I remember the moment I discovered my roommate Emma’s discreet way of saying “yes, please”, for whenever she was too timid to actually say it. It happened when her partner, Oliver, was visiting us in Hartford from Massachusetts. I knew Oliver the way you know your best friend’s partner, which is just well enough. I greeted them with a hug when they arrived and we all began to settle in, the three of us sitting together in our common area. From across the table, I could see an epinephrine pen poking its signature orange nose out of Oliver’s bag. I asked about it, curious to know what to be wary of during their stay.
“Peanuts.” Oliver explained. “My throat swells up and starts to close. It’s so bad, I can smell when there are peanuts in the room.”
I pressed my lips together and nodded, acknowledging the severity. “I’ll keep my eyes out for peanuts tonight.”
Later on, Emma and I had some friends over for more or less a party. I can’t remember exactly who was there — they were more Emma’s friends than they were mine, but I still enjoyed them, still waved when I saw them walking around on campus.
Eventually, we got around to doing what twenty year olds are apt to do when the week is over. There was a considerable amount of smoking and drinking, and when I had worked up that cross-faded appetite, I wobbled into the kitchen and decided to whip up something easy. Something quick. Something Filling. Huh. Peanut butter sandwich? Yeah.
I slapped some crunchy Jif onto two soft wheat slices, and I didn’t bother with a plate or with slicing the bread into neat triangles, the way I might like it during the day. It was evening now, and my fear of missing out was persistent, even just in this room adjacent to all the action.
I finished up in the kitchen and went back into our room. As soon as I crossed the threshold, I noticed Oliver staring at me.
“What is that?” They nodded towards my sandwich.
I laughed, still unaware. “I’m baked, I just went and made myself a sandwich.”
Promptly, “What kind of sandwich?”
And at that moment, I realized I had failed my simple duty to Oliver. I froze up, unsure of what to do next. I looked to Emma, her hand placed gingerly upon Oliver’s shoulder.
“Should I go eat this in the other room?” I was concerned, but still inebriated, so maybe not as concerned as I should have been.
Emma just closed her eyes, lifted her shoulders, and smirked the smallest smile. “I don’t know. It’s up to you.”
Well, I didn’t want it to be up to me! I didn’t want that much control over the situation, and I don’t think Emma did, either. But her shrug, the way she closed her eyes so you couldn’t see how she was feeling, asserted itself with all the power of a “Yes, please.”
After that, I began longing to exist with the same intricacies that I observed in others. I wondered if I had any of my own ways of saying “yes, please”, a secret language of my own. Did I have tics that let others read into how I was feeling, how I was really feeling? Are we all intricate and careful like that, with little surprises to collect, some common, some rare, or do some of us just…not go that deep?
I felt like I had discovered something huge.
A few weeks later, Emma and I were at another party. Not our own this time. We were hunched over against the legs of a table, pouring rum and coke into cups we borrowed from the hostess. Buzzed, I felt confident enough to confide in her my profound discovery of her secret, her subtle way of saying, “yes, please”. In response, she threw her head back to laugh, covered her eyes with her hand.
“Am I really that easy to read?”
Sam Nikitas (they/them) is a New England based photographer, writer, and student of English with a concentration in secondary education. Social Media: @slammyadamz
Photo by Jon Eric Marababol.