It's funny to see Jordan write about how the pandemic has made him feel a lot like he was back in his old life, because it's been the opposite for me: The longer this goes on, the more I feel like my old life is a dream.
I don't mean that as any sort of metaphor or whatever, but because even after five years, I'm still usually a guy in my dreams, I'm stuck at 16 in those dreams, still in high school, even though the person going by my real name is old enough to drink and I've just turned 28, as far as anybody but a few people is concerned. I don't remember those dreams very often, just enough to occasionally have a reminder that even though I'll never give up being Moira's mommy and I can get through all the female stuff on autopilot these days, some part of my head won't let go of being a guy.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the fact that we're not really doing anything new means that Momma Kamen is often reaching into the past, especially when Moira does something new, relating it to how the original Krystle was as a toddler, or Karla's kids, and after seven months, the stories have been repeated enough that I recognize some of them, and it's not really awkward bluffing to get her to say more. Her or Karla - we don't see her in person very often, because she's living with her boyfriend and there's baby-daddies that makes her circle pretty big, but she skypes with her mom a lot, and likes to see her niece, and since it's not a very big apartment and I don't want to cause trouble, it means I get pulled in, and there's more reminiscence. And I'm not sure how to put the rest of it, because I didn't finish school and all, but if you look at Krystle's life and mine as one story, the way it must look for them, they've kind of filled in the gaps of how "Krystle" went from a rebellious girl who stripped for money to a church-going woman who slipped up one night and got pregnant but has mostly played by the rules otherwise. Like, there's a path from one to the other that makes sense to them, and even if I'm nothing like the Krystle they knew before, and the more they do that, the more it makes sense to me. I still know who I am, underneath, but it's also starting to feel like I've always been Krystle.
And then there's stuff like my birthday. Or hers. Momma K put it up on the big calendar in the kitchen, because everything in her datebook goes up on that, and when I was writing that I had a job interview coming up, Moira asks what I'm writing, then has me pick her up so that she can point at things and ask what they are. When I get to the one that's just my name, I'm like "Krystle - oh!, my birthday", kid of half-surprised. Her eyes get big, though, asking if there are going to be presents and cake. I don't know if we can afford presents, I say, but I suppose we can arrange a cake. That, obviously, becomes the biggest event of the month, as far as she's concerned.
It's fun. I let her help with frosting and blow out the candles, she has a huge sugar rush all night, and Momma K laughs when she finally goes down, saying that she remembers "me" being kind of a brat about "my" birthday, demanding presents, and it's funny to her that I'd apparently forget it. I've had a bit of wine, so I'm a little less guarded, saying "well, it's not as important as" and only stop myself because, at least for now, Krystle's birthday has bumped mine out of my head. I recover with "as important as hers is" while remembering December 28th, but I've kind of got to pause and count on my fingers to figure out how old I actually am.
After that, Krystal calls to wish me a happy birthday, which is nice. Still, it's got me feeling stressed, so I head out to the fire escape to get a little time alone, outside of that apartment.
I'm not the only one; there's a man on the same level but a couple units over who's also out there, and just looking at him, I feel kind of like we've got something in common. "Hey," I say, "you look like you wish you smoked too."
He's confused. "What?"
"You know, how in movies, people will take a break to do that but what they really want is to get away from their family for a moment, or other stuff that they're not supposed to want to get away from?"
"And meanwhile we look stupid doing that, especially since we apparently both forgot our phones?"
"Exactly!" We both laugh, and I extend a hand despite it being way too far to shake. "Hi; I'm Krystle."
"I know. You've, um, grown up, but I recognize you." He leans over the rail and extends his hand too, and between doing that and the way he says "grown up", he winds up paying some more attention to my chest, making me want to zip my hoodie up without being too obvious about it while also noting that he's actually been staring less than most guys do.
Still, I groan, though it probably sounds more embarrassed to him than me hating that I've walked into this when I was trying to escape people acting like we had history. "I'm sorry! I don't remember your name!"
"It's okay; my mom left my father when I was thirteen and we weren't exactly running with the same people at school back then. I'm Gabe. Uh, Gabriel."
I give him a good look, hoping he'll think I'm trying to remember him when I'm really just scoping him out for the first time. He's a bit taller than me, wears glasses, has short natural hair and a beard. He's wearing short sleeves and from what I can see of his arms, he doesn't spend a whole lot of time in the gym trying to get bulked up. There's a company name on his t-shirt I don't recognize. Seems pretty harmless. "Okay. Yeah, Gabriel."
He smiles a big toothy grin. "You don't recognize me at all, do you?"
"No... I'm sorry!" I hate the way I draw out the "no" and how my voice kind of tends to squeal when I apologize; it started out as me imitating how I thought girls sounded and it stuck.
"That's okay; Mom moved us back to Georgia and I never got closer to here than New York since, but that's as close as anyone else was when the Covid got him, so it wound up being on me to make arrangements and go through his things."
"Oh no! I--"
"Don't apologize; you didn't have anything to do with it and if you're lucky the most you ever knew him was saying hi in the elevator. He wasn't exactly a great guy."
"Yeah. Anyway, don't wanna go back in there, can't really go that many other places, so here I am."
"Here you are."
We stood in silence for a while before he asked about me, and I told him about Moira and how I've been furloughed for six months and was starting to look for other jobs in case The Changeling never came back all the way, but didn't really want to because even though it was just waitressing it was also my best friends. "But I can't do it forever. I turned 28 today, have a 3-year-old girl, and still live with, y'know, my mother."
Fortunately, he picked up on the "today" bit. "It's your birthday? Congratulations! What's the best place to get some nice baked goods and sit six feet apart?"
"Whoa! That's, uh--"
"Krystle, I buried my father two days ago, there's a pandemic, and this is the closest thing I've had to fun since I got here. Let me buy you a cupcake."
I started trying to come up with some sort of polite reply, but was saved when he heard his phone ring inside. "Gotta get that. But it was nice to see you again."
I went inside to see that Momma Kamen was still on the couch, watching some CBS crime show. "I hear that Gabriel boy has a nice job in Manhattan."
"How would you-- It's not like that! His father just died and he clearly just wanted someone to talk to."
"Uh-huh. Still, happy birthday to you!"
Just what I need - Krystle's mom trying to fix me up with someone from so far back in Krystle's life that she's probably forgotten him herself.