Thursdays in Bliss
Bliss is an odd town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. There’s nothing particularly compelling about it other than its name and its abundance of trees. It’s the type of place where the residents will give you the shirt off of their backs and take away your civil rights in the same breath. I was surprised when my lover told me he was moving there. We’d lived some of our urban 20s together and apart. I went rural because I was broke and didn’t think I could raise kids in a studio apartment in the city. I went rural because I’m a loser and can only survive in tiny ponds of water. I drown in a mid-size town anymore. But he got a temp job for the year, only 90 minutes from my doorstep to his down comforter.
I shouldn’t say just me. There is a husband. There are children and cats. But there is also a woman living in a dormant body that was once fully awake. And nearly every time it has awoken, it has been with this man.
Things you might need to know: I’m not a very good liar. My husband and I know the history of each other’s lovers. He reserved the right to look around and try out others before and after we were married, but I knew it was all talk on his part. He wanted freedom as an idea. When I told him my lover was moving nearby, he knew before my lover moved there that I’d most certainly fall. I figured perhaps you’d need to get it out of your system, he’d say. I tried to deny my own nature. No, I’d say. I won’t do it. But my husband knows that look in my eye.
I remind myself frequently that my lover is not the love of my life. But there is no denying that he is the lover of it.
I met him in high school years ago. He recalls it better than I do. I was coming back from writing something on the chalkboard in English class sophomore year. He was watching me. I turned around from the board and our eyes met, and reportedly, I smiled. I do not remember this encounter. He says it stayed with him at night, one hand between his legs in the top bunk in the room he shared with his brother. I remember him asking me to dance at a prom junior year when his girlfriend was in the restroom. I remember dancing. I remember thinking him too quiet, too scrawny, but also too cool. I remember running into him at punk shows at the Palladium, me in my vintage dresses and pearl cardigans and he in his mohawk and black boots. Once when I was vacuuming up the family room after a party I’d thrown, I looked over at the chalkboard on the wall over the pool table and there was his phone number and a plea for me to call.
That February after high school, I had a boyfriend and my lover had a girlfriend, but we started sleeping together anyway. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to make him be a boyfriend. Perhaps his independence, perhaps mine. We kept it to weekends. We kept it to nighttimes. Then some guilt set in and it was gone.
But before the guilt was the smell and the freedom. The smell. He was the first time I thought about being an animal. There was a scent I wanted to wallow in and have cover me. Every part of me needed to be covered and smothered in it. Every moment took an hour. I was sore and beaten and happy when we parted. Even if I was crying. Even if he was.
Blindfolded I could pick out his scent, his long warm fingers, the veins so close to the top of his skin. The muscles pulled tight. Blindfolded I could smell, know, want his cock. A thousand men in the room and no other senses working, I could find him. He smelled warm, aging, familiar, and bloody and like me. And it was freedom. I will do anything to you, give anything to you, take anything from you. Those were our rules long before we were old enough to articulate them.
He is the author of all my sexual firsts: First orgasm. First bleeding. First cheating. First by candlelight. First in a car. First in a train station, parking lot, forest, park, girlfriend’s car, grandparents’ RV. First with a soundtrack. First on a bed of roses. First tears. First adoration. First holy city. First gasp. First god.
First tied up with string, favorite things. First bathed sticky in pomegranate seeds and Chinese ink.
I have put decent lovers and boyfriends on planes and stopped at his apartment on the way home. I have climbed into bed with him, both of us half-dead from flu. I have lied to and cheated on countless men and women to be with him just a little while longer. I have not corrected countless relatives and boyfriends that thought him gay so that fewer people would suspect our hidden life. I have had him like a man. There has never been a time when I could see him and not want him.
Likewise, he has said. Likewise. There is no part of me he has not seen. All my deformities in bright, bright lights. He has seen me fat, thin, drugged out, shut in, hungry, lonely, indifferent, pregnant.
He has used the word beautiful on me until I almost believed him. He has whispered it in my ear and taken each body part in his hands and kissed it as if I was offering a rare gift. I look in the mirror and see my hair as sexy, my breasts full, my hips wide, and channel down the earth goddess he thinks he sees. God, you are beautiful, he says. God, you are blind, I think. But I keep the smile mysterious.
The early twenties are messy. You don’t know enough to bring a towel and a toothbrush. You don’t care. Once, he made a conscious effort to quit me—and I didn’t notice it because I was distracted by a couple of men. That was nearly twenty years ago. Once when he was really drunk and giving me a ride to the airport in the morning, he said, “I should have chosen you.” But what for? Why? That wasn’t us. A couple of years ago, the last time I started seeing him again, I blurted out that we must be careful; I can’t have any more kids. The doctor said it would kill me.
“Why the hell would we want to have children?” he said with disdain. But I was a mother now and remembering when he almost made me a mother before. That time we never talk about. Sex for me was different now; there was life attached to it. I had two kids as proof.
Truly. I thought I wouldn’t see him again.
I said that at 19, 20, 21, 22.
I said that at 24.
I said that at 27, 28, 29, 30.
I say that now at 38, 39, 40.
I thought distance would take care of such things. I moved to Asia. He moved back up to Seattle. That sounded so-have-a-nice-life final. But we never deleted each other. I let him know when I married again. He let me know when he moved back to California. We existed only in the ether of the Internet.
From 33-37, my sexuality lay dormant. My body was now a host. There was this moment when I was nursing my son in bed, naked. He was a month old. My husband was spooning me. I could feel him hard and anxious against my backside. My son was sucking every last drop of liquid from my body. I felt dizzy. I felt like I was missing. That there was no me left in me. I was something needed, pure and simple. My body was needed. But I was dead and watching from the ceiling, my existence parasitic and eaten.
I saw him briefly several times. He met the children when they were born, met the husband, and I met some girlfriends. And then long periods of both sides’ busy silence.
I saw him at the reunion. We started drinking wine, paid for by the more successful friends at our table. He sat next to me. I put my hand on his leg. I put my arm across his waist at one point. Someone asked if we’d gotten married. And then someone else did. Then we kept a bit away from each other. And at the end of the night I walked him to his car. I kissed him on the cheek. Happy to be married. No vows broken. Old friends. Old lovers. Good to see you. You look lovely. I wanted to push him against the car and lick his chest and hear him make those short gasps of breath.
Me. Me came rushing back to me as I brushed his cheek with my lips and breathed in his smell. Me came back to me as I checked through his shirt to see if he still had piercings where I liked. I didn’t want to part. I walked back to the hotel and met up with my girlfriends at the hotel bar. One drink and we were on the road. Take my mind off of him, ladies.
He called drunk at 2 am that night. I was tossing and turning with unsatisfied urges erupting between my legs on a borrowed couch. I had missed all the cues because my mind had been stuck on mommy and wife. I miss you. I want you. And I want to stay far, far away from love. You were ravishing, he said. I never realized until tonight how much I missed you, he said. It was drunk talk. It was true talk.
And then he moved to Bliss. But I am lying to you still. That’s what computers are for. I learned the art of chat: of file sharing, of a mountain of words and images to remind, of my mouth on his skin. I would send him fifteen seconds of film. He’d send me a song. My own words typed out and exposed. Do you remember that time when I was house-sitting? The bath we took together? That perfect kiss? The rose petals? The side of the train station in the rain? This song reminds me of you. As does this poem from 500 years ago, as does this time of day. The wind. Yes.
He taught me the art of cybersex. Retaught me the alphabet, spacing, silence. I am the master of it now. Anaïs Nin has nothing on me.
Though it was strange that he should move so near. Perhaps it wasn’t. I like to think I was part of the equation. Perhaps I was. He was supposed to get married. He didn’t. And of course there was another woman. A legitimate one. One who could accompany him to family parties and be introduced as his girlfriend.
I’m an old friend. That’s my introduction.
He tried to come see me when the kids were at school and the husband at work but my house was full of their spirits. He could not move or breathe. So I began to come to him. My mornings were light on Thursdays. Thursdays, I could come down. I could stay a little bit. If anyone asked, I was writing, I was running errands. I was running around. I was saving up the words for now. And as I drove down the canyon for 90 minutes I began to wonder if there was any difference at all between fucking and writing. For me at least, it yielded the same. For nearly a year I spent my Thursdays in Bliss.
Safely away from each other’s eyes, we’d chat about what had happened between us. Instant messages of truth. What we wanted to try, what we were afraid to try, and what we’d done with others. Each week he would revisit a scene from us that I thought only I had remembered. He confessed that just as he’d been my first for everything, I had been his. The first obsession. The first married woman. The first during office hours. After we’d fucked ourselves into hunger and lunchtime, he’d get up and make coffee and lunch for us. And we’d talk about whatever came to mind. Our careers. Our hometown angst. Those faraway smiles.
And then one night in Bliss—for we should have known better than to expect cover of night—my husband caught us. He had seen that look in my eyes over dinner. The three of us spent the night together, me drunk and conscious that they’d soon each discover which dance move came from whom. For a brief moment in time, one night, they were both there in that bed with me, leaving me overexposed and naked in the morning, so exposed I could not breathe. They never came to blows. They sat across a living room from each other while I slept. Each, I imagine, recognizing the allure of the other. They drank more beer together and to my horror, have become friends.
But his year was coming to an end. He was heading back to Seattle. We helped him move out of Bliss, remnants of some of his life winding up in our house when it became too much to pack anymore. Bliss lasted a year. There are women who visit him in the flesh and I visit in his dreams. I try not to assign a particular meaning to Thursdays; I try not to think of it as a pivotal time in my life and I wonder if he does the same.
I try not to think of the metaphors of the town’s name. I cannot describe how I will never be the same. For what is it when you give of yourself completely? When your love is so familiar, it is family and darkness and lightness all at once? When you are not in danger of falling in love because you’ve fallen into a constant? When the craving so consumes and you fall into understanding? When the bed becomes a church and the sacrifice is two lovely bodies wrapped in years and smothered in a certain skewed perfection? How can one even begin to thank one’s husband for seeing it from such a peculiar angle, an angle and edge so difficult to grab onto without hurt?
The week my lover moved to Bliss there was a forest fire just north of the town. It took out acres and heated up an already burning summer. People had a tough time not cracking wise about sorrow in Bliss. I think of him and that fire when the wind blows up the canyon and I go nowhere in particular on a Thursday morning. It’s burn season here now; the ash is falling.