Ritual Confessions

January 11, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 4:10 am

Late last night, I got into bed alone again — once more, my husband was working late in the basement. I opened my cell phone to set the alarm when I noticed a text message in my inbox. Text messaging is not my medium. I barely know how to use it. I don’t know, for instance, how to type a comma or an apostrophe or even how to capitalize. But I opened the message and was mildly stunned to realize it was from the last man I was involved with before meeting my husband. He’s a defense attorney in NYC and, though I’m not proud of this fact, he was married throughout our relationship. Our romance was passionate and difficult; eventually we lived together for 2 weeks, fighting nearly every hour of that time, before we called it off and went separate ways.

His message was three words long and two days old. “Hey — how’re u?”

I began the slow and, for me, tedious process of pecking out a response on this infernal little keyboard where several letters share each key: “What is this text message bullshit? It is sheer luck that I noticed this just now and that i even know how to answer.” I sent it knowing he wouldn’t see it until morning since it was almost 3 am in New York. I was very startled, therefore, when the phone jangled a moment later, indicating that he’d answered. “LOL, u had popped into my head — not sure where I was at the time.”

Incredulous, I tapped out: “And where r u now???”

“Writing a cross.” Meaning, that he was preparing a cross-examination for an upcoming trial.

“Oh my… U will have to tell me more tomorrow.”

“U ok?”

“Yes… bought a house.”

It was highly strange and unsettling to find myself suddenly in the midst of this exchange: me lying in bed in the dark in Portland, Oregon and he presumably in his study at home, writing or putting off writing a cross. Moments after I sent off each message, the nerve-jangling tone of his reply would sound. Each of our missives had the brevity of a telegram:



“Is that where you’re living now?”

“In nine more days.”

“Wow. Why?”

And suddenly I was overwhelmed, almost to the point of panic, by the sense of doing something illicit. Or at least, something I’d be hard put to defend. I’m on amicable terms with several of my exes, and yet if asked, “Why are you and your ex-lover text-messaging each other in the middle of the night?” — coming up on midnight for me, anyway, and indisputably the middle of the night for him — let’s just say I’d consider that a very good question, and I doubt that I’d have a good answer.

And yet, those moments had the pull of the ocean’s undertow: lying in darkness, clutching the glowing panel of the phone like a remote control, having the semblance of a late-night conversation — however halting — in real time. It felt charged and immediate and transporting and dangerous. I was afraid my husband might come up at any moment. I couldn’t turn off the phone at a moment’s notice because I needed it as my alarm clock in the morning. The constraints of the medium, the urgent economy of each message underscored this sense of transgression, as if we were spies who had to communicate as efficiently as possible. Depth of communication a legitimacy we aren’t accorded, a luxury we can’t afford. If we’d been saying these same things over the phone in the light of day, no one could look at us askance. As it was, though, I hastily moved to continue the conversation in a safer time and place.

“Cant write more tonight… tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he wrote. “Hey-i miss you.”

Well, I’d just said I couldn’t write any more; I was absolved from having to reply. But despite my proposal to pick up the thread the next day, I’m finding myself not doing that.

It is so strange to be here, on the other side: a wife. Before I left the city, this man and I had lunch, and on that occasion he told me about a friend of his, a beautiful married woman who was reportedly desperate to have sex with him. He claimed to be in an ongoing process of refusing her, despite an excruciating temptation to succumb. He has young children now, and because of that, he says he is unwilling to go there again. He recounted that this woman had recently told him, “I can’t be friends with you anymore, it’s too painful, I can’t stand it, I’m obsessed, I think about you every minute of the day.” He said he’d told her, with some irritation, “Well, don’t think about me every minute of the day” — as if it were an obvious solution, and just that easy. The incredible thing was, I felt a full identification with his point of view by that time. Essentially he was saying to her, “Look, why throw away a good thing, we’re friends, friends with a frisson of romance and desire, how delicious, how nourishing, can’t you just let it be there?” And sitting at that table, I agreed with him; I said, “It’s enough just to know the feelings are there, and that they’re mutual.” And I felt as if we both knew we were talking about ourselves as well, though our relationship has reached such a point of restraint that even this was not overtly acknowledged.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I wouldn’t have been able to rein in an obsession. To tell me to stop obsessing would have been like suggesting I refrain from breathing. But now I’m perfectly able and willing to feel a warmth, a twinge, a wistfulness, a tenderness, and then to let it go the next moment with relative equanimity. Maybe this newfound ability is the result of having so very much to lose. I would be utterly bereft in this world without my husband and I believe the fierce protection of the marital bond is among the most profound gifts one can give to one’s child(ren).

So this morning, waking up and remembering, I wondered how to pick up the thread of the conversation and couldn’t see any clear way. The hours went by, the day went by, and now it’s the evening of the day and there seems nothing to do but let it go, let it go.


1 Comment »

  1. I think letting it go is probably the right decision. I always have a simple rule of thumb when I’m involved … I don’t do anything I wouldn’t be comfortable with my partner knowing about. Holy shit, that was an awful sentence. That’s what I get for trying to cut back on caffeine.


    The interesting thing about that, of course, is that the boundaries vary hugely depending upon the partner. But it always works as a bottom line. The other interesting thing is that there is often a difference between what I am comfortable with my partner knowing, and what she herself is comfortable with my doing. But I use my own honesty-barometer as the guide; and if I’d feel ashamed or uncomfortable with her knowing, then I either stop doing it, or I don’t do it to begin with.

    Comment by davidrochester — January 11, 2008 @ 5:48 am

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