As I Lay Scratching
by AN Block
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I tell my probably soon-to-be-ex-wife, Mad Lee, offering her a half-empty bottle of calamine lotion and some cotton balls.
Once we communicated just through our eyes. Today, I never know which Lee I’m going to get: Silent, Dangerous, or once in a rare while now, Romantic.
She shakes her head, as though flabbergasted I’m still hanging around, snatches the peace offering, tightens her lips, and says, “Keep your distance! Asshole!”
Our first so-called date, wandering around campus, amounted to a procession of awkward sound bites. Hot Lee was out of my range, but she looked so eclectic to me, even with the crazy eyes and corny holiday sweater, I got goose bumps. All I knew, this girl inhabited Planet Chameleon.
The Saturday night following I bumped into Mysterious Lee prowling the shadowy lit quad in sunglasses, wielding a flash light. “My roommate’s visiting some Yalie,” she blurted out, when I waved hello. “All weekend. Shacking up.”
“Yeah? And, I just scored some killer weed,” I told her.
“I like your style,” she said.
Shortly thereafter we landed in bed, don’t even ask how, but the fact that I’d had minimal prior amatory practice, without being dead drunk, that is, came to life quickly.
“Cool it,” she told me. “I got this.”
“Go for it,” I said, keyed up to the max. “Be my guest.”
So, Inscrutable Lee placed an ancient Paul Anka 45, Tonight My Love Tonight, on the turntable, set it to automatic replay, lit a ginger-scented candle, and we just slammed away for what seemed like an hour, before crossing the finish line in tandem.
“This,” she said, “is an omen. A new all-time record.”
She brought me home to meet her mother Bella, who rolled her eyes and said, “True love? I’ll believe it when I see it. You two better shit, or get off the pot.”
We eloped four months later and spent our wedding night vowing we would never-ever-ever fall into the same traps our parents did, or settle for what they settled for in life. We would escape the cycle, liberate our consciences, stay relevant and transpire through every obstacle. Pure Lee made me swear we’d add only raw unirradiated milk and brown sugar to our coffee. We’d squeeze our own OJ.
Right after which she freaked out.
“We’re twenty-one,” she said, as we whizzed through the White Mountains on our two day honeymoon. “This is insane.”
“You’ll be twenty-two in a few months,” I said.
“But I don’t know who I am yet,” Hysterical Lee told me. “What my identity is.”
Right then, glancing up at the craggy-faced stiff lipped Old Man of the Mountain, I thought, Holy fuck, Smart Lee’s right!
“Come over here,” I said though, “and let’s play house. Worse comes to worse, we get a divorce. What’s the problem?”
“I like it,” Soft Lee said. “Hey, pull over, you.”
I got paranoid someone might de-materialize, but felt so invigorized from my Perfect Lee, I thought I’d bust. Was this really happening, could something this beautiful last?
Trouble surfaced one month in. “Ooh, Lee, thank you Lee for cooking such a delicious healthy dinner,” she’d said. “Why, Russell, so considerate of you to show your appreciation,” she continued.
One might conclude that our initial utopia had worn off.
Now, she stands in front of me, her eyes oblique slashes. She stops tearing at the scaly skin on her arms long enough to slather on gobs of lotion.
At times like this I go for a nice easy 7 miler, and let whatever sweat I work up drip where it may, but I’m nursing an Achilles now and there’s ice on the streets, so I stand there cringing, licking my lips.
“I’m an asshole,” I start singing, basso profundo, “I’m an asshole, I’m an asshole till I die, but I’d rather be an asshole, than a drunken Theta Chi.”
“Rules have been violated,” Righteous Lee says, and she goes on in her usual inherent manner.
“Okay, stop. Sweetheart, what are we gobbling about?” I ask her. “Did I commit the unpardonable digression of mixing whites up with reds and blues again?”
“I’ve told you, don’t throw your gross scummy nauseating clothes in with mine, ever. Do yours separately, dumb-ass.”
“No disrespect,” I say, “but isn’t there something still not quite right with you, upstairs? Shouldn’t you be still seeing that counselor-in-training?”
She goes bulimic on me. “Who ran out of gas on the highway? Who drops his oily junk oozing germs everywhere, leaving a bloody mess in his wake? Who married me under false pretenses?”
“Pretenses? Did I claim I had a neat fetish? Did I promise to fit you out in jasmine?”
“You led me to believe that you’d have a real job by now. Not tending bar. The situation is not under control, okay?”
“Hey, peace, baby.”
“Ooh, Russell Stone, high scorer on the basketball team!”
“Woo-hoo! At some Montessori School where your teammates just circled around the court and wouldn’t shoot the ball.”
Fill in the blanks: today it’s posing I’m an athlete, yesterday it’s how bartenders are drug pushing retro-bates who’ll lie in your face. “Weasels!” she’d said. The day before, I’m a loud “party hearty” fraternity brother polluting her air space with Old Spice.
The worst is this full-blown allergic reaction Awful Lee’s developed. She’s so fair-skinned, all I have to do is brush against her and she breaks out in rashes and welts. She starts to itch. Forget an occasional kiss, if I even dare step forward she shrinks back, scratching like crazy.
I get it: she’s trying to rewire my brain to her specifications.
What I don’t know though, being stuck in this whole allergic quagmire, is it really me, or is this more just Insane Lee?
AN Block teaches at Boston University, is Contributing Editor at the Improper Bostonian and a Master of Wine. Recent stories have appeared in Buffalo Almanack (recipient of its Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence), Umbrella Factory Magazine (a Pushcart Prize nominee), Lowestoft Chronicle (a Pushcart Prize nominee), Solstice, The Maine Review, The Junto, Constellations, Contrary, and several others.