The “We Had Sex” Text

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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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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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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

Am I a Tweeter? A Twitter? A Twit?

I thought I was a masochist, but I just joined Twitter, and I’m starting to rethink.

Follow me here.

Really, please. I’m not too proud to beg.

(Last week I was too proud to beg. A week on Twitter will knock the pride right out of you.)

Twittering feels like giving an open-access blowjob to 3 million people all at once. My jaw hurts and my brain screams like! follow! retweet! all night long.

Do you use Twitter to promote your writing? Do you find it effective? How do you manage its impact on your brain?

In conclusion, please go follow the Twitter page for me, your friend @Pauli_Atomic. Your support is greatly appreciated as it is now the crux of my self-worth.

As a reward, you’ll get to see a picture of my real face. I used a filter, though. Just a heads up.

The Caregiver Threat

“Ugh,” Mari mutters at the phone, glowing face-up on the table. “I click on one ad, one time, and now all I get are these ads…”

I glance over at her screen. In comic-bookish CGI, set in a bedroom, a chiselly man leans a speech-bubble into the face of an Attractive Young Woman.

“The boys just love you,” he says.

What the hell? I think. Is this some kind of brothel-themed version of the SIMS?

But his speech bubbles continue, and it soon becomes clear that the “boys” who “just love” the Attractive Young Woman are not that kind of bedroom clientele. They are the man’s children. Moments later, his lady steps out of the closet in an evening gown. The illustrator has expertly rendered the expensiveness of woman’s dress, the elaborate lay of her hair.

“We’re going to be late for our engagement party!” she chides the man, thereby revealing him to be her fiancée.

As they exit, the ad offers its first example of the gameplay. You, the nanny character, get to make your first decision. Click on your choice: will you crash their engagement party, dressed to kill with plunging neckline and high-slit skirt?

Of course you will! The ad now relocates you to the swank of the party, where you slither about the room, plotting your next move. How to divert your boss’s attention away from his soon-to-be-bride?

Why, by tossing yourself into the arms of his brother for a make-out session on the dance floor, of course!

Mari swipes away from the ad, but I’ve seen enough. There it is– my profession in a nutshell. At least, there’s the mass perception of my work, condensed into a poignant little box. I, and other young women like me, dedicate ourselves to a career with no colleagues, no benefits packages, no levels for advancement, and no long-term stability, and what’s our motivation? Access to other women’s husbands, ripe for the stealing, of course.

Delightful.


My first exposure to the ubiquity of the husband-stealing nanny in the public imagination started with an internet search. In my first home childcare job, it was my crappy luck to stumble onto evidence that the lady of the house was cheating. I knew well enough to keep my mouth shut, but even so, the situation put me at a risk. If she ever figured out what I knew, I’d be out on my ass. The only trace I’d leave behind in would be my name issuing from a toddler’s crying mouth.

Given the nature of the job, I figured I could not be the first domestic worker to find herself caught under the burden of a secret. So I took to the web, hoping to find solidarity and maybe some advice from other nannies who had gone through something similar.

I did not find solidarity. What I did find was article after article about nannies and husbands, intertwined. The headlines tell a pattern of celebrities blowing up their marriages by sleeping with the nanny, sometimes in the course of years-long affairs, sometimes even leaving the glamorous star-wife to marry the nanny-nobody. The treachery of cheating, the heartbreak of the wife, all magnify under the lens of the wronged woman’s trust in her subordinate. She opened her home and her family to the caregiver, took her on vacations, signed all her checks. And all the while, the nanny was a viper coiled in her house.

No combination of words in the search box yielded any different results. No matter how I arranged the quotation marks to make it clear to the search engine that the affair in question did not involve the nanny, the paradigm would not relent. According to the web, a house could not possibly contain both a nanny and a cheating spouse unless the two were in bed together.


Today, that first domestic job is far behind me. The inevitable implosion set me free when it came, and now I count myself among the luckiest of all women who work in the homes of richer people. My employers treat me well. Though my workplace is their home, they walk all the proper lines to keep my environment professional. Unaccusing. Safe.

But even so, I hold my body with a vigilance that I can’t shake, despite my intellect telling me that I don’t need it. I face the trope of ‘nanny as scheming seductress’ every morning when I dress for work. The physical demands of my job require range of motion– I spend my days squatting, crouching, crawling, running, dancing with a baby in my arms and a child grasping at each hip. Leggings are ideal for my workwear… but my ass looks great in a pair of leggings. Should I sacrifice their comfort for the coverage of a stiff pair of pants, the less to appear intentionally desirable to the father of the house and, more importantly, his wife?

There is no HR department at my workplace. Anyone who hires me is well within their rights to fire me over a shapely bum, a misconstrued giggle, a boob exposed by an infant’s tugging fist. If the man of the house decides to hit on me, if the woman succumbs to insecurity and frames me as a threat, I’m out the door, with a sticky story of my severance to explain to the unemployment office.

So for that, I walk a careful line. And I worry, even though I know there is no danger. I have been a woman long enough to know what lust feels like, radiating from a man’s eyes to trap you in its searchlight. It is a glare that has never burned my skin inside this house.

But still, I worry. I worry because sometimes he walks in on me lying on my back on the floor with my legs in the air, airplaning the little angel on my calves, and I know how simultaneously innocent and wanton the pose must make me look.

I worry because I have read too many articles explaining that men are instinctively attracted to any woman they see caring for their children. Too many articles cautioning well-to-do mommies to look out for signs of a husband’s desire for the babysitter, advising them to keep the younger woman close, the way you would an enemy. Your nanny is not as rich as you are, warn the articles, and her bond with your children could tip over into ownership. She sees all that you have from an intimate angle, and she wants it.

I have been a woman long enough to know another woman’s envy. I have felt the hate that a mother can produce when she compares herself against you and finds you guilty of being what she feels she is not– young, carefree and fun, pretty in a way that she believes that she no longer is, now that the strain of raising children weighs her down.

I also know that this hatred is unable to coexist with the easy confidence of the woman that I work for, now. I have read and reread the smile with which she greets me in the morning. It is absent of suspicion, I am sure.

I worry even though I trust both of the grown-ups in the house, and can feel them trusting me, too.


But I am not the only one wary of my body in the house.

I realize this one day as my boss, the father, helps me to riddle my way into a baby carrier. The straps rest on my shoulders. The belt’s around my hips. Both of my hands are occupied, balancing the weight of his son against my chest until the carrier is locked in to secure him.

“And then this one buckles there,” he says, pulling at the strap in question with his fingers. I wait for him to pop it into place, but he doesn’t. He holds it out, waiting for my hand to take it up.

His wife has helped me into a carrier before. When she did, neither she nor I thought anything of her hands buckling the baby safe against my body. Until he pauses, I think nothing of his hands, either, approaching my ribs to do the same.

But when he freezes up, I realize:

He’s afraid of me.

Until this moment all I know is my own vulnerability along this axis. For the first time, I consider his. An accusation out of me, even a baseless lie, could bring disaster down on him.

I could detonate a bomb inside his house.

Maybe this danger that he feels in me is power, a power that is mine to wield. Maybe it’s a trap, for one or the other of us, or both.

Or maybe we are just two people, dancing around each other in precise propriety, bonded in a vow of separation. A reciprocal vulnerability, each of us capable of the other one’s destruction.

I shift the baby’s weight into my elbow. For one precarious second, the tiny life of the man’s only son tilts, half-held, over the floor, while I swing my other hand around my back to catch the dangling strap.

Then I click the buckle in and the baby’s safe against me. The Dad’s free to retreat. I’m free to move.

If the tension inherent in our two positions were something we could talk about, I would take a moment, then, to reassure him. You are safe with me, I’d like to tell him. I mean you no harm, and I trust you not to harm me.

I see everything you have from an intimate angle. I see the wealth, the house, the love that you share with your children and your wife, and I don’t want it.

I only want to play my role here in your home.

I only want to keep the trust you’ve given me, until your family outgrows my hired love, and I move on.

Two Decades in Coming-Out Stories

1998: Marisol at 7

From the back of her mother’s minivan, she makes her announcement:

“When I grow up, my husband’s gonna take my last name.”

The words must hit her mother like a slap.

The 25-year-old woman in the driver’s seat knows what it means to fear for her children. She has known that fear since the day that Mari, her eldest, was born.

But today she comes face-to-face with that other, additional reason that she fears for the future. Mari is her ace, her mini-me. What does she already understand about her little daughter? The pair have been fighting over dresses and jerseys, Mary Janes and sneakers since Mari was a toddler. Mari’s mother must know, in that moment, that the fighting over how Mari will dress, how she will speak, how she will play with her brothers, has barely begun.

Mommy answers.

“You might change your mind about that when you’re older.”

“No,” says Mari. Innocence is clarity. “I won’t.”


2004: Pauli at 12

I don’t understand why I am no longer welcome at the lunch table.

I hadn’t been afraid. I’d realized I was bisexual, and then I’d told my friends. I don’t think it’s any big deal, and neither do they.

Except for one, that is. Her name is Amy.

First Amy tries to convince the friend-group that a bisexual girl does not belong among them. When that doesn’t work she starts to maneuver them against me, one-by-one. She gauges into each girl’s insecurity with precision. She tells one that I ridicule her weight behind her back. She tells another that I call her poor, mock her for the size of her house.

On it goes until she’s worked her way around the table. Within a week, not one of them will speak to me. Not one of them will look me in the eye.

Suddenly friendless, I retreat into the closet. I claim to have been confused, seeking attention. I am not into girls.

I will never admit to being into girls again. The next time I assert my homosexual attraction, it’s to women.


2005: Marisol at 15

She opens her history notebook to a blank page deep in the middle. She begins to write.

I’m gay, she writes. I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay, until her revelation covers the page.

She looks it over.

The terror of seeing it ignites behind her eyes. She flips the page. Conceals the evidence.

She glances to her left, to her right. The kids in the adjacent desks are attending to the lecture or staring into space. No one is looking at her. What to do? How to get out of this?

The trash can is no good. Her handwriting is too identifiable. Even the sound of tearing out the page could draw notice. Could incriminate her, sitting with her truth splayed out before her in blue ink.

When class ends she shoves the notebook in her backpack, hustling it out the door like a live bomb.

She will go home, shred the guilty page into a slew of tiny pieces, and flush them down the drain.


2011: Marisol at 20

“I’m gay,” she tells her boyfriend.

They look at one another.

“Okay. Cool,” he answers.

They look at one another.

“So…” he asks. “What does this mean for us?”

He looks at her, eyes pleading. He’s in love with her. She’s the girl he wants to marry.

She looks back.


2013: Pauli at 20

My father picks me up in his white car in the dark. My 98-year-old grandfather rides in the passenger. We’ve barely gone a block when my Dad asks me if I’m seeing anybody.

“Uh huh. Yeah. I am. A basketball player.”

“Oh no kidding! Is he tall?”

“No, not really. She’s a point guard.”

My Dad taps the brake in the middle of the traffic, then accelerates. My head knocks forward, then knocks back. “She?! You’re dating a woman?!”

“Yes, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”

“Huh! A woman. Wow! Is she Jewish?”

“No, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”

My father reaches to his side, taps his father on the leg. “Did you hear that, Dad? Pauli has a girlfriend. She isn’t Jewish.”

“Ha!” my Grandpa answers. That’s the end of it.

I tell my little brother next. We are passing a bong between us in the grunge of our mother’s basement. I mention my girl. He tips back his head, eyes closing to the fluorescent light as if to bask in sun. He raises up a fist in triumph.

“I knew it! I KNEW it. I can’t WAIT to tell all my friends.”

And that’s that. I tell my mother last.

She’s heartbroken.

“How long have you known?” she asks me.

“That I’m bi? I’ve known for a long time. Since I was a kid.”

She stiffens. Her eyes open like wounds. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. We’ve always been so close.”

I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. She deserved my trust. I have kept her out for too many years.

I am arriving late. But I am here.


2018: Marisol and Pauli at the Altar

It is a celebration that extends outside of us.

We marry outdoors in the heart of downtown, as the sun is setting on a crisp September night. We are so spelled by one another that we don’t even notice it– our relatives and friends will tell us later. All around us, strangers gather. What is this scene they have happened across? Wedding guests, white and Black intermingled in the aisles. Two women in stilettos underneath the Chuppa, an old white Rabbi and a young Black minister standing sentinel behind.

Before, we were nervous. Ours was the first gay wedding in either family. We braced for the pushback, the tearful phone calls, the slew of no-shows.

But the pushback doesn’t come.

The family shows out in force for us. One hundred on her mother’s side alone. They sparkle in their finery. They radiate their joy.

Her father, stoic as always, walks her down the aisle to me, then sits down in the front row, fighting tears. By the end of the night, he and I will exchange our first “I love you.”

In the end, there is only one no-show. Mari’s uncle will have to stand in for him on the altar, at her side.

It is her brother who does not show up.


2020: Marisol at Home

She swears it: her family will never know.

I dropped it on my own family more than a year ago. Surrounded by my cousins, my brothers and their girlfriends, my wife at my side, I casually mentioned my boyfriend. Titters and grins made their way around the circle. My brother’s lady socked him in the arm, saying “Why don’t we do that?!” He shot me a glare, and that was that.

But my wife has no intention of revealing it to her family. They’ve come so far since we met, struggled against their Catholic ethics to accept her marriage as equal to any straight one. Why push our luck by telling them that marriage is non-monogamous, too?

For years, she holds the line. Then she meets a girl.

She falls in love, and it changes. First she tells her brother, the one who did stand beside us at our wedding. He laughs. “Yeah, no shit,” he says. He knows. He clocked us years ago, but had the grace to keep it quiet. “I knew you’d tell me when you felt like it,” he says. Simple as that.

Then she decides to tell her Mom. She asks her out on a walk just the two of them, saying she’s got something to talk to her about. And they talk about it.

“It’s strange to me, my daughter,” Mommy says. “I just hope that you protect your marriage. What you and Pauli have is sacred.”

“It is, Mom. I know. But this is a part of what we have. This is who we are.”

“Well my daughter. Whatever makes you happy.”

And that’s that.


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