'Things I Wish I Could Change' by James Hannan
I am sitting quietly alone in my room, not hurting anyone, when my flatmate turns his music on. Loud, too, so there’s no mistaking it, and no missing out on any of the lyrics.
It’s obvious what he’s trying to do.
I’ve lived with Chris in his long, cramped terrace, that his parents bought him, for two months now and I’m trapped. Every time I leave my room to get to any other part of the house, he busts into the hallway because he wants to ‘talk’.
I used to like Belle and Sebastian—what Chris is playing. My last Tinder date said they were twee, which I totally get but that’s just how they sing. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s obvious there’s much more to their music.
Brandon liked Belle and Sebastian. One of the few happy memories I have of him is listening to their music together. Him shimmying in his seat, his right hand clicking, trying to stand up and get his left side moving in time with the music. He liked one song in particular, There’s too much love, because of one line, which he screamed. Something about causing offence by the way he looked.
When I interviewed to live in Chris’s house, one of the first things he announced was him liking Belle and Sebastian. I blurted out I did too. It was a nervous on-the-spot reaction. I should have been more reticent, but after looking around Chris’s amazing inner-city Sydney terrace, and noticing Chris as well—young, fit, good looking, with long straight brown hair—I wanted to impress.
I mean, I corrected myself, telling him I liked Radiohead too, and was a huge fan, and went on to say I was into Wilco, PJ Harvey, even the White Stripes, but I guess he’s forgotten about them.
I don’t mind Chris. And it doesn’t bother me, him liking me either, or walking around the house in his underwear, or leaving his door open when he’s in bed and asking me to come in to chat, or him getting very drunk and wanting to know about my sexual fantasies. I could ignore all of that, I might even get into it if only he didn’t ask me about my past relationships.
Brandon never asked questions like this. He was disabled, but you can’t say that. You have to say, living with a disability. Brandon never called himself disabled, living with a disability, or anything like that, except from time to time saying he was spastic. I’d tell him to stop, but he didn’t care, ‘I’m a fucking spastic, a complete and utter retard. Deal with it, numpty!’ he’d say.
You never know why you’ll like someone, but I liked Brandon. Seeing him not give a fuck how he appeared, how people thought of him, I fell in love. When people looked down their noses as he struggled to hold things in both hands, he’d dial it up, dropping whatever he had a precarious grasp on, playing up his left hand not functioning. When people talked in a slow condescending manner, he’d return serve, slurring his words out the left side of his mouth, even going so far as to dribble.
I remember the time this made me giggle, which made him piss himself with laughter, and then we stood back looking at his interrogator, as Brandon liked to call them—the last guy fat and ugly, with a massive red nose, which only got redder the more we laughed—who reeled in bemusement.
I knew most things Brandon did were a performance. My mistake, I guess, was wanting to know more, asking him about it until he’d give me that look, like can you fuck off already.
To study Chris’s face, it’s obvious he feels too much. For someone who looks like him, and has everything going for him, with his super-rich doctor parents, it’s fucked up how much things affect him, leading to his getting wasted, sliding up next to me, a mess, on the couch.
‘It’s about my father,’ he’ll say. ‘But it’s about my mother really. I was happy, but that was like ages ago, before my counsellor, you know. She so opened my eyes about how my mild anxiety was because my too-invested-in-their-careers-to-care parents never really gave a shit. Not through my childhood, not when I was coming out, you know, like one of the most important days of my life, and not now. They just think if they throw enough money at me and my “issues” everything will be fine.
‘But get this, the most fucked up thing was the counsellor trying to normalise all this. She actually said none of this was in any way special. Apparently, this sort of thing happens all the time, you know, like to lots of people. Can you fucking believe that?’
Two weeks ago Chris asked me into his bedroom. He had a massive spliff which he lit as I came out of my room, blowing smoke out his door and into my face. It tasted good, and even though I knew what he was up to, I couldn’t resist. About half an hour or so into it, when we were very high, he started giggling, jumping around the room in his short cut-off jeans and bright yellow top he got from a thrift shop (he could buy any clothes he wants but insists on buying everything second-hand).
He got into bed and said, ‘Guess what piece of clothing I’m going to remove?’ squirming under the covers.
‘Don’t,’ I said, ‘I can’t handle it.’
‘No, come on, come on, guess!’
‘Chris, don’t, I’m way too stoned and way too old for this.’