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Hugs And Kisses

I had not heard from Anna since she dumped me—again—in early July.

She had made it clear in her final note to me. If I were unwilling to try a six-week period of monogamy with her, then we were unlikely to have much of a future together, so she was done.

I was unwilling to try this experiment. I was annoyed that she continued to disregard my current disinterest in monogamy—it’s no secret that it’s just not for me right now—and even more annoyed at the blackmail implicit in the experiment: love me, on my terms, or leave me.

I bid her well.

I wanted her in my life somehow, but I was relieved to take a break from our cyclical on again/off again relationship.

Weeks passed, with nothing passing between us. Then, one day, an instant message.

Anna: Good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Anna: How are you?

Henry: Well, and yourself?

Anna: Very good. The kids?

Henry: They are fine.

Nice, banal. I didn’t initiate anything, just responded to her questions in a casual tone. But I caught the whiff of an agenda: the beginning of on again.

Anna: So I will be in your neighborhood tomorrow.

Henry: Oh?

Anna: Yes, I am being interviewed to volunteer at the medical center.

Henry: That’s noble of you. What will you be doing?

I followed up with questions about her volunteer work.

I let it go that she would be near my place the next day; I didn’t extend an invitation to stop over.

Anna: I’ve been in rehearsals all month for a new performance. It’s a very physical piece—I’ve dropped a dress size from all the activity.

Henry: Gosh!

Anna: I guess that’s good though, as I appear on stage nearly nude.

Henry: I’m sure you will knock ‘em dead.

Anna: A naked girl on stage. What’s not to love?

Henry: Good point.

Anna: The timing is good, as I will look great in a bikini on vacation in a couple of weeks.

Henry: Yes, that is good timing.

Anna hurled steak after steak—enough red meat to choke a lion—but I wasn’t biting.

In time, she got back to her job, and I returned to what I was doing.

The next morning, I received another instant message.

Anna: Good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Anna: How are you?

Henry: Well, and yourself?

Anna: Very good. The kids?

Henry: Good. They are with their mother.

Anna: So a little private time for Dad. I will be in your neighborhood this afternoon. Mind if I stop by?

Henry: I’ve got a deadline, but maybe for a little bit. What time?

Anna: Around one?

Henry: Okay. I’ll put on some lunch.

Anna: That would be nice. See you then.

She signed out. I shaved and showered, then got dressed. I returned to my work.

A little after one, Anna arrived. She did look a little thinner, her hair a little longer. We kissed hello at the door—a very continental buss, nothing overheated—and she removed her shoes.

I offered her a glass of water. She accepted. I brought two chill glasses to the sofa.

We talked. I asked her about her decision to be a volunteer. She spoke about her rehearsals, and her upcoming vacation. She noted with disapproval that I had a book of nude photographs on my coffee table. “Don’t you have the kids later? You should put that away.”

“Oh, thanks, I will.” I remained seated.

“So,” she asked. “Meeting any interesting women, Mister Polyamory?”

“I meet all kinds of interesting people.”

“You know, I’ve been reading about polyamory. Did you know that full disclosure is a big part of it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you were truly polyamorous, you would be very open about who you are seeing.”

“Perhaps I am not truly polyamorous. At any rate, I think that tenet would apply to those with whom one shared a polyamorous relationship, not necessarily to those outside of it. I don’t think anyone is required to detail his sex life.”

She frowned. “You are just as circumspect as ever.”

“And you are just as nosey.”

“Huh.” She sat back. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I am seeing anyone?”

“Is there anything you would like to tell me?” I sipped my cold water.

“Well, I’ve been to a couple of cuddle parties, and those were fun.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Oh really? And I thought you were Mister Sex. Well, really I take that back, because a cuddle party isn’t about sex. People meet to cuddle—you know, to hug and caress.”

“That sounds like a sweet way to meet people.”

“I’m just there to cuddle. I don’t want to meet people.”

“Ah. And this is all clothed, I assume?”

“Yes, all clothed. The rules are really clear about that.”

“I’m sure they must be. Like, what are the rules?”

“Well, first, the most important rule is that you have to ask permission before you touch. Like this.” She sat up on her knees. “May I hug you?”

“You may.” I opened my arms.

With deliberate care, Anna slowly moved her body to drape over mine, wrapping an arm around my waist. “See how it works?” she asked.

“I see.”

“Feels nice, right?”

“It does.”

“Now, may I put my hand on your face?”

“You may.” She did, moving her face close to mine. I instinctively leaned in to kiss.

“No!” she pulled back. “You forgot to ask permission!”

“Terribly sorry,” I replied. I was losing interest in this game.

She smiled. “Is there anything you want to ask me?”

“Yes. I wanted to know if there was anything you cared to ask me.”

She closed her eyes and pondered. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Very good.”

She stayed in my arms as we talked. She looked away for a moment, then back to me. “You know, I have reevaluated my earlier statement.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, and now, I do have a question. May I kiss you?”

“Yes, you may.”

She closed her eyes and gently touched her lips to mine. I received her kiss, parting my lips slightly. She could feel me growing hard against her ribs. Her kiss became more passionate. Then her kiss ended. She looked into my eyes. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I said. “And you’re welcome. Now, are you hungry for lunch?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” She sat up. “In fact, I think I should be going.”

“If you like. Want something for the road?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“A sandwich or something? Maybe a bottle of water?”

“Um, sure. Water would be nice.”

“Easily done.” I stood and retrieved a bottle. I remained standing as I gave it to her.

“Thanks.” She took the bottle, then stood and passed me without touching. She walked to her shoes, slipping them on. “Okay. Thanks again for having me.”

“It was a pleasure.” I opened the door. She walked quickly out. I closed and locked the door. I ate lunch.

A few weeks later, I received a postcard from Anna. She was enjoying her vacation. “See you soon,” it concluded. “Hugs and kisses, Anna.”

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Jason was engrossed in his homework. Collie and Lillie were across the hall, playing with their three-year-old neighbor.

I took the opportunity to do some laundry.

In the laundry room, I ran into a new neighbor who had acquired her apartment as many of my neighbors have—she inherited it at the death of her grandparents.

She was folding sheets.

“Those are beautiful sheets,” I admired. They were crisp and white, with embroidered details.

“Aren’t they?” she smiled. “Let me tell you about these sheets.”

My neighbor had cared for her grandmother in her final years; her grandfather had died a few years before.

One afternoon, her grandmother asked to be helped from her bed so that the sheets could be washed. She wanted to sit in the living room until the sheets were clean and the bed made again.

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the bed?” her granddaughter asked. “I can make the bed with other sheets.”

“Oh no,” the grandmother replied. “I don’t have any other sheets.”

She told her granddaughter that when she and her husband fled Germany during the war, they carried only one trunk.

Among the contents were the sheets on her bed. The sheets my neighbor was now folding.

“So for fifty plus years of marriage, they had only one set of sheets?” I asked.

“That’s right,” my neighbor nodded. “My mother was conceived in these sheets. And now I sleep in them.”

“Incredible.”

I hoped that my neighbor had not noticed my own wash.

As we talked, I had folded two loads comprised entirely of sheets. Sheets for my kids beds, sheets for my bed, sheets for my parties.

So many sheets.

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Passive

Anna was in a melancholy mood on our most recent date.

She was sitting with my head in her lap, stroking my hair. I felt very relaxed and not a little sleepy, having had an early morning with the kids.

She has been thinking of me a lot, she said. Not as in “thinking of you,” but giving serious thought to how I am adjusting to my new life. She is trying to understand what makes me tick.

“I’m not that difficult to figure out,” I said. “I mean, I’m pretty open about my inner mechanics.”

I know you are, she said, but I don’t think you fully understand all that goes on inside. You don’t understand how hurt you still are by the divorce. You don’t understand how that hurt affects the choices you make, the things you do.

I listened, eyes closed.

She talked in a low tone at great length, dissecting the pain and confusion the attributes to me. She said that sex is a nice balm on my pain, but warned that promiscuity will only leave me feeling hollow inside.

“What experience have you had with promiscuity?” I teased.

“I’ve been busy this week.”

I opened my eyes. Her face was serious.

She told me that she had meet a few guys online in the past week, and had sex with all of them.

“And did you enjoy that?” I asked.

She shrugged. “One of them is okay. I may see him again.”

“You don’t seem too thrilled about this,” I observed. “If you don’t like it, why do it?”

“You’re not the only one who can fuck around, you know.”

I remembered last week, when she announced that she had had sex with another man, saying that now we were both nonmonogamous. Now she had seen several men, saying that now were both promiscuous.

She wasn’t just thinking about what made me tick. She was synchronizing her clock to match mine. In trying to understand me, she was emulating me. What’s good for the goose may be good for the gander, but what’s good for me seems ill-suited to her.

I closed my eyes. “You don’t have to do as I do.”

“I know. But it does give me insights.” She went on with her analysis of me. Her words wafted over me. I felt passive, sinking as she spoke. Was she being promiscuous as an experiment to better understand me?

I waited for her to end this. She knows that I am not comfortable talking in detail about other people I see, and yet she brings it up almost every time we meet.

My answers are always the same. I am bisexual. I am seeing other people. I am very sexually active. Beyond that, I don’t provide details about specific people—she will only try to determine if someone else holds a higher place in my heart.

It’s fair enough that she wants to talk about our relationship. But her persistent return to studying my psyche so closely—in some ways on target, in some ways off the mark—leaves me feeling inert.

I escape into my eyelids.

As she spoke, in a low even tone, she touched my leg. “Don’t you agree?”

“What?”

“I asked if you agreed that we are both free to do as we want?”

“Uh, yes, I agree.” I’m not sure she believes that. My body and mind were limp.

I’m not sure what she is after in this ritual of analysis and release.

She wants to get behind my defenses to bring me intimacy and pleasure, yet I don’t know what defenses she rails against. She seems to believe that my disinterest in monogamy is a rampart put in place to insure that I won’t be hurt again. She assumes that I avoid commitment to one person so that I won’t risk the pain of losing that person.

Her assumption is based on the premise that anyone who is not interested in monogamy must be avoiding commitment, as everyone wants to be loved by that special someone.

She doesn’t get it when I explain that I am not avoiding anything. Monogamy has plenty going for it, but it isn’t what I want now. I prefer honesty. I enjoy having multiple partners. I enjoy sex with men as well as women.

She doesn’t get it. My choices don’t square with her paradigm of happiness.

“Do you want to sleep?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

We went into the bedroom and shed our clothes.

She left in high spirits. Her melancholia had shifted to me.

Over the weekend, as I parented sick children, she dropped off a box containing children’s novels, animated movies and—for Dad—a bottle of bourbon.

A care package.

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Girlfriend Gaff

Lucy and the kids returned for another visit on Sunday. May called during the visit, again using the hospital line. I told her I would call her back after they left.

That morning, a doctor told me that she had ordered a new CAT scan. No word on when they would send for me, but I had nothing but time to kill. I read and watched my IV drip.

Anna visited around six. She took off her coat, kissed me and sat on the bed. She was just examining my neck when a nurse showed up with a wheelchair. My CAT scan called.

I told Anna I would be back soon.

I was returned to my room about a half hour later. Anna was in her coat and holding her hat in her hands. She sat as erect as Mary Poppins. “How did it go?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said. “Do you have to go?”

“Yes,” she replied. “The phone rang while you were away. Your girlfriend called.”

May was still referring to herself as my girlfriend. Anna got to hear that.

This put Anna and me in the position of having that conversation we so often have. Yes, I am seeing other women. No, I don’t have a girlfriend. No, I don’t want a girlfriend. She asks the questions, I offer succinct answers.

I offered the further elaboration that this “girlfriend” now lived in California and we were not seeing each other. I felt like some lying jerk in a movie.

I offered to walk Anna to the elevator. She was capable of walking by herself, thanks.

I sat for a few minutes, stewing. A nurse hooked me up to my IV.

I returned May’s call. Another hour of news about life and new job.

I phoned Anna to apologize. It’s no problem, she said. We understand each other. Just get better—I want to see you away from that hospital.

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Homebody

Someone was in my bed. Instinctively, I snuggled close. Scrawny little thing, this one . . . who is this? Oh, my baby daughter Lillie. Guess she made her way to my room at some point.

I get up to start the coffee and get breakfast going. I’ll blog while the kettle roils. Between holidays, kids and travel—not to mention my new blogging habit—I have fallen behind on household chores. I need to get on the ball before the arrival of Christmas guests.

Yesterday, I cooked three meals, doing all the dishes. Breakfast: bacon, eggs, grits, choice of juice. Lunch: choice of sandwich, raw carrots, lemonade, tea or water. Dinner: salmon cakes, fried potatoes, apple sauce, fruit juice or lemonade. I made a round of grocery shopping to see us through the weekend with all the basics, spending $140.00. I bought a poinsetta.

I helped Jason with a homework project that tested the limits of how well I can fake my knowledge of sixth-grade science. My eight-year-old son Collie and I played several rounds of Mad Libs, in which you must supply words to fill in the blank for absurd stories. The noun that always makes us laugh is “skunk.” Collie, by the way, is not named for the breed of dog—it is short for Columbus, an old family name. Lillie and I filled several pages of her Peanuts coloring book. She loves Snoopy. I identify most with Linus, but I have a crush on Marci. I like her glasses and the way she refers to her girlfriend Peppermint Patti as “Sir.”

Lillie and I also played “Rock Star,” one of her favorite games. She assembled an audience of stuffed animals for the performance. She played guitar, I supplied drums and backing vocals. She performed ten new songs, each titled by a number. You can’t sing along if you don’t know the words.

Number Six

If you open up your eyes/Look behind you and see me/I’ll always be behind you/Until I see you again

Number Eight

When I love you, I will always love you/On the ground, on the ground/When I’m grown up, I will always love you/When I’m dead, when I’m dead

After the performance, we signed autographs. I finally caught up on laundry, after six loads. All folded and put away, but for a pile of unmatched socks. Do I blame the dryer for stealing the kids’ socks, or do the unmatched losses migrate to their Mom’s house one by one?

One pair of black panties. Not Raven’s, Marla wears none . . . maybe Cindy’s? I put them aside. A pair of blue boxers. A bit large for me . . . Jake’s? Todd’s? The worn elastic sends them to the garbage chute. The guy who lost them here should have lost them long before. Do my parties need a lost and found bin?

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