I’d forgotten how clean and fast and quiet trains were. I’d forgotten the way The Boy likes to steer me through the streets, hand brushing my waist, teasing at my wrist. I’d forgotten how he tastes. I’d forgotten the pattern of his breaths at night. I’d forgotten how blue his irises were, forgotten about his insistence on eye contact, forgotten the feel of his Cupid’s bow against my cheek. I’d forgotten what it’s like to be loved and to fuck after coming home at five am and to hold him in the morning before the world has risen. I’d forgotten him because of you and I wish I had forgotten. All of it.
When you write about me, The Boy says. Why am I he and not you? Who’s the you?
(How to become the you, which I do not divulge: Leave. Leave me and I will try to write you back into existence.)
I picked this place because it is a city where neither he nor I have been. I pick it because a friend of mine fell in love here and I am hoping we can do the same. Again.
I am walking through a gallery thinking about whether or not I want The Boy to touch me. The artist being featured is a Swiss postmodernist who is considered a “forgotten genius,” according to the literature the blunt-banged attendant provides. I want to ask whether the scholar who calls him a “forgotten genius” owns any of his paintings. If it’s all merely a ruse to increase the value of his holdings.
Sometimes when The Boy pays me a compliment I wonder if he is merely trying to reassure himself that he has made the right choice.
A friend from home texts me. What are you doing? he asks. Finding inspiration, I say. What I do not say: I am here fucking a boy I may or may not love, I am here trying to escape myself, I am here lying sleepless consumed with anxiety. I am here exploring other worlds hoping to forget mine.
Freud said that “pleasure one has known” is one of the hardest things to give up. “The truth is that we cannot forgo anything, but merely exchange one thing for another; what seems like a renunciation is in fact the invention of a substitute, a surrogate.” What would I trade for you. Would I swap all the memories, the words, the fucking, the man who sleeps beside me—would you prove to be worth it, in the end. Would you prove to be exactly the same.
I wish before I touched you I had made it clear that I would fall in love with you; I wish before you touched me you had made it clear that you would leave.
I want to revisit every city I have been, and take you along this time. Rewrite all the sights, all the memories. I am certain that the physical borders of each place would reforge themselves, that we would look upon a map and find stelliform Bourtange smoothed out to a perfect circle.
What did you miss about me, he says. Your laugh, I say. What did you miss about me, I ask. Your tits, he jokes. This is enough, really, but he continues. The way you roll your eyes The way you knead your feet like a cat when you’re in bed The way you read like it is a matter of urgency, of national importance. This is enough.
I missed the way you talk between kisses, I should have said. Telling me what he’s currently reading or studying. As excited to share his thoughts with me as his body. In the tenth century there was a queen of the Kievan Rus named Olga. He kisses my shoulder-blades. Another kingdom, the Drevlians, killed her husband and tried to force Olga to marry their heir. Three times, they sent men to convince her; three times, she massacred them. He runs fingers through my hair. First, she buried them alive. Hands tracing my vertebrae. When they sent a second convoy, she locked them in a bathhouse and burned it down. Biting my earlobes. Third, best for last. She had her men tie sulfur to the legs of sparrows, pigeons, doves; in the night, they lit the coops and dove-cotes on fire and the Drevlian city went up in flames. Now he is quiet, now my body overwhelms his words, now he ends the story starts one anew on my pale flesh.
Marry me, he says. He says it the way other boys say Fuck me. I say No the way that I say Yes to them. Without considering the consequences.
Before I left, a boy said to me, in a discussion about Princeton’s social scene, Sex with random people is about feeling bad about yourself. I’d hooked up with him a couple months prior; his comment could not help but feel pointed. Sometimes, I should have said. It’s not one or the other. Sometimes sex with someone you know, someone you love, ruins you. Sometimes sex with strangers is the articulation of a noise strangled in your throat. Sometimes sex with strangers makes me feel powerful, satisfied beyond the point of physical pleasure; sometimes it reorients me, chains me to the normal world. Yes I am beautiful yes I am desirable yes I am able to fuck someone like it is merely an athletic event, like a fucking adult. Yes the boys who left did not break me. Yes I can reclaim my body from them and give it to someone else.
Back home there is a blizzard. My friends and family send pictures, excited text messages detailing the exact depth of the snow. How are you, they say. I am inside a storm, I want to say. I am fine, I say.
What are you going to do next year, he says, meaning, Are you going to move over here with me. I do not ask the same of him. We always have a point of expiration: what ends us is a plane to catch, a train back home, an obligation on another continent. Not: I do not love you anymore or I love her instead or This isn’t working out. I divide us by an ocean to prohibit us the choice.
One night we attend a performance by an older female artist. She recites a monologue for forty-five minutes while seated at a desk. It is about the ocean, perhaps, or maybe about dying alone. My own words—the ones I am supposed to be writing, the ones I cannot say to you or him or to myself—roll over hers like propagating waves. I get very warm. I am having a panic attack, I realize. I take his hand, an unusual gesture. He turns to me, confused but in a daze, lulled by the words. I sling his arm across my shoulders and nestle into him. Burning.
I focus on my breathing. The sound of my heartbeat in my ears. Your face. A jumble of words that fill my mind, lost fragments. The twitch in his elbow across my neck. The dark expectant tightening of the theater, the breaths finding each other in synchrony, the fingers brushing each other in anticipation of the future but content to be here, with each other.
At the end of her performance the artist bows to the audience. The tendrils of her hair nearly touch the ground.
The shaven back of his neck makes me cry. The white unadulterated youthfulness of it. There is a small patch the barber missed; it is longer than the others. I wonder how long it will be when I am his again, if I will have gone grey and he’ll be balding and I will wake up next to someone else and—Oh. Oh I should have stayed to watch his hair grow long.