The Love of My Life
The first time I cheated on my husband, my mother had been dead for exactly one week. I was in a cafe in Minneapolis watching a man. He watched me back. He was slightly pudgy, with jet black hair and skin so white it looked as if he’d powdered it. He stood and walked to my table and sat down without asking. He wanted to know if I had a cat. I folded my hands on the table, steadying myself; I was shaking, nervous at what I would do. I was raw, fragile, vicious with grief. I would do anything.
“Yes,” I said.
“I thought so,” he said slowly. He didn’t take his eyes off me. I rolled the rings around on my fingers. I was wearing two wedding bands, my own and my mother’s. I’d taken hers off her hand after she died. It was nothing fancy: sterling silver, thick and braided.
“You look like the kind of girl who has a cat.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. He just kept looking at me steadily, as if he knew everything about me, as if he owned me. I felt distinctly that he might be a murderer.
“Are you mature?” he asked intently.
I didn’t know what he meant. I still don’t. I told him that I was.
“Well then prove it and walk down the street with me.”
We left the cafe, his hand on my arm. I had monstrous bruises on my knees from how I’d fallen on them after I walked into my mother’s hospital room and first saw her dead. He liked these. He said he’d been admiring them from across the room. They were what had drawn him to me. Also, he liked my boots. He thought I looked intriguing. He thought I looked mature. I was twenty-two. He was older, possibly thirty. I didn’t ask his name; he didn’t ask mine. I walked with him to a parking lot behind a building. He stopped and pressed me against a brick wall and kissed me, but then he wasn’t kissing me. He was biting me. He bit my lips so hard I screamed.
“You lying cunt,” he whispered into my ear. “You’re not mature.” He flung me away from him and left.
I stood, unmoving, stunned. The inside of my mouth began to bleed softly. Tears filled my eyes. I want my mother, I thought. My mother is dead. I thought this every hour of every day for a very long time: I want my mother. My mother is dead.
It was only a kiss, and barely that, but it was, anyway, a crossing. When I was a child I witnessed a leaf unfurl in a single motion. One second it was a fist, the next an open hand. I never forgot it, seeing so much happen so fast. And this was like that — the end of one thing, the beginning of another: my life as a slut.
This is an excerpt. The entire essay may be found in The Best American Essays 2003, edited by Anne Fadiman and Robert Atwan.