When You’re a Grown up

  

My daughter and I were at the frozen yogurt store the other day when we overheard a boy about five years old say to presumably his mother, “I can’t wait til I’m a grownup!” Not exactly sure of the context, but I believe his mother had just conditioned his frozen yogurt choices on being old enough to know what was good for him.

Though the exclamation produced a smile on my face, my 19-year-old-off-to-college-this-week daughter quickly turned to the boy and said, “Don’t rush it, kid. You don’t know what you’re asking for.” And she laughed so as not to terrorize the boy.

I turned to her and asked, “Is it that bad?” She nodded, yes.

I know the anxiety of living away from home for the first time preys on her nerves, playing a checklist of to-do’s and what-if’s in her mind on endless repeat. I feel her.

She and I differ that way. When I left home, I had no thoughts. I left on the sheer will of want: whatever I wanted. It was only after I left that I began to worry as I realized I had no idea how to write a check let alone balance a checkbook. I had only one experience with a bank: a savings account my mother opened for me when I was in junior high, one with a little blue, firm-covered, palm-sized bank book in which to register deposits and withdrawals. I remember how grown up I felt then. But that bank book, regulated by my visions of large purchases and the change in my mother’s purse divided by four, did little to teach me about pooling money in time to pay rent, feed myself and pump gas into my car. 

I learned, especially after a few months of barely living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or peanut butter. A visiting uncle, a psychologist  from Texas, remarked to my mother at one family gathering during that time, “Does she have anorexia?”

Burning by my own mistakes was my way. Still is. So long as they were mine. My mother did little to prepare any of us five children for the world as she protected us–wittingly or unwittingly–from the responsibilities of grown-ups, cocooned as we were in our middle class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe it was the time too. She stayed at home and cooked for us, washed our clothes and poured our milk for us. I remember telling her one day in sudden astonished awareness, “Mom, I’m 12. I can pour my own milk.”

My children did not grow up the same way. Their parents worked and so had to fend for themselves more. Even when I worked from home when they were small, I advocated for their independence. As soon as they were old enough to complain about what was for dinner, I let them know they could make their own if they did not like what was on the menu and then showed them how to use the stove. 

I am not suggesting my kids are not over protected or spoiled in other ways, however. While my parents had no means to buy their children things we nevertheless asked for, my kids have had more money given to them than I had. Growing up in a one-wage factory laborer family, we became accustomed early on to the idea that any material items we wanted would have to be purchased by our own means. I worked mowing lawns, helping my brother deliver newspapers and babysitting from the time I was 8.

My daughters, on the other hand, were raised to believe their grades and sports were their jobs, that they had too many years ahead for the paying jobs that they would eventually have to report to daily. “Don’t rush into working,” I always said.  

So my 19 year old has had a job for a year now; she worked part time while attending the local community college to pay for her car, books, concerts and clothes. I know it has been a stretch, the responsibility, though I know it hasn’t been a shock. She is used to budgeting her time and her resources, having been over-scheduled since she was 6 with soccer practice, piano lessons, school, and whatever the day’s playdates or parties brought.

But it is not the practical how-to’s or what-to-do’s that have her worried about moving out. I know it. She can figure things out, and it isn’t as if she is completely cut from the cord. Smart phones have kept us connected for years now anyhow, near or far. I group text my daughters to come down from their upstairs perches (more like second-story caves) to dinner (when I cook).

Nope. What she fears, I imagine, is what we all do. Doing it herself–whatever it is. The psychological state of being on her own, which prefigures the time when she will be truly on her own, no parents to call upon for a word of advice or a few bucks (or few hundred) to carry her over til payday, is the foundational fear–of death, first others and then her own. 

Not to be too dramatic, but Freud did not get everything wrong. Death and sex are primary human motivators. Everything that drives us is rooted in either or both. 

When my daughter goes off to college, it will symbolize that eventuality (hopefully far down the line) of being on her own without the umbrella of parental love. She will experience it as a mix of anxiety and excitement. And even as she will be making her own love, whether parenting or not, which will occupy enormous space in her mind and heart, she will one day yearn–even if it is just for a moment—for a time when the burdens, seemingly too heavy to bear, were barely perceptible just as they were lurking, unnoticed, above her childhood, as she splashed in an inflatable pool in the backyard and wondered what was for lunch and if she would ever not be bored on endless summer days.

I know I have.

And perhaps my mother, sitting among us near motionless in the skin of a fading light, silently reminds her, also symbolically, that connections run deeper than the physical–etched like the voice that called her to dinner at night all those years of play and idle dreaming. Even when the voices are silenced into memory, beginnings and endings forge life forward even as they fall backward in the marching on. 

Just–in time

She barreled through the classroom because she was a barrel, as wide as she was tall, and she was tall. Young, vibrant and cheery with an obvious eye for the boys in the classroom so much so that even I knew at a sullen and cynical 14 that she craved attention. Perhaps her size measured her insecurity.

She had ink black straight hair, long, parted in the middle falling down her back. Her thick black eyeliner matched the color of her hair and framed her deep brown crinkling eyes. She smiled a lot, teasingly–especially with the boys.

I resented her flirting in slight sexual innuendo, all for male attention, just like I disliked my mother’s constant catering to my father who, in return, called her “fat ass” or “sumbitch.” An adolescent of the woman warrior seventies,  I believed in taking no shit. Miss Hill’s pandering to the scarcely post-pubescent boys was shit; it annoyed me, which conflicted with the attraction to her enthusiasm for my favorite subject, English.

I wanted not only to like her, to take her seriously, but for her to notice me, despite the quiet and unprepossessing persona I wore at the time. An ‘A’ student, I yearned to be recognized for my smarts–my perceived strength.

“This is a wonderful piece, something I can see Janis Ian or Carole King singing,” she scrawled in large, deep-ink flourishes in my journal. She had assigned a journal at the beginning of the year, instructing us, the class, to write our thoughts–whatever we wanted–just to incent us to write. With such loose parameters, I wrote poems, cherished song lyrics, doodles and observations, all of which added up to my solitary, dark, introverted teenager dreams and drama.

Music–all kinds–made my world back then: everything from hard rock/metal to folk to classical. Before that sophomore year, I was a cellist. The local elementary school offered music lessons to third graders and so I learned the cello (after the music teacher grabbed my hand, looked at my long fingers and decided cello it would be instead of the violin I and everyone else pleaded for). I played second or third chair in the orchestra throughout my school years up to 9th or 10th grade when I perfected a full time recreational weed and boys pastime.

I especially loved fine lyrics: the poetry of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Dylan. That year Phoebe Snow sprung on the scene with Poetry Man, which prompted me to buy a couple of her albums. Her warbling jazz-soul sound, intoned from a space between her nose and throat in the register of a deep tenor or high alto, intrigued me. And some of her lyrics spoke bitter-sweetly about disappointment, fear and inadequacy. I felt her.

One song in particular consumed me so that I memorized the lyrics after too many spins of the vinyl. The title described my life–as I felt it: “Inspired Insanity.” The piece still holds a foundational place in my music history more for its statuesque placement from an impressionable youth and sentimentality than for its musical appeal.

In fact, a friend recently asked me to name a favorite song–seemingly impossible–but for the qualification that it somehow represent me. Instinctively, I named “Inspired Insanity” more likely from habit or history than actuality, but it was the first song that came to mind.


I’ve since moved across ample fields of genres and artists to add much more sophistication and style than her simple folk-jazz temperament into my listening repertoire occasionally moving back again to folk, where music returns time and time again: think Tracy Chapman in the 90s, Iron and Wine a few years back and some of the ballads of current bands like the Weepies of the Indie folk rock genre.

It must have been what I was going through at the time as a moody self exiled 14 year old in a New York winter hibernation, either loneliness, disconnection or generalized angst about me in the world. But the song spoke the yearning inside: “Help yourself to my new clothes. Borrow some of my daydreams too…You can call me hung up but when I call you, don’t hang up the phone…Come visit me, inspired insanity.”

Perhaps I felt taken for granted. Or simply taken. My mind did not register quickly enough all the outside motivations, what strangers or acquaintances wanted of me, and so I created misunderstanding. My intuition absorbed into analytical musings always. Books not people amused me, made me feel lucky, desired, understood…made me feel. People were not my strong suit. But 14 year olds generally don’t do people well.

I only knew I craved attention for what I could master, and I excelled at school. I had cracked the code of teachers and books long before, so I kept my eye on the coveted ‘A,’ did what I had to while enjoying some of it along the way. My ‘A’s’ were the teacher nods that validated me.

So at mid-year, when I read her praise, replete with exclamation points, next to the journal entry containing the entire neatly penned Snow song, I silently shrieked, panicked with the horror of the mistake.

“She thought I wrote this?! Oh no!!”

Instant shame, embarrassment, fear and flattery combined to redden my face, flushing heat all the way down to my ankles.

It had been painful enough to deliver my thoughts and poems to her, a stranger reading my creations, my penned pretties, not just the usual rote academic scribblings, but I consoled myself in safety of the teacher-student relationship. I trusted she would never ask me to bare my soul only to betray me by reading my work to the class. She may have even given such assurance in assigning it.

Not like in 9th grade when Mr. Rowe announced to the class that the creative project would be performed or read to the class. Back then, I combined my two loves, writing and music, and somehow mustered the courage to play a recording of a song I wrote and performed on the guitar. The ballad told the story of an assigned text, A Single Pebble, the Yangtze River Chinese gold miner who braved the forces of society and the river and lost (unless you count the immortalization by John Hersey). The image of my reserved former self does not comport with that project choice, but the certainty of the recollection cannot be denied. I can still sing some of the song.

But the song in 9th grade spelled pure victory in an earned ‘A’ for work performed, finished and collected. If memory serves, mention of using the song to accompany the reading for future classes echoes proudly (whether real or imagined) in my mind’s ears.

Not so this mistaken praise. Though mortified, my ego beamed with the attributed talent of writing such a song, which translated into the belief in me as a poet–or a songwriter, at the very least. I could not help but conclude that the other poems in the journal led her to believe so. Otherwise, how could she not detect the difference in style, the clear polished finish of the one song compared to the other driblets of word leakage (the estimated worth of my creative endeavors)?

So, though I feared she would discover the song some day and judge me a fraud–burned with the humiliation of that thought–I did round back to the idea that she presumed; I did not misrepresent. I assumed she would figure it all out, while simultaneously dreading she would not. I had little faith in human capability or not enough experience to realize that she most probably would not even remember the whole incident. She, a 22 year old, teaching her first job probably, had more to do and think about than one song in one journal of her dozens of students in several classes.

However, the scene often played out in my mind of her buying the album and hearing the song, so familiar in some way, and not knowing why. Or, the flash of recognition coupled with memory of first reading the song would conjure up my image before her eyes: the quiet student who dressed in coveralls, flannel shirts and construction boots (the original Doc Martens) and wrote poetry. Would she color that image with respect for my musical tastes or disappointment in the assumed attempted fraud perpetrated on her–even if the assignment was ungraded?

It doesn’t matter. I know. The minuscule moment magnified in my mind from teen hood speaks louder to the undigested lesson, the latent effect of that experience. Somehow I registered (or chose to) that someone recognized me as capable of producing publishable work, something as good as Phoebe Snow lyrics (which in hindsight proves less poetry than song, raw and unpolished; I mean her lyrics without the voice through them fell short of spectacular). The 14 year old me sensed the twinge of an inkling of a promise: perhaps I too could create something worthwhile, a source of another’s delight or ease of sorrow.

If only I could withstand the collective gaze of others.

Eventually, I did adapt to scrutiny. Inspired by past small successes and fleeting acts of bravery, I pushed myself through the paralysis of stage fright, figuratively for me but very real for Phoebe Snow (and Joe Cocker), and performed, wrote and occasionally sang for my living and others’ entertainment.

Real inspired insanity–sometimes frenetically and other times serenely–produces beauty, wisdom, advice or instruction. Its seeds can be found in frozen undetected time tucked in between the blinks that flutter chaos and creativity, and sway a life to the left or right. Perhaps the heat of a blush imprinted a dormant notion that unlocked itself in time, just at the right time, when I began to write–without fear.

 

image credit:  http://wewantedtobewriters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Chron-Higher-Ed.jpg

Women Masturbating: “Cat on Cat Crime”

 

The Huffington Post featured four women confessing masturbation misshaps in delightfully amusing stories of cringing embarassment, shock and humiliation. The real treat, however, lies in the frank delivery of the details by these clearly bold, tickled yet slightly discomposed young women relating early masturbation experiences. A study in rich human expression, the video reveals not just fodder for the prurient interests of some ill-intent viewers nor merely a sensationalism meant to draw readership, but a display of complex emotion evoked by the age old pastime–storytelling.

To boot, this video joins the growing dissemination of women’s sexuality imagery in the media, a necessary deployment in the continuing project of feminism’s de-sculpting (a chip at a time) the sedimented profile of and attitudes toward women in American society–all the while Huffpost gets points for edginess and the interviewees for bravery. It’s a win-win for all (except for those cynical ones who chalk it all up to exhibitionist tendencies of a selfie population and the marketing ploy of a savvy for-profit journalistic enterprise).

OMG, nooooooooooo!!!

  


Yes, it’s tragic. I can tell by the frequent wailing and gnashing of teeth around here. Zayn is leaving.  My daughters are heartbroken.

When all the eye rolling is done, I have to ask myself if this phenomenon, the three, four, has it been nearly five (?) year love affair my children have had with this boy band (now man band), is something to deride. Perhaps the resistant nod to the importance of this group on my part comes from the force feeding I have endured over the years, trapped in a car with screaming teens and pre-teens, windows rolled down as they shouted along with the blaring music,”You don’t know you’re beautiful!!”, at passersby, laughing, arm-waving and car-seat dancing. 

While I have maintained the appropriate role of music critic, one of many as a mother, explaining to my daughters with aplomb that cuteness is not one of the criteria for musicianship, I must confess to knowing most of the lyrics to at least two of the albums and have been caught singing a 1-D song while cooking dinner in the kitchen a time or two…or five. The truth is, I like the band, and my daughters have been warning me that this day was coming, the breakup of the band. 

They would know as they follow every word ever uttered by mouth or in print on Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, text or telephone from fellow fans befriended while waiting in line for tickets, movies, and concerts, or at fan sightings and school about these adored entertainers. My 16 year old has told me during more than one car ride to school or a friend’s house with grave admonition and dread that their five-year contract, made when the band members were her age, is almost up and it is doubtful they will re-up given their rigorous touring schedule lo these many years. She suspected burnout all along.

And now it is slowly unfolding, the story of Zayn’s quitting–or was he fired? My 19 year old gave me the lowdown this morning about how it may actually be a firing from the slave master, corporate, money-grubbing, greedy-bastard managers (her characterization, my words), when he dared to walk off a tour after publicity of Zayn’s cheating on his fiancee, or so it was made to appear by the evil media. She explained that Zayn was the more sensitive one and just got sick of the twisting of his life with all the fan-dom gossip and media lies. 

So says she, who somehow coaxed me on more than one occasion several years ago to drive all over Los Angeles chasing these boys for a possible sighting. One time, I flipped out on her and her friends after a six-hour chase that made me question my sanity–truly. There is a limit to a parent’s indulgence of teenage fantasy addiction, and I had exceeded that limit by legions.

The truth is, I will miss these boy-men should this signal the beginning of the end. All those car rides–and there have been many–with four or five girls screaming in my car every word to every song, windows down, wind whipping through us, and even my steering wheel banging car seat dance in full swing, have been fun and meaningful, girls having fun in music fantasy, me witnessing. My younger still insists only half ironically that she will marry Harry, so there is no need for any other boys in her life.

These singer-musician cuties have played an important role in our lives, in theirs particularly, and not only as an obsession or a place holder until something bigger and better and realer comes along. Their devotion, waiting for hours to glimpse them, purchase tickets, see them in concert, find the latest about their lives, has been not only the commitment of love-sick, crazy teens with no reality that can compete with the fantasy of them, but of the true commitment of fans, caring fans who love something bigger than themselves, something to hang their hopes on for a future relationship with someone truly special, someone with greatness, ambition, good looks, talent and caring for an adoring heart.

For me, these guys have given me opportunity a’plenty to not only serve as taxi driver, crazy mom, and sage adviser about everything from music to love to addiction, but also as friend and adoring fan to these girls, all beautiful in their youth, purity and zealous affection and enthusiasm in their devotion to a lovely even if sometimes embattled over the rights to the story world, something that could be a lot worse than wholesome 1-D. If they have to be addicted, I am okay with it being a handful of benign cutie patooties. 

And quite honestly, it has been interesting to watch these boys grow, musically and personally, amazingly in sync with my daughters’ growth in the same fashion. The music is less bubble gum, evolved, adding a layer or two of musical and lyrical depth and diversity. Similarly, both girls have developed diverse musical tastes over the years that I deem mature and sophisticated, even as I question the talent of some of their selections. 

My car rides are now infected with a wild array of cynical, political songwriter-singers, not so fresh and innocent as 1-D, more so overly whiny, sardonic and anti everything socially accepted, like the Front bottoms–their rebellion phase, kind of like their mom’s Dylan, Doors and Led Zeppelin phase decades ago. But despite their clear evolving musical tastes way beyond the pop pablum of groups like 1-D, or their predecessor Justin Bieber oh so many moons ago (comparably “my” David Cassidy in the 70s), they hold Harry and the boys near and dear, laughing at themselves while seriously loving them too.

But we all move on, even 1-D dudes. Zayn is right to quit. Why not end at the top? Why not try to regain the semblance of a sane life at the ripe young age of 22? It will take another five or more years to get over the post-traumatic effects of rising and sinking so far and wide as unknown to super-star to used-to-be. Although, I somehow doubt the residue, the fractured band, as Brad Nelson of the Guardian dubbed them, “four goofy white guys shouting“, will make it and not only due to the dent in the multi-textured sound that Zayn contributed to creating. 

The fans may not be so forgiving of the Simon Legree (or is that Simon Cowell?) managers they may see responsible for the breakup or may not be able to let go of what was–the perfect quintet of dreaminess. A beloved will always be missing.

In any event, there will be the press stories and the fan stories, the truths of which may not coincide. The best part of the band for most fans is not even the music but the constant back story and just the story making itself, constantly winding in and around the social lives of imaginative teens and pre-teens flexing their minds and hearts into the vast landscape of love, music and social media. What else is there, after all?

 

A Misty Mother’s Winter Birth Song

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On a Winter Solstice morning I carry wood to the fire
and stoke the arcing flame’s urge to obliterate night.
Borean breath burns those bones of trees slant ways
fueling gulps of scorching air borne to the sun’s rays.

Mother-child squats and stares her eyes pierced red
wondering where the winds have taken off the dead.
Her child-mother speaks no more of willow branches.
A baby gone old too, a sooty, sallow skinned witness.

Sheltering arms of her wisdom’s rock a bye morrows
I miss, her torch words of smoked images we chose.
Mother mine of childlike mind your birth was foretold.
Alit on Winter’s day, a searing blame to mothers cold.

With spoken mind’s hibernation, a wintry song is nigh.
Buried deep in fiery sleep is sensor twitching sunrise.
Yet a love surrounds her misty eyed daylight slumber
as Elven sprites spark shards shot of ember’d lumber.

She is my meadow lullaby cracking the icy pines now,
a cataract covered window pane framing a faint brow.
The pitter patterned words of incantations made flesh
are a witch’s brood of progeny, a sweep of stony ash.

The shortest light of the longest night brightens a sky
she never sees anymore in wheel chaired walk a bye.
Maternal flickers of the northern lights in babies’ arms
is left the love encircling a stormy eye’s chaos calmed.

“Confessions of a Former Mistress”

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Credit: 1.bp.blogspot.com

A Warning From a Former Mistress: Confessions of a Former Mistress on the site called theindiechicks.com is dressed up as an advice piece (anonymous, it seems) to those considering the mistress role. She starts off: “This is a warning from a former mistress to anyone who thinks it’s worth the risk to get involved with a married man.”

Her effort at the start seems genuine and straight forward. She has a case to make. Her claim is clear in the last sentence of the first paragraph. She also establishes her ethos, her credibility, and accurately assesses her targeted audience, who she knows will be critical. Since she knows most people will be wary of her as a former mistress, she anticipates the guarded reaction and attempts to disarm the reader positing herself as a credible (she knows of what she speaks because she has been there) and self-aware source:

I know this isn’t an easy topic for a lot of people to relate to and surely not one that will elicit a lot of sympathy for me and that’s okay. I am who I am because of the decisions I have made in life. I am not proud of all of them but they are still a part of me. I know that despite how you may feel about my decisions you will at least respect my honesty in regards to this topic, I thank you for that. So here it is, a warning from a former mistress.

She borders on defensive when she declares her own satisfaction with her life decisions but equally sensitive to audience sensibility; she preempts vilification with her own tempered version of light self-flagellation. She is also gracious in thanking her reader in advance for appreciating her gift of honesty. So far so good: protocol of moderate tone and first elements of an argument are met, well done.

Our former mistress then goes directly to the advice she has to give, again courteously and with the gravity commensurate to the urgency of her advice:

If you think that you want to get involved with a man in a relationship or a married man PLEASE realize that you’re gong to have to deal with the following:

You often feel like shit about yourself
One or the other will eventually start to feel “more” and somebody’s feelings get hurt
There is no way that it can last forever. In the end somebody decides it doesn’t work for them anymore
The person not in the “serious” relationship is left alone at the end of this tryst and the “committed” person goes back to their “happy” relationship.
You have no right to be angry when they say they want to “try to work things out” with their significant other.
You are left with no leg to stand on and somehow your feelings don’t seem to matter
There is often a heightened sense of emotion and passion that will not last once the “thrill” of the affair ebbs.
Your tears go unshed until they aren’t around because nobody wants a mistress who sobs all over them, we are supposed to be eternally patient, sexually satisfying, fun, and devoid of the stresses of reality. (Read-unfeeling fuck machines)

And then she loses me. So this is not what it is purported to be after all. It was just a guise, a set up, and I, like other readers, fell for it. She isn’t offering advice to everyone, only for those who are exactly like her and her ex-lover. And if I read the title and introduction correctly, this is purporting to be well-meaning advice for someone–anyone–who even thinks about getting involved with a married man.

Some of her list of mistress woes is mere common truths attributable to any relationship: unequal love between lovers, passion that fades over time, and loathsome cry baby acts of finding out the man she loves is not what she created him to be. The other items, her deal. Not much of her list pertains to any old mistress, and so, in argument terms, her argument is a fallacy of hasty generalization.

This is not a warning but a confession. She chose the wrong man to love because, by adding up the complaints in her account, he was a selfish, callused user. She admits she was allured by need, desire, excitement and passion, probably good looks, and ignored the glaringly obvious: he was married–and not to her.

This is a confession of someone who loved and lost, and it’s an age-old story. She offers nothing to the wannabe mistress here, but she does unwittingly offer general advice to anyone about to fall in love: keep your eyes open and clear. Don’t fall in love using only your heart and loins. Beware of your own susceptibility based on your needs and weaknesses, so that you can protect yourself. Isn’t that the advice a parent gives her daughter?

Not all married men go back to their wives, however, unless you consider divorcing the wife to marry the mistress who is just another wife, and remarkably much like the one he divorced. Not all men are heartless and are unconcerned about the suffering of the mistress, only wanting her to be fun and sexy and carefree. We don’t get the picture from his side. Maybe he felt the double guilt of deceiving his wife and depriving his mistress. Maybe that guilt was too much for him and the story of going back to his wife was pre-textual.

In the article, she admits to being reckless about who she falls in love with. She admits to knowing what she was getting into with a married man, but wasn’t careful. Yet she details how bitterly she endured the teary nights alone when she had a bad day and the joyful moments alone, not even able to share by phone, in her times of triumph and happiness. Even as she excuses herself for being foolish or blind, she wants the reader to both condemn and forgive her; she wants to atone and so offers her advice to spare others. That’s the contrition surrounding confession.

So why am I sharing this?
I know I won’t garner a whole lot of sympathy here. After all, I did know what I was getting myself into. I’m the home wrecker, the destroyer of relationships. I deserve to feel like shit…I should feel like shit for what I am doing to these other women. That’s what anyone who has been cheated on is thinking/feeling and you have every right to. I guess I just wanted to say to those women who are on the edge, considering entering into an “other woman” situation…please don’t. Please think long and hard about it.

I don’t buy it. The unburdening confession relieves the confessor at the expense of the hearer or reader. She feels guilty (not about the wife it seems) and stupid because, ironically, she was deceived. She duped herself into believing something other than what was right in front of her eyes, and so is guilty of emotional self-mutilation. Yes, he was guilty of not taking responsibility for she who he knew was in love with him, but she maintained the tryst until it hurt good enough to quit.

This is her confession. I will make one of my own: I sympathize and empathize with her. Likewise a former mistress but also a wife, I understand the stigma attached to that role, one that threatens social order as well as individual injury. It’s not playing by established rules. It’s unethical and immoral in some minds, often in the mind of the mistress herself. I believe I have presented many viewpoints on this blog from the vulnerable parties in a mistress relationship. This author brought one more viewpoint, that of a specific mistress.

If she were not an admitted mistress but confessed to having fallen in love with the wrong man who made her suffer because of her poor choices, sympathy and empathy would be forthcoming. Readers know it’s human nature to be somewhat self-destructively blind in love. However, because there is sin, social stigma, jealousy and deceit associated with her, judgment overrides sympathy for the mistress. Clearly the wife was unaware of the affair and apparently he was not forthright with the mistress or the wife.

However, there are mistress relationships that scaffold marriages, if not in the short run, then in the long run. I would like to believe I was in one of those mistress relationships that helped two people stay married. The need for passion I fulfilled in my married lover was a charge to keep him going, maybe long enough to realize that his wife, the mother of his children, long-time mate, friend, and partner was invaluable. Or maybe he discovered what some people do: there isn’t all that much out there better than what he had. My trade value was unequal to what he had already.

I met Wayne in grad school when he was married with young children. I was married too, but separated, amicably and consensually. My husband needed to explore his sexuality. And indeed I did my own exploring. However, getting involved with a married man was not my intention. We were in the same class together, goofing around gigglers passing silly notes, and were study partners. And then, after a few beers in a pub one night, it happened. I had gotten my ass kicked in class in a mock trial sort of exercise, and he was friend enough to console me, buy me a beer.

It was irresistible passion in an instant that appeared to burst forth spontaneously, uncontrollably from nowhere. Afterwards, we carried on an affair for the six years or more I was separated with my husband. Wayne and I were all about passion, adolescent rediscovery of sex and intrigue. We had the commiseration of struggling students with stressful sabotaging spouses. He complained about his wife not understanding, thwarting his efforts, bored with sex…the usual. He felt like a desired man again. I was in love. He was in love. He struggled, I think, with leaving his wife, but looking back, I seriously doubt he ever could. He adored his kids and loved his wife of 15 or 20 years at that time too.

At first I was jealous of her. I wanted him to myself, to leave his wife, but never dared to demand that. Such a drastic decision had to be his; I never wanted to be blamed for inducing that. He had to live with his conscience and take care of his own. I was open about the affair with my husband, and I knew it hurt him very much. Even though we were separated upon his suggestion and for his needs, he was deeply hurt by my affair with Wayne and I felt guilty for hurting him, though I did not feel as if I were betraying him.

It was complicated. Perhaps I was self-deluded, but I did not feel my part was wrong. Yes, there was a deceived wife, but I felt that was Wayne’s deceit and I had no obligation to be honest to her, only to my husband and me. Until I met his wife.

The first time I met Wayne’s wife and kids, ages 7 and 11, it was in their home. We had been studying in the library until late in the evening, and I honestly cannot remember why he wanted me to go home with him, but I did. There is something strange about that desire on his part: an almost confession or provocation. Did he think his wife would somehow sense the affair palpably and possibly demand a divorce so the decision would have been made for him? Was he tempting fate?

While his daughter was congenial as was his wife–both have that personality–the son, older, was more wary and brooding about my presence. Children have an inarticulable sense about situations that adults do not, generally. They sense something out of place. Dad brought home a young (I am 7 years younger) woman who is his study friend. Hmmmm…And for a boy, there may have been an unconscious defensive reaction to protect his mom. I could have imagined all of this, but I can state undeniably that I was horribly uncomfortable. I felt I oozed the secret, flashed it in neon.

I later saw his wife and kids on a few occasions, and though my presence was more familiar, and I was more inured to being in the presence of my lover’s family, the huge question mark hanging in the air never disappeared for me. Did I feel guilt? Yes. Did I feel shame? A little. Did I feel as if I were betraying her? No. She was not my responsibility in any real sense, only in the abstract sense of one fellow human being’s duty to protect another from injury. I didn’t believe then that she suffered injury since she didn’t know about the affair. In fact, I thought she was getting both the better and worse end of the deal. She had him every night and every morning, except for rare occasions I could count on one hand that I spent the night with him.

Did I suffer as did our confessor mistress? Definitely. I felt hurt, lonely, aching and jealous when I could not sleep with him at night, when I longed to feel his breathing body on mine. I shed tears of disappointment, fear and frustration, although I had then as I do now friends and family to confide in. I soared the heights of ecstasy too and learned so much about my own sexuality, my own body.

The relationship deeply satisfied my sense of adventure and romance, my need to be consumed and desired that was lost over time or was never there with my husband. But after several years, it was just another relationship that was growing fermented like used car love, the settling in kind, dinged up with lots of negotiated curves of disagreements.

He wanted monogamy, even as he knew he had no right to demand it. But we humans do that sort of illogical dance, don’t we? After realizing he was not divorcing his wife any time soon or ever, I wanted to date others during my separation. It was the year–my 30th–I discovered orgasm. Since I married my husband when I was just turning 20, I had some catching up to do. For a precocious girl with early sexual experience, I knew nothing about sex or my body. My formative years may have been in the sixties and seventies, but my parents’ heyday was the fifties.

Wayne and I did eventually break up. Maybe he thought I didn’t withstand the test of time to warrant leaving his wife for me. Maybe he never told me his intentions about us being more or nothing more than an affair. Maybe I kept my options open, impatient for something more concretely promising from him. In any event, we were growing older. I needed to settle in with a partner or a sperm donor or forego having children forever.

When my husband and I moved back in together, I was four months pregnant with our first born. Wayne and I remained good friends and still are today. Our families have spent holidays and other occasions together since we were later colleagues.

The time Wayne and I spent together was medicine. When we dropped the expectation of a future married us–when we opened our eyes to see what we really had and not what we invented–we enjoyed each other until we could no longer. In six years, we each had moments of mismatched expectation, but when we were aligned, it was good: just two people loving each other.

Gathering all of the evidence and speculation, I believe I helped him survive his marriage by providing the escape valve, relief from frustrating and castrating neglect and loneliness that comes with long term marriages with kids. A wife and lover who becomes a mother often becomes temporarily or permanently less of a wife and lover. Her devotion of time, effort and love shifts from mate to children, forgetting that he gave her those gifts. Much of my own physical need for affection was fulfilled by my children when they were little, so I was touched out by the end of the day with little of me left to spare.

Like so many neglected mid-life husbands, Wayne needed to feel loved and appreciated. He also needed a return to the wild of his glory days, to get it out of his system and to re-realize that all relationships are work and look the same with the seasoning of time. I’m guessing. Maybe those are my projections and conclusions. In any event, his kids are grown with kids of their own, and he is still married twenty years later.

So not every mistress story is about falling for the married man who abuses her, exposing her great lack of self esteem. That may be part of the story, but you can be sure that isn’t the whole story. Any relationship is made of distinct parties that bring a mix of genetics and history unique to that constituted whole of a couple or a triangle.

Contrary to our confessor, I neither advocate for nor condemn the role of the mistress; I merely offer an experience for consideration, to be read, evaluated, and/or judged as the reader will. Some may say the mistress always deals in dishonesty. However, honesty is a virtue that is never exercised indiscriminately, and the trust developed in a relationship is one prescribed by the parties, their specific agreement to acceptable parameters. There is no one size fits all formula for living, loving and learning a long life intertwined with others.