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

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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Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

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.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

My Queen is Not Okay With This

She has been roiling about it since the news dropped on Thursday: Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.

“So white people get a day off? White people are gonna be throwing Juneteenth barbecues now?” she steams over and over, to me in our apartment, on the phone, on social media. “When we were kids the cops used to bust up the Juneteenth parties. White people didn’t even know about it. They just called the cops on us.”

She’s right, of course. I support her, agree with her, but don’t know how to meet her in her rage.

“White people need to spend Juneteenth in an all-day anti-Racist seminar. Let this be Juneteenth for us, and Juneteenth Awareness Day for the rest of America.”

I want to stand up and applaud her at that. She is brilliant and wise and crackling with power. She is witnessing the days leading up to a Black celebration, co-opted. Gone away to white America. This year marks the first time. The inauguration of the shift.


When the day arrives, she sleeps through half of it. I’m not sure how to greet her when she wakes. “Happy Juneteenth,” I say, holding back a tumble of regrets. In the pause before she answers, I swallowing down a litany of weak disclaimers: I’m sorry they, I’m sorry we, stole this one from you too. I’m sorry nothing’s changed. I’m sorry for the vultures who come, and come again to feed on the creativity of Black America. Sorry that I’m, sorry if I’m, sorry to be one of them. “Happy Juneteenth,” she answers, before I crack into saying some stupid shit and ruining the first moment of a day that should be hers to celebrate, not mourn. A day that can never be the same again.

We live in a stark-white town. Most of the Black community that she once had here have moved away for good, or are living elsewhere temporarily as long as work remains remote. We are far away from family. There are no barbecue invitations.

She spends the day alone. “I’m luxuriating with the ancestors,” she tells me before folding herself away into a sequence of yoga and journaling and revising the blurbs on her vision board.

And as for me, well– I can claim no righteousness for my first Juneteenth Awareness Day. I do not spend the day educating myself about racism. Instead I bike around the town, thinking. Somewhere in the most rural reaches of this small, white town I smell barbecue, and cannabis burning. They are having cookouts. White people are having Juneteenth cookouts. She was right. She always is.


She’s on the phone with her favorite cousin when I get back in, sharing a libation over video chat. After blowing my kisses into the phone and wishing her Happy Juneteenth, I settle in out of frame and they pick up where they were.

My wife says, “It’s going to go the way of Saint Patrick’s Day. Of Pride. We didn’t ask for this.”

“They just Americanize it,” her cousin answers. “Same as this country does with everything. Think about it. How many people even know what Cinco de Mayo is about? But every year, out come the sombreros and the Mexican beer… That’s what this country does. Turns a profit off of everything.”

She goes on, picking up steam. “They knew they had to give us something. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has not been passed. Our voting rights are slipping away. So they give us Juneteenth off and they think, maybe this will shut them up for a while.”

“But it won’t,” says my wife.

“No, it won’t,” her cousin continues. “We won’t shut up. We never will. And as for Juneteenth going mainstream– if it makes more white people aware of the truth about this country, then I say it’s a good thing. Because they need to think about their ancestors, too. To think about what their ancestors created. People are so ignorant. They’ll try to re-write history. But America needs to remember what it is capable of.”

My wife sighs. “I guess you’re right. I’m just grieving it, is all.”


Reader, I have no answers I can offer to anyone for any of this. There is nothing I can say that should guide any white American to anywhere the mind can rest. The vertigo of my discomfort tips and spirals and swells. By next year it will likely be even worse.

Darkness comes. At the window, I look out over the pristine loveliness of the small, white town that daily finds new ways to alienate this woman, this regal spirit who I’m lucky enough to get to love.

“Happy first Juneteenth, non-Black America,” I whisper. “May we spend it well.”


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Slamming on the Brakes at Our Intersection

This conversation is becoming a weekly ritual. Next month she turns thirty. I’ll be close behind. And we still can’t seem to make up our minds:

Do we want kids?

We trudge through the usual debate points and musings. “We’ll have to eat dinner at 5:30.” “We’ll be broke. We’ve barely got the money for the sperm.” “If we don’t, who will take care of us when we’re old?”

Then, suddenly, she calls up a different kind of trepidation. Says,

“You think I’ll make them hate being Jewish.”

Screeeech! Hit the brakes. Where did that come from?

“Baby,” I say. “No I don’t. You’ll be a wonderful Mom to Jewish kids. You already know the most important blessings…”

“No. I won’t be.” She pauses, considering something. “Maybe it’s just… it’s them having an identity that I won’t have. It’s too much. Being Black is hard enough, but Black AND Jewish… It’s a scary intersection.”

I blink. “It’s our intersection.”

She nods, slowly. “Yeah.”

She’s got a point. Would we be cursing our future children by deciding to have them? Is it fair, to put challenges onto our children that neither of us have faced ourselves?


On the coffee table in front of us a copy of The Color of Water by James McBride lies open, near its end. I have almost finished reading McBride’s telling of his mother’s story, in which she flees from her Orthodox Jewish family, marries a Black man, and raises twelve Black children. She overcomes the divide between the two communities that hold her life by destroying the Jew in herself, and never looking back. She changes her name, comes to Jesus, starts a church.

In my own family, I see the same pattern reflected. My eldest auntie married a Black man in the 1960’s and faced the rejection of her family and community for years. Though she never converted to a different religion, though she reconnected with my grandparents before I was born, she did not raise her son Jewish.

I remember my shock when I overheard her on the phone with her grown son in the week leading up to Rosh Hashana, explaining to him, “We eat apples and honey to celebrate a sweet new year.” My forty-year-old cousin didn’t know this simple tradition that was second nature to me by preschool?

One generation later, my aunt sends me pictures of her grandson lighting a menorah for Chanukah and reading picture books with Jewish themes. She is teaching him to take pride in his Jewish roots, and to understand that the history of the Jewish people is his history, too. But embracing one’s Jewish ancestry is not the same as being Jewish. I don’t know how my little cousin will identify as he grows. Will our traditions become his?

My wife and I have long since decided that, should we have children, we will raise them Jewish. They will be Black, of course. That part will most likely be determined by phenotype; it was never a subject of debate. We will raise our babies to be proud of their Blackness, to celebrate their heritage as descendants of the African diaspora. So why, I used to argue in the earlier days of our commitment, should the children we bring up together reflect her culture, her people, and not mine? Over time, she relented. It was a decision we reached before we married, and a condition of the marriage itself.

Our children will be free to reject Judaism if it does not suit them. Up to 70% of Jewish kids outside of the Orthodox community choose not to live a Jewish life when they grow up. And our babies will have more reason to reject the religion than does the average Jew. A wide majority Jewish communities in the US are white-dominated, and they harbor the same diseases as other white enclaves. It is unfortunately likely that the congregants of the synagogue where we enroll our children in Hebrew School will alienate them with racist comments, harassing them with questions like “how are you Jewish?” and “are you adopted?” Maybe our kids will want out of all Jewish spaces by the time they reach B’nai Mitzvah age at around 12, going through the sacred rite of passage into Jewish adulthood only if we force them, and withdrawing from the community immediately after.

And on the other side, how will their Black cousins and friends who are not Jewish shape their views of themselves? Will the same ugly conspiracies that have led me into tearful fights with my inlaws worm their way into my babies’ ears? Who will be the first to tell them that the Nazi Holocaust is a big lie, that their white mother is not a real Jew, that white Jews stole the religion from its Black rightful owners? Will it be family, a cousin they look up to? If those conspiracies don’t erode their sense of connection to their Jewishness, it may be that their Catholic elders will convince them that they are bound for hell until they come to Jesus.

None of these outcomes would surprise me. And there’s not a lot my wife or I could do to prevent them, or to protect our future children from the bone-deep confusion of belonging to two communities and feeling out-of-place in both– not a lot, beyond deciding not to have children at all.


For tonight, we run out of steam for the debate. She heads to bed, and I flop onto the couch to finish The Color of Water. In an afterward included for the 10th anniversary edition, McBride reflects on his family’s story with these words that feel uncannily apt, tonight:

I have met hundreds of mixed-race people of all types, and I’m happy to report that– guess what, folks– they’re happy, normal people! They’re finding a way. … The plain truth is that you’d have an easier time standing in the middle of the Mississippi River and requesting that it flow backward than to expect people of different races and backgrounds to stop loving each other, stop marrying each other, stop starting families, stop enjoying the dreams that love inspires. Love is unstoppable. It is our greatest weapon, a natural force, created by God.

James McBride, The Color of Water

I want to wake her. To rush into her quiet, shake her, tell her, “See! We won’t be failing our children by raising them. Our children can proud of who they are.”

“We will raise them in love and safety,” I want to tell her. “They’ll know a struggle that’s familiar to neither of us, it’s true. But they will know a peaceful home– they’ll know joy and healthiness that was also unfamiliar to us. We made it through our childhood hurts. They’ll make it through theirs, too.”

“Our children, our Black and Jewish children, if we have them, are gonna be okay.”

Instead, I resolve to show her in the morning. I tuck myself beside her, press my skin against her back, and join her sleep.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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.

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