Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Empathy Part Four

The minutes on Sunday sandbag past me. I read in a Tom Robbins book a while ago that it’s impossible to make Sundays go by fast, like it is with February, the shortest month, and yet it takes forever. Sundays for me are made up of guilt trips in the park, indignant television and dread. This Sunday is no different. This Sunday adds the sting of a needle-sick email out in front of that boy I think I’m falling in love with, and the convention of our society that unlike conversation, email won’t, in fact, must not, be answered right away. I have confined myself to a bread-box of embarrassment, but it is the only alternative to no chance at all. So I spend the day trying to focus my eyes on a chapter that I should have read last week, finally deciding to memorize the study notes by rote, finally unable to make them anything more interesting than the curvy lines on paper that they are. In short, I spend my Sunday completely freaking out.

My roommate, assuming that I’m asleep, if she’s even remembered that she lives with someone, forces herself on her bed with her boyfriend at 3:24 in the morning. She is drunk and barely makes it. Her boyfriend, following the rule that objects fall at the same speed no matter what their mass or weight, flops simultaneously on her. They make out furiously in an alcohol-blue flame that I can smell from the other bed. It surprises me that I can smell it because I am, of course, drunk too, my eyes pinned to the glo-stars that some previous occupant put the effort into installing onto our ceiling. They only put them on the metal rails of the acoustic ceiling tiles, ruining any random effect. My eyes look for clumping, unfair weight of yellow-green clustering in one area while another is neglected, but, as I’ve found out before, the previous occupant seemed to have just as much to avoid thinking about as I do, and really planned this glo-star arrangement out. They’re uniform and maddening.

Lucia and her boyfriend, from the advanced state of rustling and moaning coming from that side of the room, have been crossing bases left and right. Envy rises in my chest as it always has, just as misconstrued as the rest of me. My “prudishness” is nothing but mortified longing and indignation. I crawl out of bed and knee-walk across the floor, a single hand ahead of me.

Max, in an outfit that I’m sure I’m making up, appears in my dorm lounge Monday, just as I’ve just about started to re-dread seeing him in class. I decide that he’s there to see someone else, and think of how to nod at him politely, when he stands up and looks at me, holding his hand out.

“Psychic people should know when they’re about to ditch class,” he says.

“You’re right,” I say, after a guffaw, “I’m probably making the whole thing up.”

I take his hand. It feels like happiness.

The lecture room is enormous and empty. Wooden seats perch ever higher in a downright fetishistic voyeurism at a single card table that sits center stage before a black slate chalkboard. The card table is laughingly out of place. All around it are limestone columns and carved tile. It’s like watching a crowd of dignified elderly couples in tuxedos come to worship a fifteen-year-old boy in a torn blue bathrobe. I wonder if Max brought the young card table in here, moving the veteran podium, squeaking, off to the side.

“Do you…. Do you mind being photographed?” he asks without looking at me. He squints nervously at the table, as if regretting it.

“No.” The word comes out louder than I thought it would, knocking around the room like a stray bullet. Max quells a smile.

“Good,” he says, pretending to distract himself with his tripod.

“As long as they’re off the record.”

He doesn’t dignify this with a response, but instead looks around the room with purpose, shuffling here and there. He’s dressed in safari gear, khaki and many-pocketed. It wobbles when he walks.

“Why are you dressed like that?” I ask him.

“To make you more comfortable with unusual things.”


“Is it working?” he asks, pulling the sides of the jacket down in his fingers.

Definitely. “I can’t tell. Why don’t you give me something else that’s unusual to test it?”

He holds a light meter to my face and throws the flash.

“I think I believe you,” he says from behind a new pink and blue light-bruise in my eye. I’m too stunned to say anything. He throws the flash again. Something in my heart loses its grip and falls, twisting gracefully, gliding in ether. He asks me to lay down on the table and guides me without actually touching into a pose. It feels different, his hands above my legs, cupping the air and moving them into a lotus position. It’s almost as if I can feel them, or as if I want to feel them, or can imagine, even without the contact, what it is that he’s feeling. He silently backs toward the camera, presses a button and takes the photo. I’m temporarily blinded and at home only with my other senses. He takes a few more shots, completely distracted, then finally removes a gauzy sheet from his bag.

“I want you to wear this,” he says.

I choke up, but manage a laugh. “Guan Yin?”

“The goddess of empathy.”

He was paying attention in class.

He leans very close to me as he hands the sheet over, getting as close as he can without touching. I feel him again, through myself and not my oddity, and I’m still so scared I’m unable to do anything but what he says. He backs away and it hurts. I want him to touch me so bad part of me is yelling inside. I think he’ll turn around in some sort of girl-worship bullshit chivalry, but he sits in the first row of desks instead, his ankle over one knee, watching with dark eyes. My fingers go to the bottom of my shirt and lift in one brave move. He blinks in a tiny jolt and exhales. I look at him seriously, my heart a twittering jello sex organ, reach behind and undo my bra. My breasts fall, the nipples in a shock at this sudden, chilly exposure. I giggle a little despite myself, but Max doesn’t return it. He hasn’t looked at my face recently. I stand and unzip my jeans, kick my shoes off, hook my thumbs in my waistband and drop jeans and underwear to the floor. I have never been naked in front of a boy like this, and even though I have no doubt that my body is welcome, it’s nerve-wracking all the same.

“Say something, Max.”

“You’re going to know this anyway, so I’ll tell you now.” He raises his eyes to my face and his expression droops. “I’m falling in love with you.”

I bite the inside of my mouth. “That was the right thing to say.” I put the sheet on, a whisper-thin cheese cloth of a thing, hung around me like a sari. My breasts show through, the tacky cloth scratching at the nipples. I sit on the edge of the card table, awaiting instructions.

Max stands suddenly, shaking a thought or two from his head, and picks up his light meter again. He holds it to my face and throws a flash.

“You’ve never had sex?” he asks.

“Not really.” Flash.

“Not really? Meaning what?”

“I did something weird last night.”

“Okay.” Flash. “You’ve never physically let another person cause you to have an orgasm.”


Flash. He examines the meter and I can see some sort of outline of him blink from it and look at me.

“No,” I finish.

I feel his arm around me and a sudden rush of affection and desperation. It hurts, really, but it’s wonderful. It matches perfectly everything I want and all of the horrible high-strung wistful joy that’s been rolling in my body since he showed up in this outfit. He kisses me, his mouth open, his breath in mine, his hand around the back of my head and for the third time, someone else’s feelings are welcome in me. Someone else’s emotions are there because I want them to be. He pulls himself away with a terrible force of will and stands in front of me, hitting the flash again.

“You’re blushing,” he says.

“You’re in love with me,” I say.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I am.”

He stands back and purses his lips for a couple of seconds before urging me into a pose. My arms cross my front, cradling my breasts between them. One hand is held palm up. My eyelids are rolled forward and a loving smile, this part my own contribution, is hinted on my face. Flash. Flash. Flash. Flash.

He mimes me on my back, my torso twisted around to face him, my pelvis gently back. He almost takes a picture, but stops to remove the safari jacket. He’s wearing a white undershirt, again covered in paint stains, holes in certain areas revealing beautiful skin. He tucked it in, and wrinkles form above his belt. I want to untuck it. He sees me looking and blinds me quickly with another flash.

“Do you paint too?” I ask.




I hope to God that he’s going to stop being a gentleman sometime soon. When my eyes clear of the last flash shadow, they land on his safari pants, the loose fit only hinting at a slight bulge. Flash. He comes close to arrange me again and I force a touch, a slide of my thumb on the heel of his hand. It sends me reeling. He’s so full of sex it aches. I’m aching too. He hovers his fingers above the bottom hem of my sheet and raises them. I pull it up slowly until he stops just below my pussy. He looks, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly. Flash.







“Touch me, okay?”

The latest flash is only a pink warp somewhere above my main focus and I can just make out the look on his face. He blinks slowly, puts the camera down and reaches to my face. When he makes contact it’s ignition, pure jet fuel and burning, his and mine. He kisses me deeply and strokes my hair through his fingers. “Sarah,” he whispers in my ear, “I believe you.”

He pulls at the inside of my thigh and it’s a new rush, the focus of all of this almost unbearable bliss and need blurs and spreads, from toe to face, across the ridiculous card table, all sweet jitters and love. I sit up as he pulls my legs down off of the card table, feel his entire body on me. “Do you feel that?” he asks.

“Yes. Of course.”

I reach down and touch his penis, the only one I’ve ever touched. I feel my own touch and what it does to him. He wants me so bad it’s almost bitter. He lets go of me for a moment to get to his jacket and I feel only me, finding that I’m just as bad now, just as dizzy and throbbing, air like lighter fluid on the fire. He comes back to me and spreads my legs, kicking the card table out from the back of me and pulling us to the ground. The material of the sheet slips back and my lower body is exposed to him. He drops his pants on the way down.

The empty seats fill with ghosts of the kind of life I could have had up until now, inspected and rejected for not good enough. I smile at them over Max’s shoulder, kissing his neck and then closing my eyes on them. A condom is put on, his intensity more blunt than sweet now, and he grasps my nipple, flicking it with his thumb. He lays between my legs, buries his face in my neck and slides his penis inside. I yell out, unable to wait, two people at once now, twice the fuck, my neck twisting my head and come, my face twisted, my body jolting, I come, right away. But there is more. There is his too, blurred and basic, just a rise of a mountain, a purple moan with each thrust and his feeling pours into me. We come together, because I am him, in sweat and sex and affection. He understands me. He believes me. And I’m not afraid of a fucking thing anymore.

“I love you too, Max,” I say to him, from a warm fetal position in his arms, feeling him change from sweet curiosity to blessed relief. “I love you too.”

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