Jeremy Dorfman is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
They spent most of their nights together at his apartment. It was a one occupant studio on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator. The kitchen was illogically centered halfway down the living room wall in the spot where a television might typically go. The thin carpet acted as an unhelpful barrier to the splintered hardwood beneath it. When it flushed, the toilet emitted a mysterious whine, the origin of which no plumbing expert could diagnose. The apartment was not an ideal spot for any human being to spend their time, let alone two, but it was still the best option they had. She had a roommate who was fond of asking about the intricate details of their work days. One date spent at her place, bombarded by the roomate’s questions about the cleaning protocols for their office refrigerators, was enough to keep them walking the five flights for all further evenings of coupledom. All they really wanted was a place to be alone together and for that his apartment worked just fine.
Three or four times a week he would awaken to the beautiful sight of tousled auburn hair and her back glistening from the sweaty night – his three blade fan no compensation for the lack of air conditioning in the apartment, not that either of them complained. He would look at her, always the one who arose first, and think: I know this girl. The thought was a revelation. How uncommon, how unexpected it was to look into another’s eyes and sense the truth hovering behind them.
They never called each other boyfriend or girlfriend. They had spent too much time on their second date decrying the use of relationship labels – which, they agreed, bastardized the purity of two people sharing themselves and their bodies – to backtrack on their words and speak the dreaded “BF” or “GF.”
He regretted his early adamancy on the topic. He had believed what he had said with firm conviction before he knew her; now he secretly wished he could use the label he had denounced. Even worse, he constantly had to guard himself from committing early relationship suicide by saying that he loved her. His love felt so obvious and immediate that its declaration gave him a scare each time it almost slipped out.
They would go out to the occasional restaurant. They would see the occasional movie. But mostly they preferred to hole up in his apartment and entangle their bodies on his hand-me-down sofa or his full-size bed, sometimes talking, sometimes making love, sometimes just laying silently, enmeshed, feeling like two jigsaw pieces perfectly interlocked.
When they did talk, no topic was off limits. They discussed literature and world events and philosophical inquiries about the nature of reality. They spoke of their lives. She, of the faded glories of summer camp. He, of the untimely death of his younger cousin. She, of her abusive high school boyfriend. He, of his masturbation habits.
For the first time in his life, he felt understood. He felt known. With others there had always been the sense of peering through glass, personalities refracted and obscured by the foggy window of societal separation. With her, there was an unknown clarity, a crispness of connection he had never thought was possible.
He laid with her and looked at her, peaceful vessel of fulfillment that she was. I know this girl, he thought again and again with never shrinking glee.
Which was why he felt so put off on the morning he noticed the scar.
It was a one and half inch protrusion of long ago severed skin on the inside of her left knee. The morning sun slithered through slits of the tattered blinds and rested its soft stretched neck on the scar. She slept soundly.
His immediate thought was that it must be a new marking. He knew her body; he had scanned and kissed every inch of it, learned its intricacies with a studious patience. How could he have missed such a vital ruin of the past?
Closer inspection made clear that the scar had been there for many years. It had healed long ago, melded back into the growing girl’s skin, inherited by the woman she now was, lying near naked next to him.
The mystery of the scar’s origin, in and of itself, was an easy enough curiosity to bear. It was the sinkhole of implications that made him ill at ease.
The scar was a peephole into the vast wilderness of all he didn’t know about her. It dawned upon with the speed and tumult of a hurtling untracked train that after six months spent side by side, their refutation of the normal gradual way of easing into another person’s psyche notwithstanding, there was still a mountain of unknown facts. One glimpse of the scar and the supposed purity of their openness and interconnection was diluted. He felt mocked by some unknown source for believing that he could know the girl lying next to him. She was an unknown entity, a thumbnail of a true human being.
He had not even met her parents. He knew little of her past loves beyond a smattering of story snippets. He didn’t know what she dreamed of when she slept at night. In some ways she was as much a mystery as the day they met.
He jumped from bed, the soft blue bedsheets tugged from under him in his ungraceful exit. She stirred for a moment, then turned back away from him. Her fluttering eyes rested closed.
He looked at her, the soft sun gleaming in his eyes; this sudden alien in his less than comfortable full size bed in his ratty studio apartment. He looked at her and wondered who she was.
She opened her eyes. His piercing stare was louder than a scream in its own, discomforting manner. She felt his eyes beating down on her, disrupting her attempts at stretching out the night’s last moments well into the day.
“What?” she said.
She felt violated by his gaze, but could not say why.
He contemplated whether to ask her directly about the scar. He was tugged back by the unreasoned certainty that the answer would only lead to more questions.
“I was just wondering about you,” he said. “Who you are. Who you were. Who you’re going to be.”
“I am very tired. And you’re waking me up with your weirdness, which means I’m going to be someone who is pissed at her boyfriend.”
She closed her eyes, re-wrapped the sheets around her, and turned to face the other way, hoping to fall back asleep and avoid his philosophical entreaties until after well after 10:00 AM.
Boyfriend, he thought.
The word had slipped out unceremoniously – a reflex, not a decision. She said it because it was the easiest term her half asleep brain could find to refer to him. He supposed she might wake up again in a matter of hours and panic as she recalled saying it. She might go so far as to apologize for labeling him in such a way, promising that it was the exhaustion speaking, not some inbred woman’s need to tie him down. Or more likely she would never mention it at all, hoping to freeze the moment out of existence by leaving it permanently untouched. He didn’t know. He didn’t know what she would think about it. He didn’t know her. Not really.
There was one thing he did know; He was going to call her “girlfriend” the first chance he got.