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Richie Tozier: Talking About Nothing

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Richie Tozier leans back against a stool in the middle of a small stage, otherwise empty except for a plush carpet. Relaxed, slouchy. Her hair is a dark cloud around her head haloed in the spotlight. She’s wearing a red sweatshirt, jeans, and Keds. I know that’s important to you.

So I was talking to my girlfriend—and when I say girlfriend, I know that can be ambiguous. I mean my face is in her pussy on the regular, and we’ve gotten into arguments about the quality of my life insurance. Also on the regular!

That makes it sound like she’s going to kill me, which I would be down for. My girlfriend is great. She’s so smart, she’s incredibly thoughtful, she’s brave as hell, she’s very, very meticulous. Which is to say I just implicated her and she could still make it look like an accident. I love her! I believe in her. No lesbian bed death for us, because statistically—she’s told me this—the most dangerous room in the house is the bathroom.

Richie speaks with ill-concealed mirth right up into the mike: Slippery when wet.

That’s my girlfriend, who I love. Not a girlfriend you take out for margs and gossip like in a Hallmark movie. I kind of grimly admire the word “girlfriend.” As words go, it’s a tricky one, right? A little slippery? You don’t hear about men going out with all their boyfriends. Maybe you do if you know some very hip polyamorous fellows. But the zeitgeist isn’t there yet. Girlfriend works, though, it works as a word because it perfectly distills the experience.

I love this woman, she immeasurably improves my life, what a good friend! So lucky to have her! Oh my god her hair looks so soft I wish I could touch it. Oh my god I wish I could bury my face right in her tits. But as friends.

Just bafflement. It really externalizes the internalized homophobia. I say my girlfriend and then I gotta clarify that we fuck—it took a LONG time to clarify that in real life.

We are blessed to live in a time with a wealth of lesbian comics, a lot of women doing incredible work. Am I one of them? I won’t say. You’ve got heartwarming wife anecdotes... heartwrenching investigations of depression... everything you could want. Also very cruel pranks involving the Indigo Girls. Equally pivotal. Personally, I’m going for idiot representation. I want girls out there to look at me and think wow, I could make it as a jackass. What a fucking buffoon. That could be me.

I had a draft of this bit that went, like, and if you don’t believe me, let’s think a little longer about how long I thought I was straight. But then I thought about it a little longer! And it turns out that wasn’t stupid. Just sad. Just really absurdly sad. Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes you wake up and you think huh, guess some people are intended to never be happy, and you tell jokes based on that premise for twenty years.

Shakespeare—hey, I know Shakespeare!—he got some good chucks in with the Elizabethan meaning of the word “nothing.” It meant pussy. Much Ado About Nothing? Grade-A pussy joke. I could recite some Hamlet but I suspect that isn’t what you came here for. I wish I learned about this earlier! I spent too much time focusing on regular old nothing. That was convenient, to be fair, because I felt like I had nothing in me, all the time. Richie thumps her chest, over her breastbone. She doesn’t sound hollow.

My life for a long time was like walking a tightrope over infinite nothing. While juggling. Like a circus bear in a teeny tiny little hat. Not that kind of bear, which is a totally different area of gay culture. Picture it with me. Bear with me, if you will. The bear didn’t opt into any of this. Its paws are the wrong size, its hat is the wrong size, it shouldn’t even be on its hind legs, the circus is not where it should be, but God it’s gonna do the best it can. And then your metaphorical bear representative falls off the tightrope. Thump! Richie has been miming all of this and does, indeed, do a death drop at this juncture. A pause. She says from the floor: In my case, I fell in love.

She sits up. So I was talking to my girlfriend. She wasn’t my girlfriend at the time. We knew each other as little kids—do not awww at that. Richie gets up on her knees. We were the worst children. I had the exact same fucking vocabulary as I do now and we constantly shrieked cuss words at each other. Her name is Edith. I called her Eddie. You would think she would hate it, but that’s actually how I won her allegiance. And then I made up more nicknames and she hated all of them so much.

Eddie owned like seventeen china dolls, she kept getting them as gifts. Beautiful dolls, really delicate, realistic blinking eyes. Richie removes her glasses and realistically blinks. It’s unsettling. She hated them too. One time we took her dolls out to the woods. Imagine us. Tiny children, me coated in dirt, hair you could hide a squirrel in. I had a backpack, she had a huge purse. Doll arms poking out of the zippers. She wrapped them in newspaper, because she was that responsible a steward of these horrible little objects. We took them out to the woods and we gave them all haircuts.

It’s impossible to give a doll a heterosexual haircut! Kids don’t have the hand-eye coordination for it! Me and my girl, out in the woods, surrounded by powerful, inspiring dykes. That goes on the obvious foreshadowing list... she mimes scribbling ... establishing Derry, Maine’s first lesbian bar. Serving mocktails in plastic teacups. The mocktails were all mud, of course, but Eddie did some beautiful leaf garnishes.

Her mother hated me. Her mother would have killed me. But her mom couldn’t make it look like an accident, so I made it through just fine. And then her family moved away, and my family moved away, and I forgot about her. No memory at all for many years. Very romantic. More people should do it.

Richie stands up fully, leans back on her stool. Her back audibly crackles. Last year I had a reunion of my best friends from when I was a kid. It was not my idea. I was doing great with my balancing situation, I was juggling my heart out. I didn’t need to be reminded that some people love me for my true inner self. One audience member laughs. She points at them. Yeah! It’s fucked up, right? But I put on my collapsible tiny hat for traveling and I walked into the reunion and this beautiful woman looked at me and it knocked me on my fucking ass. Got me right in the nothing.

And so I was talking to my girlfriend, who was, at the time of this conversation, still not my girlfriend, I was talking to her for the first time in years. I’m realizing: fuck. Baby me following her around all the time and bothering her? That was not a straight activity. My intense desire to watch her destroy anything in her path, like a tiny Godzilla? Maybe a fetish. We’re talking, and she’s still so smart and so mean, and I’m understanding some things about myself with full clarity for the first time, and it turns out she’s married! To a man!

I took the emotional revelation I was having and (makes box-folding gestures) packed it right away. It became my problem. Not gonna inconvenience her with that one. None of her business. Into the nothing it goes. Maybe a couple of times in my hotel room by myself. I know! I know we thought this was where I got my shit together. I’m sorry for misleading you. Technically, that never happens.

And then the reunion got to the part where everybody almost died, which was pretty weird. I think most reunions would be better without that. I carried her out of a collapsing building and waited by her side in her hospital room, and I was so fucking scared.

I implied she would kill me earlier and now you’re like, hey, Richie, what the fuck, why is she almost dying? Why not you? And first, great question, but it was a freak accident, emphasis on freak. We didn’t enjoy it. Didn’t plan it, wouldn’t do it again. Second, when this happened my life insurance was no good. If I’m worth anything it’s because of her. She knows what she’s talking about. She works in insurance, and I work doing this, so when we argue about it? She’s right, and I’m just having fun. Which is obviously why she might murder me. Her life insurance policy was fantastic, of course. But she pulled through.

I’m waiting by her side, and I thought: I’m so lucky. We’re both alive. I care about her so, so much, and I got to turn that enormous caring, this feeling I didn’t think I could have, into action for the first time in years, and it was the worst I ever felt, and I wish I could do it forever. When she wakes up I’m gonna bring her some hospital Jell-O, ‘cause I love her.

Imagine our bear throwing its tiny hat on the ground and jumping on it. That’s me in that room next to her bed. We’re out of the fucking circus. I experienced sincerity for maybe the first time before or since. I thought: I love her, and it matters that I love her, and I’m going to tell her when she’s OK, and she can do whatever she wants with that.

This building collapsed with me and her and the rest of our friends in it, but she was the only person really hurt. Two of our friends had a beautiful romantic moment right after we got out. This whole catastrophe was basically also a singles cruise. Except one of them wasn’t even single. Like legally. She left her husband a whole thirty seconds before this reunion. None of you know how to react to that, I see. I was workshopping this, I asked her what the right audience reaction was, and she said (a pleasant and thoughtful Voice) "somber acknowledgement, like the rest of your jokes get." Now, (Richie drawls this) I don't want to come off like some kind of feminist, but let's make some noise for leaving your husband!! Yeah! Come on!

This friend is fantastic, she deserves the world. This was an incredible triumph for her. And my shitty brain was like... can we go two for two? No husbands standing. No husbands for anybody. That’s my personal lesbian agenda: no women can be married to men. Civil partnerships are allowed.

I was talking to this friend, her name is Bev. Early on she came and pried me out of the hospital and got me to shower. I was such a mess. I pretty much needed to be run through an autoclave. Eddie hates germs, she would be into it. Unfortunately the nurses wouldn’t take bribes. I said, Bev, you two are a beautiful couple. I’m so happy for you. And she just looked at me, waiting for the punchline. And I started crying, which, even as it was happening, was incredibly funny to me.

Bev hugged me and she petted my hair and she murmured sweet things into my ear. Again with the normal female friendship activities. She said, Rich, is this about Eddie? And I cried harder. And she said, you know Eddie cares about you, she’s gonna pull through, you just have to talk to her. Which in retrospect? Unwarrantedly positive advice. Absurdly optimistic. I think it was Bev’s code for “you two are stupid for each other and we can all see.” I was not listening very hard to Bev. I said (loud sobbing) I’m GONNA. I LOVE HER. Which is the first time I had ever said it out loud.

Bev stared at me. I stared back. Blearily, because of all of the fluids. Richie gestures to her face. Tears, snot, a little spit. Slippery. Not to be crude, but I was very wet over this girl.

I know that all the scientific literature says that divorce isn’t contagious. Richie’s voice drops to conspiratorial whispering. But I still wanted Bev to go to Eddie and breathe on her a little. She hadn’t been autoclaved, there was a chance. Bev held my gross face and kissed me on the forehead. She’s such a good girlfriend! She kissed me on the forehead and she said, “you have to believe.” Which in every other situation would be the worst, most inane platitude. But I trusted her, especially now that I had picked up her divorce cooties. And she put me back in Eddie’s hospital room and I waited for Eddie to wake up.

I stayed there for a while. I kept expecting that guy she was married to to show up. He didn’t, because it turns out none of us had any way to contact him. In a way, we all collaborated on that part of the breakup. That’s what friends are for.

I’m in her hospital room on and off for a day or two. I am vibrating with emotions, I’m living off gummy bears. I’m making a little stockpile of allergen-free snacks for her. I am overwhelmed with love, I am wracked with love, but I am trying to be the tiniest bit chill about it.

Eventually Eddie woke up. She looked so beautiful and delicate. She had such realistic blinking eyes. She beckoned me over with one finger, like this, because she is remarkably condescending even in times of trial. I love that about her. She held my face in her hands—which we’ve established is a normal friend thing—and I opened my mouth. Not even to confess to her! To ask about Jell-O! And she’s not helpful at all, because what she does is she fucking kisses me.

I ask “Eddie, are you sure?” and she says “yeah,” like it’s simple. Which it is, in that moment, because she’s brave.

Everyone, you too can fail your way to the top. The top is a mean and beautiful woman who loves me. She probably won’t love you, because I got there first. Here I am, all the successful idiot representation you need. Thank you. If I die, she earned that money.