This story was written for Alexandra Erin’s Gender-Free Story Contest and originally posted on my friend’s tumblr, since I hadn’t set this Medium account up yet. (p.s. I won the contest so that’s super cool)
I based this story off a mental exercise I came up with when discussing something on reddit, and I use it to illustrate why characters of color/with disabilities/who are female/who are queer need to be highlighted in storytelling. It was a natural jumping-off point for a gender-neutral story, since by nature the thought exercise is devoid of any descriptive factors. The exercise is at the bottom of the story, if you want to steal it and use it in your conversations. Enjoy!
Woo! Pie day!
My honey and I are doing our relationship right. The nearby diner has free pie with an entree on Mondays, so we make the first Monday of every month a Pie Date. On this particular blustery October Monday, we got in the car and I drove us to the slop shop.
It’s not a very long drive, and Sam’s usually pretty talkative, so after an entire minute where we said nothing at all to each other, I felt a little nervous. When we rolled up to the next stoplight, I stole a glance and saw a serene, graceful smile alighting Sam’s face.
“What’re you smiling about?” I asked, a grin sneaking its way onto my face.
“Yes, something. C’mon, you’re usually a chatterbox. It’s pie day! What kind of pie do you think they have?” I prodded, trying to get at least a little small talk going.
“I hope it’s French silk. It’s a chocolate kind of day.”
I waited, but nothing else came forth. “And? Why is it a chocolate day?” I punched the gas as the light turned green, taking us one step closer to our delicious Pie Date. “You’re making me a little nervous, y’know?“
“You remember what Wednesday is, right?” Sam asked, quietly.
I combed my memory. Early October, milestones…right. Backing off a little, I answered, “Yeah, of course. The anniversary of your…y’know. You spoke with your therapist about it last week, right?”
“Of course. I was just thinking about the conversation we had. We went over the goals I’d set for myself, when I first started treatment, and we realized I’d hit almost all of them.” Sam sighed, turning away to face the window.
I relaxed a bit. This isn’t the easiest subject to discuss — there be danger here, emotional land mines and all that jazz. It’s so hard for me to tell what’s going to set something off, or cause a setback, and of course the last thing I want to do is add another layer to the trauma cake. But talking about progress is usually easier — Sam’s proud of that, and rightly so.
“So what’s left, then? Why almost?” I inquired, taking the left turn into the parking lot. “Find me a spot.“
“Uh…there, second row. Almost because I still have a goal to meet. Clearly.” I could nearly hear Sam’s eyes roll as I swung into the parking space.
“Clearly. So tell me more! You know I like hearing your thoughts, and I love hearing how you’re doing with the emotional bidness.” I turned the car off and pulled the key out, shoving it in my pocket. We got out, the smell of greasy onions and fresh-baked pie wafting on the breeze. Sam surprised me as I was taking in the glorious scent of Pie Date, encasing me in a huge hug.
“Hey, what’s this?” I asked, wrapping my arms around Sam’s waist to return the hug. The hug spoke volumes, surrounding me with love and pleading and desire as Sam held me tightly.
“Nothing, like I said before. I’ll let you know when I’ve worked it out, okay? How about you tell me all about your day.” After one last squeeze, Sam released me and entwined fingers with me, almost dragging me towards the front door.
So I let it drop. I talked about my early-morning meeting, about the grant I was trying to write, about my coworkers. They’d been talking about the IT head’s new baby, and how they were worried about keeping the baby away from the sword collection all over the floor and the live grenades — y’know, standard office talk. That got a genuine laugh out of Sam, at least.
We headed over to the host stand and got a table, then waited for our server. This diner has been a staple for us since early in our relationship, and we almost always order the same things: a chicken pot pie for me and something with fish for Sam. Hey, it’s our Pie Date; I want double pie. After a cursory glance at the menu to see that nothing substantial had changed, we put them down and started playing football with the sugar packets — which was ever so dignifying when the teenaged server came up to take the orders of two grown-ass adults playing Sugar Packet Football.
I fluster very easily, so Sam ordered for both of us while I struggled to regain the power of speech. As soon as the server walked off, Sam got up and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I’m gonna run to the bathroom” was the explanation given, leaving me alone at the table with a beet-red face and the absolute certainty that everyone else in the restaurant was making fun of us. I planted myself firmly in my smartphone, opening Neko Atsume and taking pictures of the kitties.
It wasn’t until I’d finished with the cats and refreshed Facebook a third time that I realized Sam was taking entirely too long. When I looked up, I did spot my honey finally returning — from the kitchen. I shot up a single eyebrow as Sam slid back into the seat.
“The bathroom, eh?” I asked to begin my interrogation. “I didn’t think they were allowed to put bathrooms in the kitchen.“
“Oh, yes, they have a special permit. It’s a little hole in the ground, right under the sink — efficiency, you know.”
“Efficiency. Yes. Of course,” I replied in my driest of dry humor voices. “What were you doing in the kitchen, for reals, then?“
“Hey, before I tell you that, you tell me the story of how we met,” Sam shot back, planting elbows on the table and plopping that magnificent chin into upturned hands. We locked eyes. “Start from the very beginning. I like the way you tell it.“
“It’s not polite to put your elbows on the dinner table.”
“Your parents aren’t here and I know you don’t actually care. C’mon, tell me a story.”
I sighed, settling back into my chair. “You were standing at the back of the synagogue, at Rosh Hashana, looking like a lost little Labrador puppy. Which was basically how I felt, so I asked if you wanted to sit together for the service. Then, as you tell it -“
”- I fell in love with your singing voice, and your depth of spirit. It was like I could see angels on either side of you, harmonizing and bringing us all a little closer to God,“ Sam cut in.
“Do you want me to tell the story or not?” I asked, pretending to be miffed. I’m like my fictional cats, the way I accept compliments.
“Not,” Sam replied, head turning toward the server bringing us our food. “I wanna eat. Salmon for the win.“ We thanked our server and dove into our meals — or, at least, I did. Sam watched me with a curious look.
“Yuh gun’ eah?” I asked with my mouth half full of warm, mushy pie. Sam’s fish remained untouched, and I swallowed. “It’s getting cold, and cold fish is disgusting. Really, most fish is disgusting, but you’re weird like that.“
“And you love me for it.”
I smiled. “I do love you for it. I love little-lost-Labrador Sam, I love fish-eating Sam, I love Sam who knows all my ticklish spots, I love Sam who watches too much anime. I love Sam who insists that we keep a kosher household and Sam who will still kiss me after I’ve eaten a chicken pot pie for our Pie Date despite that.“ At this, I went to grab another massive bite of chicken pot pie, only to pause when my fork hit something that clinked.
“Pie should not go clink,” I stated. Sam didn’t laugh, but stared determinedly at the untouched salmon dinner. I reached my foot out to tap Sam’s. “Clinky pie, Sam? You there?“ I dug around in the pie with my fork to find the clink sound again and pulled up a gold band.
“H’oh, shit, someone’s gonna be missing this,” I breathed, carefully placing it on a spare napkin and giving it a cursory wipe. “If they’ve got a bathroom under that sink in there, losing wedding bands in pies must be standard practice,“ I joked. Not even a chuckle from the other side of the table. I reached a hand out for my honey. “Love? What’s up?”
“It’s not a wedding band, it’s an engagement band. It’s yours. If you want it.” Sam finally looked up and met my eyes. “If you want to marry me.“
Stunned, I sat back, withdrawing my hand. “Marriage? You?” I managed to squeak, as the shock ran its course through my body.
“My therapist…well, for the past couple of sessions we were talking about commitment and intimacy. My last hurdle. When we spoke about why someone gets married, it was all about trust — which, you know, is something I’ve had issues with since my…since I was assaulted. And we talked about what it would take to trust someone, and what sort of things you can trust another person with, and we kind of exhausted the topic and I realized I’d listed you for everything.
“I trust you. I love you. You are my most intimate partner. I believe that there will never be another person in this world who I trust as much as you, so I want…I want to trust you with my soul. Will you marry me, J?” Sam picked up the ring off my napkin, grimacing a bit at the half-wiped chicken pot pie. “This was a stupid idea, now your ring’s all gross.“ Plucking another spare napkin from the holder, Sam dipped it into a water glass to start really cleaning. I reached across the table, placing my hand on top of Sam’s trembling one.
“Yes, yes, yes a thousand times. I’m so happy to hear you say — Sam, I will commit to you. Thank you so much. Wow.” I reached out my other hand to lift my honey’s face up, to meet my eyes again. “Now if that’s really my ring, you should put it on me. And we need to get something for you.“
Sam gave the ring a last wipe and, eyes brimming with tears, slipped it on my finger. I could feel my tears welling up as well, and I grabbed another spare napkin. “Don’t want to add too much salt to your fish,” I choked out as I wiped Sam’s eyes, then mine. Not that it did much — we were too happy. Even when the server came back to find two grown-ass adults bawling in the middle of a restaurant, we couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until the manager came out to make sure we were okay that we calmed down enough to finish our meals, then order our pies.
The manager was kind enough to give us our meals on the house, after hearing our story. I’m gonna ask Sam if we can have wedding pies. I think I’ll get a yes, too.
— — –
A couple walks into a restaurant and is seated by the host. The server comes up and takes their order to the chef, who cooks the meal, and the server brings it back to the couple. At the end of the meal, the couple goes up to the cashier and pays.
Who in your scenario was white? Who in your scenario was male? Who in your scenario was heterosexual? Who was cisgendered? Who was able-bodied? (If you think “just you” isn’t a big enough sample size, go read this to your friends and family.)