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A Stack of Unopened Letters

November 2, 2013

Jenn

I stood in front of the locker room mirror at the YMCA and checked out my ass. It wasn’t sagging; it looked great. My relentless routine, my relentless fight against gravity was working. Spin class, running, weights, yoga and swimming had my ass as perky and round as it had been when I first met Johnny 23 years ago as a college freshman. My tummy was flat, my boobs were doing as well as could be expected – big boobs always had a little sag – and I was generally happy with what I saw. I peeled my sweaty clothes off and I headed to the shower.

The warm water relaxed my muscles, made tight by work stress and working out. It was late, almost closing time for the Y, and I knew I needed to hurry. Unlike most people, I preferred working out after work. It was a tangible barrier between work and home, and an excuse to skip dinner and late night snacking and burn some calories at the same time.

Johnny worked late most nights anyway, so we usually got home around the same time. It was important to me that he not know how hard I worked to maintain my figure. I really preferred for him to think I just went for a quick walk most days. I thought he would object, for some reason, to my punishing fitness routine.

I put my clean yoga pants and t-shirt on and headed home. I was a little surprised to see Johnny’s car in the driveway, but it wasn’t totally abnormal. It’s possible I could have worked out a little longer than usual, or maybe the time I spent admiring  myself in the mirror had caught up with me. I walked inside, a smile on my face, hoping Johnny was in a decent mood. It was hard to tell – he worked so much and sometimes he got so stressed. I relieved my stress at the gym, but he usually ate and drank his stress. It was not ideal, but I tried to work with it as much as I could.

Johnny’s back was to me as he poured himself a scotch. I stifled the sigh that almost escaped and instead greeted him as though nothing was bothering me. “Hey, honey. How was your day?”

He turned to look at me, his eyes red and stormy. “You’re late, and there’s no dinner.”

“I’m sorry, I must have walked a little longer than usual. And you usually just eat dinner at the office so I was going to make a quick sandwich or something.”

“There’s something I want to show you.”  He led me to the family room and there, on the coffee table, was the stack of unopened letters. All addressed in the same hesitant hand. One a month for the last two years. 24 letters, all addressed to me. All unopened. All with a return address of Lakewood Drive.

“Care to explain?” Johnny asked.

I fell to the couch, my hand over my mouth. “How did you find these?”

“This one came today.” He held up the letter with yesterday’s postmark. I took it up to your nightstand, and I noticed the drawer wasn’t closed all the way. I tried to  close it, but it was stuck. I pulled it out to fix it and I found the rest.”

He bent down, his face right in front of mine, many hours of scotch on his breath. “Again, Jenn, care to explain?”

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.  There was no explanation.

“I can wait all night, Jenn. You’re my wife and I want to know who the fuck is writing you a letter every month. A letter that you won’t open, but you keep. A letter addressed to you, mailed from across town. Every month for the last two years.”

“This has nothing to do with you, Johnny. I’m begging you to put those letters back where you found them and pretend this never happened. Trust me when I tell you, you do not want to know what this is about.”

He took a deep breath and put his drink down. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, the anger between us was practically palpable. “I want to know and I want to know now.”

The endorphins from my work out wore off instantly,  but my fight or flight hormones were raging. I wanted to run, but I knew I couldn’t. Not yet. “Johnny, back off. This is not about you. We can discuss it later when you’re not…when you’re feeling better. But we are not doing this now.”

He stood up, stepped back. “I don’t like this, Jenn. I am not happy about this. You have twenty four hours to tell me what this is about or I start opening and reading the letters. This is my house and I will not have secrets in my house.”

He picked up the stack of unopened letters and banded them together. “I’ll keep these with me, in case you thought you’d burn them by tomorrow. You will tell me what this is about, or I’ll find out, because either you’re going to come clean or we’re going to open these letters, one by one, and read them together. So figure out what you’re going to say, because you have one day to say it.”

And with that, he took the letters and he stomped upstairs.

I pulled my knees under my chin and hugged them to me. I never wanted this to happen. I never wanted him to find out. I should have burned the letters when they arrived. Or sent them back. Or something. Even though I didn’t want them, didn’t want to deal with them, didn’t want to read them, I had to keep them. Unwanted as they were, unwanted as he had been, his letters were all I had of him.

Which would be worse, to tell Johnny the letters were from an old boyfriend who couldn’t let go, or to tell him the truth? If I lied I to my husband, made up some believable story about the letters and then he read the letters anyway, he would find out that I was lying, and it would be devastating. I sighed, It didn’t matter what I said now, he would find out the truth.  Wheels were in motion and I would have to eventually  tell the truth and let him know that I had been lying to him since we met. I couldn’t imagine that he would stay. I may as well spend my 24  hours packing my things and finding a new place to live because this lie was too big to get over. It was too much to expect that he would be ok with it, that he would even be willing to try to work through it.

Because, you see, the letters were from my son.

The son I had borne at 17. The son I had been encouraged by my parents to abort, and when I wouldn’t, to give away. The son I had been carrying when I had a breakdown and tried to kill myself.  The son who had survived anyway, and had thrived, and was now in his 20s and had found me and was living on Lakewood Drive and wanted, I’m sure, to meet me.

The son I had never told Johnny I had had.

I told Johnny when we met that I had been born with a medical condition that prevented me from having children. I told him that if he wanted to be with me, we would not be having children because I couldn’t. Now he would know it was because I wouldn’t. He would know that I had carried and borne a child, with someone else. I had given another man this gift that he hadn’t wanted, and had then withheld that same gift from my husband, who wanted it desperately, even to this day.

So you see why I could never tell him my secret. It was too much, too deep, too devastating. I had never told anyone – not Cindy, not Lauren, and not even Lissa, my very closest friend, about this child. My parents knew, because they had to know. They guided my hand as I signed the papers giving up my parental rights, they accepted the pay off from the father’s family and put it in my college fund, they agreed to never speak of it again. My father found me when I had cut my wrists but before I bled out. My father found a plastic surgeon to keep the scarring to a minimum. His fee was huge, unimaginable. When I was in the psych ward, and the call came that the surgeon would take a look at my wrists, my father took me by the shoulders, and looked me in the eye, and said “Jennifer, if I do this for you, you have to promise me that you will never have another child. You are not meant to be a mother. Your body and your chemistry is all wrong for this, and you have to swear to me that you will never, ever do this to yourself or me or your mother again.” And I nodded, and he saved me, and he made sure no one would be able to look at me and tell what I had done, and we never spoke of it again.

When I met Johnny in college, and I brought him home to meet my parents, and then brought him home a few more times and they figured out it was serious, my father took him out to play golf and had a talk with him. I had already told him, when we started sleeping together, that I couldn’t have children. And when he started talking about marriage and forever and ever I reminded him that I was damaged, that I couldn’t have children,  that I would never make him a father. And when my dad took him out for a golf game, he said the same thing, and encouraged Johnny to think really hard about whether or not I was worth sacrificing the chance to be a father. And my mom talked to him the next morning over coffee, before I got up, and Johnny told them both that it didn’t matter, that he loved me, that children weren’t a deal breaker, And he kept saying it, to them and to me, until we all believed him, and they acquiesced and allowed us to get married.

As he walked me down the aisle, my father was perfect. And when he leaned over to life my veil and kiss me on the cheek, his finger grazed my wrist, a secret reminder.

No children. Just tell him you can’t.

Just keep telling him you can’t. And just don’t.

 

 

The Box of His Things

November 2, 2013

Lauren

It’s not like I thought about it every day, maybe not even every week. But way in the back of my closet is the box of Stuart’s things that the police brought me after his accident. His watch, his wallet, his cell phone, a few coins, his wedding ring. Not things I could just get rid of, obviously, but also not things I wanted to deal with. So, clearly, I just had to shove it in the back of the closet and let them stay there. For a few days after the accident, as I would lie in our bed, now only half-full, I swore I could hear the phone vibrating. I had no desire, at that moment, to see who was calling or texting him, and I knew eventually it would stop, the battery would die, the person trying to reach him would hear of his death and stop calling or would just give up because he wasn’t answering.

Today, though, and for the last few days, the box was haunting the edges of my thoughts. Whenever I looked at my cell phone, I thought of his. When I gave the kids money for the ice cream man, I wondered how much money was in his wallet. It must have been the incident at Mom’s Night that put Stuart and the box of his things back in my mind. Seeing the way Cindy treated Josh, and hearing her horrible story of throwing shoes at him because he fell asleep in the chair reminded me of Stuart. I would never have done that to him, even if I hadn’t known he was going to die, even if he hadn’t died I would still say that I loved him and I wanted to make him happy for all the days of his life, no matter how short. No matter how long.

I was outside on my screened in porch, drinking a glass of wine and smoking a bowl. It helped with the pain and the grief, the physical pain and the emotional. My doctor had said it was not the worst idea. My shrink wasn’t thrilled, but what was he really going to say? I was already doing it by the time we talked about it, and he knew I wasn’t going to stop. There was no medication that would help me relax enough to sleep like a glass of wine and some weed, so that was what I did now, every night, after the kids were sound asleep.

Stuart’s death was not a complete surprise to me. I am sure it was to him, but I had a feeling it was coming. It was my own stupidity not to make sure he had paid the life insurance before he crashed and burned.  Of course that was before, when I wasn’t sure I could trust my feelings, premonitions, visions, inklings, shining – whatever you wanted to call them. Now I knew. I knew all to well that the things I dreamt or saw or hallucinated or imagined or  felt, deep down in my bones, were true. Would come true. Were already true and would soon come to light. Like Danny Torrance’s Shining, I really just wanted it to stop, to go away. I wanted my truth, the true thing I knew about my own body, to be a lie. But I knew it wasn’t.

I sighed, a deep, heavy, old lady kind of sigh. There was nothing to be done. All the pink ribbons on yogurt lids and mayonnaise jars and football jerseys  weren’t going to save me. Only God could do that, and since I was sitting outside, alone in the dark, breaking the law and neglecting my children, I was not optimistic about a miracle headed in my direction.

My doctor said we needed to decide something soon. Move forward with treatment, whatever slim chance it had of working. Call in the troops again to wrangle child care and drive me back and forth and make meals for my family, meals that I likely would have neither the desire nor the capacity to eat, draw up living wills and guardianships and ask someone I knew – a friend – to raise my children. My parents were both dead, my husband was dead and I had been an only child. I had no cousins, no distant relatives. This, I guess, was the danger of small families and moving around a lot and never really connecting with another person. Stuart and I had each other, and for so long, that had been enough.  When we were young and establishing the rules of what our lives would be like, what our life together would be like, we never imagined that we wouldn’t have each other, and we certainly never imagined that neither of us would be here to see our kids through to adulthood. It wasn’t until my first pregnancy that the visions, the knowing, started to happen with any regularity, with any reliability. And by then, the rules of how we were going to be with the world were set, and it was pretty much impossible for us to change. I resigned myself, my children to  this fate, as cruel as it was. I had known what I was doing, and I went ahead and I did it anyway.

Could there be any more selfish act?

I drew another hit of smoke into my lungs and held it, letting all the chemicals and carcinogens and THC hit my bloodstream. I could almost feel the drug move from my core to my limbs, tiny waves of relaxation moving out from the center of my body, eventually to my mind. Quieting my mind was the part I couldn’t do on my own, even with yoga and meditation and running and xanax. I blew the smoke out and I took another sip of wine, and I envisioned the alcohol and the THC traveling together to the part of my brain that regulated my anxious thoughts, and I pictured them like windshield wipers, clearing away the things I worried about incessantly, the spirals of thoughts that played over and over. I pictured them letting the thoughts escape so  that I could relax, and sleep, and dream of nothing.

Soon I felt that drifting, that disconnection from the world around me. I turned off the light and the ceiling fan, I took my wine glass and my pipe inside and washed them out, putting the glass back in the cabinet and carrying the pipe up with me to its hiding place. I climbed into bed, fixed my favorite pillow just so, and I let myself sleep. Morning would come early; it always did. But between now and then was my body’s chance to fight itself, and my mind’s chance to calm itself, so that I could function the next day.

Usually this routine left me dreamless, thoughtless, just a floating collection of cells and neurons and receptors, which was the only way I could sleep and wake up refreshed. Since Stuart’s death, dreams were nightmares, and I would wake up sweaty, shaken, disoriented. It scared the kids, seeing me wild-eyed and afraid, when they came in to ask for breakfast. So I had tried, over the past months, to just not dream. I tried not to think before I went to sleep, I tried to make my mind blank, empty of emotions or pictures or anything that could spark a nightmare.

Tonight though. Tonight I hadn’t gotten it exactly right and just as I drifted off, I thought of the box of his things at the back of the closet. I thought of the cell phone that vibrated for days after his death. I thought of the money that could be in his wallet. I thought of the clues I might be able to find, the footpath that could lead me from wondering why he was where he was at the time he was there to knowing, to understanding. I decided that tomorrow I would start looking. I would charge his phone and look at the missed calls, read the texts he had never read, connect the dots between his office and Lakewood Drive.

What was he doing? Who was he seeing? What had been so important that he had ignored my impassioned, repeated pleas to come straight home, to bring me Diet Coke, to rescue me from misbehaving kids? I had seen him die in my dreams, I knew it was coming. I tried to keep him off of Lakewood Drive, because I had seen where and how it would happen, and I foolishly thought I could change his destiny by changing his location – and in the end, I wasn’t even able to change his location. I had known when, and where, and how, but the why of Stuart’s death had eluded me. Before my own death, I needed to know why. I needed to know what pulled him there, I needed to know why he was in that exact place at that exact time.

And so I dreamt, wild, vivid dreams of Stuart and I, dreams of running and chasing and falling, him holding my hand as I slipped, letting it go. me watching him fall, unable to stop him from crashing, screaming silently as he bled and died. I saw myself, scarred and disfigured, patches of hair missing and sunken cheeks. I awoke exhausted, but determined.

I had to find the why. I took down the box of his things and I opened it. The unmistakable smell of Stuart drifted out as soon as I lifted the lid. My eyes filled, my breathing changed. I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder, reassuring and strong. I remembered the beautiful Stuart, the man I had loved since I was 15 years old – young, handsome, smart, kind. The image of his dental records beside a corpse’s x-rays was far from my consciousness. I wiped my tears and steeled my courage. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that going on a wild goose chase to figure out why Stuart was across town on the night he died was doing nothing but distracting me from my own impending death, and giving me something to focus on besides the decisions and plans I needed to be making. But maybe, I reasoned, just maybe, this was the last gift Stuart had to offer me.

I pulled out his cell phone, and I attached it to my charger, and I went to make coffee. I knew something, some clue, would be waiting for me when I came back. I knew I would have to accept Stuart’s secret, whatever it had been, because I was the one who had conjured it.

Intrusion

October 6, 2013

I tried to forget about Josh not kissing me at the car, trying instead to focus on the hour or so we spent in the woods, fooling around like teenagers. He kissed me like no one had kissed me before, or at least in a long time, and I felt a glow just below my skin. I couldn’t stop smiling. But I knew that the kids were coming home and my husband was coming home and I needed to pull it together. If I was too happy and my family saw it, they would know something was up. They may not know what was up, but they would definitely be watching. And them watching was something I couldn’t afford.

The other thing I couldn’t afford was guilt, but the guilt was crushing. Even though I wanted more, even though I was trying to talk myself into believing that I deserved this happiness I could picture Josh giving me, I could feel the guilt curling in my stomach, something dark and dangerous, the kind of thing that would lead me to make a misstep, to show my hand. I decided at the last minute to stop at the grocery store and get something great for dinner. I had just enough time to make a roast if I started it the moment I got home and roasted the veggies later.My family was not used to such hearty meals during the week – they would feel loved and I would have done something special for them. A beautiful meal for my family cancelled out my afternoon betrayal. I felt the guilt recede, a little.

I made it home in record time, threw the roast in the oven and took a deep breath. This was fine. I took a shower and made it to the bus stop just as my youngest got off and yelled “Mommy your hair is wet! Why is your hair wet? Did you just take a shower?” I blushed, and said yes, honey, I ran at lunch time and just took a shower. My older daughter said “Good thing cause I do NOT want you picking us up all sweaty and stinky. That would be so embarrassing!” I rolled my eyes. Eleven was turning out to be a much more difficult age to navigate than either of us had anticipated.

I walked the girls home and supervised snack, homework and lunch packing for the next day, then sent them gleefully outside for a few minutes to play before dinner.  Just as I pulled the roast out of the oven and set the table and wiped the counters down, my husband got home.

“Hey, dinner’s almost ready!” I said to him, my face arranged carefully into a small smile -not a grin,  but not scowling, like I feared I usually did. I knew he really liked it when I played my part in the 50’s marriage script that played in his head, and I had made an effort to have a decent dinner that I knew he would enjoy ready when he got home from work. Even though I brought in a paycheck, I worked from home and definitely had more of an opportunity to cook and clean up and manage the laundry than he did. I wasn’t sure why I resisted this obvious approach so many days of the week, but I did. Today, however, of all days, I worked to get it right. Guilt, perhaps, it had a positive effect, so was there any harm done, really?

“Smells great!” he declared, smiling.

“Thanks!” I said, a little taken aback by his jovial mood. “How was your day?”

“Not bad, not bad at all. It was long but not bad. How long until dinner?”

“Well, the meat could rest for about 10 more minutes, just enough time to..”

He finished my sentence, “change into something else and wash up. I’ll tell the kids to come in.” He disappeared upstairs, and I heard him wash his face and go into the bedroom, presumably to change clothes, and then to the office, presumably to set up his laptop for the work he would do before bedtime. I heard him open the front door and yell at the girls cheerfully to come inside and wash up for dinner, then I heard them all chattering and laughing and moving towards the kitchen. I put the roast on the table, stuck a spoon in the mashed potatoes and smiled at my family.

Everyone smiled back.

And took their seats without complaint. And said grace. And passed dishes of food to the right and ate with forks and used their napkins and spoke agreeably to one another.

Was this my family?  No one was yelling, or fighting, or pouting. My husband brought up a story he had heard on NPR and we were able to discuss it rationally, respectfully. And when dinner was done was when the most amazing thing happened.

“Honey, you cooked. The girls and I will clean up. Why don’t you pour your glass of wine and go upstairs and have some time to yourself?”

“Are you sure?” I asked, incredulous.

“Sure. Go. We’ve got this.”

I did as he suggested, and poured a glass of wine and took my phone upstairs. I assumed I would have to come back down and finish the clean up later, but I thought maybe I could settle my next date with Josh before that had to happen. I stole away to my room, pulled out a book I was  reading but had long neglected, and set my phone where it would catch my eye if he texted me.

I read about two paragraphs and picked up my phone. I checked it – no text. I put it on my thigh, so I could feel it vibrate. Finally it did.

It was Josh. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.

“Hiya”

“hey there you”

“What are you doing?”

I hesitated – I definitely shouldn’t tell him I had been I had been waiting for him to text me. “Just reading. You?”

“Waiting until everyone disappeared and left me alone for 2 minutes so I could text you. :)”

Hmmm, he was being direct. I wonder now if he was saying what he thought I wanted to hear. At the time, I thought he was being sincere and the fact that it was what I wanted him to say was a happy coincidence, further evidence that we were meant to be. It never crossed that mind that he would need to manipulate me. I thought…well…never mind what I thought. I thought the same thing every woman in my position thinks.  That we both chose poorly when we were choosing mates and had we just been patient enough to wait for one another and lucky enough to meet, things would be different – and maybe this was our chance to right the universe’s wrong.

I texted back, “So how has your night been?”

“Long, boring. I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s talk about us.”

Us!! He said us!

“What about us?” I asked.

“When can I see you again?”

“Depends. When can you see me again?”

It took a minute for him to respond. “I’m free on Tuesday.”

I looked at my calendar – Tuesday wasn’t great for me, I had a conference call I really needed to be on, but I really needed to see Josh more. Besides, they would archive the call and I could catch up Tuesday night. “Tuesday is good for me too. What time? Where?”

“Afternoon I guess – let me get back to you on place. I think I have an idea. ” I smiled.

“What can I…expect to be doing on Tuesday?” I asked.

“I think, my dear, that you can expect a delightful afternoon.”

“Delightful, huh?”

“Yes.”

He texted again before I could respond. “Do your bra and panties match?”

“i…uh…right now? No.”

“Please make sure they do on Tuesday. That really makes me hot.”

Crap. I’d have to go shopping. Matching lingerie had not exactly been a priority lately. “You got it.”

“And make sure you are all trimmed up…I want to taste you.”

Oh my God who talked like this?

“Mmmmmmmm,” I replied. What was I supposed to say to that?

“I’ll let you know details on Monday, ok? I just need to make sure my plan will work.”

“Ok. Sounds good.”

“Enough logistics, Lissa. I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Josh.”

“tell me your deepest fantasy.”

“I..I’d like to meet a really hot soccer dad and have a torrid affair with him.”

“Ha ha. Other than that. Tell me something specific.”

“I don’t even know, it’s been so long since I thought about what I’d want if I could have anything. What about you? What’s your top fantasy? Other than 2 women because I’m not going there. :)”

“Hmmm, maybe a woman showing up somewhere with a trenchcoat on, and matching bra and panties and garter belt and stockings underneath and nothing else, and for her to show me, and then let me lose myself in her.”

Hmm, I might need to buy a trenchcoat.

“Sounds…delicious.”

“You’re delicious, Lissa. You have no idea how delicious you are.”

“Why thank you, sir.”

“Sir? Are you going to call me sir?”

Just then, my husband walked in. “How was your ‘me’ time?” he asked, smiling.

I it the button on my phone to turn off the text screen and looked up. I smiled back, hoping I didn’t look as shaky as I felt. “It was great – thanks so much for cleaning up the kitchen.”

My phone buzzed, two short buzzes, and I turned it upside down against my thigh so my husband wouldn’t see the next text in the conversation as he bent down to kiss me. I kissed him back and he put his arms around me. This was unexpected to say the least. I stood up and stuffed my phone in my pocket. I gave my husband a quick peck on the cheek and headed downstairs to see what additional clean up needed to be done. As I walked out, my husband said, “I love you.” I turned and looked at him, puzzled. It had been many months since he had said those words to be, and many more since I felt he meant them. I wasn’t sure what to say back – I didn’t want to lie and say I loved him too, because I wasn’t sure, at that moment, what I felt for him. I also didn’t want to hurt his feelings by not saying anything, so I compromised. “You too!” I called as I hurried out of the room.

I hoped that would work.

I got to the kitchen and everything looked great. I pulled out my phone. Josh had texted : “I didn’t know you were a ‘sir’ kind of girl.”

Then, after I didn’t answer for awhile, “Everything ok?”

I texted him “Yes, just got interrupted. Gotta run. TTYS.”

And then I deleted our conversation. And then I put a passcode on my phone. And then I put my phone away.

I headed back upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my husband. And when I saw him lying on top of the covers, his tented boxers seemingly a flag of surrender, for me to win whatever fight I didn’t know we had been having for the last several months, I realized I was in way over my head.

Answering

September 29, 2013

I sat at my desk, a blank piece of beautiful stationery in front of me, my favorite pen in hand, and tried to answer Josh. I wanted him to know that what I saw in him was broken, beautiful, compelling. But men – do they want to hear that? Or did he just want to hear that I lusted after his body? That I wanted to do unspeakable things to him, that I could scarcely think of anything else, that my family and job and running were mere distractions from my main focus – getting the two of us naked in the same place at the same time?

His letter was so sensual, so soft. Not overtly dirty – and I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I was stuck.

I put my pen down and put my running clothes on and headed out to the greenway. I ran with the express purpose of clearing my head and figuring out at least the first sentence of my reply to Josh. I was determined not to stop until I knew how I was going to begin, even if I had to run all day and meet the bus in my dri-fit shirt and shorts, sweaty and red-faced but satisfied with the opening of my letter.

I had been running for about an hour when I felt my phone buzz with a text.

“Stop.”

It was from Josh. Of course it was from Josh.

“Stop what?” I replied.

“Stop running. Stop trying so hard. Stop not answering me. If I know you at all, I know you are avoiding answering me because you’re trying to make it perfect.”

I smiled to myself, shook my head.

How did he know? He knew because he knew me. I don’t know how, but he understood me. Which meant one of three things: either he made a great guess; or I was a cliche and every woman he began an affair with tried to write him a perfect reply, that every woman every man began an affair with tried to write her would-be lover a perfect reply;  or that we truly were something special.

Wasn’t it possible, I reasoned with myself, that we were soulmates, that we were meant to be, that we deserved to have something together because he got me?  My husband didn’t get me. My mom didn’t get me. I didn’t even get myself sometimes. I owed myself, the two of us, a chance. Didn’t I?

Of course I did.

The only possibility that made sense was that Josh understood me in ways I had never imagined and so therefore this wasn’t wrong.

“You’re right. I want my reply to be perfect.”

“So if I told you the perfect answer was ‘yes, Josh, I want to see. I want you’ what would you say?”

“I would say”

send

“Yes”

send

“I want to see”

send 

“I want you.”

send

I held my breath and sat down on a bench. What if he didn’t answer? What if this was a trap, that he had done all this because my husband asked him to see if I would cheat, and he was going to show all of this to him, and I would end up losing everything? Including Josh, if I had ever really had him?

Was that even possible, reasonable? My husband had shown little to no interest in anything I did, other than spend money on running gear or let the kids leave their rooms messy, in years. Why would he suddenly care if I was seeing another man? I was paranoid, ridiculous. Josh really had some sort of feelings for me, and I had some sort of feelings for him, and we were discussing the possibility of exploring those feelings. This had nothing to do with my marriage.

I put my head between my legs, breathing deeply, trying to slow my pounding heart and calm the panic that swirled through my head and my blood and my loins. I sat back up, pulled out my phone, ready to text him back and tell him no, I couldn’t do it. I wanted him but I couldn’t have him, that jeopardizing two families was too much.

It buzzed. My phone burst with two short buzzes, and Josh’s words popped up on my screen.

“I am so happy right now.”

buzz buzz

“I can’t wait to see you again.”

buzz buzz

“When?”

Before I could stop myself I texted back:

“Now”

“Greenway”

“Mile 6, Bench by the lake.”

He texted me back a smiley face.

buzz buzz

Don’t move.

I didn’t move. I stared at the trees, I looked up and I watched the clouds through the lush green leaves. I lost myself in the breeze, in the beauty around me. I was mesmerized for that moment, and then I felt a gentle finger stroke my cheek.

I looked up, both surprised and not surprised to see Josh.

My face tingled where he had touched me. It tingled for a long time. It tingled until he kissed me. It tingled until his tongue licked my lips, entered my mouth, It tingled until he touched my cheek again, until he used his whole hand to hold my face, and the other hand on the back of my sweaty neck to pull me to him and melt me into him and kiss me harder. I felt myself wanting to straddle him, facing him, grinding against him. I felt myself wanting things I should not have been ready to want, I found myself wanting him, right there on a bench on a greenway in the center of the suburbs where we both lived, in the middle of a mostly sunny day when the kids were at school and the world twirled on around us.

I managed to break our kiss, to back away enough to catch my breath, to open my eyes and find myself blinded by the brightness and dizzy from heat and lust and breathless from the rush of recklessness.

I knew better.

I couldn’t make myself do better, but I knew better.

“Wow” I breathed, or he breathed.  I don’t really know, it seemed like our breaths had we were breathing and thinking and speaking as one.

He stood and pulled me up to him, looked in my eyes and took my hand. He led me to the woods, off the trail, deep between the trees. He let go of my hand and for the first time I noticed that he had a backpack. He bent down and unzipped it, pulling out a blanket, cold water, trail mix with chocolate chips in it. He spread the blanket on the ground. He handed me the water.

He laid down on the blanket, he patted the space next to him. I sat cross legged beside him and guzzled the water. He handed me the trail mix and I ate a handful.

“How far did you run?”

I checked my FitBit. “6! Holy crap! I ran 6 miles!”

I had never run that far without stopping before. He watched me smile. “What were you thinking about? What made you run?”

I laid down beside him, facing him but not looking him in the eye. “You.”

“What about me?” he traced lazy circles on my shoulder with the tip of his finger. It tickled but I didn’t want him to stop.

“i was, well, I was trying to figure out how to answer your letter.”

I could feel him smile. I could feel him grow warmer, move closer. He put his finger under my chin and lifted my face to him. i couldn’t help but look him in the eye now.

“And what did you figure out in 6 miles?”

“I figured out the first line.”

“Oh yeah? And what was it?”

I laughed. “Dear Josh.”

He kissed me as I laughed, and he ran his fingers through my hair as he kissed me, and I pressed my body against him as he ran his fingers through my hair.

His phone rang and he ignored it.

“I want you, Lissa. But not today, not like this. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be in a bed, in a room, in a place where you can scream when I make you scream and moan when I make you moan and when we have time to explore – I want to see and touch and lick and kiss every inch of your beautiful body and I want it all, Lissa. I don’t want to leave anything undone. I want you to be exhausted from being satisfied and burning up with lust to start all over again.”

I tried to answer him, to say that this was perfect, that anything with him would be perfect, that we would  never have enough time or space for all the things he wanted so we better just take what we had when we had it, but he kissed me again. His fingers found their way under my shirt and stroked my stomach, slowly, rhythmically.  He found the spot on my side that’s super sensitive, and he exploited the sensitivity, gently. “Does that feel good, or do you want me to stop?” he whispered.

“Both” I said, my body quivering, “it feels good and you have to stop.”

He didn’t ask any questions, he didn’t protest or pout or whine or stomp away. He moved his hand away from the spot on my side and he kept kissing me. And whether he ever said he loved me or not, that small act, that tiny acquiescence to something I asked of him made me feel like he loved me. And that was enough.

One small moment of feeling as though I had been loved in contrast to the million ways every day in which I felt like I was absolutely not loved was enough to make the difference. It was enough to tip the balance, the very careful balance I had held for all these years. And it was, in that moment, that I fell completely.

Men think it takes candles and fine dining and sparkly rings and trips to Mexico to win a woman. And women think they deserve all of those things in order to give their love. But in reality it only takes small things to win a woman. Bringing her cold water when she’s been running. Not pushing when the time isn’t right. Bringing a blanket to spread on the ground so you can make out with her in a park without either of you getting dirty.

Letting her answer be yes, even if that yes is straightforward and ineloquent and reeks of need. Touching her face in a way that still tingles hours later.

Moving your hand away when she asks you to, but still kissing her until your phone rings again.

He picked it up and looked at the screen. He simultaneously answered and stood up and walked a few feet away from the blanket.  He came back a few moments later. “Work stuff. I really need to get back, Lissa. I’m sorry.”

I checked the time.  “I should probably get cleaned up before the kids get off the bus.”

“I’m really sorry – I planned to spend as much time with you as you needed because I wanted to be sure you know…” I placed my finger over his lips and looked him in the eye.

“It’s ok. I know. Go to work, do your work thing, and we’ll pick this up where we left off.”

“When?”

“Text me tonight. We’ll figure it out.”

He smiled, and we worked together to fold up the blanket. he put it back in his backpack and handed me the rest of the trail mix and another bottle of water. He walked me back to my car and touched my cheek again. “I will definitely text you later. Have a good afternoon – I’ll be thinking about you.”

I blushed. “Same here, Josh. Same here.”

I hoped without knowing I was hoping that he would kiss me goodbye. I thought he would kiss me. I knew it would be foolish, that we could be seen, caught. But I thought he would kiss me anyway. I thought what he felt transcended foolishness. I thought his need for me would overrule his good sense.

When it didn’t, when he didn’t kiss me, I was sad. Disappointed. Disillusioned, a little. But, I chided myself, this had been our first official meeting or date or session or whatever the hell you call it when people decide to begin an affair. Maybe in time he would kiss me as we parted. Or maybe it was too painful to kiss me, knowing it was possible he would have to kiss her and/or I would have to kiss him later that same day.

Or maybe he was just being smart.

Or maybe he had an uncanny ability to put me in a box in his mind. In the woods, in a hotel, in a spare bedroom at his fraternity brother’s house, I was his, and I was all he thought about. But in the light of day, in the parking lot – we were friends. Our families were friendly. But out there in the world, I was not his, he was not mine. Maybe he could put me and his feelings for me in a little box in the back of his mind and pretend like everything was normal. I realized in that moment, when the excitement over touching him and him touching me, the excitement over the beginning of something new, the excitement over all the firsts we still had to experience together was tinged with a faint but very real flush of disappointment, that I could not put my feelings for him in a box. This would bleed over and alter my view of everyone  and everything in my world.

But what I didn’t realize was how damaging, how dangerous, that could be.

But I waved goodbye, I didn’t insist on further contact between us in that moment, I played it cool. He waved, and he nodded, and he got into his car, and he left.

Found Wanting

June 10, 2013

And so she concluded

that he must have looked at her,

at them,

he must have taken stock and

added up the pros and cons and

made up some rules that

she didn’t know they were

playing by

and he calculated the score

and he maybe made some columns and

put hash marks,

four in a row, then crossing the

four out with the fifth

and when he added up the hash marks and

the pros and the cons and the tangibles and the intangibles

and the things he wanted and the things she had and

who he was alone and who they were together,

when he did all that,

and leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling,

hands folded together across his stomach

and the truth of the whole thing descended,

it must have been to his great surprise,

at least she hoped to his great surprise,

that she was

found wanting.

That what she had was not enough,

or perhaps was too much;

that who they were meant that he couldn’t be

who he thought he was, or should get to be;

and that in the end it was just about the numbers,

about the math,

not about her and him and them at all.

Archived

February 28, 2013

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,

touch 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 –

Time Travel

February 24, 2013

The old me thought,
in bright-eyed, misplaced naïveté,
that I would never dream of changing
what transpired between us.

I thought
that the walk across shattered glass had been worth it,
in the end.

I thought
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,
still pining,
still drifting.

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,
this moment,
when I awoke from dreams to the fully-formed
knowledge that
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,
I would.

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,
ever true.

Handwritten

February 11, 2013

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.

Dear Lissa,
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.

Let’s just…see.

Josh

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.

Patio Continued

February 10, 2013

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.

Declaration

February 8, 2013

I believed you were necessary, that
my words
required you.

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,
your indecisiveness
and finally
your absence.

But when you became
lost to me completely I
finally understood:

It was not you that
inspired me
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
inconvenient attention
that compelled me
to put pen to paper and
spill out
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.