Blue Portrait

Matt was a blind date, the only one I ever went on. He was an acquaintance of a girl who had the locker next to mine senior year. She thought I’d like him because he was an artist and was sort of in a band. He played bass. I did like him; he appealed to my latent desire for bad boys. He was thin and strong. He had curly hair, golden like his skin, and it flopped over his eyes. He had beautiful lips, red and full. I can’t remember his eyes.

I also can’t remember much of what we did together all that long summer after graduation. He took me around to the video store where he worked. I perched, bored, on a tattered vinyl ottoman mended with skateboard tape, in the tiny back room behind the counter while he and his buddy watched slasher movies, grunting little bursts of awed laughter at the sickest parts.

I took him around to the restaurant where I worked. I ordered a salad, no bacon, trying to adhere to my well-intentioned, Smiths-inspired vegetarianism. He ordered a fat, drippy cheeseburger and grunted grudging hellos to my friends.

But when we were alone, he was tender, holding my hand, opening doors for me, and sometimes when we talked all his teenaged attitude fell away and he was enthusiastic, sweet, his eyes widening with unaffected interest in the things I said. He was a good boyfriend. At the movies, he looped an arm around my shoulders and gently nuzzled my neck, and I thought if he had a letter jacket he’d have asked me to wear it.

We hung out at his house, in the basement family room, watching videos. His bedroom was down there, too, but I couldn’t go in there, it was a house rule. After it seemed late enough, his parents asleep, his stepbrothers and sisters off and away, with only the TV for light, we’d have sex on the couch. That was good, somehow. Despite a near-total lack of experience the sex was entrancingly good.

Chemistry notwithstanding, I started to realize he wasn’t very interesting. He didn’t read. I saw very little evidence of art in him, unless a surly expression and a collection of faded black t-shirts make an eighteen year old boy an artist. He spoke with vicious bitterness of the last girl he’d dated. He despised the tyranny of discipline his mother and stepfather imposed on him.

He complained endlessly about how horrible his parents were, how he hated his life, his stepbrothers and stepsister, and everything else. He told me how he fantasized about killing them. One day, he smugly mentioned he’d dropped acid before picking me up for a date the day before. That was too much for me. I was a good, sensible girl, for the most part. When he talked like that, he scared me, and he embarrassed me. My parents were blandly kind. I had no worries like his.

One day, he smugly mentioned he’d dropped acid before picking me up for a date the day before. That was too much for me. I was a good, sensible girl, for the most part.

We’d sit on the phone, and I’d listen sympathetically and offer the best advice my AP psychology class had equipped me for. He’d complain, and I’d offer suggestions on ways he could talk to his parents about what bothered him, get to the root of the problem. He’d reject my suggestions with more whining.

Panicky boredom was already sprouting in me by my birthday in the middle of the summer. For weeks in advance, he hinted about a special present, a painting. He wouldn’t tell me anything more, but I’d catch him looking at me in a way I never saw at other times. Open eyed, face washed clean of sullenness and sarcasm. He looked much sweeter and younger, watching me like that. It made me uncomfortable. When I caught him staring I’d make a joke, or kiss him, to make him stop.

My birthday came, and I dutifully sat blindfolded at the table while he arranged his gifts on the table in front of me.

There was a dinner of Chinese food. He paid his step-brother to go get it in time. A bunch of flowers. There were some other small gifts, I think. I think he made me a mixtape. We did things like that back then. His mixtape would have had a lot of Sex Pistols and very old Cure, and maybe some Ministry. He was a very angry young man, after all. And there was the painting, propped against a vase so I could see it.

It looked like a Matisse, bold colors and outlines in acrylic. My skin was blue, my hair faithfully an oranged brown, the background a murk of green and black. My eyes stood out the most—virid green. I looked sullen, sarcastic. Not happy. I didn’t understand, then, why he used blue for my face, but now I think I do.