The Beginning of the Affair

Anatomy of a secret relationship

I know, I will eventually have to talk about the morality of this—the cheating, which, by convention I guess, should be the hook here, the story, the conflict—because despite its commonness (more than half of us cheat at some time or another) cheating engenders a shame and strangeness as unique as the people doing it. But I don't want to go there yet: there are four things I have to say about being in bed with Audrey. The first is that by the all but official standards obtaining in this time and this place, she's almost unendurably sexy and beautiful. Everywhere we go now, men's eyes linger over her; she's often asked if she's a model; the one time she and I looked at a Victoria's Secret catalog together, my most prevalent thought was that not a single girl in those pages had anything on her. When I told her this, she demurred—she doesn't see any of this, hates it when I bring it up even—but admitted that her old boyfriend had said the same thing.

The second thing is that her sexual responsiveness is beyond belief. It's not just that she comes easily—she can have an orgasm from me doing nothing more than kissing her neck and breasts—or that her orgasms can come in waves, four or five rushing atop one another; it's that she can come from making me come: she has come while going down on me, and I remember looking down on her afterwards, amazed, to find her heavy-lidded, her cheek lolling on my thigh, pushing strands of her dark hair out of her face and catching her breath, smiling and looking dreamy, as if she were thankful that I'd let her do that, that the pleasure, really, was all hers.

Sidebar: This sounds made up, probably—I understand that. But that's a function of my not being good enough a writer to make the truth feel like the truth. Sex, it's become clear to me, is the hardest experience to relate to anybody else because not only is the culture already drowning in clich├ęd sexual imagery, but everyone's sexual experience is so idiosyncratic and personal as to be practically unconveyable: the proportions of pride, insecurity, tenderness, cruelty, hormonal hunger, plain weirdness, vulnerability, repression, basic rapport with one's own body, the ability to trust pleasure or not, the ability to enter another person's life, or the fear of that—the proportions of these things are so unique and private to each person that the words we use to represent sex are probably themselves illusions: we're just not talking about the same things. ("She was great in bed," one guy says to a friend at the gym. What the hell does that really mean? He may as well say, "My malarken gwo seely tendwilly." It's like the old game where you say a phrase to a person next to you; by the time the phrase comes back to you, passed through a dozen more people, the phrase is unrecognizable. That's sexual discourse.)

And then there's the envy factor: a lot of people who aren't having sex that is rattling the cages of what feels like Being itself have a hell of a lot of trouble listening to people who are.

Coupled with her sexual responsiveness—the third thing I have to say about fucking Audrey—is that, despite a placid exterior, she has a kind of all-enveloping, daringly sensual temperament—dark, swellingly ripe, luscious—which draws her to pre-Raphaelite painting (the more dreamy nudes and rosy nipples the better), music like Carmina Buruna, Bertolucci films (especially the ones that deal with incest), novels by Fitzgerald and Nabokov, classical erotica and occasionally plain old porn, clothes from Anthropologie and Betsy Johnson, high-end lingerie, gourmet meals that take hours to prepare, electronic body music, Goth leather outfits and high-heeled boots to dance in that clearly edge into S&M territory. She roots out the sensual in everything—in libraries, in cemeteries, in the sounds of words. (Our favorite word—our favorite word before we met, and hence a source of mutual delight ever since—is "breast." Not just for what it means—which is swoony enough, but for the way the initial consonant blend bursts into the thin vowels and eases into the sibilance of the final "st." And because it rhymes with "blessed," "undressed," "caressed," and "incest.")

The last thing—and if I'm pouring it on, that's because I'm a man whose cages have been thoroughly rattled—is that she is an unreconstructed romantic. Despite the fact that she can so lose herself in fucking that it took me a long time to learn that she was not for a second forgetting that it was me she was fucking, and despite the fact that she loves to use the word "fuck" to talk about what we do, she believes in romantic sensual love as a power you must give yourself over to if your life is to have any meaning or purpose, and the Catholicism she was raised with has only intensified her linking of the sensual to the devotional. This means she's devoted to me in a way I didn't know existed—a sexual exclusiveness that's beyond question—and that she has a desire to know me in ways that no woman has before: Audrey's recklessness in bed travels: she's just as reckless about getting to know my character. The sensual intimacy we've got demands intimacy of every other kind—no secrets, no hiding places to stash away our shames and weaknesses, no spaces of darkness that we agree to best leave unexplored.

Anyway, that afternoon at the hotel? She was great in bed. And then we kissed goodbye and I went home to my girlfriend of seven years.

II.
You pay for everything.

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