Note: I found this deep in the recesses of my desk. I don’t remember when I wrote it or why, but I didn’t want to lose it…which, given the state of my desk, is a distinct possibility.
Counting the Ways
The texture and timbre of your voice
when you tell me that you want what I want,
that you need what I have to give,
that your body and my body and
your soul and my soul
just fit perfectly together -
The warmth and scent of your skin as
you sit beside me,
lay beside me,
radiate light and energy to me -
The straight lines and certainty
and truth in your heart as you loved me
from then till now
and from now until you don’t know when
and hwo you love me in for who I was
and who I am
and who I always will be
and you love me in old ways and
yet it’s new every day -
The old me thought,
in bright-eyed, misplaced naïveté,
that I would never dream of changing
what transpired between us.
that the walk across shattered glass had been worth it,
in the end.
that the wisdom gathered could be gathered
no other way.
The old me thought that the strength and beauty I discovered within myself
had to be discovered through you.
I thought that traveling back, undoing it all
would leave me still wondering,
But many days have passed now,
many nights, many hours of thinking and imagining
and twisting my hair and biting my lip
and wishing….useless, aimless, fruitless wishing
have lapsed between what didn’t happen
and this moment,
when I awoke from dreams to the fully-formed
if I could close the loop I would.
If I could go back and undo all we did and didn’t do
and think and say and want,
The lessons learned this time were learned before.
The leopard doesn’t change his spots.
The thing I need most is the thing you could never give me.
The thing I fear most is the refuge you will always seek.
If it was meant to be, it would have been.
I knew this then, I know this now.
I’d close the loop.
I’d take it back.
I’d save us both the heartache and the sadness and the wishing and the pretending and the roller-coaster that never ended,
and I’d just accept, the first time around,
what was always,
I pulled carefully out of Josh and Cindy’s driveway, knowing that a wreck on top of everything else would just be too much tonight. I felt a mad compulsion to read Josh’s note right that minute, but I also felt like I needed to be away from their house, at least a respectable distance away. I pulled into the CVS parking lot a few blocks over and parked in the back, where maybe no one would see me.
It was darker than I expected it to be, so I turned on the interior lights and pulled the note delicately from my purse. Like a girl in a Taylor Swift video, I held the note to my face and breathed in its scent – part cheap paper, part bic pen, and part Josh, who smelled to me, always, of cedar and something deeper, something more, like loss or longing or sadness.
I unfolded the note and smoothed it on the steering wheel. His writing was still unfamiliar to me, but beautiful nonetheless…measured and straight and perfect reproductions of the letters in the books they used to teach kids the Palmer method, once upon a time. It was like receiving a missive from another time, when standards and mores were different, better understood.
You must know first that I miss you beyond all reason; my every waking thought is of you in some way, and my dreams are purely, completely of you. I know you expect me to tell you all the ways I want to ravage you, (oh, and they are plentiful!), but I really have more to say, more to tell you than just the ways I will enjoy you. I want to tell you, first, the ways you have captivated me.
Your eyes, they’re brown. I always thought brown eyes were boring, common, ordinary. But then I looked into your eyes, brown with flecks of warm gold, and steely black, and I saw that your eyes are like infinite pools of wisdom and empathy and I just wanted to gaze into them for hours, I wanted to lose myself in them, in you. I wanted to see the world as you do, through those amazing eyes. And suddenly icy blue eyes held no appeal for me.
Your hair is brown too. But as I ran my fingers through it I saw strands of caramel, strands of red. I saw straight, silky hair and I saw curly hair mixed in, kinky little curls that must have escaped your flat iron, springing up as I touched your hair, as I teased you, pulled it gently. Your hair is like a river of silky chocolate, eddying around obstacles hidden just under the surface.
Your skin is so soft. And you smell like – like comfort, like determination, like empathy. I breathe in your skin and I smell laundry and honeysuckle and rain and green apples. But your skin seduces me, makes me want to keep touching you long after I should have stopped. I imagine myself pressed up against the length of you, every rough part of me against every smooth part of you and I know that if it happens, when it happens, it will take everything I have to get and go home afterwards.
Your body is so lovely, I dream of being caught up in your arms, pressed against your breasts, those amazingly beautiful breasts, those nipples so sensitive that a cool breeze makes them hard (Oh dear God what could I do to them with my tongue, my teeth…)
Oh, right. And that ass, so round and tight and so fucking hot in those damn yoga pants you wear. What is it about yoga pants that just hug a woman’s ass exactly right? I don’t know, but I know there is only one reason I want you to take them off…
I just wanted you to know, Lissa, that I have a thing for you, I am sick with lust for you. I would do anything, risk anything to be with you, to make love to you, to be further captivated by you.
I don’t love you, Lissa. Not yet. But I think I could. Give me a chance to find out.
If I have to go back to just watching you at PTA meetings and soccer games, if you don’t want the same things I do, I understand, but honestly. I want you, and I think you want me too.
Wow, I thought to myself. Wow. I had to go back and read that again. I sat in my car in the CVS parking lot, reading and shaking my head. I lifted my wrist to my nose and I smelled nothing, none of the scents Josh described. I looked in the mirror and saw my same old brown hair and brown eyes. Maybe it’s nature’s way of keeping us from sitting around smelling our skin and searching our eyes, but I saw none of the things Josh saw. Was he delusional, or was I missing something essential about myself?
I didn’t know, don’t know. It might not even matter, Maybe all that mattered was the stirring I felt in my chest, the longing I felt, the way I closed my eyes and imagined being with Josh, imagining that all the words he penned were true and that I could be lusted after, if not loved, by the kind of man who would think those things, say those things.
I remembered tracing his scar across his stomach, I remembered him kissing his way across my scar and I decided that no matter what it cost me, I needed to know what the fulfillment of such desire felt like.
I pulled out my phone and began an email, then wondered if he would rather have a handwritten letter in return. It seemed so quaint, so special. I decided to go home and sit at my desk and write him a letter, and try to answer him as eloquently as he had asked me.
I folded the letter and put it in the hidden side pocket inside my purse, where I usually kept tampons and splenda. I sighed, straightened my lipstick, fluffed my hair, and went in CVS to buy something in order to assuage my guilt over sitting in their parking lot for a half-hour as a non-customer.
That was the kind of crazy shit I was always worried about. It hadn’t yet occurred to me how worried I should be, or about what, exactly, in embarking upon an affair with my friend’s husband.
But oh, that would come soon. I needn’t have been concerned.
Cindy flung herself into her chair and shook her head.
“That man is driving me crazy. Crazy! I know I’m picky about things so I try to cut him a little slack because I know he isn’t going to do the housekeeping things up to my standards. And I get that, I try to be ok with it and be thankful he does anything at all.”
I looked over at Lauren, whose husband had died four years ago, and I saw the vein throbbing in her forehead, the same one that throbbed every time she heard any of us going on and on about how awful our husbands were. We all knew how hard things had been for Lauren since Stuart’s car accident, with 3 small kids and no support from his family and having to go back to work – we had all delivered meals and babysat and picked up kids from school and worked our networks to help her find a job and given her money and hugged our husbands a little tighter and checked the life insurance policies. We knew Lauren had been depressed, lonely, overwhelmed, and I wished Cindy would be a little more sensitive. But she just kept going on and on.
I tuned her out until I heard the words “guest room.” I looked up, my cheeks blazing and my eyelid twitching. “What?” Was all I could manage without giving away how shaky my voice was, how afraid I was to have been found out already.
“I said I think he let the damn dog on the bed in the guest room while I was at work on Monday.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “You’re kidding!” I feigned outrage.
“Not at all! Can you imagine? I got home and checked the house like I always do and saw that the bed was rumpled. It had been perfect when I left. He was in charge and one specific thing he knows better than is letting the dog on any furniture, especially a bed. What if we had guests who are allergic? I had to strip the bed and wash and iron all the linens 3 days early.” She shook her head in derision. “Can you imagine? A dog. On the guest bed. Jesus.”
The running commentary in my head went something like this:
You checked the house? Like you always do? And apparently you check it before you leave? What’s wrong with you? No, seriously, what the actual fuck is wrong with you? Wait, did she call me a dog? No, nothing about me. Well, bitch, if someone is allergic to your fucking dog, the fur and dander is everywhere so calm down about the bed and oh my God I was right you iron the sheets and you have an actual schedule for your sheet ironing. Holy shit, you are crazy.
Cindy just kept talking. “The other night he fell asleep in his chair before 11. He was snoring. The whole thing was ridiculous.”
Now it was Jenn’s turn to pretend like she was horrified. “What did you say? That’s crazy! A man asleep before 11. Ridiculous.”
Cindy was so self-righteous she completely missed Jenn’s rampant sarcasm. “I threw his shoes at him until he woke up.”
I gasped. I couldn’t help it. She seriously threw shoes at a grown man because he fell asleep I’m his own home?
Lauren couldn’t keep quiet. “Don’t you think that’s a little over the top, Cindy? He works hard. Give the man a break.”
The heat coming from Cindy was palpable. I don’t think anyone had ever called her out like this before; and definitely not in front of people, It was like that moment in grade school when two kids were verbally sparring and you could feel that one of them had gone too far, just one step too far, and even as a bystander you could feel the vibe shift from verbal to physical. You could feel the tension as muscles coiled, smell the fight or flight hormones surging through the kids’ bodies, you knew, before you could articulate it, that some shit was about to go down.
I held my breath. I felt the exquisite stillness around me as we all waited for the next thing to happen.
I couldn’t completely reconcile that two women I knew, two friends, two mothers, were about to come to blows. But in that moment it truly felt that way.
The most surprising part, for me, was that neither if these women was me. At least not yet.
Just as Cindy was about to decide what to do, Josh appeared on the patio. “Ladies, someone’s phone is ringing. It’s the Star Wars Imperial March, which seems like it might be important.”
“That’s mine, sorry ladies. That’s my ring tone for Daniel’s mom. She never calls unless something’s wrong.”
I scooted in the house, followed closely by Josh. I found my purse and began to look for my phone, on top of everything, though, was a note that hadn’t been there earlier. Josh looked me straight in the eye and said “It’s from, me but you need to read it when you’re alone.”
My heart pounded. I could not wait until I had time to read it. Jenn crept up behind me. “Everything ok?”
I shook my head slightly. “I can’t find my damn phone in all this shit…oh, here it is.” I listened to my voicemail and apparently my father-in-law had had a rough day. There was no emergency- he had been having more and more rough days lately since his Alzheimer’s was progressing. It was, however, still an excuse to leave, to break this bad energy, to read whatever Josh had left for me.
“It’s my father-in-law. I need to go take them some groceries, he’s at the point that she can’t leave him. I’ll tell Cindy…”
Jenn touched my arm. “I’ll deal with her. You go. Call me later.”
I smiled gratefully, gave Jenn a quick hug and took off. I had had just about enough of mom’s night.
I believed you were necessary, that
I clung to this notion that you
and you alone
were the key to unlock the
latent stories I held,
the magic that waited within.
I was convinced that I was a hostage to your indifference,
But when you became
lost to me completely I
It was not you that
so much as
my fear of losing you
as I felt our connection grew tenuous;
my fear that, if you slipped, finally, from my grasp,
so would my power over words.
And beyond that even it was
the fear, my fear
of no longer being known, of no longer being understood by you
in that way you have,
the way you knew the dark parts and anxious, neurotic pieces of me that I dutifully hide
from everyone else
that drove me to drown myself in rivers of words.
It was, in the end,
the fear of no longer being the center of your
that compelled me
to put pen to paper and
something gritty and raw and real that people read and find themselves breathless at the end,
crying “yes, yes, I know…”
Because the truth and the trust between a writer and a reader
is much greater,
much more powerful
than even the sacred, silken cord that binds
poet to muse.
And so I found myself on their patio, drinking their favorite red blend (which was called ménage a trois, if you must know), listening to her talk. It was Mom’s Night, a tradition in our neighborhood. No kids or husbands were invited, and outsiders could only come once in awhile under special invitation and dispensation. Tonight, it was just the five of us. I had been hoping for a couple of extra people, human shields between me and her; distraction so she wouldn’t notice in case there was something different about me, now that I had begun to fall for her husband. Because that would be noticeable, right? I would notice if some other woman was making puppy eyes at Daniel, wouldn’t I? I would notice if one of my friends suddenly lost 10 pounds or started wearing lipstick all the time or ironed her sheets.
I could see a difference in myself since I told Josh about my baby who died. My eyes were lighter, less haunted. I could stand straighter, the pain having lessened, slightly, by sharing it. Surely one of the people who saw me most often would also see me most clearly. And of course I didn’t want to get caught, but not for the reason you think.
I truly didn’t care what happened to my own marriage. My marriage to Daniel had been a sham since Ava’s tiny coffin had been lowered into the ground. We had not had sex nor had a conversation about anything other than bills and kids since that day. If he found out I was on a speedy train headed towards sleeping with Josh and decided it was finally time to divorce me, that would be a punishment I could gladly bear. No, what I was afraid of was that if we got caught, if Cindy figured it out, it would be over. And I could not bear the thought of losing him when I had just found him. I couldn’t imagine not letting this thing run its course now that we had started it.
I picked up my glass to have another sip and found that it was empty. Was that two glasses I had drunk, or three? I couldn’t remember. I decided to switch to water and went inside to fix it for myself, and was both thrilled and dismayed to see Josh in the kitchen.
“What are you doing here?” I asked rather abruptly.
His eyes danced. “I live here, remember? What are you doing here…” And then he leaned close to me and whispered “with your clothes on, clucking with the hens out there?”
I smiled. The clucking hens thing stuck in the back of my head, but I smiled because he was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about him, and he wanted me to be naked with him and he wanted me.
“Moms’ night. I need a glass of water to dilute the wine a little.”
He grinned and got me a glass out of the cabinet. “Just don’t decide that you like her again, or that you owe her anything,” he warned, and disappeared into the family room.
That seemed an odd thing for him to say.
I fixed my water and headed back out into the twilight with Cindy and the other members of our group of friends. I put my glass down on the table and Cindy shrieked, interrupting Jenn mid-sentence.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Cindy asked me.
“I just needed some water because I was feeling a little too tipsy for this early in the evening.”
“Well why are you drinking it out of my good water goblet out here on the patio?” She was so mad she almost spit the words at me. She was clearly crazy. It was a glass, breakable but replaceable. And I was a grown adult, not prone to breaking things, stealing glasses, or causing mayhem at sedate neighborhood gatherings. Her glass was very likely safe in my hands, even if her husband wasn’t.
Jenn looked terrified. This glass thing was obviously a big deal. Like, a Big Deal.
“I ran into Josh in the kitchen and he gave it to me. I’m sorry, I had no…” She cut me off mid-apology by snatching the glass from in front of me and marching into the house, screaming for Josh. We could see in through the window, so we watched his sheepish arrival, the gradual hunching of his shoulders, the lost look on his face, the downcast eyes, the ineffectual and pointless apology. I felt so badly for him. She was awful. I mean, I liked having nice things too, and I loved the idea of gracious living, but if it meant I had to treat my family this way, if rather just drink out of red solo cups for the rest of my life and have peace in my home.
I may not be the best wife on the block, but this was inexcusable. I looked at Jenn and she looked at me.
“Think we should make a run for it?” she asked. I looked beside me for my purse. It wasn’t there.
“Dammit my purse is inside. I can’t leave it here, it’s got my keys in it.”
“Shit. Ok let’s try to wrap this up.” She chugged her wine and signaled to the other women there to do the same. I had nothing to drink, having had my water snatched away before I could drink it.
We all started straightening our chairs and cleaning up our messes, getting wine glasses and coasters together, making sure no crumbs were left on the table or the patio, and collectively preparing our exit speeches. I mean, she was going to know that we were all taking off because of this whole dreadful thing with the glass, but we knew that, as gracious guests, it was our job to suddenly find out about last minute homework that required supervision, feverish children, dogs that couldn’t possibly be left inside any longer, or husbands who were such morons that they couldn’t heat up ravioli in the microwave without assistance. So that’s what we were doing.
Until she came back outside. She saw us getting ready to leave and she was pissed.
“Oh hell no! Sit back down! Moms’ night isn’t over yet and we will not let HIM ruin it for us!” I looked around uneasily, not sure what to do.
I was a guest in her home, with inappropriate feelings for her beleaguered husband. I had shared things with him I had never shared with anyone, I had let him touch me in ways and places that no one had touched me in years. And I felt things for him that I no longer felt for my own husband. And now, having witnessed an intimate, uncomfortable moment between my almost-lover and his wife, my friend…well, Emily Post didn’t really cover how to handle this. I decided to follow Jenn’s lead.
She sat back down and calmly poured herself a glass of wine. Out other friends did the same, and so did I, if for no other reason than this:
I have never been more curious to see how a situation played out in my life.
I woke up later that night, having gone to bed in my own bed at my own house and put my own children in their beds and with my own husband sleeping next to me. I heard nothing in the night, I was alone with my skin, burnished by his touch and his tongue and his lips, and the sound and swell of my own deep, sleepy breathing. I luxuriated in the memory of being with him that afternoon. I could smell his skin on the tender insides of my wrists and I could feel the faint tingle of his lips on mine. I stretched and then curled back up, imagining he was there with me, and that I could curl up next to him, entangle myself with him.
I turned over and noticed that my sheets didn’t have quite the snap that his did. His sheets were crisp and cool and, I realized, ironed. Ironed!
Who irons their sheets?
It had to be her, right? His wife must have ironed the sheets we made out on, that we almost made love on. That’s twisted and wrong and even if it wasthe guest room, we were still partially unclothed, saying things we shouldn’t have been saying, touching each other in ways we shouldn’t have been, on sheets that she ironed. I had to stop this, I couldn’t. I couldn’t ask him to betray his vows, no matter how willing he was; no matter how willing I was to break my own. This couldn’t go any further.
He had made a promise to her. He had also made a promise to me, but even in my bed, drunk with desire for a man I was not married to, a man in his bed with his wife, sleeping together on crisp, cool, ironed sheets that she had ironed with her own hands, I knew that her promise trumped mine. I had no place there.
No matter how badly I wanted him to make one for me, I had no place there. I said it over and over, a mantra to woo myself back to sleep and away from him. Away from his sweet kisses and his need to know me and his unwillingness to climb my walls.
I slept badly, awoke early, awoke irritable and unfulfilled, unrested, having dreamt of him all night; having been unsuccessful in outrunning my desire for him.
I pulled the sheets off my bed. I washed them, I dried them, I ironed them. I needed to know I could be as good as she was, that I could deserve him too.