Cunning Linguists Author Interview

This interview first appeared on the the New Smut Project blog on April 12th, 2022. See the original post here. NSP’s fourth anthology, Cunning Linguists: Language, Literature and Lechery, comes out May 18th (less than a month to go!). Paperback and ebook editions are available for pre-order now.

My first official interview as an author was thrilling in every sense; releasing a photo of myself (see below), including a potentially-identifiable shard of my face, was a scary leap. And the content of my response was so personal, I’m still unsure whether I told too much truth in it. It was the heaviness of my answer to the question of “What inspired you to write this story?” that led me to keep the interview brief. (For new readers of this blog, in short: the story’s about my wife, and she dumped me just after I submitted it.) Out of a menu of 7 questions on topics of erotic writing and sexy language, I responded only to the first.

And it wasn’t just the bummer breakup talk that gave me pause. The events surrounding the story’s birth and publication leave me more convinced than ever of divine fiddling in my tiny human affairs. Still, I’m not used to claiming those convictions publicly, and it feels funny to proclaim that THE BENEVOLENT UNIVERSE DID THIS FOR ME when speaking on my life and its recent turns. That’s why the offerings of gratitude at the end of the interview are phrased in the vaguest possible suggestions of faith.

But hey. Better too revealing than not revealing enough, right? As a smut writer, I’ll have to believe that, in baring my secrets, I’m doing something right.

Below is the full text of my interview, including a story excerpt and my author bio from the anthology.

“Real dykes don’t scissor. That’s just a porn thing. For men.”

That does it. She snaps the bond between her eyes and the screen, turning to me with those hawk-sharp eyes of hers blazing.

“Yeah? So now you’re the arbiter of ‘real’ lesbian sex?”

I thrust my chin out. “Yup. Sure am.”

I could banter about this for hours, but she isn’t in the mood. When she falls silent I sputter out, too. We sit there looking at each other.

But then, something flickers. I blink, and a new presence sits before me in the TV light. When she wraps a hand around my foot, I surrender to the tug. Before I can register our bodies’ rearrangement, our legs are intertwined, my housedress bunched around my waist, the faded cotton of my panties flush against the faded cotton of her sweats.

“Not a thing, huh?” she growls, digging fingers deep into the fat above my knee. Playful, but menacing. Is this the old Kiara, coming back to me?

I go on teasing. Maybe I can get a reaction I like. 

“Not a thing.” I grab her foot for leverage and grind into her, mouth gaping in a pornstar parody. “You like this? Rubbing pussies, that’s what turns you on?”

She shoots me a look, like you really wanna play with me? I stare right back and pop my tongue out, flush with courage. I do want to play with her. I want her to play with me.

It works.

-from “Planet Rolling Over” in Cunning Linguists

Peach Berman is a funky queer Jew who lives in wild hills of Northern New Hampshire. A lifelong scribbler and poet, Planet Rolling Over is her first work of fiction and first publication. 

 As an experiment in language-play smut, Planet Rolling Over winds around the imagery and themes of the book Kohelet (also known as Ecclesiastes) of the Hebrew bible. While most translations read “havel”, the book’s refrain, as “vanity”, and interpret Kohelet’s message as one of hopelessness, Peach draws upon a 2010 translation by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in which “havel” means “emptying”, and liberation replaces the futility of clinging. The story is a tribute to Peach’s first wife, the incomparable Plum Noir.

To stay on top of Peach’s writings you can check out peachberman.com, where she posts free samples of her dirty imaginings. And if you’re in the mood for some provocative (but not X-rated) nonfiction, check out her blog at trueloveforsale.com, where she dissects the intimate work she does for money. You can reach her by email at peachberman@gmail.com. She’s also on Twitter as @PeachBerman, but she doesn’t recommend the place.

What inspired you to write this story?

“Planet Rolling Over” is a celebration of my love for my then-wife, Plum Noir. The only named character in the story, Kiara, is a portrait of her. Many of the scenes are autobiographical, pulling real moments from our married life into a fictional backdrop. The state in which we first encounter Kiara and her wife, the unnamed narrator, mirrors the state of my marriage at its lowest points – sexless, resentful, drowning in depression. But the rebirth of the love bond that forms the story’s arc turned out to be pure fiction. Between the story’s submission and its acceptance in the anthology, our marriage ended.

At the time, I thought I was writing “Planet Rolling Over” as a vision of our future. As I worked, I saw us finding our way back to one another, passion bending our timeline into a circle. I didn’t know it then, but when this story left me it carried those possibilities away with it. In that moment of transformation, Plum and I both found the way to release ourselves from clinging to the husk of what we’d been together. We both got to walk away free.

This story was always bigger than me. The plan was never mine. I was always just a vessel.

I am forever grateful. 


And there you have it. Thanks for reading my big first interview. I’m so excited for the book to drop next month!

As a reward for your attentions, here are a few outtakes from that semi-anonymous author portrait photoshoot. Credit, thanks and limitless adoration to VPBRB for the camera work.

And yes, it was as cold as it looks!

My Real Fake Name is Peach Berman

True Love for Sale: An Origin Story

Start a blog, my writer-friend urged me. Just try it. Do it for practice, just to put yourself out there. Do it just to find out how it feels.

I refused.

I wanted to get published. I was submitting poems to literary magazines, obsessed with the notion that I would become a writer on the day that I was chosen. Someone with an MFA in poetry and the title of “editor” after their name would have the power to manifest my being, or to deny it.

I was casting nets in random directions, constantly on the lookout for any magazine that might have me and growing more desperate all the time. It wasn’t working. No matter how small or low-budget the magazine, my poetry wasn’t good enough to fight its way to the top of the pile, and though I kept on sending out submissions, deep down I knew it.

So start a blog, my writer-friend kept pushing me. Use it to let your ideas fly away into the world, unfettered. You can fabricate a throwaway persona, use the anonymity to dangle controversial thoughts, experiment with technique and test the appeal of narrative threads, all without risking your reputation.

I refused. I had other plans. Poetry was a dead-end anyway, I told myself. Only poets read poetry, and I wanted to reach a wider audience. My goal as a writer was to give the world something beautiful and new, something that it it needed and lacked. Endless attempts to publish my sub-par poetry was more about my own ego than about sharing joy with others.

If poetry was not the medium, what about fiction? People love fiction. Stories pull a reader in; you don’t need to be high-minded or literary to fall headfirst into a story. And the world would need my stories, because mine would be the stories that I always wanted to read, but could never find. I would write romantic fiction for people like me – people who are polyamorous, kinky or queer, or otherwise exploring their identities through relationship. People whose love traverses boundaries of race and culture, inviting all the rich and wrenching challenges that arise.

Just start a blog, my writer-friend urged. The books will come later but you have to start somewhere. Build a following first, and query agents once you’ve got something to show.

I refused. I refused and refused until one day I had this idea.

I wanted to be a writer, but most of the time, I wasn’t writing. Instead, I was working to earn a living, nannying during the days while pulling down extra cash in off-hours as a sugar baby to a married (and cheating) man.

I often mused about the meaning of my work, its place in the wider world. I saw myself as a small cog within the Love Economy, an invisible engine of mostly unpaid, mostly woman-powered labor upon which the rest of society depends. The importance and under-appreciation of childcare and other forms of care work are well-documented; considering sex work along these same lines is less common, but here I was, a living example of the overlap.

These analyses felt provocative, even profound sometimes, but I would never dare to share these thoughts with anyone. I was too scared of the social media-verse ripping me to shreds.

So what about a blog? I could birth a pretend self, use her as a mic stand for the stories that I wanted to tell but was too afraid to attach to my name.

My writer-friend liked the idea, and so did I. I made up the name Pauli Atomic, a catchy play-on-words that hinted at the blog’s sub-theme of polyamory, and a tribute to the great feminist trailblazer Pauli Murray. The title True Love for Sale came to me before I even knew about the Ella Fitzgerald song containing the same words. It was perfect. I bought the domain, and I was off.

Enter Peach

True Love was up and cranking, and now I knew the basic mechanics of running a WordPress blog.

It was time to start the “real” project, the one I had in mind before I concieved of True Love for Sale. My second WordPress site would be the homepage for the author Peach Berman, who would need a website once she made her publishing debut in the romance-erotica scene.

I started peachberman.com, set it up and started posting. The site looked great, I felt confident with the quality of the writing, and readers seemed to find my content pleasurable. The only trouble was that now I had two blogs, in addition to a full-time job and a high-input side gig. As I surpassed my capacity and hit the point of overwhelm, both blogs got neglected.

So I muddled along in that state for a while, posting and engaging determinedly under both WordPress accounts and falling behind on my goals for both. At the same time, I was working on a short story to submit to an erotic anthology by New Smut Project, my first attempt at writing fiction for publication. I called the story Planet Rolling Over, based it on my marriage to Marisol, and filled it with my hopes for rebirth and re-imagination of our passion as wives.

Then my life blew up.

Just weeks after I submitted the story, my marriage ended in a breathless whirlwind. When I found my footing on the other side, everything had changed. I wasn’t a sugar baby anymore; instead, I was giving up my polyamorous activity in order to settle down with one partner who made me feel safer and more loved than I ever had before.

A few months later, I heard back from New Smut Project. Planet Rolling Over, the swan song of my first marriage, would be published in their fourth anthology.

If scoring a publication was the threshold to ”becoming” a writer, I was in.

What Now?

My life has done a full 180 and a couple of backflips since I started this blog. The direction in which I’m now heading doesn’t fit neatly with this blog’s original vision. That’s okay – I’m happy on the other side. Six months ago I couldn’t have predicted the path that lay ahead of me, but now that I’ve started down it, there’s not one detail I would want to change.

So what lies ahead for True Love? Well, this irreverent experiment isn’t ready to die just yet. There are so many concepts that I dreamed up for this blog but never got a chance to explore, and I still plan to tease them out and post them here. But it is time for Pauli Atomic, my practice-run persona, to step aside and let Peach Berman take the wheel. True Love for Sale is staying online, and I intend to continue publishing here whenever I feel inspired to write more on these themes. But for the immediate future, Peach’s website is going to get the attention I’ve been denying it since its inception.

If smut isn’t your thing, I recommend you steer clear of my erotic literary at peachberman.com. But if you’re open to some wild naughtiness, then come along and check me out! And be sure to get your hands on my first-ever publication by securing your copy of Cunning Linguists, the fourth anthology by New Smut Project, coming May 2022 and available now for preorder on Smashwords and Gumroad. Bonus points if you leave a review!

And for those of you who are still hanging with me here on True Love, I would love (truly!) to hear from you at this moment. What have you appreciated as you’ve read and interacted with this blog? Are you left with any burning curiosities that you’d like me to address in future posts? Talk to me in the comments and I’ll be happy to oblige.

HUGE thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented, and shared my content throughout the first round of the True Love experiment. And an extra-special round of thanks to everyone in my life who has inspired and supported this effort: VPBRB, TH, WC, BV, and the writer-friend who starred in this installment, VN. I’m forever grateful.

All love,

Peach

❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

Photo by RODRIGO AMATUZZI from Pexels

Seventeen Crayon Drawings of Marisol and Pauli Holding Hands

Kids can be eerily perceptive sometimes, even when they miss the point entirely.

They must smell her energy on me today. How else can you explain it? Weeks go by with no mention of Miss Marisol, then today she pops up at the forefront of their minds. Why? In their effortless wisdom, are they picking up some leftover traces of her presence in the air around my head?

Since the breakup, I rarely mention Miss Marisol, and the girls are bringing her name up less and less often. But just last night I saw her again, for the first time in weeks. There are all of the accounts to settle still– the retirement savings and the insurance plans and all the small intricacies of married life that feel not-at-all-intimate until you take the sledgehammer to them at the end. Last night we met to share that sledgehammer, as well as one last meal together.

We got Bon Mi and ate them on the floor of my apartment before booting up the screens to split the numbers. Her place has furniture; it might have been a nicer place to meet than mine if it did not also have Natalia inside it. The new woman quit her job and moved in before my smell wore off the bed that had been mine.

Nine hours ago, my ex-wife-to-be and I hugged goodbye on my stoop, arms opposing the way friends hug but gripping each other just a little too tight, a little too long. This morning, I’ve barely been inside their house ten minutes when the girls hunker down over a tall stack of paper at their craft table, scattering crayons over the surface as the big sister proudly announces, “We’re drawing you and Miss Marisol!”

Squeezing the baby in my arms, I look down over their shoulders. I notice the colors that they choose– the big sister going for realism as she renders Miss Mari in brown and me in orange, while the little one scrawls wide swaths of pink and purple and green, typical of a preschooler’s interpretative take.

“That’s awesome, you guys!” I tell them. These two are both around that age where parents and teachers tend to greet everything they do with trills of “Oh, how beautiful!” and “You’re so smart!” Lucky for me, they’re convinced enough of their own awesomeness that when I praise them now, they can’t tell I don’t mean it.


The girls noticed right away when Miss Marisol stopped driving me to work. Before, they would wait at the door in the morning to guess after my method of conveyance.

“Bike?” they would say, pressing their noses to the glass to look for it in the driveway. “Roller skates? Car?” The phrasing of their most frequent guess cracked me up each time they said it: “Wife ride?” they would ask, craning at the window to look for Miss Marisol in the driver’s seat of our shared car, waving at them as she turned out of their driveway, heading home.

By now, they have stopped guessing. It has been long enough since they’ve seen me hobble into their mudroom on rollerblades or zip past their door on my bike that they’ve lost interest in guessing. The routine is constant now that I live two towns away. I park the car that’s just mine now in the same spot every day, and nobody watches at the window anymore.

They still ask questions sometimes, wondering when Miss Mari be back again to wave hello. When they do ask, I lie. I pretend that my wife could turn up any day now, kissing me goodbye as I hop out of the car, popping inside in the afternoon to greet the parents and comment on how big all the little ones are getting.

The parents, my bosses– they know. They’ve shown me great care over the past months, covering me with the kids at a moment’s notice so that I could go to apartment showings, asking whether I needed help of any kind, and assuring me that they understand if I’m a little less efficient, a little more distracted during my transition.

But the children still don’t know. They are aware that I’ve moved to a new apartment but they don’t know why, and they have no idea that I left Miss Marisol behind when I did so.

My life outside of work is not their business. For the most part, the after-hours me is an enigma to the families who know the 9-5 version so well. A totally normal professional boundary, but in my case, it’s especially critical- it might not play too well if my employers knew about my sugar-dating married men, for example. Given the suspicion that lingers around home caregivers (see The Caregiver Threat for my take on the trope of the husband-stealing nanny), it works well for me to allow my employers to believe that I’m a married lesbian, and therefore a safe entity to keep around the house.

No, I don’t feel the need to keep the families in my care abreast of my love life. But the seismic impact of a marriage’s end places this romantic development in a different category from all the others.

I am not a safe, married lesbian anymore. I’m grateful that I’ve had enough time to earn this family’s trust before I lost that protective set of labels.

And I’m grateful that these babies didn’t know Mari for long enough, didn’t get to spend enough time with her, to grow attached to her. Her wholesale exit from their lives will be no real loss.

But it is a happening of some kind. A novelty.

I’m not sure these kiddos know that marriages can end.


The drawings keep on coming. The older child is whipping through them now, quality giving way to quantity completely as she slaps down page after page of paired-up stick figures, inscribing a “P” above one circle-head and an “M” above the other and linking up the stick-arms in a 2D rendition of the joining of lovers’ hands. She piles them on my backpack, telling me not to forget to take them home, to share them with Miss Mari at the end of the day. I give her my solemn word; I will remember. Eight drawings for me, nine for Miss Mari. Two from the little sister, fifteen from the firstborn. I reassure her that I’ve got the tally down, and promise to inform Miss Mari of which ones are her sister’s, which are hers. I validate her giddy forecast of just how much Miss Marisol will love them.

I take a deep breath as I gather up the stack. I even hug the pile of papers to my chest, turning a wide smile towards the girls to demonstrate just how precious their creations are to me. They bounce in unison with pleasure at the sight.

I turn my face away from the two small artists, taking a little longer than necessary to tuck the drawings away into my bag. I keep the deep breaths going.

I do not cry.


For most of the children with whom I work, mine is their closest example of a gay partnership. I would have liked it to be an example of a life lived together in enduring joy. But that isn’t how my story went.

Years ago I read the novel Living at Night by Mariana Romo-Carmona, about a young Puerto Rican lesbian coming of age in a small New England town. Most of the content escapes me now, but there is one moment in the book that has stayed with me, that continues to return to me these days as I mull over the task of telling the kids that Miss Marisol is never coming back.

In this scene, the main character, Erica, arrives at her sister’s house and is greeted by her sister’s young daughter, who immediately asks after her auntie’s girlfriend. When Erica tells her that they broke up, the child is confused and angry. (The little niece’s name is Marisol– an uncanny coincidence.) Here, Marisol has just informed her auntie that girls do not break up, and Erica is challenging that notion.

“Why don’t girls break up?” Marisol stared up at me with serious brown eyes. She had grown tall for her age.

“Because,” she gave me her hand-on-hip explanation. “Because they love each other.”

Mariana Romo-Carmona, Living at Night (1997)

Teaching kids about the world around them is a part of my job. I try to do so with an honesty that honors that perceptiveness that all children have. I try to encourage their open-mindedness, to offer more questions than answers, to respond to their thoughts without judgment, and not to flinch away from discussing some of the harder realities that they might encounter in their innocent years. All of this happens in communication with the parents; when big-ticket subjects come up, I do my best to align my teaching with the family’s values. I make sure to inform the parents of my conversations with their kids and to seek guidance around any questions that I’m not sure how to answer.

But I’ve never had to talk to kids about divorce. It hasn’t come up with any of my families. Now that the subject is upon us, I don’t want to be the one to tell these babies that some marriages fall short of til-death-do-us-part.

When I’m ready, I think I’ll ask my bosses to take their kids aside and let them know that Miss Marisol won’t be coming back to pick their nanny up again. I’ll let them be the ones to have that conversation with their own children, to break the news to their own kids that marriage doesn’t always last forever. It feels more appropriate. And it spares me the burden, too.

There will be more questions later, I know. Most of them, I still won’t want to answer.

I want the children in my care to believe that girls don’t break up. That we can’t, that we wouldn’t.

Because we love each other.


Photo by Eren Li from Pexels

Greetings from the Bachelor Pad

Yes, it really did happen that fast. 

The end came swiftly, six weeks after Mari and Natalia began. In the middle of our marriage’s downfall, in the blur of Mari’s wild spin into the far-away dimension where she now resides, her mental health provider suggested that Mari may have bipolar disorder. 

Two weeks later, I turned to my wife in the driver’s seat of the car we bought together, 50 miles deep into the six-hour drive to my hometown. We were on the way to my little brother’s wedding. Through the static of six weeks’ worth of neglect and hurt, I asked her, 

“Have you thought about being married to Natalia instead of me?”

“Yes,” she answered. 

“But you still want to be married to me over anyone else in the world. Right?”

I stared at my queen, my baby, as her eyes gripped the road and her mouth stayed closed. So beautiful in profile. So iced with pain, already lost to me. She spoke.

“Do you really want to do this in the car?”


Many will tell you that this is the inevitable conclusion to an open marriage. 

Plenty of people who prefer monogamy believe that all nontraditional commitments are doomed to fail. I hear the hum of What did you expect? beneath the half-sympathies of a few friends and relatives whose support is more like criticism. You opened the door. Of course one of you was bound to walk through it. 

And I will tell you that yes, this is a story about polyamory gone wrong. In equal measure, this is also a story about the fragility of chosen family bonds that cross over race lines. Intercultural and interracial relationships are never easy, and we never did find resolution to those core differences between us. When she told me in the car that it was over, she explained that she could no longer see a future with me. That the family that we would make together would be a family that she no longer wants. That although she and I had worked so hard to build a life together, it was Natalia, a newcomer but a fellow Latina woman of color, who felt more like home. 

All that is true. But I will also tell you that, first and foremost, this is a story about mental illness. This labor of my love, my marriage to Mari, ends with a suddenness that is typical of hypomania. She would tell me later that she made the decision to end our marriage on the spot, and that the move felt outside of her control even as she was making it. Though it was Mari who put me out, she has appeared disoriented throughout the separation process, at times seeming not to understand why I was leaving. I have come to see, as I reacquaint myself to her in the light of her new diagnosis, that in a hypomanic state she is capable of doing things, yet experiencing those things as though they are being done to her

I look back now over the years and see my marriage as an ongoing trial, a struggle to devote myself to a beloved who moved through emotional space at an intensity and speed with which I could never keep up. My efforts to support her left me running behind her, making her excuses and cleaning up the messes of her impulse decisions. And when those periods of frenzy careened into each inevitable crash, I was left to shoulder the weight of our household alone, watching her suffer in depression, helpless to provide any relief.

I love Mari. I always will. She loves me too. 

I regret nothing of the life we made together. As hard as it was, as obvious as it seems now that we were never going to make it to the end, I am so, so glad to have married that woman. However brief our time as a family, it’s been an honor to have called myself her wife. 

But our marriage was the hardest thing that I have ever done. And I am so, so happy to be free.


I am not alone in this journey, and never have been. When she pulled the plug she sent me straight into the arms of my whole extended family, the tan line on my ring finger freshly exposed to the sun. The people who love me drew me close, and I stood proud beside my brother to celebrate his future with his new wife and their toddler son. I held my head high, smiled for the pictures and laughed with my cousins through the weekend. If you saw the wedding photos, you would never guess that I was standing in calamity. You’d never know that I got in the car to attend that wedding with my wife and arrived alone and single. I look beautiful and strong. My eyes are dry. 

Back in the apartment that I shared with my bride, I packed my things alone, sometimes crumbling into tears and confusion as I sorted my dirty clothes out of our shared hamper, split the wedding china, selected half the knives out of the knife block and pulled my books from our interlayered shelves. But when it came time to move the furniture, I didn’t have to lift that weight alone. Though he couldn’t be there in person to help, my Sugar Daddy paid to hire movers. 

My new apartment is chilly this autumn, but it feels cozy. It’s a little bit dark, but I feel bright. I wake up calm now in the mornings, looking up at the fissured panels of a drop ceiling that I pay to keep over my own head. There is no moment of shock, none of the confusion that sometimes comes from waking up in a new place. 

I know exactly where I am.

Once, Young Lovers Bore Our Names

Woman, I have borne the salt 
of your trauma in my mouth
until my tongue turned crystal. 
I have butterflied my ribs 
to open space to hold 
your sorrows. I have worn 
the cartilage of every joint 
down to a whisper, carrying 
your pain across my back.
Woman, I have lashed my body
to your post, bound my wrists
forever in your service. 
I have loved you, and my love 
has been a labor. The sweat 
puddled around me 
bears the proof. So baby,

when did it begin? 
When did your eyes ice over 
when you looked at me? 
Why, now,
does everybody find me beautiful 
but you?

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Kol Nidre Moments Away

On Custom

Kol Nidre (Aramaic, kol nidhrē, “All vows”) is the opening prayer service of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for the Jewish people. We begin our annual ritual of transformation by pleading for the cancellation of all vows which we failed to fulfill in the previous year.

Yom Kippur observance includes abstention from all rites of mortal maintenance- a fast not just from food but also water, tooth-brushing, bathing, even wearing leather. It is a collective ordeal, one that instills a waveform rhythm to the passing of a Jewish year.

In the lead up to the High Holy Days, the month-long run of festivals and observances that marks the new Jewish year, preparation occupies the month of Elul, the final month of the calendar. We make our apologies to family, community and friends, asking forgiveness on as many as three separate occasions if someone we have wronged is reluctant to absolve us. In Jewish custom, apologies to G-d alone can never suffice; one must beg penance directly of the party one has harmed, and then change the offending behavior forever.

The period of ten days between Rosh Ha’Shana, the new year, and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. We turn inward, reflect on our behavior throughout this past run of the cycle, and reconnect with high purpose and divinity. Then we arrive at the apex of the High Holy Days, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. We atone together to the depths of our spirits.

We chant the confessionals of Yom Kippur together in community, one massive voice with putrid breath. All of the crimes for which we beg collective penance are phrased in the first-person plural: we have trespassed, we have spoken slander, we have taken bribes and dealt dishonestly. All of our misdeeds, against G-d and one another, are all of ours to share.

Yom Kippur ends with Neilah, the closing of the gates. In these final moments of reckoning, we beg the Almighty to inscribe our names in the Book of Life, that we may survive the coming year in good fortune and health. Then we emerge, weak and ravenous and clean, a clean year’s canvas rolling out ahead of us. A full year in which to go astray, before Elul returns to call us back again, to settle the account once more.

Liturgical Note

In this post, Hebrew text comes from Ashamnu, the short confessional, an alphabetical list of sins which we chant while pounding a fist against our hearts in regret. The audio is the supplicating refrain of Al Cheyt, the long confessional. It translates: “For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.”

Confessional

I am not ready for the sun to set.

Kol Nidre is coming to cloister me, weak and thirsty and alone. The usual ordeal in temple is tolerable, even refreshing. But alone, the 25 hours of fasting and revelling in shame are unbearable. Praying into a muted microphone, bowing my head before the grainy rectangle of a Zoom meeting, will I discover a changed heart within me?

I want to hope, but I can see my intentions for the year ahead, and I know that I am not ready to change.

All that I do wrong, I do in the name of all my people.


עָוִֽינוּ We have sinned deliberately.

It was wrong at the outset, to accept the attentions of a married man.

But I excused myself from the account, telling myself that because he’s been cheating for decades, because he would be cheating with or without me, my involvement hardly made a difference.

“I didn’t turn him out. We met on Seeking Arrangement. I didn’t seduce him. Didn’t convince him to cheat.” That’s what I would say, explaining my affair to any friend who raised an eyebrow.

But now it is clear, beyond any measure– I did turn him out. I have convinced him to cheat on his wife on a deeper level, one that he never believed possible. I did seduce him after all– seduced him into falling in love with me when all he wanted was to get a little ass on the side once in a while.

I cannot claim surprise at how its gone. I did this on purpose. I wanted the love, and so I turned my eyes away from the inevitable harm I was creating. He came to me for sexual release and I captured him, swaddled him in empathy and care and admiration until he opened like a rose, meeting himself as if for the first time.

תָּעִֽינוּ We have gone astray; תִּעְתָּֽעְנוּ We have led others astray.

I have loved the parts of him that no one before me has even seen. Now that his lonely inner sanctum has known the presence of another human spirit, how could he ever close himself back up? Now that his secrets have been held, why would he ever want to be alone with them again?

Now I begin to see that these best parts of me are weapons. My love, my care, everything in me that is whole and pure and earnest– all are fatal drugs that I have made no effort to contain.

טָפַֽלְנוּ שֶֽׁקֶר We have added falsehood upon falsehood.

Now my beloved cheater takes new risks, a wilder gamble in every one of our exchanges. He hovers on the phone with me for hours in the basement with his wife growing ever more watchful in the rooms upstairs. In my name, he walks now ever closer to the precipice.

I have forced him into a split-screen reality, between two worlds of fear. He is just as anxious, now, over my safety as he’s ever been over the safety of his secrets. A sin once so neatly compartmentalized is now a fragile balance, the threat of losing the life with her that he cherishes counterweighted by the threat of losing me.

I once prided myself on my unwillingness, so staunch it seemed to me to be an inability, to lie.

Now I know that I am keenly capable of lying.

Even if I knew the woman whose husband I have bewitched, I couldn’t apologize to her. I would not confess– I would lie to her instead. I have no intention of stopping our affair, and I no longer have any illusions that I’m free of accountability. Even now, clear-eyed about the harm that I have wrought, I feel the guilt but have no desire to change.

The hour of atonement is collapsing down around me. What apology can I possibly offer, to heaven or to anyone down here?

If G-d wants my name for the Book of Life this year, surely her pen will have to waver.

Please Pardon Our Appearance While I’m Lost in the Sauce

Dearest blog friends and followers,

Please excuse me for the radio silence. My love life, that subject which comprises two-thirds of the content of this strange blog, is metastasizing beyond my processing ability. Those lovely, clean personal essays with which I’ve been proud to populate this site, the likes of My Queen is Not Okay With This and The Caregiver Threat, are out of my reach now. I am still writing, but my thoughts come in short sentences, and everything I want to say feels too personal, almost gross. I’ve been too embarrassed to publish anything, too distracted to connect the flying threads.

A series of cascading developments leads me to my current state. Below, I offer a brief explainer for each of three emergent situations, followed by a relevant fragment from my journals (just for spice).

1. My girl is now in love with someone else

Remember Natalia, from The “We Had Sex” Text? She is now my wife’s girlfriend; they made it official on the two-week anniversary of the aforementioned sex in the aforementioned text.

Talk is of throupling, of big houses and commitment rites, of rainbows of multi-ethnic babies. Negotiations begin over the cat that Natalia will one day want, but I don’t want to live in a house with animals. Somewhere deep in my neocortex I can see the flesh of my hand sagging around the plastic handle of the litter box scoop. In the future now barrelling down on me, Natalia and Mari remain forever sparkling and beautiful, dancing away the city nights while I tend to the realm of sponges, mops and diaper pins. In this vision, in this future where a marriage equals three, I am the only one who appears to age.

Last month I fell asleep with my face in Mari’s headscarf every night, her body hot against my chest. This month, I sleep most nights alone.

Y’all, I am going through changes.

I begin to see myself in crying children– the way their feet outpace their balance and they fall, the way they gather up their breath in the split-second before the impact registers, before the howl bursts. The way they go running, hollering, for the arms they trust, needing those safe arms to close around them. Love steadies them. Connection returns them to themselves, restoring their breath to an even rhythm, placing their feet back on the ground.

But the arms I trust are in a far-off city, wrapped around another, newer body. I am no longer certain that those arms would still open for me if she were here.

2. I joined a dating app.

With my bedmate away I took action to stave off the loneliness and jealousy before it could consume me.

I lasted only four days on the open market before hitting a state of acute overwhelm. There is no drug, whether liquid, pill, or powder, as potent to my blood as the attentions of men. Even with my profile deleted, it took a few weeks for me to come down off the high, as well as to sort through the amorous rabble.

There are stories here, some funny, some sweet, some nearly tragic. I am struggling to write them– they rise and crest and crumble away before I get them down, and then the emotion that should animate the prose feels alien, impossible to render.

If you’re curious to read what I’ve been up to, please bug me about it in the comments. I’m going to need the external motivation to pull it off.

Imagine you wake up and you are not alone in bed– you sense presence and you think it is your wife, filling up her side of the bed just as she always does. You roll over, expecting your soft and lovely woman breathing slow beside you but instead it a giant, stinking onion, long and fibrous and thin. And as you stir, the onion wraps its reedy flesh around your neck, and even though it stifles, even though it stinks you cling to it, afraid to be alone.

3. My sugar daddy/Dom caught feelings.

You know my SD from If She Found Me and I Let Him Take Me Deep into the Woods. He’s been here all along; he helped inspire the theme of trueloveforsale.

But before the changes, he was a shadow presence. It made sense– for a cheater, a meaningful bond with an outside woman could spell disaster. Steadily over the months he pulled away from me, and I did not struggle to pull him back. I accepted the fact that I would only ever feel his intensity once per month, during our in-person rendezvous. At the same time, though, I realized that he was not enough for me.

But then I broke the news of my new potential lovers and all of the emotion that he’d held so tight so long broke loose inside him. Sleep evaded him, and a newfound recklessness set in. One night he told me that he nearly got into his car and drove two hours north to me, leaving some weak lie to hold his place at home. For the first time, I feared that he might blow his cover, fuck his marriage up and cut me off for good.

I never thought I would relish the suffering of my lover. But now, as he churns with a passion for me that he labels an “obsession”, I wonder whether this has been my get-off all along. Is this the ends that makes the work of loving worth my while? Just to bring them to their supplicating knees?

With my wife now away most of the nights, SD grows anxious, asking if my doors are locked. He tells me that he knows how a psychopath thinks. My life, to his imagination, becomes the opening scene in a horror movie: pretty girl alone in the house, in the shower hearing nothing but the falling of the water…

I dream him, glowering and silent in the backseat of a black and silent car. He arrives whether or not I have invited him. It soon comes clear that his lies, all of the lies that scaffold our arrangement have been to me, not merely about me, all along. In the dream he has wire-tapped the rooms of my apartment, and he asks for the identities of every voice he hears.

I discover the invasion and yes, I am angry, yes, I am terrified. But greater than the anger, greater than the fear of him is the fear of losing him. I understand the danger in the lines that he has crossed, and I know that cutting out, now, is a necessity. But still, I want desperately to keep him. I make excuses, argue with the facts. I do not want to let him go.


Friends, this is where I’m at. If any of the above sparks your curiosity, ask me for more in the comments. I am beginning to normalize, and I should soon be able to provide.

Until then, thank you for reading and interacting. And if you’re not yet following this blog, I’d love to have you along for the topsy-turvy ride. The follow button is at the bottom of the page.

All love,

P

I Let Him Take Me Deep into the Woods

Ten months since we’ve met. Seven dates. Uncountable hours on the phone.

And yet this morning feels like the great unknown.

When we first met, he drove two hours north just to stroll around the block a couple times with me and a coffee. Later, he would tell me, of that date, “I remember you as the smell of snow.”

This morning, he drives two hours north and it is sticky-hot when he arrives, despite the rise in elevation and the early hour. He dresses sensibly, for ventilation and tick prevention. He has me dress like a fool in coochie-cutter shorts, damn near presenting the warmest folds of my body to the tick population on a platter.

But I’m grateful, anyway. He let me wear flat shoes. He’s sensible like that.

Day-use hotel rooms are our usual thoroughfare. He brings an envelope of cash to every meeting, and he always forgets to hand it over. I think that’s because, with me, it doesn’t feel like a service. With me, I think, I believe, it feels real. I make it feel like the real thing.

This morning, he approaches my window as I pull up behind him in the weedy dust off of the highway exit. I roll it down, and he passes in the envelope. “Before I forget,” he says.

I can’t look at him just yet, but I can tuck the money fluidly away as I prepare my bag for the hike with shaking hands. I’ve brought an orange, which might be lovely during the photoshoot but isn’t enough of a breakfast, and too little water. It’ll be alright, though. He has to make it back to the car by noon. I’m less than thirty minutes from my doorstep. I’ll be fine.

I hope we don’t get caught doing anything weird. Don’t get cocky after a quiet stretch and attempt some bold removal of our clothes, only to scramble to cover ourselves at the approach of voices. I hope we don’t go for any bondage stunts that look like a crime in progress at a twenty-foot distance. Not that there’d be cell service to call the cops.

The thrill is in the possibility. That’s true, but the thrill is too much for me at the moment. I’m shaking like a tissue as I step out of the car into the mountain air. Last night’s thunder was supposed to last into the morning but the storms have cleared. There are only little rumbles left behind.

There’s no cell service. I don’t know the trail. I have to enter trusting him to bring me back out.

He knows I’m scared. He pulls me close. He wraps me up.

I try to slow my breath. Grasp at the muscles that inflate my lungs, hold them steady, only to lose control again.

He strokes my head. I smell his neck. His breathing is steady, steadying.

He offers the rubber nipple of his hydration hose into my mouth. I take it, lying on his chest, on my feet, at the cusp of the forest. I suckle, drawing water from his back.

This is fine. It’s just the woods. I love the woods.

It’ll be fine. He’s safe. He’s sensible. He never gives me more than I can handle.

The trail is wide. A logging road. Brown grasses, their heads heavy with grain, divide our path up the center.

The crickets, leaping, accompany us down.


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The “We Had Sex” Text

There it is, smushed up between “Good morning” and “I love you”.

“Natalia and I hooked up.”

My first thought: Wait, aren’t you staying at your parents’ house?

Second thought: You had sex at your parents house? For the first time? Without me?

Third thought: Crap, if this little kid catches me texting she’ll snitch to her parents, and then I’ll have my first-ever reprimand from the bosses.

The flip phone that I carry to work is a great look– my boss can let me know that I need to switch that laundry to the drier or thaw an extra bag of breast milk without getting up to find me, all while remaining confident that I am not scrolling Instagram on the job. But even with its brown-nosing lack of internet access, the phone is an opening. A link to the world outside the house and all manner of grown-up news.

As my five-year-old charge trills my name a second time, I flip the phone shut, shove it down the side of my leggings, and brace for the emotional onslaught.

Feelings come. Envy (fuck, Natalia is hot) mixed with vindication (see, I knew she was into you) mixed with lonesome woe (you’re not home and the teddy-bear is useless as a big spoon) touched with compersion, a little bit of happy-for (fuck, Natalia is hot). The swirl of it moves through me as I sit with a baby on my lap, pretending to listen to the older sister read. By minute three of today’s selection from Five-Minute Curious George Stories, I am swimming in the soup.

The last time she sent me a morning-after newsbreak over text I was sick about it. My ribs rattled and my hands shook all day long as I hid from my bosses behind corners, texting her questions that grew less and less curious, more and more accusing.

This day is not that day. These feelings, however complex, are not the same as that dark, suspicious rage.

In the time that has passed since the last time we have worked on ourselves, together and separately. I have learned how and when to ease into the background. I have learned that sometimes, it just isn’t about me.

But I still have questions.

I want to know: Was it good? Were you drunk? Do you think your parents heard you? Do you think you’ll fall in love?

I have insecurities. I have jealous little pangs. I want to know: Will I ever be invited to come with you when you visit? Will I ever see Natalia again? Did I just lose my standing invitation to the annual conference that you both attend? If I’m ever around, will I just be getting in the way?

I remember all the time I’ve spent in her position, on her end of the message box. I think of the times I’ve had to send the “we had sex” text– the times I was eager to spill the beans, the times I was anxious. The times I was terrified.

I remember all of the moments that I so badly wanted to lose myself into the first thrumming chords of a new love, only to find myself texting. In those moments I felt I had no choice but to turn my back to my new lover in order to respond to her every ping. Each time, I ignored my heart and took up the mantle, soothing her, explaining to her, reassuring her that she’s My Number One.

Resenting her.

All of those moments in the past are today’s potential ammunition. I have all I need to demand precise recourse, forcing her to split her attention right now in order to satisfy my every curiosity and doubt. I could throw my temper. I could throw some guilt. I could suck her right down into me, with ease.

The phone buzzes. She asks, “Are you mad at me?”

I’m not. But I could say that I am just to make her grovel. The unease in my belly wants acknowledgement. I want some kind of reprieve, the kind that I might get if I spirit my phone off to the bathroom and rope her into an intense question-answer volley as two children hover at the door, whining, “What are you doing in there?”

I remind myself of what I know: this isn’t about me.

She has one more day and one more night together with her friend.

Whatever they are about to do, whatever they might one day be, is up to them. My feelings, my process as I cope with the challenge of this moment, are up to me. We will talk about it. These days that the two of them spend together will condense into a story. She will share that story with me, in some form, if and how she wants to share it.

But not now.

I get up. I go put the phone away, return, and drop down into the play-world of the children.


What’s the most surprising or difficult text you’ve ever received from a partner? How did you handle it, in the moment and later on?


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Baby on the Big Swing

Water’s pooling everywhere.
A week of summer rain:
tomato vines have doubled length 
and the wood chips are bursting 
into mushroom. 

He and I become one 
pendulum, sweating 
into one another’s clothes. 
His sixteen pounds, all 
belly, brain and bone, 
lift away from
my chest at each 
inflection. Hot,
the tiny head rolls 
back and forth
over my collar. 
One meaty little fist
finds the chain. 

The rain 
comes back on pale 
and sweet, caressing 
everything– my arms, 
the naked head 
beneath my chin, 
the little girl 

who throws her face 
into the spray, 
eyes closed, 
singing,
I’m in wonderland!

The babe falls silent,
surrenders to the sway
and lift, the sway
and lift, the water. 

His sisters swing
beside us, shouting,
Look how high!
Look how high!

Photo by Christine Renard from Pexels