Monday, August 5, 2013

Dear John

By Lisabet Sarai

Dear John,

It's a good thing you have such a common name. I could be writing to anyone. You'll never know that your old girlfriend developed into notorious erotica author Lisabet Sarai. These days that might bother you, given your involvement with religion. Even back then, you might have found me a bit of an embarrassment. Maybe you would have been angry. From your perspective, it probably looks like I turned into a terrible slut after we broke up.

I've tried to blame you for the split. If you'd been willing to take the plunge and live with me as a couple instead of in a group house with three other guys, I wouldn't have been tempted to stray. But that's a lie. I chose to show up at our roommate G's bedroom door while you were away at that conference. I told myself I couldn't stand the loneliness of your absence combined with his constant flirtation, but if I'd let my heart guide me instead of my hormones, I would not have betrayed you.

Betrayal. Pretty strong word. We never discussed exclusivity because it didn't seem necessary. For more than two years neither of us wanted anyone else. Although you weren't my first lover, you were my first serious sexual relationship. God, how I loved you! When I reread the many poems I wrote during that period – more than thirty years ago – the old emotions awaken.

In a very true sense, you awakened me. I was crawling out of the numbness of my anorexic years, but still stumbling regularly back into the shadows. You were sunshine and freedom - relaxed, randy, a bit wild but ultimately as wholesome as your Midwestern roots. With your unruly blond frizz, your ruddy cheeks and boyish grin, your playful imagination and your uncomplicated attitude toward pleasure, you were the total opposite of my anguished poet fantasies. In your arms and by your side, I learned to let go, to enjoy my body, to take risks. Being with you opened me to the glorious possibilities of sex. I remember one time, straddling you, wanting to consume you – suddenly understanding the phrase “waves of lust”. I thought I'd drown in the sensations, and was totally willing to do so.

We explored together, both literally and figuratively. I remember our journeys so vividly. There was the cross-country drive to San Francisco, where we stayed in a fleabag Mission district hotel while I presented my dissertation research at that national conference. We walked the hills until my calves screamed, drank Irish coffee, ate at a family-style Basque restaurant where dinner included a bottle of wine for every two people.

I recall the crazy trip to New Orleans for Mardis Gras, packed like sardines into our housemate M's tiny Honda Civic. Surrounded by a hundred sleeping souls, we made love on the floor of a church that had opened its doors to visitors like us and wandered the bustling streets, drunk on hurricanes and desire.

Remember hitch-hiking back to school from Nebraska? Or the week we spent that summer at your parent's lakeside cabin in Minnesota? Because of their scruples, we weren't allowed to share a room – unbearable! The oppressive heat only seemed to heighten our physical need for one another. In the seedy motel in Minneapolis after you picked me up at the airport, in the back seat of your dad's old Buick, in the canoe we left to drift in the cove, we'd come together whenever we could.

Despite your conservative background, you were more than willing to play. Remember the whipped cream? With the stickiness and the smell, not as arousing as we'd expected, but I give us enormous credit for trying. Do you recall Toronto? Twenty five cent beers and the way I sank into role-playing the virgin and you followed? That magic happened more than once. One of us would say something, and all at once, without any discussion, we were other people, acting out stories we both seemed to know, without consultation.

When I slipped and broke my foot at the chess tournament, you carried me around piggy-back for twenty four hours. I'd never felt so loved. Wearing that cast taught me to orgasm even when I wasn't on top. New experiences, new insights. Every day we were together, I became more comfortable and more confident in my sexuality.

Ultimately, that may be what came between us. I don't remember being bored with you, but I became increasingly aware of my attraction to other men as well. Did you know, when we visited your old friend W in Colorado, that I was fantasizing about a threesome? Dear M was our closest mutual friend – the three of us had dozens of adventures together. Hopefully you never realized that I'd imagined him as a lover. Maybe what happened with G was inevitable. Hormones raging, newly conscious of my own sensuality, I wasn't satisfied with monogamy – especially when any notion of commitment sent you running like a scared rabbit.

“We are gods who meet beyond the stars,” you said once. I suppose we still are, though it scarcely feels that way now. We were so young, so alive. Everything was new and astonishing, especially sex.

I miss that intensity – but I'm glad I have it to remember. As you'd remind me now, the Bible says, “To everything there is a season.”

I have never really thanked you properly for the way you loved and nurtured me. Let this letter express my heartfelt gratitude, although you'll never read it. If I'm happy, healthy and successful today, that has a good deal to do with you, John. Thank you from the deepest part of my soul.

The awkwardness was terrible, after we broke up, since we were still studying together in the same department and had the same common friends. I tried to normalize relations, but you told me you couldn't stand to be my friend. I remember getting a testy note from you, after we'd both graduated, asking me to take you off my Christmas card list.

Ten years ago you found me on the Internet, and now we exchange chaste but affectionate greetings on birthdays and holidays. I guess you've forgiven me.

With health challenges and career disappointments, it seems that your life has not turned out as well as mine. I worry sometimes that could be partly my fault. Regrets and guilt are useless, though. We make our choices, then we live with the consequences. No matter how bad we feel, we can't change the past.

Occasionally I wonder, though, about what would have happened to us if I'd not given in to my horniness and remained faithful. Would we have stayed together, or outgrown one another? What would our relationship look like today, now that we've matured from our randy twenties to our sixties?

An unanswerable question. However, being an author, I can, if I wish, spin an answer.

Although you might doubt this from my behavior, I will always love you.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Amanda,

      It was a beautiful relationship, one of the defining interludes of my life.

  2. I'll second Amanda's "beautiful." I'm very impressed with your fair-mindedness and sense of perspective.

    1. Hi, Jeremy,

      Thank you. Thirty five years does that (the perspective, I mean!)

      There was a good deal more confusion, resentment, guilt, and so on at the time.

  3. Lovely post, Lisabet-
    It's good to allow these memories to mellow with the space and objective separation to soften whatever sharp edges. If we could all learn as much from from our past, things would be much easier. So many focus their memories on the negative of breaking up. In doing so, they negate the time they had together, leaving themselves with an overall negative experience of the relationship.

    1. I still regret the hurt I caused him. He was - is - a gentle soul, despite his sometimes rowdy behavior.

  4. A fine past to have had, and always part of who you are now.

    1. Unquestionably, Sacchi. The funny thing is that I've never used him as the model for any character, in any of my stories, unlike other lovers. That might be because it would be too difficult to recapture the subtlety of his personality, to make it clear why he was so loveable.

      Or maybe I just haven't gotten around to that yet...

  5. Most of us never get the chance to thank those from our past who are probably unaware of the influence they had on us. Even though your "John" may never read this, it probably felt good to write it. We are all a product of the life experiences we've had. And if you haven't done things you regret, you probably didn't enjoy yourself much either.

    1. Hi, Fiona,

      I don't regret breaking up with him (now). But I do regret causing him hurt, and I believe I did.

  6. Good comments, Fiona. A full life is where we sample all the flavors of emotion.


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