Chloe asked me who I would be if I was different and how could I answer that question. I wouldn't be here talking to you, and she nodded like I'd just said something significant.
My father left before I could speak which wouldn't be remarkable if I wasn't white and middle-class. Sometimes I think I became a lesbian so I'd have a cross to bear.
My mother says my father is good-looking and she must be right.
I know myself only as the accumulation of certain facts and when Chloe asks me what else I am, where the emotions are, I touch her and don't stop until she is quiet but later, I know, she'll yell at me and cry because I use sex as a distraction and, even though I can't argue with her, I will.
When I applied for my current job, I wrote I had a B.S. in Knowledge System Design from International Technical College in a small French town near the German border and when I was asked if I spoke French, I said the College was also part of a special intensive language program and so the classes were all in English. I didn't need to learn French, I said and the CFO nodded and said, English is the language of technology.
I'm having an affair.
Katherine works in the programming bull pen and I noticed her because she didn't look up when I laughed which everyone else did. I laugh very loud.
She's focused, I said to her boss.
She's deaf, her boss said.
I've never been to Europe. Unlike most Americans, however, I can locate France on a map.
When Chloe found the American Sign Language dictionary, I said it was for a project at work and she didn't ask any more questions because she hates hearing about my job.
This is something I love about Chloe: When I'm cooking she'll stand in the kitchen talking to me and she won't get out of my way. I have to put my hands on her hips and move her and she won't miss a beat, not a word.
I learned to say hello in sign language which is exactly like saying hello at a distance so I also learned to say, Which project are you on, which is the workplace equivalent of, What's your sign.
I also learned to say, Will you go to bed with me, which is the one thing I can say in French.
My mother does not like that I'm a lesbian.
I don't want to talk about it, she said the day I called to tell her Chloe and I decided to move in together. And then she went on to tell me never to mention it to my grandparents.
I don't think it's to my mother's credit that she's always polite to Chloe -- spells her name right and has her birthday presents on our door step on time. Chloe knows my mom hates her. Chloe and I have a joke that everything my mother buys her has You Ruined My Daughter's Life and I Hate You on it in secret writing. Chloe won't wear any of the clothes to clubs because we're sure it'll show up in the black light.
I've worn glasses since I was five, and they are a subject of vanity. I have them made thin, the edges polished and anti-glare coating added. I wear the smallest lenses imaginable. Without my glasses, the world looks like a Monet copied by a five-year-old with an unsteady hand.
My job title is Chief Knowledge Officer, and it means I make sure everyone has access to the information they need. Chloe says, It sounds like the first job you'd cut during downsizing. I say, Without me, they wouldn't know they need to downsize.
As CKO, I talk to everyone. I tell them I'll go to any lengths to get them what they need. Once I did handstands. Literally. In the third floor conference room but it was to prove a point and on a bet and the Guinness I was bought afterward was the best beer I ever had.
Chloe asked me if everything was joke with me and I said, Not everything. Just the funny things, and because it was a bad time for us, she said, I can't imagine being in this relationship with you if I actually needed support from my partner.
It's a good thing you're perfect, I said and ended the conversation by going into the other room.
In sign, I learned to say, What additional information do you need for your job, and, Can we schedule a meeting to discuss it. I worried this might be sexual harassment even though I didn't have the power to promote or fire. Still, I made $32,567 more a year than she did and that was power imbalance enough.
I read lips, she wrote on the white board that hung next to her.
I put my hands in my pockets.
I'll ask for any additional help I need, and then she looked back at her computer screen and her fingers flew across the keyboard, and I realized she'd just hung up on me.
I drive a Honda Accord which is the car of most accountants according to a survey in last week's USA Today. The survey listed fifty professions and the cars they preferred as a group. Chief Knowledge Officer was not one of the professions. Neither was photographer which is what Chloe is.
I told her, when we first moved in together, that she didn't need to work if she didn't want to. You can take pictures full-time if you want to, I said.
You probably don't think being a mom is work either, do you?
It isn't work if you don't have to be at a place with artificial light and talk to at least seven people who you would never, under any circumstances whatsoever, let into your house. Chloe laughed but that was at the beginning.
I walked up and started talking to Katherine and then hit myself on the thigh when I realized, standing behind her, I might as well be in my office under the desk with the door shut thinking the things I wanted to say.
I put my hand on her shoulder, and she didn't jump, just turned slowly and I wondered if she knew I'd been there the whole time.
Do you think people who lose one sense compensate with their other senses?
Chloe said, Talk to the dog, not to me. I heard the shutter click.
Do you want a catamaran? I asked the dog. Say catamaran.
Oh, just don't talk, Chloe said.
Katherine asked me out to lunch, and I was surprised to hear her voice which was so low I had to lean close. Her words all had a blunt edge to them like she wasn't quite sure about the relationship of tongue to speech. I said yes even though I wasn't sure what she wanted and it couldn't possibly have been the same thing I wanted. Still, when I went into the bathroom to pull my socks up and run my hands through my hair, I practiced saying, Will you go to bed with me, in sign language and then put my hand flat on the reflection of my face and said, Idiot. It occurred to me that I should feel guilty.
At lunch, Katherine told me she thought I'd asked her what she needed for her job because she was deaf and needed extra help. By the time she said, I write excellent code, her voice was loud and grating but I knew telling her to lower it would be meaningless.
I put my hand on her arm. It's my job to ask everyone that, I said.
She took a note pad out of her pocket and wrote, I know. I found out when I complained about you to my boss, and when I laughed she didn't look to see who was listening she just smiled.
I made Chloe dinner that night but in bed I asked her to be quiet because her voice wasn't what I wanted to hear.
Chloe knows about my dad and I don't think she's able to get over the fact that I don't talk to her about it.
Nobody in my family talks about it.
Nobody in your family talks, she said.
After a while of me being quiet and her being angry, Chloe said, It would be easy for you to lie, and she's said that before in a whole variety of words.
I look like my mother fell into a Xerox machine. Slightly lighter than the original.
As I get older, different wrinkles are emerging and I don't know where those come from.
Don't you feel anything about your father? Chloe asked and I said, I can't feel anything about someone I don't know.
Katherine smokes and I started going outside with her in the morning.
I stood with one foot on the bench where she sat and told her I liked my job more than I ever would have imagined, and she stared at my mouth in a way that made me want to keep talking even though I couldn't think of anything to say.
I've never even seen a picture of my dad. I'm sure my mother has one but I'm afraid to ask.
Who would you be, Chloe said, if he hadn't disappeared like that?
I wouldn't be here talking with you now, I said.
The first time Katherine and I made love, we were in her apartment and it surprised me that she had a stereo and I wanted to ask her about it but I wanted to get her naked more.
She got up after she came and stood in the middle of the kitchen drinking glass after glass of water and I lay on the bed and watched her through the open doorway. Instead of walking back into the room with me, she put on a CD and a low beat started and Vicki Sue Robinson sang that she loved to hear percussion. Katherine sat on the floor with her back against the speaker and closed her eyes. I looked at her for a long time, long enough for another song to start, disco I didn't recognize, before I walked in and stood next to her. Katherine's eyes were still closed when she ran her hand up the inside of my thigh. You're so wet, she said as she touched me and her voice wasn't quiet at all. I tried to stand still but I could feel a pulsing in my body and I wasn't sure if it was the disco beat pushed through the speaker and through her into me or if it was my own heartbeat. I tapped her shoulder so she'd open her eyes and look at me. Do you want to go to bed with me, I signed. She laughed an odd, keening sound that I recognized only because of the look on her face. She pulled me down on top of her and kissed me until I thought I would cry with wanting her and then my back was against the speaker and she was between my legs and the whole time she kept her fingers on my lips and I said her name over and over and hoped she understood.
Chloe has had her photos hung in over one hundred galleries and last year two of her pictures were included in a textbook on darkroom techniques.
My dad was in the navy.
Katherine is tall and even standing on tip-toes I can't see over her shoulder.
When Katherine fell asleep, I stayed awake to watch her. I wondered if she talked in her sleep and if she did was it with her hands.
I told Chloe I was in Chicago on business and didn't leave Katherine's apartment for three days.
When Chloe and I first started dating she handed me a camera and said show me what you see and I turned the lens until everything was suitably out of focus.
I want to understand how you see the world, Chloe said as she looked through her Nikon at the house across the street.
At the time, I thought that was romantic.
Katherine drives an MG despite the fact that programmers are supposed to be partial to Volkswagen Jettas.
I made love to Chloe two days after I came home from Katherine's apartment which was enough time, I thought, for the smell of Katherine to work out of my pours. You didn't bring me any Gino's, she said in the dark after we were done and I remembered that I always brought her Gino's home from Chicago and so the next day, I called and ordered four pepperoni and sausage pizzas and had them sent to her UPS.
That's so sweet, Chloe said when they arrived and during the first two weeks of my affair with Katherine things at home were nicer than they'd been in a long time.
I imagined telling a friend why I was having the affair but I couldn't come up with a good reason and so I didn't tell anybody. Not that I would have anyway.
Do you think you'd be gay if you'd known him?
What, I asked Chloe. I was almost asleep and my back was to her.
If you'd known your father, do you think you'd be gay or straight?
I think I'd be asleep, I said.
The navy was how Chloe found him and she must have talked to my mother too which frightened me. Too much unsupervised knowledge of me in one place.
She handed me a slip of paper and on it was my dad's name -- Chuck Campbell -- which I already knew and his phone number -- 805/457-8216 -- which I didn't.
Chloe waited for me to speak and she was going to have to wait for a long time.
I have an unreasonable fear of botulism and won't eat anything from a can. I don't know if this fear has a name. I tell people my great aunt Iris died the day before Thanksgiving when she opened a jar of home-canned black-eyed peas and had a big helping. The rest of the peas, I say, were in a box with the pumpkin pie she was going to bring to grandma's for the holiday. We all could have died. Even Chloe thinks this is a true story and I tell her never to mention it because Auntie Iris was everyone's favorite and why do people need to be that sad. I justify this lie by telling myself, I'm that afraid of botulism. So afraid only a story like that makes sense.
I decided not to call my father.
Chloe asked, If you met him, would it change you?
Like any other random act, I said. Like holding an elevator for a stranger. Who knows what gets set in motion?
She was quiet and I was aware of hurting her, of her generosity in finding my father for me and, for the first time, I thought, I'm doing the wrong thing with Katherine.
I told Katherine about Chloe when we went to dinner the first time. Let her make her own decisions, I decided. I'd learned the trick of moving my mouth normally but without making any sound and I loved the idea of our private talks in public places.
Katherine asked why and I said the whole thing had nothing at all to do with Chloe who I loved. It had to do with wanting Katherine, wanting her so much I was willing to put my life at risk. And it doesn't even seem like risk, I said, and the way she looked at me when I said that let me know, when the time came, she would say yes to whatever question I asked.
Chloe said, I called him, and I knew she meant my father but I said, Who, anyway.
Your dad, she said, Chuck Campbell. I told him you want to meet him. He said that's fine.
I knew Chloe expected more from me than silence.
I talked to Katherine.
We lay on our backs in her bed, the sheets damp from our bodies. Her hip touched my thigh and the heavy curtains were drawn so that the room was as dark as night time.
I spoke to the ceiling. She wasn't looking at me and even if she was, I was sure it was too dark for her to read my lips.
I don't want to know why he left, I said. I don't want to know it was because of me.
Katherine's breath was easy and I began to cry and for the first time in my life I let tears run down my face without trying to hide them. My whole body, though, hurt with the effort of not shaking the bed.
What if he leaves again, I said, and then, because no one was listening and so I did not have to be ashamed, I said, It would break my heart more than anything else I know.
My dad drove to San Diego to meet me and Chloe asked if I wanted her to be with me. I didn't. So, I was alone when I walked onto the patio of the Mission Bay Hilton. A tall man stood and walked toward me. His shoulders were pushed up so high they touched his ear lobes. He reached out to shake my hand and said, "You look just like your mother." I didn't know if I should call him dad or Chuck or even Mr. Campbell and so I said, Thank you, and we sat down.
He didn't say he was sorry. He didn't say my name. But he said, Your mother, so many times I wanted to scream, You don't know her. How could you know her?
Chloe was home when I got back and she stood in the middle of our living room and her face was so white I realized she didn't know if she'd done a bad or good thing.
Well, she said finally.
Well, I said. I don't look like him.
Chloe nodded and I tried to form the rest of the story, tried to let her know what it felt like to meet him.
We hugged, I lied. When we met, we hugged. And he cried. Chloe would never believe I cried.
I wanted her to feel she did the right thing by me.
Really, she said and smiled.
Really, I said and I went into the bathroom and leaned over the toilet because I thought it was entirely possible I'd throw up.
The next day, I told Katherine, I was so careful and so afraid. I didn't want to make him mad.
Katherine was at the stove adding diced green peppers to a pot of chicken cacciatore and every time she turned to face me I put my lips tightly together.
We were eating and I looked at my watch and wondered if Chloe had tried to call me at work, when Katherine said, I know you are talking to me. I just don't know what you're saying, and her voice cracked up and down two whole octaves. Her fingers trembled with small movements and I wondered if she was talking to herself.
When I got home, Chloe asked how my day was and I was so tired with keeping everybody in their separate places I couldn't answer even that question. I want to go to bed, I said and I got all the way under the covers without even taking my shoes off.
Chloe came in and sat next to me. She pulled the blankets off my head and traced the whorl of my ear and said, They're so small. And she waited and I didn't know how much longer she'd be willing to do that.
Is it meeting him? She said and like everything lately she meant my dad.
Right now, I thought. Right now I can tell her about Katherine and I can explain it because it seemed to me that the explanation for the whole affair was somewhere in my answer to that question and I tried to think of the story that would make it all come out but I realized with a flash of clarity, that the only reason to tell Chloe was to make myself feel honest and it was far too late for that.
I can't see him again, and when Chloe started to talk I hushed her but without moving, without pulling her into sex. The idea I have of him, I said and I stumbled over my words but Chloe stayed quiet, her finger tips fluttered against my ear. The idea I have of him is better than the real him and I've been living with that idea my whole life.
Chloe didn't say anything as I started to cry and I didn't ask her to go away.