Maureen was at the door in a flood of tears. Jan didn’t know Maureen. They’d never met. Maureen lived two doors down, and there she was on the front porch crying her eyes out. She was crying because he left her. Why did he leave? Because she was so afraid he was going to leave.
That’s about all Jan could get out of her for the longest. She was just sobbing and going on and on about how it was all her fault. That’s what he said, of course. He said it was all her fault. He didn’t want to leave her, but she gave him no choice, see? He just couldn’t stay with someone acting the way she was acting.
How was she acting? She was acting like she was afraid he was going to leave her, and the circle just went on like that for the longest. It went on that way because Maureen was ashamed to say how it all started, but eventually she got her composure enough to explain the situation to a neighbor who was also a near complete stranger. Maybe it’s easier to unburden yourself to a stranger, anyway. I think that’s probably what I would want. Maybe you feel differently.
So, anyway, Maureen finally explained that she met Carter when he was still married to Marie, and she and Carter carried on quite the affair right under Marie’s nose without Marie really suspecting anything for the longest time, and Maureen did not want to be like Marie—how could anybody be so unsuspecting and trusting in the first place? Maureen didn’t want anyone thinking she was naïve or too innocent or anything like that.
So, you know, she kept her eyes wide open. She looked for signs. Did he always take his phone to the bathroom with him? Did he answer his phone before work? She and Carter had enjoyed some pretty intense conversations when he was commuting to work, so now she would call him in the morning just to see if he answered. She didn’t want to be stupid about anything. Not the way Marie had been.
But Carter wasn’t unaware of her snooping. Even worse, though, was that she was constantly nagging him about what he was up to. She was constantly asking if he still loved her. She was constantly asking him to compliment her looks. She just needed lots of reassurance.
And, of course, she made the odd accusation or two. Where were you? Who were you talking to? Can I see the texts? Can I see the office email about the work lunch you said you were on? You get the idea.
So Carter told her he loved her, but he couldn’t go on with all the suspicion and nagging and all. It was like that Elvis song. You know, “we can’t go on together with suspicion on our minds” or however it went. And Maureen went nuts over this, but she tried to calm herself. She tried to show that she trusted him, but she thought maybe he would meet someone else like her who would be able to keep secrets and be available at odd hours and all that.
Maureen was just afraid he’d meet another Maureen. He told her he’d been down that road, and never wanted to go again, but he was really breaking under the pressure of constant surveillance. And so there you go. You have Maureen crying her eyes out at Jan’s table and telling all her secrets. Well, she told some of her secrets, anyway. I guess they both thought they might become friends after that, but it never happened.
They didn’t talk again. Six weeks later, a for-sale sign went up in front of Maureen’s house. And that was that.
“I’ve had plenty of anonymous sex before,” she said, “and I still know how to find it.” Jan intended this as a threat or warning, obviously, but she also knew it stung in its own right. She first learned to weaponise her own sexuality when she saw the crestfallen look on her father’s face when she knew he knew what she’d gotten up to with John one night. Since that day, she had learned a number of ways to use her own numbness to sex to devastate men. Not that it made her feel that much better, but it was something.
Maybe it was revenge. Maybe it was something else, but it gave her a feeling of power, and who doesn’t want to feel that sometimes? Everyone wants to feel a little control over things. The way she told it, she had always controlled her own sexuality. She was 12 the first time, she said, and she knew exactly what she was doing. Her parents were gone for the day and she called her school band director on the phone and asked him over. It was her idea. That’s what she said.
She said it hurt, but he was very nice. He took care of her. When he lost his job at the school, she and some other girls formed a group to get signatures on a petition to get him his job back. They really liked him. When she graduated high school, she wrote to him to let him know she was doing all right, and he wrote back and said he was glad to hear it.
Bobby couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He told her she was only 12, for God’s sake, and definitely no child could be responsible for what she described. She had obviously been groomed and manipulated, and so had all the other girls. She was raped, he said, but she averred. “But I knew what I was doing was wrong,” she said, “That’s why I never told anyone before now.” Bobby told her it wasn’t her fault, but he wasn’t prepared for this conversation.
Somehow, he made her feel more judged than supported, not that he was trying to, but he really wasn’t equipped to respond to this information, and he felt a little sick. But Jan didn’t notice that. She was just trying to make a point about her prissy classmates who acted so shocked to find that a professor was having an affair with a student. She was just wanting to say, “Hello! I was having sex with a teacher when I was 12! Grow up.”
Cancer complicates things. By things I guess I mean relationships, though I’m sure it complicates many other things as well. Still, it does a number on relationships. People are just going along planning their lives with certain expectations, and—bam!—cancer throws everything out of whack.
It’s like how people thought Johnny Ramone should visit Joey on his deathbed, but Johnny thought he was the last person on earth Joey would want to see as he drew his last breaths. Would Joey be more of a monster for not visiting or for showing up? I don’t have to figure it out, so I’ll leave it to you decide.
I just know there are some people I would never want to come to me as I lay dying, but others would be forgiven and welcomed on sight without a second thought, because I miss them so much. I don’t think Joey was missing Johnny, though, so maybe Johnny made the right decision. I know I wasn’t going to choose sides, but I never know what I’m doing from minute to minute, so it’s something we have to get used to.
Anyway, Kat knew her husband was wanting a divorce when she got the diagnosis. Just his damned luck she got sick and people would think he was a real heel to leave her in the lurch. Kat was not one of the people who thought that. In all honesty, she wanted him to get out of the way so she could at least have enjoyable sex once or twice before she got too sick, so she wasn’t wanting him to hang around.
Family and friends are sure to have an opinion about whatever choice he made, though, and it wasn’t easy to negotiate everything. How do you explain to your grown daughters that you are happier for their father to leave so you can enjoy getting laid once or twice before you are laid to rest? It can be done, sure, but let’s face it—it’s not a fun conversation.
She managed the whole thing somehow, though. She had an amicable divorce, was happy with how the property was divided, and managed to sleep with her divorce attorney. Not a bad trick, really.
I’m not one to say whether there’s such a thing as a happy death, but some seem much worse than others. I guess death is always traumatic for the living. Even if you don’t know a soul in the world and die anonymously in the street, someone has to find your body. Someone has to report it. Someone has to pick it up. Some find it more traumatic than others, but you are sure to leave some pain in your wake, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
So that’s something we have to live with. As we die.
You have to be careful. I mean, you have to watch what you say. It’s easy to think everyone will see things your way, but you never know how they’re going to take things.
That’s what happened when she went to talk to Valerie. She wanted to get some things off her chest, and she just knew Valerie would be sympathetic.
Valerie was sympathetic. Of course she was sympathetic. What kind of friend wouldn’t be? And Valerie enjoyed, maybe enjoyed isn’t the exact right word, listening to other people talk about their sexual problems, so she was bound to be a good listener.
So she unloaded on Val. She talked about how her husband was supportive and everything, but the sex was too burdensome. She told Val how he had a slow fuse and could never just “get to business.” She liked a sort of “stick and go” approach, but he always made a big production out of everything with lots of cuddling, kissing, and holding before ever getting around to the good stuff. By the time he was ready, she had lost interest. You know how it is?
Valerie certainly knew how it was. Valerie understood the dynamics all too well because her husband, too, was a “stick and go” kind of person. He never cuddled her or kissed her or stroked her at all. He just went at it, had his orgasm, and fell asleep.
So, as Val listened to her friend sort of just describing her frustration with the burdens of too much kissing and cuddling, Val got a little turned on. Her fantasies were racing through her mind. She’d been lost in a kissing desert, and now her friend was describing a sort of sexual oasis, and, man, she’d like a good long drink.
So Val was a good friend, and a good listener, like I said. She shared stuff about her life, her sexual past, which had a bit of trauma, too, and her frustrations with marital difficulties. She listened intently. She made herself vulnerable. She offered warm hugs and encouragement.
Once she’d set her friend off in a cloud of mutual support, her own needs and fantasies drove her straight to the telephone. She was tentative and nervous, but desire is sometimes greater than fear. “Hi, I was just talking to your wife. She said you really enjoy long, deep kisses, just like I do.”
He made a clumsy compliment,
And it was taken for an insult.
Immediately, he tried to explain
The misunderstanding, but
He was told to “stop digging.”
And so it was.
He wasn’t in love, exactly,
But he admired her
Constantly and consistently.
He spoke highly of her to colleagues
And mutual acquaintances.
Hoping to eventually mend the rift,
He overcompensated with kindness,
But she seemed to recede further
In the distance with each step
He tried to take forward.
And small mistakes can have
Grave consequences. They say
The entire universe is a mess
Because Brahma was too drowsy
During the act of creation,
Which is an important lesson
For fertile but untutored lovers.
And as the universe tends to replicate
An original error exponentially,
So relationships can create
Great webs of resentment
And confusion. Even chaos.
It was all right, of course.
He found other jobs and
Other social and vocational
Networks away from her gaze.
He found a wife, passed his
Own genes on to unsuspecting
New persons peering into
Brahma’s mistake for the first time.
After her divorce, she heard of him
And his relative success and wondered
How such a ham-fisted and socially
Awkward dimwit could carry on.
But we do carry on.
Brahma hasn’t had a nap
In eons, and light travels to our
Eyes from the furthest reaches
Of space, just so we can experiment
With clumsy compliments.