Book Excerpts

Telling Catherine

Her expression slid into a well of sorrow as I told her what I was doing in New York. This was a few weeks before the Harem was busted. I had gone back to Minneapolis for a visit, and she stopped over to say hi.

Catherine and I were sitting on a twin bed, facing each other. The small guest room I was staying in was bright with crystalline winter sun, and cold. She was the first person I told who wasn’t already complicit in the whole endeavor in one way or another. I had thought it would be just like any other piece of news, no big deal. Interesting, not traumatic.

I wanted to brush away her grief, to accost her puny prejudices and politically correct conclusions, and explain that there was nothing to mourn, but her response was so instant and so visceral that it slipped past my defenses. Catherine was my ex-lover and we’d both moved on, but no-one knew me better, and no-one connected to the heart of my eroticism (and thus, to my soul) more deeply. Her sorrow was corporeal, connected to my own body so deeply, still, and which felt, as the words I spoke vibrated out through my chest, what had been broken.

Her grief melted the lid off the subterranean armature containing mine, which erupted shockingly, violently, from depths below my awareness. My head slid into her plump familiar female lap and I sobbed great shuddering heaves, drenching her faded jeans with hot tears and snot. Wave after wave of cataclysm, as if my body were Vesuvius, grief shot up through me. As if I had just unintentionally killed my most intimate, lifelong companion.

She stroked my hair and murmured “Oh Crissy” periodically, propelling further waves.

I did not know why I was sobbing. My mind refused to accept any idea of wrongness or even damage. I did not believe in a single variable that one could say I had violated – not sin, not monogamy, not sexual purity. I had harmed no-one, except perhaps in some small insignificant way, myself.

But her physical presence reflected back to me an unutterable irreparable undeniable shattering that I could not escape – wordless, not-abstract loss.

I knew then that in the realm of the irrevocable, I had fully committed one of the most irredeemable acts a woman can commit. I had crossed a line over which I could never cross back. A line that would forever separate me in some subtle but profound way, from the rest of humanity.

Coming from the wrong side of the tracks, one learns to thicken one’s skin when crossing over.

An impulse to erase lines and skin altogether accidentally made an inerasable line, requiring me to thicken even more. I decided to leave that specific sorrow in Catherine’s lap and have never visited it again. It’s the one part of the whole story I can do nothing about – that line will exist as long as I do. But as I write these words, I can feel that sorrow has been a stow-away inside me all this time, hiding behind my eyes and inside the point where my chin curves into my throat.

It’s a sensation that tells me that, though the line will never go away, perhaps I might relate to it differently.

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