The Perfect Foreigner

We are all trapped.

Someone, somewhere—it doesn’t matter who, tarnished or bright as the sun—stands like a beacon in our memories for the time we got close. Close to what? Just close. That’s all I know. Close. Very close.

You might remember it as endless nights of the best sex you ever had. or the only time you wore your own skin comfortably. Or it lingers like immanence, a sense of falling and falling and believing for that one time, that you would be caught.

I remember it like drowning, of being unable to take a breath and not caring. The weight of him, the vastness of him, and his everywhereness. Like there was no part of the world that did not bear his fingerprint. All I saw, all I felt, all I knew waited for him to give it sense.

He is dead now, says the email from his wife. She says she found my email address amongst his things and felt she should notify me of his suicide. I don’t reply. I can’t reply.

What is there to say? Sorry for your loss? I gave him back to you and you lost him? Twice? I offered him up, like Abraham offering Isaac, back to his source, and it could not contain him? I did what I thought was the right thing, but I was wrong? No. I left him the way I found him. Floating between worlds. Angry that they weren’t bigger and bolder and on fire.

He taught me the beauty of a compromised existence. The saintliness of shadow. He taught me that hypocrisy was a Western concept and that walking the walk was how selfish people journeyed. He taught me, early on, how to leave him.

He had square hands, nimble hands, like colts ready to bolt. And skin that always smelled like the sea. It was, he said, because his father had been a fisherman, will balls full of saltwater. That he would never be free of the stench of tuna blood. And perhaps that was true. He was the colour of a sun dying on a calm sea.

I met him outside, on the windswept concrete of the Southbank. Smoking in the rain even though, in those days, he could have smoked in the lobby. He said he was enjoying the cool, wet air. The BFI was running a Japanese film series. I never asked, but I assumed he was there being a good representative for the home team.

He was always a good foreigner. Always ready to be charmed and impressed and grateful for the threadbare hospitality of the English, always particular about his suits being neat and quiet and pressed to perfection. The same with his shoes: shiny and tight, squeaking down drab hallways. His hair, clipped into a cap, half an inch from his skull. Its contours trapped light in the evenly distributed steel grey that never changed.

Kaito also taught me to endure a good, hard bite. Halfway between my neck and the slope of my shoulder, where the muscle tightens to stress. He would sit behind me, arms around my waist, press his teeth into my skin and listen to me breathe out the pain. Like a kitten learns to endure its mother’s grip, he said. Go limp. I have you and I will not let you go.

He taught me all about pain: its edge, its ache, and its pulsing, insistent voice that speaks into flesh. About how skin parted and knitted back together, how bruises painted the skin, how sweat stained the air. He taught me that a body wasn’t an object, it was an act. A ferocious act of being. He taught me to love fear, to lean into its curve, to let it dilate my pupils and make me breathless and wet. He taught me to desire desire. To close my eyes, tilt my head and listen to it sing through the fibres of the flesh. To eat it like a snake tries to swallow its own tail. Never quite the circle you imagine it to be; always a spiral.

He taught me the dignity of indignity, of the exultant power of facing it down, and the hundred and one inappropriate things with which I might be penetrated. A tube of multivitamins, a pocket watch—he laid his head on my pelvic bone and listened to its tick, the bud of a red tulip. There was nothing, he said, that wasn’t worth fucking.

Except for his cock. That, he insisted, was for making children. Once I whined about it, he tied me to the bed and asked me if I wanted a half-breed child. I said I didn’t want any child, so he fucked me with the case of his reading glasses.

“See?” he said, afterwards, perching the lenses smeared with my fluids on the tip of his nose. “Stop asking for things you don’t really want.”

But I did want him. I thought it mattered. I thought perhaps he saved his cock for his wife, back in Japan. Maybe that was how he managed to make his way through the twilight between my world and his. Keeping to rules he’d never explain to me.

When Kaito got drunk, he would talk about never going back to Japan. About getting divorced and becoming English like Kazuo Ishiguro. As time went by, he did get drunk more often, until I thought that all I needed to say was, “Do it. Be with me.”

That’s when I left and went so far I was sure he’d never find me, sure that I had escaped the trap of saying those words. The allure of altering the course of history. Because he’d taught me about duty. Because he’d taught me how to leave him.

Now he’s dead, and I’m still trapped. By the memory of being in the skin of that woman who knew him, who learned how to be what I was with him. And I can’t get out.

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