I Married a Lunatic

The city’s emergency response unit has threatened to sue if Billy dials 911 again. No more calls about terrorists, no more calls about secret missions for the CIA. I love him so madly, I let my mother die alone after a long rain. Billy and I lost all but one photograph of her. On the back, she wrote her last words: Please, son, don’t make my mistake. Don’t ruin your life over a man. When Billy kisses me, I forget myself. He wants to visit the drive-in across town, and only a closed vehicle can convince Billy to indulge a crowd. They might scan my brain, he says.

​Dr. Loveless thinks taking Billy to a horror movie will end badly. I love him so madly, I promised to sew shut my eyes if he ever caught me gazing at another man. Billy grins like a boy smashing a bug whenever the masked slasher guts another coed. He has so few pleasures outside of watching old presidential debates on C-SPAN2; he warns me my eyeglasses will shatter if I switch the channel. You’re too necessary to my plot against Hilary Clinton, he says. You need your eyes. Dr. Loveless sends emails damning our love affair to disaster, bigger than a hurricane, more deadly than a pandemic. Billy started ignoring him the moment he suggested my lover enter the hospital—the one with straitjackets, not the one with IV drips.

​I met Billy Gross six months ago. He went to an outpatient clinic for myriad emotional malfunctions; I was killing time so my probation officer would think I was serious about conquering my pesky addictions. We shared a bunk bed. He thought we had deluxe accommodations since the room featured its own air conditioner. Every night, I listened to him toss about on the top bunk, watched the wooden slats shift and scrape inside the oak frame. Only after the noise ceased did I allow myself to drift. After two weeks together, two weeks camped in front of CNN, two weeks swapping sodas and cigarettes, two weeks of brief kisses in the backyard, stolen while our house manager slept, I reached for his mattress while he lay atop it, unaware, and promised myself I’d marry Billy Gross. I knew I loved him. My therapists wanted me to love myself. I told my group Billy and I were for keeps, for real, forever. If you’re unsure whether an emotion is genuine, lend it voice. You’d be amazed how you really feel about things. ​ You give my lift meaning.

​I never lived before your love. ​ I don’t love you anymore. Goodbye.

​Candice dubbed him the Sexy Schizo, this poor bastard zipping among the patients, begging for a smoke. A soiled white fisherman’s cap perched upon his head of dark curls. Two days of stubble darkened his face, reminded me of swarthy sailors from Shakespearean drama. His lips flexed like limp macaroni when he spoke, shyly asking Candice if I was her boyfriend. She and I explained the delicate dynamics between queer men and lonely women. I’m free and clear, I said. He’s quite a steal, she added. Billy chuckled and glanced down at his belly as it stretched the thick horizontal stripes of his shirt. He confided that he wrote for Pixar and Paramount—did we have any story ideas? Candice suggested an inspirational film about an alcoholic with breast cancer. Billy’s hazel eyes crossed while he revealed his plan to buy a mansion outside the clinic with his inheritance. I offered my number, informed him my group home had an open bed. After he left, Candice asked me to text her later, make sure her chemo went well. You’re going to get through this, I said. That Billy is one scrumptious motherfucker, she said. She slugged my arm.

​In the movie, a creepy girl with sunken eyes beheads Ethan Hawke. Now, Billy can’t face forward in his seat. He twists his head over one shoulder, then the other. I know asking whether the voices have returned, whether the men in yellow raincoats lurk outside, will lead to only confusion and frustration. He bats his fists against his head, hairy knuckles strong and quick; grasping at them reminds me how weak I’ve become. I was always helpless. I love him so madly, I pummel my own head so he won’t think he’s sick. Dr. Loveless dials my cell first then tries Billy. I urge him not to answer, warn him the doctor doesn’t comprehend our bond. Billy asks the doctor where he father might be hiding—the attic? the mailbox? the toilet? I’m sobbing, I can’t stop. He shushes me, finger grazing his lips. I want to kiss him, but first I want to die. After hanging up, Billy asks me who will get my vote tomorrow; the election was three years ago. ​ We sleep in separate twin beds like Lucy and Ricky. Whenever I slip beneath his cover, hard and eager, Billy muffles his laughter and says only bad boys get their dipsticks dirty. After his cocktail of generic medications takes effect, I wait like a junior-high girl beside her princess phone, wait for the sweet sting of gratitude when he leaps atop me like a jungle cat. It has to be his overture, never mine. I taught him how to make love. It involved much patience and much pornography. His mother turned stark white inside the kitchen doorway after Billy boasted he knew how to fuck like a man. I love him so madly, I cut eyeholes in a designer sheet and dragged through our apartment, pretending to be his father’s ghost. It’s my fault he’s dead; I ruin everyone. Billy will never escape from the hall of mirrors beneath his curls. Inside my lover’s head resides the only place our devotion can survive.

​You take my life’s meaning. ​ I never loved before you lived.

​I don’t love anyone else. Nice try. ​ Candice’s doctors filter through her room one by one, speak like children at a spelling bee. All of them deliver the sad, sad pieces of a sad, sad puzzle. Please, she says, bring Sexy Schizo to see me. I’ll give him a dollar when he remembers my name. This time, it’s doubtful she’ll leave the hospital—the one with IV drips, not the one with straitjackets. Every damn bone in my body is diseased, she says, flipping through channels as her maroon toenail polish dries. I need lots of things, she says, but bourbon tops the list. I slip her a flask, she hands me little pink capsules for the pain—mine, not hers. You better whip up a four-course meal when I bust loose, she says. We smile like a dance coach smeared our teeth with Vaseline. I leave and imagine her grin fading. Riding the glass elevator down eight stories, Billy zooms into focus from his position beside a copper-plated fountain. Apollo in mid-flight, unnoticed by Billy. I love him so madly, I resist the urge to stop dead still while crossing the busy street. He bursts with joy to learn Candice wants to see him. He points to each body part, reciting what I’ve told him: she has bad cells on her spine, bad cells in her brain, bad cells on her hip, bad cells in her neck. We’re connected by a series of tubes and bolts, he says. Candice went undercover for the CIA. Double-duty undercover. I pin a buck on his shirt collar.

​Billy doesn’t understand that marriage is reserved for heterosexuals. At least in this state, its name boasting more vowels than consonants. We should come together before they scan your brain while I’m not here, he says. He promises not to skip a dose; he promises to ignore any voice compelling him to scream, thrash or strip in public; he promises nothing absurd. I love him so madly, I pretend every couple makes sure vows.

​We fly to Massachusetts. Billy knows the streets down to each gutter since he took a virtual tour before the trip. In our linen suits (beige and charcoal) and silk ties, we seem like refugees from a legitimate wedding. As we take our places before the justice of the peace, Billy’s eyes grow soft and bleary. I kiss him briefly on the cheek. I love him so madly, I stop debating which of us is truly insane. Only death shall part these two men, the official says. A tribe of other queer couples applauds. Billy and I link elbows and parade down an aisle bordered by peach crepe paper draped from folding chairs. Do I love you forever, Billy asks.

​You give me life.

​I never lived before.

​Dr. Loveless returns our wedding announcement; I pluck it from the mailbox after our return. In sprawling script, he informs Billy that he can no longer treat him. My relief jackknifes into panic—who will write his prescriptions? I’ve never told Billy, but love is a business: let too many details slip and you’re bust. I love him so madly, I’ll find a way. I love him so madly, I’ll find an answer. I love him so madly, I’ll find what he needs. After fretting to Candice over the phone, she soothes me with wise words, no less persuasive when delivered in her weak, tremulous voice. Bring Sexy Schizo to visit, she says. He makes me laugh. I ask when would be best. Soon, she says, as soon as you can.

​I don’t live anymore. Goodbye.

​Careful with those big damn meat hooks, Candice says when Billy embraces her, jerking her from the bed. She’s given up on vanity; free of scarves, her wispy blonde hair exposes her scalp while her lips and cheeks are bare. She fixes me with her cerulean eyes—yes, this is what’s left of me. She’s asking Billy simple arithmetic. Two plus five equals a banana. Six minus four equals Jodie Foster. She’s a lesbian, he announces, proud of himself. Candice laughs. We knew that before she knew it herself. We converse in hushed tones buoyed by chuckles. We speak the language of the dying. She refuses to say goodbye; she insists we say, See you soon. Yes, this is what’s left of her. Outside by the Apollo fountain, I stop pretending. The tears fall as I hold Billy, his warmth my only miracle. Are you going to miss her, he whispers into my shoulder. She’s still here, I say. The water ripples, spray cascading into a small reflecting pool. I’m still here, Billy says. And don’t forget the flying man in a dress! He gestures wildly at Apollo. It’s a sunny day. I love him so madly, I finally let him love me back.

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