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Archive for the ‘sex’ Category

Sex, Lies, Videotape

On July fifteenth, just before midnight, I pulled in front of Lucy’s house. As we had called ahead, she sat waiting on the front stoop, smoking and drinking a beer. She smiled and stamped out her cigarette. I smiled back. She avoided eye contact with me; her smile was for the children.

The kids and I were returning from our annual two-week vacation with my family back home. After two days on the road, I was glad to be getting home. The kids leapt from the car as soon as I parked. I unpacked the trunk as the kids hugged their mother and began excitedly relating the adventures we had on the road and on the lake.

“Bet you’re looking forward to some quiet,” Lucy said to me.

“Oh yes,” I smiled. “I’ve heard enough ‘hey Dad, hey Dad,’ to last for a while. I’m sure you’re glad to get them back.”

“I am,” she nodded. “I really need them, especially when they’re gone.”

I put a bag over my shoulder and lifted two others. “Here, let me get these things in the house and I’ll be on my way; they won’t calm down for a while.”

“I know! They are really bouncing up and down.” Having satisfied the need to acknowledge me, Lucy returned to the children. I set down the bags in the living room. I’m very rarely in the home we once shared, maybe once a year, and each time, I’m struck by the fact that it looks exactly the same. It’s as if time had stopped when Lucy kicked me out five years earlier.

I said goodbyes to the children, kissing each of them, and waved a goodbye to Lucy. I closed the door on my way out, the children’s voices following me to the car. As I drove away, I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the quiet summer air. Funny, when you think of it, I mused. Twenty years ago that night, Lucy and I had made love for the first time.

Lucy and I worked at the same bookstore. I was an assistant manager; later, we would joke that this was the last time in our relationship that she wasn’t the boss. We had worked together for six months before she took a long look at me and decided I might be worth dating. But first, she had to clear something up: was I or was I not dating William?

William had come to work at the bookstore that spring. He took an immediate liking to me and followed me everywhere. “He’s like your new puppy,” a friend observed. William knew I was bisexual, as did everyone, but, as he constantly reminded me, he was straight. He had a girlfriend. Together, they tended a gay bed and breakfast. Whenever I visited, I read their copies of Honcho and Bear.

One day, William called me upset. He and his girlfriend were breaking up and he needed to move out. His parents lived in the suburbs and he was welcome there, but he didn’t want to return home. I suggested that he stay with me until things were sorted out. That night, he moved in and we began to share the bed in my tiny room.

My friend teased that we were now an item. “No, it’s not like that,” I replied. “William is straight.”

“So? You’ve been with straight boys.”

I tilted my head. “William is straight and Catholic.”

“Ooh.” My friend nodded. “So that means waiting until he says his prayers.”

“Not happening.” I maintained.

Still, like everyone else at the bookstore, Lucy assumed that William and I were having sex. She decided to get to the heart of the matter. One evening after work, she invited William to join her for a beer. They walked to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. When the beers were served, Lucy got to the point. “So are you and Henry doing it?”

William spurted his beer. “What? No! No, no way. I like him as a friend, and he’s bi, so maybe . . . maybe he’s into me that way. But I couldn’t . . . wait, why, did he say something?”

“No, he didn’t say anything. So you’re sure he likes girls?”

“Sure, he likes girls. Why?”

Lucy smiled. “I think he’s sexy.”

William sat back. “No way! Really? Come on, you have to tell him. Come over tonight.” He reached for his beer. “Hurry, drink this. We can get some more beer on the way to our place.”

Lucy laughed. “You’d think you were the one getting a date!”

I closed the bookstore that night at eleven. After accounting and closing up, I walked home, stopping to pick up a six of Rolling Rock. I was surprised to find Lucy and William on the front porch. I sat with them. Lucy passed her one hit. We sat talking and drinking beer. It was getting late and Lucy showed no sign of leaving. I was a little nervous about smoking pot on the porch, so I recommended that we go inside to my room.

As William and Lucy laughed and rolled a joint, I put on an album. I liked Lucy but I was feeling a bit put out. Maybe William wasn’t my boyfriend, but still, I wasn’t keen on him bringing girls home to my room. I didn’t want to be put out on the couch while they screwed.

Lucy suggested that we play strip poker. William lost, but refused to part with his boxers. Then Lucy lost and refused to remove her panties. She did concede her breasts. Finally, I cheated so that I would lose and undressed. “This is the point of strip poker,” I chided. “You get naked to see what happens next.”

What happened next was that Lucy kissed me. My hands touched her body, finding William’s hands already there. This was really nice, I thought. I hadn’t had a threesome in such a long time.

The three of us fooled around, kissing and touching, until I recommended that we go to the roof. Being nude outside and making out was even hotter. Soon, I was going down on Lucy, my knees scraping on shingles. William watched, stroking his cock. After a moment, Lucy stopped me. “Hang on, that’s a bit much. Can we stop for a second? I need to catch my breath.”

“Sure.” I grinned and moved to be next to her. I nuzzled my face into her neck.

“Listen,” she whispered. “I’m here for you, not William. Can you make him go away?”

I sat back. “I had no idea.” I turned to William. “Hey buddy, can we have some time alone?”

William was taken aback. I was asking him to walk away from a naked woman, something contrary to his every instinct. “Um, okay,” he said, still holding his erection. “I’ll, um, meet you guys downstairs.”

“Thanks, buddy.” I watched as he climbed the ladder back to my room. I turned back to Lucy. “So I thought I was crashing your date.”

“No, he was crashing ours.” We kissed. That night, we had sex until well past dawn. She declined to sleep over, saying she had to feed her cat. The following night, she came back.

I had received a video camera for college graduation just a few weeks earlier. I videotaped everything. That night, William made a video of Lucy and I making love. Our sex was slow and sensuous, just right for a summer night with soft lighting and ambient music.

William’s video interspersed footage of us with shots of my room: the lamp, the bookcase, the poster of Rilke. After a while, he put down the camera and joined us. His energy was entirely different from ours. Watching us through a viewfinder had left him keyed up and anxiously aroused. He had sex with Lucy abruptly, pulling out to shoot on her stomach. Lucy would later say it was the fastest sex she had ever had. I offered the excuse that William had probably never been so turned on in his life.

Lucy wasn’t interested in more sex with William. He knew he was a third wheel, so he set out to add a fourth. He began to date Lucy’s best friend. She joined the three of us almost every night, nude, talking, laughing, smoking pot, making love, passing around the video camera.

I thought about that summer, twenty years later, as I drove home from Lucy’s house. These were among my fondest memories of what it was like to fall in love with Lucy. I had replayed these memories in my mind over and again as our marriage became increasingly devoid of intimacy, replaying the videos now and then to remember more precisely what we had said and how we had felt.

I hadn’t looked at videos in quite some time until after my divorce, when William suggested we dust them off. “Wow, we were so young,” I said. “I was one skinny kid.”

“And look,” he grinned. “We both had hair.” We laughed and then fell silent, eavesdropping on our younger selves. I watched as he massaged Lucy. “Oops, sorry about that,” he winced.

“Ha, no worries,” I said, watching as he and his girlfriend made love on a couch.

The day after my return from vacation, I called my daughter to let her know that she had left a game in my car. There was no answer, so I left a message. I hadn’t expected an answer, really. I was sure they were still asleep and tuckered out

The next day, I got a call from a lawyer. Lucy had filed for full custody of our three children on an emergency basis. I was told I would soon be served. I was stunned. Lucy’s lawyer reluctantly answered my questions, repeating that I would soon be served. I was confused. What did this even mean?

My hands shook as I called Lucy. No answer. I left a message and called her cell. No answer. I left a message and called my son. No answer. I left a message and tried Lucy’s cell again. No answer.

The following afternoon, a messenger arrived with a package. I opened it and found a stack of papers about the size of a Manhattan telephone book. I learned that Lucy had discovered my blog and was using that as the basis of her motion. I flipped through the pages, reading over and again the words “sex,” “sexual,” “bisexual,” “orgies,” “hypersexual.” Blog posts were excerpted throughout. Attached at the back were pages and pages of printed posts.

I called Lucy. No answer. I left a message and called her cell. No answer. I left a message and called my son. No answer. I left a message and tried Lucy’s cell again. No answer.

I returned to the papers. One particular excerpt caught my eye. The preceding paragraph asserted that my sex partners are permitted to fantasize about my children. That’s absurd, I thought. I looked up the original post. The excerpt had purposefully been shorn of context so as to distort its meaning. “You want to play literary critic?” I said aloud. I reached for a pen and Post-It notes. “Let’s go.”

As I read Lucy’s motion in more depth, I was struck by two curious assertions.

Lucy said that she discovered my blog after it was featured in Time Out, New York. Apparently, a friend had read the feature and thought it might be referring to me. Lucy would have wanted to know more; at the time, she was working hard to have my family removed from an apartment her father owned. She went to the Time Out website but couldn’t find the cover story article then posted on the site’s front page. The feature was on newsstands that week and remains online to this day, but Lucy apparently lost interest in looking further.

A few weeks later, our eight-year daughter approached her. “Mom, did you know that onelifetaketwo.com is Dad’s secret website?” Lucy said this was news to her, but she didn’t bother typing in the URL her daughter had conveniently provided.

At the end of June, Lucy’s therapist recalled having read the article. She agreed that it sounded like me. She provided Lucy with a copy. Then, at long last, Lucy read the feature. As it happened, I was going to be leaving town for a vacation with the children the next day. It was also the first day of Lucy’s long-planned sabbatical from her job. It was incredibly fortuitous that her discovery came at the very moment that she would have free time to address it. Fearing for her children’s safety while they were in my custody, she did what any concerned mother would do. She told me to have a nice trip with the children and contacted a lawyer. She hired her attorneys on July second.

I read over this timeline a few times. It made no sense. Lucy? My Lucy? After so much effort and energy spent in our divorce, despite her continuous hostility over the course of several years, she expected it to be believed that she was so disinterested? Despite her concerted efforts in making me homeless, Lucy cared nothing about reading “Dad’s secret website,” even lacking the basic skills to navigate Time Out, New York’s website?

I flipped through the motion. I noted that many of the pages provided by her lawyer’s office had been printed well before Lucy had contacted them. Why on earth, I wondered, would Lucy’s lawyers print selections from my blog before she brought it to their attention?

I checked for IP addresses on my StatCounter. I asked other bloggers to check theirs. I took notes.

The other curious thing was Lucy’s repeated assertions that she had no idea that I was bisexual or interested in group sexual activities. This simply wasn’t true. She knew that I was bisexual before she knew me. She had asked William about that before our first date. She had known Donnie, my high-school boyfriend, and she understood when I needed to care for him as he died of AIDS. We would name our first child in his memory. She understood that Donnie’s influence in my life was one reason I continued to identify as bisexual even when Lucy and I were monogamous. We discussed this over and again in couples’ therapy. Friends I’ve known for twenty years or more could attest that Lucy has always known of my sexuality. So why claim otherwise?

This would vex me until my first meeting with my attorney.

“She had to show a change of circumstance,” I was told. “In order to file on an emergency basis, she needed to show that she had newly discovered information that she did not have at the time of the original divorce settlement.”

“But she’s always known I’m bisexual!” I said. “She knew about my group sexual activities, too. Heck, she even participated in them with me.”

My attorney sat back. “Really?”

“You want to know what’s more?” I tapped my finger on the desk between us. “I’ve got that on videotape.”

She laughed. “Well, you may want to hang on to those tapes.”

Lucy would repeat her alleged timeline of discovery and her claims to be ignorant of my sexuality throughout the fall. As we prepared for court-ordered psychiatric evaluations, Lucy began to claim that the videos did not exist and I lied in saying otherwise. She then changed her story to say that the videos did exist, but I was lying about their content. Her story shifted until she settled on the central fact: I was lying.

Some people believed her. This was important, as her entire claim of an emergency situation rested on two necessary facts: she was ignorant of my sexuality and had only recently discovered it.

“This is absurd!” I complained to my attorney. “This isn’t a case of ‘he said, she said.’ This is a verifiable fact. One of us is lying about the existence of the videos and their content. If I’m lying, I’m being dishonest. But if she’s lying, she’s lied in court motions. Isn’t that perjury?”

My attorney paused for a moment. “I think I need to see these videos,” she said.

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Physical

I closed my eyes and concentrated on the tone, listening as it grew louder and then receded. I detected faint modulations in pitch. Each time I heard the tone, I pressed the red button on the stick I held in my right hand, as instructed. After a while, I no longer heard anything. I sat still, leaving the earphones in place, my thumb on the button. I wanted to be ready if the tone returned. The nurse entered the examination room and turned off the machine. “You been sitting like that long?,” she asked. “It’s been over for a few minutes, you know.”

I opened my eyes and removed the headset. “I thought so. It’s kind of relaxing, I guess. I kind of zoned out there.”

“Hmm,” she nodded, looking at the read out. “Okay, so the doctor will be right in. You can undress and sit on the table. There’s a robe on the hook.”

“Okay, thanks.” She closed the door as she left. I tugged off my fleece, wondering if that “hmm” meant anything. I undressed to boxers and slipped on the robe. Paper crinkled under me as I sat on the examination table.

The doctor looked up from my chart as he opened the door. “Good morning, uh, Henry,” he nodded. “I’m Doctor Berkowitz.”

“Good morning, doctor. We’ve met before.”

He offered his hand. “Of course, we’ve met. Old habit. I always announce myself like that.”

“I’m naked and you’re the nervous one,” I grinned. My feet swung as they dangled from the table. I was a little nervous myself, as one is when getting a physical. I felt fine, but one always wonders: what if they find something?

“Yes, I suppose so,” he chortled. His eyes returned to the chart. “Now, let’s see . . . ah, you just turned forty two. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.”

“Any particular complaints?”

“Nope, I feel great.”

“Good, good. That’s what we like to hear. You seem to be in fine shape. Your weight is good, your cholesterol is terrific . . .” I smiled, as though I had earned a gold star for eating well.

He pulled out the results of my hearing test. “Let me ask you: do you find it increasingly difficult to distinguish sounds? Like, is it harder to hear a specific voice in a crowd?”

I felt a jolt of panic. “Uh, yes, it is.”

“And do you find it increasingly difficult to read fine print, or to make out objects at a distance?”

Oh my God. “Yes, yes I do.”

“Do you wear glasses?”

“No, I never have.”

“Hmm, well, you might want to get your eyes examined.” He joted a note.

“Why?” I asked. “Is there something wrong?”

“No,” he smiled. “You’re just getting older. Things change on this side of forty. You’ll notice things are different as you age.”

“Oh, well . . . I guess that’s to be expected . . .” I tried not to sound crestfallen. I’m just getting older, that’s all. Big deal.

Doctor Berkowitz continued. “Let me just ask you some more questions, running down this list . . . do you smoke?”

I sat upright, folding my hands in my lap. “No.”

“Good. Did you quit or . . .”

“Nope, never took it up.”

“Even better.” He made a check on my chart. “Drink?”

“Yes, please. Cabernet would be nice.”

Doctor Berkowitz looked up. He laughed. “No, I wasn’t offering a drink. I was asking if you drink.”

“I do, mostly wine and bourbon.”

“Much?”

“More than I should.”

“Hmmm.” He made a note on my chart. “Let’s watch that. Are you sexually active?”

“And how!” My legs swung a little faster.

Doctor Berkowitz looked up. “Are you married or single?”

“Single.”

“Multiple partners?”

“Oh yes.”

“Male or female?”

“Yes, please.”

Doctor Berkowitz was momentarily confused. “Oh, you mean ‘both?’ You have relations with men as well as women?’

“Yes, and occasionally both at the same time.”

“So you are bisexual.”

“Yep.”

He wrote a “b” on my chart, then paused again. “And may I refer to you as bisexual?”

“Yes, please do,” I smiled. He continued to write “isexual.”

“I assume you are safe? You use condoms?”

“Yes. I’d like to get a battery of STI tests too, while I’m here.”

“I’m just noting that as we speak,” he said as he wrote. “I’ll send the nurse back in to draw blood.” He took a moment to write, then closed the chart. He clicked the pen and slid it into his shirt pocket.

“Okay,” he said, standing. “This reminds me to check your prostate.” He reached for lube and a latex glove.

I hopped from the table and turned. “My bisexuality reminds you to check my prostate?”

He looked taken aback. “No, I meant . . . it’s just that you are over forty, and therefore at increased risk . . .”

I laughed. “I’m kidding, Doctor Berkowitz!” I lowered my boxers and bent over the table.

“I forget what a comedian you are. Okay, so let’s take a look, funny man . . .”

“No extra charge . . . huh?” I grunted.

A moment later, the glove hit the trash canister. Doctor Berkowitz washed up, offering off-handed advice about being safe and healthy. We shook as he headed off for another patient. A nurse came in and told me to get dressed before the next tests.

I peed into a cup. I bled into a vial.

A week later, I opened my mail and learned that I was in fine health. Of course, I expected that.

Each night as I lay in bed, wondering.

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“Dad! Hey, Dad!” Lillie broke from her class line and ran to me. She pulled a backpack from her shoulders as she dodged kids and parents standing between us.

“Hey sweetheart,” I smiled, bending on one knee to hug her. “You are so excited!”

“I have a birthday card for you, Dada,” Lillie said, a babyish tone slipping into her voice. She unzipped her backpack and fished inside. “Here you go!”

I looked at the paper she handed to me. On the outside fold she had written, “Happy Birthday Dad.” Inside there was a drawing of the two of us—Lillie with bright red hair, me with yellow hair, no necks on either figure—dancing on green grass under an orange sun. A gray kitten watched next to a flower.

“That’s very sweet, honey. Thank you so much.”

“Look at the back,” she giggled. On the back fold she had written, in brown, “You are stinky just like poop.”

I lowered my arms in mock exasperation. “Why, Lillie? Why must you be such a rotten child?”

She giggled. “You’re old.”

“And you are an ill-mannered cur.”

“Hey Dad,” Collie said from behind me.

“Hey, handsome boy.” I hugged him. “How was school?”

“It was fine. Here,” he shoved a note in my hand. “I made you a birthday card.” He suppressed a grin, trying to play it cool.

“Oh, how sweet is that? Let me see.” On the cover fold, he had drawn a heart, surrounded by other hearts, and written, “Happy Birthday Dad.” I opened the card to find a drawing of stars and planets, with a colorful pyramid topped by the words, “I love you.”

“Now, isn’t that the sweetest thing?” I gushed. I took his cheeks in my empty hand and cooed. “My adorable, tender boy, so sweet to his dear loving daddy . . .”

“Uh, Dad,” Collie grimaced through puckered lips. “Not in the schoolyard, dude.”

“Oh, right.” I dropped my hand. “Gots to be cool, hep cat.”

“Whatever!” he giggled. We gathered our belongings to head to the bus.

On the day after my birthday, after five days apart, I was back with my kids, providing a hiatus and respite from sex with my friends and lovers. Just in time, too: I needed a break. It would be nice to rest up with my progeny.

Jason was meeting us at home later. He had an appointment with his mother, who was taking him for a haircut after school.

Haircuts are a sensitive matter for Jason. At twelve, he is newly attuned to his appearance. For the past two years, he had emulated his cousin, my cool eighteen-year-old nephew, by growing his hair long.

Jason’s straight chestnut hair split at his forehead to cascade to his shoulders, framing his angelic face and deep chocolate eyes. He looked adorably spacey, which rather suited his dreamy, slightly out-to-lunch personality.

Every now and then, his mother takes him for a haircut to trim the edges. Jason endures this glumly, always watching the mirror as his hair is cut, complaining that he didn’t want it to be trimmed too short as his mother directed the barber to take off just a little more here, a little more there.

My ex Lucy insists on supervising the children’s haircuts. She feels I would indulge their preferences too much. Lucy remembers when my hair grew past my shoulders. She thought my long hair was sexy back then, but that history discredits my judgment concerning the children now. She would much rather be in control of the children’s appearance.

I was reading on the couch when the front door opened. I looked up to see a boy’s head pop in the doorframe, grinning. It was Collie. No, wait: it was Jason. With a very short haircut.

“Jason! Oh my gosh, I didn’t recognize you!” I closed my book. “Come here, let me look at you.”

Jason walked in and closed the door. His grin stretched from one newly exposed ear to the other.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“You look . . . very handsome,” I said, stunned. “But it’s so different!”

“I know. Mom thought I should try it short for a while.”

“She did, huh? Well, what do you think about it?”

“I don’t know, it’s okay, I guess. Do you think it looks, you know, babyish?”

I looked him over. “No, not at all. It actually makes you look older, really. Like, longer. Taller.”

He nodded, still grinning. It was true. He looked very grown and handsome. It was a fine haircut.

I swallowed my resentment. My ex thinks nothing of radically altering my son’s appearance without my input. Here was evidence that my opinion doesn’t matter in the least to her. I can imagine her reaction if the situation were reversed. Of course, the situation would never be reversed. I know better than to question her presumed authority over most things.

Jason stooped over his backpack. “So Dad, did Collie and Lillie give you their birthday cards?”

“Yes, they sure did. Those were sweet. Did you see them?”

“Uh huh, they made them last night. I have something for you too.”

“You do? How sweet, honey.”

“Yeah, where is it . . . okay, here it is.” He pulled a yellow bag from his pack and hid it under an arm. He stood and walked to me. “Okay, are you ready?”

“I’m ready, baby.” I smiled.

“Okay, so here it is.” He swirled an arm to present me with small bag from Tower Records.

“You got me a CD?” I asked, taking the bag.

“Yeah. After my haircut, we went to Tower ‘cause I wanted to get something for you. I used my own money, too. It took a long time, because I wanted to get something I knew you would like, but that we would like too, so we could all listen to it.”

“That’s very smart,” I said. “That way, we can share it.”

“Exactly,” he said.

I took the CD in my hand. “Oh wow, it’s the White Stripes. I do like them.”

“Yeah, I know. It has that ‘doorbell’ song. I know you like that because you always play it.” He paused. “Wait, you don’t already have that CD, do you?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He was so sweet to think of the White Stripes for me, but . . . “Um, well actually, hon, yes, I do have it. That’s why I keep playing it.”

“Oh, that’s cool, I thought you might. That’s why I saved the receipt—you can take it back and get something else.”

“Oh, good thinking, kid. So did you have second choice?”

“Um, yeah. Mom said I should get you the new Death Cab for Cutie, but I didn’t know if you had it.”

“You know what? I don’t have it. So that is just what I’ll do. I’ll take this back and get the new Death Cab for Cutie. That’s a great gift. Thanks!”

I stood and kissed him.

“Well, you know,” he said.

“I know baby. I love you. So tell me about school.”

He talked about a friend at school, eventually sitting on the floor as his story grew more elaborate. We talked for a half hour before I had to get started on dinner.

A few days later, I returned the CD and brought back Death Cab for Cutie. It caught Collie’s ear. He began to sing along. “Hey, did you steal this CD from Mom?” he asked.

“No, actually, your brother got it for our collection,” I said.

“Oh. Well, it’s Mom’s favorite too.”

“Do you like it, honey boy?”

He shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“Nice.”

That night, we spun the CD again as I prepared dinner and Jason typed his homework. He was asked to write the first chapter of a fictional story based on a true event. For a source, he went back to the central trauma of his young life. Fiction offered a way to revise an unalterable memory, exchanging one set of facts for another.

“Brett, will you come downstairs for a moment?” As I walked down the stairs, I knew what was coming. I was prepared for it. “Ed, Lisa, you two come down too!”

As my brother, Ed, and my sister, Lisa, rushed down the stairs, I looked in their eyes. I saw happiness and joy. They had no idea that the next words that would come out of our parent’s mouths would crush their hearts and drastically change all of our lives forever

It wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen it coming. My mother always tells me that when her parents got divorced, she had no idea it was coming. My parents had been fighting for what seemed like forever, but in reality had only been three months. At first, it was just petty fights. After that . . . it got much worse.

The first time they ever fought, it was about something small and stupid. My father was home fifteen minutes late, and my mom asked why he was late.

“Traffic was a killer,” he replied, and proceeded in to the kitchen to make dinner. But my mom was not going tom let him go that easily. You see, my father has problems with being late sometimes, and my mother had heard on the radio that there was no traffic.

“But sweetie, I heard there was no traffic.”

I’ll be straight with you about my mom. She’s a fundraiser person, so she’s a bit of a nag. She simply does not leave a conversation without getting the information she wants. And also, she does not lose arguments.

“They must have been wrong, honey,” my father said.

“I heard what the radio said. They would have been wrong three times,” my mother said.

“Maybe you misunderstood them.”

“Are you calling me old?!”

“No, I just said . . . “

“If you are going to speak to me like that, I don’t want to talk to you at all!”

I’m still walking down the stairs. You know how they say that when you’re about to die, your life flashes before your eyes? That’s sort of what’s happening to me, only I’m not thinking about my life, I’m thinking about their life. And I’m not dying, I only feel like I am.

My father is a man who works in a corner office, like one you see on TV. He calls himself the above average man with the world’s most average job. He works for Microsoft, which means he works for Bill Gates, which means his salary is rather healthy. It also means he gets pushed around a lot, which is why he never gets mad or raises his voice. He can’t, or he’d be fired in two minutes. At least, I thought that he couldn’t get mad.

My mother, as I said, is a fundraiser lady. She knows what to do, why to do it and how to do it at all times. She’s not a bad fundraiser person, either. She gets calls from companies everyday asking for her services. You might think that she’s away a lot, but she’s really not. She’s with us most of the time. I thought she could handle anything. It turned out she couldn’t handle one thing: a husband.

Those petty fights lasted for about two months. I never really got worried about them. They made up right after their fights. But for the last month, I was worried. Very worried.

Their last fight, which happened a week ago, pretty much summed up their last month of fighting. It went something like this:

“I’m tired of you being late and lying about why you’re late!,” my mother yelled.

“I’m tired of you not listening to what I say! I’m not a liar,” my dad retaliated.

”You’re an irresponsible old man and I never want to see you again!”

“Fine!” my dad shouted, and grabbed some clothes and his toothbrush and was out the door. My mother immediately began crying. My father spent the night at a hotel. My mother begged him the next morning to come home, which he did. But never was there an apology by either of them. Never.

I get down the stairs, and sit down. I look around me. My brother and sister were anxious to know what they were going to say. I was not. I shouldn’t have been. I knew what they were going to say.

“Kids,” my mother said with a shaky tone. “Your father and I have been thinking, and we’ve decided . . . to have a baby. I’m pregnant.”

This was probably the biggest surprise of my life. As my siblings celebrated, I reflected. I guess I was to pessimistic. It takes longer than three months to decide to get divorced. So our family is safe.

For now.

We ate supper shortly after he finished. The kids bathed before bedtime. I tucked them in and did the dishes before reading over Jason’s homework.

He hadn’t mentioned the subject all night.

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“Oh, yesssss. Yes, Henn-rrrryyy! Bite me! Ooh-wn me-ee-ee!”

Bridget was at full volume as I chewed my way across her ribs.

She’s an alto. Her voice, at full volume, could peel the paint off the ceiling of the Metropolitan Opera.

I long ago found a tender area—just under her breasts, just above her belly—and I was working it, intent on giving her a deep, memorable bite for each orgasm she had given up so far. Trouble was, I kind of lost count. Who can keep track of so much shouting?

So instead, I decided to approximate by chewing one row across in an odd number—I estimated seven—and then a second row back in an even number—estimating six—all in a nice symmetrical pattern.

But that symmetry would be lost if she kept shouting as I bit her. I would have to add more bites, which might in turn add more orgasms. A never-ending spiral.

Not that it was such a big deal. I just happen to like symmetry. It was my own fault for losing count, really, as I was a little distracted. In the back of my mind, I was fantasizing about something new I wanted to try with Bridget.

As my teeth sank slowly deeper into her flesh, as her screams and shouts filled my ears, I allowed my mind to wander to my new fantasy. I lifted my mouth on lucky number thirteen, and surveyed my traces. Bridget panted. I smiled. These would be nice souvenirs.

“Please,” she panted, desperate. “More . . .”

“Yes, of course.” I gave up on biting and symmetry, moving on to other activities until my ears could take no more blistering. We fell apart, panting, She was soon asleep, snoring and sprawled on my bed. I lay awake, pondering my fantasy.

The next time she asked me out, I sprang it on her. “You want to get some dinner, and boink?” she asked. “Boink, boink, boink!”

“Dinner sounds good,” I replied, gulping. “But can we forgo the boinking? I want . . .”

“What?”

“May I bring the kids?”

I’m sure she hit the floor. Bridget knows I have a very firm rule. I keep my life as a parent far removed from my dating life. I do not want my kids to meet my lovers. I do not want them confused about who is and who isn’t “Dad’s girlfriend” and, in their minds, potentially a new Mom.

So far as the kids are concerned, Dad is just . . . Dad. Dad presumably goes back into a box when they are gone, waiting to reactivate upon their return. But Bridget has me thinking.

She asks me about the kids pretty much every day. She remembers details about them that even I can’t recall. She tells me about her godchild’s every landmark. Through her updates, I have come to feel that I know this child I’ve never met. She respects my rule, and she cares about my children.

I’ve also been pondering the future of my life after divorce.

I’m not at all interested in finding the Next Big Thing in a relationship. I don’t want a wife, or a new mother for my children, or anything like that. I’m a great parent, I tell myself. I can do this without muddying the waters with another adult in the mix.

Even so, it is hard work. I am grateful for every bit of help I get from friends, wishing my family lived closer. I regret that the kids have to grow up that much faster to compensate for the absent parent.

I’m smart enough to know that this is a unique time in my life, and in the lives of my children. And that makes me wonder: who, among the people I have met since my marriage ended, would I want in my life ten years from now? Who among those people would I want to integrate into my life with the children? Once I thought it over, I decided that Bridget made the cut.

I have no idea what our relationship will be in ten years. I have no way of knowing. But I do think we’ll remain constants, in some way or other.

It helps that we have a fake past.

We realized early on that during our college years, by chance, we had danced in the same club in the same town. We might have met back then. We might have been friends ever since.

We decided to adopt that false history as our cover story. If anyone asks, we met all those years ago. We’ve been friends forever. It’s a better fit than the real story: we actually picked up one another on Craig’s List. We met at a bar that same day. We went Dutch. She came over to get laid. I gave her two hours and then kicked her out. Who knew it would stick?

My fantasy took root one afternoon when she stopped by to drop off some things from a Costco shopping spree. “Just a few things,” she said, “to get you through the weekend with the kids.”

That afternoon, the kids were zoned out to Cartoon Network. Bridget called from the lobby. “Hey guys, I’m going downstairs to get a package,” I said.

“I’m coming!” Collie replied, jumping up.

“Me too!” Lillie said.

“No, please,” I stammered. “It’s just a few things . . .”

“I’ll get my shoes,” Collie replied.

“Me too,” Lillie said.

“Okay, fine,” I said, resigned to the inevitable. “A friend of mine is dropping off some stuff.”

“What friend?” Lillie asked, pulling on her socks. “You have a lot of friends, Dad. You need to use a name.”

“It’s Bridget,” I said, gathering her shoes. “She has some groceries and stuff.”

“Is she a weenie?” Lillie asked. “Weenie” is her term for anyone who might be considered Dad’s girlfriend.

“Be nice. Don’t say ‘weenie.’”

“Okay,” she giggled as I tied her shoes.

“Lillie . . .”

“I won’t!”

“Good.”

Bridget was surprised to see me as I arrived with a cart and two children. “Well, hello! Let me guess, you are Collie, and you are Lillie?”

Collie grinned. “Yes.”

“Yes,” Lillie echoed, “And you are a weenie!”

“Yes, I am a weenie,” Bridget smiled. “And you are a poopy head.”

“No!” Lillie laughed. “You are a weenie and a poopy head!”

“No, I’m a weenie and you are a poopy head. I’m Buttercup, and you are Blossom. See, I have black hair, and you have red hair. Weenie and poopy head, Buttercup and Blossom.”

Lillie was struck silent. Lillie! Silent!

“Here, help me unpack,” Bridget said to Collie. “Take this.” She handed over a tub of Cheese Balls. It was nearly the boy’s size.

“Whoa, this is huge!” he exclaimed. “Look, I’m holding it over my head!”

“Well, it weighs about two pounds, dear. It’s all air.”

“It’s huge!” He looked at the tub of Cheese Balls as though it were his first Emmy.

“It is huge, but if you don’t put it down, you can’t help me with the Fruit Loops.”

Lillie looked at Collie. “Fruit Loops?” they shouted.

“Hope their mom doesn’t mind,” she said to me, pulling out an enormous box.

“Ooh, she’ll hate that,” I smiled.

“Gee, you think?”

Lillie held the box aloft. “Wow!” she managed.

The kids helped me to bring up a cart full of stuff, but there was more to come. Bridget waited downstairs.

“Jason! Jason!” Collie shouted. “Look at these Cheese Balls!”

“And the Fruit Loops!” Lillie followed.

“Whoa, where did this come from?” Jason asked.

“Dad’s friend!” Lillie said.

“Bridget!” Collie added. “You want to meet her?”

“Uh, sure, where is she?”

“Downstairs!” Collie called, running to the door. “Get your shoes!”

“Oh, okay,” Jason replied. “Wait up!”

Collie helped me to push the cart we had just emptied. Jason stuffed his hands in his pockets as he approached Bridget’s car.

“Oh hi, you must be Jason.”

“Yeah . . .”

“I’m Bridget. How are you?”

“Fine.”

“Were you playing Madden?”

He smiled. “Yes . . .”

“Are you playing the team or the owner?” she asked, handing him a carton of Ramen noodles.

“Team.” Jason looked at me. How did she know this stuff?

“That’s a good game. You know ‘X-Men Legends?”

“No . . .”

“It’s awesome. You saw the movie?”

“No . . .”

Bridget punched me. “What kind of father are you?” Lillie laughed.

“I just . . . hey, I try,” I protested. I looked at Jason. “You see, the X-Men are a group of mutants who try to be good, though everyone thinks they are bad . . .”

Jason shook his head. “Dad, come on.”

“Don’t worry,” Bridget said to Jason. “You’ll see it.”

Jason shrugged. “Cool.”

I realized something that day. Raising kids can take a village. When I find good villagers, I need to let them help. Three children are a lot for one man. And so it was that Bridget crossed over my boundary, at my bidding.

Bridget came into my innermost circle. The kids.

I kept a close eye on things.

We took the kids to see Corpse Bride; for dinner, she suggested the kids compare Subway to Blimpies. Lillie preferred Subway, Jason preferred Blimpies, and Collie pretended that Corpse Bride was too babyish.

We took the kids bowling. We all scored high. It helped that we used bumpers on the lane.

We had a birthday dinner at a local sushi restaurant. Bridget’s birthday is the day before Jason’s. We combined the party and kept the waiter busy.

For her birthday, I gave Bridget a photograph of myself in college. “Here’s the evidence,” I said. “We’ve known each other a long time.”

At Christmas, I allowed gifts from Bridget under Bucky’s tree. Lillie opened a bag full of Hello Kitties from Bridget. “Wow,” she laughed, opening the fifth wrapped Kitty, with many more to go. “Bridget must really love me!”

“Who’s Bridget?” Richard asked me.

“A friend of ours,” I said. “Mine and the kids.” My ex wife noted that Bridget gave nice presents.

The other night, Bridget came over for dinner. Afterward, we played Clue with the kids. Game after game. Lillie stuck to Miss Scarlet, as always. Jason was indelibly Colonel Mustard. Collie switched Professor Plum for Mister Green, then switched to Mrs White. He tried every trick to work the angles.

Bridget watched the children’s faces and made careful notes in her detective’s handbook. She knew the murderer first, but held her deductions close to avoid guessing the children’s secrets.

After the kids were in bed, I discovered a split of champagne in the refrigerator. “You brought this?” I asked.

“Uh huh.”

“You ready?”

“Uh huh.”

I opened the split and poured two flutes. We clinked glasses.

“Happy anniversary,” I said.

“Happy anniversary,” she smiled.

Two years ago that night, we met for the first time. Legend has it we danced to New Order long before.

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Bernard and I arrived home around four. We unpacked the car. He left to return the rental car. I stayed to organize boxes and suitcases.

I emptied my pockets of condoms, glad they went unused. I made a sandwich.

Bernard returned before five. He made a sandwich. Around six, Bernard settled in to watch the news, warm under a quilt. He fell asleep immediately. He would sleep until morning.

The holiday exhausted him.

I was also feeling the worse for the wear.

Around eight, my phone rang. I put on my coat and scarf. I closed the door quietly behind me. The elevator took me to the lobby. A car was waiting. The passenger in the back seat leaned forward and smiled. I smiled back, opened the door and sat next to her. She kissed me. “It’s over,” she said. “You survived eXmas.”

I took out my flask. The driver took off.

That night, I dreamed I was on a television show that turned out to be a sleeper. Good reviews led to more viewers, and it was a hit in certain circles. It focused on an eccentric family, sort of like “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

I was a minor character. The success of the show did not make me instantly famous, but everyone was thrilled for me and now and then, someone would point me out on the street. This small measure of fame was nice.

The patriarch of our television family, President Josiah Bartlett, was dead set on a project that we considered a folly. He treasured a quote from Plutarch and now wanted to see that quote destroyed. He wanted to watch as that quote was hurled from a speeding train.

I wasn’t sure why he wanted this, or how it would be pulled off. I imagined carved marble letters being smashed on rocks. To realize this vision, our television family traveled by train to a remote mountain location. We were left at a bend in the line, overlooking a sublime view. “Men, you set up camp,” the President ordered. “While the ladies prepare a fire for dinner.”

As we sat around camp, I realized I was bored and not quite sure what was supposed to happen. I also realized that I had had sex with many of the other campers.

I talked with a cute couple. He was freckled with red hair. She was a doe-eyed pixie who sat with her legs curled under her. He said she was his sub. She nodded in agreement. “I’m really aggressive and passionate,” he said. She nodded. He began to initiate something with her, but as they kissed, he said something that didn’t sit well with her. The moment was lost.

Later, he tried again. He knocked over a beer, and in cleaning up the mess, he was distracted into something else. “You say you are a good dom,” I said. “But you get distracted and don’t follow through. Do you have trouble focusing?”

“Sometimes, yeah.”

“Here. Kiss me,” I said.

“Okay.” He moved closer.

We kissed as his girlfriend watched. We kissed tentatively at first, then with increasing ardor. But I had to keep him focused. He was not a great kisser and he seemed to get lost now and then. He pulled back. “Ow, you kiss too much,” he said.

“Too much?” I asked.

“Yeah, I don’t really kiss that much.” The girlfriend nodded.

We heard the train arriving. “This is it,” the President shouted. “Everyone come to the tracks!”

We raced over. The train rounded the bend. A conductor leaned from the window as it passed, tossing something from a window. The President ran to collect it. “That’s it!” he cried. He gathered up a small bundle.

We drew close to see that he held a paper plate, tied to a rock. It was nestled in his arms like a newborn. The quote from Plutarch was written on the plate. “Kind of anticlimactic,” someone whispered to me. It was my ex brother in law, Richard.

“Not too impressive,” I agreed.

“Okay everyone, break camp,” the President called. “We take the next train out.”

We packed up our tents and waited for the train. We were taken to a nearby station in an Old West town. We were put onto a tram. It raced us through the town and into a saloon, winding past bar, tables and patrons, like “The Wild Ride of Mister Toad” meets the Gem Saloon of “Deadwood.”

“Looks like the set designers had fun,” Richard said.

“I’ll say!” I replied. We disembarked at the end of the tram ride. I lead the group. I nearly stepped on Annie Sprinkle, who reclined on the floor. She was dressed in a gypsy blouse, long skirt and full petticoats. She spread her legs as I passed, exposing herself. “That’s one off the tab,” she called to the bartender. The bartender guffawed. She flashed Richard. “That’s two!” The bartender laughed as she flashed us each in turn.

We left the saloon, and I became confused. Why was President Josiah Bartlett on our show? Or maybe I was on “The West Wing?” But if so, what was my relationship to the President? Who was my character?

I thought to ask Richard, but he wasn’t around.

Monica Lewinsky ran up to me. “Baby, I missed you!”

“I missed you too, Molly.” In the dream, her name was Molly. We kissed and she hopped on my back. “Where are you taking me?” she asked.

“Nowhere. Molly, look, you know I’m not interested in marrying you.”

“Silly boy,” she said, nibbling my ear. “You know I’m the one.”

I woke up.

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Hot Dog Man

Each year, the PTA sponsors many fundraisers. First up on the academic calendar is Oktoberfest. Parents are expected to volunteer for the event. There are numerous jobs—barkers, coordinators, vendors, clean up.

I pride myself in being a skilled face painter. Alas, that task had been taken when I arrived for my shift. I was assigned to another.

I was the hot dog man.

I stood a booth offering hot dogs for the price of two tickets, with bottled water and Capri Sun going for one ticket each. I offered a full complement of condiments, offering to fix them anyway you like, or to allow you to fix them yourself.

My ex Lucy was tending another booth near the entrance. The kids begged us for tickets and busied themselves with the attractions.

As I prepared for my shift, I restocked an ice chest with drinks. I was bent over the chest when Lucy and Lillie walked by, on their way to the restroom.

“Ugh, there’s a pleasant sight,” Lucy sniffed as she passed me.

I looked up. “Hi, Dad!” Lillie smiled and waved.

God, I thought, that woman really can’t stand the sight of me. Here was a moment where she might have said something pleasant (“Hey, Hot Dog Man!”), or neutral (“Nice day”), or nothing at all. Instead she has to be nasty. She just can’t control it.

There was nothing unusual in her invective, and anyway, I didn’t have much time to ponder it. Hot dogs were a popular item, being cheaper than pizza (four tickets) and subs (a bargain at six tickets).

I was soon tending a steady stream of customers. I was putting ketchup on a fourth grader’s hot dog when someone called my name.

“Henry? What are you doing here?”

I looked over and saw a woman I had not seen in about a year. Not since the time we had sex. “Oh hey,” I smiled, putting down the ketchup and wiping my hands. “What brings you here?”

“I have a booth with a friend of mine,” she said, gesturing toward an adjacent street fair. “We make puppets.”

“Well, cool. I’ve got kids in this school, so I’m serving as the hot dog man. You want one?”

“No, no, I just need two waters . . .”

“I can set you up. That will be two tickets, please.”

“Oh,” she said, looking at her palm. “I only have one . . .”

“That’s fine,” I said, winking as I took her ticket. “On the house.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, no problem.”

Kids were clamoring for hot dogs.

“Looks like you are busy,” she said. “Come by our booth when you are done. I want to see what you think of our puppets!”

“Will do! Nice to see you!”

“Yes,” she held up the water and mouthed, “thanks.” I smiled and returned to the hot dogs.

Gosh, I had not thought of her in a while.

We met through a personals ad she placed on Craig’s List. In the course of a very pleasant exchange, she revealed that she had formerly been a peep show girl in a Times Square grinder. Back in those days, she was a junky living with a dealer, trading ass for horse.

She had been sober for years now, she reported, but remained fascinated by that life. She was interested in compiling oral histories of sex workers who knew Times Square. She certainly got my attention. Oral histories, local color—she was driving right to my hot spots.

I proposed meeting for drinks. She was shy about sending her photo, but said I would know her by her long curly hair and her black leather jacket. That night, I was sure to have sex with this woman, and that expectation had me adjusting my pants as I walked to our date. The plan changed somewhat when I spotted her at a table. She had told me a good deal about herself, but omitted one detail:

She was not that attractive.

My pants required no further alterations.

I introduced myself and kissed her check. I sat and smiled. We ordered margaritas and chatted.

She was certainly a talker. I listened to her talk about her long deceased grandmother, her home improvements in the inherited house, her job, her cat. I nodded and interjected clucks of sympathy or chuckles of amusement as appropriate.

Some people talk a lot when they are nervous, and first dates can fray anyone’s nerves. I was willing to wait for her to relax a bit. As she talked, I watched her face, looking for things I might find attractive.

She had nice skin.

Her teeth were nice.

She had a Hobbit quality that was sort of endearing.

It was happy hour. A second margarita followed the first.

She discussed her interest in science fiction. I gamely led her back to our subjects of common interest. She talked about those as I listened.

I drank down my margarita. The waitress returned and asked if we’d care to stay for dinner. She looked at me and shrugged.

“Uh, sure,” I said, smiling. “That would be nice.”

During dinner, she talked about baseball, shopping and returned again to the subject of her dead grandmother.

We split the bill.

As we left the restaurant, she asked if I was in the mood for something sweet. No really, I replied, as I rarely eat desserts. Oh, she said, disappointed. But, I offered, I will be glad to join you, if you want one. She said that would be great. She knew a super place near her office.

We began to walk north. Midtown was largely abandoned by this hour. I’ve always enjoyed that sense of having the city to myself. Or, in this moment, to share the city with my new friend, the monologist.

We walked about ten blocks to discover that the place she had in mind was not open. She suggested we try another place. I agreed. We walked five more blocks to a deli. After some searching, she found a muffin she liked. “I wonder if I should eat it here,” she said, “or on the train home.”

I detected an exit. “We’re near the station. I’m happy to walk you over.”

“Oh thanks, that’s nice.” We walked four blocks to Grand Central.

When we reached the door, I stopped and turned to her. I listened as she concluded a story about her boss. “That is a pretty funny place to put a copier,” I agreed. “Well, I guess I should say goodnight.”

“Yes, here we are. I had a very nice time.”

“Me too,” I lied. I kissed her cheek.

She continued to talk for twenty more minutes. It was a chilly evening. I swayed to and fro for warmth. Finally, she said she really did have to go. I leaned over and kissed her cheek again. This time, as I pulled back, I turned and walked away.

“Nice to meet you,” I waved. “Keep in touch!”

“I will, thanks!” she waved.

I walked around the corner to another entrance. I checked to see the coast was clear. It was, so I entered the station and hopped the subway home.

Now, I was still pretty new to dating then, but I knew enough to know that when you aren’t interested in someone, it’s really just best to say so. No hard feelings, one should say, but I think I would prefer to leave things as they are. Best of luck. See you in the funny pages.

It’s really not that hard.

But yes, it can be hard.

So instead off being direct, I found myself being too nice, keeping up an email exchange with her, albeit a correspondence of considerably less ardor. One day, she wrote and asked me, point blank, to fuck her.

She told me I was the only decent fellow she had met lately, and she was just insanely horny. It had been over a year since she had been laid. Could I please do her this favor?

Well, what could I say? I invited her over.

She arrived after work, and quickly changed into an oversized open necked t-shirt. “I always sleep in one of these,” she said.

It was just after five in the evening. Surely she wasn’t planning to sleep over? I needed to develop an exit strategy. “Let me show you what I sleep in,” I said, undressing. “Because we only have a while before I need to leave.”

“Oh, you have to go somewhere?”

“Yes, but we have plenty of time.” I stepped out of my pants. “And by the way, I sleep in the nude.”

The sex was fine, but did nothing to dissuade me of my original assessment. She was easy to orgasm, which was fun, but it took stamina to continue past my general disinterest.

We lay back afterwards, allowing our bodies to cool.

“Hey, want to watch TV?” she asked.

“Um, sure,” I agreed, handing her the remote. “What’s on?”

“They do a great lineup on Sci Fi,” she said, clicking on the set.

We watched a made-for-television movie about a homely man who managed to steal the physical appearance of his handsome friend. Another feature began. The room grew dark as evening settled.

“Well,” I stretched, “thanks for coming over. This was nice.”

“Sure, I liked it too,” she said, her eyes on the movie.

I stood and began to dress. “I guess I should get going,” I said.

“Oh,” she sat up. “Then I guess I should get going, too.”

Good—I was well served by the Obi Wan Kenobi powers of persuasion.

“Want to walk with me to the subway?” she asked.

“No, thanks, I need to make a call before heading out.”

“Okay, well thanks again.”

“Oh, thank you.” I kissed her, and then opened the door.

“See you,” she said.

“Later!” I smiled. I closed the door and locked it.

I went back to my room, ditched my street clothes and settled in to write for the rest of the evening.

We continued to trade emails. Gradually, she got the idea that I wasn’t all that interested, and we let it go.

Then she showed up at my hot dog stand.

Oktoberfest was blessed by perfect weather at the end of eight straight days of rain. The clouds rolled back in as the event drew to a close.

Everyone scurried off to beat the storm. I shut down my stand and put away the condiments, buns, unsold drinks and folding table. I gathered my kids and hurried toward the bus stop.

My eyes made a cursory scan of the street fair, but I saw no sign of her. Most of the vendors were hurriedly dismantling their booths.

Saved by the storm, I thought. At least I was spared the awkwardness of introducing my kids to her. That would have been embarrassing.

For the life of me, I couldn’t recall her name.

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On the drive south, and again on the return journey, my family charted a course through the Shenandoah Valley to visit with my daughter, Rachel.

Originally, the plan had been to pick up Rachel on the way down and return her on the way back, as is our annual custom. We were particularly keen for her to join us this year, for she is at an age—seventeen—which may offer one of her last flexible summers before her life is wrapped up in boyfriends, jobs and college.

Alas, Rachel has always been precocious. She already had too much on her plate to manage a three-week excursion to the Deep South.

Last spring, she graduated high school a year early, leaving her with a few divergent options. Should she stay at home and work for a year, to save money? Should she fulfill our shared fantasy and join me in New York?

She wondered: should she pursue college admissions in her home state, and live near her mom and dad, or in New York, to live with her dad, or maybe in California, near her other dad? And if she did move, what would that mean to her ten younger siblings?

Rachel’s family ties are complex, perhaps a fact of life when a girl has three fathers.

Rachel’s mother Emily and I were never formally in a relationship. The conception of our daughter was due to a certain convergence of coincidences.

The winter of nineteen-eighty-seven was unusually snowy. Because of this, classes were canceled at my college, and I found myself one night drinking at the bar tended by my roommate, Jetboy.

I had long blonde hair. Because of this, Emily felt compelled to braid my hair as I sat at the bar. While I didn’t know Emily very well, I did like her physical resemblance to Molly Ringwald. I also liked that she was so fond of my hair. It felt nice to have her touch it.

When Jetboy returned to our apartment that night, he walked in on Emily and me having sex.

He would get accustomed to the sight. For the rest of that winter and into the spring, Emily and I fucked and fucked.

She would hang out with her friends at the dorm, smoking pot and listening to bootlegged cassettes of Grateful Dead concerts. When she was good and baked, she would call me and ask to come over.

I always said yes.

Emily and I each had a “real” relationship back home. Our nights together provided a salutary opportunity for sex while we were at school.

Jetboy didn’t mind at all. He thought it was cool that we went at it regardless of his presence, though he declined our occasional entreaties to join us.

As the academic year drew to a close, Emily and I prepared to return to our lives back home. I happened to be at the dorm when her boyfriend arrived to help her move. I shook his hand and helped Emily load her things into his pickup truck. She waved goodbye and smiled as they drove away. I waved and smiled in return.

In July, I heard through the grapevine that Emily was two months pregnant.

I counted backwards.

I called her.

Emily confirmed that yes, she was pregnant and yes, the child was mine. But her boyfriend assumed it was his, and she preferred to keep it that way.

She said she would not be back in school for the coming year.

Emily was nineteen. I was twenty-two.

I had made an erroneous assumption. My real girlfriend Pablo and I relied on her birth control pills. I assumed that any woman who didn’t insist on condoms was on the pill. Emily seemed unconcerned about birth control, so I figured she was all set.

Turns out she wasn’t on the Pill. Turns out she was opposed to birth control. Abortion too, for that matter. So she was going to have my baby and raise it with her boyfriend.

I might never meet my child.

Needless to say, I was a little distracted as I began my senior year. I had a very big secret to keep.

When I returned home for Christmas break, my family was poised for a great milestone: my brother Jesse and his wife Teri were expecting their first child. My parents, then in their mid-forties, were about to become grandparents.

Just before New Year’s Day, I was with my family in a hospital waiting room when Jesse came out, his eyes tearing, to announce the birth of my nephew Tracy.

I hugged him, crying.

A week later, in a hospital in rural Virginia, my daughter was born. Emily named her Rachel Ann.

No one in my family knew. Very few friends knew.

I called Emily every few days to check on her and to listen to our baby gurgle and cry.

A few months later, after graduation, I began to date Lucy.

One summer night, as we lay in bed nude, sweating under a fan, listening to Wire, I told Lucy I had some things to confess.

First, I’m bisexual.

Second, I have a daughter I’ve never met.

I knew that her mother and brother were gay, and that her father had left the family when Lucy was four. I tried to joke that by being a queer absent father, I was either perfect for her, or the worst possible match.

She held my hand.

“You are not bisexual if you are with me,” she said into the night. “And you have to meet your daughter.”

She convinced me. I went to Virginia to meet my six-month-old baby girl.

Rachel had blue eyes like her mother and me. She had wispy blonde hair. She had her mother’s soft open mouth. I held her, scared and nervous.

I kissed them both goodbye at four that afternoon. I had to be out of the house when Rachel’s real father returned from work.

I told Lucy how amazing it had been to hold my daughter.

“I’m sure,” she said. “When will you see her again?” I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, I should see her again.

I invited Emily to bring the baby to visit me. She agreed, and I drove out to pick them up.

By this time, Rachel was walking.

I wasn’t ready for Lucy to meet Emily and Rachel. That was just too weird, I thought.

“I can wait,” Lucy said. “But will you be sleeping with Emily?”

“We haven’t had sex in over a year,” I said. “But what difference would it make if we did?”

“It will make a difference to me,” she said.

I agreed that my sexual relationship with Emily was over.

For a weekend, Emily and I took care of Rachel. Our baby toddled around my room, knocking down books and chewing on album covers. She slept between us at night. Rachel is blurry in every photograph from that weekend, unless she was sleeping.

In time, Lucy would meet Emily and Rachel. We traveled out to see them fairly often, always when her boyfriend was away. I took photographs of my beautiful baby, her beautiful mom, and my beautiful girlfriend, smiling, playing, enjoying one another.

This works, I thought. I can’t believe it, but it works.

One day Emily called to say she was leaving her boyfriend. She was in love with someone else, a guy I had never met named Phil. They were taking Rachel and driving to San Francisco the next day.

I tried to talk her out of doing anything rash. I realized I had absolutely no say in the matter. Emily could do whatever she wanted with our daughter.

Lucy convinced Emily to talk with a friend of ours, a family lawyer who would at least offer some advice. Emily agreed.

She took only one part of our friend’s advice. She left a note for her boyfriend saying she was gone for good, and she was taking the baby.

The baby, she added, is not yours. With that, she was gone.

A few months later, Lucy and I flew to San Francisco. We visited their tiny apartment in the shadow of a freeway overpass. We took Rachel to the Presidio and the zoo.

Emily was pregnant. She seemed very happy.

At Christmas, she received a summons. Her ex-boyfriend was suing for custody of Rachel.

Emily and the baby were to appear in court in Virginia, in a small town where the ex-boyfriend’s father was a leading figure. Of course, Lucy and I drove down for the hearings.

When the ex-boyfriend and his family arrived at court for the first hearing, they saw me with Emily. I was holding Rachel. His mother blanched. Rachel was a carbon copy of me.

The ex boyfriend had promised to be civil in these proceedings. He was a sweet guy, and he had my sympathy: his child had been taken away. But I also knew that if he had custody, my tenuous relationship with Rachel would be severed. He had no reason to keep me around as another father.

Emily had a court appointed lawyer who seemed unfamiliar with her case.

His lawyer stood to say that Emily was a pot dealer and devotee of the Grateful Dead. She represented a flight risk as she had already left for San Francisco; furthermore, she was obliged to follow the Grateful Dead to all concerts.

This was pure fabrication. Emily didn’t follow Dead shows. And while she and her ex boyfriend both smoked, it was he who was the dealer.

No matter. The judge concurred with his argument, and ruled that while the case was being decided, Rachel was better off with her father and his family, community members of good standing.

Rachel was taken from Emily’s arms and placed in those of her ex-boyfriend’s mother.

Emily screamed.

Lucy and I were shocked. Our friend the family lawyer had told us that babies generally remain with the mother during a custody battle unless there was a clear danger to the child.

Outside the courthouse, Lucy took Emily by the shoulders. Both were crying.

“Listen to me, Emily. Listen to me!” she said, looking to her eyes. “I am calling my family. We are paying for you to have a real lawyer. You are not losing Rachel. Do you hear me?”

Emily nodded, too stunned to do otherwise.

Lucy called her family. Lucy called lawyers. Lucy wrote checks.

I signed affidavits asserting my paternity. I offered myself for blood tests. I initiated my long relationship with the sovereign government of the State of Virginia.

When the judge issued a final ruling, Rachel stayed with Emily.

That summer, Lucy sat with me as I told my parents I had “important news.” I held Lucy’s hands in my lap.

I was with my girlfriend, but we looked somber. This was clearly not an announcement of our engagement.

My friend Donnie had already been diagnosed with AIDS. Mom looked as if she might cry.

“I’m sorry I have taken so long to tell you this,” I said, swallowing hard. “But you have another grandchild.”

Dad looked confused. Mom suddenly smiled. “You and Lucy are expecting?” she asked.

Lucy and I stumbled over one another to tell the story.

That night, the four of us were in a car driving toward Rachel.

As I made introductions, my parents shook hands with Phil. They rubbed Emily’s bulging belly.

And they fell in love with their granddaughter.

In time, Emily and her ex-boyfriend made peace. He remained a part of Rachel’s life. She refers to him as her “other dad.”

Emily and Phil got married. They traveled around for a while, then settled down in Virginia. They had seven children after Rachel, each pregnancy unplanned but welcome. Rachel helped to deliver each of her siblings.

Emily and I settled into a kind of fraternal relationship. I love her like a sister. We agree on very few things: my Deadhead hippy fuck buddy became a born-again fundamentalist who home schools her kids and insists that they attend rallies against gay marriage.

Whatever. We’re family.

My parents and children mingled with Rachel’s full family this summer. My kids played with Rachel’s other siblings, riding skateboards, chasing her dog, and holding the baby.

There were too few moments for Rachel and I to be alone, but we drank those moments in great gulps.

For now, Rachel has decided to wait about leaving her hometown. She loves New York, she told me, but this is home. She enrolled in a community college. She continues to work as a waitress at a cool café. And she got her own place. She lives in a cabin with a fireplace, a pool and a big Jacuzzi tub. Her Beatles memorabilia lines the walls.

She pays for school and her cabin with the money she earns. Her brothers and sisters take turns sleeping over, when she wants company.

My parents and I took her to Wal-Mart to help fix up her place. She asked me for a Bodum coffee carafe like mine.

Shortly after I returned to New York, I received a card from my daughter.

Hey Dad,

It was so great to see you and everybody last week. I am writing this on my patio with some great coffee—thanks!

I’m so sorry I couldn’t go south this year. When can I come up to New York? Maybe for my eighteenth birthday. Then we can smoke cigarettes and watch porn—you know, the usual, but now it will be legal.

I love you Dad. Call me!

Rachel

PS When is my boyfriend Marcus coming to New York? Maybe at my birthday? I know you think he is yours, but he is mine. Ha ha!

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