How it Ends

I begin to realize my relationship is over when my boyfriend starts cleaning his gun in our apartment. It’s his apartment, really. He owns it, if you can call taking out a huge mortgage with zero down “owning it” at all. I pay him rent. I helped pick out the sofa. He knows I hate guns, that they scare me. He sets out a TV tray and lays down a cloth and some tools, and he gets to work.

He’s started talking a lot about how he wishes he could’ve enlisted, if health problems hadn’t kept him away. He plugs in the surround sound and we watch Saving Private Ryan, me balled up on a corner of the sofa, hands covering my ears as the bullets fly from the speakers behind us. Sometimes, he lies on the floor of our bedroom and tries to imagine his future, and I can just see the clouds gathering on the horizon.

“Maybe I’ll redecorate the bathroom in wrought iron,” he says one day from the floor.

We decorated that bathroom together, I remind him. Don’t you like it? He nods, from very far away.

We met my senior year of high school. I’d turned 18 a few months before. He was 26. Feeling in love, valid, chosen for the first time and ready to escape my parents’ home, I made my life his. Three years later, we’re living together in his hometown, hanging out with his friends. I work full time and attend community college some nights. We get a dog. My boyfriend rips me DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I watch Angel, Buffy’s 270 year-old boyfriend, leave during her senior year of high school. I watch her fend off the end of the world as her own world is ending and think:

I can’t imagine. I don’t want to imagine. I can never lose him.

And then, of course, I do. Sitting together on that sofa we picked out, I weep as he tells me words that don’t matter, as he gets up to leave. Numbly, I open my phone and text some friends to come help me pack up my things. He is 29. I am three days shy of my 21st birthday.

Sometimes now, decades later, with that old boyfriend nearly forgotten, when I feel too much of life, or when I can’t feel it at all, I put on a scary movie, turn on the good speakers, and let it tear its way through me. In all my favorites, someone’s world is ending, far more dramatically than mine ever has. Some nights, I watch the Tethered come for Adelaide in Us. On long, hot smoky days in August, I turn on Midsommar, watching Dani’s face as she struggles, moment by moment, to choke down the raw carcass of her grief. When I want a family who stays together with all they’ve got, I turn on A Quiet Place. When I’m ready for a screaming gash of red desert and Charlize Theron’s desperate determination, I put on Fury Road.

I just love a good apocalypse.

***

When I first sit down to write about these movies, about the stories I return to again and again, I write about all the wrong things. I write about the times I can’t get off the sofa. I write about the suffocation of Red Flag weather in August. I write about desiccation, about the way things sour with entropy and drought.

But these stories aren’t stagnant. In fact, they’re not about endings at all.

At the beginning of 10 Cloverfield Lane, we watch a woman hurriedly pack her suitcase. She’s stressed, fumbling. As she dashes out the door, she pauses to drop her engagement ring onto the dresser. Soon she’ll be on the Interstate, distracted by texts and voicemails from the man she left behind, and a collision with a pick-up truck will send her spinning. She’ll awaken chained to the wall in a half-painted cinderblock room, and that’s where her story really starts.

This past August, I caught Covid. First time. Recovery is still rough. Nearly two months after my first positive test, there are days when I’m not so much tired as empty, when every interaction feels like sleepwalking. I spend my bad days moving between my bed, my sofa and my desk, willing myself to work, to eat, to load the dishwasher. Some days, when I sit down to write, every thought requires a sort of surfacing from deep water, like sending messages to a submarine. Words are needed. Do you copy? Over.

It’s on one of those days, when I’m willing myself out of bed to feed my dog Milo or answer an email or get a drink of water, that I realize what it is that keeps me queueing up these movies. They’re not really apocalypse stories at all. They’re stories of change. Of new beginnings. Because the people in them just keep going.

When she wakes up in that cell, Michelle immediately starts moving, knocking over her makeshift IV pole to fish for the cracked cell phone sitting just out of reach. When Adelaide first sees the Tethered in her driveway in Us, she draws her son to her, tells her daughter to put on her shoes. In A Quiet Place, a year after losing her youngest child to alien invaders, Evelyn labors silently in a bathtub, ready to risk everything, all over again. In Fury Road, with a family of warlords hot on her trail, Furiosa keeps her foot on the gas, moving herself and her charges forward at all costs. Faced with the unspeakable, these women have a choice to make: give up, or keep moving. And somehow they do it. They get back up, and they keep stumbling forward.

Maybe it’s not a choice at all.

***

When I’m turning 21 and the man at the center of my universe implodes it, I weep for a week on a friend’s sofa. Then I get a second job and start making plans to move to the city I dreamed about before I met him. I’m angry, but I don’t yet have the right words, the right perspective, for my anger. I don’t yet have words for you were too old. I was too young. This wasn’t right. But I keep moving forward. I have to.

After that break up, there will be so many times in my life when I just have to keep going. The horrible, numb decade I spend in the closet, a decade where I can’t see past the enormity of my own isolation. Other break-ups, other months when I can’t get off the sofa. The year my dog Cyrus is dying, and I care for him around the clock. Those first pandemic years, when I think I might never share space with my loved ones again. There will always be hardships and endings and changes.

Sitting on that sofa we picked out together, watching the DVDs my boyfriend made me, decades before I would first see any of my favorite scary movies, this was the real lesson Buffy tried to teach me. It wasn’t about Angel at all. It would just be years before I could fully understand it.

The apocalypse will come, and it will come again. The world will change. You’ll take a beat.

And you’ll keep going.


Horror Is So Gay is a series on queer and trans horror edited by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya running throughout October.


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Darcy

Darcy, a.k.a. Queer Girl, is your number one fan. She's a fat feminist from California who doodles hearts in the corners of her Gay Agenda. They're living through a pandemic, they're on Twitter, and they think you should drink more water! She also wants to make you laugh.

Darcy has written 332 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. I really like this essay in general, and I relate a lot in terms of being a horror fan who had a shitty life and there probably being some kind of connection between the two. I think you have a really good point about horror portraying the end of someone’s normal life often being more like the beginning of the story of how they attempt to keep going despite everything, and I definitely relate to that. But also, I feel like comparing an early young adult dating a late young adult to an early young adult dating a centuries-old vampire, or saying it’s inherently wrong, is a little much? Or am I misinterpreting?

    • Thank you so much for reading! Yes, I am comparing them, because centuries-old vampires don’t exist, and Angel was clearly a metaphor for an older man dating a high school girl.

      The inherent harm in the power dynamics of a car-renting, tax-paying, 26 year-old adult dating someone who is still in high school are very clear to me in hindsight. It’s not really open for debate.

      • I want to contextualize what I said, because in trying to be brief about it I think some of my meaning was lost and I sounded like a much shittier person, but I also want to respect your request not to turn this into a debate. I don’t think that what I have to say would really be debating, but I’m not very good with these things, so… please delete this if you’d rather it not be here, and I’m sorry if I made the wrong call. I thought it over for a few days and this is the best I can do.

        Context: I am an adult with some really bad developmental issues. A lot of it is from autism and I don’t really want to get into the rest. I don’t want to give a ton of identifying details, but if I understand the timeline of events, I’m somewhere between your ex-boyfriend’s age then and your age now. I’m monogamously dating someone almost exactly my age with similar disabilities, and I wouldn’t be interested in dating anyone significantly younger anyway. I am older than 26, but I will probably never be able to drive a car or earn enough money to pay taxes. Sometimes I’m okay with myself anyway, but not always. I know you didn’t know you were talking to someone with this kind of disability, and I don’t really think you did anything worth blaming you for (you probably just thought I was defending shitty boyfriends), but it hurt a lot to read your response and see an age younger than mine being equated with a level of ability I’ll never realistically achieve.

        I think about the ethics of age gaps and developmental gaps in relationships somewhat often. Mostly it’s because of my disabilities – if I dated someone my own age who didn’t have similar problems, there would be a pretty big gap in a lot of areas – a lot of what you’re talking about with your first relationship feels really similar to things I went through in my early experiences with dating with people who were about the same age but developmentally average, and the ability gap between me and a neurotypical person the same age has only gotten bigger over time. But I don’t think it would be wrong for a neurotypical person my age to want to date me. I think it would actually feel dehumanizing if they did think it was wrong? I know that having developmental delays isn’t the same as being younger, and that a developmental gap isn’t the same as an age gap, but I’m not really sure what I should take away from these feelings, especially because people talk about age gaps like the problem is developmental gaps. Are the traits that don’t have applicability the ones that matter most? How does someone’s potential to grow change the scenario, and how can that be navigated without treating people with more potential to grow like they’re more valuable than people with less potential to grow?

        (See also: my family contains a couple with a very large age gap and they’re terrible for each other but… kind of in the opposite way you’d predict if you just knew which one was younger, my high school social circle involved two girls whose lives became much worse when they were forcibly separated from their older boyfriends, and (last but most stupid) the online spaces I usually frequent can’t stop debating whether it’s okay to like questionable relationships in like fanfiction and shit and can’t stop inserting that debate into absolutely everything so it’s not like I get to stop thinking about related topics unless I want to give up my hobby altogether.)

        So I have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. To be clear, I don’t think what your ex-boyfriend did was okay. It sounds like there was a huge developmental gap in addition to the age gap (not to imply that you have a disability or that you don’t, just that he’d experienced “adult life” and you hadn’t). I do think that there are various levels of self-sufficiency at both of these ages, and that the kind of thing I didn’t want to condemn would be like when both parties are worldly or both parties are sheltered or the younger party actually is more independent, not when a really worldly older person dates a really sheltered younger person or that sort of thing. It’s probably worked out for some people, but there’s enough potential for it to go wrong that I can understand judging the older party for being willing to take that chance with the younger party’s wellbeing? So please don’t think I’m on Team Your Ex or anything, that guy doesn’t seem like he gave a fuck about anyone’s wellbeing but his own.

        Finally, w/r/t vampires: yes, they are not real, and yes, obviously impossible ages in fantasy are often intended to be read nonliterally, I get that. But enough very literal and specific human age numbers were being discussed that it felt weird to draw a parallel with impossible and specific vampire age numbers? 26 isn’t the top of the food chain in terms of age-based power dynamics, and… I think I’m not quite explaining it correctly, but I’m really tired and I can’t express it any better. Hopefully it makes sense anyway?

        So yeah. I’m genuinely sorry if this response was unwanted.

        • hi alex! thanks for contextualizing.

          i want to note that more than any developmental gap between ages 18 and 26, my boyfriend and I had a gap in power. i hinted at that gap in the essay, but i will not be writing more explicitly about the ways in which that manifested. my reference to paying taxes and renting cars were some fairly generic references to ways in which my boyfriend held power in our adult, capitalist world that I didn’t when we met.

          there are many ways that couples can experience power differentials, but there are not really any scenarios I can imagine in which it would be acceptable for a 26 year old to date a high school student, regardless of their abilities, experiences or support needs.

          that said, i want to be clear that my essay deals with my experience. the hypothetical you describe, where two people of a similar age have differing levels of life experience, developmental gaps, or different support needs — that’s simply outside of the experience i’m writing about here.

          thanks again for engaging!

          • Thank you too, and I definitely don’t want you to disclose details about your personal life that you don’t want to, especially because I’m barely disclosing anything about my own. I think there are parts of this we’re just not going to see eye to eye about and experiences that are kind of mutually alien, but I don’t feel like I’m being looked down on for my disability or read in bad faith, and that’s really all I wanted out of this. I’m sorry that these things happened to you, and I hope your life continues to be better than it was.

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