Heinrich met my Ex, the Surgeon, exactly one time.
Most of my friends never met the Surgeon because our differences in age and stations in life made it impossible for me to integrate him into my social life. He would have been impossible to explain, because the dungeon was literally the only place we ever could have met in New York, outside of a chance encounter on the street around his neighborhood on the Upper East Side. For his part, when I went with him to his conferences, he usually passed me off as a pharmaceutical representative or a colleague of the professional statistician he hired to edit his academic publications.
So, most of my friends never met him (in fact, most of them didn’t know that he even existed). I protected him very well. My Canadian friend, who was my roommate for a few years when we lived in that shitty neighborhood close to campus (God, it was awful), admitted to me later that he periodically overheard both the phone sex and the rare argument. Aside from my therapist (and, of course, the readers of this blog), that roommate was the only person with front-row tickets to the Surgeon and Margo show. Everyone else just got bits and pieces.
Among those who knew of his existence, he won no popularity contests. Even my Canadian friend, who found constant amusement in the Surgeon’s sexual antics, egotism, and obsessive womanizing, didn’t think he was good for me.
Heinrich didn’t like him at all. I was freer to talk about him with Heinrich than I was with my other friends, because Heinrich knew about my secret job and about my sadomasochism. Heinrich nicknamed him “Jaws” because of his aggressive personality and his predilection for biting (I’d show up from time to time with bite marks, actual tooth imprints, on my neck or the undersides of my arms).
Heinrich is also one of my only friends to have actually met him. In the flesh.
It was an accident. Heinrich was in the East Village and stopped by my apartment to retrieve a book he’d lent me. We were sitting on my couch, having a chat, when I heard a knock at the door.
The Surgeon, the Surgeon. The Surgeon and his house calls. I was startled when I opened the door, because I wasn’t expecting him.
The Surgeon, always suspicious, took my surprise for dismay…and, following that, guilt.
He was right about the dismay. I knew that I was going to be in trouble the minute he found a man in my apartment who wasn’t one of my students or hideously ugly.
Heinrich was neither.
The Surgeon looked over my shoulder and saw the German sitting on my couch.
“Well hello, darling. Who’s this?” he asked, while keeping his eyes locked on Heinrich. The Surgeon smiled. That smile made my stomach clench up. It was his fake, scary smile. The Surgeon’s real smile is absolutely winning and adorable, but his scary smile is not. He often smiles the scary smile right before he does something terrible.
Then, as he is wont to do (as he did three years later, the final time I saw the man, when he made his final house call to me), he stepped over the threshold, inviting himself inside. As if the place was his.
Heinrich stood up. Because my living room was so narrow and the couch was opposite the door, there was not much space between the two men. A small coffee table.
“This is my friend Heinrich. I told you about him!” I said, already sounding scared and defensive, even though I had nothing to hide regarding my relationship with Heinrich. I’d never dated him, never had sex with him.
“I see,” smiled the Surgeon. Neither man offered to shake hands. Heinrich had put his hands in his pockets. The room was filling up with tension. I noticed that my birds had stopped chirping. Parrot had stopped playing on top of her cage and was standing, frozen, on the edge, watching us. Only the fish were oblivious, swimming back and forth in their great lush aquarium.
“He came by to pick up a book!” I offered, by way of explanation. My voice sounded high and reedy to my own ears. I snatched the book up from the top of the coffee table and shook it. Evidence!
“How nice,” smiled the Surgeon, not taking his eyes off Heinrich’s face. Heinrich did not smile back. He had his Easter Island Statue face going on, but he wasn’t blinking.
“I had no idea you were coming over,” I said, not realizing how bad that sounded until the words were out of my mouth.
They just stood there, staring at each other. I’ve seen enough spaghetti Westerns to know what I was looking at. I was scared to death.
“Get lost,” said the Surgeon. “I want to be alone with my girlfriend.”
“Margo has not asked me to leave,” said Heinrich. He didn’t take his eyes off the Surgeon’s face.
“I told you to leave,” said the Surgeon. He actually said that. He can be so rude. He has no shame, no qualms, about rudeness or confrontation whatsoever.
I had to get Heinrich out of there.
I held out the book at shoulder level and said, “Thanks for lending it to me.”
He turned his head and looked at me, finally. He didn’t move to take the book. He left it there, dangling in mid-air, as if he didn’t see it.
“Margo, are you going to be okay?”
“Pardon me?” I asked, as if I had no idea what he was talking about. But I knew. Of course I knew. Later, when I thought of it, I would feel humiliated, but now I could only think of getting Heinrich out of there before I made it worse for myself. Or for him.
Heinrich finally reached out and took his book. The Surgeon moved to one side to clear a path to the door, which was still open.
Heinrich brushed past me and out, and the Surgeon slammed the door behind him.
Then we were alone together.
Most of the scary smile disappeared, but he still had a smirk, a half-smile. It is difficult for me to describe what he’s like when he’s in this mode, but I can recall it vividly, even now, years later. He had all this energy…but he always had energy, he was indefatigable, like a humming bird or a bee. It felt like being close to a hot oven. He neglected me so much, so often, in the course of our relationship…but when he turned the full force of his attention to me, it was…well, it was an experience. The Surgeon has a surgeon’s eye. He sees everything. Fucking everything.
He shucked his suit coat and hung it on the coat rack by the door. Then he loosened his necktie.
“Who the fuck was that, Darling?” he asked. To an outsider, his voice would have sounded friendly, but I knew it wasn’t. He was taking off his cufflinks.
“That’s my friend, Heinrich,” I repeated, my mouth going dry.
“Heinrich? What sort of name is that? He has an accent.” The cufflinks went into the pocket of his trousers.
“I never liked them,” said the Surgeon. (To be fair, I never liked them was exactly the same thing he said about the nationality, profession, or religious affiliation of whomever he was presently at odds with).
He walked straight to my bedroom, passing by the birds, who were still quiet. Not eating, not drinking, not playing. Frozen. Looking. They are prey animals, sensitive, and they know when a threat is in the vicinity.
“Margo? Let’s talk,” his voice, from my bedroom. I heard the sound of the suitcase being slid out from underneath the bed. The special green suitcase. With all the special tools. And then the sound of the drawer on the nightstand. Which contained a bottle with something he liked to take.
I stood, frozen, rooted to the spot, right by the front door.
“Make me a drink, honey. My girl looks so pretty today. Who did you dress up for, pretty?”
I went to the fridge, and took the vodka out of the freezer. I made him a drink. My hands were shaking.
And then, I carried it to my bedroom, to meet my fate.
* * *
Two hours later, Heinrich texted my cell phone.
I couldn’t answer it, because I was tied up on my bed. I heard it beep and light up, though, and when it did, the Surgeon went to fetch it from the top of my dresser. He always went through my phone whenever he felt like it.
“Who’s this?” he asked. The glowing screen illuminated his face. “Oh, look. It’s your little German boyfriend. Margo, he asks, ARE YOU OKAY?”
(note: “little” is interesting, given that Heinrich was significantly taller than the Surgeon. But, to the Surgeon, almost everyone else is “little.”)
Then, get this: the Surgeon fucking called Heinrich back, ON MY PHONE!
“Surgeon, don’t!” I immediately started begging, from the bed. I was fuckin mortified. “Please don’t call him! Don’t! Surgeon, please don’t embarrass me in front of my friend!”
The Surgeon pushed the CALL button. He really did it.
I heard Heinrich pick up: “Ja? Margo?”
“Fritz? Hi, Fritz!” said the Surgeon. I remember him very clearly. He was standing at my bedroom window, by my desk. He was naked save his underpants. It was dark outside and the traffic lights from the street below reflected off the glass and onto his torso, which was moist with sweat.
The Surgeon knew Heinrich’s name. Unlike me, he is excellent with names, and never needs reminding. He was calling Heinrich by the wrong name to antagonize him and trivialize him.
“Fritz, we got your text message. Margo is okay. She’s just fine! Okay? She can’t talk right now, though, because she’s busy sucking my dick. I thought I would respond, instead.”
I wanted to die.
There was a pause, and then the Surgeon put the phone down on my desk.
“He hung up on me,” he said.
“I can’t believe you did that,” I said, although I actually could believe it, very well. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I felt hot angry tears spring up. Angry tears are a very rare phenomenon for me.
“He said to me, ‘Everything they say about you is true,’ and then he hung up on me.”
He came to sit on the edge of the bed. My wrists were cuffed to either side of the wrought-iron bed frame. My feet were immobilized. The fine pale skin of my breasts and thighs and abdomen was covered with bite marks and hickies and bruises. He was very deliberate about marking his territory when he was feeling possessive.
” ‘Everything they say about you is true?’ What have you been telling him about me, Margo?” he asked.
“Very little, and certainly nothing personal, or anything that would invade your privacy or threaten your practice,” I said.
He accepted that, because he knew it was true. It was always true. I protected him better than I protected myself. I know how to keep secrets for men.
* * *
Heinrich waited two weeks to contact me. He sent me a text announcing his intention to call and rang exactly fifteen minutes later.
“Margo. I….I want to say to you, that I am yet your friend. This is the same, between us.”
“I AM SO SORRY HE TALKED TO YOU LIKE THAT AND I WAS NOT ACTUALLY GIVING HIM A BLOWJOB! HE HAD ACCESS TO MY PHONE! I DID NOT LET HIM!”
“I would not care if you did. He has force on you. I understand. He is not a question for me. I see, very clear, who he is. I was afraid for you. That he would harm you when alone.”
Heinrich met my Ex, the Surgeon, exactly one time.