Virtue Signals

by | Jun 7, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Seven

I don’t remember at which rally I met Brad. He always went to them alone, wearing the brightest pink pussyhat and a tight “Future is Female” t-shirt. He was fit but awkward and a women’s rights superfan. Sometimes, I caught him talking to himself.

He eventually found out I was newly single and asked me out. I said yes because he was hot and because I needed a distraction from my Jason situation.

I arrived at the bar, and Brad was already nursing a cocktail. He smiled when he noticed me checking him out. The conversation was easy until he asked about my ex-boyfriend Jason. I tried to change the subject.

“No, let’s talk about it,” he said. “Did Jason exhibit signs of toxic masculinity?”

“No,” I said. “What’s the opposite of toxic masculinity?”

Brad shrugged.

“He wanted me to move in with him, and I was against it,” I explained. “But I moved in anyway, and it was terrible.”

“Ah, you’ve been through some trauma then,” said Brad, twisting the lime in his mouth and almost choking.

“Not sure about ‘trauma.’ I just knew if I stayed at his place, we’d end up talking marriage. I felt suffocated by mundanity. So, I left.”

“Well. Mundanity can be toxic too. Toxic mundanity.”

“Sure, I guess,” I said, wishing the conversation hadn’t ended up about Jason. “So, what do you do?”

“Me? I’m a social media guru.”

“Oh?” I said, trying not to let that ruin his sexual appeal.

“Yeah, I write posts that represent the moral compass of brands. Like, Taco Bell.”

“And what is the moral compass of Taco Bell?” I joked.

Brad went on for ten minutes, and I regretted asking. Still, it was refreshing to see someone so passionate about his job. About anything. Jason was such a wet blanket. A snooze.

“I guess Live Más is a progressive ideology when you put it like that,” I said, playing with my hair, hoping my flirty vibes would break through this Taco Bell talk.

Brad got the message and ordered more cocktails. His eccentricities faded away the more I drank. I figured if I could stay drunk, I could get laid without feeling bad.

We ended up at his big apartment, where he had floor-to-ceiling artwork from around the world and furniture that wasn’t from Ikea. A “social media guru” could not afford this place. His parents must have been wealthy.

I sat on his plush couch and couldn’t look away from the large painting of little African kids playing in a field. It was stunning.

“I love African art. Don’t you?” he said.

“This painting is lovely. Kind of melancholy too.”

“Yeah. I have art from all over the world on these walls. I’m super diverse that way.”

He came at me with another cocktail, jittery, eyes wide. His passionate nerd mask seemed in danger of slipping off. Who was underneath?

“How is it?” he said.

“I haven’t taken a sip yet.”

“Oh, sorry.”

He sat next to me as we drank our cocktails. The entirety of world art surrounded us, waiting for his next move. He was about to say something, thought better of it, and had another sip, steeling himself.

“Yeah…I wish dudes like me had a tribe.” He finally said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, that painting you like. The little African boys. Sure, they look super sad. ‘Melancholy’ like you said. But at least they’re part of something.”

“Huh,” I replied, non-committal.

“I mean, look at the facts!” he said, standing. “Cause right now, the facts don’t stack up in my favor.”

“What facts?”

He seemed uncomfortable replying to my face and headed to the kitchen. “Being a straight white guy sucks!” he cried out.

I almost spit out my cocktail.

“God, I wish I was gay!” said his newly disembodied voice. “I’m not even bi! Lord knows I tried! I’m not Black or Latinx or Asian. So, I can’t join any of those groups. It’s pathetic. I have no tribe! Couldn’t I have been a little Asian? Y’know? Why couldn’t I have been a little bit Asian?”

“Hey, you know, it’s kind of late,” I said, eyeing the door. “Maybe I should go.”

Brad returned to the living room with a Taco Bell to-go box.

“Aw, don’t go. I was just about to share something special!” He opened the box dramatically. “Mexican pizza.”

I remained frozen on the couch.

“I know, it’s shocking.” He said. “But I have a connect. It’s coming back on the menu.”

I stared at his “Future is Female” shirt. It was a different color. Did he somehow change into a new one?

“I have several of these shirts if that’s what you’re wondering. Oh! And you’ll love this….” He hiked up his pants to reveal knitted socks that read “Fuck the Male Gaze.” He smiled a toothy grin, desperate for me to be impressed. I had no idea how to react, and he seemed disappointed I didn’t blow him on the spot. He sat down and ate his Mexican pizza as if I weren’t there.

“Isn’t Mexican pizza cultural appropriation?” I joked. I shouldn’t have.

“Oh God, no.” He replied, eating faster as if someone would take it from him. “It can’t be cultural appropriation,” he cried. “I know both Italians and Mexicans who love it!” He sobbed between bites of ground beef.

He noticed my confused face and admitted to suffering from anxiety and depression all his life. “I remember making a snow angel when I was eight,” he said. “Flat on my back, and I couldn’t get up. I physically couldn’t move because of my depression…Sometimes I think I should advertise my mental illness more. Tell everyone I know. Post it on social media. Maybe mental illness could be my tribe?” He looked at me sadly, then back at his defiled pizza. “I mean. Shouldn’t my trauma count too?”

I moved back in with Jason, and we’re getting married in the spring.

Pin It on Pinterest