210 E 95th Street, Apartment 4B: where I faced a brick wall for 2/3 of the time in delicious, eyelid-crunched slumber; where I scratched the hardwood floors by dancing in silver platform high heels; where sunlight was persnickety and stained only a triangle of my bedspread; where I watched constellations of dust motes and wished I could live in between them; where I snacked on dark chocolate before bed; where I had to listen to someone masturbate because my bedroom walls were tissue paper; where I cried listening to an opera singer’s arias every Thursday evening because I couldn’t clench her music in my fist; where I hadn’t yet met you.
You were the New York boyfriend. On our first date, you took me to a bar called Fat Cat, where I found you harmless, boyish even. But as the evening wore on, I noticed whenever you laughed or smiled, your features would gargoyle into themselves, making me wonder if I’d said or done something wrong. That night you taught me how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Farsi and we played a round of pool, kissing between our turns. We got a bottle of your preferred red wine over my preferred white. Then another. And another. The wine stained your tongue, your teeth. By the end of the night, your whole mouth was red. For some reason, I invited you back to mine.
In my bedroom on the left, I showed you the bug bites I’d collected on the backs of my upper thighs when home that past weekend. They swelled so big; they were cartoons of bug bites. I must have had an allergic reaction. You made me lie naked on my stomach and poured aloe vera on your palms. You started rubbing it onto me, but then you thought it would be funny to bite my ass. You licked it where it stung, then bit it hard again. You really sunk your teeth into me, and that time, I screamed. “What?” you said. “I’m a mosquito.”
It rained the day you showed me how to roast heads of garlic with olive oil, and we took them back to bed. We peeled away the naked cloves, scorching the skin under our fingernails, we ate them so fast. They tasted like caramel, falling apart on my tongue, between my teeth, softly and sweetly like a mash. We licked the oil from our hands and picked away the torn, silken skins that stuck to our fingertips. We killed that head of garlic, and I begged you to make me another one.
We watched a documentary on the Nature Channel about spider love. We learned how spiders fall in love with flies. How they wait and watch for those flies and build up poisonous saliva in their fangs. Spiders don’t have teeth, so their diets are 100% liquid. They sink or spit the saliva into their prey, melting it. After a fly is rolled up, all delicate and pristine, the spider sits there, while their sucking stomach slurps the bug to nothing. You told me this reminded you of when you were young and saw a television special about scientists tormenting spiders with mind-altering drugs. It reminded me of the day you made me tell you I loved you before I was ready. It reminded me of the day you strapped a ball gag around the tears on my face and kissed me through it.
Every week, we ordered takeout from your favorite Persian restaurant, Ravagh. I distinctly remember you skating your spoon over our shared bowl of faloodeh—this fragrant bowl of vermicelli noodles soaked in rose water and sugar, served with lemon juice and sweet cherries in syrup. You found such delight in how much I pretended to love the taste of your home, which to me tasted like perfume, like stick-in-the-back-of-your-throat flower petals. You told me your mother would make you mast-o-khiar with cucumber and mint leaves and you would eat it by the spoonful like it was dessert. Everything was an indulgence to you. You wanted to drown in me, to suffocate yourself in your motherland saffron rice and kingly meat. You gorged on me like you gorged on your sultani kebob, always ordering double portions, always giving me exactly half of everything. As if, laughably, we were equals.
One night I was so drunk, I couldn’t feel my face. The patina of the room shifted, and in a back corner of my mind, I realized you had slid into me without asking, entered just assuming you could. You kept going until I nearly fell off the bed, I was so limp. You kept trying to wake me up, kept trying to get me into it, but I had the spins. I must have looked like a jellyfish I was so gone, and I wondered how you could have been hard looking at me looking so liquid. It felt like you were taking everything from me when you finished. The next morning, I told you it was okay when you said you didn’t realize I was drunk. What I didn’t realize, until I looked in the mirror, was that I had your teeth marks on my body. I didn’t realize the stains on my sheets until after you left.
Before we broke up, you brought a bag of raw almonds to my bedroom and put a handful of them in a glass of water. You said bitter almonds had hydrogen cyanide in them, which carried the risk of poisoning its eater. Soaking them removed such a risk. I didn’t think grocery stores in America would sell bitter almonds. I imagined it wasn’t possible the FDA would ever approve something like that or that they would allow them to be marketed for sale. But I kept my mouth shut. We soaked the almonds because we had nothing else to do, and when you finally thought they were ready to eat, you were beaming. I let you put a singular almond on my tongue, eyes closed like it was consecrated host at St. Paul’s on Sundays. It didn’t crunch. My teeth sunk right into the meat that tasted like butter, like something it wasn’t, and I didn’t like that. But we ate those almonds until my stomach hurt.
The start of Covid was the end of us when I left New York and came home. Of course, you didn’t make it easy. But because you weren’t physically there, I could no longer be your ragdoll. I looked at your face on the screen and a cog inside me jammed. You were so flickable, I laughed.
Two and a half years later, I received a message from someone I didn’t know. It was your ex-girlfriend, the one you found after me. We talked for hours about the oddly similar particulars of our relationships: your temper tantrums and massaging of all narratives, the sexual coercion and vaginismus, so much denial and jealousy. Your sucking-slurping control finally hit me. Just as a dog loves what makes him sick, I had kept eating your almonds and garlic, kept trying to masticate a wrong relationship into something I could swallow. My salve then became the conversation between us women. We forgave ourselves and each other, realizing we’d exposed our necks to the teeth of an animal that—just for a time—was stronger than us.