Chewbacca & Clyde
by Corinne Manning
I sometimes wonder if the infidelity would have hurt even more if Meredeth and I had gotten married. We never even declared that we were monogamous. For all intents and purposes there was nothing that distinguished the first night we got together (feigning obliviousness, drunken on our dorm room floor) from the ten years we spent together. In the beginning we didn’t get married because we didn’t think about it, it didn’t seem to be what queers did but then when our friends started having commitment ceremonies we thought, well, maybe we’d do that next year. And with every cherry jubilee we made for commitment pot luck after commitment pot luck we, said, us too, next year. Until we reached 8 years and one night in bed I leaned over and whispered to her, “Let’s not bother,” and she turned to me with more enthusiasm than she had in quite a while and clutched my hand to her breast.
“Oh thank, God. I don’t want to either.”
I did not practice trickery or fraud nor did I deprive anyone of anything by those two terms. In fact, it’s fair to say that no one was deprived and that might be the problem. Cheating can also mean breaking the rules— “as in an examination” my dictionary taunts—though there weren’t any rules to break. Some mornings I wake up to friends sending messages with clauses in them like “since you cheated” or the statement “you cheated” and I always reply with the same seven words: I didn’t want the relationship to end. I know I’m supposed to feel guilty, but I’m not certain I know, anymore, what guilt means.
Have you ever gotten carried away? Or felt more in touch with yourself than you’ve felt for a long time, and it’s not necessarily brought on by the proximity of another person, or longing, but a day of bright clear sun, or swimming in warm water and feeling the whatever-ness of your own body? It was like this: I found a group on Meetup called Rainbow Rompers who were hosting a queer back packing trip. I was dangling from the talons of a conversation with my agent earlier that week, who dropped me because my writing was getting “too gay” in a boring, predictable way, not in a quirky, subversive way.
“I can have them use a butt plug on p. 63,” I offered but I could almost hear her shaking her head at me through the phone.
“Max, it’s just… too little too late.”
It was like I’d become the Philip Roth of Gay & Lesbian fiction but unlike Roth, people didn’t purchase my books because they felt they should, or because they’d heard that I was someone they were supposed to like. In fact, my genre gave potential readers the opportunity to ignore my books, to discount the work. I didn’t know these were the rules before I started writing, but like vigilantes they found me. It was a rare gift if my books went face out in a city other than Seattle or in a book store other than Bluestockings. It appeared that I was done.
“Yes, do it,” Meredeth said, leaning over my shoulder. We stared at the photo of the group leader. He exuded a physical masculinity that was much more rugged than my academic sweaters and oversized glasses.
“I did a similar trip once. This is a beautiful time of year.” Meredeth found her old pack in the garage. We checked the tent for holes, the sleeping bag for animal nests.
“You just need some independence,” she said. So, I bought a flight to Los Angeles without a companion ticket. I even took a cab to the airport.
On the second to last day of the trip we hiked fifteen miles, which was the most we had done and our bodies were feeling tired and wild and we made it to this lake and it was warm and it didn’t look nasty and we stripped our clothes off and jumped in. The sweat had dried to me, my public hair was crusty and matted so it felt amazing to leap around in that water with everyone and to see all of these variant bodies, in all of their different expressions. What can I say? It didn’t feel shocking when we were sunning ourselves on the rocks and two people started hooking up, and then another two and it didn’t feel like pairing off like what happens at spin the bottle parties. This was like rubbing sun tan lotion on. This was like we were all included. So when this person, James, pressed his mouth to my thigh, and then to my clit I just stretched back and felt the rush of how beautiful this all was, and how this is what things should be like, all of us here, together, enjoying each other with ease and not the desperate cloy of the bedroom. I felt alive in the way I had the first time I’d had sober sex. What a goddamn gift, I said out loud and everyone around me murmured or chuckled.
Guilt didn’t set in after I came. Or at the airport. It didn’t set in when Meredeth picked me up and I held her close to me in the car. The world, I thought, was so beautiful and capable and full of illusion. So the first thing I told her about, once I was home, before I was even showered, was what happened on the beach. And still, no guilt even when she looked at me like I was insane, delicate mouth gaping open. Though I did stutter when she leaned against the wall for support, I was still talking when she came at me, punched me in the shoulder, and then cried out.
“Is this true? You’re talking like you’re in a fucking cult.” That was when I started to feel whatever stability or bliss I had slip away, just as night terrors do when one wakes suddenly and the conviction that the monster is in the kitchen dissolves. I was left with this fractured certainty. I rubbed my shoulder.
“I didn’t think that—l”
“Who are you?” she asked. She fell to the ground and started to sob and I felt everything I’d ever wanted zip out past me—1, 2, 3— towards the window but I couldn’t grab any of it because this person I loved was so far away from me.
“You don’t even feel bad,” she cried. She barely made it to the bathroom and I held her hair while she vomited and the last of the euphoria and the last of my safety escaped out the window.
The rules of heterosexuality draped over us like a shroud, and in the dark everything happened quickly: the splitting of our bank account, giving notice to our landlord. She changed her relationship status on Facebook to single and we started getting phone calls and wall posts. We were still living in the same house when she defriended me.
“At night I can’t sleep and I obsessively search through your friends to see if any of those people have been added and I just can’t put myself in that position anymore.”
“I haven’t added any friends,” I pleaded. “I’m not ready for this to be over.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she said.
“I’m not doing anything. I want to be with you.” I knelt down in front of her and there was this moment where it felt like everything would soften, where everything would be okay and she took her hand and ran her fingers over my head. I always kept the back clipped close to the neck but I let the top grow full and sometimes she would laugh and gel it into Forties gangster hairdos. The first time she did this for a costume party I thought we were going to end up doing something very butch-femme; She Bonnie, Me Clyde. Instead she showed up in a gigantic Chewbacca costume which took the power away from mine (suddenly I was just an Eisenhower-era butch with a gun) and I was certain that there would never be anyone else for me.
I watched her as she stroked my hair and I saw the Chewbacca within her and wanted so badly to just be Clyde and Chewbacca because I know that they would not have this problem. Clyde and Chewbacca, if they were together in this apartment, would have let all of this go.
“Let’s try something,” I said.
“I don’t want to try anything.”
I grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the bedroom. I was so excited, so desperate and there was no doubt in my mind that this wouldn’t work. She snapped her hand away.
“I will not have sex with you.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do.” I pulled out a box of costumes and the Chewbacca one was near the bottom, squished to the side, looking a little bald in places as if the costume had aged like we had. I unfolded the Clyde outfit but I couldn’t find the gun.
“Here,” I said, throwing the costume at her. “Put this on.”
“Please, just do this so that we can say we at least tried.”
While she struggled with the suit I pulled on my pants and snapped the suspenders. I grabbed some pomade out of the bathroom cabinet and came back to the bedroom to do my hair in front of our mirror. I didn’t want to leave her alone, already I could sense that she could slip away, her physical body was the only thing that hadn’t gone.
“You’ll need to zip me,” she said holding a mass of fluff together at the back. There was something reptilian about the knots in her spine within the folds of all that fur and I tried not to make it obvious how slowly I was going. I wanted to remember the disappearance of each vertebrae.
“It smells in here,” she said, her voice amplified by the plastic around the mouth.
“Here let’s stand in front of the mirror.” My hand was sticky with gel and I felt it catch onto her paw. She pulled away and adjusted the Chewbacca head, which kept dipping down so that the eye holes fell at her cheeks.
“Here we are,” I said. We stood staring at ourselves.
“You don’t look like anything,” she said. “You just look like a dyke.”
She clutched at the back of her costume.
“Can you unzip me? I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
“I want to say something first while we’re like this.”
“But I’m seriously going to pass out.”
“We didn’t have any rules.”
“Get me out of this,” she said.
“We didn’t even have any rules and what would have happened if we did?”
She brought her hands to the mouth and started to pry the jaw open and the plastic snapped. I quickly reached behind her but a quarter of the way down the zipper got caught on the fur.
“Hurry up,” she shouted.
“I’m trying not to rip it.”
“Rip it. I’m not going to wear this fucking thing again.”
“Yes you are.” She pushed me away and reached her arms out of Chewbacca’s arms, back into her self and then in some sort of gymnastic feat tore the costume at the zipper enough to get her head out. She looked new and sweaty and I could tell that she’d been crying but I didn’t think it was over me or our costumes. She shimmied out and kicked the fur in my direction.
“Maybe I would have tried harder to get over it,” she said. “But maybe you wouldn’t have thought it was okay to fuck around.”
“But we don’t have any rules now even. We don’t have to break up. We can get through this because there’s nothing telling us that this is the kind of thing that has to end us.”
“Maybe I just don’t want to try,” she said. She began to put on her normal clothes. Her flesh disappeared like a quarter found then lost again behind the ear.
“If you could have just said that you felt bad, or you felt guilty—maybe. But this is just, you know, too little.”
“Like the butt plug on p. 63.” I said.
I mussed my hair and it stuck straight up. I slid my suspenders down my arms.
“If you had been there you would understand why it didn’t feel wrong.”
“So I’m not queer enough?” she asked and I could feel it all starting again. We would never stop doing this until one of us was gone.
“I wish we could fix this with a baby or something.”
And for a second I saw us, with a child that looked like someone else, a photo of a person whose face we’d forgotten. Our arms around each other and the baby with little Chewbacca slippers and suspenders and maybe holding a water pistol shaped like a dolphin because we wouldn’t want it to play with anything that looked like a gun. Maybe one day, when the kid got cheated on or cheated I would tell them about what I did and that there is another way to feel about things.
This is not trickery or fraud. I don’t feel any guilt, even though I should, but it’s true that I didn’t want the relationship to end. And I feel that fact, all of the time, deeply.
Corinne Manning co-runs The Furnace Reading Series at Hollow Earth Radio in Seattle and is the founder of The Living Room Workshops, a teaching project. Her work is forthcoming in Story Quarterly and has appeared in Drunken Boat, Arts & Letters, the Nervous Breakdown, as a chapbook through Alice Blue Review’s Shot gun Wedding Series. “Chewbacca & Clyde” is part of Corinne’s story collection We Had No Rules.