“A Portrait of Her” by Rebeka Singer

I placed a pair of golden toenail scissors on the coffee table for you in a dream. You must have been asking for them. Maybe it was all I felt I had to give. I placed them down in such a delicate way: a golden infinity.

I stopped feeling things when I found you, F. I don’t think I felt much with him either. I just began to experience life, with you—so these things I once felt so deeply became my living experiences, and then the analysis stopped, and I felt more found than ever before, that was until I was lost like never before, or perhaps like always.

You tripped on the lightweight ottoman. Fell on me. Your weight knocked me flat on the Persian carpet. I hit my left ribcage and then my head. We both smelled of booze—you stronger than me, mixing beer and wine. That wasn’t typical; you’re usually strictly a beer drinker.

You say you’re lost. You lost yourself in this relationship. You’ve never been so unhappy. You don’t remember what peace felt like. Love is the easy part.

You brought up this concept of losing yourself in this relationship with me. Drunk, you screamed it at me drunk. You uprooted your life, quit your sales jobs at Sear’s and Macy’s. Or more like lost them because you were partying with me and wanted to stay in my bed and make love to me rather than drive to work. You moved to Providence for me. What an ironic name for this city, you say.

There was this other guy, O, back from college. And, of course, he contacts me all these years later now that I’m dating you. I was scared of his message at first—flattered and frightened and flooded with adrenaline when I read it (so simple): Looking through my messages and found this, haha… How are you doing? I thought he hated me after I kissed him on three separate occasions, let him sleep in my bed on one and hold me in the morning and tell me that I was the most beautiful freshman in the whole class and he wanted me to be his. And then I brought my boyfriend to his fraternity and there was a scuffle—some threats from his brothers and some tears later from him and the call, the call from my boyfriend to him: She’s sucking my dick now, dude, in the car. He didn’t talk to me again after that save for a few texts about how he loved me and how I could have been his girlfriend—how we could have been like some homecoming-winning couple on campus. That was college.

The boyfriend became my husband, E, and then my cuckold husband and now my ex-husband.

You, F—the man who lost himself for me—called me your wife yesterday. The sun shone through the windshield, blinding through the smoky sky, and the wind beat the sides of the car so that it swayed so slightly. My beautiful wife, you said. My face froze. I could just about smile. I don’t think you felt reassured, so I touched your knee as you drove.

It was last Wednesday when I picked you up at the apartment to accompany me to the hospital. I thought I had a concussion from your falling on top of me the night before. My head throbbed, back bruised—so sleepy from the cocaine hangover. In the car I realized you were still drunk. You’re not an artist, you told me. You’re an interloper. You repeated it. You’re not an artist, you said. You’re just an interloper. The left cavity of my chest started to sting. I got a $1,500 chest X-ray at the hospital. You seemed proud of yourself.

In the waiting room, I hated my life. In the waiting room, I cried, wetting my sleeve that I buried my face in. I’m going to leave in one minute, you told me, if you don’t stop crying. You squeezed my hand too tight and said: They’ll think something else happened. They’ll think I abused you. Then leave, I said. You rested your head on my shoulder and softened your grip on my hand and we stayed like that—my supporting you while I slipped in and out of sleep. I supported your drunken weight. Too tired to lift you. That sleep state was my beautiful escape.

I have dreams some nights that we’re trying to have sex or maybe I’m trying to have sex with you but you’re not hard enough. I keep trying to grasp it in my hand and pull you inside of me but nothing. You get angry. I’m being too rough, I think, and that’s why you’re angry. Or you don’t agree with me that you’re not hard enough and you’re annoyed that I won’t just put it in at the density that it is, as if I’m choosing to reject your penis in its current state, as if I could just make it easier and slip it in. But I already said I can’t slip it in and it’s slipping between my thumb and forefinger trying to guide it. And we’re failing. I’m failing at our having sex. No wonder the toenail scissors seemed like such a glorious gift in that dream.

*

I tiptoe around my musty apartment in my underwear. I twist at the corner of my sheer cotton tee shirt to expose my hipbone and smooth stomach as if I were trying to be sexy in front of you, F. But I’m alone. I pour champagne into one of the $12 flutes I received from the wedding registry. I am wildly free and sophisticated, my mouth now stinging with the gentle bubbles against fleshy cheeks.

I have one of those phones with a spiral cord that I twist clichéd around my finger as I lie in bed, knees bent, one leg extended to the ceiling. Who should I call of my F.O.E? I’m on my second glass of champagne, already mellowed, already wandering outside of any intellect I possessed earlier in the day. Now my thoughts wander through my body, finding the men in their respective corners inside me. F leans against my lungs, balancing on a rib; O taps at the top of my spinal column; E sleeps in my stomach, cocooned in bile and peaceful as an angel.

I do this thing: I leave things open. Stories and books, windows and doors. I sometimes resent myself for it. Resent myself.

You tell me things like: They’ll never accept you. E’s family will never be your family again. And I believe you, F, because sometimes it feels in life that I’ve just gone too far down one path to turn around. There is no backtracking, but, just maybe, another fork in my path? Why not another fork? That fork could be my truth—whatever that means.

I don’t believe in much anymore. I don’t believe in ever feeling really safe from myself. I am untrue to men. I wander through doors and windows, let the electricity and heat escape these relationships I build, let them crumble. I don’t trust myself.  And I want to say that I do but I’m already doing what I did before that got me into trouble, that got me into love with you—spinning in my golden infinity. Unfortunately, it just never got me out of love with him.

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