We stand on the pier together, Karl and I, having carried these four cartons filled with the crematorium ashes of our parents around for years, once lined them up on the shelf in the garage, then shunted them to the basement in a banker’s box, found a hundred reasons why we couldn’t dispose of them yet, finally the need to be done with them outweighs our refusal to face facts. So on this trip, a decade after our first mourning, we bring these receptacles to an appropriate dumping ground and are determined that if we accomplish nothing else we will not carry these cartons back home.  We look down into the murky water and see vague forms of fish swimming, fat muddy mullets circling the dock, we peer around all guilty, we’re pretty sure we are not allowed to throw crematorium ashes into the bay but are determined to do it anyway, we just don’t want to get caught. We open the cartons, they are shaped like giant Chinese restaurant takeout boxes, each full to the brim and  five pounds worth, and look inside, trying not to breathe in case we mistakenly inhale a fragment.  I am immediately repelled by the lumpiness of the contents, I thought the ashes would be sifted and clean but instead there are chunks of matter that make me look to one side and think about anything except this unpleasant reality.

I eye Karl, he’s not smiling either, he looks a little pale under his tan, now we really understand why we shuffled these boxes upstairs and downstairs and outside for years, dealing with them is not much fun at all, and we are having difficulty remembering anything nice about our parents when faced with these clotted packages of dust.  Our plan was to say a few words, spiritual or something, toss the ashes into the air in memory of the folks, a gesture to the memorials we never organized. We are not funeral kind of people and my parents hated funerals too. For years we pretend that everyone is immortal.

I thought you got a handful of ashes when someone died, not that they actually shoveled up great masses and clumps of burnt bone, enough potash to  fertilize your peas.  I am horrified really, you can’t possibly scatter all this material, you have to just turn the cartons upside down using both hands and shake them and let the contents plummet into the water. We do that, one carton at a time, wanting to go faster but noticing that the ashes unfortunately do not sink immediately but float for a time on the surface, dusty and oily all at once, attracting the attention of the mullets.

For a few minutes we watch the water, looking down between the boards of the dock as the waves gradually break up the scutwork of ashes, as the sun shines down on our bare heads and bare arms and bare legs and bare feet, as the cormorants and pelicans dive in the distance, as the mullet splash, and then we gather up the empty cartons, weightless as air.

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Great Books I Have Read

Just about every famous author or politician or historian has a list of books which made them the person they are today. I have such a list even though I am not a famous person: The Magus by John Fowler, The Alexandrian Quartet by Durrell, Metamorphosis by Kafka, Alice Through the Looking Glass, all books that made me question the nature of reality, the world, taught me the overwhelming importance of perspective and forever transformed the way I relate to the universe. And then there is this other book, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, which schooled me in the notion of the zipless fuck, not an intellectual concept but nevertheless important in my development.

A zipless fuck is very pure, has no baggage, no first date, no foreplay, no aftermath or recriminations, just lust untainted by virtue or sin. Once I read about it I was enchanted, my eyes opened to heretofore hidden possibilities. I was a sluttish kind of girl anyway but this did away with even the perfunctory preambles and courtship I might have insisted on earlier.

So I am on the train from Baltimore to Penn Station, going home for Christmas. College is already a disaster but hasn’t yet hit its nadir, luckily that is a few more months away. I am cheerful, it is nice to be traveling the rails independent like, I am feeling pretty wearing a camel’s hair coat and cherry red scarf, the train car is full of other young people, all happy like me. And here I am, a zipless fuck enthusiast, and there he is, he is an enthusiast too without even having read the book.

The boy is blond and handsome, a merchant marine cadet he tells me. Our interest in fucking is mutual, instantly communicated, here is the bathroom, here is my skirt pulled up around my waist and my coat on the floor, here are my legs wrapped around him, here we cry our passion for one another and it is exactly as delicious as expected.

Pull clothes together, exit the bathroom discreetly as the train roars into the station with grinding gears and screeching wheels. I am home, on the platform looking for my parents, still a little flushed with excitement, scarf nonchalantly around my neck, I never look over my shoulder to see him.

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Cocktail Time

When a doctor asks me how much I drink I lie and make up a number, I’m afraid to say never because he might think I am a recovering alcoholic.  It’s just that I grow up when cool people don’t drink.  Drinking is for the bourgeoisie, for my parents, gin and tonics and Manhattans and martinis, scotch on the rocks, decanters and shakers set catty-cornered next to polished glasses on the bar, cocktails to be served with canapes, chopped chicken liver on crackers maybe, and the news on Channel 3.

My father comes home from work every night at 6:00 pm on the dot, a homely man made handsome in his felt fedora, overcoat, wingtip shoes, suit and tie, carrying a leather lawyer’s briefcase bulging with important files and the New York Times and the Post, letting himself in the door, I can hear the key turning in the lock, calling out, glad to be home. He is hungry for drinks and then dinner, hello dear he says to my mother smiling. He changes clothes, and he and my mother and I sit in the living room, we can smell dinner cooking.

I don’t say much, I read a book while they talk, but I like to watch them, my mother is so beautiful and my father looks at her with admiring eyes.  Alcohol blurs their voices, my father jokey with a five o’clock shadow, my mother laughing one minute and complaining the next, she smokes her cigarette like a movie star.

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A New House

By the time I enter law school I am tired of living in the woods, but Karl still loves our life, because see, he poured enormous energy into building our house and improving the land and we are finally starting to reap the fruits of all his effort.  He can’t understand throwing our hard work away just when things are getting good. I don’t care, I want running water and indoor plumbing.

Karl is understanding and says, well I can see that someday we might move, I know he only says some day, that it is one of those airy statements people make about the future, never thinking the other person will take it seriously, but it is the opening I hope for. As soon as he acknowledges even the remote possibility of moving I call a real estate agent and start looking at houses to buy. Karl is dumbfounded, how did some day turn into today?

Caitlin is thrilled, she thinks moving into a traditional home is a wonderful idea. She is eleven,  old enough to appreciate what having a real house means, she just wants to be a regular girl.

My mother helps me find the perfect place, it is in the nicest neighborhood in Randolph.  All the houses were built at the turn of the century by fat tradespeople and there are towering maple trees up and down, flower gardens, bicycles parked on driveways, American small town dream street. The house I fall in love with is an old gray Victorian two-story haphazard home with a renovated carriage house garage.

We move in just as Caitlin is beginning the sixth grade, she walks to school with the children who live nearby, when we lived in the woods she had to make her way by herself to the school bus stop a mile away and then ride in a bus for 45 minutes.  She smells like soap, not wood smoke and kerosene. She has a real bedroom, Holly Hobbie sheets, she takes two baths in a row on our first night in the new house and cries when she goes to bed, she is scared to be all by herself.

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I Love Law School

I fucking love law school. Now I sound like my friend Susie who embellishes every sentence with fucking this and fucking that. But I do, I do fucking love the classes, the analytical work, the parsing of opinion. I fucking love the spirit of competition and camaraderie, the respect I get as a smart person, the humbling I get as a know-it-all. Law school is the first time I fucking leap to meet an intellectual challenge instead of slinking off into a passive-aggressive corner.

My first year was the hardest, all required courses. Constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal law, wills and estates, contracts, agonizing detail upon detail, fact upon fact, pattern upon pattern, elephantine textbooks for each subject. All my books have been through multiple hands before me, come with individualized underlining and marginal jotting, I can almost see these former students, I meet them in the interstices of case notes, I fucking love them.

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Vacation Stories

After I meet Louis and finally lose my virginity I spend a week in the Catskills with my parents. I’m 17 and we’re at a big Jewish resort with a nineteenth century shingle style hotel and cottages and restaurants and a New York comedian at night, tennis courts, a lake and swimming pool, a golf course.  It isn’t my vacation of choice but my parents don’t want to leave me home alone because the last time they did I walk a few blocks to  our garage and tell the man on duty that I am Mr Moses’s daughter, then I go for a drive.  I don’t have a license but I pick up two firemen and sleep with them and we all eat pizza in their bed. But bad luck, my father keeps track of his odometer and figures out what I did, not the firemen of course but the rest.  He first blames the garage attendant for taking the car out but the attendant cries Boss, it wasn’t me, my father calls the man Chief and the attendant calls my father Boss, and  finally Chief points the finger at me and my protestations of innocence convince nobody.  My father has to give Chief a five dollar bill for wrongfully accusing him.

I don’t resist going away with my parents, as it turns out wherever we stay I can have fun and now that I have started I find it very easy to have sex.  On our last vacation to Florida I go bed with the chef from the hotel. He is older and looks a little like Punch with black hair and a hooked nose, afterwards he props himself up on an elbow and  looks sad, he tells me he misses his wife and children in France, he kisses me while I murmur something sympathetic.

In the Catskills I am drawn to one of the waiters, he goes to Cornell and works at the resort every summer, we hardly exchange a word, you know how you can want to kiss someone without even knowing his name, just touching him is like fire, we hurry to my room at the hotel and throw ourselves onto the  bed and  it is glorious. We finish, we are laying all panting on the messy sheets when there is a knock on the door and it is my father. In a panic I push the boy into the bathroom to get dressed, pull my own clothes on, all the time calling through the door to wait a minute, be right there, and finally I throw the door open, hi Daddy I say brightly, and  then the waiter comes out of the bathroom all red-faced,  my friend was just changing his clothes, I say, my father asks doesn’t he have his own room, and I babble something to rebut this perfectly legitimate question, oh my god, just finish and let’s get out of here.

I tell these stories and you might ask, are they true, and I am tempted to lie and say not really, I am exaggerating.

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Kiss Me

My final therapist is Peggy, a charming old lady Jungian psychologist working out of her garage, she likes to move chairs around and have me talk to them, pretend that I am chatting to myself as a little girl. Karl and I do a few weeks of couples counseling with her first, but after awhile Peggy is afraid she is getting into conflict of interest territory and asks Karl to find another therapist. I stay with Peggy, she helps me in the rough times ahead and I am in her debt.

My difficulties are bittersweet since they arise from my sexual awakening, which is simultaneously exhilarating and a source of despair. I am in my 40’s and have been in the closet forever, not only in the closet but unaware that there is a closet and a room, a world, beyond it. At least gay people understand that gay culture exists although they are cut off from it, I don’t even know that.

This is my problem, I am an ignorant sexual submissive in a vanilla world and have been convinced that I am frigid and crazy because only power exchange dynamics arouse me, and those don’t exist for me outside of literature. I have filled my fantasies with the Marquis de Sade and Story Of O but looked in vain for a real life counterpart.

Let me tell you about an incident, illustrative of my lack of self-awareness. It happens early on when Karl stars in a local amateur production of Kiss Me Kate, the year’s Fourth of July musical. The play’s underlying theme is the power dynamic between the leading lady and man, in the finale Karl must wrestle his co-star across his lap and spank her, the act which famously tames the shrew.

When Karl first finds out about this scene, he is taken aback and hesitates to perform it, and I am shocked too, it is such an anti-feminist, chauvinist performance, promotes violence against women, you know. We talk about it serious like but eventually agree that it is a period piece, based on Shakespeare, has wonderful music, and so we will overlook the rest.

I watch Karl in one rehearsal and then in another and another, and I become, no other phrase to describe it, an enraptured cat in heat.  Far from being my usual passive self when it comes to initiating sex I am so hot that touching Karl’s arm is maddeningly sensual. I watch all three nights of the play. Karl’s sister and family are staying with us that weekend so we don’t have much privacy but I pull Karl  into every available corner to fuck until he is exhausted and disturbed because he doesn’t understand why I am different and I can’t explain, I have no idea either.

After a few weeks my frenetic passion subsides and we drift back into unsatisfactory but familiar territory, I am back to being frigid and crazy, everything else just a momentary aberration.

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