Conversations You Have at Twenty

Jake and I would have sex anywhere: golf courses, libraries, busy parking lots, other people’s closets, driving down the highway. Once we did it in a hotel room while his mother was awake and lying in the next bed. I guess I must have gotten some physical pleasure from our escapades, but in hindsight I remember only an urge to impress him—the boy who at seventeen had enjoyed a ménage à trois with Swedish twins and by twenty-one had laid a total of forty-three women—and a mutual callousness that bordered on violence. He moved me around like a rag doll, twisted me like a flex toy. I handled him like I was taking revenge on everyone who’d ever wronged me.

When I tell stories now about our relationship, he’s the crazy one who drove the wrong way down roads with his lights off, the asshole who berated me at public gatherings, the monster who gave me an STD and then insinuated that I’d given it to him. I leave out all the events that implicate me in the madness. The day I ripped my glasses from my face, twisted them until they broke, and flung them out of his speeding truck onto the highway. All the nights I fled our apartment in my nightgown to lie in the bushes and weep. The crazed summer afternoon that I brandished a kitchen knife at him, then at myself, then threatened to jump from the window.

We were living in the Gainesville student ghetto with my previous boyfriend, Todd. Being a sane boy, he had more or less stopped speaking to us about anything except who would buy the next round of toilet paper. When the phone rang, he didn’t pick up. It was too likely to be Jake’s mother, Mindy.

“Hi, kids,” she would say, on the answering machine. “I’ve been in the hospital again, but don’t worry. You’re busy. You have more important things on your mind. And the doctor says it’s not fatal—not yet, anyway. Speak with you when you have a moment.”

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