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  • You Are So Mine
  • Erica Johnson Debeljak (bio)


I have been a stranger for a long time. For longer than I thought it possible to be. When I first arrived in this place, I thought that strangeness was a transitory quality: a quality that, like a tongue of mercury moving within a glass thermometer, could be measured by degrees of intensity. By heat, by fever: the body's natural reaction to contact with a foreign agent. I believed that, although I happened to find myself in a situation that caused the silvery liquid to climb up, up, up through the transparent bar, there would always be a countervailing tendency for it to fall back down again, toward some imaginary black line.

Toward a condition called normal.

But now, after having been strange for such a long time, I am no longer certain that this point of equilibrium-this black line-really exists.

I am no longer certain that the mercury must fall.


Years ago, before I came to the place where I am now, Marat used to make love to me at my place. Or rather at the place where I lived then, which wasn't really mine at all, but a tiny living room alcove in the apartment of a married couple who needed a little extra money to help pay the rent. Back then, I was oblivious to my surroundings. I was an invisible drop of water in a sea of invisible drops of water. That is until Marat appeared on the horizon: a tiny red sailing boat, a speck of bright color in the uniform blue. In those days, Marat, with his beautifully twisted nose and his beautifully twisted English, was the one strange and marvelous thing in my existence. And, on the rare occasions when we could find somewhere to be alone, the one strange and marvelous thing in me.

I used to call him from my office when I knew the apartment would be empty. [End Page 67]

"Three o'clock," was all I needed to say.

Or: "Half past five."

Or: "Nine fifteen tonight, but only for an hour," and he knew exactly what I meant.

Be there. Then. And he always was.

When Marat made love to me in the wide marital bed of my absent roommates-their long-sleeved flannel pajamas tucked carefully under the pillow where I lay my head-he would lean in against me first thing, press his body down on mine, and whisper my name into my ear. That was always the first thing he did: before he kissed me or touched any part of my body with his long handsome fingers. My own name. In my own ear. Yet somehow his foreign tongue changed the shape of the familiar word and made it his own.

For me, the sound of my name on a lover's lips has always meant the first step toward possession-his of me, mine of him. And it was no different with Marat. Only more so: perhaps because he mispronounced it.

Marat would keep talking during the course of our lovemaking, more and more, louder and louder-he's a talker in bed. He started with my name, then phrases in my language and then, as his pleasure grew more insistent, he seemed to be pulled back toward his own language, toward some inner reservoir of expression. Then strange words poured out of him in a warm liquid rush, odd little incantations:

"Ti si tako moja, ti si tako moja. . . ."

I never asked what they meant. I liked not knowing. But the peculiar rhythm of the funny little staccato words ended up dislodging me, slowly and surely, from the one place I knew in the world. Bereft of meaning, the nonsense syllables acquired a power of their own.


Today I don't have an office. I don't have an apartment. I don't pay rent to cash-strapped roommates. I don't even have a telephone though, with a bit of luck, one may be installed in the coming months. I live in an old stone house on the island in the northern Adriatic where Marat spent his...


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pp. 67-77
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