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

If She Found Me

If she found me and approached me, asking, demanding, I wouldn’t deny it.

I would say:

Sister, you are right. I have wronged you.

Sister, you deserve the truth.

I have been eating bread out of your mouth. I have been stealing from you in a hundred different currencies– in labor-time, attention, emotion, kisses, sweat. He’s your man. All of his resources belong, rightly, to you.

You deserved none of the harm that I’ve done you. Sister, you are blameless.

If she stuck around long enough to hear it, I would tell her: of course he does not love me. You are the only woman he has ever loved.

And if she were looking for specifics, wanted to know how I came upon her man, I would tell her: see the latest indictment of a sitting member of the US House of Representatives for the web address.

Soon she’d have her fill of confirmation. Ready to take her leave of me, she’d wipe the filth of me forever from her hands, and I would tell her:

I am gone from your house, now. This, here, between you and me, is the final exchange.

And.

If she found me, I would swallow back everything I wouldn’t say. I’d withhold some of the finer points, like:

I am gone, but there will be another to replace me. He’ll apologize, he’ll weep, he’ll immolate himself before your feet, promising to change. He might even take a month or two away from seeking. He may truly want to be, for you, a better man.

Did I mention that he loves you? He loves you. He does not relish hurting you. But.

But.

The compulsion in him will not die. I do not take it with me when I walk away.

He’ll fight against it for a while. He does want to be a better man.

But sister, he isn’t a better man.

The need in him is absolute, consuming. It will rise again to devour every other concern in its path. Why else would he have done this to you in the first place? He does not relish hurting you. He loves you.

I won’t tell her that the next girl, and the next girl, and the next won’t care a lick about him, or about her. They’ll show up for the money, and they’ll grit their teeth through every hotel encounter.

Sister, do you prefer it that way? I won’t ask.

If she ever found me, I would eat her hatred and wish her peace of mind, hoping that she’d never find out about the next girl, or the next, or the next.

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels