The Consequences of Dissonance - Chapter Twenty
“’Sup, druggie,” Kris jibed, elbowing me in the ribs as she accelerated to walk next to me. With less than a week before finals, we had made a study date at one of the local coffee houses off campus.
“Yeesh, nice to see you too, stoner,” I shot back.
She laughed and threaded her hand through my arm as I leaned over to kiss her on the temple. “At least I like innocuous drugs that don’t do a whole lot.”
“They certainly make you goofy.”
“Yeah,” She rolled her eyes. “But I don’t see things on pot.”
I nodded, “True, I guess. I didn’t really see anything on Salvia, though, either.” I went on to explain the whole experience, from being eaten by the bed to ego-death.
“Sounds, well, unpleasant,” Kris frowned, kicking bits of snow into Laurel Street, the northern border of campus, as we strolled along the sidewalk.
“Yeah, it kinda was,” I mumbled, recalling the terror. “But… I don’t know. It was scary, but it was a respectful kind of fear. Still trying to digest the whole thing,” I trailed off.
“Respectful fear?” She sounded incredulous.
“Yeah. Like it could’ve easily destroyed me, but showed me something beautiful instead.”
Kris was silent for a little bit, eventually leaning her head on my shoulder briefly. “To be honest, none of what you said sounds beautiful.”
I laughed. “I suppose not. Beautiful in the way that a volcano or lightening is, I guess.” I struggled for words, coming up with, “Like, watching the concept of myself dissolving was as terrifying as real death, but it also made me feel more… connected, I guess. I still feel kind of that way.”
“Connected? Now you sound like a Boulder hippie.”
“Hah! Well, I hope I never get to be that bad. I just mean that compared to how I used to feel and act, everything seems more connected. I’m not as insular anymore.”
Kris snorted a laugh. “Insular. Weird, boy. How does a drug make you all that more connected?”
I felt my ears redden and a bit of indignation rise in my chest, as if I had a sudden need to be believed and taken seriously. I quelled the feelings, doing my best to keep Kris’ sense of humor in mind. “I think the drug showed me just how much I saw everyone else as a projection of myself, and now I have to try to fix that and see people for who they really are.”
“Ain’t that life,” Kris said, smiling. She squeezed my arm in her hand before stuffing it into her hoodie’s monopocket with the other to warm it against the chill. “So what part of your self did you see me as a projection of?”
“Oh, hell, I don’t know,” I laughed. “The funny part? The good looking part? Maybe the feminine aspect?”
She shouldered me into the post of the stoplight. “Flatterer. Come on, let’s cross.”
The coffee house was a second-story affair that labeled itself as ‘The Alley Cat Open 24hrs.’ and, despite her apparent dislike of Boulder hippies, the place rather looked like it belonged to one of them. The ceiling tiles were each painted by, it looked like, random people ranging in ability from what looked to be kindergardeners to professionals. The countertop was covered with sheet copper that looked like it had been polished with espresso and steel wool, while the parquet seemed to have been polished more by dirty shoes and approximately five hundred years time. The barista working behind the counter seems to have considered herself a human canvas, and I judged her to be seventy percent tattoo.
“This place is amazing,” I announced. Kris and the barista laughed.
“What can I get for you two?”
“White-mocha-for-here,” Kris said, pronouncing her order as one word as if she practiced ordering coffee drinks fairly regularly.
“Coffee, I guess.”
I was instructed that there were, in fact, three types of coffee served in two sizes, and that wasn’t counting the fact that I could order their iced coffee hot in either of the two sizes if I so desired. If I wanted, of course, any of these could be spiked with a shot of espresso. Or I could get an americano if I liked the taste of espresso but just wanted it in coffee strength
I leaned heavily against the counter under the weight of the decision. “Oh man…” I breathed. “You guys are my heroes. Um… I guess I’ll try a small house coffee to start with.”
The barista laughed and nodded, totalling the order up for me to pay while Kris went to find a table, no two of which looked to be the same. I watched as my coffee was ground to order and made in a porceline drip maker I had never really seen before. Still overwhelmed with the reality of such a coffee shop, I picked up my drink and wandered down along the bar, eyes glazing over at the stacks of jarred tea and the hulk of the coffee devices — water heater, drip coffee grinder, espresso grinder, espresso machine, two blenders, and two fridges. I decided it would be heaven to work here.
“Cor, over here.” Kris beckoned me over to a table on the other half of the building and I made my way over in a daze. The table was a sort of bile yellow colored laminate with aluminum sides, furnished with one green kitchen chair and one grey upholstered chair of the type one would find in a hotel convention room. “Gawking around?”
“This place is awesome,” I reaffirmed with conviction.
She laughed and, once I sat down, gave one of my hands a squeeze, “Cute. You’re right, too, this place is awesome.”
I shook my head in amazement before setting my backpack down on the floor and pulling out my theory book. “Have to come here more often. I need to make my way through their coffee menu.”
“You know, I think you had it wrong,” Kris said, pulling out some of her own books. “I think I’m your simpler side, the calmer side.”
I snorted, “Simpler, maybe, but I don’t know about calmer.”
“Less caffeinated, then,” she countered, to which I had no argument.
The hiss of the steamer on the espresso machine was followed a scant ten seconds later with our tattooed coffee mistress setting a bowl of a coffee cup down in front of Kris. The contents looked mild and frothy and through some trick of pouring, the barista had drawn what looked to be a leaf in the foam by way of pouring carefully. Thusly served, we set to work.
I made it halfway through trying to memorize chord classifications before I realized I was spending more time staring off into space and thinking than I was studying. I shifted to lean back more comfortably in my chair and slid the theory book down into my lap so that it rested back against the metalic edge of the table, giving up on writing so that I could just read, sipping at my coffee in a vain attempt to snap myself out of it and get more on task.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Kris was right. I think she did represent a simpler side of life to me. She seemed to focus mostly on enjoying herself, which was why she had picked the major she did. Her choice had left her with her time reading what she enjoyed rather than, like me, tromping in lockstep with hundreds of other instrumentalists playing stupid music for a stupid game while dressed in stupid outfits. Her family life had been simple, while mine involved divorces and step parents and a long drive. Not that I faulted my parents or felt at fault myself, simply that Kris’ life always seemed a lot simpler.
And, of course, there loomed ever on the horizon that a heterosexual relationship would be simpler than a homosexual relationship by far. Not, of course, the actual relationship between me and Kris, but with the way the world dealed with it.
I frowned and flipped to the next section in my theory book, scanning over the text with a divided mind. No, the free part thought, things hadn’t exactly been simpler. My feelings for Kris had caused all sorts of backlash in various subtle ways from parents and friends.
And from yourself, a part of me added. All this worrying seemed to be part of the package deal of going out with someone outside of what myself and everyone had expected of me. All the fears of being too gay to be in a straight relationship still burned inside of me despite all of my logical and emotional reasoning to counter them. Every time I had pictured myself settling down with Kris in however unrealistic a situation, a doubt would always burn away at the edges of the image; a doubt that I could ever be able to fully settle down with a girl and live up to all of the expectations that I figured would come with it.
I was brought out of my reverie by a kick to the shin from across the table. “Cor,” Kris grinned. “You studying?”
I smiled and hefted my theory book.
“I know, but you were staring at the wall.”
Caught in my daydreaming, I grinned sheepishly and shrugged, reaching for my coffee, which surprised me by being rather cool. I had smoked the Salvia on Sunday and despite it being now Tuesday, I still noticed that time and I seemed to be rather out of sync for the past few days. “Just thinking,” I mumbled, finishing off my coffee quickly.
Kris folded her book in her lap and sipped at the last of her own drink, “Tell me about it?”
“Just a sec, and I will.” I slid the theory book back up onto the table and took my cup with me to procure more coffee; I went for the darkest of the three drip-coffee options this time.
When I returned, Kris had closed her book around her notebook to hold her place and was leaning forward, chin on fist, as she examined the paintings on the wall, all of which seemed to be done by the same person. I figured the shop acted as something of a gallery as well. She smiled at me when I sat back down, saying, “So, what’s up?”
I slouched in my chair again and rested my coffee against my belly, using the slight bit of weight I had added to my already stocky body from eating so much dorm food as a bit of a shelf. “Just about what you said, about being my simpler side.”
“Well,” I shrugged. “I guess you’re right, I was sort of projecting what I thought of as simple onto you.”
She screwed up her face, “Oh, thanks.”
“Not that way,” I added in exasperation. “Just, like… my ideal of a simpler life less complicated by everything, I suppose.”
Kris nodded and brushed her foot up alongside my calf. “Hmm. I guess I could see that. Like being with a girl?”
The question felt loaded, but I nodded anyway, quickly explaining, “I might’ve thought so a few months ago, but I don’t think that’s really the case anymore. Not after Jamen and my parents and all that stuff with myself even.”
“Oh, so I’m difficult, then?” she laughed.
“Yes, very much so,” I smirked, shaking my head. “Nah, I think things are just as complicated as they always are with relationships. Gender doesn’t enter into it for most of it.”
Kris thought for a moment. She seemed to be picking her questions carefully. “Are there things where gender does enter into it?”
“Well, of course, considering I lived for four years as a gay guy and after having a few relationships, suddenly decide to go out with a girl. Like how I got all nervous and stuff.” I hastened to add, “Which I don’t think is that big of a problem anymore.”
“Well, not really. I mean, I still have some doubts sometimes, but they don’t really mean anything. I still like you, after all, and,” I lowered my voice, “sex isn’t really an issue, it seems.”
Kris laughed and gave me another kick to the shin, leaning forward to rest her arms on the table, “I’m not trying to talk you into a corner, really. You sound so desparate for me to believe you.”
I grinned and lowered my head a little, sipping at my coffee.
“I do believe you,” she smiled. “If that’s what you need to hear me say.”
“Well, I didn’t really need to hear anything, was just talking to fill the space after you asked,” I leaned forward as well so that I could brush a few fingertips over her arms. “Of course, it doesn’t hurt to hear that.”
Kris smiled down at her empty cup and at my gesture before straightening up. “Come on. You can slack off, but I need to study.”