I like you, but you’re kind of weird
by Sarah Scoles

Because this is the second time we’ve slept together, I want to tell him stories.

“Sometimes I wake up and think there are spiders in my bed,” I say. “Sometimes, but not always.”

“Do you ever think there are things besides spiders in your bed?” he asks.

“Not usually,” I say. “Except, once I thought there were two deer.”

“How could deer be in your bed?”

“Don’t ask me.”

I had tried to talk myself out of it. Deer don’t fit in your bed, you’d see the antlers resting on the pillow, you’d feel the hooves against your calves, there would surely be snorting. There would be evidence, you know? But I couldn’t even look under the covers for fear of seeing those eyes looking at me like, “Why am I here in a bed and what the hell is a bed anyway?”

“I like you,” he says, twiddling the corner of the comforter and staring…it seems, at his fingernails, “but you’re kind of weird.”

“I like you too,” I say. I lift the sheets over my face so my sound waves have an obstacle. “But you’re kind of normal.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Most people, on average, are.”

I want to thank him for reminding me of the denotations of words that are primarily thought of in terms of their connotations, because I like to be both precise and accurate, having learned the difference between the two during the first week of high school physics. There was a unit on the metric system, scientific notation, and calculation of instrumental error.

“Did you ever take physics in high school?” I ask.

“Me?” he asks.

“No.”

“No, I never took physics. I took ecology.”

“How zen of you.”

“Actually,” he says, “we mostly learned about the algae in the retention pond behind Building 5. It was supposed to be a hands-on classroom.”

If I were normal, I would craft an innuendo (which my last boyfriend- whom I kept around for less than 72 hours…which I guess might not be long enough for most people to call him “boyfriend”- called an “in your end-o”). Like, “I’ll show you a hands-on classroom,” or, “Consider this apartment your new hands-on classroom, baby,” or, “Get your hands off my classroom, you dirty person,… but, psych! Don’t really.”

“Oh,” I say. “Neat. I like learning.”

“I never really was a school person,” he says.

He’s a musician. He plays the drums. He wants to be good. The best. Better than that guy from Def Leppard with one arm. He told me this the last time (the first time) we were in my bed together — after I woke up to the spiders and threw myself out of bed, then stood and stared at the bed, trying to convince myself that if there were spiders, he would have felt them too, and if he’d felt them, he wouldn’t have stayed in bed. Therefore I was the only one who’d felt them, and they therefore must not be real.

“What? What is it? Is there someone here? Are you okay?” he asked.

The truth about what I’d felt was too intimate a thing to tell someone who didn’t know what my thread count was, especially when the spiders had been pressing their leg-tips lightly into the jersey-knit cotton for years. I owed them something.

“Nothing,” I said. “Sorry. Bad dream. I think the room was too hot last night. I’ll have to adjust the thermostat for you.”

“I was fine,” he said. “But if you were uncomfortable, we can change it.”

“No, I mean I’ll have to adjust it to account for your body heat,” I said. Then, shy like the seventh-grader who didn’t talk to her bus seat-mate for two months but thought about it every day and then said, “Hi,” right before Thanksgiving, I turned my gaze to the ceiling like there was something interesting growing in the stucco. Something more interesting than the someone–a stranger, really–increasing the average kinetic energy of my room’s molecules.

“Do you have coffee?” he asks now. “I always drink coffee in the morning.”

“I hear a lot of people do that.”

“I’m like a lot of people, then, I guess.” He stands up and stretches. He doesn’t take the sheet with him like people do in the movies. People don’t behave in real life like they do on screen, or in books.

I think it’s because there are, at any given moment, so many different actions a real person could take. He could have taken the sheet. He could have pulled the sheet to the ground. He could have stayed in bed. He could have started singing Barbara Streisand. You can’t capture that sense of possibility when a situation is created. The character is going to do what the character is going to do because the author or writer or director says so. While you’re watching, reading, you can’t forget that, and every action feels predetermined. Fictional people are the only people who have fates. It’s comforting, in a way, to think that I don’t.

“Do you believe in fate?” I ask.

He waits. He is thinking that I mean I think he is the one and only. That tomorrow I will want him to put his initials next to mine on a set of towels I don’t have yet. He thinks this because he is not inside my head and cannot hear the rainbow of thoughts that leads to the pot of gold that is what emerges from my mouth.

“I kind of believe in destiny,” he says. “Like that I’m supposed to be someone, you know? Like someone.”

He looks down at his pubic hair.

He says, “I’m going to go make coffee now, okay?”

I wonder what he is doing here. I wonder what I am doing.

Sometimes I think I believe in fate. Sometimes I feel like I’m being pushed inevitably toward something. But I can’t tell what that something is. So when I arrive somewhere, I can never tell if it’s where I was headed all along. I can only say, “Here I am. This is where I’m standing,” not, “I am meant to be here. This is where I belong.” I am not, in fact, sure that I belong anyplace.

“PS,” he says before he goes to the kitchen, “I think you’re pretty and funny and smart.”

This time, when I became shy like the eighth grader whom popular boys asked out on fake dates so that if I said yes they’d laugh and run to their friends and say, “As if!” and so that if I said no I’d be saying no, I just turn red instead of turning away.

Whenever I like someone, and my mother or my friends ask me what he is like and why I am interested in him, I never know what to say. How can you distinguish one human being from another? And, if you do, are those differences meaningful to anyone who doesn’t know the person? If I say, “I like him because of the way he uses those sandwich bags that you have to fold rather than buying Ziploc like the rest of the twenty-first century,” they think that is cute. Cute that I like his idiosyncrasies, cute that I notice the little things. But is the preference for difficult packaging, or the way one curl falls directly down his forehead something fundamental for the reason I like him, or is liking the specifics a symptom of already liking him in general?

“How many good characteristics do people have, Mom?” I say. “He’s smart; he’s funny; he’s handsome. What else that I can say?”

There are so many different faces. Everyone has a different face. But they are all only rearrangements of eyes, nose, mouth, chin. How can you make billions of people out of four parts? Or was there someone walking around Saskatchewan in 1542 who looked exactly like me?

“I think that means you like me,” I say to him.

“I’ve already said that,” he says. He is still just standing, naked, between here and there, here being me and there being the coffee pot.

“I’m not trying to be needy,” I say.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not trying to be ridiculous, either.”

“Okay. Good.”

When he keeps standing there like he is expecting something, I say, “I guess I am kind of intelligent. And sometimes people laugh at my jokes. And I sometimes think I look all right. But whenever I go into a mall and see myself in the stores’ mirrors–not even the ones in the dressing rooms, just the ones spread around the merchandise–I feel ugly. Like my skin is bad, and my hair is frizzy, and my clothes are faded and floppy. And I look tired, really done in. Like I don’t deserve nice things. Like everyone in the mall is wondering why a runaway teenager is roaming around the Macy’s women’s department.”

“Everyone looks bad under fluorescent lighting,” he says. “You’re supposed to look bad so that you’ll want to get some Ralph Lauren.”

“I bet you wore Ralph in high school.”

“Probably. I think I had some of his shirts.”

“You would have hated me,” I say. “I wore flannel. I would have hated you. How can we ever overcome that?”

“One day at a time.” It sounds like something his mom told him.

“I’ve only been in love once before,” I say.

He waits. He is thinking that I said “before” because I am in love again, now. He thinks it is him. He thinks that after we monogram the towels we will make love every day until we get bored, and then we will not be in love anymore and I will cut the towels in half to demonstrate just how separated we are, and then he will move out, because he will have moved in because his apartment is a lot like a dive bar.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I don’t love you.”

“You don’t?” he asks. His sits back down on the bed, his limbs folding inward as if I’ve hit him with a flyswatter.

“Well, you don’t love me, do you?”

“I’ve only known you for a week,” he says, “but it’s always nice to think that somebody loves you, you know?”

He puts his legs out in front of him and tense-release-tense-releases his knees, making those weird dimples at the top so that the whole joint looks a little like a face. I notice the way this knees are particular to him and his legs. I cannot tell if I find this endearing, or if I simply noticed it.

“I’m really going to go make coffee now,” he says. “Do you want some?” He puts on his boxer briefs, which make his ass look more like a real ass than mine does no matter what I put on.

“No,” I say. “Thanks.”

I am thirty, and he is twenty-two, and he has just graduated from college, where he got his degree in pre-law. I believe it is not smart to get a degree in something that is only anticipatory. I also wonder what anticipating lawyership has to do with being a two-armed drummer who is better than a one-armed drummer. What if he had more arms? Eight maybe. Would it be fair to compare himself then to his two-armed self now?

Is it fair to compare myself to him? He is the person who asked me on fake dates and then returned to his “members-only” lunch table full of other guys wearing boxer briefs and anticipating their success in life because of their success at Lake Brantley Middle School.

I hated him. He, I believed, had nothing interesting going on inside his skull, as if his head were the size of a bug’s and could only contain meanness, superiority, the ability to bite and sting. We had nothing in common. It is possible that except for our current location in space, we still have nothing in common.

I have only fallen in love once. I was on vacation with my family in North Carolina when I was twelve. We were going snow-tubing, but the snow was more like ice because it had melted and re-formed melted and re-formed, and there were deep ruts that, if you ended up in them, would lead you straight and inevitably into bad places, like tree trunks. I stood at the top of the hill and looked down at the slope, which seemed impossibly steep and dangerous, like if you went down it you would die for sure, one way or another.

A boy came up beside me and said, pointing down, “Are you going there? Want to go with me?”

There seemed to be no right answer. Yes meant I’d have to situate myself in the tube and hope for the best. No meant no.

“Yes,” I said.

He held my hand. We braved it over and over and over again. Up and down and up and down. He steered us away from the ruts and stopped us right at the bottom, right where we were meant to stop. When I wasn’t scared, it felt like flying.

There were so many possibilities. Anything could have happened. We could have gotten married at fifteen and run off and started an organic farm. We could have married other people and had a decades-long affair when we rediscovered each other on the internet. We could have gone on a talk show and talked about how we met when we were twelve and we knew, right from that moment, that we were meant to be together.

When his parents said it was time to leave, my parents also said it was time to leave, and as our minivans pulled out of the parking lot, I copied down his license plate number so that I could look it up in the database when I got back to the cabin. I was sure there was a database, but I never saw him again.

My guest comes back with cream-diluted coffee that he has put in a wine glass. He sits cross-legged on top of the bedclothes. He swirls the coffee, sniffs it, watches for the legs, notes fast they travel, and tips the liquid back into his mouth.

“Nutty,” he says. “Hints of nut.”

“I was in love when I was twelve,” I say. I sit up and am embarrassed by the way gravity hangs my breasts. I lie back down and pull the sheet over my chest.

“Don’t,” he says. “I want to see them.”

“See,” I say, “there are so many things we don’t have in common.”

He chugs the rest of the coffee because the temperature of the cream and the temperature of the original coffee have equilibrated to something that doesn’t burn. After setting the glass on the nightstand, he gets back under the covers and puts his hand on my breast and his head on my shoulder, like he is a just-weaned child. We stay like that. Maybe if we could just stay like that, if no new variables were ever introduced and nothing ever disturbed this balance, then I could stay like this.

“Tell me something,” I say to his hairline. “A story.”

He waits. Then, “In high school,” he says, “me and my friends used to buy those bottled Starbucks drinks. We would take them into the bathroom and drink a little, and then we would pee in them and put them back in the refrigerator case.”

“That’s horrible,” I say. “I would have drunk those. I would have drunk your urine.”

He smiles into my skin. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s not like I would do it now.”

“You really hurt me,” I say. “I mean you really, really hurt me. You made my life miserable.”

He waits. He is thinking that I will cry or hit him or kick him out in his attractive underwear because this is the time, the one time, I can get back at him, all the hims. He is wondering how to escape unscathed. We are wondering how to escape unscathed.

“Do you think that people have to be the people they used to be?” he asks. “Maybe we can morph into something different. Maybe we can be reformed.”

“It’s not like you can melt yourself down and pour yourself into a new mold.”

“I didn’t want to pee in your Starbucks bottle,” he says. “I just didn’t think there was anything else I could do.”

“Okay,” I say. “Okay.”

We stay like that for a while. We are only breathing.

“You know what is loneliest?” I say. I am about to tell him something important. It’s something I’ve never told anyone, and no one has been able to tell that I’ve thought it, which is the fundamental problem.

“What?” he says.

“Being trapped inside a body. You can never, ever get out. You can’t get inside someone else’s and know what that’s like. You can never really know what they’re thinking, even if you live with them for fifty years and they say they tell you everything. You still look them in the eyes and never know for sure, behind that, what neurons are firing, let alone why. You can’t even know how colors look to them. What I think of as yellow is something you may never see in your entire life. What if your head on my shoulder feels, to you, like what eating oatmeal feels like to me, but we both think of that as the-head-on-shoulder feeling? I would never know. You would never know. We could never find that out.”

He feels small against me, scared and cold like a forest animal that forgot to hibernate.

“I was just this kid,” he says, quietly. “I was the same kind of trapped as you, just in a different place.”

I say, “I know,” and I think that maybe I do.

Sometimes I think that I am only these stories that I can tell. That I am nothing but a bunch of anecdotes stacked on top of each other or alloyed into the shape of something with legs and arms. I can’t separate who I am from what I’ve done and what’s been done to me and what I’ve seen and what I haven’t.

“If I told you about everything that has ever happened to me,” I say, “you’d be able to recreate me, or a clone who was just like me, indistinguishable. Have you ever thought that?”

“No,” he says. “I don’t want to be the person I am if I tell you everything.”

“Neither do I,” I say. “Or I don’t want to have to be.”

“I guess we do have something in common,” he says.

He puts his hands on either side of my neck, his fingers arched and poised like my cervical vertebrae have suddenly become a recorder. The kind you play in elementary school. The kind that Ms. Snipes dipped in disinfecting iodine and then handed to me so that the dark liquid stained continents and the Virgin Mary and secret messages onto the legs of my jeans. I’ll never forget the smell.

I smelled it then, on his breath, as if he’d swallowed the recorder–me, in this metaphor, or a part of me–whole.