I often brought my tape recorder to our outings. I never took photographs during the entire time I knew Alan, but I immortalized us in another way. I have tapes of conversation from past dinners. I wanted to capture the essence of his voice on my recorder and play it back to me later. I felt like I’d suddenly stumble upon a magic code within the tapes – the secret to our relationship revealed: his love, my anxiety.
I taped us at a bar once on South Street. He ordered something cheap with a lime sliver. Glasses clinked, and I sipped my water slowly between agreeable utterances, hiding my slim silver recorder under the table. I can’t remember now what I was taping for, what confession I’d hoped would bleed from his words, his jokes. What had I expected to hear in the late night listening hours: Desire? Love? Betrayal? Perhaps I’d hoped for them all. Later that night, under the down comforter, under the pillows for half-hour stretches, night became morning and my tape rolled. I expected Truth; I heard murmurs and mumblings the next day: Jumbled, meaningless, impenetrable. I taped more: weeks of phone tapped conversation, he asking about movies, a book I read, a news story. I listened between the lines later, but there was only space, seconds of breathing time. When the tape ran out, I learned this: I could never capture Alan. One night after a late Ethiopian dinner and drinks, I went back to his apartment and we watched some HBO on his comfortable beige couch – much more comfortable than the futon I’d bought for my living room for $179 at Big Lots. Overall, his apartment was bigger and better than mine. He had a cat, more space, and a much bigger television with cable. He received two newspapers every day and The New Yorker, and his computer had Internet access. He had a maid service come every couple weeks and clean up, since I had told him I could no longer sleep in the filth of his apartment.
“There’s cat hair everywhere,” I had told him one sleepless night. “It’s revolting. Once we were about to hook up, and I saw a cat hair on your penis.”
“You did not.”
“It’s just making me ill. I half-expect a cat to leap out at me from your penis hole.”
His face contorted. Any desire to kiss or touch vanished from his face. I’d never seen him go from turned on to off so quickly.
“That is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard you say.”