The soap is scented. It smells like my ex-boyfriend. Not the one who pushed me down onto the bed, but the one who tied me there. When I shower now I feel mesh knots grazing my wrists and hear flesh rubbing against flesh and taste red wine. One time we got really drunk on red wine and stayed up til six in the morning fucking and talking and fucking some more until the sun came up and we blacked out. Even after living in New York for two years, that night might be the closest I've come to a rock star life.
We had problems. He drank too much, like everyone else in college. He was on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds to help him cope with the loss of his parents. He was an orphan by the time he was 19. When we started dating, I knew his mother had died fairly recently, and one night we were at his apartment watching a movie and there was a scene with a funeral or something. He mentioned casually that it reminded him of when his dad had died, years ago. I told him I had to use the restroom, then I sat on the toilet with the fan on, crying.
The pills made him numb, I think. Not completely, but partially. He always appeared to be just on the brink of a sincere emotion, except for when we were intimate. When he kissed me, when he held onto the back of my neck while he made me come, when he rested his head on my stomach, that's when I saw who he really was. But outside of that, he lived in a shell. I saw him cry one time, on the eve of his college graduation. He said, No one will be there to watch me walk. A lone tear fell from his eye and I crawled into his lap on the edge of my bed and pulled his forehead into my neck and cradled him. Women who say they don't want to take care of men are lying. People want to take care of other people.
He was good at comforting too. Since I was a kid I've had this compulsion to scratch myself. My parents always said it was scented soaps and detergents, but really it's a coping mechanism to deal with stress and anxiety. Sometimes I scratch myself in my sleep. I would wake up in his bed with these red welts on my legs, blood drawn. He would pull me into the bathroom naked, bend down and run his hands along my marks and say, Oh sweetie, you have to stop scratching.
Another time, I was with him when I found out I had ovarian cysts. I had the worst period I've ever had in my life. I lay in his bed in the fetal position, unable to move from the pain. He went out and bought heating pads and laid them across my lower abdomen. They were the kind that stick to your skin, so I fell asleep with them on me, like leeches. I woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat so I ripped them off and cranked up the central AC and curled my body into his. We were only together for eight months or so, but we took care of each other like we had been together for years. It was strange, like children, we never said I love you.
I asked him once if he believed that things happen for a reason and he answered no so immediately and coldly that I knew he wasn't lying. It was the first time I knew we wouldn't end up together. They say the strongest human sense is smell, but really I think it's loss. The sense of loss and the scent of it, haunting and halting only when you reach the bottom of the bottle.