Fast Fiction

I Had to Keep Answering, “I Don’t Know” — by Elizabeth Ellen

It occurred to me, nine months after our initial meeting, that I still did not know very basic pieces of information about Ian, such as his home address, the names of his friends, the number of serious relationships he had been in prior to me, the duration of those relationships and the reasons for their ending. I knew he had two younger brothers, though I did not know either of their names. I knew the name of the university from which he had graduated, though I did not know what year. I knew he was prom king at his high school but I did not know which high school or its location.

By contrast, he knew the names of all my close friends, the names of my son’s close friends, as well as the length of time I had dated L., and the length of my marriage. He knew my address, had been to my house, though he had not been inside my bedroom.

I remember once, early on, during a phone conversation with Ian, commenting on the lack of things I knew about him. I told him this made it awkward for me when friends of mine asked me basic questions about him. I told him I had to keep answering, “I don’t know,” which seemed to invalidate our relationship in their eyes. In response to this he told me I could ask him anything and that he would answer. But put this way I was too embarrassed to ask him the questions I wanted to ask. Suddenly the questions seemed silly and clichéd, as though the answers were merely inconsequential facts and would not offer me a better understanding of him.

Now I question everything he told me, as though the things I do not know about him somehow cancel out those I do. I am skeptical, for instance, of something as basic as his name. The name I first knew him by was a pseudonym he used for performing but the name he gave me as his “real” name does not feel any more real to me. A friend of mine once asked to see Ian’s driver’s license and he told her he didn’t have it with him. “I don’t carry a wallet or a driver’s license,” he said. I once tried to find his “real” name on the Internet but was unsuccessful, which only justified my theory that it was yet another pseudonym and his actual name was still unknown to me, along with so much else.

And yet, I do not think anything would be different now if I knew these things about him. I do not think I would feel I know him any better than I do or that our relationship would be more or less validated by this missing information.
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Elizabeth Ellen
Elizabeth Ellen is the author of the story collection Fast Machine and the poetry collection Bridget Fonda. She lives in Ann Arbor.