by Tippy Rex
People like to buy secluded homes in the woods far from goods and services, and then demand that you come and stay at these homes.
I can tell that the guest rooms will be cold and that I will fail to muster the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the black-capped chickadees on the feeder. If I lived in these woods, I might be able to fend for myself, but I am a reluctant visitor and I don’t know where the snacks are, and I am carless. I hope I will see a porcupine, but it is winter.
No one is more interested in confining me to their woodsy retirement cabin than my parents, who ask when are you coming to North Carolina in aggrieved tones, like I owe them money. They want me to come to their remote lake house so they can interact with me, without breaks, like I am a fire they must smother with card games. When I wake up in the morning, they will be waiting. If I want to text my new girlfriend, I will need to hide in the bathroom and type quickly, sitting on the lip of the tub. In middle-age (because that is what this is, age forty-eight, no matter what it feels like), you can still grow a fresh infatuation so hot your hands and feet freeze, all the blood in your body rerouted to your genitals and face. Am I blushing? If I let them convince me to stay at their house in the woods, my mom will ask if I am okay and my stepfather will ask for help cutting the rat snake loose from the netting that protects the blueberries. I am forty-eight and still have not figured out how to say no to my parents, how to hold on to my adulthood around them. These people do not know me, but to be fair, I never tell them anything.
My parents are Republicans and I find many faults in the things that they say and sometimes I correct them, but mostly I am Picking My Battles. Also, rolling my eyes at their unexamined views on race is a nice distraction from my hurt feelings. When they moved away to the woods in North Carolina, they returned to me all my childhood apocrypha: homemade cards, baby photos, onion-skin report cards. I got good grades. I don’t tell them that getting these things back filled me with sorrow, that I wished they had just thrown them out and not told me.
I believe that I am smarter than my parents, and have believed this since I was a teenager—calculating how much distance I needed to safely expand to full size, like one of those mattresses you take out of a box. When I go to see my parents, I need to somehow fit back in the box.
I want to feel like a Normal Adult, and thought this would happen in my forties but it did not. I have tenure and a mortgage but I don’t know how to drive a car or work the television. It is a lopsided sort of adulthood, and it feels too late to change.
An example: it feels too late to come out to my parents. I should have done it earlier, but I had a series of public-facing relationships with men, and also, I have been stonewalling my parents for so long that to share a real thing makes me ooze preemptive shame.
I have a water bottle that says QUEER VISIBILITY and I am out. When I go to the Berkshires with a friend (someone else who has bought a house in the woods and is disappointed that more people don’t want to rent cars and drive there to visit), I talk a lot about my girlfriend, swinging that word around like a mace. Come at me. When I am with men, I hate the dumb word boyfriend, but my girlfriend is a vehicle I will happily joyride around in, blowing off red lights.
My girlfriend is too cool for me, too beautiful, too smart. I hit up Wikipedia, donate $2, and hide my ignorance about Marxist philosophers. I have sex and hope my body will not disgrace me. After I catch COVID—after the quarantine period but while I am still potentially infectious—we have sex with masks on and all the windows open. We watched the Morocco-Croatia World Cup game at a Moroccan cafe, all ululating and pure joy. I cannot stop touching her. She is everyone I’ve ever had a crush on, the quotes I wrote in my notebook, the pictures I tore out of magazines and taped up inside my closet. At any time, she could leave. This relationship is not a house in the woods. This relationship comes with a MetroCard. It is new and the legs still wobble.
I will never keep her a secret, not because I am brave but because no one could keep a girlfriend like this a secret. I am looking at a photo she texted me, topless, and the man next to me on the subway is all eyeballs and I say to him, I know, right? And we fist-bump.
I start a lot of sentences with my girlfriend. In the faculty lounge at work, I say MY GIRLFRIEND IS TAKING ME TO MARDI GRAS and realize I am yelling.
I am out with everyone but my parents, and I am forty-eight, and forty-eight is old to come out. When my family convenes at my sister’s suburban home in New Jersey for the holidays, I know my stepfather will ask when are you coming to North Carolina and also are you seeing anyone special, the two questions he always asks, and I am ready, I have been waiting for this. My coat is on because Christmas is over and I am ready to leave. Yes, I say. I am seeing someone special. She’s really cool.
Really cool is a pathetically inadequate description of her, but I hit the pronoun and my mouth dries out and my lips stick to my teeth. And it’s done. Maybe now that I am out, they will stop asking me to come to their house in the woods. I am too willing to bait the MAGA crowd in the bait shop. You can buy live minnows and groceries there, and underestimate people to your heart’s content.
The idea was that I would come out and my parents would back away, showing their palms. I come out not like a lady, but like a tiger. I am making strong choices and my paws are enormous. But instead of running like they are supposed to (that is the assumed ending—the devouring. No one expects you to make friends with the tiger. My girlfriend has tiger tattoos, transformed by the lush landscape of her body into cats that snuggle), my parents are warm and accepting and supportive.
It is very unsettling when you come out to your parents at age forty-eight and they do not reject you, as they are supposed to. My mother texts me to say she is excited, and I text her back, it’s new, I don’t know what will happen because my girlfriend could slip away at any time, her MetroCard out, all boots and mission. Anybody can leave at any time; some places are just more inconvenient as departure points. The woods do not go on forever. At some point, you will come to a town. I text my mother that I underestimated her. This is an easy thing to do with people you are related to. My mother texts back, are you kidding me if I had it to do over again, it would be a girl.
I am forty-eight now, but I will be my parents’ child forever. Forty-eight sounds old until you get to it, and then it just sounds normal—the number of rings you have accumulated, the thickening bark on your neck. This body is a house in the woods. I cannot leave it, but I hope for frequent visitors.
When I come out to my parents, I think that my queerness will buy me distance, but no. They have questions. They want to know how old she is, and what she does for a living, and where she lives.
Inevitably, they will ask: when are you two coming to North Carolina?
Tippy Rex‘s creative nonfiction has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Atticus Review, and Lunch Ticket. Her work has received support from the Vermont Studio Center, the Tin House Summer Conference, and the Gulkistan Center in Iceland. She holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.