Scene From a Sleepless Night

I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead, I lay pinched between his arms, tense, trying to anticipate where on his body his next hypnotic jerk would ripple. They were as impossible to read as he was.

After we both came was the only time he really touched me, curling one arm under my waist and laying the other parallel up my side, his fingers twitching through my hair like a guitar player who couldn’t find the strings. I wedged my feet between his, the soft backs of my knees cupping his knobby caps, knowing sticky sweat would soon lubricate the lengths of our bodies and he’d roll away leaving me with a chilling glow.

Whether it was our nightcap conversation that had me agitated, or the fact that he finished while I still halfway between nothing and everything wasn’t clear. But I couldn’t get our talk off repeat in my head.

“I want to be universally liked,” he’d told me.

“But…you don’t like everyone universally.” I focused my attention into just one of hisgray-green eyes.

“God no,” he muttered. It was hard to say if we laughed the honesty or the horribleness of it.

“I think the two go hand in hand,” I continued. “You have to be interested in people for them to be interested in you.”

“Not true,” he said. “At least, in dating. Acting interested dissuades anyone from liking you. You have to be aloof.”

“Are you being aloof with me?”

“Not purposefully.” We both knew he was more than white-lying.

“I’m just aloof in general,” he backtracked, trying to pad my screaming silence before changing the subject abruptly.

Staring at the outline of the wooden frame above his bed, I thought about why aloofness didn’t jive with me. I didn’t like omitted information, holding back, or people so guarded I felt like I was trying to break a pinata with a tongue depressor to know how they felt. I didn’t like being toyed with the way my roommate’s cat played with the spiders he hunted before killing.

I didn’t like any of it because I grew up in a home where guessing feelings was expected. I learned early on to read between lines so I didn’t have to cross them by asking questions. I interpreted actions as emotions. An (aloof) ex of mine called it Mad-Libbing, where I would fill spaces in with my own tacit words. I didn’t like it because I knew people who truly care about others open up, even when it feels unnatural.

I also didn’t like any of it because I wasn’t stupid.

Claiming aloofness was a fraud. A way to ensure the man naked next to me could keep me at long-arms length, never telling me about the woman tattooed on his bicep, while he made a decision about whether to cast me or another girl as his girlfriend. I knew I was (not) sleeping between sheets another girl had recently been tousled in. I’d spied a strand of her red hair in the bathroom, and too many condom wrappers for his and my once-a-week frolics in the trash.

I knew one, if not both, of us would wind up as the spider. The question felt less about if I wanted to keep trying to fall asleep, or crawl away while I was still in one piece.