According to Microsoft Word, I wrote this in 2004 and titled it “True Intimacy.”
Can I ask you a question, he says, and I tell him he can as long as it isn’t personal, and as long as it doesn’t require more than a one-word answer. He’s asked me enough and I’ve told him enough, and at this point he knows me better than I know him.
So he says, “Do you think two people—”
I stop him right there with a hand in the air between our faces, inches apart. Both of us try not to blink, because that’s part of what we do. We try not to blink when we look at each other. I read somewhere once that one way to gain true intimacy is to look ‘into’ each other, to stare at each other’s eyes without looking away, for as long as we can. But we can’t just look – we have to search. I made up the blinking rule because when I get uncomfortable with eye contact, I blink. So, I thought, maybe he does that, too, and I decided it would be best if both of us try not to. But I haven’t blinked for at least thirty seconds, so I let a quick one get by before I ask him, “Two men or two women?”
He blinks, too, and I think he really needs it. His lids squint, like they’re trying to pull moisture from his tear ducts. “One of each.”
“So, if two people were—”
“Wait,” I say. “That’s not what you said.” I notice he has a clump of hair sticking straight up on the top of his head. I smooth it down and pull a piece of dandruff from a thick strand. It’s a perfect white square, and it clings to the tip of my finger.
He runs his own hand over his hair and the clump springs back up. “What did I say?”
“You said, ‘Do you think two people’.”
“The first time?”
“Yes.” I blow at the fleck of dandruff, but it won’t come off my finger.
“What’s the difference?”
I shake my bangs out of my eyes and look at him. He takes a breath and raises his hand to my hair, parts it on the side, and looks at my scalp. Hair touching is personal, too – intimate. I read somewhere once that the scalp is so sensitive that touching it is like reaching into the emotional core of the person being touched. So we do that, too – touch each other’s heads. Finding something like dandruff or an under-the-hair zit is a bonus, because it’s a flaw we ‘acknowledge and appreciate rather than tolerate and try to ignore.’
“It’s different,” I say, “because when you change the phrasing of your question, you’re changing the question entirely. ‘If two people were’ is very different from ‘do you think two people.’”
“Not if I go on to say, ‘Do you think two people, if they were…’.” He pulls his hand away from my head and rests it in his lap.
“Telephone,” I say.
He’s exasperated now, I can tell. He’s trying not to be – he’s so good to me – but I can always tell when I’m getting to him because his eyes get more steady. He focuses. No part of him moves. It’s like his whole body is concentrating on not rolling his eyes at me. Eye rolls, I read somewhere, are the quintessential sign of disrespect. I never told him what I read about that, but I did get upset once when he rolled his eyes at me, so now he tries not to.
“What do you mean, ‘telephone’?”
“It’s just like the game of Telephone,” I say. “You know – the sentence starts out one way, then ends up being something completely different. ‘I want some pea pods’ becomes ‘I haunt some bea bops.’”
He smiles at me. Sometimes I wish I could read his mind because I’d like to know what’s behind that smile, and I know if I ask he’ll give me some kind of answer, but I’ll never know whether it’s true. But then, almost instantly, I’m glad I have no access to his thoughts. If I could read his mind, couldn’t he as easily read mine? I read somewhere once that animals communicate telepathically, which means they each have to have something in their brains that allows for that type of sixth-sense brain-wave transfer. One couldn’t possibly have it and not the other, because that wouldn’t work. It would be like picking up a telephone with a disconnected cord and expecting to place a call.
“Why are you smiling?” I say.
He shakes his head and rests his chin in his hand.
I wouldn’t want him to know what I think about. One day, sometime last week, I looked at him and thought, I don’t really like you very much.