There comes a time in one’s life when things are going to change and you have the chance to direct how it’s going to happen. I was fast approaching one. I sat on my bed after a post-yoga shower. It was August and I was naked except for a towel draped over my hips. I noticed a photo on the dresser. It was of the three of us. Mattie in her white graduation gown between Tim and me, her proud parents.
It felt like yesterday, but was actually in June. Mattie, our only child, was going to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Freshman orientation began in two weeks. Then the house would be empty except for Tim and me. This was the change hurtling towards me. No longer worried about the day-to-day care of my daughter—our daughter—would I want to continue with the day-to-day living with my husband?
Mattie was lightly knocking on my door. It awakened me from my trance. I told her to wait a moment as I got a robe. When covered, I asked her to come in. She was in her last week working at a restaurant in town. Work began at four, and it was just past eleven. She wore her usual sleepwear: sweatpants and T-shirt.
“What is it, sweetheart?”
She sat beside me on the bed.
“If I tell you something, do you promise not to get angry?”
My first thought, of course, was that she was pregnant. While she never gone out on a formal dateshe and most of her classmates spent their limited free-time hanging out together, with the occasional keg party at the house of parents gone for the weekend. Perhaps it happened at one of them?
That I didn’t answer her immediately upset her and she said, “Mom?”
“No. No, sweetie. I promise not to get mad.”
She stood and paced slightly.
“I think I’m gay.”
It didn’t register, my mind going in that other direction.
“Gay, Mom. I think I am gay.”
“How do you know?” It was a natural if stupid question.
“Because. Because it’s all I think about. Going to bed with another girl.”
She paused as she watched my brain work. “Is that so hard to understand? I don’t want to be with a boy. I dream of being with a woman.”
She was again sitting beside me. Now I got up. Paced.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” She was getting mad.
I stopped, feeling ridiculous having this conversation in my robe. But one can’t plan for these things.
“Sweetheart. I know all about wanting to be with a woman.” She stared. I sat, struggling to focus
“I’ve never told anyone with two exceptions. I told a high school friend years after we graduated. And Helen knew. Before you were born, Helen was my lover.”
“You mean like a college fling?”
“No. Not a college fling.”
“So you mean—?”
“I mean I’m gay. I’ve always been gay. I’ve had one woman lover in my life. And I cheated on your father with her.”
“What do you mean just one woman? But Dad too, right?”
I would have told her eventually but struggled with my words. I was cruel to my husband in what I did and in lying to him by not telling him what I did. In lying to him about staying with him; I loved him but not in the way that he deserved to be loved. It was unforgivable, what I did to Tim.
And Mattie. If possible I was crueler to her. By not telling her who I was. What I was. Her mother. I preached that she could tell me anything. Yet I did not tell her. Now she struggled in her life because I lacked the courage to come out to her. She went through this alone, afraid of what I would think when she told me. How many times did she look at me and want to tell me but was afraid to?
Was it a lie to make her and Tim and the rest of our world believe we were the perfect family? Tim, a partner at a New York City law firm. Me, a teacher in a nearby public high school. Living in a wealthy suburban village north of the city with an eighteen-year-old daughter going to Cornell. The perfect family.
Now I opened up to my daughter and feared what she would say and how she would look at me. Her eyes showed puzzlement more than anything. She flopped her back onto the bed, looking at the ceiling.
After a breath, I began. “My whole life. Just two people.”
“Jesus Fuck. Are you gay or bi?”
“Does he know?”
“No. Only the girl from high school and, of course, Helen.”
“Helen. The woman you had the affair with.”
“Yes. Her. It was a long time ago.”
“So you’re not still seeing her?”
“It was long ago. Before you were born. The first and only.”
“But you were married, right?”
“I was married to your father, right.”
I was now on the bed beside her, lying back next to her.
“‘Shit’ is right.”
“What are you going to do?” She looked over at me. “What are you going to say?”
I got up and she got off her back, though she remained on the bed.
“I knew this day would come, when you’d be gone, and that I’d have to decide whether I would stay with your father.”
“So you’re putting this on me?”
It was the last thing I wanted to do. I sat next to her and grabbed her hands.
“Being with you and him and this family was what made me happy. With you going, though—” I struggled to get this right. “With you going, it’d be just him and me, and that’s what I mean.”
She was staring.
“But we’re the perfect family. I’m the envy of virtually my entire class because of you and Dad.”
“It was all a lie.”
There. I said it. It Was All A Lie.
“Not you. Not everything. But our marriage. Your father deserved much better than I offered. Than I could offer.”
I did not tell Mattie that I tolerated sex with Tim. I was available whenever he wanted and I was willing to do almost anything he wanted. I’m sure he thought we had a great sex life, that it too would be the envy of the village if our neighbors knew about it, and because I was a good actress, able to fake orgasms. He thought he was a great lover. Maybe he was. He lived at times for the orgasms he thought he was giving me. These were more of my lies. In bed with a wonderful, handsome man inside me too often pretending to be in the throes of passion when all I wanted was to be done with it..
I was up and pacing yet again. How do you tell a husband of twenty-three years, the father of your daughter, that you are a liar and a faker and a cheat?
“You have to tell him. And you have to do it now.”
She was right, of course. I stopped, standing in front of her.
“What about you?” I asked. “What do you think? That I never trusted you to say anything.”
“I wish you had. It would have made things easier for me.” I felt stabbed. “But I understand why you didn’t. Now you have. I guess all we can do is go from here.”
She stood, wrapping her arms around me and telling me she loved me.
“As to Dad. We’ll tell him together. I’ll go first because I think he’ll be OK—”
“He will be. I know he will.”
“I hope so. Then you have to tell him. I’ll be there for you, but you know it’s up to you.”
She sat back down on the bed.
“We’ll do it together.”
I sat wrapped an arm around her.
“I’m sorry I stepped on your news. First, let’s talk about you and what you should say to your dad.”
We discussed it. I assured her he would be fine, even great, with it. He and I cared nothing except for what was best for her and at the top was that she be free to love whomever she loved. Tim was the best and kindest man I’ve ever known. His happiness turned on hers.
We would do it when he got home.
“And you have to tell him about you,” she repeated.
“I know. That’s going to be…that’s going to be awful.”
“Mom. You have to do it.”
After another “I know,” I told her I needed to get dressed, and she slipped out of the room.
I called her back in.
“I’m sorry, Mattie. I didn’t ask you. Is there somebody?”
She stepped to me and put her arms around me. “No, Mom. Not yet.”
“Not even a kiss.” She kissed my cheek and again left the room. I heard her shut her door.
One’s never ready for a day of reckoning, no matter how long its arrival has been inevitable. As I dressed, I thought about my life with Tim. A good life. As Mattie said, to others it appeared the perfect life. And perhaps to Tim it was. Or thought it was.
For me, it was like I had taken a piece of myself when I married him and locked it away. I took it out one summer with Helen. That was wrong, taking it out that summer, I knew, even at the time, and I put it back, gathering dust but always there. For years, I thought about telling him. But I didn’t.
Whatever plans I had to tell Tim and to chart my new life had exploded when my daughter forced me to be honest with her. And him.
I went to the kitchen to make a sandwich. The bread was in the toaster and I was mixing tuna with mayo when I heard Mattie’s door open and her bounding down the stairs. Normally she headed out for a few hours with friends before work. Get something to eat with them. But she walked into the kitchen. She asked if there was enough tuna for her, and when I showed her the bowl, she took my bread from the toaster and put two slices of her own in. Silently, she opened the fridge and poured a glass of milk, offering some, which I declined in favor of tap water.
I watched as she plated her toast and made her sandwich with a lettuce leaf and part of the tomato I had cut.
She cut the sandwich diagonally and with the milk sat across from me at the table.
“Tell me about Helen.”
* * * *
I began with the background.
“It was when we lived in the city.” Mattie knew I met her father when we were juniors at Penn. He went to law school in Manhattan and I got a teacher’s certification. We married after his second year. I started teaching at a middle school in Queens when he began his third and final year of law school. By then, we lived together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Mattie interrupted me, wanting to know why I married him.
“The $64,000 question. Why did I marry him? Once I went to college, your grandparents , kept pressuring me to find someone and settle down. A man, of course. I was afraid of disappointing them.”
“I hope I won’t disappoint you.”
I took a sip of my water. “You’ve never disappointed us yet so I don’t think you’re about to start.”
“Even with the…you know?”
“Even with the you know. But back to me.” Another sip. “So I did what was expected of me. I went out on dates. A variety of guys. But there was no contest. Your father had it all. Smart and handsome. And so it evolved and evolved to marriage, a child, and a house in suburbia.”
Now that house felt like it was closing in on me. So Mattie and I left our now-empty plates and walked quietly to a small “lake.” It is not a lake. A widening of the Bronx River, really just a stream. There’s a paved path around it with wooden bridges at either end and on a nice summer day like that one bikers and runners and strollers use it. As we headed there, she wanted to know whether I had a lesbian fling in college.
“I thought about it all the time with all sorts of women. I think I was afraid of what would happen. It almost happened in high school.”
I was a few years younger than she was, I said, a sophomore in the same high school she’d just left, when I knew. I realized that I had affection only for some of the girls in my class.
“As now, in the nineties not a lot of formal dating was going on. We hung around in packs, going to lunch or the movies or the mall. I had my first real crush when I was a senior. It was a classmate. I don’t recall how it happened, but we became close and I spent more time with her than with anyone. She was about my height and had blonde hair. A smallish build. I played field hockey and she ran track.”
“Charlotte Riordan.” I thought of her often over the years. “She liked me, and we held hands sometimes, which wasn’t unusual when we were, say, strolling through the mall. So no one took notice. When we were seniors, something almost happened.”
I paused in that thought.
“Sorry. It was our final semester, and we had both turned eighteen a month or two before. We were alone in her house, as we often were on Saturday afternoons. In her room, talking. She got into Dartmouth. We spoke about whether we could keep our friendship alive when we were so far from one another. I didn’t know, and I told her so. We were on her bed. It is maybe the clearest moment of my high school days.”
By this point, Mattie and I reached the path. I opened a small gate. I was quiet for a moment, as much in my memory as in where she and I walked. An empty bench overlooked the water, and we sat. I continued. I was back in Charlotte’s bedroom. It was early spring, but still chilly, and we both wore jeans and T-shirts. She had let her hair grow and it was longer than usual. In a ponytail, but she undid it, giving her head a shake to spread it out.
“It was now or never,” I said. “I’d pined for her for a long time and knew she had feelings for me. I caressed the side of her face, looking into her blue eyes.”
Mattie’s hand took mine. I had nearly forgotten she was there. I turned to her.
“I just want you to know that, hard as it may be to believe, I was once young like you.” I paused. “And that when I was your age…I loved another girl.”
Mattie leaned to give me, her mother, a comforting kiss.
“You don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”
“I know. But I’ve never told anyone except Helen about that afternoon. It wasn’t far from here. Charlotte lived on the Hill. I can see the room, her bedroom, when I walk Eddie.” Eddie was our chocolate lab. I told Mattie that Charlotte’s family moved to Florida a few years ago.
I needed a breath and we stood. I placed my arm through Mattie’s and leaned my head by her shoulder.
“‘I can’t,’” I said. It took a second for Mattie to understand. “That’s what Charlotte said. As I went to kiss her, my first kiss, she held up her hand. She was as afraid as I was about what would happen if our lips touched. I was afraid, but I couldn’t not do it. She was so lovely. I don’t think I accounted enough for her family. Her father was prominent in Republican circles in the county. Things weren’t as open as they are now—I know you don’t think they’re as open as we’d like—and were more open than they were years before.
“Things got a bit ugly when one of the boys in our class was caught kissing a boy from another school in a hallway at the mall and word of it got around and a large share of the boys in town, and some girls, starting bullying him. He had enough real friends that he survived.”
I hadn’t thought of him for years and years either and wondered what became of him. He was a good guy without a cruel bone in his body, and I hated myself for not being more supportive of him.
“It was high school, but throw in something a little unconventional and things could get more miserable. So with that going on and people already whispering about Charlotte and me, she said she couldn’t and we didn’t and it was one of the worst days of my life.”
I almost cried, but controlled it, waving Mattie away. “I’m good. I’d forgotten how horrible things can be when you’re young. Please tell me you haven’t had to go through anything like that.”
“There’s no one like Charlotte for me.” We found another bench, on the other side of the lake, the traffic on the parkway behind us. It had gotten warm.
When we sat, Mattie took over. “I’ve…I’ve lusted after some players on other teams.” She was a math whiz who started on the school’s lacrosse team.
“Seriously, Mom, there were certain girls I would let do whatever they wanted with my body in a post-game shower.”
“In your dreams?”
“In my dreams, yeah. So no Charlotte for me. You know my friends. They’re all just friends. Buddies. I’ve never had any feelings for them.”
“Give me some credit. They’re more annoying than anything… That’s not fair. I like some of them as part of the gang. But I wouldn’t dream, and I don’t dream, of doing anything with them.”
“So you’re sure your straight-up gay.”
“Well, I haven’t done anything to prove it, but, yeah, I’m sure. Now, what happened to Charlotte?”
“She ended up getting married.”
“So she wasn’t gay? Or she’s bi or something?”
“No. She’s gay. She’s married to a woman and they live in Greenwich Village.”
I told Mattie that I had run into her about seven or eight years after we graduated. She had done well at Dartmouth and was finishing medical school at NYU. Her family was still in the village. It was Thanksgiving and she’d taken the train up. She needed to get some air and was walking in town. I was there, I told Mattie with her father visiting my folks—Mattie’s grandparents—and I went for my own walk.
“I couldn’t believe it. There she was. We strolled together. She’d aged very well. She told me she was sorry for what happened that afternoon. Or what didn’t happen. She remembered it, too. It gnawed at her. She knew she was gay and hoped I was and she thought she loved me. But, and this is where she looked down, she was so damn afraid. She said, ‘I was so afraid of what would happen if anyone found out. And I was afraid of what happened if I liked it.’ She said that now, while we were talking, she knew she would have loved it and she not only regretted what she did to me by turning me down but also that she would have liked me to have been her first.”
“Yeah, her first.” I looked at Mattie. “Sweetie, always remember that. Your ‘first’ will be important to you forever so don’t screw it up.”
“You mean, ‘don’t fuck it up’?”
“You know what I mean.”
We were again walking, starting our second lap of the lake. I told her that Charlotte was living with a fellow med student when I saw her. Charlotte asked me about “us.” Whether I ever thought there could have been an “us.”
“We were just kids,” I told Mattie. “But I admitted to Charlotte that thoughts of what-might-have-been lingered for a while. Both about she and me and about me and some other girl.”
There was no one close to Charlotte in terms of my craving. I, too, starting getting family pressure. It was expected that I would find a husband at Penn. It sounds so old-fashioned. I was attending an Ivy League college and my parents measured success by whether I found a husband. I thought all the time about having something with a woman, but never dared. I knew and liked plenty of women, but maybe if I felt for one the way I felt for Charlotte it would be different. But in part I think what happened with Charlotte shook me and deterred me from trying.
Instead, I did what was expected. I dated men. Whenever I came home, it was always, “have you found someone?” I met Tim when we were both juniors. If there was ever a man I wanted to be with, although I’m afraid not physically, it was Tim Conroy. He grew up not far from me. While my father was a banker, his was an accountant. I grew up in a wealthy suburb, and his was more downscale.
But Tim was handsome and sweet. He had a wicked sense of humor and was a decent basketball player, though he didn’t make Penn’s team. A lot of classmates drooled over him, but he liked me. We shared an economics class, and soon we were boyfriend and girlfriend. It was wrong of me and I’ve always regretted deceiving him. I wish nothing more than to have not done to him what I did. But I loved him. Insofar as a lesbian can love a man, I loved him. He was good and sweet and kind.
When we graduated, we both were going to New York. He was attending NYU Law School, and I was getting a master’s at Teachers College at Columbia. With a little financial help from both our families, we got an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was an easy trip to school for me, and not too many subway stops for him. After I had my degree and he was in his second year of law school, he proposed. By that point, I was fully committed to him. We had sex regularly, but it never felt right to me.
We got married in a big ceremony in town. White gown, stretch limo, live band at the reception on the Hudson. When I said “I do,” I meant it. I had taken the part of my life, the core desire I had for someone else, for a woman, and locked it away. It was what I was to do and I did it. I never told anyone. I’d hinted to Charlotte that horrible afternoon in her house over six or seven years before but to no one else. We honeymooned in San Francisco.
* * * *
In the summer after Tim started practicing, I attended a week-long teachers’ conference in Queens.
“It was there that I met Helen.” I was resuming my story with Mattie as we sat on a bench by the lake. “Helen was a little shorter than me and a little bigger than me. She had fiery red hair and pale skin. She looked like an Irish goddess. She was the type everyone noticed when she entered a room. She had an aura. I felt it the moment I saw her. She sat next to me in the cafeteria on the first day. We chatted easily, which was unusual for me. She told me her story and I told her mine.
“She was from Buffalo. She moved to New York to get away from the cold and wound up teaching in upper Manhattan. She lived way up at the northern end of Manhattan.
“For the rest of that first day, I found myself paying less attention to the panels than I did to Helen. She seemed oblivious to my glances and to whatever was churning inside me. But from that point, we sat by each other during the conference and in the cafeteria. We took the subway together to go home. She knew I was married; I told her. I said nothing about my orientation. As far as she was concerned, so I thought, I was simply another young teacher married to a lawyer.
“Everything changed on the Thursday of the conference. We were on the subway heading into Manhattan. She said, very matter-of-fact, ‘I’d like to see your apartment.’”
I paused, thinking of that apartment. It was a nice, small place near Central Park. I was proud of it. Of course I said yes. I was naïve. I didn’t imagine Helen wanted to do anything except see the apartment. It wasn’t late, about four, and it was warm, even for a July afternoon. When the door was closed behind us, she pushed me against it. Her lips were on mine and in that instant, when a woman’s lips were finally on my lips, all of my desires and lusts and dreams poured over me and I kissed her back with ferocity, different in kind not just in degree from what happened when Tim’s lips were on mine.
Helen knew I was a married woman. I knew I was a married woman. Neither of us cared. Yes, we should have. But we didn’t. I don’t know how, much being a blur, but we were naked on the bed and she was kneeling between my legs and adoring my pussy, my hands pulling her to me. I rarely allowed Tim to do this. I knew he wanted to, but it was an act too intimate even for my husband. I went down on him when he asked—although I’m afraid to say that I never did it voluntarily—but told him that being eaten out didn’t do it for me.
With Helen, it worked more than anything I could imagine. Her blue eyes looked at me briefly, but it was too intense and I lay with my head on the pillow, my eyes closed so I could focus all of my energy on what she was doing to me. Soon my hands loosened their grip and I held them above my head as I sailed into oblivion.
I shook and for the first time experienced the orgasm I always hoped was inside me. Helen used her tongue and her fingers in ways I never thought possible, and she slid up the bed to lie next to me, her right hand lightly moving around my right boob.
She raised her head to look at me. “I didn’t know.” She moved her hand across and kissed my cheek. “I hope—”
I pulled the hand to my lips and kissed it. Still looking at the ceiling and recovering my voice, I assured her. “Better than I imagined.” I kissed it again. “And I always imagined it’d be great.”
She turned and lay on top of me, lowering her mouth to mine. Then she split my legs with her legs and began to rub herself on my left thigh, kissing my lips as she came.
When she came down, she rolled to her side and asked, “Your first?”
I told her my story as she again lay next to me, her fingers now gently playing with my bush. I could feel her eyes piercing into the side of my face as I spoke. When I was done, she told me I was “wonderful.” That’s the word she used. “Wonderful.”
I think she felt guilty, not knowing I was a virgin. I know she felt guilty because I was married. Once my story was told, though, I didn’t care what she wanted or didn’t. I wanted to adore her body. I shocked her, I think, when I abruptly turned on her, throwing her down on her back and putting my body on hers and my tongue dug into her mouth. Then my lips were kissing whatever there was to kiss on her face. Eyes. Nose. Upper and lower lips. I pushed down. Her boobs. They were small but the nipples were poking out. The most beautiful things I had ever seen. Perfectly sized on her frame.
Her skin was light with freckles randomly placed, like stars in the sky. She pushed my head to her right nipple. “Suck on me, baby.” Her diminutive didn’t register at first. But I was suckling on her until she told me I was making the left one jealous. I set about to give her other, spectacular red nipple its due.
She started to rock. I knew I had to eat her out. I also knew enough to take my time before my lips reached her pussy. As I started down, her hands tried to hurry me. I resisted. She was stronger than she looked, but I resisted. The moment my lips reached her mound and I had my first smell of a woman nearly overwhelmed me.
“Why did you stop?” She could barely say it she was so excited.
“I don’t know what to do.” This was long before the internet and I knew nothing about pussy except what little I discovered with my fingers.
“Do anything. It’ll come naturally. I’ll guide you.”
She didn’t have to guide me. I was, she was right, a natural. I licked and bit. Mimicking what she did to me.
My hands were keeping her thighs apart but I put my middle finger inside her puss. She was drenched and bouncing on the bed.
“More. Three. Fuck. Three.”
As I continued my licking, I had three fingers of my right hand inside her. I was rocking in time to Helen. Until I felt her hands grab my head and pull it closer to her. She screamed. It was afternoon. I hoped the neighbors wouldn’t hear. The neighborhood was very much a do-your-own-thing but a woman’s orgasm in my apartment could be trouble.
I think she realized it and got quiet as she spasmed on my fingers and tongue.
I did not, of course, describe this to Mattie. It was like a sci-fi story in which a whole lifetime passes in one’s memories in only a moment of real-time. They ended, and I was suddenly back on the bench with my daughter when she touched my arm.
“It happened at our apartment. Making love to her and her making love to me exceeded my dreams.” Mattie’s hand tightened its grip. “The conference ended the next day, but we met regularly on Thursday afternoons for about a month. Some Tuesdays too. We went for walks in Central Park. She didn’t have a girlfriend, but she knew we couldn’t last. I didn’t want to admit it. But she knew.”
In mid-August, I told Mattie, Helen’s mother died suddenly. We planned to meet that day at our usual spot in the Park. When she arrived, she had a small suitcase. She sat with me and told me what happened and that she had to go home.
“She told me she didn’t think she’d be back. I never knew if I had a part in her not coming back. I don’t know. Maybe her father needed her. I walked with her out of the Park, and she hailed a cab. She had a flight in two hours and was heading to the airport.” Again I was there, on the sidewalk as the cab pulled up. She threw the suitcase in the back and turned to me. With a final hug, she apologized. I thanked her, but she said no. “I should not have done to you what I did.” Then she turned into the cab and she was gone.
“Did you love her?”
Mattie’s question was inevitable. Perhaps it was time and distance. Of her being my only lover. Or perhaps I knew it the moment her lips hit mine as she pushed my back against the apartment door.
“Yes.” I anticipated her follow-up. “And I still do.”
“Fuck. Sorry. You know you have to tell Dad, right?”
“Now I do.”
She apologized, thinking she forced me to do something I didn’t want to. It was something, though, that I already knew I had to do.
“You promised to tell me about Charlotte.”
Suddenly things lightened up, and I was brought back to the present.
“I saw her again about five years ago. One of our classmate’s husband died suddenly. A good friend of us both. She came up for the funeral. When we were at our friend’s house afterward, Charlotte and I sat outside on the porch. I noticed a wedding band. She was married to the women she lived with at medical school. Both doctors. She said they would have married sooner if they could.
“She showed me a picture. Her wife was tall with wonderful, dark skin. An OB/GYN. Charlotte does orthopedics. Then she showed their two children. The couple took turns carrying. It was a gorgeous family.” I paused. “I wish I’d kept in touch.”
By then, Mattie and I were at the house. It was about two. I made coffee, and my daughter and I sat across from one another on the couches in the living room.
“How are we going to do it?”
* * * *
Tim was on the 6:38 train, as usual. It got into the village a bit after seven. I don’t want you to get the idea that the village is one of those quaint little English places. It’s a square mile with about 7,000 residents, most of whom are affluent. It’s an easy commute to the city and a large portion of those residents go in to their jobs as lawyers, bankers, and executives each morning. There are maybe five or six blocks worth of stores, including a Starbucks and a movie theater. It is a tight community. Many families have been there for generations. Some not. My parents were the first in my family.
We lived not far from the station, and Tim walked to and from it each day. That night he came through the door at about 7:10. Mattie and I waited. I poured him a scotch, which he rarely drank during the week.
“You’ll need it,” I said as I handed it to him. He looked from one of us to the other.
“What’s going on?”
He took off his jacket and tossed it over the back of a couch. Mattie was already sitting on the other and I joined her. He sat across from us. Again he looked from one of us to the other.
“We have some things to tell you. I’ll let Mattie begin.”
“Dad.” She paused. It was a secret kept from everyone until that morning. My reaction did not go as she thought in any of the scenarios that ran through her head over the past year. Who knew how her father would react.
“Dad. I’m gay.”
Tim, bless him, wasn’t sure how to react. It was clear that he had no objection but he didn’t know how to say that. “That’s great” didn’t seem appropriate. I’m sure, at least, that this went through his head. So he stood and held out his arms to her and simply said, “I don’t care who you love as long as she loves you back.” I could almost see the relief slide across my daughter. She expected no less from her father. But one never knows until one says.
As they hugged, I thought back to my parents. To my struggle about whether to tell them. I was sure at the time, although I was not so sure as I watched my husband and my daughter, that they would be horrified. I did not think they would throw me out. I did think they’d be very, very unhappy. Unhappy and “disappointed.” That word would have been used. I know I could have done what Charlotte ultimately did. Not care. But we are each unique and I didn’t dare find out. So I lived my lie and forced Tim to live my lie with me.
Again, these thoughts shot through me as I watched my own family. And how happy they were with each other. Knowing what I was about to do to my husband. To my family. He was thrilled that Mattie came to him, came out to him, wondering if she had a girlfriend. When she said she didn’t, he said, “There’s plenty of time. Maybe you’ll meet someone at Cornell. The way I met someone at Penn.” The knife slid into me at his words.
“Tim, I’m gay.”
He turned from Mattie to me.
“I’m sorry. What?”
“Please sit. Both of you.” Mattie was by me. He was again across.
He was confused. “You can’t be. Maybe bi?”
Mattie got up and sat at an armchair she pulled so she was the same distance from each of us.
“No, honey. I mean gay?”
And it went on. I told my husband that I knew I was gay when I was a bit younger than Mattie. That I knew it when we got married. That I’ve always known it.
His lawyer’s brain was processing this and beginning to understand.
The moment of truth.
“I had an affair with a woman. Before Mattie was born but after we got married.”
He looked like he was hit with a second volley.
Before he could speak, I continued and I didn’t stop until I was done. I told him that I had been with two people in my life and that I loved them both. He was one of them. That I had an affair with the other and had neither seen nor heard from her since she got into a taxi on Central Park West and headed to LaGuardia. That I always loved him as much as a lesbian could love a man. That if it weren’t for him there would be no Mattie. And that I was sorry for living this lie for so long and deceiving him about who and what I was. Who and what I am.
He sat back. “Let me get this straight. You married me even though you were not sexually attracted to me. You had sex with me although you were not sexually attracted to me. You allowed us to let all the world think we were the perfect couple although you recoiled at the sight of my body”—that stung, deservedly—“so you’ve been lying to me and to all of our friends and to Mattie and to all of her friends for the last twenty-three years. Is that about the size of things?”
His scotch lay untouched on the coffee table, and he reached for it as he stood.
“Is that about the fucking size of things? And now you want…what? Forgiveness? Closure? What the fuck do you want?”
He regained his lawyerly composure. “Okay. We can deal with that later. Where do we go from here?”
There was but one answer. “We need to get a divorce so you can get on with your life and I can get on with mine.”
He looked me in the eye for the first time since this began. “I have no life to get on with. You and Mattie are my life. And you’re telling me that you at least are not my life. After twenty-three years that I, fool and idiot that I am—”
“You’re not an idiot or a fool.”
“Aren’t I? A woman who let me make love to, who I thought was making love to me for twenty-three years now tells me that she was…Were you faking it all those times?”
“Most of them.”
“Brilliant. This is brilliant. And you say I’m not a fool or an idiot. Get real. But I guess we can address that later too. Right now.” He looked at his watch. “At 7:42 p.m. on August 17, 2017, what is your plan? Tell me. I’m sure you’ve given this lots of thought. That you have some magic solution that lets me at least, as you put it so well, ‘get on with my life.’”
“There is a lot of crap here. Okay?” Mattie interrupted, speaking for the first time since I became the topic. She looked at her father. “And I know how much this is hurting you.” And she looked at me. “Both of you. Mom told me this morning. I’ve been with the two of you my whole life and I know how much you love each other. I understand that this is a Really Big Deal. But we are where we are. Okay? Where do we go from here as a family? You are my parents. I love you both. Equally. I don’t want to lose either of you and I will lose both of you if you hate each other.”
She again turned to Tim. “No matter how justified you would be in hating her.”
He picked up his glass, which he had noisily put back on the table earlier, and emptied it. He got up to get another, getting ice in the kitchen and then pouring from the bottle by the wall. He sat back. Neither Mattie nor I moved or spoke.
“We’ll get divorced. Everyone will be shocked but…I can’t continue knowing that you don’t feel for me as I feel for you.” He took a sip. “And I don’t think you should have to continue pretending.”
It was inevitable, the divorce. We agreed we would speak about the details, but it was quickly settled. There would be no acrimony—even if it mattered, as it no longer does, Tim would never have gone that away. Everything would be split in half. We had enough together that I would be comfortable on my teacher’s salary. But that was for later. Now a little after eight on a summer evening, there was a more immediate issue.
I knew we could not stay in the house together, at least not that night. I also knew he would offer to find a hotel for himself. But I was to blame. It was his home now. I would spend the night at a hotel in White Plains, the county’s business center. I could not, of course, go to a friend’s. People would find out soon enough about our illusion. No need to throw it at them.
I was not working over that summer. When I got to the hotel—Tim drove me and Mattie helped me check-in—I went online. I found Dr. Charlotte Winter-Osten. It was only her office, though, but I left a message with her service, giving my name, hoping she would remember.
She called fifteen minutes later. I sat in the hotel room trying to eat room service.
She asked me what was going on. We had not not spoken since that day we ran into each other in town, what? five years earlier. I told my story. About me. About Helen. About Tim. About Mattie. About how it was all out in the open and I did not know what to do and just wanted to tell someone.
She told me to have a stiff drink and to come see her the next afternoon. She had rounds in the morning but could be home at about two. She gave me her address in Greenwich Village.
“I am a doctor, and those are my orders.”
When I was about to hang up, she added, “I’ve often thought of that afternoon,” and she was gone.
* * * *
Two doctors in Manhattan. It was a very nice place. Charlotte was corralling her two kids, boys seven and nine, as well as she could until she laid down the law. They became polite and quiet and went to their rooms, where I heard conflicting video games being played.
It was early afternoon on a Friday, but Charlotte brought out a bottle of Pinot Grigio and two large glasses. The loft had a large room with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over another building with lofts and large rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows. Del—Delilah—her wife was on call for the weekend so they couldn’t get to their place in the Berkshires.
“Bone doctors”—orthopedists—“are on call but not nearly as often as OB/GYNs. You may know that babies are not always compliant with due-date protocol.” And she laughed. She said Del would probably be by at around six, if I could wait. Since I had no place to go—I could just take the train to my hotel in White Plains—I told her I’d like to.
She was a little embarrassed. She had mentioned “that afternoon” on the phone. How she was such a chicken. How she always wondered what making love to me or even just kissing would have been like.
Always a delicate subject, what-could-have-been. I admitted spending an inordinate amount of time thinking the same thing. Charlotte was beautiful then, and still was. She was smart and kind and any woman would be lucky to have her. But we were too close, growing up together. My only regret, I told her, is that we lost contact when she went to Dartmouth. I saw her now and then when she was home, but what we had was gone. Maybe it was fallout from “that afternoon.” In those days, when we were in college, I think it embarrassed both of us and, sadly and perhaps ironically, pushed us apart.
But, as she said, that was then. She told me about her boys and loved what I said about Mattie. About her experiences in the school Charlotte and I attended over twenty years earlier. Which set off a flood of memories.
I left it to her to talk about the elephant in the room. She did it right after pouring each of us a second glass. She knew the story from my phone call. Now we were talking about me, about my future.
I knew nothing. I knew there was a world of gay women out there, but had no clue as to how to connect with any of them. I was forty-seven and newly out. A school teacher in a suburban town. While we were considering my options, the door opened. I recognized Del from the photo I saw years before. She kissed her wife and was formally introduced to me before she disappeared to see her sons. They came storming out when they heard her arrive, and the bedlam resumed.
It was dinner time anyway, so we adjourned to the kitchen, the boys heading back to their rooms for more video games, and the three of us chatted. It was a nice conversation. Charlotte had gotten Del up to speed on me. The two started talking about women I might like until I told them to slow down. I had come out twenty-four hours earlier. I had a husband and a daughter. And I had been with one woman ever, and that was twenty years earlier.
I nodded. Charlotte turned on the light.
“That settled, let’s eat. I’ll get the boys.”
While we spoke, Charlotte was pulling together a simple pasta dish and Del tossed a salad. Del put two glasses of milk on the table in the dining area, and I put out the placemats. In the end, it was a fine meal with fine people and I got into a cab to catch the train to my hotel in White Plains.
I texted Mattie when I was on the train and called her when I was in my hotel room to tell her what was going on. That I met with Charlotte and her wife and I felt I had some idea of what I was going to do. She told me that her dad was still pretty shaken up. He’d gone to work and come home as usual. They ate dinner together, but they both avoided mentioning me. It was awkward.
Before I hung up, I told her that I would like to speak to him if I could.
Tim called about fifteen minutes later. It was brief. I wanted to know how he was doing. He said, “All right, considering.” I said the same. Before we hung up, I assured him that I still loved him, and he said he knew and then he was gone.
My phone rang a minute later.
“You should know that I still love you too.” And I told him I knew and wished him a good night and slept well.
* * * *
I didn’t live far from a high-end mall and sometimes walked its halls to be with people. I had a two-bedroom rental I was able to get on September 1. The extra room was for Mattie’s visits from Ithaca.
On the first Saturday in November, I was walking in the mall when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, puzzled.
“Olivia Elliman. My younger sister Nicole was in Mattie’s class.”
It registered. She was several years older than Mattie and she sometimes gave Mattie and Nicole a ride.
“Oh, my God. You’re so…old.”
She laughed. “Twenty-one and counting.”
She lowered her voice and leaned closer. “Is it true what they say…about you?”
One reason I was glad not to be in the village was that I didn’t have to deal with the disapproval of people I barely knew, let alone of those I did. She realized I didn’t take as she intended.
“I hope so.” She pulled back a bit. “I’ve been lusting after you for years. We’ve had some very happy times together,” and she again burst into laughter.
“Yes. Gay. My parents know but prefer that not too many people do.” I understood this. There was enough animus in the village to make it uncomfortable to her parents, among the old-line “pillars of the community.”
Olivia was a senior at Manhattanville College in nearby Purchase, New York. Although it wasn’t far from home, she lived on campus and she, too, liked to escape in the anonymity of the mall’s corridors. We sat at the food court. I liked her immediately. She was honest and clever, and I found myself telling her things I hadn’t told anyone. Little, often embarrassing things. She told me some as well.
When we finished, we headed to the ladies’ room at Nieman’s, otherwise empty, and she followed me into a stall. I didn’t object. My back was to the sidewall and her tongue was in my mouth. Suddenly her hand was running along the side of my ass and I reached down to pull up the hem of my dress and her hand moved to my pussy. It was damp, and she pushed my panties aside and put a finger inside me. I almost exploded then and there. By now, her mouth was struggling to keep me quiet as a second finger was inside me and then a third.
She pulled her mouth away, but only long enough to say, “Come for me” and then it was back to mute my scream as I came as I had not come at the hands or fingers of another since Helen. Her left hand, the one without the fingers that were inside me, held me up as I slowly came down and her mouth released mine so I could recover my breath.
I was insane. I told her to come to my apartment in town. She drove us and before I think either of us knew it we were lying naked on my bed, our clothes scattered about and me telling her I hadn’t a clue of what to do.
She smiled and said, “It’s not like I have much experience. I’ve only been with four women. What I did to you was what the first one did to me. We’ll have to figure it out together. Okay?”
And I nodded and reached across to touch her hand.
In bed, we lay on our sides looking at one another. Outside she was no more and no less pretty than most women her age. But lying next to her she gave out an aura that struck me hard in my pussy. And she was telling me how beautiful I was. How she fantasized about being exactly where she was at that moment. Before I got too concerned, she again laughed.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Conroy, it’s all my fantasy, not yours. I’m not going to propose or anything.”
And we spoke about it, beginning with me insisting she call me Sharon. I was already old enough without having her twist the knife.
We agreed to take it one day at a time. I knew that I wanted to be with her again. We were naked in my bed and she leaned over and kissed me. She then forced me onto my back and her mouth began to devour me. And soon she was between my legs with her tongue doing things that I had only imagined, however frequently over the years. When she put her fingers again inside me I again burst, heaving up and down on the bed as she fought to stay in contact with my pussy.
When I was calm, she turned on her back.
I reminded her of how inexperienced I was. She said to do what felt right and Iwould be okay. Then I stared at a young woman’s succulent pussy.
“Go ahead and explore it. I’m enjoying it.” I looked up as she lowered her head back to the pillow. I used my fingers to separate her outer folds. It was magic. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I did not the time with Helen. We were always in a rush. I ate her and she ate me and it was always glorious. But now I was studying the plumbing. There were shades of red and pink throughout and her clit was hidden by its hood.
I ran a finger down and felt her dampness and then felt her hands at my head.
“Please, Sharon. Love me.” I was surprised how quivering her voice, so strong minutes before, was. “Please, Mrs. Conroy,” and I wanted my tongue and my fingers to live up to her fantasy. Guided by her moans and her hands, I feasted. I tried to do what she did to me, and after I had three fingers in her she shouted, “My tit. Suck on my tit.”
She was rocking and I was having trouble keeping my fingers in her. I maneuvered so I could raise my head and brought my lips down to her engorged right nipple. When they hit, she cried, “Suck it, fucking suckle me, Mrs. Conroy,” and I fell into her. My hands were pumping and I felt her right hand pull me deeper to her chest. I suckled on her like a calf, half-thinking I could get her milk. “Bite me. Fuck. Bite me.” And I bit her nipple. “Harder.” She was beyond control. Juice poured from her puss and my teeth dug into her delicate nipple.
Then her ass shot off the bed and her body stiffened. Her left hand joined her right in holding me to her tit as I released the nipple from my teeth, now dabbing the beautiful creature with my tongue. It was primal.
Olivia was having trouble breathing. I gave the nipple a kiss, and rolled onto my back. “Oh my God.” Her hand rolled across my stomach. “I have…You’ve made me felt something I never thought possible. Oh my God.”
She sighed. “Thank you, Sharon.” She turned and was on me like a rabid animal. As she kissed me her left hand went to my pussy.
“I need you to come.” And she pummeled me with those three fingers and her head stayed above mine as she bored in with her eyes and I felt a moment of nirvana when her head moved and her lips began to suckle on my tit, and I wished I had milk that I could feed her.
She was gentler than I had been. I used both hands to hold her head to my boob. I wondered as I came—for the third time—whether I could love this woman. It was not quite what she experienced, but it was wonderful.
When she finished, we both fell asleep, and I awoke with her arms around me. It was night and I wanted her to stay. We ordered dinner delivered and after eating, we lay in my tub, me between her legs as her fingers ran across my folds and her lips kissed the back of my neck. And we talked. She said she didn’t know why she did it, why she wanted me to suckle on her. But with me between her legs, it seemed that a world of fantasies collided and she needed me nursing on her tit and that suddenly became the most important thing in her world.
She went back to Manhattanville on Sunday after we had brunch in town. It was strange. She was only three years older than Mattie, but she seemed much older. A fully formed adult. Someone I could be friends with. I didn’t know whether I could fall in love with her. I doubted it, giving our different life experiences and ages. When I got back to my apartment, I called Charlotte, my confidante. I didn’t intend it, but I told her everything.
We talked about the age-gap and the fantasies.
“Do you remember Ms. Walker?”
I said of course I did.
“Did you fantasize about her?”
I said of course I did.
“Could you imagine going to bed with her when you were twenty-one?”
I said now I did.
“That’s where Olivia’s coming from. You’re her fantasy. You both need to enjoy it, but it won’t last.”
I did enjoy it. We shopped together on Saturday afternoons and had dinner and sex on Saturday nights, and she stayed over. On the third or fourth night, I told her about Tim and me. How I betrayed him and lied to him. She held me in her arms, kissing my forehead. It just came out, lying naked in my bed with a woman over twenty years my junior.
She was special to me, but we were both careful about where we were going. She had had a girlfriend at Manhattanville, but the girlfriend was of the jealous sort, and they broke up the prior summer. Olivia was going to law school and wanted to avoid complications until then. She was smart and did well on the LSATs and hoped to go to law school in the city.
So she told me I was part of her “uncomplicated” life and that she hoped she was part of mine.
* * * *
It had to end, and I’m afraid I was instrumental in making that happen. Charlotte and Del held a party in early December and Olivia was my date. We weren’t girlfriends, and I told Charlotte I would be bringing her with me. When we arrived at their loft, the party was well underway. Charlotte introduced us to a number of her friends and especially to a senior at NYU named Tina Patterson. Tina seemed nice enough and sweet, but I knew in a moment that my days with Olivia were numbered.
The two were like me and Helen. I pulled Olivia to the side. I knew she felt guilty, and we went outside for a walk. I told her that she needed to take her own path, or something banal like that. I did love her, and still love her, in my own strange way, and perhaps the same can be said of her. But when I left the party about an hour later I was alone.
Olivia stopped by my apartment a few days later at about eight. We made it official. We sat on the sofa holding hands.
“I know we’ve had something,” she said. “And I’ll always treasure it and…what you’ve done for me, but—”
“But it was never meant to be. I know.”
“Yeah. It was never meant to be.”
I pulled her to me, and she put her head against my shoulder. I said, “Maybe you can save a smidgen of love for and old broad like me.”
She lifted her head, and I ran my left hand across her cheek. God, I was tempted to take her to bed one final time, a last chance to make love to her and have her make love to me. But I cheated enough in my own life and would not help Olivia cheat in hers.
As she looked at me, she smiled. “Oh I think you merit at least two smidgens. Maybe even three.” And I kissed her, lightly, on the lips and then the forehead once more and after a hug at the door she left me.
I do not want it to sound overdramatic. Olivia and I still shopped and had lunch every few weeks when she was still at Manhattanville, and we still speak every few weeks. I’ve become the person in whom she confides her secrets about Tina.
I went to see Charlotte and Del the following Saturday, after Olivia and I had “broken up.” Charlotte confessed to having facilitated the meeting. I think she thought I might blame her for it. But I was, I hate to say it, relieved.
* * * *
Mattie went to lunch with Olivia over Christmas. When Mattie was down for Thanksgiving, when I was still with Olivia, Mattie spent the Wednesday at my apartment. I told her about Olivia and me. It was very recent then, but I wanted Mattie to know about it, that her mother was sexually active with another woman.
Mattie was fine with it. I asked if she wanted to speak to Olivia about being gay. Mattie was involved with the LGBTQ community at Cornell, but school work kept her too busy to explore any possible relationships. I thought it might be good to speak to someone she knew from the village.
Mattie had come out somewhat in the village, but it wasn’t widely known that she was gay. Olivia knew about me but not about Mattie. Mattie approved it, and I called to arrange that the two get together. This all sounds much more complicated than it was. I told Olivia she and Mattie could have lunch at my place while I went into the city to see Charlotte and Del.
When I got back late that afternoon, I sat with Mattie. She reported having a good talk with Olivia about the logistics, really, of being a gay woman. She admitted asking what Olivia and I did, and I don’t think Mattie was expecting to be told, “almost everything” from my former lover. She took it well, and we laughed about it. Remember, Mattie had become my friend, my adult friend, as well as my daughter. But still, there were things we both did not want to talk about it. Olivia’s “everything” was pretty much all either of them wanted to hear.
Mattie was spending the rest of the break at the house. Thanksgiving was the first time the three of us sat together since the day I moved out. While it was stressful at first, each of us walking on eggshells, things gradually turned familiar and by the time the three of us were doing final prep in the kitchen, we were relaxed enough to enjoy the day.
With the ice broken and Mattie back at school, Tim and I realized how much we liked each other. What’s the old joke? “Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” That was us. There was nothing to be done about my homosexuality.
Tim knew that he was the only man I could, or would, love. He and I spoke about how we both wanted him to find another woman to love. It would be hard, we agreed. But he was very handsome and smart and sweet. In some perverse way, if I were not divorcing him, I would want to marry him. Except for the…you know.
We met periodically. Usually in White Plains. He would come to my apartment. I was pretty much persona non grata in the village. Some avoided me because I was gay. But it was a tolerant place, and most despised me because I cheated and ruined their illusion that Tim and I were the perfect couple. I did not need the angina of people crossing the street to avoid me. Tim appreciated that.
He told me, on the other hand, that my piranha status enhanced his eligible-bachelor “cred.” He was shocked, though I wasn’t, by how many of his friends’ wives became concerned about how he was “handling things.” He was genuinely astounded. On line at Starbucks. At the supermarket. Getting dog food.
Tim mentioned some specific encounters. Remember, we were the epitome of a good marriage. There were scores of failing ones strewn about town.
We agreed after Labor Day that notwithstanding still being married, neither of us would be cheating if we had sex with someone else. It’s why I could sleep with Olivia. I would not have done so without his tacit approval.
He, though, was having a hard time of it. His legal mind had blind spots, and my job was to fill them in. We agreed that the most likely candidates were widows and divorcees in the village or at the field club or people at work.
It sounds ridiculous, I admit. But there were two ways a husband in the position that I had put Tim in could have reacted. Many, perhaps most, men who were treated the way that I treated him would have turned bitter. They couldn’t be blamed. I had not married such a man. He regretted that he was unable to fulfill my needs. That because of him I denied myself. He forgave me my affair with Helen. It was a reason I married him.
So now we were working on finding him a new wife. It would take months before the divorce was final—in the early spring—but we were each free in our separation.
Tongues wagged disapprovingly in the village, but as I said, they wagged against me and in Tim’s favor.
I never told him this, but I knew for a fact at least four women, married women, who would have had an affair with him even when he was married to me. Who knows how many would take the leap now that he was available?
It didn’t hit me until I found myself in the village shortly before Christmas. I had kept myself scarce for the most part but needed to get something at one of the pharmacies in town. As I headed back to the car, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Anne Fellows. Anne was a widow. Her husband died in a car crash about five years earlier. He had done well and had plenty of insurance, so Anne could afford to remain in the village. She had two children, a boy and a girl, in the high school and was expected to move out of town once the younger was in college.
I didn’t know her that well. We were on a committee when Mattie was still in school, but I liked her. She worked hard and was generous with her time and thoughtfulness. I heard that she was working at a bank in White Plains, and had since her husband died. She was a few years younger than Tim and me.
When she tapped me on the shoulder, she said she was sorry to hear what had happened between Tim and me. I knew she meant it. Theirs was one of the few other “perfect marriages” in the village, and I knew she was devastated when her husband was killed. I visited her several times in the aftermath. I liked her.
She asked if we could get a coffee, and we went to the smaller, non-Starbucks place in town. We found a small table in the back.
We just talked. I don’t recall what we said beyond her saying she regretted that I no longer felt welcome in the village. Her words got blurry to me as I realized that she would like Tim and Tim would like her.
Tim and I were open about the topic of Wife No. 2. I tried to feel Anne out about whether she had any feelings for Tim. Or might have now that he was “free.” She thought and said she might be interested. She was awkward speaking to me, his then-wife, about it, but I assured her that he and I had an understanding and I was trying to help him.
I reported my conversation to Tim when I got back to the house. We sat in the living room. He had a scotch, and I sipped my vodka tonic. We often were a good combination on yin and yang, and so it was that night.
* * * *
As for my coming out, my time with Olivia was a wonderful transition. I don’t know if I could have moved forward without her. But she was seeing Tina and I was seeing…no one. It was the Sunday after Christmas, and I was feeling sorry for myself in the open room of Charlotte and Del’s loft. I lived in Westchester County and had no idea where to go to find someone to fall in love with. I was a forty-seven-year-old lesbian who had been with two women my entire life, the first over twenty years before.
Their boys were playing video games in their rooms, so we had the open room to ourselves. We were enjoying some Pinot Noir, and I was on my second glass. I was hungry, gobbling crackers and cheese.
It was cold and dark and I was horny. I spoke to Olivia regularly, and she was reporting how well things were going with Tina. I wasn’t jealous. I just had needs that Olivia used to take care of. Maybe Tina would let me borrow her for a night? An hour?
I didn’t mean that. I don’t think.
Del looked at me. God, she was gorgeous. Charlotte once asked if I ever fantasized about being between Del’s legs, and I admitted I had.
She said, “That’s okay. Just know that your fantasy is nothing compared to the real thing” and she hung up. She was such a loveable bitch.
Now Del was staring. Her eyes were kind.
“We all know what you have to do.”
We all did.
“Find Helen. Until you know one way or the other, you can never move on.”
I knew that, of course. More than anything, though, I was afraid she was long gone. That she found the woman she was fated to find. That she was happy. Had, as did Charlotte and Del, a few kids. Went to sleep every night with a woman she loved. Went to sleep every night with a woman who was not me.
That’s why I hadn’t tried to contact her. The possibility that she was out there and available was something that kept me going. But Del was right. Until I eliminated her, I could not move on.
I took a cab to Grand Central and then the train home. It was about seven when I got in. I turned my computer on and starting searching for “Helen Woods Buffalo.” I added “teacher,” and there were three results. I felt like the Terminator, searching for Sarah Connors. One was too old. That left two who were about my age. Both retired from teaching in the Buffalo school system.
That’s all I could find. I paid a service to get their phone numbers. I wrote down what to say. “Hello. My name is Sharon Conroy. Did you teach in the New York City School System in the mid-nineties?” The first said she did not. So did the second. But the second added that there was a Helen Woods that had been in New York City and then Buffalo. But, if she recalled correctly, she moved back to Queens about ten years ago. She had no further information.
“Helen Woods, Queens” turned up four people. So I called around again.
My Helen was the third.
* * * *
She hadn’t changed much. A bit older, but the same fiery hair and the same wonderfully pale, freckle-endowed skin. We met at a neighborhood place in Astoria. Not far from her school. It was a cold Saturday in mid-January. She told me on the phone that of course she remembered me. I think she was insulted that I could think she might have forgotten.
When we sat and our lunch orders were taken, she reached across and held each of my hands.
“I’m single. I’ve had several girlfriends since you, but something always broke us up. Maybe me. Maybe her. I don’t know.”
I told her that I finally admitted who I was to my husband and that we were getting a divorce. That I had his blessing to find my someone. I told her in broad strokes what was going on with me. About Mattie and about Olivia. “But I need to get over you before I can go forward. First, though, I need to know if I can get over you.”
I’d felt a tingle when she placed her left hand on my right. It wasn’t as smooth as I remembered her hands, but, of course, neither were mine.
She was quite forward.
“Look. I’ve thought of you often. I spied on you remotely insofar as I could. I saw you were married and had a child. Not much else.”
I laughed. “Our generation is not quite so forthcoming online as my daughter’s.”
She asked to see photos of Mattie, and I pulled out my phone.
“I don’t know whether I would have had the courage to come out to my husband if Mattie hadn’t had the courage to come out to me. And I wonder how things would have been different if I had that kind of courage.”
“Well you wouldn’t have met me,” she said. “You wouldn’t have been a high school teacher married to a lawyer and living on the Upper West Side.”
I looked at her.
She smiled. “I see you as having a string of lovers—women of course—and living in a dive in Greenwich Village while teaching in some under-privileged community school with no interest in attending a teachers conference at a middle school in Queens.”
In that moment I knew I was madly in love with her. I said, “I still might have met you in some lesbian flophouse,” and before she could reply our lunches were served and our conversation took a less interesting turn. Her father died about ten years after she went back to Buffalo. She liked living in New York, particularly given her orientation, so she moved back. She lived alone. Her last relationship ended about two years before and she’d been alone ever since.
When lunch was cleared, she asked if I wanted dessert. Looking at me, she whispered, “I would rather go to bed with you than do anything else in the world.”
We passed on dessert.
Ten minutes later we were naked in her bed. I ran my fingers down her body. I needed to adore it. She lay on her back as I kissed first her face, every part of her face, before moving down. I avoided her breasts as I worked my way down. I avoided her pussy too, lifting one and then the other of her feet, sucking on each of her toes. She knew what I was doing, and she wanted me to do it. I don’t know how long I took to adore her. She was an idol, a long-submerged idol, in my faith.
When I finished with her feet, I moved up. She spread her legs so I could again get access to her pussy. I had studied Olivia’s and become intimately familiar with the parts of her pussy. I used that knowledge now, with Helen. She said, “Love me” and I did.
* * * *
Tim was the first person I told of my engagement. In some respects, Helen and I had a short affair, but in another, it was extended beyond endurance. I at least had buried my desire for her. She carried it with her each day. She knew that leaving for Buffalo as she had was necessary for me to move on. She helped me cheat on my husband and would not allow it to continue. She did not think I would cheat on him again and, as we have seen, she was right. She was always the woman I was to be with.
Tim was happy. Mattie was thrilled. She met Helen when she came down for Easter break. We met in White Plains. It was special so we got dressed up and ate at the restaurant on the top floor of a local hotel, a dining room with a view that extended to Manhattan. They both stayed in my apartment that night. Mattie in her room. Helen in my bed.
* * * *
The three of us met Tim at a restaurant the next day. We drove down to the village. Tim thought it important to make a statement. Mattie, Helen, and I arrived and were directed to a table for five, for Mr. Conroy. Helen was very nervous. She knew enough that she was the woman with whom Tim’s wife had an affair. I assured her that Tim forgave me and forgave her.
After a few minutes, Tim walked in with Anne Fellows. They were holding hands. It was unlike Tim to have such a PDA, but, again, he was making several points here. He supported me. He’d moved on. And he and Mattie and I remained a family. A family to be envied. That he was with his lover and I was with mine.
There would be talk but ultimately I knew we—all of us—would again be envied by most of the couples in town. A glass of champagne helped Helen relax. Glasses helped all of us relax, except for the still-too-young Mattie.
We were all very smart, very clever people, and very sweet. Suddenly I was embarrassing Tim to Anne and Tim was embarrassing me to Helen and Mattie was embarrassing both of us. And I liked Anne.
Brunch was a step in Helen and me getting our lives together, and it took us a while to get the logistics straight. I was teaching near where I lived, and she was in Queens. Until school ended, we stayed together on weekends and apart during the week.
Those weekends were spectacular. She came to my apartment on Friday. I savored just living with her for the weekend. The sex was great. I continued to adore adoring her body, and she did the same to me. We became adept at using a strap-on and shared duties with it. We were not nearly as young as we’d been during those stolen afternoons on the Upper West Side, but we made up in experience what we’d lost to age.
We married in June. Mattie was our maid-of-honor. Helen had no family except a few cousins who came down from Buffalo for the ceremony.
Tim and Anne were there. I asked Tim—our divorce was final in late April—to walk me down the aisle. I thought a formal hand-off would be a nice gesture, but he declined, and I think he was probably right. I had long since ceased being something that he could give away. I was my own woman.
Helen managed a transfer to a school in the Bronx for the next year, and she moved into my apartment. I had enough from the divorce settlement—here, too, Tim was generous and we had no fights about things, with him insisting on taking care of Mattie’s tuition and board at Cornell. We bought an apartment near my rental. It had more room and it was ours.
After that Sunday brunch, I was not quite so ostracized in the village and was a regular at Tim and Anne’s house, which had been our house. She’d moved in with him and they were engaged, the wedding scheduled for September. I was right that she was a perfect match for him. In some ways, I was jealous of him because, as I’ve said, he was a wonderful husband. And will be for her.
This story all began with Mattie sitting in my bedroom to come out. By a year later, she was comfortable in her skin. She’d soon have a step-mother (as well as me) and a step-brother and step-sister (she always wanted siblings). People who mattered knew she was gay, and she didn’t care about those who didn’t matter. Some of her “friends” in the village would have nothing to do with her and some of the parents purported to be disgusted as well. But Mattie was fine seeing them rush to cross Pondfield Road to avoid her. She was out and she was proud.
I was right, too, about Olivia. But I don’t get much credit since that was pretty obvious. Charlotte and Del saw it too. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but after Olivia graduated from Manhattanville, she moved in with Tina in the City’s East Village. It was a dive, but they loved it. Tina worked as a paralegal in a midtown firm while deciding whether to get an MFA from NYU while Olivia would take the subway up to Morningside Heights to attend Columbia Law School. The six of us—Helen and me, Olivia and Tina, and Charlotte and Del—still meet once a month or so at the doctors’ loft.
That is now. And in my quiet moments now, I look back. That after I watched Helen get in a cab and out of my life all those years before, I wanted to find my Helen. Through the rest of my marriage, and the birth of my daughter, I wanted to find my Helen. The nights lying in the arms of Olivia, I wanted to find my Helen.
In the end, Helen was my Helen.