I am a scrupulously honest person — too honest for my own good, I’ve been told. I would like to attribute this to some innate virtue on my part, but I have simply learned that anytime I try to get away with something, I get caught.
Once, in college, some friends of mine got their hands on a copy of our final exam and came over to get my help with some of the answers. I confided in my roommate, who promptly went and turned us all in. Another time, I was so seriously overloaded with school work that I turned in a paper I had written for a previous class. Unbeknownst to me, my professor had enlisted the aid of the TA from that previous class to help her read papers. He recognized mine, and I was busted.
Finally, I stopped trying to cheat and grew to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having nothing to hide.
Now, however, I find myself having an affair with one of my co-workers. If we are caught, my husband, whom I still care deeply about, will be devastated, and there will be serious repercussions at work. Knowing my history, I resisted getting involved for a long time, but I was unable to resist forever the advances of this wonderful man who makes me happy in a way that my husband simply cannot.
Going into this affair, I told myself that I had to be ready to face the consequences, come what may. It has been a couple of months now, and though there have been some close calls, we haven’t been found out: a record for me. I would like to think that this relationship is simply so right that my bad luck won’t ruin it. But if the seemingly inevitable does come to pass, I wonder: Will I still feel it was all worthwhile? Or will I wish that I had remained scrupulously honest and only marginally happy?
My friend Linda and I grew up thinking of ourselves as sisters. We were in the same class at school, took piano lessons from the same teacher, and even shared the same birthday. As we got older, we arranged blind dates for each other, went to the same college, and, once we’d married, settled in the same town. We continued to celebrate our birthdays together: twenty-five, thirty, forty.
In our fifties, seeking some compromise with age, we dyed each other’s hair, went on diets together, and logged many miles jogging. I knew we weren’t winning the battle, but we were doing as well or better than most, and I was content. For Linda, though, I guess it wasn’t enough.
Linda and her husband went on a two-week vacation. When she returned, the laugh lines that had framed her mouth like parentheses were gone. The crinkles around her eyes had disappeared, and the wattle beneath her chin was now tight skin. Even her chin was new.
Starting to plan our next birthday party, I asked Linda how she thought it would feel being sixty. “Sixty?” she replied. “I’m going to be fifty-five. And I think I’ll stay there awhile.”
Greenport, New York
I was initially pleased with the influx of Asian immigrant students into my special-education class. They were obedient, well mannered, and hard working, despite the difficulty they had learning a new language. I soon found out, however, that nearly all of them cheated.
One student went so far as to have a friend who resembled him take his district proficiency test, which students needed to pass in order to graduate. When I received the test results, I knew something was wrong. John (his chosen American name) could barely speak English, much less pass the language section of the exam. He denied cheating, but when I presented him with test questions that he could not answer, he confessed.
I later learned that if John did not graduate, his parents were going to send him back to Vietnam to live with relatives. He wasn’t the only one to face such consequences. One of my few students who did not cheat was returned to his homeland because his family could not face the shame of his academic failure.
One summer, while I was teaching, I worked as a counselor at the Brotherhood-Sisterhood Camp, a project aimed at breaking down cultural stereotypes. One of the exercises designed to prepare me for my position was a simulated class-registration session. I was given a registration form printed in a language I could not read. (I later found out it was Farsi.) The signs by the registration tables were also in Farsi. I filled in the part of the form where I thought my name, address, and phone number should go and then got in the shortest of four long lines at the tables.
When I got to the front, the person behind the table — who spoke only Farsi — refused to take my form and directed me to another table. I went through a second long line only to have the person behind that table tear my form into pieces. Tired, hungry, and frustrated, I noticed that a couple of my fellow participants were actually making progress. I went to them for help, and they let me copy from their forms.
Long Beach, California
When my marriage to Arthur began, I was hopelessly in love. Our eighteen-year union has produced two children. Now I am hopelessly in love again, but not with Arthur.
My marital troubles began ten years ago when Arthur’s libido waned and our lovemaking dwindled to nil. I would try to turn him on time and again, only to be rebuffed. I was at the age when men seem to stop noticing women. Arthur’s rejection hurt. Anger consumed me, and I became very passive and insecure sexually.
I insisted we seek marriage counseling, and Arthur grudgingly agreed. During those sessions, the truth surfaced: Arthur had a drinking problem. Determined to do my part, I attended Al-Anon meetings. I had hope.
We started having sex again, but rarely, and only when he initiated it. Before long, we were back to no sex — and back in counseling. Eventually, I lost what little hope I had left. I told Arthur I was going to have “my own life.” Nevertheless, he does not suspect I am cheating on him.
Having just turned fifty, I was feeling as though life was passing me by when I started seeing Mark. He and I knew one another when I was a teenager and he was a pubescent boy hanging out with my younger brother. He claims he once caught a glimpse of me in my bra and panties. I certainly don’t remember it, but it’s sweet to think that he has had a hankering for me all these years.
Yes, I am “cheating,” but I’d feel cheated without Mark. This is my last chance to experience this kind of love and tenderness, to feel desirable as a woman. Mark says he doesn’t mind being “the other man.” We have no expectations.
Still, I must be careful. I try not to look too far ahead. I love my children, and I know they’d be crushed if they found out. I struggle to reconcile my image of myself as a good mother with that of cheating wife.
When I worked as an aide at a nursing home, it was my job to take residents for walks in the halls. I was trained to buckle a thick cotton belt around their waists and to hold on to the belt as I walked beside them. My supervisors warned me never to let go.
Every day I had to walk Mrs. Cleary down to the end of the hall and back to the common area, where she sat next to her husband. I got along well with most of the residents, but not Mrs. Cleary. She had a disease that made her face look like a stone statue, and it was hard for me to believe there was a real human being behind that emotionless mask. She never said a word to me on our long, slow walks, but just stared straight ahead, putting one stone foot in front of the other, using her walker for balance. I was convinced that Mrs. Cleary could move more quickly if she tried. I even doubted that she needed my assistance. Holding on to Mrs. Cleary’s waist belt while she took her slow, jerky steps seemed a huge waste of my time.
I started to take small liberties with Mrs. Cleary. Sometimes I would just walk next to her without holding on. She never seemed to notice the difference. Other times, I’d pause to help another resident nearby. Mrs. Cleary would just keep clomping down the hall until I caught up with her. The long walk was less boring this way, and Mrs. Cleary seemed fine walking by herself.
One day, I let go of Mrs. Cleary’s waist belt to open a door for someone, and when I turned back, I saw Mrs. Cleary losing her balance. I reached out to grab her, but it was too late. The back of her head hit the tile floor, and nurses rushed in from opposite ends of the hallway. I couldn’t move.
I never told anyone that I had let go of the waist belt, nor did my supervisors ask me what had happened. I think they didn’t want to know. Better to believe it was just a freak accident, with nobody to blame.
Mrs. Cleary died ten days later. I avoided the eyes of her children and grandchildren as they came to visit her during those final days. Mr. Cleary stayed by his wife’s side until the end. Three months later, he died, too.
While traveling together, my sister and I stopped for dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The price seemed a little high, so I suggested that she order the buffet, and I order a small menu item and eat off her plate. Then we could split the check.
“You’re always looking for a scam, aren’t you?” she said.
She made the comment lightly, but it hit me hard. Though I hated to admit it, I often found ways of not paying full price or getting more than I should — anything short of shoplifting. I wouldn’t cheat mom-and-pop stores or co-ops, but when it came to big businesses, I actually liked bending the rules. I thought I was taking a stand against the ways in which corporations cheat their employees and customers.
My sister’s comment made me realize that I really cheated for personal gain, not political reasons. And I thought of what the late poet and essayist Audre Lorde said: “We can never dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.”
In eighth grade, I learned about all the amazing things people can do with words. First, there were book reports. The books were wonderful. I remember sitting on the couch for hours, unable to put one down. But Mrs. Wills never seemed to like my reports. I usually got a B or an A- at best, and she never tacked my work to the class bulletin board, where she put the best reports.
After reading A Tale of Two Cities, I decided to prepare a report that she couldn’t dismiss. I even constructed a functional model guillotine from cardboard. But that week another student’s report — written in pencil on notebook paper — was pinned to the board. My working model was returned with a B.
Before long, I stopped turning in my homework. I still did it, but I stopped handing it in. I got a lot of zeros.
I also learned about diagramming sentences in the eighth grade. For some reason, sentence structure was unbelievably fascinating to me. I worked hard to learn the lessons. When we had an exam, nearly everyone failed but me. I got a C, the highest grade. After class, Mrs. Wills called me to her desk and asked me how I had cheated.
Near the end of the year, we had to do group projects on Shakespeare. I decided to sketch and paint scenes from five of his most famous plays. The sketches were very large — three feet by four feet. I sandwiched them between pieces of cardboard fashioned to look like the covers of a book. On the front, I sketched a bust of Shakespeare in an Elizabethan collar. My friend Margaret wrote the text under each painting and did the lettering on the front, but I did all of the artwork. When we presented it before the class, everyone oohed and aahed. While I was enjoying my small glory, Mrs. Wills looked at me over her glasses and said, “Now Kathy, how much of this work did you do?”
Syracuse, New York
I noticed you because of your height, your long, dark hair, and the confident way you carry yourself. I tell myself that I shop at your grocery store because the prices are better, but before each weekly trip, I find myself getting ready to see you. I wonder if you’ll notice me. I don’t want to resemble the other women I pass in the aisles who, like me, have given up their careers and identities to stay at home and raise babies.
Every week I notice something different about you. You wear jewelry in both ears and silver rings on your fingers (but no wedding band). Your voice is deep and smooth. Your name tag says, ALLEN. I wonder what you are doing in this place day after day; you seem to belong somewhere else.
I drop some applesauce, and you smile as you help me pick up the plastic cups that broke free of their cardboard container. In the few seconds I have with you, I try to soak in as many details as possible about your face. In addition to your smile, I notice the lines the sun has left in your skin, and I wonder what you do that keeps you outdoors.
Suddenly I want to be away from you as fast as possible. My heart pounding, I return to my shopping. I hear you joke to another employee that you would’ve had the applesauce for lunch, but you don’t like the flavor. I think it would be witty for me to say, “Next time I’ll try to drop something better,” but I am too afraid to speak. I wonder if I am too obvious.
Each time I leave the store, I tell myself that I should stop behaving like a schoolgirl. I have become everything that I dreaded I would when I decided to stay at home and raise my son. I wonder if you think of me the same way that you do all of the pathetic, lonely, bored housewives who try to get your attention.
I like the way I feel when you look at me. I spend more time fantasizing about you than I spend with my husband. I wonder if he notices. Sometimes in my fantasies, you pursue me. Sometimes we meet by chance. Sometimes I am suddenly widowed.
It is Saturday morning, and my son is at breakfast with his father — their weekend ritual. I’m sleeping late, and before I even open my eyes, I think of you. I place a spare pillow beside me and imagine that it is your chest and your arm is around my back. I imagine your breathing and your smell. The sound of the garage door opening interrupts my fantasy. I open my eyes and see the framed photograph of my son on the bureau. I remember the vow I made to his father. I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep it.
I teach Spanish at a college where cheating is a serious offense, resulting in an automatic expulsion. Consequently, I find myself overlooking the little glances at another’s paper or whispers here and there. I don’t want to see a student thrown out of school for a minor indiscretion. But when my students began to cheat openly and frequently, I became frustrated.
Strolling around during a test, I saw a young woman erasing her desktop and a cheat sheet sticking out of a strategically placed book. The moment I turned my back to answer a question on one side of the class, the whispering started on the other. Afterward, a young man asked for his test back because he forgot to put his name on it, and seconds later, I caught him changing an answer.
The other day, I was so fed up with my students’ cheating that I shouted, “You are not invisible, and I am not blind! The consequence for cheating is expulsion. The next person who cheats will be thrown out!”
From the back of the classroom, a student piped up, “Is that just on tests, or on homework, too?”
Long Beach, California
From the time I was thirteen, cigarette smoking had topped my list of vices. Like all drug addicts, I didn’t hesitate to be dishonest — or, rather, “resourceful” and “creative” — in order to get my fix.
When, in my forties, I failed at yet another attempt to quit, I couldn’t bring myself to tell my wife and two young sons. Both my sister and my mother had died from emphysema, and I was showing the first symptoms of the disease myself, so my family knew all too well the dangers I faced. By hiding my failure, I told myself, I was being considerate of their feelings.
So here I was, an apparently mature man, sneaking smokes like a teenager behind the barn. As a teen, I’d developed many clever techniques to hide my smoking from my parents. For example, I’d found that a lit cigarette crushed quickly between the pages of a book immediately stopped burning and did little harm to the pages: just a faint brown scorch and a small pile of black ash. Best of all, the cigarette remained intact, ready to be relit when the coast was clear.
Now, in middle age, I was forced to come up with new ways to hide my habit. I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to run errands and take walks. Work was very attractive, because I could sit at my desk and smoke to my heart’s content. At home, I’d take two or three showers a day, one arm outside the curtain to keep the cigarette lit, bathroom fan on to “hold down the humidity.” After a meal at a restaurant, I’d volunteer to take my younger son to the bathroom. While he was doing his business, I’d stand outside the stall doing mine, hovering near the sink, ready to douse the cigarette as soon as he was done.
One time, I failed to notice that my older son had come into the bathroom behind us. His tears and anger were my undoing. That was ten years ago, and I haven’t smoked another cigarette since.
Buffalo, New York
I always equated wedding bells with a death knell and pitied my cousins who married young. When I finally got married myself, the union was lifeless. The occasional orgasm I experienced with my husband was possible only when I imagined him to be one of the many interesting lovers I’d had through the years. Once, I took my baby and ran out of the house in the rain, determined to escape the bonds of marriage once and for all. Sitting in the park, getting soaking wet, I realized the futility of running away and returned home.
I found salvation in a blind piano tuner. He taught me to tune pianos and brought me to repeated ecstasy with his perfect cunnilingus. My life was filled with the passion of forbidden love, but I was torn in two: married to a man who was the father of my daughters and whose job provided the house I lived in and the food I ate, and desperately in love with another who was himself a married father of three.
The emotional tightrope left me so weary and worn that I broke down and told my husband the whole story. He cried and asked me to leave him if I no longer loved him. I was moved by his plea. At that moment, I began to see his true heart and realized that I was lucky to have a man so tender and caring.
That was ten years ago. The love that once lay dormant between my husband and me has become strong and trustworthy. Our lovemaking far exceeds my former expectations. But I cannot forget what happened. When my husband becomes angry, I wonder, Does he still think of my affair? On days when his displays of affection impress me, I worry, Is he simply afraid I will leave him if he does not please me?
Yesterday I played the organ at a wedding, and I cried as I listened to the couple’s heartfelt vows of love and fidelity. I long for a similar experience for my husband and me. It is time to wash away the years of lying and betrayal, and to live freely, without regret.
For five years after my divorce, as I commuted to work each day, I refused to pay the tolls on the Garden State Parkway. To me, running the tollbooth without throwing change into the basket was a way of cheating the powers that be. After all, the state had promised to stop taking our money once the road was paid for, and that was thirty years ago. The few tickets I received didn’t add up to the money I saved. And each time I looked back in my mirror and saw I wasn’t caught, I felt a small thrill of victory.
Then one day, the thrill began to fade, and I became aware of the rage lying just beneath the surface. I had directed my anger and frustration at a convenient injustice, but really I was mad over my endless commute, my thankless dead-end job, my inability to sustain any sort of relationship, my depression.
Now when I pay the tolls, it’s a reminder that I must remain aware of my true feelings if I am ever to find any real happiness in this world.
Matawan, New Jersey
When I was a junior in high school, I took an advanced-placement American history course. Although the material was not particularly challenging, the pace was rapid: a paper and an exam on a chapter of the text every three days. With all my other time commitments, I began to worry that I couldn’t keep up.
Not long into the quarter, my teacher took an extended leave of absence. There were rumors she had cancer. A substitute would teach the rest of the course. Because history was not the new teacher’s area of expertise, she would reuse the exams and essay questions from the previous quarter.
This was too good to be true. A friend of mine had taken the course the year before, and he loaned me his old notebook and papers. I rewrote my friend’s essay for the next chapter and, with some trepidation, concealed the answers to the multiple-choice test on my hand. It worked. With each chapter, I became bolder, initially reading some of the information, then skimming it, then skipping it altogether. My rewritten essays became word-for-word reproductions. (I’m surprised I didn’t just change the name on the papers to save myself the effort of copying them.)
The last week of the quarter, our regular teacher returned, a wig concealing her bald head. She was apologetic and asked us to understand if it took longer than usual to return our papers. I worked hard to learn the last two chapters on my own, all the while certain that she would look back at my previous work and spot my forgeries.
At the end of the quarter, my teacher summoned me to her office. I sheepishly took a seat, making silent bargains with God that, if only I wasn’t discovered, I would never cheat again.
My teacher said she’d noticed that mine was one of the highest grades in the class, yet I hadn’t registered to take the AP exam for college credit. Why not?
Caught off guard, I stammered, “I don’t know, really. I just don’t want to.”
“If it’s the money,” my teacher said, “I’ll pay for you. I hate to see a talented student not take the exam. Judging by your performance, I’m certain you would do well.”
“No,” I said, “it’s not the money. . . . I’m just not certain I will go to college.”
She bought it. Outside her office, I took a deep breath, relieved yet remorseful. I wished I could take back what I’d done.
Three years later, I stumbled upon my teacher’s name in the obituary section. Later that same day, I was at a bookstore, and I found myself in the history section. Thinking of my teacher, I bought a book.
George and I had been lovers for almost a year. He was freshly divorced and the most emotionally expressive man I had ever met, perhaps because he’d been raised by women. Although George flirted a lot and his “friends” were mostly women, he told me he wasn’t sleeping with any of them. He admitted to one “hot night” on the front porch with his neighbor Lisa, but that was before he met me. Her photograph on his mantelpiece made me a little insecure, but he soon added one of me.
George kept his five-year-old son, Matt, on weekends. One Saturday, we arranged that I would come over to his house around eight, after Matt was in bed, and we’d watch a video. At the video store, I couldn’t find a movie I was sure neither of us had seen, so I phoned George. There was no answer. I figured he was in the back bedroom singing Matt to sleep. I’d go over to his house and talk about it with him in person.
The house was dark when I arrived, and George didn’t answer my knock, so I sat down on the porch to wait. Finally, a light went on in the living room, and I heard steps inside. I stood up as the door opened. There, facing me in astonishment, were George and Lisa.
“Well!” I said. “I’ve obviously interrupted something.”
“No, no,” George said. “Lisa was just leaving. I gave her a massage.”
George and I had made love for the first time after he had given me a “friendly” massage. Having taken one massage class, he fancied himself a semiprofessional.
Lisa left, and George began to explain: He hadn’t heard my knock because they were in his bedroom with the door shut. “But,” he assured me, “there wasn’t anything going on — I was just giving her a massage.”
“But the house was dark.”
“Well, there was a candle.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You were in your bedroom with the door closed, with Lisa naked on your bed, in the candlelight, and there was nothing going on? And you knew I was coming over around eight? George, what were you thinking?”
“I thought I had time,” he said.
Mt. Shasta, California
We were the perfect couple. We had a fantastic relationship and continually challenged each other to grow. If one of us ever had an affair, we said, it wouldn’t matter. Infidelity seemed nothing more than an antiquated idea from a bygone era when marriage was a loveless, patriarchal institution. We had transcended all that.
I found out about her brief affair after it had already ended. Suddenly, all the questions that had once seemed so trite came tumbling out of me: Who? When? Why? How many times? Her answers came back exactly as expected: it had been about her vanity; it had been short, isolated, meaningless, and awkward; it didn’t affect us in the least.
To my surprise, these answers were strangely unsatisfying, and a new round of questions poured out: How was what we had different from the affair? What did I mean to her? What had she saved just for us?
She answered with due devotion, sincerity, and contrition, but still the questions came, now choked with desperation: Had they cuddled and whispered? Had she gazed into his eyes? Had she giggled with excitement? The terrible power of infidelity was becoming clear to me. I felt betrayed. Something treasured had been squandered.
And yet this experience did not make me cynical about love. Rather, it erased much of the cynicism from our marriage. It clarified our beliefs. The exclusiveness of our intimacy turned out to be more essential to our relationship than either of us initially realized. Compromising our physical bond did not ruin us but taught us that the committed life is a richer one.
My high-school Spanish teacher was a white-haired Mormon grandfather whose favorite phrases were “Park your carcass” and “En la boca cerrada las moscas no entran” (In the closed mouth, the flies don’t enter). He never slid off his stool except to write verb conjugations on the chalkboard and to kiss the female students who were having birthdays.
Each week we had to stand, one at a time, and recite an assigned dialogue from memory. Students often cheated by taping copies of the dialogue to the back of the student seated in front of them. One day, I walked into class and saw copies of the dialogue taped up everywhere, including to the front of the teacher’s podium.
A scrupulously honest Christian girl, I was immediately thrown into a moral crisis. To ignore what was happening would have been to condone it. I considered staying after class and quietly informing the teacher, but that would have been weak, and I knew it. Did I have the courage to stand up in front of my peers and expose their collective dishonesty?
When my turn came, I stood up and pointed out the cheat sheets around the room. “I just don’t think it’s right,” I said, and I sat down amid a raw silence, my face burning.
When the bell rang at the end of the period, I struggled to hold my head up. Reading hostility in my classmates’ every move, I wondered if I had made too big a deal out of a silly prank. Then a girl fell in beside me and whispered, “Thank you.”
Santa Barbara, California
The year I turned twenty-one, I moved to a little town in upstate New York to avoid spending my summer break with my family in Brooklyn. My father and I weren’t getting along, and my mother was about to move in with another man. They had stopped paying for my college and told me to take out loans instead. I’d told them no problem. I had no intention of finishing my last year of college, anyway.
My parents were extremely unhappy, and it was my twisted mission to outdo them somehow in their unhappiness. I moved into a tiny apartment with a friend and got a job as the cashier in a tourist gift shop. My friend began dating the blond guy who lived below us, and I began to date his brown-haired roommate. It just as easily could have been the other way around, if she’d met the brown-haired boy first.
Not long after that, I started a secret relationship with my boss, a much older man. We’d make out behind the cash register and then run over to his apartment and get naked. Afterward, he’d drop me off at home, and I’d crawl into bed with my brown-haired boyfriend. Sometimes I tried to end it with my boss, but then he would be late with my paycheck, and I’d have to let him give me a back rub or feel me up in the storage room.
I grew depressed and started drinking at work when no one was around. One day, a customer came in and caught me. He left and came back with a six-pack. He was a young man in town for a week on vacation, and I had him over a couple of times when my boyfriend was working. He was nice but a bit intense. He actually asked me to marry him. He said he was ready to move out west, get hitched in Vegas, live in a trailer, and be crazy. I was seriously considering it, until I found out he was a college dropout who lived with his parents and worked as a janitor.
The next week, the brown-haired boy told me he loved me, and I found out my boss had secretly had a baby with a cashier in his other store. When I confronted my boss and demanded my last paycheck, he trapped me behind the counter and grabbed at me until I screamed.
After he left, I emptied the cash register, gathered up my belongings, and drove away. The brown-haired boy would be better off without me. Two weeks later, I was back in school.
La Mesa, California
In ten years of marriage, I’d abandoned my true self, playing many roles instead: lover, bride, wife, business partner, mother, confidante, sex kitten, bitch. When I set out to discover who I was, I became a cheater.
I cheated on my husband with a man who was cheating on his wife — only, my lover didn’t call it cheating, because he refused to have sex with me. I didn’t call it cheating either. I called it survival. Without someone else to love, I was sure that I would die.
My lover and I hid in dark corners of blue-collar bars, where no one from my social circle would see me. I snuck over to his apartment on Saturdays while my husband was home with the kids. We kissed and danced. We were naked together. Not calling it cheating was just a game of semantics.
Ironically, lying helped me to come clean, to look into the eyes of the man I’d promised to remain faithful to and say, “I don’t love you anymore.” For me, cheating was the first step on the road to honesty.
My freshman English poetry assignment is due tomorrow at 8 A.M. For the past two weeks, I’ve been assuming that some sort of inspiration will strike me, but it hasn’t, and I’m realizing now that it never will. I’ve got to come up with something, because I can’t afford an incomplete on the assignment.
Suddenly, I remember the poetry page in Teen Beat, a magazine I read in high school. I check the periodicals section in the library and find they have dozens of back issues to choose from. Going back as far as possible, I select two simple poems I can pass off as my own, and I turn them in the next day.
Two weeks later, I get the poems back with an A. I’m thrilled — until the professor announces that he would like a few students to read their poems out loud, and I am one of them. I feel the sweat trickle down beneath my arm while I read. When I’m done, the professor asks how long I’ve been interested in poetry. He says the style of one of my poems reminds him of some poet I’ve never heard of; did I intend to follow this style? I mumble something incoherent and sit down, beginning to feel ashamed.
After class, the professor informs me that, every year, the English Department publishes a booklet of freshman writing and sends it home to parents. He has decided to submit my poems for publication.
Why did I have to choose the Daddy’s-little-girl poem? I ask myself. I love my dad, but I have never been a daddy’s girl.
The booklet goes out with “my” poems in it, and soon the dreaded phone call from my mom arrives. I can hear the emotion in her voice, and I am filled with shame. “I never knew you felt so close to your dad,” she says.
Heber City, Utah
I could tolerate hearing about all the men Zach fell in love with, one after the other, two at a time even. As long as it was only men, I could accept not being the one he loved.
He and I sublet apartments together in the summers, and during the school year we were practically roommates; three or four nights a week, I slept in his dorm room, in his single bed, pressed against the long curve of his body.
The night before I left for a semester abroad, we were in bed together, and Zach gently turned my face toward his and said, “Look at me.” Then he kissed me on the lips, and suddenly we were making love.
While I was in Italy, he wrote me and said that he could do without men. He couldn’t imagine ever loving any one as much as he did me. He proposed that, after graduation, if we both felt the same, we should get married. As thrilled as I was by his letter, I knew it was just loneliness talking. Sure enough, by the time I returned, he’d fallen for yet another gorgeous guy, and we were back to being best friends. We didn’t make love again, but knowing I was the only woman he’d ever been with was enough.
That summer, Zach got a job in a program for high-school students who were earning college credit, and he had to live in the dorm. I lived in an apartment by myself. I was working two jobs, and we were together a lot less often. I told myself it was a good opportunity to read and write and take long walks — activities I rarely had time for when Zach was around. Still, I missed him. My evenings were too quiet, my weekends long and boring. We’d barely had an hour alone all summer.
One Friday night when I knew he’d be at the dorm, I put together a picnic basket with French bread, fruit, a fondue pot, and a bottle of Chianti, and I brought it to his room.
There was no answer when I knocked. A guy from the room next door said, “Hi, Robynn. Looking for Zach?” His eyes jumped to Zach’s door and back. “He’s doing laundry.”
The picnic basket was getting heavy. I asked if I could leave it there while I took the elevator down to the laundry room.
It gave Zach just enough time.
When I came back upstairs, Zach’s door was open, and he was sitting at his desk. I immediately sensed something wasn’t right. He was too posed, with one thin leg draped across his knee and a book open on his desk. Where were the laundry bag, the clean clothes?
I suppose he’d intended to lie, but he must have realized he couldn’t, because he took a deep breath and said he was glad I’d come by: we had to talk.
He said he needed some space. He was quick to add that he still loved me more than anyone, but he was learning a lot about himself lately. He was bonding with straight guys for the first time, getting in touch with the masculine part of himself. And there was a girl. He’d made plans to spend the evening with her. He said “evening,” but I knew he meant night.
I’d met them together earlier that week, while walking to work. For a second, it had seemed that they were holding hands, but I decided it must have been my imagination. Zach introduced her as one of the students in the program. A firefly of jealousy flit through me, but I squashed it.
Now, as I sat listening to all the reasons we should take time off from each other, my face grew hot and my ears began to ring. It was the same feeling I get when I’m sunbathing and I can’t bear another second of the oppressive heat.
I lugged the stupid picnic basket back to my apartment and threw away everything except the wine, which I carried to the apartment of a former roommate. I’d once let her cry on my shoulder after her boyfriend broke up with her.
As kids, my cousin Louie and I liked to play Monopoly. Sometimes we would start a game on a Friday afternoon and play straight through to Sunday night, breaking only to eat or go to the bathroom. Cheating was always a concern. While one of us was in the bathroom, the other would have to sit outside the door and maintain constant voice contact to ensure he wasn’t anywhere near the game board.
I always beat Louie at Monopoly. Being two years older gave me the edge. One time, though, he was about to win when I reached up my pant leg and pulled out some money that I’d swiped from the bank. After that, Louie didn’t talk to me for a few days.
To judge from our scheming at Monopoly, you’d think at least one of us would’ve become a corporate shark. But I’ve floundered from job to job, and the last time I saw Louie he had spiraled down into a dark place. I wanted to help him, but I was too busy trying to deaden my own pain with cocaine and alcohol.
Louie was in town visiting his parents when his dad heard the gunshot upstairs. Later that evening, I sat with his sister and some of his old friends in his childhood bedroom. Everyone tried to make sense of it. Was it his time with the Hell’s Angels? With the Jesus freaks? Maybe he’d done something awful and couldn’t forgive himself? We talked for hours before we noticed the carpet was spongy beneath our feet where his blood had seeped in, and there was a bullet hole in the plaster wall.
Louie’s demons were slowly beating him, but at the last minute he reached up his pant leg, where he had stashed the gun, and robbed them of their victory in the only way he could.
I remember a time when we were playing Monopoly, and as soon as Louie rolled the dice, our eyes raced to see if he would end up on Boardwalk, where I had a hotel. Before I could count the spaces, Louie yelled, “Earthquake!” and flipped the board into the air. We laughed and pounced on each other, rolling around on the floor as the multicolored money floated down around us.
Albert Difilippantonio Jr.