Intimacy is a scar
Wrapped around the boy’s arm,
A motorbike accident,
I touched it,
He hates it.
I wanted it to be something I could love about the boy.
When I was nineteen I was in a play at uni called Three Short Deaths. The play was an enactment of its title. In quick succession the audience watched three women die. I was cast as the first woman – Marie Antoinette – and also the last – Princess Diana. The third woman, Eva Braun, was played by someone who hadn’t even known who Eva Braun was. She wore a repulsive costume pinned somehow with pig’s trotters. In the world of the play these three deaths were brought on by a hunchback and his butcher. The butcher was handsome. He wore a bloodied apron. He was 21. Jasper. At least two of my friends had already slept with him. When the play was over we went out for drinks. We flirted. He left. I got in a taxi with my best friend and said, he left. Should I call him? Call him. Hi Jasper. It’s Elise. You were supposed to take me home with you. You don’t want that, he said. Yes I do, I said. He gave me the address and the taxi rerouted from my parents’ house in Brighton to a warehouse above a place selling second hand office furniture or something in Bridge Rd Richmond. I remember not knowing how to get in, or how many people lived there. I remember it being dark. I remember him making me a cup of tea in a dirty kitchen where all the cups were dirty but when you’re nineteen and there are boys named Jasper you drink from dirty cups in dark warehouses and think it’s exotic and unsettling. Upstairs on a mezzanine maybe – was there a door? – we had sex in his bed. I remember the sex went for a long time. He was kind and gentle enough. Not really interested in my pleasure and neither was I. I was nineteen and I’d been in a play and I’d seduced the hot guy with olive skin and deep brown eyes and a mop of dark hair and a thick rough scar around his arm. Like a barbed wire tattoo, with the barbs but without the ink. A motorbike accident. And now I was in a gross sharehouse warehouse, a pale-skinned vegetarian in the scarred arms of the bloodied butcher, imagining what it would be like to be his girlfriend and come to this place every day.
I’m not sure if we texted, or if texting even existed back then. But somehow there was an exchange. Something like, I’ll call you on Wednesday. I think I called him once and heard his voicemail. I waited and agonised and probably planned what I’d be wearing the next time I saw him. I was sure he really liked me.
And then two weeks later I was in printmaking class, submerging metal etchings into acid baths the colour of rust and blood and a friend of a friend who knew I’d gone home with Jasper thought I should know that he killed himself on Saturday. And that’s why he hadn’t called. He’d hung himself above the bed. The warehouse and its exposed beams. The warehouse. I thought I’d do the right thing and go see a counsellor at uni. I sat down in front of a middle aged man wearing a white shirt and a tie and he told me that I should find solace in the way he did it. There are much more violent ways to suicide. A gun shot to the head, for example, is very violent. I should find solace. I went to the funeral with my theatre friends. It was the only non-Jewish funeral I’d ever been to. There was a lot of white. A lot of silence. And then the sound of a flute. I come from a land downunder played merrily through the speakers. Jasper loved football. He was a real top bloke. There was no mention of his acting. Of his butcher’s apron. Myself and the small entourage of theatre friends stood at the back of the room like a posse of colourful criminals. The director had worn sequins. Jasper, the boy from downunder, was to be interned in the land downunder. And in the white, and the silence, the people wept. It turned out he had a girlfriend, and parents, and siblings, and he really hadn’t wanted me that night. I didn’t know him at all.
A month after that I reluctantly went to New Zealand for a two month trip that I had booked a long while before because I was nineteen and so independent and I loved travelling like every other middle class person I knew. I landed in Christchurch in the middle of winter, went to my hostel, cried in my dorm, rang my mother, cried on the phone, and ate dinner with a Japanese backpacker. After that I latched onto Israelis and charmed them with my Hebrew. I was envious of their exoticism, their unspoken Jewishness, their post-military darkness. They were growing their hair and smoking obscene amounts of pot and abandoning their watches and all things related to precision and regimentation. And I waited for them to ask me for my darkness. And now I had some. A smidge. A smudge. An etch. An acid burn. A scar. It’s not like I’d been in the army. Or lived in a war zone. Or known him at all. But it was winter in the South Island of New Zealand. I followed the map of my Lonely Planet through glaciers and national parks, fjords, ocean. I arrived in one remote town on the West Coast with an Israeli girl named Inbal. She had eyes the colour of mud and was prone to weeping. Upon arriving at the only accommodation in town, we were accosted by the hostel owner wanting to know if we were Jewish, because someone had used her pancake pans to cook bacon, and she had many Israelis passing through, and she knew the pan was no longer kosher, and she had rung a rabbi, and he told her to wait for a Jew, and when the Jew arrived they were to take the pancake pan to the sea and wash it in the water and say a prayer, and that would be ok. Inbal and I ventured to the sea. We didn’t know what prayer to say so we made one up. And asked God to make this pan clean again. Baruch atah Adonai make it clean again and wash it all away. The hostel owner was an avid rugby fan. She told me she hated Australians, but that I was ok because I was a Jew. I spent two weeks in Wanaka writing bad poetry. It was so cold. The lake was so still. There I was. On the brink of leaving teenage hood.
Intimacy is a scar
Wrapped around the boy’s arm.
In the final weeks of my trip I met a Belgian called Johann Franz Josef Schmidt, and to the horror of my parents, brought him home with me. He was an idiot but I couldn’t break up with him. We were all relieved when his visa expired.
Now. It’s a perfect Melbourne Autumn day. About nineteen degrees and blue skies. The footpath is a scattering of leaves and shadows cast by tree branches where those same leaves once clung to. Eight months ago I was in a maternity suite in the final hours of delivering my second child. My partner, a New Zealander, held one elbow, and my mother, held another elbow, as they escorted me to the toilet. There was no longer walk than that from the bed to the toilet. With every contraction I stopped and clawed at each of them, the father of my two children, the mother who bore me. In my final moments of pushing the baby out, he held one foot, the doctor held the other, and my mother could only sit, gasping from an unknown place, as she watched her granddaughter emerge from between my legs.
Intimacy can be found in all things. The back seat of a taxi. Toes in salt water. A young Israeli’s tears. The gift of a calm and crisp Melbourne day. My partner’s arm. My mother’s wail. A boy swinging above a mattress seventeen years ago.
Some names have been changed.