My alarm went off at nine AM on Saturday. Justin was sleeping down here with me, and he stirred at the vibration and buried his face in my collarbone. I lifted his face and we kissed for a while. He was so warm and his hair was so soft, and he was breathing in that careful way that he does when he's trying not to trigger anything, gentle little breaths, and it made me love him.
Going for a run? he asked.
Yeah, I said, hoping he wouldn't be awake enough to notice the extra set of very-much not running clothes I'd stuff into my backpack before I left.
Have fun be safe I love you. He buried his face in his pillow and coughed some.
I rubbed his back. I can stay, I said, when he'd lifted his head up. A part of me wanted him to tell me not to go. Then I wouldn't be lying to him, at least not today.
But he said, You're ridiculous, I'm fine. I'm going to go wheeze at Brian to manipulate him into making me breakfast.
Save me something, I said, and he nodded and kissed me again. Yeah, save me some of that too, I said, and he laughed and we fooled around a little, and then he went upstairs and I got dressed and went to the subway.
I got back three hours later. Brian was sprawled out on the couch, half-watching whatever was on TV, and Justin was on his laptop at the kitchen table.
I toed my shoes off. Hey.
Brian checked his watch. That's a long run.
I'd sprinted around the block a few times to get sweaty and out of breath. I still want to do a marathon, I said.
You cannot do a marathon in kidney failure, Brian said, bored.
I can do anything I set my mind to.
Like die, for instance.
You know normal people pee blood after marathons, Brian said. You already do it like it's a fun hobby you enjoy.
Maybe I do. I stomped until Justin looked over. Hi. I'm here and I love you.
Cool, Justin said vaguely, already back to whatever he was looking at.
Brian snickered. This is why I don't even bother. It's nothing personal, though; it's just really hard to get to Justin when he's distracted. I don't know if that's a brain injury thing or a him thing.
Three years, Justin said to himself. That can't be right.
Brian waved his arm in the air until Justin looked over. What's three years?
The wait list for getting a dog. They say average is one to two years but it can be as much as three.
How many seizures can you have in that time? Brian asked.
That sounds like a challenge.
If you don't want to wait three years, follow the age-old advice, Brian said.
“What's that?” I said.
Brian turned to me and said, “Throw money at it.”
Justin clearly already knew this answer, because he said, How much?
How much do you want the dog?
Justin laughed, shaking his head. You are going to regret that answer.
Start with a hundred, Brian said, and Justin nodded as he typed.
“A hundred?” I asked Brian, because that didn't seem likely to do a lot of good.
Sticker price on these is about thirty. Figure it can't hurt to go above and beyond.
“Is that really fair, though? I mean, some people don't have the choice to just pay more.”
He rolled his eyes. And some people have manageable seizures. Or no seizures at all! The premise here isn't really that Justin's life has him spoiled, is it? Let him have his money.
I just mean—
Justin waved for our attention and said, I just looked at the clock—were you gone for like three hours?
Who wants some fresh coffee? I said.
The next Saturday, Justin wasn’t with me so it was easier to sneak out. When I got home, Brian was at the table with his laptop and earbuds in, and he raised an eyebrow at me.
What are you watching? I asked.
This boring as fuck conference in Paris. The London office is there. Where were you?
With your backpack?
He looked at his watch. It's after noon. Don’t you usually go out early?
Crap. “Why the third degree?”
He muttered something that looked a lot like, “Why do you think?”
He sighed and looked up. Nothing.
“Don’t do that shit.” You don’t do that to a Deaf person. “Tell me what you said.”
I was just talking to myself.
I stared him down.
I’m just wondering why you’re being sketchy as hell, that’s all.
“I’m going downstairs now.”
The next Saturday, they were both waiting for me. Brian’s eyes were red. Justin just looked pissed.
Empty your backpack, Brian said.
“What?” I said, and he came over and took my backpack off of me. “Hey—“
Are you using again? Justin said. His eyes were steady on me.
What are you talking about?
Brian shook my backpack out onto the floor, then got to work unzipping all the little pockets.
You're gone all the time, you're clearly lying about where you're going—
God. You thought I was using again?
And maybe I should have been angry, or scared, but I couldn't help it; I just felt sad for them. I hated what I'd put them through that their minds went there. I hated that it hadn't even crossed my minds that they'd think that. Justin's told me how much he struggles with seeing the worry on our faces, and there it was, for me. It's hard enough when they worry about my fucking kidneys. This was something I did. And I know, I know, addiction is a disease and it's not my fault but...isn't it?
Justin's eyes softened. You're not?
No, I'm not.
He ran his hands down his face. God. Okay. So what the hell is going on? He looked over my shoulder at Brian. What's that?
Brian showed him my clothes.
Are you seeing someone? Justin said. Why wouldn't you just tell us?
I'm not seeing anyone you don't know about. Since I was, at the time, two dates and two hand jobs deep with this guy Stephen, who is unimportant both in this story and the larger scheme of things.
Brian picked through my clothes like they offended him. Then what's with the Sunday best?
Ugh. It's Saturday.
It's a figure of speech.
No, it's not, because...because that's about church, and I've been going to synagogue.
They both blinked at me.
You've been...going to synagogue, Justin said.
I was so tired, all of a sudden. Deaf synagogue, in Manhattan. With Gwen and Emily and Jane. Call them if you don't believe me.
We believe you, I just—
What the fuck are you going there for? Brian said. Do they, what, need you to watch Jane?
No, they have a daycare there. I go for the services. I've been doing it for a few months now.
Brian and Justin did that thing where they look at each other and say something without saying anything.
Why is this such a shock? I said.
Justin said, Well, honey, you're not Jewish.
Here we go. I'm thinking of converting.
Converting? Brian fingerspelled.
So now he's found God, Brian said to Justin. This is that NA crap, I told you, they're a fucking cult—
Yeah, a big scary Jewish cult, I said. This has nothing to do with that.
All that surrendering to a higher power bullshit—
That's Christian, Justin said. He's saying he wants to be Jewish.
It's not that I want to be, I said. It just...it feels like I finally belong somewhere.
Brian rolled his eyes and stomped into the kitchen, and Justin sighed and gave me a small smile.
Don't worry about him, he said.
I knew he wouldn't take it well.
He'll come around. And I think it's great.
Justin nodded and gestured towards the back door, and we went out to the back porch and sat down at the lawn table. Justin looked fucking stunning in the sunlight, his hair like a halo. He leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs and gave me a small smile.
Okay, he said. So get me up to speed.
God, I loved him so much in that moment. I mean, always, too, but in that moment. I've just been thinking a lot lately about...about God and stuff. And obviously I was raised Catholic but that's just so full of bad memories for me, and, y'know Emily converted, so she kind of gets it, even though she did it for Gwen and Jane and she's not really religious, but...but I don't know, she told me some stuff about what made Judaism different from Christianity and it just...it sounded like what I was looking for.
Justin nodded thoughtfully as I spoke.
Do you ever...think about that stuff? I said. I know Brian thinks religion is for the weak. I don't know where you stand.
Brian has baggage, Justin says. A lot of church-related baggage that I'll never understand. I guess...I guess if pressed I would call myself a Christian.
I believe there's something up there, and I have all the privilege that comes from being raised Christian in this fucked up world, so I don't feel like I have license to try to divorce myself from that just because I'm gay.
He reached for my hand quickly. Not that that's what you're doing.
Oh, sweetheart. He sighed. Listen, I'm the wrong person to be asking, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I went to Sunday school for a year when I was eight and we'd go to church on Christmas and Easter. I'm a casual at best.
I just want to feel like I belong to something bigger than just this family, I said. And I think I'm starting to.
Then that's amazing, Justin said.
Except. But I need Brian to be on board.
Justin sighed. Why?
Justin's eyes softened. You still feel like you owe him something.
He gave me a job and a place to live and his fucking husband and he pays for everything...
And he's not going to stop doing those things because he doesn't agree with how you spend your Saturdays.
I'm still the new kid in this family.
This family didn't exist until you were in it, Justin said. You were always in this family. And he wants to do those things for you. He loves you.
I know that. But I don't want to disappoint him. I felt my chin shaking a little. I don't want him to think I'm weak.
I stayed down in my basement for the rest of the weekend. Justin came down some, but Brian didn't, and I was too chickenshit to face him. I read some of the books I'd borrowed from Emily and organized my closet. A thrilling weekend for all.
Monday morning I had no choice but to face Brian, but when I went upstairs to see if he was ready to leave for work, he wasn't out in the kitchen. I walked past their bedroom, and the door was open, and I could see Justin curled up on himself sitting on the foot of the bed, like he was trying to make himself as small as he possibly could.
Brian came over with a shirt and helped him into it. There you go. It's okay.
Justin drew in a sharp breath when Brian rotated his shoulder, and I had to stop myself from charging in there, protecting him.
Perfect, Brian said, once the shirt was on. Okay. My boy. He tucked Justin's hair behind his ear. Good.
Justin was in so much pain that he was shaking just from sitting there, and Brian slipped one arm under his legs and carefully moved him back under the covers. Justin immediately balled up, his arms around his head, and Brian crouched down next to the bed and asked him a few questions I couldn't see, but I saw Justin shake his head no.
Brian came to the doorway. If he was surprised or pissed to see me there he didn't show it. Hey.
Is he coming in with us?
Brian shook his head. I'm going to work from home today.
He's hurting bad. It kept him up all night.
Can I do anything?
Brian shook his head. Bring home the Johnson proofs? I want to take another look at them.
Okay. I pointed to the bedroom. I heard something.
Brian nodded a little. He's crying.
Brian reached around my neck and massaged it a little. It's okay.
“Why is he hurting so bad?”
I don't know. I think it's just a bad day. I'm going to stay with him.
Two days ago he was reassuring me on the back porch and now he's in pain so bad he's crying for no real reason. Just because that's what his life is.
And without even meaning to, I thought: Hakadosh Baruch Hu yimalei rachamin alav. May God overflow with compassion upon him.
I came home at lunch with the Johnson proofs. Brian was on the couch, files on either side of him, his laptop on his knees. “How's Justin?” I said.
I sighed and lowered myself into the armchair. “You ever wonder what it feels like?
Every single day.
He hadn't really looked at me since I'd come in.
Brian, I signed, so he'd have to, and he sighed and put his work aside.
Why are you so uncomfortable about this?
About what? he tried, but I just gave him a look, and he rolled his eyes and said, I just didn't think you were this kind of person, that's all.
Justin believes in God. That doesn't seem to bother you.
Justin's not a part of any fucking institution, for one thing, but also he's...you know, he's him. He's an idealist. He's hopeful. Head up in wherever the fuck. You're supposed to be down in the trenches with me.
I am, I said. That's Judaism. It's about doing the work. Doing good work.
Religion is a way for people who can't handle their problems to weasel out of them by blaming them on God, or the devil, or people around them being sinners, and to soothe themselves with this fairy tale that everything will be better someday.
“You're talking about Christianity,” I said. “That's all you know. You don't know anything about this.”
It's all the same, he said.
It's not. There's no devil, there's no Hell, there's no sinners. There's not even some concrete idea of heaven. It's about being present in this life and paying forward everything you can. It's about how to take care of your family.
You don't need religion for that shit, Brian said. I don't need a God to take care of my people.
“Okay, well maybe I do,” I said. “Maybe that's the only thing that's been holding me together recently, okay?”
He watched me.
I don't know how to get by any longer without believing that maybe, and I mean really maybe, there is somewhere we go after this. For Adam, and...
He softened some.
“And now here I am, I have a life-threatening illness,” I said.
Nothing’s going to happen to you, Brian said immediately. Like always.
“But it might, and it’s comforting that that might not be the end of...of everything, and that all this shit I’m going through, it’s for something. I have a job to do while I’m here. I’m supposed to be making the world better.”
Brian watched me.
I mean, you get it, right? I said. Aren’t you....I mean, when Justin...
He looked away from me immediately.
“If Justin dies,” I said quietly. “Doesn’t it helps to think maybe he’ll be somewhere?”
Brian was still for a moment, then he got up and did a lap around the living room. I thought he was mad, but then he paused by the kitchen and said, You know there used to be a wall here? like it was mildly interesting.
We tore it down so we could sign without anything in the way. And the floors were different too, when we bought it. We replaced them with cork so he wouldn’t hurt himself when he had seizures. And we had the bath tub sunken into the floor.
“I know all that.”
This, he said, indicating a line running down his finger, is from an x-acto knife, when we were packing up paintings for his first show, back in Pittsburgh. Needed stitches. This— he pulled the sleeve of his t-shirt up his shoulder—is from when he poured boiling water on himself during a seizure. The green paint on the bottom of my shoe? That’s his. He got me this watch for my thirty-fifth birthday. This freckle on my arm, that’s what I stared at and stared at and stared at when he told me he loved me for the first time, and I couldn’t look at him.
I clasped my hands together to stay quiet.
I know where he’ll be, Brian said. He’s everywhere.
“You know what’s funny?” I said.
“That was the most Jewish thing I’ve ever heard.”
He rolled his eyes. Don’t label me.
“I won’t. This is about me.”
Brian sighed and said, You deserve something that’s about you.
That was probably the best I was going to get. It was plenty.
What if I don’t make a good Jew? I asked.
Gwen waved her hand. I’m a terrible Jew. You’ll keep me company.
What if I’m just appropriating a minority religion?
She laughed. That sounds like Justin.
That’s not how it works.
But how do I know if this is right?
She leaned forwards and squeezed my hands. There’s this line in the Torah, about when God handed it down to the people, and everyone was standing at Mt. Sinai.
Like the hospital, I thought vaguely.
And God says, I’m making this covenant not just with you, but with every Jew still to come. Every single one, whether you’re born Jewish or you convert. Every single Jewish soul was on that mountain. So the only question you have to answer is: were you on the mountain?
And of course Justin’s words repeated in my head. They always do. You were always in this family.
You can believe these things are a coincidence if you want to. But I didn’t want to anymore.
I think I was on the mountain, I said.