My boyfriend is as harmless as a sandwich. Last night, he was bent over me in perfect love and today we are hungover, standing in our socks in my geography professor’s living room, tempted by breakfast and sleeping in, but seduced by sixty dollars. We met in an intensive about Toni Morrison. It was a class of twenty, which is a lot for our school. He was one of eighteen white kids in that class, and he spoke up the least, which is why I started to like him.
We are at the house of my geography professor. Her husband had opened the door for us, shirtless, holding his computer in one hand. He gave us a tour of the house and pointed out a painting in their bedroom of “two girls fooling around.” My boyfriend looked over at me like that was funny. In the kitchen, I noticed that their collection of Babybel cheese is kept unrefrigerated. My professor is French. You can tell by her voice, and because she just told us that she and her husband met through adultery, as if it was an app on your phone.
I mention to the husband that I’m studying writing. My boyfriend stands behind him. His legs are crossed and he holds the handle of his water bottle in a way that looks emasculating, especially compared to our new shirtless employer. The husband sounds kind of interested in what I’m saying, and then he mentions something about his father’s Pulitzer. I say something back that sounds interested. My professor pokes her head out from the bathroom door. She’s wearing a fuzzy turtleneck. Putting her hair back into a large clip, she walks to meet us in the living room. My professor asks us if we know who her husband’s father is. We shake our heads. She asks us if we know who Oscar Reagan is.
That’s not his real name. It sounds sort of similar but I can’t say more than that—this job provides me with just enough cash to buy two tall cans of hard lemonade and cigarettes every weekend at the discount beverages store with enough left over to get my nails done every two weeks. What happens next may move me, but not enough to part with my money and dark red gel nails with 0.8-centimeter tips in an almond shape.
The parents leave. My boyfriend tells me that Oscar Reagan was a really famous scientist and I tell him I’m not an idiot. The truth is I had no idea what Oscar Reagan did for a living but I’m the kind of person who likes people to think they know about all sorts of things, but then again, most people are that kind of person. I tell him, well, his grandson seems to have a pretty immutable sense of who he is at the moment and obviously takes great pleasure in showing it.
Oscar Reagan’s grandson is three and a half years old. His name is Princess Elsa and we are only allowed to call him that. He also answers to Elsa. Elsa’s small head is covered with soft, curly brown hair. He asks me to clip an icy blonde braid into his hair, and help him put on satin, elbow-length turquoise gloves. The clip-in braid is attached to a blue fabric circle, embroidered with a snowflake on top. So I put everything on him, and Princess Elsa looks a bit Jewish, but who knows what religion Princess Elsa really was.
Playing out this plot of domesticity was fun. He reads a book to Princess Elsa, while I sit with my feet up and my arms folded on the small couch. Elsa isn’t too interested though. He gets up and runs to his room. My boyfriend looks at me. I think he’s going to get up and chase the Princess, because he is not familiar yet with the perpetual problem of babysitting: it is really hard to care about kids who aren’t your own. But I’m wrong. He pulls out his Juul. Men used to hunt and gather and now they stand in line for sneakers and remain seated and vape on the floor. I take the Juul and use it because I’m an addict. He tells me that he likes my Professor’s Eames chair. My boyfriend is always saying stuff like that. It’s not completely his fault. His name is a kind of beefy appetizer. I see him constantly in restaurants. Every time I open a menu he’s there: tender and braised, prime grade and sustainably farmed. I never learn to expect it. His parents aren’t strict carnivores, they’re architects. I visited his house over winter break this year. There are windows on the ceiling, plenty of lofts, and rooms that only a small child could stand up straight in. He took my virginity on a chair shaped like an egg. It was through him that I found my way through the first semester of college. His eyes were boundless and spun out in endless potential in the fading light of winter in Massachusetts. I could easily picture our life together upstate: we would have sheep in the backyard, a large dining table with candle wax on the tablecloth, gardens, twin desks, and monochromatic furniture. Some rose-colored Wes Anderson fantasy but with better food.
He comes to sit down next to me. I uncross my arms and sit up, slouching forward and resting on his right shoulder. I tell him how tired I am. He turns to me slow. Then he fumbles with my pants zipper with an imprecision that makes me certain he wouldn’t be a good architect. A popular bartender maybe. He pulls down my pants and I laugh as a way of saying go for it. Sometimes I think that intimacy is just his way of treading water, waiting for the next thing to happen. It’s not a bad way to go through life. Love, or at least the motions of it, was his banister in the dark intermediary hallways of college. Then I feel something cold. My face goes blank.
You will always have a record to remember Duke Ellington. Princess Elsa will always have Mars to remember Oscar Reagan. I will always have beef and this vape that my boyfriend stuck up my vagina to remember him by. I can’t believe a move like that is guided by intelligence. No, instinct. Which is definitely worse. And maybe it says something about man and technology but right now it feels like a clerical error where neither of us understands the nature of what he did wrong.
He looks at me like he’s a really nice person and I tell him to stop. I ask him what he was doing. He tells me it was a gesture.
I put my clothes on really fast. I walk in the direction that Princess Elsa went. I take three steps and notice something small. I take one more step and see the tiny little piece of poop on the floor. I walk into the bathroom and there’s more. I find Princess Elsa in his room, staring innocently at a fern in the window. I call for my boyfriend. He finds us and looks as scared as I am. Princess Elsa says he doesn’t want to change or shower. I tell him he either stands right here on a paper towel for the next three hours or he changes. We put down a towel where the Princess stands. I pull up the skirt of the dress and I don’t like what I smell. I feel myself start to cry, and because I don’t want Princess Elsa to have a fucked up relationship with pooping, I leave the room.
I hear water running. My boyfriend soaps until Elsa’s skin is clean. I text the parents. He dries the Princess with a towel. I come back. He finds clean underwear. I keep Princess Elsa balanced as he holds out underwear for him to step into. I get new pants. He throws everything away. I give Elsa a Babybel. He wipes my mascara. I put the dirty clothes in the wash. He checks the bathtub. I wipe everything down once more. He investigates the mystery of making jello, the red kind, for Elsa. The three of us sit at the kitchen table. He takes a spoonful of jello and holds it in front of my face. It stuns me, all the way down in the raw core of my body to think that in a year or two from now this morning would be a foggy memory that my boyfriend would struggle to piece together, maybe when recounting his past to a new girlfriend: Wait, what did I do? Who was that girl? All of this would fade into the collection of uncomfortable trials that everyone experiences when first coming to college. I, on the other hand, would use him as a collaborator on my story. He was a sitting duck in the barrel of my history, and that, of course, is a gesture also.