How Sharp the Light
by Temim Fruchter
I don’t totally remember my high school sex dream about Matthew Sweet because I’m not sure it contained actual sex. It contained the sense of sex. The hungry, hollowed-out eyes, the wide, girlish mouth, the slight curve of which I could feel behind my knees. I was embarrassed because, at the time, I wasn’t sure whether Matthew Sweet was appropriate or cool, and whether this was something I could safely tell anyone I knew in high school about. Probably not. Monster mouth. Starved eyes. My voracity for him felt like a frayed and unkind thing, a desire sideways. He was pretty, I noticed. Matthew Sweet, sad and ravenous as the moon. An unkempt feeling set to whispery harmonies precise as lace. Now, when I read the occasional interview with Matthew Sweet—a twenty-five-year retrospective, an interview where he talks openly about his mental health—it feels a little like I’m visiting a dear old lover. I want to reach out and say, hi, hello, I hope you’re taking care of you. I want to say, remember me?
I don’t totally remember most things. I remember rarely, interpretively. I remember things that haven’t happened. Haven’t exactly happened, anyway.
I was also wearing a white bedsheet in the college dream that made it clear to me that I had, at least at some cosmic point, been a gay man. We were men, just me and this group of blissed-out, naked figures draped in bedsheets, twisting at our soft and longing waists, walking languid circles around something in the middle of the bright white room. We walked so light it was like we were flirting with the floor. I think Rupert Everett was there, but I swear it wasn’t funny. I knew it wasn’t funny because of how sharp the light. I recognized me in the dream, that’s the real point here. The way I moved so brazen it astonished me.
I don’t usually remember my dreams. And I rarely have sex dreams. But I’ve had maybe four in my life, and I remember them all.
Why do I always retain only the quality of the light? I try to remember nondream sex all the time. To recall the reaching experiment of our bodies, how curling and piled, the spots that stick, bulge, and gather, the give of our hilliest parts, craggy sounds and desperate hands, the dig of a knuckle somewhere, how threads of hair pull at the pinpoint, how I might describe that particular wet, that particular prone, that accidental arrangement of their decompressing limbs I told them reminded me of a sewing machine. But in place of the specifics, I just see lamp. The alwayslamp. The everylamp. Click. Nook of my bed and the crate that functioned as my bedside table suffused in tangerine. Midnight water glass refracting light, a collection of small earring boxes, an assortment of protest buttons and three ceramic animals, a tiny wooden box containing two large googly eyes that were a gift to me once, a mechanical pencil, the travel-sized purple bottle of organic lube, still open and on its side, stopped just before rolling onto the floor. I remember our bodies as not bodies, but as the pour of bulb-lit gold, slow and swollen.
We are all hazy, the lot of us. I don’t know what ghost got us or how early on, my sisters and brother and I. We don’t have peripheral vision. We’re not sure what we remember, or whom. Always the sense of it. Always the underwater stretch. A common postscript: But maybe I’m making this up. It’s not just forgetful. It’s full with the forgetting. And the truth of it is, almost anything is possible when you’re this kind of haunted.
When I have a sex dream about a friend, I wake up itchy and prudish like, god, is this okay? As though I could retroactively edit if it weren’t. Who has sex dreams about their friends? Queers, I guess, but, like, who? Me? I don’t always remember the details. But sometimes the sense of sex is more intimate than the details. Flush of speculation, skin at attention, beads of how come. That sinking wayward feeling right at the screaming edge. I will never actually know exactly what happened. In the dream, I might have climbed to the very top of my prowess. In the dream, I might have descended without hesitation. In the dream, I might have known my lines. In the dream, though, I felt certain. I can’t tell you of what. But goddamn, that clarity.
I fixate both on my bent memory and on these small carnal unconscious patches of clarity. I can’t ever quite find the thread through the two. But I know that my failure to properly archive the real is somehow always connected to the initial shapes of my hunger. This is not a coming out story. This is a backward unforgetting, a briefly scrawled chronicle of the backs of my knees. This is a shopping list, a shred, unsacred as it is longing, sacred as it is panicked, a rush job, a shudder.
I don’t totally remember having a body. At some point, I woke up and I did, but I hadn’t always. It might have been dream-Matthew-Sweet who showed me I had a body, at which point he was still just a stranger, an alt-rock outlier, and it was almost too late. This is the wrong origin story to be telling. Always these fictional forbears. Always the sense of sex. How do you know if a sex dream is a sex dream? How do you remember if you actually remember? How do you know you’re not making things up?
You don’t. You might be.
You are not ever, under any circumstances, allowed to write that it was all a dream. I was a cross-eyed child with a Yeshiva girl mullet and pale, freckled arms and a pair of crooked, red Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and my fear of everything had a ferocity I still don’t have a name for. On the playground, I tapped the other fifth-grade kids on the shoulder with too much hushed intensity and asked them, do you think we really exist or do you think we are all just characters in a madman’s dream? They had one of two reactions—they either laughed or backed away from me, and in either case, they always looked a little afraid. I couldn’t blame them. I was afraid of me too.
Why can’t I stop trying to write about remembering Matthew Sweet? I remember something transgressive. I remember kindness, folding over. I remember how it was right then that I first understood that a man could be pretty. I remember the buttery, buttery light.
What ghost got us. What I am trying to say is that I do remember the walls painted a pink whose paint color name was emergency red and the dusty antique radiator, the one lamp and the string of Christmas lights making everything blur clementine. I do remember their plush folds of skin above the waist, how they said my name, sugar-slow, and so close to my ear it felt like frosting. The lampfire, the only really visible thing in that room, proof we were actually we, at least right then. That light. It hurt to look anywhere else. I don’t remember how many nights in a row, what fresh fruit, whether confession or ice cream, whether poems or smut or notepassing, whether stairs or elevator, whether moon or fog, whether anyone cried, whether I recognized myself, how bright or dark the marks. I don’t remember my velocity, how we landed, which spots were sticky and which stayed dry. I don’t remember if we actually ever slept, and if we did, whether we touched, and if we touched, whether we stayed touching, and for how long. I do remember the capless toothpaste and the canary-yellow bathroom and walking out into the fresh air after like it was some giddy new drink. I don’t remember, though, when prior or when next. I don’t remember whether car or train, whether coming or going, whether gravel or dirt or water, whether fireplace or hot bath. But I do remember the lamp. I still pray daily with my whole body to the center of that lamp.
This is the underwater stretch. This is light and hunger, failure and forgetting. This is making everything up. This is what they mean, maybe, by recollect, the implication that you’ve dropped everything you’ve found along the way, and that it will almost certainly be unrecognizable when you pick it up the second time.
A few years ago, I went to hear Matthew Sweet play at a place where the aging nineties rock stars play, where a concert means you sit down and order roasted chicken with two sides and a glass of wine. He sat on a stool and played “Evangeline,” and I felt my heart lean back into itself. The chicken was decent, peppery if on the dry side. I texted with my lover between songs, feeling like I had arrived, same sixteen-year-old, white-dude-lite soundtrack but now slowly sipping a Cabernet, a handsome queer waiting for me at home. I texted, omg he’s playing Girlfriend. Omg he’s playing Sick of Myself. Sitting in the front row singing along and eating chicken alone. I don’t know anyone anymore who listens to Matthew Sweet, my devotion to him almost certainly the product of being an Orthodox Jewish teenager, mostly holed up in a small lavender bedroom with some sense that, in 1996, all four Beatles were still twenty, and that hope lived on the tender lips of the most feminine men on the radio. I closed my eyes in a manner too fervent for this kind of concert. Like people do at Springsteen shows or synagogue, but this is like apples and oranges, divine and quotidian. I tried to remember everything. I am trying to remember anything. And Matthew Sweet, gray t-shirt and jeans and the voice of a bell in a faraway story, eyes just like I thought they’d be, sitting in a spot of light on a black stage, singing, and I’m beginning to think maybe I don’t know.
Temim Fruchter is a queer Jewish writer who lives in Providence, RI. She believes in big feelings, queer possibility, and shoulder pads. She holds an MFA from the University of Maryland and is at work on her first novel.