The Beginning of the Affair

I. Dream Girl
We decided—shyly, barely able to hold each other's eyes—to meet in a hotel, one of those mid-priced, anonymous OC business hotels where people who are having affairs must stick out like sore thumbs to the employees. We worked for the same big company, but on this weekday afternoon when we each carved out a half day off, we arrived separately—I got the room, sat down in the lobby facing the entrance, watched the desk clerk watch me, fidgeted, waited, waited. A few endless minutes later, I saw her come through the doors; I jumped to my feet, took a long slow breath to calm down. She was holding a cell phone to her ear, then quickly got off. "It was my mother," she told me as we hugged. "She could tell something is up with me."

"We don't have to do this," I said.

"I know we don't."

But we did—and not just "do this" (ride the elevator up to the room, take our clothes off and make love) but we had to do this. Both of us—responsible and caring people most of our lives—felt gripped by something way out of our control, and though minute to minute I felt like I was making decisions that were mine to make, that the door was open for me to walk away, or at least to say, "This is happening too fast, maybe we ought to slow down"—though it felt like I was "deciding" things, practically every choice I had made since I met her had been toward her, towards more Audrey, more hours stolen away from a "real" life that felt more unreal every day, more reckless passion with no other end than to get as close as I could to her, physically and in every other way; also plenty more confusion, pain, delirium. You tell yourself all sorts of things when you're heading up an elevator holding the hand of a beautiful woman who belongs to someone else, but one of the things you can't afford to tell yourself is that you can't help it, that the gods—of desire, delusion, love, madness, revenge, destruction, hope—are wrestling within you, and that the puny little self that's supposed to be monitoring and controlling things can only sit, stand by as the battle plays out, and then deal with the consequences.

Which consequences we're living with now every day.

In the room, we sat on the hard mattress, stared at our entwined hands, talked about her mom for a minute. Then the tide took over. She wanted to lie down with me but she was shy about taking her clothes off. "That's okay," I said, "we can keep them on." There's too much light in here, she said; can we draw the curtains? Sure, sure, I said. I was saying everything with total sincerity; it meant everything that she felt comfortable, that she didn't feel like she was doing something she didn't completely want to do—which was nonsense because both of us were absolutely ODing on ambivalence. But, god, the desire to strip her down, feast on the sight of her nakedness, to take that peerless body and make her mine. (Yes. I wanted to possess her. Make her feel like "I'm the only one," make her feel "there's never been nobody but you," that sex before me was one long, dry preparatory road leading to the glorious rainbow of me—which I knew even then were the dark egocentric illusions that lie at the heart of so many clichd pop songs, and that have a long history of completely fucking people up. I knew that this is insane. She was living with a guy; I was living with a woman I'd been with for years. But I could not care.) In any case, Audrey seemed to be of similar mind. Within five minutes, I'd relieved her of her shirt and her slacks, her bra and panties, and we were in the fever dream—fucking.

Her face, beneath me, showed everything, in waves of her shimmering moods: large brown vulnerable eyes that said she would let me possess her if that's what I wanted; a flickering steely look—I could have been imagining it, or in looking back have slipped it into my memory of her—that asked if I had any idea what possessing her would come to mean; her fear of giving in, and the sweetness that gave in anyway; and then a frank (and to me frightening) cravenness: some dark desire to lose her mind in a long body-fuck, to come as hard and as long and as much as she can. Her moaning was almost as exciting as the sight of her nude body, which I caught only in chiaroscuro, in the powdery dusk of that drape-drawn hotel room, the curve of her breasts—round, very full, soft and firm at the same time—flashing as she hiked a sheet to her neck, or in the moment when I turned her over, the perfect small of her back sloping up into the smooth muscles of her back and plumping down into the wonderland of her ass.


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 clichd 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.

You pay for everything.

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