When I was thirty-one years old I had a torrid affair with a woman. Let’s call her Mary (her name was Mary). It was not very nice of me to carry on with Mary, especially since I was already married to Mark. (Let’s call him Mark.)
Mark liked Mary very much until I admitted that we defiled each other in Ohio during a cross-country trip that was supposed to be taken together under the auspices of friendship.
This affair tore my life apart in many ways. I did a lot of crying and yelling and sobbing, and then of course there were the hours of therapy. Our marriage dissolved. It was something that had to happen, obviously. I’m glad we didn’t have children.
My friends and enemies are going to make fun of me for writing this in a very public blog post, but like King Midas who whispered his secret into the rushes, I feel compelled to disclose personal details with a terrible urgency.
Mary and I had just admitted we were in love with each other. I was standing in the corner behind the bed in the farthest room of Mary’s parents’ house. She walked toward me very intensely and I was quite thrilled but also terrified, the way you would imagine a person feels when they realize they are in love with someone who is not their husband.
Never mind that this new love interest was the same sex as I was. (And stay tuned for posts about that because I tell you, these posts are hot.)
Back to Mary. There she was, coming at me from behind the bed in the corner. She put her face very close to mine and lay both her palms against the wall so that my head was between her wrists. I was smashed up against her. I was sweating. I hoped she couldn’t smell me.
“Amy,” she said. “I want you to do something for me.”
“Okay,” I said. A funny noise came out of my throat. A gulp, maybe. No, a squeak.
“I want you to be yourself.”
Myself? Which self?
My knees were watery. I sank to the floor and kind of sat down on the wall-to-wall carpet between the box spring and the floorboard. Mary sank with me. She pushed my shoulders down to the floor and sat on my waist. She pulled my arms above my head and pressed the back of my hands into the carpet.
At this point I felt like I wanted to get away from her. But I also wanted to stay right where I was. It was a horribly peculiar feeling, both wanting something and not wanting something at the same time. I knew she was coming after me for something that I didn’t want to give up. Something I was terrified to give up.
“Listen,” she said. She leaned forward and whispered in my ear as I stared up at the ceiling with huge eyes.
“Say everything,” she said. And then, those two terrifying words.
Nobody in my life had ever said anything so sexy, so frightening and wonderful. I don’t think anyone has ever said anything like that to me, since. Well, my son does say, “wipe me” every morning after going to the bathroom before school, and there is a kind of intensity to that, too, I suppose.
Nobody had ever demanded that I be myself. Nobody had ever assured me that no matter how messy I sounded, how unfunny, how inarticulate or unpracticed or unformed or inchoate, that I would still be respected and loved. I wouldn’t be abandoned for not being perfect. In fact, I would be loved more.
And what happened after that? Oh, she broke up with me. Easy come easy go.
I’m being facetious. What happened after that was a whole heap of hurt for about a thousand years.
Take it from me: affairs that break up marriages never work out. It’s okay. I’m married now to a spectacular person and we have three amazing children. Life is good.
Be unrehearsed. That’s what she said. Be unedited.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Trust yourself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
For a long time I didn’t feel it was all right to just be myself. If I wanted friends, if I wanted readers, if I wanted to be respected, then I had to cultivate a persona that was far away from the person that I was inside. A persona that was edited and funny and well-groomed and practiced. Often, when I met with people that I wanted to like me, I would practice what I would say to them by myself first.
It got to the point where everything I said of any substance had been rehearsed earlier. In the car. In my bathroom. To a tape recorder.
If I wrote a book and submitted it to my publisher, it was pretty much edited and ready to go, without requiring a lot of content editing. I did that myself. So no one would see that I made grammatical mistakes. Or that I wrote too close to the heart in a sloppy way. I didn’t want anyone to see my process. I wanted them to see product. Complete, adulterated, finished product.
I still believe that for some things it is important to appear finished. Polished. Clean.
But when it comes to writing, and more importantly, to presenting your face to the world, sometimes you have to be messy.
You have to be unrehearsed. Because to be unrehearsed is to be brave, and to be brave is to grow as a human. This is how we make connections with others. Our string becomes iron. Others vibrate with it, and people are drawn to you because you are just that — you. Authentically you.
This post hasn’t been easy to write. But I think it’s important, and it cuts to the heart of what I would like to do on my blog.
I want to tell you the truth. I want to be unrehearsed. I want to share stories with you about breastfeeding and hunting squirrels and anal fissures and falling in love and finding the perfect sperm donor.
But in order for any of my material to resonate, I must at times be messy. Unedited. Unrehearsed.
I hope I don’t drive you away with too much personal information. For years I’ve written thousands of diary pages and stuffed them into the drawer. It’s helped me a lot through the years to write the things that crowded my mind, but when I look through these journal entries now, some horrendous, many embarrassing, some exquisitely heartfelt, I wonder if there isn’t someone else out there, maybe even a hundred someone elses, who felt as I did.
Who was it that said we read stories because we don’t want to feel lonely?
I don’t want anyone to feel as lonely as I did for so many years. I want to reach out. I want to give back.
And so, I give you my stories. Long ones. Short ones. Some in paragraphs, some in poetry (okay, not so much poetry). I give you videos and podcasts and essays and blog posts.
I give it all to you, word by word, post by post.
If you’d like to read more personal narratives like this, I recommend How to Thaw Your Unborn Children, Part 1