Desire: An Elegy

The biggest problem now that you are dead is that I can talk about you. And it is unseemly to talk about you. But I have been talking. Because once I made a list of all the people I’d ever slept with. We were all making lists then. My list was in the double digits, eleven I think, and it made me feel strange until my friend Lisa said her list was in the forties. She lost count. And she was younger than me. But I could name every person on my list even if it had only been a one time thing and that revealed something about me she said. And you were on the list. And it was after you died, after I heard you’d died, that I returned to the list and it was true. You were the only dead one. The only dead one on the list. Someday others on the list will be dead.

There is one who is old, older than you were even, and so I imagine he will be the next dead. For now he is married to a woman my age to a woman who is an actress sometimes he tells me to a woman with a father who is also an alcoholic and isn’t that a coincidence he says, winking, in the way one can wink in an email. I didn’t know your husband was Jewish he writes with an exclamation point. It is unseemly.

These exclamation points.

But not as unseemly as your death which was gruesome we were all thinking about you and your belt and I’m not supposed to talk about it for days and nights though it was none of our business though you are allowed. Though we have to allow it of you though we revere you for it now though you make us sick and we love you now with an intensity that embarrasses us. The intensity we reserve for the dead for our love of the dead. You were beautiful we realize now and it sickens us. That we’d forgotten or hadn’t noticed.

And here I am with you on my list thinking of the time and the desire.

Desire was you sitting next to me offering me a Ritz cracker you spitting in your cup but desire was also the man at home the man in my bed that night. Desire was the way we kissed each other as if looking for something else not the other and it made us both sad. But we were already sad. That was desire. Desire was the way you liked that there was a man in my house if not my bed and you liked that I left his sweatpants at your house one day and desire was you feeding the man’s pants to your dog.

Desire was the way you took me to the grocery store in your new car and desire was you telling me “you’re hot” and me oh is he just like all the rest I must have thought because you did say hot you called me hot and you even you. Especially you.

Desire was the way you came over with your dogs and we walked around the park and you told me about your tennis match. Desire was the way you followed certain conventions and ignored others. Desire was the way you said I can’t be your thesis advisor because I want to date you. It was funny how you used the word date. We both laughed. It was funny how you opened doors for me. It was funny that when I commented on the insistent opening of doors you said that your mother had taught you. To open doors. It was funny that I knew then that I would teach my son the same thing.

Desire was me not caring and knowing it would break me open but also knowing that I needed to be broken open that I needed to die.

We ate Chinese food and it wasn’t good Chinese food because we were in Central Illinois. And my stomach hurt it was indigestion and I shouldn’t have told you but I did and you were so kind. Me gassy and you and I wasn’t embarrassed and that was desire.

Desire was your shirt that I wore that you wanted back that I wouldn’t give back because fuck you. And me sitting on your couch watching Alien and then Aliens on your VHS player because you couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen one or the other while you wrote letters you signed with smiley faces to all of the people who loved you.

I was nearing thirty; you were nearing forty. I thought you were old.

I told Lisa that I’d never slept with someone who killed himself. Or was it that no one I’d ever slept with had killed himself. Or that of all the people I’d ever slept with, you were the only one to be dead. To be now dead. To be dead because he killed himself. It was wrong, the way I put it, because there is no way to put it, but she knew what I meant. And after I heard about you I found my list and I wrote to everyone left alive on my list and I asked each one to promise me that he would never kill himself. And no one wrote back.

Suzanne Scanlon’s fiction is forthcoming or has recently appeared in The Iowa Review, PANK, 580 Split, Midwestern Gothic and many other places; essays and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The Review of Contemporary Fiction and elsewhere. She writes about theater for Time Out Chicago.