly into a smile.

ROXY: uh

ROXY: wat r u lookin at me like that for?

JOHN: no, i’m sorry.

JOHN: it’s just...

JOHN: i used to be so angry that you wouldn’t tell me what you really thought, before.

JOHN: not like i wanted to FIGHT fight, but like.

JOHN: i’m just not used to this flavor of roxy.

ROXY: hm

ROXY: sounds to me like u just disproved ur own hotshot theory then genius

JOHN: huh?

ROXY: you wished i was one way the whole time we were married

ROXY: but i wasnt

ROXY: but now that youre all convinced ur the only real boy in a crowd o puppets

ROXY: here i am bein me just like you ordered only i did it without your help

ROXY: widen ur zoom my man!!

ROXY: im not actin like this now because you want me to or bc you dont want me to

ROXY: i was bad at standin up for myself then and im learnin to be good at it now

ROXY: ive got my own self actualization train

ROXY: ur just pullin in to one of my many roxy figures some shit out stations right as i built it

JOHN: but...

JOHN: you were never like that before i...

ROXY: dude

ROXY: where tf do u get off trying to decide what is or isnt me being “like me” enuff

ROXY: do u think ppl stay the same their whole damn lives or what

JOHN: you’ve really never felt like anything about our lives here was... off?

ROXY: off from what exactly??

JOHN: the way things should be?

ROXY: what does that mean???

John’s mouth opens and closes. It seems there’s something stuck in the spokes of his rhetorical tire. Roxy can see the gears struggling to turn in his head. She almost feels bad for him.

Roxy lets herself take a moment. She doesn’t want to reassure him with lies, to tell him he’s never fucked anything up in his life. But she doesn’t want to twist the knife of blame further into him than it needs to go. So she shrugs, looks her ex-husband in the eyes, and tells him the truth.

ROXY: i mean i felt... somethin i guess

ROXY: but its not just you

ROXY: youve never been the only player in this game u kno

ROXY: do u not remember who all was there when this all kicked off?

ROXY: me n callie wouldna told u u had a choice if it was all just some meaningless bs

ROXY: its not like i was ever some master seer of all that ever was or will be but i do know a lil bit abt what coulda gone down if things were different

ROXY: and u know what

ROXY: i like the way things turned out just fuckin fine

ROXY: so maybe u could stop wastin precious eternity thinkin ur so special that its ur fault everyones not perfectly happy

John is quiet. Roxy has more to say, maybe. More things she’s half thought about, but never quite put words to, regarding the paths her life could have taken. This has already been a lot of truth for one moment, though, so she pats John’s knee and walks to the kitchen for some water.

A glass in each hand, Roxy leans against the counter, breathing. She’s still running on the adrenaline of getting all that out, and the surface of the water trembles with it. She watches the ripples, watches her hands. She wonders if they will ever wrinkle.

When she sits back down next to John, he takes the glass wordlessly. After a minute of reflective sipping, which she is grateful for, he speaks.

JOHN: i just kept wanting to find ways to make everything make sense, you know?

JOHN: but maybe it just fucking doesn’t.

ROXY: i know we became grownups in a world built specifically n cosmically for us

ROXY: so i get wanting to find a pattern in everything

ROXY: but not everything has 2 b that deep

ROXY: n when u think abt it

ROXY: lookin at it that way, like evrythin has to be this elaborately purposeful heroic design to be worthwhile

ROXY: is actually p shallow

JOHN: oh.

JOHN: yeah, i guess.

John stretches, scratches the back of his head like an anime love interest, and lets out one mindfucked exhale of a laugh. His features are droopy, his whole body tired from the mental wringer he just went through, but he’s still looking at her for real. Fondness surges through her. Not in a way where she fears the reignition of any romantic feeling. It’s just that she understands him. And he’s starting to understand her. It’s comfortable the way an old t-shirt you thought you lost but discovered in the back of the closet is comfortable. Smells mostly musty, but still enough like home to knock you right on your ass.

JOHN: i’m sorry. it’s just so hard to not feel like a total asshole.

JOHN: maybe i’m not some grand vizier of destroying time and space or whatever.

JOHN: but we KNOW that there’s a canon timeline out there.

JOHN: and it seems really obvious to me that we aren’t in it anymore.

ROXY: so what

JOHN: “so what”???

ROXY: yea

ROXY: so what

ROXY: tf do i care that theres some other reality out there some1 arbitrarily decided was the “real” one

ROXY: whats that have to do with the life i have now

ROXY: what is there actually that makes this one mean less than that one to the ppl who r actually in it

JOHN: you never feel like it would’ve been better if things had gone a different way?

JOHN: magic or no, i could have done a lot differently, for you especially.

JOHN: stuck around, or... fuck.

JOHN: stayed out of your way to begin with.

JOHN: let you and callie do your thing, or do whatever it was you seemed to be headed off to do.

JOHN: i just didn’t expect it to be me, after...

Roxy wrinkles her nose. Thinking about all the lives she could have led makes her feel dizzy.

ROXY: nah dont say that

ROXY: i mean i accept ur apology this time but

ROXY: theres obvs all kinds of ways shit coulda gone

ROXY: and tbh back then

ROXY: with her...

ROXY: mostly i think i just wanted to do stuff right

ROXY: not that i knew wtf that even meant lmao

ROXY: which was prob the problem lmao lmao lmao

ROXY: just like

ROXY: we had this big fresh as hell start at bein people!

ROXY: i had all these conflictin thoughts abt how to be me in the first place

ROXY: like what it meant to date a beautiful skull alien

ROXY: sexualitywise and genderwise and person in generalwise

ROXY: for a while there i didnt know if i wanted ppl to think of me as a woman at all

JOHN: ah, i didn’t know.

JOHN: well, i guess maybe i wondered?

JOHN: but the way young idiot me would have wondered, so not that deeply.

JOHN: and it seemed like you’d forgotten all about it when we got together.

ROXY: i hadnt forgotten about it

JOHN: do you want to talk about it...?

ROXY: i coulda told you then but i kinda felt embarrassed abt flip floppin with my identity i think

ROXY: mean it isnt like i grew up with big airquotes society tellin me what was right n wrong like u did

ROXY: so it wasnt any kind of shamefest

ROXY: just a lot of abstract hypotheticals wed only just started talking about and never got very far into

ROXY: just idk i thought i might do things one way but then i stopped hangin out with callie as much

ROXY: its not like i stopped thinkin abt it

ROXY: or her

ROXY: but it never rly came up with anyone else and i didnt rly feel like i could talk abt it with you so i never brought it up again

JOHN: i’m really sorry you felt that way, roxy.

ROXY: its ok its not ur fault

JOHN: but you don’t regret it?

JOHN: not going for that stuff, and instead just... marrying me?

JOHN: i’m not asking so you can absolve me, i’m just impressed.

JOHN: how do you not second guess every choice you make?

ROXY: i havent stuck my head in the timeline vortex like u have so i dunno what its like to see other options

ROXY: i just do things the best way i think to do em and then shrug n hope it works out?

Roxy thinks about time and the spirals of choice that hang just outside her periphery, and the vertigo grows. She rolls the word “regret” around in her brain; she feels it on her tongue. John waits.

ROXY: i dont think i can regret anything

ROXY: theres not only one right way to be me imo

ROXY: i like the me i am

ROXY: its not like i went n decided “actually hell ya love to be a woman n do all the shit on the woman checklist”

ROXY: i get that thats prob what it looks like outside of my own self but i dont care abt that

ROXY: sorry lol im not good at this whole explainin what transpires in my brain thing

John shrugs and Roxy gives herself time to think. She remembers how confusing it felt to even approach her identity when this stuff first hit her. There had been some vague truth about the uselessness of rules about how gender should be, but she never quite worked it out.

She’d stopped thinking about it until she got pregnant—then she had been so afraid that having a baby would confirm some deep truth within her that she’d pushed away, but that it would be too late to back out. That hadn’t happened, and instead there was the strange, all-consuming bodily relief she felt when, somehow, being pregnant had felt right. It was good in the opposite way than she had expected. She hadn’t felt any more womanly than she ever had. It had hit her then that she could think of her body not as specifically female, but as something altogether different. Hers. A flesh machine, shifting pieces around to create a person. Her breasts, which she’d not really known what to do with or how to feel about, suddenly had a specific, practical purpose. It had allowed her to retreat from the concept of gender entirely, grounding herself only in the physical reality of using her body to make another, two heartbeats blending in a rhythm that was nothing but human.

She does not know how to articulate this to John. It’s convoluted and personal and she isn’t sure she can do the overwhelming goodness of it justice. But then, Harry Anderson is his, too, so she knows she has to try.

ROXY: idk this life ive been livin gave me harry anderson

ROXY: that kinda outweighs anything else just for me personally

ROXY: n its not like i ever totally quit thinkin abt that gender stuff

ROXY: i just found a different way to work it out than maybe i was originally gonna

ROXY: i...

Touching those huge, inarticulate thoughts with words feels bigger than she expected, and tears prick at the backs of her eyes. She shakes her head and laughs before John can start crying, too.

ROXY: but lmao john were just adults

ROXY: were not dead!

ROXY: idk i mean were only what... barely middle aged in regular human years?

ROXY: we got all kinds of hypothetical but still prolly finite eternity to work our shit out

ROXY: who tf knows

ROXY: its not like you figure out who you are when youre 23 and then the rest of ur whole life is just sittin back watchin ur shit fall apart or not

ROXY: i mean maybe thats been it for u so far

JOHN: haha. ouch.

ROXY: i just dont think im anywhere near done buildin those roxy self actualization train stops

ROXY: who the fuck can say how many more i got lined up

ROXY: same goes for u

ROXY: if youre willing to look at this life as more than a cosmically pointless dead end failure that is

JOHN: i guess...

JOHN: there’s literally nothing to do but keep moving forward.

JOHN: i may as well not be a big fucking downer about it if i don’t have to be.

ROXY: thats the spirit

ROXY: weve got a million billion lifetimes ahead of us john

ROXY: u dont even KNOW all the ways u got left to fuck up in!!

ROXY: hows that for some inspiration??!

JOHN: it’s...

JOHN: it’s pretty fucking inspirational, roxy.

They both smile, and it somehow felt more real and warm than it was before. Maybe the cushion of years and lack of pressure makes it so, but she doesn’t question it too closely. She doesn’t want to go back to where she’d been with him, but knowing they’d both been there, together, feels like enough.

JOHN: thank you for trusting me with this personal stuff.

JOHN: i know partly you were telling me all that to kick my sadsack ass, but i know you don’t talk about this kind of thing every day.

ROXY: to be real i hadnt even let myself think abt it every day

ROXY: so thanks for lettin me ramble at u out loud instead of just almost thinkin abt it once every few years

JOHN: i guess sometimes it takes hearing the same shit over and over until it sticks.

JOHN: that’s mostly an own on myself by the way.

ROXY: lmao were just rippin off those bandaids left n right over here

ROXY: a coupla professional issue discussers

JOHN: yeah, i’m frankly baffled by how fucking good we are at this?

JOHN: where was this when we sucked so hard at being married?

ROXY: buried under a shocking number of issues is my guess

JOHN: well, it’s nice to throw a few off, for once.

ROXY: feel free to communicate with me instead of spendin the next 300 years in a silent prison of your own making if u so desire

John nods, and as he opens his mouth to speak, the door opens.

Harry Anderson looks at the two of them all teary and laughing and hikes his bag higher on his shoulder, shifting his weight. Roxy sees a muscle tighten in his jaw. Her beautiful, smart boy. She wants to run over and hug him, to protect him from the possibility of pain at talking to his father, but she doesn’t. She knows how much he’s wanted this, no matter how much he jokes about it.

She looks back at John, and sees her own awe mirrored in his face. She wills him not to cry, not to fall back on his self-imposed suffering and blame loop. Something about the last hour must have done the trick, though. John stands up, brushes his hands on his jeans, and walks, back straight, toward his son.

JOHN: hey harry anderson.

JOHN: it’s really, really good to see you.

JOHN: do you wanna go for a drive?

The muscle in Harry Anderson’s jaw clenches a few more times, but when he smiles, it is genuine.

HARRY ANDERSON: yeah, dad.

HARRY ANDERSON: that could be cool.

> ==>
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