He had the cubicle next to mine at work and would visit me at my desk, sitting on the floor and gossiping. We became good friends. Our coworkers used to joke that we were secretly dating, but I never even felt attracted to him.

One winter evening, he and I went out for a drink after work. At the bar, he mentioned that a woman in our office had teased him, saying that he and I were an item. We laughed. Then he put down his drink, placed his hand over mine, and said, “So, do you think she’s out of her mind, or is there some truth to that?”

I giggled awkwardly, trying to disentangle my friendly affection for this man from the sudden presence of his hand on top of my own.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know either,” he answered. Then he said, “Let’s get out of here.”

On the street corner, he kissed me. Well, this is fun, I thought. But it didn’t stir any feelings in me.

When we were done kissing, he seemed about to burst with excitement. “This changes everything!” he said.

I ended up dating that man for more than a year. I cared for him and always wished that I could desire him, but I never did.

Name Withheld

Sometimes I catch myself standing on the prison yard and staring past the razor wire and the fences at the trees and ponds and fields beyond. I’ve done fourteen years and have three more to go.

When I get out, I’m going to have to learn how to job-hunt all over again, how to do my taxes, how to drive, how to eat in a restaurant without hollering over to the next table, “You going to eat that?” Maybe I’ll have trouble sleeping without a stainless-steel toilet a foot from my head, or watching a television without fifty men shouting in the background. But I’m willing to work at readjustment, as long as I can walk out of these gates a free man.

The other day, I ran into Buzzard, an old friend from Baker, the prison I was in before this one. He asked when I would get out, and I told him, “Three years to go!”

“You want out bad, don’t you?” Buzzard said.

“I’d bite off my left big toe and swallow it just to be free again,” I said.

“That’s the way it is,” Buzzard said.

“So, when do you get out?” I asked.

Buzzard sighed. “I got out about five years ago, right after you transferred here.”

“Oh,” I muttered. I was too embarrassed to ask the next question, but he answered it anyway.

“I was busted for using and selling cocaine. They gave me extra years for being a repeat offender.”

Then he changed the subject.

These days, my desire is more specific: I want to get out and stay out. Because I don’t think I can make it through a second time.

David Wood
Bowling Green, Florida

In my repressive British family, any manifestation of sexual desire, no matter how innocuous, was taboo. The summer of my fourteenth year, I was snooping around another boy’s cubicle at boarding school and discovered a copy of Penthouse hidden under a pile of books. I opened it to a photograph of a svelte brunette reclining on a four-poster bed, her pale blue pajamas unbuttoned to her waist, eyes closed in some unspeakable reverie. Her small breasts were startlingly white in contrast to the rest of her flawlessly bronzed body. The picture was so clearly developed, I could see the gossamer sheen of tiny golden hairs that crisscrossed her belly like the strands of a spider’s web.

But the detail that still careens around in my head whenever I think of that photograph is the way she hooked one thumb in the waistband of her pajamas, deliberately pulling them down to reveal a superbly sculpted navel, deep as oblivion, deep enough to drown in.

This is what desire boils down to for me — not building skyscrapers, or composing symphonies, or traveling the globe, but a small depression in the middle of a woman’s belly, three-quarters of an inch from end to end: an “innie,” unpierced, the deeper the better.

Sometimes I dream that I’m a young man who spends his summers wandering the streets of Brussels with a digital camera; a young man who acts on his desire in a way that, for me, is unthinkable. He approaches women — in parks, museums, sidewalk cafes — and asks if he may photograph their navels. Many, perhaps most, say yes.

Odd, really, the engines that move us: this hole in the middle of a stranger’s abdomen; this dearth of flesh. Umbilicus. Or, as one of my dusty dictionaries tells me, “The central point or middle of any thing or place.”

The central point . . . of any thing or place. Not bad, as dusty dictionary definitions go.

Henry Dickson
Roswell, New Mexico

I fooled around with a married woman last night. It started when she nibbled on my ear, and I didn’t dissuade her, though I knew I should have. Then we kissed.

She said she’d been wanting to do that ever since we’d met eight years ago. We were both married then. Now I’m not. I had wanted to kiss her, too, since the day I first noticed her softness and grace at work. But I’ve always suppressed my feelings — until last night.

Once, I witnessed her unappreciative husband putting her down in public for some ridiculous offense. I remember thinking: She’s a diamond in the rough, pal. Why are you talking to her like that?

She’s told me they haven’t had sex in quite some time. “We’re just playing house,” she said. She also said that her spouse has dabbled in drugs and been arrested for it twice.

How do two people get themselves out of such a jam: a loveless marriage; a thing called “playing house”? One tries drugs, another nibbles on an ear. Are these acts justified? Are they worth the pain? Doesn’t everyone lose? I should know the answer to this last question because my own wife nibbled on another man’s ear — before we got divorced.

Today I will talk to my priest. He will tell me to offer up my sexuality to the Lord. But what’s the Lord going to do with it? Isn’t it better for me to use my sexuality to console a lost soul?

Name Withheld

Life should be simpler now. After you survive the pain and chaos of an abusive relationship, you’re supposed to become a well-adjusted adult who’s learned the cost of being naive. And I have learned. I have passed the test in all areas but one: desire.

It isn’t easy to express desire for someone who has hurt you badly, but what do the Buddhists say? “The truth is beautiful, even when it is ugly.” And the truth is I really did love this man, in all his terrible glory.

I have come through this intact. I have resurrected the woman I once was, and she and I sit and pray and write and love as fiercely as before. But there are times — especially when I hear one of those god-awful Jimmy Buffett tunes — that I think of him the way I needed him to be, or wanted him to be. He wasn’t always horrible. When he was good, he was divine: passionate, funny, intelligent, charming. Best of all, he adored me. But there was no middle ground with him — no ground at all, for that matter.

Maybe I would not yearn for him now had there been a real end to our relationship. The last words I heard him say were “I want my Boston Garden cup back.” Then it was jail, followed by an anticlimactic piece of paper reading, “Dissolution of Marriage.”

As a friend so bluntly put it, “The ending is that you are alive!” That may be true for some, but if I had just two wishes in this tragic world, the first would be for world peace, and the second would be to hold him once more, to wrap my legs around his body and cry reckless tears.

Name Withheld

My life used to be ruled by desire. I would bounce around from man to man like a pinball bopping against buzzers, nibbling one guy’s neck while planning an illicit rendezvous with someone’s husband. At work, I’d pull an all-nighter to finish an important project, because I just had to get that promotion, and afterward rush across town to pick up a fresh baggie of pot to celebrate. Looking back, I wonder whether what I felt was really desire or just compulsion.

By my early thirties, I was having sex with three different guys, all of whom knew each other. I was running like mad sixty hours a week at my job, then getting fried the rest of the time because I was so strung out from working and worrying about my love life. Every minute of every day, I wanted something intensely — and it was never the thing that I happened to have at that moment.

Finally, something snapped, and I walked away from the whole swirling mess. I quit my job, sold everything I owned, said goodbye to all my friends, and rode my bicycle two thousand miles across the Midwest. I still didn’t know what had made me want everything with such a passion. I only knew I didn’t want to live like that anymore.

For the next eight years, I was numb. If I wasn’t feeling everything intensely, it seemed, I felt nothing. Food was bland and tasteless. I was dead and empty inside. I kept telling myself this was normal, that this was what I’d longed for: no desire.

Although I’m starting to feel alive again, I still don’t have any real desires anymore. I don’t want anything enough to go out there and get it, the way I used to. I don’t even want sex. There will always be a part of me, however, that would absolutely love to smoke a joint. That’s the one desire that never dies.

Margie Willis
Seaside, California

There was a time when my primary focus was on being a mother to my children. My husband got my leftover energy — and that only grudgingly. I had resigned myself to a life of dutiful sex, rationalizing that I’d had fun in my twenties, but now it was time to get serious and raise a family. It’s a wonder my marriage survived.

Looking for fulfillment in some other area, I enrolled in night school to learn the art of massage. At my first class, the massage teacher gave a brief welcoming speech and then invited the anatomy-and-physiology instructor to introduce himself.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Greek god” used to describe a handsome man. Well, this man literally was Greek (his father was an immigrant), and he certainly looked godlike to me. He wasn’t perfect by cover-boy standards — he had a bad haircut and was slightly overweight — but his body chemistry and his dark, droopy eyes immediately got my attention. When I realized that I would be seeing this man one night a week for the coming year, the desire that had slipped away from me in recent years came roaring back. I schemed to get his attention — which perhaps is why I graduated with the highest grades in anatomy.

Outside of school, my fantasies about my teacher could take over at any time: when I was driving, cooking, falling asleep. In one, I got to make love with him guilt-free: the school was besieged by outlaw pornographers who held us at gunpoint and threatened to shoot people if I didn’t have sex with my teacher for their film. Of course, I complied.

Then school ended, and, without my teacher’s regular presence, the fantasies began to fade. I had rediscovered desire, though, and I wasn’t about to let that wonderful ache elude me again. Summoning my courage, I let my husband in on all the new fantasies that triggered my libido; after all, we had once been incredible sexual partners — before our children came along. Fortunately, he was willing to listen, and he now holds the reins to my desire . . . and occasionally the crop.

Elle Locklin
Midlothian, Virginia

In my early twenties, I worked in a nursing home. I was usually assigned to the day shift, but one evening I was filling in for another nurse near bedtime. Earl, a pleasant, dapper man of about eighty, was sitting in a wheelchair outside his room when I came around to pass out medications.

After I gave Earl his pills, he said to me, “Where’s my good-night kiss?” I smiled and started to move on, but he persisted: “Lucille always gives me a good-night kiss.” So, just to shut him up, I leaned over and kissed him.

As our lips met, a wave of intense desire rippled through me. I walked away feeling confused, and hungry for more of that good feeling.

Anita Snyder
West Lafayette, Indiana

Every May, the eighth-grade students at Our Lady of the Valley Parochial School selected a May Queen to lead a parade in honor of the Blessed Virgin. A large statue of Mary — dressed in pale blue, with porcelain white skin — was carried at the head of the procession. I entered eighth grade with only one desire: to become that year’s May Queen. I couldn’t imagine anyone more qualified than I was: devout, pious, and pure, I prayed the rosary on my bare knees, volunteered at a nursing home, and read to the younger children on the bus.

At the time, the school population was made up primarily of white farm kids from the lower valley. There were few Hispanics, and even fewer who looked like me: dark, with frizzy hair and crooked teeth. Nevertheless, I offered up daily sacrifices to the Virgin in hopes that I would be picked.

On the day of the election, as we students voted, I recited silent prayers to Mary. My heart raced with anticipation while the nun read the votes aloud. My name was read only once: my vote. The girl chosen to lead the parade was blond, blue-eyed, and popular. Each day after school, she would head to the bathroom, apply heavy makeup, and hike up the skirt of her uniform. On the bus home, she would sit at the back and make out with her boyfriend of the week.

That summer, I received my first kiss, and soon after that, my desires became less pious. But I never stopped praying to Mary. These days, my house is filled with images of the dark Virgin of Guadalupe — symbol of love and hope for the disenfranchised.

Yolanda B. Briscoe
Santa Rosa, California

My Aunt Isabelle was a buyer of children’s wear for a department store in Manhattan. What she couldn’t supply to me in the form of sample dresses, she would buy for me in Lord and Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue — stores where my parents could never afford to shop. Isabelle bought me dresses and coats and whatever else I needed, leaving my parents to purchase the occasional underwear and socks.

I didn’t speak much on these shopping excursions with my aunt. My mother tagged along like a shadow, her only function to hold my coat while I tried things on. We went for school clothes in autumn and spring, camp clothes in June, and one formal dress per season. There were no surprises. I knew that I should be grateful to my aunt and not ask for more than was freely given. If I passed something that caught my eye, I never dreamed of saying, “Oh, Aunt Isabelle, can I have that?” I would not even linger and stare.

My aunt never insisted on buying me something I didn’t like, but the clothes that truly excited me were out of the question. I knew she would never approve of the shiny, satiny, slinky things that I coveted. Isabelle herself wore tastefully conservative dresses with just the right amount of real jewelry and expensive silk scarves. Anything remotely flamboyant was somehow not right, a bit “cheap” — even at Saks Fifth Avenue.

After a while, I was hardly able to admit, even to myself, what I really liked. I was so well trained to please Isabelle that I never learned to please myself.

Decades have passed, and now when the gleam of a satiny shirt calls to me, I answer. But first I hear my late aunt saying, “That’s not for you.”

And then, if I’m sharp and aware, I stop and say to myself, “Oh, yes it is.”

Alice H. Klein
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Seventh grade marked my first year in public school. The student body of Thomas Jefferson Middle was predominantly black, and I was as white as a private-school, middle-class Italian kid could be. I also weighed close to three hundred pounds and was saddled with a pair of hideously large eyeglasses. I fairly dripped with fear that no amount of false bravado could conceal.

One afternoon, our gym-class activities were canceled, leaving me on my own on the basketball court for the entire period. Lacking in friends but always armed with a book, I dropped my backpack in the dirt near the chain-link fence, sat down on it, and began to read. It didn’t take long for them to approach me.

They were taller than me, and faster, and meaner. In a flash, I was on my feet and trying to talk my way out of what I knew was coming. Then I was slammed to the ground, glasses and book flying. Before my head connected with the concrete, I heard one of them make a crack about my gut.

I had never before been knocked unconscious, so it was quite a surprise when I opened my eyes and discovered that I had been out cold for several minutes. A sharp throbbing in the back of my head sent my stomach into fits. My classmates had surrounded me, many of them laughing, others simply looking down at me in silence.

My gym coach appeared and asked if I was OK. I said I was, stumbled to my feet, and felt the back of my head for blood. Thankfully, there was none, just a hard lump the size of a walnut. Still, I fought back the tears. When the gym teacher took my arm, I pulled it away, though I wanted nothing more than for him to stay with me for the rest of the class, the rest of the day — the rest of the year.

“Who did it, Carrino?” he asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. All ratting on bullies ever did was make things worse. It was far easier to take whatever came my way, suck it up, and go on. This was something my mother could never understand as she watched me come home day after day with a growing array of bruises, gashes, and scrapes.

I grabbed my book and my backpack, both of which remained mercifully untouched, and made my way over to the chain-link fence. There, with my forehead pressed up against the metal latticework, I let loose the tears I had been holding back. I sobbed and choked and babbled incoherently.

At one point, someone approached me, but I sent the person away with a wave of my hand and a mournful plea to be left alone. Tasting metal and feeling the heat of embarrassment crawling up my neck, I begged to be ignored, to be invisible. I prayed to God to allow me, for once, to go unseen amid the throng.

I have grown up and moved on. I have wanted women and jobs and cars and possessions and all the usual things in life, but I have never wanted anything as intensely as I did that afternoon in seventh grade. I would have given my soul for a few precious moments when no one stared, no one teased, and no one cared what I was doing or why I was doing it.

Lawrence Carrino
Miramar, Florida

As I stood in front of my students’ parents on Back-to-School Night, the very image of a prim, proper schoolteacher, my mind kept going back to earlier in the day, when I’d spent an hour in bed with a married man. I’d be talking about reading lists or homework requirements when a ripple would pass through my body, and I’d remember what we’d done.

I’d first seen A. three months earlier, across the swimming pool at the apartment complex where I lived with my husband. A. lived alone, separated from his first wife. I watched him and knew he was watching me, though our eyes were concealed behind sunglasses. He found out that I taught English, and one day he came over to my side of the pool and asked what the difference was between further and farther. It was the lamest pickup line imaginable. And it worked.

A. wasn’t tall and had only average looks, but something about the way he stared at me made it hard for me to breathe. Who can say what triggers attraction? It was as if our bodies had made an urgent decision to unite, leaving our heads no choice but to figure out where and when.

We didn’t see each other often; it was too hard to arrange. Once, after he’d gone back to his first wife, we did it on their bed. When I flung off my jeans, they landed on a hat she’d worn to a wedding — a frilly yellow thing I would never have put on my head.

The best time A. and I had together was one winter afternoon when he was between wives. For once, there was plenty of time, and the rain kept coming down, covering the windows, isolating us from everything.

I never knew what kind of music A. liked. He never knew my birthday. We didn’t bother exchanging stories about our childhoods. Whatever he and I felt for each other, it certainly wasn’t love. Neither of us ever uttered the word.

Name Withheld

I like getting older, especially with him. My mind has stopped wandering to thoughts of what else might be. When we meet in bed at night, I often feel as if my fondest wish has been granted. How, I wonder, can a man please me so much?

His graying fascinates me. Watching his wrinkles deepen makes me cherish my own. In the early years of our relationship, we would erupt in convulsive laughter after orgasm, because what had been so important moments before suddenly struck us as silly. Now we start laughing well before that moment, sometimes before supper is over, at the silliness we have no desire to resist.

Name Withheld

My father owned a chain of bakery and ice-cream stores, handed down to him from his father and grandfather. Every meal in my house ended with dessert: scrumptious apple pie, dark chocolate layer cake, napoleons filled with crème, brownies atop real ice cream. The cookie jar was never empty, and breakfast always included buns and doughnuts. My brother and I were more than just chubby. I remember the sting of hearing neighbors call me “a walking advertisement for the family business.”

A month after my eighteenth birthday, the family business failed. My father shot and killed himself in the freezer of the main store. The only legacy he left me was my passion for sweets. I sometimes fantasize about chocolate-chip cookies until I can almost taste them.

I’m now in my sixties, and my love of rich desserts and baked goods is wreaking havoc with my arteries. Yet my desire for them remains overwhelming. I break off our relationship from time to time, but I always return.

Nancy Schultz
Takoma Park, Maryland

As a Buddhist, I have struggled to understand desire, which my religion tells me causes suffering. When I was younger, I thought I could eliminate desire from my life, but I discovered that to be impossible. I did eventually learn to overcome the power of desire, however, if not desire itself.

I had just started seeing a man who had recently broken up with a long-term partner. Sometimes I wanted things from him that he wasn’t yet able to give. It was all too easy to interpret his inability as rejection.

I knew I couldn’t remain with him if I continued to feel this way, so I developed a practice to deal with my desires: First I identified what it was specifically that I wanted — say, to kiss him. Then I imagined the opposite — in this case, his saying that he would never want to kiss me. Finally, I sat with that possibility until I could accept it. Only then would I see him again.

Though I never talked with him about this practice, perhaps he sensed that I was no longer controlled by my desires, because he soon allowed me to get close to him.

Nathan Long
Richmond, Virginia

When I was twenty-one and a senior in college, I received a questionnaire from an Ivy League school asking what I wanted my life to be like when I was forty.

Later that day, after my friends and I had split a bottle of orange vodka, I returned to the questionnaire and wrote: “I want to be married to a college professor and have two children, two horses, a dog, and a cat. I want to live in the country in a big house.”

Fifteen years later, I was married to a college professor and living in a house in the country with three dear children, seven horses, thirteen cats, and one dog. My dreams, it seemed, had come true. There was just one small problem: my college-professor husband turned out to be a philanderer.

Name Withheld

My desire for him is fueled, in part, by the impossibility of its fulfillment. We live more than six hundred miles apart, and, far worse, he is married. He and his wife have not only children, but grandchildren.

When we first met, more than a year ago, he felt a spark and followed it up with an e-mail. Our interest in each other blossomed. Now my heart quickens each time his name pops up in my e-mail in-box.

We talk on the phone. (I can’t decide which is harder to bear: talking or not talking.) We promise to sustain each other in “appropriate” ways, rather than breaking up his perfectly adequate marriage. We say we are in love — but then we wonder whether lust isn’t all there is to it. We are stuck. We are both fifty-nine years old, and we are desire.

Name Withheld

When I was a badass rock-and-roller, all I wanted was to play my guitar and sing, maybe drink a few too many beers, and go home with a beautiful woman — that plus 60 percent of the door and a radio interview the night before the gig. It wasn’t until I became a father, though, that I learned what it was to truly want something.

My little girl, Mimi, was born two months premature: such a tiny baby, small and bluish. She didn’t cry and appeared quite lifeless.

“Shouldn’t she be crying?” I asked the doctor. “Why is she so blue? Is she OK?”

All the doctor would say was “She’s fine, son. She’s fine.” Then he called for a nurse to take my little girl away.

Why the doctor told me she was “fine” and then called a nurse, I did not know. The only thing I knew was that I wanted my baby girl to be OK. I remember telling God, I don’t talk to you very much, but I’m talking to you now. Please keep my girl alive.

Six hours later, I was allowed into the incubation room — a small, closetlike space where they kept the high-risk infants. I sat down to wait, hands gloved, surgical mask in place, sterile fluorescent lights beating down upon me. Then the nurse put Mimi into my arms. She was such a small baby, so fragile and yet so strong. I saw myself in her eyes: a muddy brown, with just enough green to make them pretty. I looked at Mimi over my mask and said, “I love you, baby doll.” Then I pulled down the mask, kissed her forehead, and began to weep and smile all at once.

J. Wukotich
Woodville, Ohio

On the last morning of my father’s life, he lies in a hospital bed while an attendant readies him for a bath. As she replaces the linen he has urinated on, I see that his testicles are smaller and redder than I remembered, his snakelike organ no longer venomous looking, but shriveled and useless. Is that all there is left?

Part of me still wants to jump into a Jacuzzi with him, my would-be pimp, and languish in steamy, bubbling water, my nipples bobbing on the surface, his dick poking through the water’s suds. I want to spread my knees and welcome him between my legs. (I remember him telling me, “Put your legs together, or I’ll think you want me.”)

But mostly I want to know what a fatherly good-night kiss is like. I want a father who’s proud to see his daughter growing up, not anxious to feel my breasts and push his tongue into my ear; one who listens to my problems instead of telling dirty jokes. I want to be free of this world.

Fran K.
Rancho Mirage, California

“I forbid you to see him,” my mother said after she met Zach. “I don’t want that boy anywhere near this house ever again.”

So instead of having Zach over to sit on the stoop, as I did other boys, I spent time at his house, mostly in the garage. I’d watch him and his biker buddies tinker endlessly with two old Indian motorcycles while Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn serenaded us with stories of faithless lovers and broken hearts.

Zach had long, greasy blond hair and a beaklike nose, reddened by the sun and wind. He wore a sleeveless denim jacket covered with gang emblems and oil stains, and the skin of his chest and arms was sickly pale. My mother was right: Zach was not a suitable boyfriend. He had a police record. He drank and did drugs. He was twenty, and I was fifteen. He was most definitely a bad boy.

And a bad boy was just what I wanted.

I wanted to experience real love, which to me meant longing and passion — and jealousy and anguish and heartbreak. I wanted to suffer and be changed forever. I wanted to become a woman whose eyes revealed an unspoken pain, a woman with a past. And you can’t get that dating the student-council president.

Although my mother may have been right about Zach, she was wrong if she thought I was blind to his flaws. I knew he was a loser who would never amount to anything. I was a foolish romantic girl, but I was not stupid. I knew my plans for the future would take me far away from Zach, to a life that would never interest him. But that life was unimaginably far off — after high school, at least — and right now, I wanted Zach.

Laura Jacoby
San Francisco, California

Tonight you have something on your mind, so you drink some liquor and try to avoid thinking about it. You don’t want to be alone, so you go to a crowded bar and order a beer. You see that Navajo girl from your English class, the one you’ve always thought was pretty. Now that you’re drunk, she looks prettier than ever. You sit down beside her and order another beer. You drink until you begin to forget why you are talking to her in the first place. Then you remember: she is beautiful. She smiles, and nothing else in the world matters.

You go home with her. She drives her pickup through the snow. You pray that the police don’t stop you. You pray that she doesn’t hit a tree. Angels must be watching over you, because you make it to her place. At least you are not alone anymore. And it feels good to kiss her. You wish this feeling would last forever. For once, you are not thinking of the future.

There’s a guitar leaning against the wall. You want to pick it up and serenade her, but suddenly she wraps her legs around you and breathes hard against your neck. You climb into bed, and she tells you, “Fuck me harder! Fuck me faster!” when all you really wanted was to make love to her.

You fall asleep, feeling alone again, with an even bigger hole in your chest.

Matthew Bell
Durango, Colorado

She and I were friends in school, and after graduation we decided to become roommates. We spent a lot of time together, going to dinner, the movies, parties. There was nothing we couldn’t talk about, and even laugh about. I felt more alive just being in the same room with her. People made comments about how close we were, but I blew them off; we were both women, and both dating other people.

One night, she asked me to come into her room and sleep with her. I agreed. It was completely innocent. We cuddled and talked, then fell asleep. After that, there were more invitations, and more nights of talking and snuggling. I was coming to realize that I could not live without her.

Sometime later, on a night when we were both very drunk, she again invited me to spend the night in her bed. Things started out the way they always did, with us holding each other, our bodies nested together. This time, though, my hands started going places they had never been. Those few moments when I thought the desire was mutual were pure bliss. Then she pulled away without a word.

Not knowing what to do next, I went to sleep. The next morning, we parted with an awkward silence. Before long, our relationship grew strained, and I moved out.

I expected never to see her again, but one day she appeared at my new place with some belongings I had left behind in my rush to get away. We talked for a while, and I could feel our friendship rekindling. But we avoided the subject of what had gone on between us that night.

We both got married, and she moved away, but we managed to stay friends. A few years ago, she moved back to the area with her husband and children. Now we see each other once or twice a month. We can still talk about anything, complaining about our husbands and kids, and even manage to laugh about it all. I still feel more alive when she walks into the room.

Every now and then, in my presence, she will make an off-color or suggestive remark. And sometimes I notice her staring at me with a certain look on her face. But we say nothing, and the moment passes.

Name Withheld

I’m a flight attendant, and since I broke up with my last lover, I’m amazed at how attractive the pilots I used to complain about have become. I am obsessed with a first officer whose eyes are so deep I could fall into them. Of course, he is married, which bothers me, but not so much that I have stopped dreaming about making love to him.

Recently, this pilot and I were both assigned to the same three-day trip. On the layovers, I insisted on hanging out in his hotel room as much as possible. He was remarkably gentle each time he had to push me out and never made me feel guilty or ashamed. His kindness only made me love him more.

I began to meditate on the meaning of love, and I realized that if I truly loved this man, I would leave him alone. Here I was trying to come between him and his beloved wife, and that simply could not be love: desire, lust, narcissism, envy, competitiveness, even fear of intimacy, perhaps, but not love.

Of course, were I to be left alone in a room with him, everything I just said would go right out the window.

Beth K.
Swampscott, Massachusetts