I lay with my back pressed into him, our hands outstretched against the blue sheets. I looked at the way his rested on top of mine, tattooed along the edge, words in Thai that meant white man. He traced the line of my spine with his other hand and I could feel his soft breath against my neck. I wanted to turn around and press my lips against his but something in me held back. There was excitement in the wait and we’d only just met. Instead, I pulled his hand up and inspected his fingers, trying to find secrets in his skin. He kissed my cheek and pulled his hand away to pull me into him and I laughed, sheepishly.
Then we had sex. It was quick and passionate, as the morning after usually is. We lay, sweaty, out of the covers, fingers grazing each other’s bodies as we talked. We’d met the night before, drunk at the bar after too many tequila shots. I remembered his green jacket, blonde hair, laughing as we tossed back drinks, and then we were limbs and lips wrapped around each other and something about it all felt like home.
You are lush, he said and kissed me all over.
What does that mean? I asked.
Geordie way of saying you’re hot as hell.
I felt my cheeks get red and I did that thing girls do when they don’t really know how to be complimented and covered my face while smiling. Stoooop, I said.
He lay with his hands behind his head and told me about the time he went to prison. I told him I was a writer. He asked me what kind of things I wrote and I told him about my short story about a speech therapist whose ex-boyfriend was beheaded by ISIS. He said he’d like to read it sometime. I asked him why he went to prison. A bar fight, he said. It was a dumb drunken incident, he wished it hadn’t happened but he did his time and had never been in a fight since. Then he said he felt naked. I laughed and said, You are. But he meant in the vulnerable kind of way. He kissed me and half his hair fell over my face and tickled my cheek before he brushed it back with one hand and I wanted to take a snapshot of that moment then and remember him in this way forever. Though it was a first encounter, something in me knew it wouldn’t be our last and that things would never be as they were then.
I was sitting in his ex-girlfriend’s parent’s kitchen on a stool staring at her family photograph. How I got there, I do not know. Well, I do know, because I agreed to it. It won’t be weird, he’d said. It was weird. They had dated in high school and after for short of ten years so he still maintained a relationship with her parents. They were away for the weekend, and had asked him to feed their cat. I should have just let him go alone but we’d spent the morning together and were planning on going for evening drinks so I just said, alright fuck it. She was pretty. Somehow, the ex was always pretty. Part of me had thought that if I went with him it meant I was being mature. He was ten years older than me, and I’d thought maybe going with your boyfriend to feed his ex-girlfriend’s parent’s cat was something grown up people did in relationships.
The cat hopped onto the table and sniffed around the cans of wet food. I watched him fill up the bowls with water, clean out the litter pan, and then take the food and mash it into another bowl and place it on the mat for the cat to eat. He moved around the room like it was his own home, he knew where everything was, the spatial measurements had been mapped out and inked into his mind.
He had to squeeze passed me to get to the sink.
As I sat there and watched him I couldn’t help but picture a younger him here with his ex. It was another lifetime ago, yes, but it was a life that lingered around this very room, around every time he mentioned her name or when they were dating. I didn’t want to let it bother me and, for the most part, it didn’t. It wasn’t in a jealous of her kind of way, but I was jealous that he had this history with someone. He’d had relationships, serious life-changing ones. And me? Here I was, some 21-year-old girl who’d only had stupid, over-dramatic relationships in high school and barely anything since except for brief encounters that never turned into anything tangible. That’s what he had that I didn’t – real, tangible histories with people. He’d fought the goddamn war with them. And I had the vague memory of how it felt to hold someone’s hand, like a bad recording with no audio and a fuzzy screen that keeps cutting out. His past was in high definition, blue ray, 3D.
What was I to him? Yes, we were dating, that much was true. But I felt measured up against these histories, like there was no way I could live up to the relationship that they’d shared. But I also wanted to be different from it. I didn’t want to become the photograph in a house where he feeds my parent’s cat when I’m no longer around.
Maybe it was an immature response to think this way, to already expect a break-up, but I couldn’t help but see it, feel it, because I was witnessing one right before me.
When we left the house, my thoughts remained on the cat and on that unnecessarily large family photograph. Even as we walked down the street, hand in hand, and a few moments later sat in a pub on the high street with two craft beers, I still felt stuck in that house with those memories. I thought about our bodies wrapped together between the sheets – me and him. There were no ex-girlfriends there.
The pub was dark and he kissed me from across the wooden table. He tasted like IPA.
What are you thinking about? I asked. I don’t know why I did because I hated when people asked me that question. It always felt like they were clearly thinking something themselves and only wanted to ask so they could say what they were thinking (just say what you want to say). Or they are hoping for a particular answer, that coy: youuuu.
He held my hand. Just enjoying the moment, he said and I smiled.
The sun had long gone down and we hadn’t moved from the bed. The curtains had stayed shut all day and the only reason I knew time had passed was because of the shifting shadows on the wall.
What does your tattoo mean? I asked.
White man, he said.
I laughed thinking he was joking. Oh, really?
Yeah, I got it in Thailand and I just told them to give me something in Thai.
Well they picked something very literal. I played with his fingers and then held his hand between my own, his so large one was like two of mine.
Sometimes, when I look at my hands now I see his tattoo inked along the edge of my own. As time went on my skin became a canvas as others came and went. Now, years later, there is no dual meaning to the mark he left on me, he was once there and now has become just another part of my history.