The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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When our children were little, my husband and I would hire a babysitter and go on a backpacking date, bringing a picnic of bread, Brie, pears, olives, a bottle of wine, and a big cotton blanket.
One spring day we hiked a familiar trail through bay laurels and towering redwoods to a rolling meadow containing a single tree: a California oak. It was majestic and far from the main path. Its lower branches hung close to the ground, creating a round skirt of shade, perfect for a picnic. The spot was special to us because we’d been there many times and had never encountered anyone else.
We swept away acorns and spread out the blanket, arranging the food on one side and ourselves on the other. The tree limbs gently creaked. My husband took my hand and pulled me close for a kiss. The wheatgrass waved in the meadow.
There were no children tugging at our sleeves, asking questions, whining, giggling — just rustling leaves, buzzing insects, and chirping birds. I was about to open the wine when my husband took off my shirt and theatrically tossed it away so that it caught on a branch. I laughed as he removed his clothes and piled them into a pillow for our heads. I wiggled out of my jeans and straddled him.
Just as he squeezed my breast, I heard voices.
At first I thought it was music drifting from some faraway radio. Then I saw the elderly man addressing a group of people just outside the circle of shade: “This is a classic specimen of Quercus agrifolia Née, also known as the California coast oak.” The group, most of them old, wore sensible sun-protecting hats and carried walking sticks. Their guide announced, “You can’t celebrate Arbor Day in California without visiting a coast oak!”
Arbor Day? Who celebrated Arbor Day?
“Notice,” he went on, “the wide spread of the bottom branches.”
Hearing this, I fell flat on top of my husband and started to laugh. “Hush,” he said. We tried to stay still and silent, hoping they wouldn’t see us, though it seemed impossible for them not to.
My husband had the good idea to grab the edge of the blanket and pull it over me. The Brie slipped between my knees.
“The coast oak is known for its supremely hard wood,” said the guide, and my husband and I laughed out loud. I think I heard a few snickers from the crowd.
As their guide took them deeper into the woods, we went back to celebrating Arbor Day in our own way.
Santa Cruz, California
I started with his hands, firmly but gently bending each of his fingers to improve the range of motion. Then I moved up each arm, joint by joint, stretching the muscles that couldn’t extend beyond a certain point because his body no longer allowed it.
He was an incomplete quadriplegic — meaning he had some, but not much, sensation and motor control from the neck down. I was a home-care physical therapist tasked with increasing his mobility.
Over the course of three months, during our five-day-a-week sessions, we had many conversations that ended with laughter or tears. By the end of his treatment, we’d fallen in love.
At forty-two I’d been with the same partner since I was eighteen and wasn’t looking for a change. At fifty he was scared by the prospect of a relationship and wondered who would ever want him in his condition.
Due to the severity of his injury, we didn’t know if he could have sex. He’d had many lovers in his past; I’d had only my partner. He had been confident in his sex life; I’d been reserved and hesitant. He taught me things I hadn’t known about making love, and I was respectful of his limitations. I hadn’t known him prior to his injury, so there were no expectations or comparisons.
When someone becomes seriously disabled in an accident, I find it goes one of two ways: people either acknowledge the gift they have been given to still be here, or they become bitter and withdrawn. The man I grew to love was solidly in the first category. For him, our relationship is bittersweet — we never would have met if not for his injury.
We were two women who wanted to have a child, and one of our dearest friends had offered to be our sperm donor. He and his partner and their two children were like family to us.
When the calendar was right, we sped off to their farm with our bag of syringes and specimen cups, along with candles and a Bluetooth speaker for our special playlists. There were some romantic moonlit nights, but we didn’t get pregnant.
Our friends had planned to travel the country in an old RV. Like any good lesbians would, we followed the sperm and tried baby-making in some unexpected places! The first prime ovulation day, we ended up in a tent in unbearable heat. I wielded a sperm-filled syringe with one hand while using the other to smack mosquitoes. What could be more romantic than that?
How about an RV parked on the streets of Berkeley, California, amid the noise of traffic and children hollering in the adjacent park?
Somehow this last one turned out to be perfect. Out of that lovemaking came our little Levi.
Asheville, North Carolina
When Hollie and I stood in front of our fireplace five years ago and exchanged wedding vows, we’d known each other only six months. It was a second marriage for us both, and though we’d each declared “no more marriage for me” after the first, we happily gave up being single. We had made love virtually every day since we’d met.
When my doctor ordered a series of routine exams for all of his patients, we expected mine would be unremarkable. I didn’t drink or take drugs, and I rode my bike to work every day. But the week before the exam, I’d had to go to the bathroom twice during a movie, and Hollie suggested I ask my doctor to check for an enlarged prostate.
A biopsy would ultimately reveal aggressive, metastasized prostate cancer.
The afternoon before my first treatment, Hollie asked my adult son, who was visiting, to leave us alone in the house for an hour, and we made love, touching each other gently and looking into each other’s eyes. The sex ended with tears on our faces.
We remain together through medical appointments, my body’s changes, and a fear of what’s to come. Facing cancer is scary. My prognosis is unsure. Our lovemaking has changed. But our love has not abated.
Brendan E. Byrnes
Binghamton, New York
Growing up in rural Kansas in the 1950s, I spent as much time as possible in the woods to escape my family. I was practically feral. My siblings and I were given food, clothing, shelter, and church on Sundays, but no guidance, attention, or physical affection.
When I began bleeding, my mother told me there were pads in the bathroom cupboard to wear, but she offered no explanation. Reader’s Digest and the Bible were the only written materials available to me.
In ninth grade, at the first school dance, I felt some extra magic when I danced with Tom. We both lived south of town, and he offered to drive me home one night from a basketball game in his older brother’s truck. (At that time fourteen-year-olds could get driving permits if they lived in a rural community and had to commute to high school.)
Neither of us was in a hurry to get home, so he took a winding route over gravel roads while we talked and laughed. He pulled over. We looked at stars and the moon and moved closer. He put his arm around me, and we kissed, then slowly undressed.
Later he drove me home. Something deep, mysterious, and wonderful had happened. I was incredibly happy.
The wonderful thing happened again a few months later in the hayloft of his family’s barn, and again in the spring, when we met and rode our bikes into the woods. I was mesmerized by our connection but never mentioned it to anyone; it felt too precious.
That May the teacher taught us about reproduction in science class, and I realized what we’d been doing. I looked across the room at Tom to see if he was as surprised as I was, but he didn’t look up.
I might be one of the few females on the planet who experienced making love for the first time without guilt, fear, or shame.
My fiancé, Aaron, sleeps to my right. A tall, blond-haired woman we met at a bar last night is sprawled facedown on my left. It’s late in the morning. Making love to two people at the same time last night was exhausting. I wonder if I spread my attention evenly enough. I remember her breasts in my mouth, his arms holding us together, and the nagging sense that I could be doing more if only I found the right position.
She said her name was Katherine. Her mouth was so soft — and so much smaller than the mouths of the men I am used to kissing.
I hear my mother’s voice in my head: That’s sickening! Look at those queer women shoving their tongues in each other’s mouths! She’s an Appalachian Christian who believes God dictated the Word directly to King James in English. When I was in high school and she found out I liked both boys and girls, she screamed at me for days. Pretending to be straight seemed easy enough after that.
Living on my own in California, I don’t have to hide anymore. Aaron and I have been wanting to have a threesome for months. After talking for a few hours at the bar, Katherine came home with us, danced me toward our unmade bed, and pulled me into it. Then we were kissing. Our shirts came off. Pressed against her, I felt Aaron behind me.
“Is this OK?” he asked us.
When she leaned over me to kiss him, it set off fireworks: a pleasant loss of balance that came from seeing my significant other make love to another person. Later he made love to her while she lay on top of me. I wanted us never to come apart.
When Katherine leaves our apartment, I tell Aaron my tears aren’t a sign of regret. To be honest, I’m lovesick. She is the first woman I’ve ever made love to, and I insist that I love her, even though I don’t know her last name.
It takes a few text messages for me to understand that she has her own life and isn’t interested in being tied down to one person, let alone two.
Three years later Katherine and I have become good friends. I’m glad she ran away from my declarations. Maybe she sensed I wanted more: I wanted those years back — every year I’d lost in that closet in Appalachia, where I’d let only half of myself out. I wanted a glimpse of the life I might have had.
In the seventies you and I called it “having sex,” “fucking,” or just “doing it,” and we did it wherever and whenever we could: in the shower, on an air mattress in a tent, in saggy beds in cheap motels.
Somewhere in the eighties it became making love. Our honeymoon lovemaking was the best ever: in a real bed with no one to interrupt us. We were going to do this forever.
In the nineties we did it on a schedule: calendars and thermometers and keeping track. After the babies, making love meant keeping promises. It was as routine as you putting on the suit and tie and shaving every morning, and me doing laundry and having dinner on the table every night.
The babies grew up and left home. After 2005 making love was you saying I was beautiful even though I was vomiting and bald, and my skin was gray.
In 2008 it was your turn. Sex was out of the question. Making love was me changing dressings and cleaning the drainage tubes as gently as I could.
By 2012 making love was just this: lying beside you, our hands touching knuckle to knuckle; smiling and crying; letting the morphine do its job; saying good-bye.
Spring Lake, Michigan
I was flabbergasted when he said he wanted to go slow. I had never been on the receiving end of that request before. I dutifully laid my hands beside me and let my libido cool.
Many weeks later, still taking it slow, we made our way home after a visit to the Northern California coast. On the five-hour drive I devised a plan.
“Take the next exit,” I said.
He pulled onto a scenic road with old-growth redwood trees and parked. I got out and loped into the cool, damp forest with him trailing behind me. Between the ferns and towering redwoods I found the remains of a gigantic old tree: a fifteen-foot-tall ring of bark and roots. Where the heartwood had once been was a rotted-out cavern accessible through a narrow split. By chance I had found us a private room in the forest.
We laid his jacket down inside and let things speed up.
Sometime later we heard many feet exploring the forest. Confident we were fully hidden, we waited until the footsteps receded, then resumed making love. Afterward we brushed off the leaves, got dressed, and walked back to the car.
A piece of paper was securely pinned under the windshield wiper. The note read: “You had sex in a tree. That is awesome.”
Two friends from my old YMCA summer camp suggested a coed canoe trip. I invited Patricia, my girlfriend from high school. We’d continued to see each other while I was at college, but we hadn’t slept together and weren’t exclusive.
The Au Sable River’s flow is more a gentle encouragement than an actual current. You have to paddle. Though Patricia and I had never canoed before, we fell into an easy rhythm alongside another couple. Our canoes glided serenely across the water while the remaining two couples struggled to paddle in tandem. Their boats careened from one bank to the other and got tangled in the underbrush. Bickering followed. We coasted until they caught up. At one point Patricia and I struck out alone, ahead of the rest, and she surprised me by removing her bikini top. We made out in the open air until the others approached.
We camped at dusk in a small meadow just off the river. The bickering continued after we retired to the eight-person tent. Finally Patricia and I picked up our sleeping bags and headed off to find some peace.
We lay down twenty yards away, zipped our sleeping bags together, and crawled in. Above us the Milky Way glittered. We kissed, then took off our clothes. Were there shooting stars? There must have been.
I did not technically have sex with Patricia that night, but we didn’t get much sleep either. We spent the night caressing and exploring each other’s bodies until it was hard to discern where one of us left off and the other began.
When I got back to the city, I ended every other relationship I was involved in. There was only Patricia.
Now, when I make love to my wife, I sometimes imagine it’s fifty years ago, and I’m lying naked in that sleeping bag, and that same girl is with me. Thankfully she is.
Though I’d slept in her bed several times and said “I love you” long ago, we were just best friends and roommates. When we finally went on a date, we pretended to be strangers: meeting on the porch, dining out.
Her long-distance boyfriend had reluctantly agreed to try an open relationship, but after she and I became more intimate, he sent me a letter: “You snuck into her bed so quickly. You are disturbed, cruel, and promiscuous.” The only way this could possibly work, he concluded, was if I slept with him, too.
I showed her the letter, and she left him. We moved to a place with an address he didn’t know, where she talked about his careless lovemaking and awful expectations. In bed I always asked her what she wanted.
We stopped shaving to see if we liked our bodies better when we weren’t seeking approval. We learned the differences between my curves and her paleness, the stretch marks we had in different places. I sat nearby as she came out to her parents.
We used only our mouths, our hands, and sometimes her tights or my ties. Once, I mentioned a strap-on, but she didn’t like the idea because it reminded her of him.
“But what if you wore it?” I asked.
Her expression changed. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
People seemed confused as to how women made love with each other. We had an inside joke: whenever we napped together, cooked together, or zipped each other’s dresses, we asked, “Is this lesbian sex? Is this?”
The first time she broke up with me, then came back, it hurt to look at her, but it hurt worse not to. We went out to dinner, and she spoke in apologies. She spent the night. The second time she came back, she told me she had not left him. The third time, we did not kiss. The fourth time, we did not touch. She told me she couldn’t talk about being queer to anyone where she lived. I remembered a Christmas present I’d given her: a pride flag. She had wrapped herself in it and fallen back on the bed, laughing.
The last time we met, we were better at pretending to be strangers.
When I was in my mid-forties, my wife died suddenly from a fall on ice. I was left with two daughters in their early twenties, and to stay strong for them, I repressed my feelings of grief and regret about my imperfect marriage.
Then I met someone — a smart, stylish professional a few years younger than I was. I tried to keep it a secret, but that’s tough to do in a small town.
“You slept together yet?” a male coworker asked.
I couldn’t believe he was so cavalier about intimacy. I told him no.
“You don’t want to wait too long. At our age she’ll give up if she thinks you just want to be friends.”
My older daughter found out. “So you’re seeing women now?”
“On what site did you meet her?”
“The site where the Cracker Barrel is built?”
She didn’t seem to get the joke. She asked for my credit card and told me to write down my clothing sizes: if I was going to start dating, my wardrobe would need some help.
When my new friend and I visited her parents for a weekend, her father helped carry our bags inside and set them both down in the single guest bedroom. But I wasn’t ready to sleep with her — and certainly not in her parents’ house!
Next we went on a cruise. I’d requested twin beds in the reservations, but when we entered the room, she thought it was a mistake. “I’ll leave a note for the steward to remake the beds as a king,” she said.
When an old friend asked about my new relationship, I told him I was anxious about sleeping with her. (The beer we were drinking spurred my honesty.)
After a long pause he asked, “Do you love her?”
Another pause. “Your wife is gone. It’s not cheating. It’s making love.”
That’s all it took.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
After we moved to a small village north of Detroit, I started an in-home nursery school, and my husband commuted to work. Having three children, we struggled to find time for one another in the midst of endless tasks. So we decided to reinstate a monthly date night. One evening, while we hastily dressed to go out, I put on my favorite pair of buff-colored suede oxfords, a small nod to my pre-mom identity.
There had been a late-March thaw, and the dirt road we lived on was a mess of ruts and washouts as we left. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, followed by the thrill of watching a grown-up movie without interruption while holding hands in the dark. The evening passed far too quickly.
As we headed home, I placed my hand on my husband’s thigh, and he pulled our little Honda onto the edge of a stubbly cornfield. Having found the privacy we’d been yearning for, we steamed up the windows within moments.
Afterward my husband climbed back into his seat and started the car. We tried to drive off but heard the sound of tires spinning. The sucking mud wouldn’t give us any traction. We were stuck. I stepped out of the car, my suede oxfords sinking into the mud.
A few minutes later a pickup pulled over, and the driver towed us out. Once we were back on the road, my husband offered our savior a twenty.
“No, that’s all right,” the man said, laughing as he turned to go. I think he’d guessed why we were pulled over.
“We’re married,” my husband said.
The guy laughed again.
“To each other,” my husband sheepishly added as the man waved and drove off.
Lake Orion, Michigan
One night, after Riley and I had made the rounds at the bars, we slept together. It seemed like the natural next step in our friendship. I was drunk — not so much that he was taking advantage, but I wasn’t fully present, which bothered me. I wanted to make love with him again, sober. I think he wanted this, too.
And so one night we found ourselves in each other’s arms in his apartment. It was the last time we would have sex. Soon afterward he left for London to join his girlfriend, Samantha, who was there working as a nanny and writing her first novel, determined to live like the expats whose books had inspired her. Riley didn’t know what kind of work he would find or how long he would stay, only that joining her was a test to determine the fate of their relationship. They’d dated for more than two years, but she wasn’t convinced he was mature enough for marriage.
“I’m glad we made love,” he whispered in my ear the night before he left.
He would eventually fail the test with Samantha, returning with only empty pockets. Riley went on to be my husband’s best man in my wedding. Two years later he married Rebecca, and for the next three decades we were best friends, sharing everything about our lives and families.
We never spoke about the two times we’d made love, but neither of us ever forgot it. Today, more than a year since his sudden death, I’m starting to understand how that intimacy deepened our friendship. We loved each other a lot. And I’m glad we made it physical.
My husband and I married for love and have two children. I have been faithful to him for more than twenty years, and, to the best of my knowledge, he has been faithful to me. I doubt anyone who knows us would guess that we have come close to an open marriage or divorce more than once.
We have sex once or twice a week — a compromise. My husband would like more; I could do with less. The sex has never been great, not even in the beginning. I have struggled to sustain enthusiasm, and I’m just not aroused when he says, “Wanna go do it?”
My mother-in-law has told me I’m solely responsible for keeping my husband sexually satisfied, though I’m pretty sure she didn’t do the same for her ex. I did not tell her I have been solely responsible for my own sexual satisfaction, too. I don’t even enjoy kissing him. He smells wrong to me — different, off. No matter how much we try, it’s an effort. This disappoints my husband and makes both of us feel sad at times.
I wish it were otherwise. I wish I were sexually voracious, able to blow his mind and get myself off, too. I wish I weren’t jealous of my friends’ attitudes toward sex. I wish I didn’t think, This is it?
But I made a promise, and I’m keeping it. I married a good man. I’m trying to be a good woman.
We’d known each other for two years. He volunteered at the local symphony, where I was a fund-raiser. Our conversations were always light and fleeting, and I didn’t think much about him. At fifty-eight I thought I had enough wisdom to discern if someone was interested in a relationship. I figured he was married.
Over time it became evident he was single, like me. Our discussions grew longer and more involved until I asked him out for coffee. It didn’t take long for us to start seeing each other on a regular basis.
One evening, after he spent a day helping me go through boxes at my storage unit, I suspected we might be about to have sex. We had been dating for months, and our make-out sessions were becoming more heated. I was ready for a good old romp in the hay.
He cooked us dinner, and then I pulled him toward his bedroom, where we had a satisfying, if somewhat awkward, first time together. When we were done, he said, “I love you,” followed by my first and last name.
For a moment I was angry because I felt pressured to respond. But I took a deep breath and said, “I love you, too, but I want to give it time.” He nodded, and we lay there in sweet silence.
I have grown to love him deeply and can express it wholeheartedly now, but I had no idea we were making love back then. I thought we were just having great sex.
My relationship with Toni began with orgasms. As a lesbian I can tell when a woman is having one, or is pretending to, or is having one after another for hours: an experience so exhausting that even when it’s not me having them, I’m left starved for sleep.
One afternoon we were at a B and B close to Toni’s home in northern New Hampshire. I’d booked the room for myself so that I could spend an hour away from her each day, recovering. That didn’t quite work out.
I’d brought a bag of grapefruits from Florida, and, after we finally got out of bed, we juiced a half dozen of them, then made love again while the juice chilled. We mixed it with champagne and drank it. I tried to get dressed for dinner, but she kept taking off the garments I’d just put on. After a few more drinks — and a few more orgasms — I said, “We should probably stop drinking since we’re going out to dinner.”
“I’m not wasting this juice!” she replied.
At the restaurant she had more drinks, but I was already feeling hung-over at 10 PM. Toni kept clinging to me: on the way to her car, in the car, in the doorway of the B and B. She followed me up the stairs to “say good night,” but came in again, wanting more.
She was insatiable; I was bleary and amazed. I asked her many times to let me sleep, but she would not. I asked her many times to leave, but at 2 AM she was still in my bed, holding me much too tight.
At a quiet moment I tried to lean across her to turn off the lamp, but she wouldn’t let me move. She was like an anchor.
I tried to sleep, but she had been roused, and her hands moved across my body in ways that I was starting to hate. After a few more hours I yelled, “Get out! Leave me alone!” She cried and begged to kiss me good night.
At dawn, when she finally left, I told her I didn’t want to see her until 2 PM. I needed eight hours of sleep.
At 1:50 I woke to find her staring at me, her eyes swollen with what I thought was remorse. I let her back in.
Holmes Beach, Florida
I first fell in love in the summer of 1964 at Mountain View swimming pool. A six-foot-tall cowboy wannabe, he sported a Winchester belt buckle and said things like “howdy” and “reckon so.”
On Saturday nights we’d turn off Route 30 and cruise the back roads in his Chevy Bel Air, then park. Sprawled across the bench seat, savoring our perfect fit, we’d touch and kiss, but I would go no further. The possibility of pregnancy terrified me. How could I disappoint Dad, destroy my college chances, and hurt Mum, who already suffered from multiple sclerosis? So I told the cowboy, “Not yet.”
“Hell,” he said, “I love you eighty-five ways. Why rush? We have forever.”
After three years together we enrolled in different colleges. Within a month the cowboy’s steadfast devotion started to feel like a lasso around my neck. I needed to discover who I was without him.
He returned my Dear John letter in shreds.
When Dad died, the cowboy called to express his sympathies, and we shared memories of late-night phone calls, stolen kisses, and his Chevy Bel Air. I’d spent a decade in an unhappy marriage, and the cowboy’s voice was still familiar. Feeling bold, I said, “Maybe we should have made love?”
“The way I look at it,” he said, “we did.”
I wake in the king-size bed alone. I’m not sure if it’s my snoring that sent my husband to the other bedroom, and I don’t want to know just yet. I want to linger in this dreamlike state. Then I hear him open the front door to get the paper, and our terrier comes clicking upstairs for his morning nap on my husband’s pillow.
When we were young, sex was quick and electric. We were athletic: skiers, backpackers, sailors, white-water kayakers. These days he takes an erectile-dysfunction pill. The antidepressant I’m on dulls my libido. Our lovemaking must be planned and deliberate. For years we’ve said we need to do better at setting aside time. We get too busy, too tired, too lazy. Sometimes it’s easier not to make the effort. But when he walks into the kitchen in the mornings, I smile at his aging face, hug him hard, and think: This is making love, too.
A few Sundays ago he suggested we play hooky from church. While he made coffee and took his pill, I stayed in bed and gave myself a pep talk: Relax. Keep it fun.
He brought my coffee just the way I like it. Light slanted through the blinds. We propped ourselves up on the abundance of pillows he’s grown to accept. It’s clumsier now, but we’ve learned how to forgive each other’s limitations.
One of the most popular forms of sex often gets short shrift: masturbation.
In 1965 I was nineteen years old and serving in Vietnam. One night two of us manned an outpost on a hill overlooking the Chu Lai Valley. We took turns sleeping. During my shift I snacked on C-rations — little containers of peanut butter and jelly with crackers — and my mind drifted to memories of girls back home. One thing led to another, and soon I was out of the bunker, pants down, stroking my grape-jelly-covered penis. I still think about how crazy it would have looked if I had gotten shot and been found like that.
Morro Bay, California
I was sautéing chicken breasts when my boyfriend, who later became my husband, wrapped his arms around me from behind and whispered, “You smell delicious.”
I turned to him, and we kissed like love-hungry teenagers.
“I want you right here,” he said.
I turned off the stove and began to lead him to the bedroom.
“No, here! On the island!”
The “island” was a movable butcher block on wheels. I had been cutting vegetables on it only minutes before.
But I wriggled out of my jeans, T-shirt, and underwear. He lifted me up, placing my butt on the island, which rolled across the linoleum with our exertions. Afterward we sat down to dinner. The chicken breasts were overdone.
I was unable to bring myself to use the butcher block for days. Recognizing my squeamishness, my boyfriend made a show of slicing carrots and celery on it. He waved the vegetables under his nose before popping them into his mouth.
We still have the butcher-block island in the basement. It’s piled high with coolers and a picnic basket: dormant, like the lust of my youth.
Where did I leave my libido? I have not even bothered to look for it. Dropping into bed each night, I am ashamed of how much I desire sleep and how little I desire . . . well, desire. My husband is still sexual. I wake to his hand on my breast or his lips pressed to my ear. I do not ask if he is satisfied, unsure I want to know the answer.
When our son moved into his first apartment, I offered the butcher block to him. My husband and I exchanged a look and a smile. Our son declined.
Someday soon, as empty nesters, we will sell the house and move to an apartment, and the island will likely find another home. I wonder whether I will be able to find the energy to give it a proper send-off. I’m certain my husband will be willing.
Though I grew up in the sexually liberated seventies, I was a romantic at heart and had never been one for casual sex. After my marriage foundered, though, I grew cynical about love and decided to avoid entanglements and have sex as freely as possible. I made a list of eight or nine women who seemed interesting and possibly interested.
Guinevere, a vivacious brunette with brilliant eyes and a joyful smile, was first. I trembled as I knocked on her door for our dinner date. It was an awkward evening, but she invited me back to her place. I talked too much, and she started to yawn, but I managed a kiss and then another. We wound up in bed.
She told me later she’d intended it to be a “mercy fuck,” but we made love more times that week than I had in a year with my wife. I never did call up any of the other women on my list. Thirty-two years later her nakedness still thrills me.
The first time we decided to sleep together, we climbed into my loft in my college dorm room. It felt like a tree house.
Before we began, I took a deep breath and told him I had been abused by my father for several years and had trouble opening up. He was not the first young man I had said this to. It was my way of apologizing for the wound I thought was visible to everyone.
Unlike my previous boyfriends, he held me and told me I was safe with him. We would go slow. I don’t know what had made him so understanding. Maybe a girl he’d loved in high school had had a similar experience. But he brought me safely through our first sexual encounter by careful exploration, asking, “How does this feel?” I saw stars for the first time.
It was a while before we climbed down from that tree house.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Are you OK with this?” she asks, looking me over. “If it were me in your place, I wouldn’t be.”
We know so little about each other. She is an old friend of my boyfriend’s. They studied music together. Until tonight she and I have hardly spoken to one another.
I laugh but don’t look at her. “I’ve always been curious. I kind of feel like I need to know the answer.”
My boyfriend comes back into the room, sits down on the bed, and kisses me. Then he kisses her.
I can’t move.
She smiles as if she knows me well, and I reach out to cradle her face in my hands. Her golden hair sticks to my sweaty palms. Then my lips are on hers.
It feels like nothing.
No, it feels like everything.
Her mouth tastes of alcohol. She smells sweet, and the fragrance wraps around me, but I’m hesitant. I pull away and look into her eyes. Then I draw her lips to mine again.
I can feel him watching us. He starts to touch my leg, and in my mind I scream for him to leave.
I want this every day. Just not with him.
When my husband and I were teenagers, we made love three or four times a day. He went to the doctor, worried about a sore on his penis, and the doctor asked how often he had sex. After the doctor heard the number, he said, “Son, maybe you should take your girlfriend to a movie or something.”
We experimented with nearly every way to make love: on skis, in the back of a Greyhound bus, on a flight from New Hampshire to Denver, in a field full of cantaloupes while eating the melons.
We’re almost sixty now. We no longer have that much energy. Often it’s not making love; it’s sex. Afterward, when we shower, or nap, or nestle together — that’s making love.
I work as a caregiver for the elderly. Recently I was caring for an eighty-four-year-old man with Alzheimer’s. Having seen his father deteriorate from the same disease, he decided to end his own life. The only legal way to do this was to voluntarily stop eating and drinking. Heartbroken, his wife agreed to help.
Everything was in place: twenty-four-hour caregivers, a hospital bed, boxes of wet swabs for his mouth, bottles of morphine. I asked what he wanted for his last lunch, and he said ice cream. As we licked ice-cream cones, he said he didn’t want to end his life. Mostly what he wanted was not to be a burden on his wife. They’d been married for only five years. She was an independent artist and not a caregiver type.
I suggested he go live with his son or daughter, but he didn’t want to do that. I proposed he move into a nursing home, but he rejected the idea.
“Well, what are you going to do, then?” I asked.
“I’m going to seduce my wife so that she’ll want to take care of me,” he said.
Early the next morning his wife called me to say they had changed their minds. I felt a rush of relief. “We made love like it was the last time ever,” she told me. “It was so incredible that he decided he wants to live. I’m going to care for him for now.”
It’s been two years since they made their decision, and she gives me updates on how it’s going. Every Wednesday and Sunday, she says, she gives him Viagra, and they spend all afternoon making love. Occasionally he’ll say, “I wish I could remember this later.”
“At least you’re here now,” his wife will reply.
One time she went to the bathroom after they’d made love, and when she returned, he looked worried. “I have a confession,” he announced. “I just made love to a younger woman. She was beautiful, a goddess. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “That was me.”
Their love inspires me. Although I have no savings, I look forward to retiring. If my husband and I have health care and can afford Viagra, you can be sure we’ll still be going at it.
When I imagine the perfect death, I picture my husband and me both having an orgasm at the same moment, then dying of a heart attack. In the end, making money, making dinner, and making the bed do not matter. Making love does.
The Readers Write on “Making Love” [June 2019] was much too frank for me. I wish you had edited it more thoroughly, or eliminated some of the submissions. Many of these situations are too personal to be included.
I really enjoy reading The Sun, but not an X-rated version of it.