In the aftermath of frenzied texting: if he didn’t have a wife who had survived breast cancer, if they didn’t have children, if it wasn’t the High Holiday season, if I didn’t have a conscience…

Oh, I ‘d be driving my car frantically down Utopia Parkway and pulling into a shadowed parking lot behind our old high school. I’d shut the lights, click open the door of a battered sedan, and with my flashlight lifted beside a fraught golden door, welcome an old friend who is truly a stranger. We’d be all strange and familiar, overly familiar and deeply strange. There wouldn’t be much time for discussion.

His fingers would remember breasts sans silicon. His fingers would remember lips that responded to every type of touch. He would remember what it meant to be young and fearless. He would know that who he was still counted. He would know for certain that he could still bring a woman joy.

Before cancer took her, our mutual friend told me that she didn’t miss sex because she could pleasure herself better than anyone else could. She’d accompanied me to the Pink Pussycat Boutique at their newer, smaller location and helped me select a vibrator. In retrospect, it was a mistake; an older, overpriced, awkward model. These days, it dangles within the original packaging from a wire hanger in the depths of my overstuffed closet. The blue plastic cock facsimile it came with promised the possibility of lost weekends without guilt, a promise that wasn’t kept.

It had been a sweltering “Summer of Disease.” My husband survived yet another round of cancer, one more fierce battle won as the “Ha Maloch Ha Mavet,” the “Angel of Death,” had been held at bay. But, for how long would we triumph? What about the nature of these victories? Wasn’t I just dying inside? What about my pleasures? Oh…that’s selfish! Don’t I know better? Aren’t I a dutiful, faithful spouse? Don’t I know that, at my advanced age, adulterous physical desire is profoundly immature? Honestly, I never believed in marital monogamy. I went along with it because there was no way in hell I’d bring a child into this world of capitalist patriarchy without the protection of marriage. Hadn’t I terminated two pregnancies during my early twenties because I was poor, embedded within a state of perpetual war with my over-controlling parents, and in a relationship that had no future? My new and more mature boyfriend wanted children, I wanted him, and traditional marriage was the safest path for family life.  Now our “Dream Child” has grown up, my best friend dead at 50, my older, secret lover abruptly deceased, and an aspiring ethical slut is running out of time. How long will it be before my annual mammogram prompts a biopsy, a CA-125 or CA 19-9 indicates that I, too, will require dramatic surgical interventions and body parts sliced away? Will I get to come before they’re gone?

The hospital screwed up my husband’s post-discharge meds, so I’m in back in CVS after bringing home sesame shrimp courtesy of Golden Garden because, like, my long dead mother, I don’t wish to cook anymore, just to install a plant atop the kitchen stove and be done with wifely culinary obligations. It’s almost closing time, there’s pop music piped across the empty aisles, The Corrs singing “Leave Me Breathless” and I desperately want to breathe and be breathless in the arms of an ardent lover, one who remembers the Goddard film with Jean Seberg and Jean Paul Belmondo’s evocation of “Bogie” in real time. While waiting for the missing drugs, I’ve wandered into the feminine hygiene and protection section and I am beyond the reach of hygienists and feminine protectors, wondering if I’m going to have to go back on Vesicare for being in urinary overdrive due to the adrenaline running through my still mysteriously on the verge of menopause 55-year-old body and I think that if I just got laid the pain would end, the terror would pass, that a devastating kiss could change my world, change the world…that hands stroking my breasts would dissolve suffering, that having a man alive inside of me could heal everything that’s broken, fill what’s been missing…

I’d been listening for the cursed, concealed omens, the secret dark stormy music that warns of impending widowhood, the tortured journey from colon to prostate to pancreas to other internal organs that I don’t want to think about. When the latest barrage exploded, I’d heard David Bowie singing “Major Tom” during lunch at a feminist literary conference. Ground control sonic spillover was a dire warning: life as you’ve known it is going to end. And the end will be coming…when I do not know…and all I know is that I’m not coming…But I don’t want my marriage to end. Hell, I’ve just spent the past three months fighting for my husband’s life – take out that catheter now, don’t inject that heparin, watch that emerging edema, don’t fall and hit your head—sleeping in his hospital room night after night, watching a flaming sun rise over the Long Island flatlands each morning, walking hours of recovery laps pushing an IV pole, along a sandy carpet reminiscent of a classy funeral home. We’d take turns pushing wall-mounted metal exit buttons, and, like at the conclusion of “Get Smart”, the unit doors of our peculiar time share would swing open and then shut behind us. We’d keep walking down the aisle hand in hand; the nurses dubbed us the “Love Birds” and noted appreciatively that a genteel “North Shore Lady” didn’t display qualms about repeatedly cleaning her husband’s behind. Love was pledged through acts of care and constant vigilance that ultimately brought my husband home conscious, competent, and continent. But other cancerous truths, regarding lack of bodily, spiritual, and erotic completeness, cannot be denied.

I just want my marriage opened, to have passion in my life again. Yet I cannot have what I want and I still want what I want…divine revelation between the sheets. How easily I could grab my key ring and start speeding into the night along Union Turnpike, flickering high beams signaling for a rendezvous! You’d quietly take out the garbage, stroll past red brick houses that all look alike, watching for my bat signal at the nearest park. I’d lower the window, lift my blouse, flash bared breasts, and offer brief, tactile gratification. If discovered, you could say that you couldn’t help but stare, that you looked but barely touched.

Standing in my moonlit, eroding driveway, the blacktop fading, I wonder:

Could I ask you to take me to the lighthouse and back?

Would you oblige? Even as you’d be standing in for the bon vivant widower that’s dead, the wonderful dying man that I’m married to, and the influential married man who anointed my writing, broke my heart, and remains very much alive?

It’s collateral damage: no regrets.

Come sunset, my disreputable Camry could pull up at a suburban bus stop. I’d lean out the window, dark curls blowing in the wind, and ask:

“Are you out, or are you…in?”


Tiny fluorescent boxes pulsate, aglow in search of mutuality, a cacophony of tapping fingers and awkward thumbs testing what passes for reality in these times…

HE: “Is your newest story a genuine invitation?”

SHE: “I am sorely tempted. But have an aversion to shrapnel.”

HE: “First time for that excuse! But I’d be a disappointment. You deserve a young stallion on the march, ablaze with righteousness, his middle finger extended towards a gleaming Fifth Avenue pyrite tower.”

SHE: “These days, such literary stallions don’t remember Watergate. But I, too, would also fall short in the fantasy department, too many ghosts haunting my boudoir. Let’s keep this dalliance in cyberspace where it belongs.”

HE: “Until we can’t.”

SHE: “Or won’t.”

HE: “We could meet behind the tennis bubble at Alley Pond Park.”

SHE: “If there’s parking…”

HE: “Don’t worry. I’ll find you a spot.”