By Lisabet Sarai
In my mid-twenties, I had my first sexual experience with another women. Clara was a dear friend, a plump, diminutive blonde a few years younger than I was, but, I suspected, more experienced in the realm of lesbian love. At very least, she knew more about F/F culture. While I hung out in the ivory tower of academia, taking courses and writing papers, she volunteered at the local women's center and listened to the music of Chris Williamson and Holly Near. Her free spirit and counterculture credentials sparked my imagination. Her hippie-chick beauty enchanted me. I wanted to know what it would be like to kiss her, to suckle her girlish breasts, stroke her fair skin and feel her moisture under my fingertips.
We were physically affectionate a long time before we became lovers. To be honest, I don't remember how we ended up together on my mattress, on the floor of my two room apartment. I do recall discovering that though I was incredibly excited by the notion of making love to her, the actual mechanics didn't work that well. I guess she wasn't all that more knowledgeable than I was.
After that night, what happened? Nothing. I'm really not sure why. I still desired her. Our friendship still flourished. We simply never repeated the clumsy intimacies of that watershed evening.
Clara and I are still in touch. We write and chat regularly. But we never talk about our brief experiment in physical love. She married a deeply religious man, and has become far more conservative herself. I suspect that she'd find the topic uncomfortable at best. So my affair with her remains unresolved, open ended, more than thirty years later.
Fiction differs from real life in a variety of ways, but one important distinction is that most fiction provides closure. If Clara and I were characters in a story, some sequence of events would likely take place that would tie up the loose ends of our sexual relationship. Perhaps she'd lose her husband and I'd fly to comfort her. We'd get together again and discover that our passion had grown with age (along with our practical skills). Or perhaps I'd confront her with evidence of our past lust, and she'd reject me, denying she'd ever had lesbian yearnings. Either alternative would make a decent story.
Every story needs an ending. That ending might not be happy, but it needs to leave the reader with a sense of completion. There's little that is as frustrating as a novel that simply breaks off in the midst of the action, leaving conflicts outstanding and questions unanswered - even though the world very often operates that way.
This week's topic got me thinking about closure in my own work. Five of my six novels end with the primary characters moving into a phase of greater commitment after a period of crisis or uncertainty. One (Necessary Madness) actually ends with a wedding and two other contain proposals of marriage. (I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, especially since several of these books were written before I started to officially write romance.)
Exposure is the one long work I've written that has a somewhat equivocal conclusion. At the end of the story, Stella has barely escaped death. Her home and her history have been consumed by a terrible fire. Her trust in both her lovers has been eroded by their lies. She can't decide which, if either, she'll take back into her life. Nevertheless, the novel offers closure in that Stella regains her sense of self, her confidence and delight in her work as a dancer. She moves past despair to a point where readers know she will survive and flourish, even if we don't know how or with whom.
In the real world, tragedy leaves indelible marks. One's life can be permanently diminished. My mother died of leukemia in her early fifties, younger than I am now. She never got to see me or my siblings marry. I loved her dearly. However, during the last ten years of her life, she and I could not spend much time together without doing mutual psychological damage.
I miss her now far more than I did immediately after her death. At that time, it was almost a relief to be free of the ongoing worry and guilt. I was with her when she died, but we never truly resolved the issues that had come between us. Would we have succeeded in doing so if she had lived? I'll never know.
Humans love stories. I believe that it's in our genes. Our prehistoric ancestors recited tales around the campfire. Perhaps one reason we're wired for fiction is the consolation of closure, the deep satisfaction we experience when the story draws to an end. The world is dark, dangerous, unpredictable, but in the realm of the imagination, we retain some element of control. Even if the ending is tragic, it has symmetry, structure, meaning. Stories may be our defense against a seemingly chaotic universe.