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    A Letter to My Favorite Boyfriend  
 
Notes from an Incomplete Revolution (Meredith Maran)


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  Dear Oso,

I got a phone call while I was working in my garden today. "Meredith?" said a young, sweet, unfamiliar voice. "This is Sarah. Jim Gold's daughter."

I did the first translation: Jim Gold = Oso. (Remember that day in 1970, when you and I went from not knowing each other in the morning to being lovers in the afternoon? That was the day I started calling you Oso. "Bear," in the language of our New Mexico village; but Oso, too, because that was how you made me feel: oh, so...so, so... And what a bear of a man you were, what a big moaning grumbling screaming lumbering lusty hairy bear of a man.)

Who's Sarah? I wondered then. Another daughter, one I don't even know about? "Sarah?" I repeated. "I used to be Rain," she explained wearily, as if she'd explained it a thousand times. I almost chuckled aloud. Oh. Another hippie name rejected by another child of hippies.

"Your name doesn't sound familiar to me, either," she said. "Have I ever met you?" I bit back the answer that sprang to my lips. Your father and I were fucking each other's brains out for the first time at the moment you were born. "I haven't seen you since you were six months old," I said instead "How old are you now?" "Twenty-three," she answered. Jesus, I thought, Rain's four years older now than I was when she was born.

"We got your name and number off my dad's answering machine," your daughter said, and a wave of dread rose up from my gut. I swallowed it back down. I know: I told myself. Oso's far away, on a trip to Europe or something. He got my messages telling him I was coming to New Mexico last month. He asked Rain to call and tell me why he never responded. When he gets home he'll call me and...

"I'm calling to tell you about the memorial service," Rain said.

First there was a whoosh through my body, a blast of comprehension that blew a hole right through me. Jim Gold is dead. And then there was a big resounding NO! and my mind took off, racing in search of some other explanation. Any other explanation. A memorial for someone we knew in common. A memorial for...for...

"Did your father die?" I asked your daughter. She gasped. "Oh my God!" she said. "You didn't know?" And that's how I found out that you were dead.

Funny how my first instinct was to take care of her, the way I took care of your younger daughter, Rain's half-sister April, when you sent her and her best friend to stay with Ann and me a couple of years ago. You and I laughed a lot on the phone before April came and while she was here: you and me, once the last of the red-hot lovers, now a couple of graying old farts looking after each other's hot-to-trot teenage kids. But the truth is, I got a major kick out of the whole thing: meeting your punked-out, feisty daughter; seeing what kind of a maniac you'd raised (a maniac just like you); watching her talking to you on the phone in my living room; hearing her call you Dad; noticing the way she paid respectful attention-lace body stocking, motorcycle boots, and multiple nose rings notwithstanding-to what you said.

And so as the shock, the fact of your death, was buzzing around my head, I was worrying about Rain. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for you," I said, wishing I could picture her face, remembering only her tiny flannel-swaddled body in the cedar cradle you built for her right after you started fucking me, in the old adobe house you shared with her mother, who watched in icy silence as I bent to see if I could recognize my lover's face, your face, in hers. "This must be terrible for you," I said in my comforting mother voice, the voice I use with my own children. "You thought I knew, and now you have to be the one to tell me."

I was proud of your daughter: she started to cry. "I've been okay with this, really," she said between sobs. I was proud of you: even though you'd split up with her mother while Rain was still in that cradle, you'd stayed that connected to your first daughter. She still loved you that much. She was "handling your affairs." Your affairs! "He never even got to come home," she cried. How could she show her grief so openly to me-a stranger, someone she'd never even heard of? (I am grateful for this, at least: to know that my name wasn't bandied about in her family as the cause of its dissolution.) Did she know that I loved you that much, too? Did she sense somehow the debt I've felt I owed her since the day she was born? Or is it just that Rain is her father's daughter, an Osita overflowing with uncontainable raw emotion?

While I listened to Rain--Sarah--crying, the reality of your death started burning through my skin. Oso is dead. I'll never talk to Oso again. Never make love with Oso again. "Sarah," I said, "is it okay to ask you some questions?" "Yes," she answered, so I asked her where and how and when you'd died. While you were visiting friends in New York. A terrible headache; a diagnosis of brain cancer; a prognosis of six months. And then, two weeks after the diagnosis, the day before you were scheduled to fly home--the day I whined onto your machine, "Don't you love me anymore? I'm coming to New Mexico tomorrow and you still haven't called me back!"--your friends finding you in bed, still and stiff, the life all out of your big empty body.

"Were you close to your dad?" I asked Sarah. "Oh, yes," she said, and as she told me the story of her relationship with you, I drifted back to all the times I said yes to you. And all the times you said yes to me. Starting with the day we met: a hot, late autumn afternoon. A gathering at a friend's house near the A-frame I'd just finished building with my "old man," Paul. You making eyes at me across the crowd, easing me away from Paul, asking me my name. I was intrigued, not attracted--you were too big, too hairy, too old, not my type. Still, I said yes to you when you asked me to give you a ride to your commune, two dirt road miles away. Still, I muttered some excuse to Paul, climbed with you into our Volkswagen bus, drove off with you across the mountain that lay between your home and mine.

And I said yes to you again, a few minutes later, when you turned to me--I don't recall your words, only the determination in your crazy green eyes--and asked me to stop the car and make love with you right then and there.

A girl had to have some rules in those days of limitless sexual possibilities, and my only sexual policy was this: if I thought it would take longer to explain to a guy why I didn't want to fuck him than it would take to fuck him, I'd just shoot up some Emko foam and do it. By the time you asked me to stop my car on that mountain, I'd had enough one-shot sexual encounters to know that I had little to gain or lose either way. If I said no, I disappointed a friend, and for no good reason. (Unlike you, most of the guys who came on to me back then were already my friends.) If I said yes, I made the guy happy, enhanced my reputation as a "hip chick," and opened myself up to a new--if almost always sexually unsatisfying--experience.

So I wasn't hoping for much when I said yes to you and stopped my car on that rutted back road. I opened the glove box and took out the can of Emko foam I kept there for just that purpose. I followed you through the dense sage and piñon until we found what passes for a clearing in the high desert. You took off all your clothes: boots, socks, jeans, T-shirt (no underwear)--your eyes fastened on me. I took off all my clothes: boots, socks, jeans, T-shirt (no underwear)--my eyes fastened on you. And then you arranged your shirt and jeans on the scrabbly ground and lay down on top of them, lay down on your back with your whole quivering eager erect self spread out before me. "C'mere," you said, beckoning to me, inviting me to straddle you, so that your body protected mine from the untender terrain as we rocked and rolled beneath the endless turquoise sky. From the first moment we were skin to skin, I felt more with you than I'd expected to feel. As you moved inside me, our eyes still locked, it all started melting together: my apathy into passion, me into you, you into me, our four-legged body into the desert. I hadn't expected to be touched, but you touched me. Your great heaving cries ringing out across the still, silent mesa. The juniper berries popping below. The moans that reverberated through me as they came up through you. The scent of crushed pine needles in my nose. The muchness of you, the suchness of you, the oomph and the passion and the hugeness of you. I didn't come with you, but.... went with you. We were good. We were good together. We were good, good, good together. When at last we peeled ourselves apart, broke the suction of sweat and sex, reluctantly untangled toes from toes, hips from hips, cock from cunt, chest from breasts, arms from arms, hair from kinky, matted hair; when we stood at last and faced each other again--eyes wide, legs shaking, pulling on socks first to keep from scratching up our feet, then T-shirt, jeans, boots--I wasn't who I had been before.

I don't remember what happened next. Even if I could ask you, I know you wouldn't remember, either. (Logistics never interested you; only the feelings mattered.) I don't remember bringing you home, don't remember wondering where your pregnant old lady was, or whether or not you noticed that your truck was missing from in front of your house. I don't remember what we said, what I drove away thinking about how or when we'd ever make love again. I don't even remember how or when I found out that while you were pouring yourself into me, your first child--Rain--was coming into the world at the nearest hospital, fifty miles away.

I do remember telling Paul about what we'd done. I had to tell him right away; that was our deal: no secrets, no lies. So that night, while I was folding the laundry we'd done in town earlier that day, I told Paul that I'd fucked Jim Gold. He wasn't surprised. But he was furious. I was shocked; Paul had never reacted that way before. "This time it's different," he yelled. I didn't understand how he knew that, or what exactly he meant. But I knew he was right. A few weeks later Paul took his typewriter and moved to Santa Fe.

After Paul left, you and I were together as often as you could get away. Sometimes you'd walk the two miles over the mountain to come see me. Sometimes a guy from your commune would drop you off at my house and pick you up a few hours later. You couldn't take your truck--something to do with your girlfriend, with your baby, with secrecy. I never knew when you'd show up (neither one of us had a phone--or a bathroom, or most of the other things we both accumulated over the next twenty years). But I was always ready for you. Always wanting you. Always wanting the next adventure with you. The sitting up, the lying down, the right side up, the upside down, the kitchen table, the couch, the bed, the bed, the bed.

And the big yes you said to me when I said I wanted to have your baby. And the night we cried together until dawn painted the mesa purple, the night the blood came and we knew it would never happen.

I don't know what kept you coming back to me, all those years later, when you were talking dirty to me on the phone or writing me romantic letters or kissing me in a parking lot. But what kept me coming back to you was the look on your face the day you discovered my clitoris. We'd probably made love fifteen times by then, and I'd never yet had an orgasm with you. (As you might recall, I hadn't been registering many complaints--our sexual acrobatics always left me dazed, crazed, and amazed, if not entirely fulfilled.) That wasn't unusual for me, in those days, because fucking was what men wanted to do, and fucking didn't make me come. The guys I'd said yes to before you were easy to please--as long as I just wanted to please them. Unlike me, they came whether they were fucking a stranger for the first time or their girlfriend for the thousandth time. The men I said yes to went home to their old ladies whistling a happy tune, high on vitamin O, relieved because I never hassled them when they said they couldn't spend the night.

I figured something was wrong with me. My women friends never complained about being unsatisfied, so I assumed they were real women, the kind of woman I wished I could be: relaxed enough, hip enough, womanly enough to have the right kind of orgasms. But I only came with guys I'd been to bed with at least a few times--guys I'd explained my problem to, guys I'd trained to help me solve it, guys who were willing to be trained. So far I hadn't found many men like that. I had no reason to believe you'd turn out to be one of them. So I'd decided to enjoy what we had, not risk spoiling it by making unromantic, technical demands.

One day I got a letter from a friend in New York. She'd quit what she now called the "male-dominated Left" and joined a new movement for women's liberation. She enclosed a copy of a book called Sisterhood Is Powerful. I was surprised to recognize the names of many of the contributors: women I'd known only as the girlfriends of the men I'd planned demonstrations with, laid out underground newspapers with, spent the night with. Carl's old lady Angela. Bobby's old lady Marly. Rick's old lady Connie. The days and nights I waited for you, I worked my way through the book. All those invisible, silent "chicks" weren't anybody's old ladies anymore. They were feminists now. They were putting their relationships with each other, their sisterhood, ahead of their relationships with men.

For the first time--for just a moment--I considered the impact of our romance, yours and mine, on your girlfriend, the mother of your new baby. I don't even know her, I told myself. Why should I care more about her feelings than my own, or Oso's? Anyway, she and Jim probably have the same agreement that Paul and I had. Doesn't everyone? I went on reading. The book was full of boring academic treatises, moving personal "herstories," angry poems. On page 197 I found an essay I read once, then again, and again: "The Politics of Orgasm" by Susan Lydon.

According to Susan Lydon, the "fact" that had undermined my sexual self-esteem, fed my sexual insecurity, inspired my sexual fatalism was nothing but Freudian fiction. According to Susan Lydon, my desire for "direct clitoral stimulation" did not prove that I was frigid, unfeminine, sexually immature, or castrating. All it proved was that I knew what would give me the orgasm (or two, or three, or twenty) to which I was entitled. According to Susan Lydon--and Masters and Johnson, whose research she cited--there was no such thing as a "right kind of orgasm" or a "wrong kind of orgasm" because THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS A VAGINAL ORGASM!

The next time you appeared at my door, I decided to take a chance on you, to share my revelation with you. We climbed the cedar ladder to my loft bed, assumed our customary positions, commenced our customary precoital nuzzling. Once I was assured of your full attention, I yanked my already-worn copy of Sisterhood Is Powerful from beneath my pillow. It fell open to page 197. "Read this!" I instructed you, tracing the all-important words with my fingertip. "...the dichotomy of vaginal and clitoral orgasms is entirely false. Anatomically, all orgasms are centered in the clitoris, whether they result from direct manual pressure applied to the clitoris, or..."

I regarded you expectantly.

You regarded me blankly.

"What's a clitoris?" you asked.

I sensed that your question was sincere, and so I devoted myself to teaching you the answer. You were such an eager student that I was inspired to explore the question deeply from every angle--not once but several times that afternoon. And when the lesson was complete, when you had amply demonstrated your retention of all that I had taught you, I opened my eyes and found you beaming from ear to ear. "You came in my hand!", you crowed, your glowing eyes as delighted as a child's. "Just like that! You came in my hand!"

And just like that, my heart was yours.

Incredible, but true: never before you, and never after, did I make love with a man who was as wildly enthusiastic about--as wholeheartedly, wholebodiedly committed to--my pleasure as he was his own. The men before you (who had a passable excuse; even I didn't know any better in those One Giant Leap for Mankind days), as well as the men after you I (who had no excuse at all, aside from a lifetime of sexist training), conveyed their annoyance with my sexual preferences in a range of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The momentary hesitation of the hand. The nearly imperceptible but undeniably repulsed curl of the lip. The rushing through; the dozing off during. The seemingly solicitous inquiries about my need for "more." And, of course, that time-honored, quintessential closing shot in any day's battle between the sexes: the barely postcoital snore. One boyfriend of mine articulated what most men merely enacted, informing me not once but often that my sexual wants were burdensome to him, an unpleasant detraction from the main event. "Anticlimactic," he actually said. If I really loved him, he asserted, I would give up my immature, self-centered focus on my clit, on what I wanted him to do for me, and focus instead on what we could do together: intercourse, "natural sex," sex the way God and man intended it to be.


I sit here now crying, knowing that you aren't a living person anymore. I rummage through my old trunk, dig out my big manila "Oso" envelope, surround myself with things you gave me. The note you left in my post office box: "Will be up tomorrow to go on wood run with you--get Clint's chain saw & Gas & Oil--Love Gold." A poem: "The wind howls/ wondering what it is to be a tree/the wind changes/blowing switching directions/the mama sleeps/the baby coos/the daddy dreams/the wind changes/the baby coos." That baby was Rain; she called me on the phone today. The daddy, you said, was dreaming of me.

Your letters, with postmarks through the decades. 1971, when I ran away from you to Europe. 1983, when you asked me to leave my husband and come back to you and New Mexico. 1985, reminding me to keep writing poetry. 1992, thanking me for looking after April.

"The clouds covering the mountains...," you wrote in your first letter to me, "worries, possession. Here are the roots, yours, mine, a whole new tribal system, and you are a part of me as much as anyone." And in the last one: "It never goes away," you promised, "unless something so bitter and relentless has gone down."

Some would say, Oso, that what went down between us was bitter and relentless. Rain's mother might say that, or maybe even Rain herself. Paul certainly did, and so did my husband.

I want to call you up right now, Oso. I want to talk to you about us then, knowing what we know now. I want to ask you if you see it, now, the way I do: as a great romance, yes--but a great romance shrouded in the rampant sexism of its time. I wouldn't give up a moment of it, Oso; I wouldn't change a thing. But I see this now, too: the great romance that spanned a quarter-century, never failed to quicken my heart and moisten my loins, gave me some of the greatest sex and greatest joy I've known--also broke up two relationships, condemned Rain to a lifetime of joint custody, threatened my marriage, and leaves me, now, feeling invisible and guilty. I loved you for twenty-five years, and we never ate a meal together. Rain had never heard my name. On the list of people to whom your poems will be distributed, my name is unlikely to appear. I imagine Rain telling her mother about her conversation with me; and wonder whether she will ever talk to me again. Not knowing what else to do, I write a condolence card hoping that your ex-old lady will have forgotten--or forgiven--who I am.

I won't be going to your memorial service, Oso. I'll be out of the country that week, on a much-needed family vacation with Peter, Jesse, and Ann. So I won't be standing among strangers in a crowded room, trying to figure out what to say to Rain and her mother, twenty-three years later; or wondering how many of the weeping women in the room have a pile of letters and poems at home, just like mine.

When I got off the phone with Rain today, I wandered into the kitchen. "What's wrong, Mom?" Peter asked me. "You're standing there staring into space." I realized then that my sons have never heard your name, either. "A man I loved died a month ago," I said. "I just found out.

"Who was he?" Peter asked.

Who was he?

"He was my favorite boyfriend," I said.

Love, as always,

Meredith
 
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Excerpted from Notes from an Incomplete Revolution by Meredith Maran. Copyright © 1997 by Meredith Maran. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.