|Ohope Beach, NZ|
I had an affair last week. I’m not ashamed to tell you, either. It was sweet and sad. It made me laugh, cry, sigh and dance in my chair to James Brown and Rupert Holmes.
My Kiwi PAHT-nah, Pete, even facilitated the tryst, though neither of us knew what to expect beforehand. Pete watched the kids while I was gone for five nights. Five whole nights. No kids. No TV. No partner.
I enjoyed a dalliance with my late husband, Sean (though I should write instead, ‘dead husband,’ because Sean hated being late). It happened in a wood-paneled house across the street from the ocean, in Ohope Beach, New Zealand.
I attended a writer’s retreat to work on the memoir. I revised six sections totaling more than 40,000 words. In the course of revising- subtracting old text and adding entries from letters Sean had written me when we first started dating, plus journal entries he wrote around the time Fiona was born - I fell in love again. With Sean’s openness. With his love and concern for me and our children. With his sense of humor. April 3, 2004, he wrote about Fiona’s first professional pictures:
The photo session was a riot. You peed, pooped, barfed, cried, flailed – but eventually
you settled down for a few quick shots. You looked great. I’m sorry to say now you look
like Uncle Fester; a tiny Uncle Fester. You will have to watch The Munsters to know
who that is. Even your mom barely knows who that is – remember, I’m close to ten years
older, so my references sometimes don’t make sense to her. But to us, you always look
cute, so don’t worry. It’s just funny to see you change so quickly.
I was feeling good in Ohope – reverberating with memory , enveloped in a blanket of wood smoke from the fire, wrapped in Sean’s writing – his black and blue-inked scrawl covering dozens of sheets of yellow legal pages and half-filling a brown faux-leather journal. That’s when Sean’s description of the way seven-month-old Fiona used to hold her hands behind her head caught in my throat like a sliver of walnut hidden in a cookie:
It is so cute to see you do this, because it is how you fall asleep every time.
I wonder if you will do this when you grow up.
I start crying. Damn it, I was fine. AND, I’m wearing mascara. Damn.
I’m also wearing earphones, listening to music on my iPod. James Brown sings “Sex Machine” while I re-examine words I wrote to Sean for our wedding. More tears. Blinking, blinking…
Dec. 3, 1999
…Sean – I can’t promise you wealth, success or perfect health,
but what I can offer you and will give you is all of me.
And today, I look into the face of my beloved, my friend, my husband.
Another member of the writer’s group had just asked me, at lunch, “Is it hard to go back and revisit that time?” I flippantly (as the captain who has not yet hit the iceberg) said ‘yes and no,’ but mostly ‘no,’ that it was validating to hear again Sean’s words in my head (“I miss you, sweetie;” “I Iove you very much;” “I am ready to share my life with you…”), to read about the family we were creating and remember, through his scrawl (and mine, in my journals) how much happiness we enjoyed before he got sick.
Jinxed it, didn’t I?
For me (maybe for you, too), it’s not the BIG THINGS that choke my throat and fill my eyes – anniversary dates, mile stones… Instead, it’s the sweet, small moments that topple me onto the sand. I avoid the large log in my path, stumbling instead over a shell.
Still, I'm not regretting the affair. For nearly a week, I work mostly alone. Alone with Sean. With our plans, travels, our love and the babies that followed.
I flee to the beach. For two kilometers - 20 minutes – my feet explore warm soft sand, cool hard sand, cold ocean, crunchy shells. I stretch my arms wide, feeling whipping winds, just as I’d done eleven years ago with Sean at Dunluce Castle, in Northern Ireland (then, gusty winds impaled my ear drums). A woman throws a tennis ball to a terrier using a claw stick; another woman wades in the ocean with two white Westies. The beach re-deposits me to my center. To here. Now.
Back at the house, I plant myself before my laptop and plug in headphones. My iPod plays “The Pina Colada Song.” I think of Pete. I text him to say I’ve been having a moment, and that I love him. He replies, “Sorry to hear you are not happy at the mo. I would give you a hug if I could! I love you too. Xo”
Real-time love. An affair with the past. Four and-a-half days of writing. What price will I pay for the last two?
Has a fixation (or flirtation) with an old love ever affected your current relationship?