My first memory, which may have been a dream, is of turning around and looking back at a group of teenagers standing by a fountain and feeling like they were laughing at me. I think it was the first time I felt self-conscious.
When I was 17 I had a friend called Bird. We used to talk a lot about sex. They were trans, though they didn’t see it that way. They just talked a lot about fucking me as a boy. That is — they were the boy. Initially, I was also a boy, but then it changed and sometimes I was a girl.
I had a strong masochistic streak back then, and I often tried to see how far they would take it. Once I asked them to put out a cigarette on me. They refused, they said it would hurt a lot. I said I didn’t mind and asked them again. They never did. It’s probably for the best. I’ve realised since then that pain is only enjoyable when I get the visceral sense that the person is enjoying making me feel it, and it’s only respect for my boundaries that is stopping them going further.
The rest of the time we spoke about religion. Practically every time we met they’d discovered some new God they thought was important. The God of Chaos, who makes headphones easy to knot up and hard to untangle. The God of Poetry, who makes our lives more meaningful and interesting than good or bad. The God of Violence, who Bird did not like but whom they felt was necessary to explain how things are.
We were friends for about a year. One day I was putting something in my bag. I stood up and started to turn around when I felt a big impact and a horrific pain in my left eye. My eye went black and I crouched down and held it in my hand.
After a minute I opened my eye and got up and started to look around. People were looking concerned. I couldn’t see them very well. Everything was very fuzzy. There was a burst grapefruit on the floor. That made sense of why everything tasted like grapefruit.
It was my friend Bird who threw the grapefruit. I had to go to the eye hospital. My mother was very worried. They squirted something in my eye to numb it so that they could poke it with a device that tests the pressure inside your eyeball. Unsurprisingly, it’s hard not to blink when you’re poked in the eye even when it’s numb, so it took many tries. Eventually a doctor poked it with another machine, looked inside, and said it was okay.
Bird had to go on a course for managing their behaviour. A year or two after that I sent them an email, to which I received no response:
I changed my name to Amy, a while ago. But, I dunno, since I did that, something curious has happened. I once read that many of us are preoccupied with the search for home. That after we leave our first real childhood home, we spend our lives searching for something that can replace it. Through friends, creating a family, other places, etc, but nothing is ever comparable. Anyway, I think this has happened with my names. Steve no longer feels like my name, but Amy doesn’t either. So now I feel like I want to change my name a hundred times a day.
What would the ideal God look like? Maybe just you. You’ve heard the cliché about people’s lives flashing before their eyes just before they die? I think my ideal God is like that — me at fifty-two standing in front of a bus, or a firing squad, and suddenly I know everything I needed to know, and I can go back to myself at 17 and whisper into my ear whatever I needed to know.