Tamika Wood’s Birthday Party

& Other Stories by Le Kendall

Alan Sebastian

We have a rhythm, Scott and I.

We talk almost every day. About Mani. About parenting. About university when I was studying. And then about work.

Back when I was studying when I talked to him I felt more motivated to go to class. To tell him what I’d learned about. And even though I was the one doing the degree sometimes I think he’d somehow acquired more knowledge than I had. He is still my study partner.

When I’d started I thought that I’d do physics. I was good at physics at high school. And also fine at maths. In high school physics they never included much maths… but at Uni they put them together and suddenly I just couldn’t get my head around it. And it turns out I’m not as good at maths when I don’t have Scott to study with me and explain it.

I’d thought, at the time, that I was helping Scott study. He didn’t get good marks before we started studying together. He could never focus enough to do the exercises or concentrate on any of the fiddly parts. I was the one who made the schedule for what we should study and I was the one who made the plan. And I was the one who opened the text-book and tried to puzzle out what we were supposed to be doing.

I found comfort and routine in working through the problems one by one and ticking them off. He said it was too boring and he couldn’t concentrate on it so I’d pass him a skittle for every problem that he actually worked on.

I’d thought that I was helping him. And I was happy to because he always made studying a lot more fun and I felt proud of both of us when he started getting better marks.

But when I had to do it on my own I remembered that he was the one who read the textbook upside-down across the table and he’d shake his head and say “they’ve explained that really badly but here is what it means…” and it would make a lot more sense.

And when I couldn’t get the right answer I’d feel so frustrated that I wanted to tear the book in half he’d look at my work and either explain what I’d missed or – much more often than you’d think was reasonable given that it was a published book used by hundreds of students – confidently assure me that the answer in the book was wrong.

Maybe I was helping him, a little. But he was helping me a lot. And it was a lot harder to do it on my own. So I sort of escaped into my own imaginary world.

I daydream a lot. I always have. Imagining scenes from novels and TV over and over and expanding on them. Feeling the feelings over and over again. I daydreamed on the tram to Uni. While lifting at the gym. While walking to class. I daydreamed instead of sleeping.

Some of my daydreams became a web-comic about a bird and an elephant that fell in love.

One semester I spent more time playing 500 than going to class and I failed a few subjects so it ended up taking four years to finish my degree instead of three. I eventually settled on studying the subjects that had always fascinated me even though I wasn’t naturally good at them. In the subjects I was “good at” every missed answer caused me stress and anxiety. I wasn’t good at Geology but it was interesting to me which kept me engaged. And because I didn’t consider myself to be very good at it I was generally pretty happy as long as I actually passed.

For a while I thought I’d wanted to be a teacher. People think I have social anxiety but I quite like speaking when I have decided what to say beforehand and when I’m in control and I’m the one who is talking and everyone else is not.

But the subjects I ended up graduating with aren’t ones I could teach in high school. I’d have to study more to do that. And when I stopped studying and started working full time I realised just how much studying had stressed me out in a way that working did not. When I was studying I always felt like there was more to do like there was more I should have been studying or working on or practicing or polishing or catching up on. When I worked I got days off.

I read a lot of books. I thought about writing. But I just sort of made the webcomic which people seemed to like. I can’t really draw very well but I think that made it funnier.

I stopped playing music after I left school. It just made me think of Michelle. I missed her. So much. But my ache for my sister was like something I could package up and hide in a box in the back of my wardrobe. It was always, always there. But I only had to feel it if I thought about it.

She didn’t call me again. After that one time. She’d left her phone behind when she’d left but I’d tried her old number anyway. It didn’t connect.

I’ve had that conversation with her a thousand times. Told her everything I’m going through. Asked her how she is. What her life is like. All the things I couldn’t say or ask her at the time because all I could do at the time was be overwhelmed by the fact that she had called in the first place.

And I wonder if I’d been able to… talk to her. Maybe she would have called me again?

But Scott and I. Me and Scott. He helped, he always helped. And I helped him too, I think. He always needed to talk things through and I would listen and I would summarise what he had just said and he’d tell me that I’d changed his entire perspective, somehow.

We know each other so well now. And every time I go back home I convince myself that I don’t even have to have sex with him because so much else we have is so good that even without that it would be enough. But I still feel like I have to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes up because it could always be the last time.

So we transition smoothly from friends to lovers every time. But then.

It’s like we’re playing a video game. Like an old-school platformer type. For the first level we play so well together. We navigate all the obstacles so smoothly and jump over all the spikes. We know where all the dangers are and when they happen and how they move.

And then we get to a certain point. And there’s a cliff and a large gap. And there’s a place where you can safely go down but then you’re stuck and there’s nowhere to go but back to the start.

The only way to progress is to take a running leap and jump over that gap not knowing what is on the other side of it. Not knowing if I, if we, can make it or how far it is to the other side. But knowing, absolutely, that if we fall there are spikes or lava at the bottom of that chasm and it will be game over.

So we play the first bit over and over. And every time we get to that part we go down the safe way and end up back at the start.

And I think if I knew that he’d jump with me then I’d take that chance. But we don’t talk about it.

Is it his fear stopping us from making that leap? Or only mine?

End of Part Two.

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