The universe, as far as we can tell, is in constant expansion. It is theorized that it will reach a limit point, and will then start to retract on itself, imploding as it goes along. But what is the limit? What are the boundaries of reality, and how far can they be pushed? Similarly, if you consider your own self as a parallel to this never-ending growth, how far back can you be pushed?
Here is a theory: some people are so much more than the universe. Not conforming makes you tougher than even the brightest burning star. UY Scoti is nothing to the burning we have within us. We have the ability to shatter ourselves, to destroy our minds, to rip the very skin away from our bones, and yet we rarely implode. We grow, and we grow, and we grow, and the world seems to shrink from our very presence. We take place in a universe that is waiting to swallow us whole, and we fight back. Isn’t that quite the wonderful image?
Her kisses, childish and fumbling underneath the dark covers of our bed, send electricity through me. We are both twelve, happy and idealistic as we play games. It’s a very simple game, but the consequences of being found out are much more than we are both willing to risk. Girls are not supposed to kiss, girls are not supposed to giggle together happily as their freshly brushed teeth bump against one another. But most of all, girls aren’t supposed to be in love with each other. We never voice those concerns, but awareness of them keeps our hands separated when we leave our safe haven: the bedroom at her grandmother’s home.
The rules of the game are easy:
* A scenario is created, in which she is my wife, and I am her husband.
* One of us is lying in the large double bed, already smiling at the other.
* The other one approaches and straddles the other’s hips.
* Kisses are exchanged.
* Stories are shared.
* Voices must be kept down; her grandmother is just downstairs, and we cannot be caught.
Sometimes, we break one of the rules. In our kisses, our enthusiasm at being together, one of us speaks too loudly. The steps of her grandmother startle us away. Each to our side of the bed, each pretending to be doing something else, anything else, when the door opens.
“Everything alright up here?” Her grandmother is round and funny, and I like her a lot, but when she stands in the doorway, my hands shake. I am afraid of being discovered.
“Yeah, we’re just talking Nana,” my friend answers, and she squeezes my hand reassuringly under the covers.
“Don’t get too excited, you have school tomorrow.” She kisses her granddaughter’s forehead and smooths my hair down. Her smile is warm, and yet dread pools at my stomach. I want her to be gone, to be away from us, so that I can crawl back in my friend’s arms, enjoying her warmth and ignoring the pounding of my heart. It is easier to pretend we are just friends, playing a game.
I am the instrument of my own destruction, in the end. We are thirteen, and I know our games are no longer games, and we cannot keep on pretending. The idea of queerness has entered our world, and the rampant disgust with which the people around me spit out “gay”, “dyke”, “faggot”, or any other slur they can think of has tainted my heart. I stop talking to her. I ignore her lingering hugs, her angry shouts when she learns I have been asked out by a boy. I keep myself away. I allow my own heart to shatter, a soundless, insignificant thing when my world is slowly burning.
The universe has nothing on me when it comes to shattering realities.
The taboo of queerness follows me everywhere I go. I am a strange teenager, a queer one. I am too calm, too busy contemplating the stars and the other worlds I am offered through any readings. I disappear for hours on end, sitting on the wall that separates my garden from the neighbor’s. I dress in the faded t-shirts my brother discards when they stop fitting him, and the brand logo stretches awkwardly over the feminine body I try so hard to forget.
When I am not quiet and calm, I am too loud. My laughter is too happy, too present. I am chided for it, sent away to my room when I grin at my siblings. I don’t have the nice smile, the easy laughter, the pretend happiness they want. I am bitter, and my smile is the twisted one of a mocked witch. I am better than you, I tell them through gritted teeth and glossy eyes. You are nothing to me. And their fear of it being true punishes me.
The village my mother moved us to when she left our father is small, and everyone knows everyone, except us. We are the four breaks from reality in this happy, charming little village. My sister finds her friends easily enough, but she comes home every day battered by the reality of hating us. My brother stays over at his friends’ houses enough that we forget what it is to be all together. My mother works, from seven in the morning to eight in the evening. And I? I am left alone.
The house is mine, from five to eight. I am a queer child, in all the sense of the word. Strange and undesired, in love with the idea of being loved, and other. I am the Other the village wants to destroy. The teenagers push me around, their hands reaching for my neck and arms as I crawl away, biting my tears away through my lips, bleeding home. More than once, I hide the marks of their hands on my body, the torn sweaters and the broken belongings. It is easy, when I am alone, to hide. No one to observe me, to write down my behavior and quantify it. I am not a person when I am alone, I am nothing. It is easy, when I am alone, to repeat their words under my breath, to see their truth appear as I look at my body in the mirror. I let myself believe their lies. I am the Other, evil and scary, and death should be my only option. Without knowing, I become what English people call queer. In France, we only call it dérangé, taré. Unhinged, crazy. Not normal.
When we are all home, there is yelling. The anger between us breaks away; we are all dark holes, sucking in everything until we can implode fully. My voice is hoarse, dinners are often left unfinished, and I find a relief as I sit at my window. The nights are often cold, but I don’t mind the sharp pricks of the wind as I stare at the night sky.
If I am lucky, the stars show themselves, and I might perceive the glittery trails of our galaxy, the beautiful way it curls on itself through the night. When every light shuts off, when there is nothing anymore that exists, I am nothing but a speck of dust in the Universe’s expansion. I forget what being human means. I am a receptacle for the Universe. I am not me.
I am fourteen, and I have just left my childhood love behind, afraid of what it means that it hurts so much to let her go. The school is buzzing with excitement, everyone giving their opinions on the newly announced legalization of gay marriage. It’s the first real time we let ourselves acknowledge the existence of not straight people. We are still children, caught halfway between the mindless days of childhood when grass stained our knees, and the looming days of a teenage self who revolts at the mere idea of running around happily. I listen quietly to the debate among my classmates. I am on friendly terms with most of them. Despite the 800 people in my middle school, we end up rotating around the same people endlessly.
“That’s not right,” one of them says. His mother was an elementary school teacher of mine. She had disliked me, and I her. “They can’t even have children! Plus, it’s disgusting. Boys should be with girls, and vice versa.”
“It’s not like you have to like, marry a boy,” a girl interjects, rolling her eyes at his ridiculous speech. Everyone can tell someone has said that to him. “It’s just that people can, if they want to.”
I don’t have an opinion about it. We don’t talk much about it in my family, and I don’t see the point of debating it. It’s the law now, and it’s not like we, fourteen years old living 27 km away from the seventeenth biggest city of France, can do anything to change it. It doesn’t affect me, I think naively. I am perfectly normal.
I realize what it means later on. I mention an actress is pretty, I am told that I should look at her male co-star. I notice both, and I shrug. What does it matter, I think, that one is a man and the other a woman?
I sit still at lunch with my family. We are in my grandfather’s new house. It’s not new anymore, he has been living here for six years, but I have too many memories of the old house to let go of the qualifier just yet. He sits at the head of the table, like always. He has already done his customary criticizing of all of us: my mother is too weak, my sister’s laughter too shrill, my brother’s too nice to us, and I am too fat. It’s his little joke, the one I will carry with me until I abandon the constructed notion of the self. None of us can ever be as good as he is, sitting in his throne, fat and heavy like the pigs he roasts every summer for the crowd.
“This gay marriage thing, that’s some bullshit,” he is saying, moving around a greasy potato on his plate. “I can’t believe I might have to marry any faggots.”
“You don’t have to though,” my mother answers him. “You aren’t the mayor.”
He isn’t. He is the first counsellor, and, according to him, “the only damn one who gets anything done.” Marriages aren’t supposed to be his responsibility, but he has done it enough time for everyone to believe it is.
“No, but Maurice already said he wouldn’t do it if the law passed. And none of the others will either. And since I’m the only one with enough balls to be called a man, I’m going to be the one doing it.”
It’s not like it’s likely any person in a non straight-passing relationship would ever stay in this village, I think as I keep quiet. The realization that breathes through me is slowly destroying me. I am that kind of person. I am the person that would laugh my grandfather into a fitful argument about how gays and “all those other kinds of freaks” don’t deserve any rights. I am not a person. I am not a thing. I am not worthy of existing. I am the Other.
In me, reality dissolves. Stars disappear without a sound. I am the Universe, and the Universe is Me. We are both retreating, deleting our existence. Our expansion is over, and now comes time for destruction.
I am seventeen now. I am battered by a life that has decided to test me, again and again. Nine months ago, my father spilled my blood in his anger, hitting me and yelling insults. Three weeks ago, my brother broke one of my ribs after an argument. I am not innocent in either scenario. Anger drips from me in poisonous leaks, my eyes are dead and my smile inexistent as soon as I am in the same room as any member of my family. I want to heal, desperately. I want to be Me again.
Lunch is over, and I am standing up nervously. I have to tell them now. I have never been a very good liar. My face reads like an open book, my mouth spills any secrets I have. Keeping quiet, keeping to myself this last year, has been difficult. How many nights have I sat next to my mother, both of us sharing a blanket as we watched a favorite movie, wishing I could tell her? How many hours have I spent listening to my sister’s woe, to the tales of her broken heart, and wished I could tell her about my first kiss, my first love, all those first times that I was made to be ashamed of?
So I tell them now. My birthday was two weeks ago. I tremble as I explain to them my queerness, the way my body and my name don’t fit me anymore. I try not to cry as I explain to them that I am not straight, not cis, that I am not them. I am hopeful. They love me, I repeat to myself endlessly, they want the best for me. They won’t hurt me.
I am right in the end, I suppose. I still have a home by the end of the day. My sister’s laughter resonates inside of me as I call my friend, praying she’ll pick up. She’s noticeably unreliable with technology, but she does, and I cry. It’s embarrassing. We have known each other for less than two years at this point, and she is on a date with her boyfriend. Neither of them seem to mind though; they talk to me for two hours, letting me vent for a while before distracting me. I grab body paint and, settling against my bedroom door so that I am left alone, my body a barrier against the world, I draw as I listen to their soothing voices. They are good people.
That night, I go downstairs, long after dinner has been shared between my mother and sister. I am not very hungry, but I should eat. I have a headache that’s built up from too much crying, and I am colder than I should be. It’s May, after all.
The kitchen light surprises me. I had hoped no one would be awake. I had heard my sister come upstairs to her bedroom. She had not even attempted to speak to me through the wooden door that separates us. Our dog, beautiful and beaming white in the dim light of my phone’s flashlight, is sleeping on the mat of the entrance. Her muzzle moves slightly, and she sighs, almost humanly.
My mother is waiting for me, her hands cupped around her cup of tea. I can tell it isn’t coffee, the smell is sweet and fruity. It’s her usual sleeping tea, the one she drinks when she can’t fall asleep on her own. Despite being a nurse, she dislikes medication. She doesn’t like not being in control of what happens to her.
“Why did you say all those things?”
Her voice is quiet. My sister’s bedroom is just above the kitchen, and she has often complained that our voices wake her up in the morning. I don’t know if my mother’s current demeanor is a reflection of that, or if all the fight has been taken out of her by the day’s events.
I won’t ask. I don’t answer either. I turn away from her. I don’t want to see her right now. I want to be left alone, to suffer on my own and pity myself.
“It’s not you,” my mother pleads, reaching for me. I avoid her hand. “I know you, and it’s not you! You’re my little girl, my sweet little girl, and all those things, they aren’t you.”
Her little girl. My mind reels from that. I wasn’t so little last Sunday, when she was crying and I held her, like every Sunday for the last year. I wasn’t so little when I was the only one stopping her ex-boyfriend from hitting my sister. I wasn’t so little when she yelled at me that I was old enough to understand that I should be more mature than my twenty-year-old brother, because boys are less mature than girls, and I should always be the bigger person.
“I’m not yours, or a girl.” I answer, voice rough. I leave the room without food. I will go hungry for the night.
For the next year and a half, I live a parallel life. The weekends and evenings are my own hell, constricting me. I get to know the woods and fields well. There is the abandoned building they are rehabilitating by the side of the road, a looming figure in the night’s low lights. Wheat is the most common crop around here, but there are a few sunflower fields. I run until I reach the cross in the middle of the fields, and then I choose my path: further, to the river and beyond; on my right, to the woods; or back to where home lies, cruel and empty of love. My favorite path is further ahead. Beyond the river, I discover the freedom of nature, left alone to grow of its own device. I fall into unused fields where wild flowers cradle me. Their soft colors bring back a joy in my life, worth the pain of walking over an hour to reach them, and then an hour back. In summer, when there is no relief to be found elsewhere, I come read there. I am free from the eyes of humanity there.
When school starts again, I am happy to meet with my friends. They are my people, I joke around. Blood family means nothing to me then. Rather, they become my family. I let them treat me to frozen yogurt and iced tea they got at the new coffee shop in town. I listen to their stories, and I share mine. We are queer together. We are the Others.
Expansion comes at the same time as destruction in me. I flourish and I die in the same timeline. I am denied joy and brought happiness in the same day. The Universe wishes it were me.
I survive. I learn to thrive. I am happy again. My world is in constant expansion, and yet I have been broken and shattered. My soul has been burnt until only ashes remained, and those were dispersed to the wind. I still grow. I still fight. Parts of me explode, bright and loud, pushing back at the boundaries of my world. I am made again, and I threaten to collapse. Never do I implode. I forget the self, I forget the desire to exist, but I do not forget the Me. I do not forget the shine of the Universe, the way it calls to me and cradles me. I will not let myself be destroyed.
There may be multiple Universes. There may be implosion awaiting all of us ahead. We hope still. We exist, we resist, and we thrive.
I am the Universe, and so much more.
Aaron Aurières is trans nonbinary man who moved from France to Montréal, Canada, to study Creative Writing at Concordia University. Currently, he writes mostly picture books and YA.