Our biggest problem is that we are two grown men using the same bath towel. After a week of daily use, the towel takes on a combative odor that I refer to as “stank.”
“There’s stank on the towel again,” I tell Joseph. He lies unresponsive on his belly and stares at the TV, kicking his butt with his legs. There’s nothing you can do about anything when Joseph’s kicking his own butt. So I wash the towel with dish soap in the kitchen sink, like an adult. It’s a temporary fix in a world we have pieced together with duct tape, spit, and the scraps of meat that the butcher throws to us like we’re bears in a zoo.
Our second biggest problem is that we’re both named Joseph. At first, it may not seem like that big of a problem, because who isn’t named Joseph? But for us, having the same name has created a crisis, because we’re also physically identical. It’s why I fell in love with him, but also possibly why I have fallen out of love with him. For that brief period of time when I was head-over-heels, there was nothing like looking into his/my own eyes while gently stroking his/my own hair—he was a man who just happened to be someone different than me, but was physically exactly the same.
After we met, we started to have sex every day. It was a strange transition, going from masturbating myself, to masturbating someone who was identical to me. Sex for us was never the reward of some expensive or thoughtful date. It was a natural, common sense solution: we had the same urges at the same time, so we acted on them.
“Do you want to come over and fuck?” I’d phone.
“That’s a silly question,” he’d say.
Sex with him was like fucking a mirror except he was softer and warmer, and he moaned and cursed more than any mirror I’ve ever pressed myself up against. After months of this pleasure, we decided to move into the same apartment.
Our neighbors still think that just one person lives in our apartment, because they can’t tell us apart. When I run into neighbors in the hall, they talk to me, thinking that I am him. I’ve become accustomed to nodding my head, no matter the degree of conversational confusion, usually transferring the vague message back to Joseph when I see him later, just so that we’re both on the same page. Joseph has never bothered to do the same. Life in this building is an overwrought game of telephone, but no one ever says anything interesting.
Joseph quit his job soon after we moved in, and I’ve never had consistent paycheck-making work. During the day, we busy ourselves with crotchet and boxed wine that we either pay for or steal from the dent and dust rack at the Quik N Liquor. When you crochet and drink boxed wine all day, you don’t have to think about communicating with yourself, or anyone else. You simply sip, loop, and weave. But the rest of the time, we’re embroiled in our devastating identity crisis, and that’s how I know that I’ve fallen out of love with him. I don’t want to be him anymore. Right now the most important thing in my life is the sip, the loop, and the weave. It’s not Joseph.
I’ve thought about divorcing Joseph, even though we never got married; we couldn’t, on account of our matching penises. When you divorce someone, you must have the balls to say, “I want a divorce!” It’s a common phrase, one even practiced in schoolyards where kids play house. But when you want to stop being the same person as someone, the verbiage is more complex, less practiced: “I want to stop being you!” But something about that hurts, feels worse than putting that stank towel to your dripping face on the seventh day.
Recently I got out of the bath, dripping wet. I looked to the towel. We had had warm, damp weather for a week. I grabbed the ragged thing from the rack and moved it toward my face, but the stank hit me like a load of jock straps in a crowded locker room hamper.
“Joseph,” I yelled. “There’s fucking stank on the towel.” I dripped and waited. No response. “I want to stop being you!” I yelled. From the next room, I could hear the sound of his feet, slapping against his own butt.
All rights reserved to Jason Zabel.
Illustration by Jarad Jensen.