What we have done is wrong. I regret sleeping with you eight years ago, when through we lived apart, I was already supposedly in a monogamous relationship with my wife. I also regret keeping in touch, Nancy, our occasional friendly e-mails, throughout the years of my marriage. I profoundly regret the recent erotic escalation in our correspondence. I regret all my inappropriate behavior, but most of all I regret using my wife’s Mac to sext you on Facebook.
As you probably guessed, Nancy, that’s how she found out about us. I’m a night owl, as you know, and my wife is an early riser. Two days ago she got up, made herself coffee, flipped up her computer screen and saw our illicit exchanges. She read I’d written I’d be happy as long as my body was between your legs and I would jump on a plane, drive for hours in a car just for the chance to smell your neck. As you know I wrote lewder things, but these phrases, being subtle variations of words I’ve said to her, seem to hurt her most. She also did not appreciate the slam poetry style of your responses to me. Grapes/like a lost love/grow so sweet/and then fall/through my fingers like rain. That one bothered her, but the one that upset her more was “She Tiger”. Most painful of all was when I wrote that I had “feelings” for you. So I have to say I have no “feelings” for you, Nancy, and what we did, even though it was not physical, but technological, was wrong.
My wife has been on the Internet a lot ever since she read our sexts, which is ironic since she is mad at me for using the Internet and even plans, I’m sure, to put filters on my computer. One website said she should not try to micromanage my addiction. Rather then forcing me to write you, Nancy, the website instructed her to write the letter she would like me to write to you and then pretend the letter was real. Read this letter, the website said, every hour if you need to, to calm yourself. She is doing this. Another reassuring voice is the Sex Addict Anonymous site. My wife loves the prose, which appears to be written by a wise grandpa, a man who has been around the block a few times. She feels it’s a voice I need to hear, the voice of an older man trying to civilize and mature a younger man. This voice, which could also be seen as the voice of God, has all but disappeared from our world. The voice says stuff like “It’s not going to kill you not to have sex for awhile” and “If you are reading this page you are most likely a selfish jackass.”
From the Internet, Nancy, my wife also learned about men’s brains. Men’s brains are like waffles; they have separate receded squares where they can compartmentalize different aspects of their lives. Men’s brains are like waffles so they can sext a twenty-year-old, fuck a co-worker, and then tell their wife, who is in the late stages of breast cancer, that he loves her. Women’s brains, on the other hand, are like linguine. Sex, love, emotion, morality are all mixed together. So my wife would have trouble sending a picture of her johnson to an intern and then later the same day getting up on an altar and repeating the marriage vows.
Now, though she can’t compartmentalize, my wife admits her own sexual history has some sketchy episodes. Throughout her twenties she cheated on boyfriends, and she admits to having spent too much time thinking about wearing black lingerie, spreading herself like paté over a bed, to be as she says, ravished. She admits too, to fantasizing when we make love. For instance, last time she patched together three separate images. First a man she met on a business trip with slick black hair and blue-ironed shirts. He showed her pictures of his kids and called himself “proud papa.” She did not undress him, or go near him, just imagined him standing with a wise paternal expression on his face. To him she linked an image she’d read in a short story, how the tip of a cock, the smooth, circumcised head, lay gently on an outstretched tongue. After that she pulled up one of her common fantasies, a faceless guy moving into her from behind. But while she uses these images to ignite her desire and keep it moving along the drizzle of gasoline, when she comes, she assures me, she opens her eyes and tips over into me.
What bothers my wife, Nancy, is the small-time-ness of this whole thing. The rinky-dink-ness. People get cancer, she says, mothers lose sons in war; babies die; there is racism, poverty, hunger; but here she is, heartbroken because I sexted you, Nancy, a middle-aged hippie lady who writes bad slam poetry. Laser hot fingers/touch my sick soul/I wake to a new me. Think of all the people with real problems, she says. That’s just it, I tried to explain, when you watch porn you don’t think about anyone but yourself, not even your whole self, just your sex organ.
Nancy, my wife has also been talking a lot on the phone. Friends say she should leave me; they remind her it’s my problem, not hers. Her shrink, a nice Jewish lady, said “Jesus Christ not again!” One friend, a thin compulsive man from Michigan, was nihilistic. Some people just have a hole inside them, he said, meaning, I’m sure, both himself and me. But what my wife wants to know is why, when anybody says they have a hole inside them, it’s always because they’ve filled the hole with garbage; condoms, lines of white powder, vodka tonics. Everybody has a hole, my wife says, but some fill it with babies, or gardening, or bird-watching, or running. Some people even try to keep the hole empty; that’s the hardest way, but the way that brings the most joy.
My wife, Nancy, in theory, is not even against porn. She knows she’s supposed to be hip to movies where girls get it from the front and the back while a sweaty fat man masturbates. She knows she’s old-fashioned to believe the two people in a marriage should find sexual solace in each other. She understands though, Nancy, that porn is an attempt, if a static one, to trigger forth life. We have a DVD of lions with their cubs, mother birds feeding babies, buds opening into flowers and grass growing. Nature Porn, she calls it, like real porn, she once said to me, it shows life trying to move forward.
You see, Nancy, my wife is an intelligent, sensitive creature. She remembers how in the beginning of our relationship we were tender with each other, the delicacy and holiness of our life. But since she first caught me several years ago sexting a sad single mother from Staten Island that I’d meet on line, she sees how she’s deadened herself, how in bed when I move her into a position she assumes I’m replicating a scene I’ve seen online and she takes her soul out of her body and puts it in the nightstand drawer for safe-keeping.
Yesterday, Nancy, when my wife saw our electronic correspondence, she yelled, screamed, cried, her chin bunched up and quivered and she put her head in her hands. After that she locked herself in the bedroom. Today though, she seems more tired then angry. When I got up this morning she was sitting on the edge of the couch where she always does her morning meditation. She had her file on her lap. She cuts pictures out of the newspaper—hurt children, wounded soldiers, even abandoned dogs—and prays over the clippings. This morning she held a picture of Weiner’s wife, Huma, with her black hair and red lipstick. I was sad to see my wife slumped over, her eyes shut, her pale legs pulled under her. After that she carried a blanket out to the yard, spread it over the grass and slept for three hours under the sky like a beautiful dead thing. When she finally woke, she searched for a rock; I watched her pick up stone after stone and weigh them against her palm. When she came in, she set her chosen rock on the counter and got the twine out of the kitchen cabinet. She took this letter, the one I am writing to you, Nancy, crumpled it around the rock, and wrapped the twine, knotting it again and again.
The screen door slammed and I watched her walk down Church Street toward the stream. She thought about the things that might stop her from falling; massages, talk to her shrink every week, hang out with her girlfriends, go to church Sundays, read the psalter, go to yoga, go to acupuncture, have her gay friend read her tarot cards, go to the monastery upstate. Read The Shattered Heart and Your Sexually Addicted Spouse. She promised herself that she’d meditate at least one hour every day, or if she can’t concentrate she’ll sit on the porch and stare off into the trees. Yesterday when she finally left the bedroom for the porch, she watched a kingbird call, a series of high electric notes ending in a rasping buzz, beak open, the bird’s tiny neck quivering. She was struck with the effort it took for the bird to sing.
I feel, Nancy, the twine, the letter, the weight of the rock in my own hand. My wife’s not exactly a Christian, but she’s not not a Christian either. She’s unsure if God exists, but like everyone, she feels the weight of sin. On the stream bank she’ll get on her knees and pray for both of us, Nancy, she’ll press her cheek into the dirt and she’ll call out to the God of men and the God of animals, gazing down into the opaque rushing water, she will pitch her testament in.
Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere (Bloomsbury 2007, A New York Times Notable book) and the novels Milk (Bloomsbury 2005), Jesus Saves (Grove/Atlantic, 1997), Suicide Blonde (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992), and Up Through the Water (Doubleday, 1989, A New York Times Notable book). Her new novel, Sister Golden Hair, will come out in Fall 2014 from Tin House. With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited(Little, Brown 1997). Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Review, Vogue, Spin Magazine, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian. Her web-story "Blindspot" was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, and has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Barnard, The American University of Paris, and Princeton.