Lisa Freifrau von Plochingen

I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know

Rae Johnson, To Clarke’s Room. 1995, acrylic on paper. 22 1/2 × 30”.

Tim rolled away from me on the bed, sighed, and said, “What is wrong with that asshole?” From the floor above us we could hear, once again, the familiar opening bars of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. It had already been playing when we arrived at the apartment. We didn’t know each other very well and had never been to bed together, and we had lain there already for over an hour, trying and failing to have sex. He had kissed me in an increasingly hopeless fashion, unable to get it up, because he was so angry. I felt elated, because when you find yourself in bed with a man you barely know—

Find yourself is the wrong phrase. It’s not as if I awakened from a Rohypnol-induced trance and discovered my helpless form in Tim’s bed with no pants on. I had been pursuing him for at least six months.

Anyway, when you’re getting to know a partner, it can be a long time before you get a sense of their potential for violence, or how they deal with anger and frustration, much less what they look like when they’re homicidal. It’s important to know, and most times you figure it out way too late. So I was glad to have seen Tim in a state of rage. I had dared to go to bed with a deep-voiced, muscular near-stranger who had more hair on his body than his head—a major testosterone victim—and already I had witnessed his gentle, effective way of taming hatred. It felt special.

We weren’t major dancers, but we both liked to go to this certain club because the people there were nice and we liked the music. We were friends with the same DJ, a woman who specialized in the kind of deep house we were both into—a significant thing to have in common, so many years past its heyday—and that night she had finally introduced us.

Hearing the song play on repeat while trying to concentrate on sex was a torment to Tim. He was relaxed and stiff in all the wrong places from suppressed rage and possibly beer. “I fucking hate that motherfucking fucker,” he finally said, bunching up his pillow between his fists. He clearly meant his upstairs neighbor, not Bill Withers.

“It’s too late to go to my house,” I said. It wasn’t strictly true, but neither of us had a car or wanted to ride a night bus into the hills for forty-five minutes and walk another fifteen to get to my tiny apartment on the edge of a village. Tim’s space was furnished simply, with various colorful objects (records, T-shirts) scattered across disposable furniture in shades of white and gray, but mine was not furnished at all, with a mattress on the floor and my linens in a duffel bag.

“I could go down to the basement and flip the main circuit breaker,” he said. “But it would spoil everything in the freezer. I just bought really good ice cream. Not to mention my roommates and the other neighbors.”

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