It’s been almost four years. What the fuck? You tell me you want to have a good relationship with me, but not a sexual one. Well, pal, we were never like brother and sister, so needing to come get our son's socks (or shirt, or to say good-bye, or to ask me a question when I am likely to be in bra and underwear, nude, or in the otherwise vulnerable state of changing) is not just a “moving past the past” and entrance into our new “getting along as co-parents” phase. Neither is shedding and dropping your clothing throughout my house as you prepare to bathe with our son. It is a familiarity that is no longer warranted.
It is strangely violating, though you know I think the same of that word as I think of “moist,” slightly creepy but too banal and broad to have any real impact besides initial shock. You know I also think that grey area between masculine/feminine, leering and catcalls, and rape culture is a wide spectrum. These have lost intrinsic meaning and just go to “predatory” without logic or reason on a case-by-case basis. Unless the power dynamic is obscene—as in the case of anyone under the age of 25 with those under-matured brains—everyone is culpable. Nonetheless, there is something about the familiarity juxtaposed against your statement of being simply co-parents and having no sexual interest in me that flouts both of your stated desires when you try to see me naked and when you strip all over my house and get naked in front of me.
Perhaps this is a distinction between Man and Woman. You drop trou and display your mammoth, albeit flaccid, cock and balls to me with some innocence, feigned or not. Is it feigned, or do you simply like these primal monkey displays of sexual suggestion? Perhaps it is simply the Wolf re-marking territory so that I do not forget your imprint or the devastation we feel.
You have no shame in doing so. You carry the assurance of someone who knows they are physically beautiful, though I know from photos and your “tells” in conversations with the people you’re comfortable with that you carry your own self-doubt. It is in the hunch of your shoulders, even as you enjoy the easy social victory of the elite ectomorph, the tall and thin.
Your chin is pulled back in a photo, your shoulders hunched together to hide your exposed hairy chest and soft flat tummy, but your chin, shy smile, eyes, and shoulders belie your “ease.” They reveal that you think you are too tall, too thin, too un-muscular, still a gawky teen unsure of himself in his skin and in the world.
I hear it when you brag to them—your eyes sparkling, your hair trimmed by me and looking like you give a damn (because for that first couple of years, you did)—that you “get all this” from yoga, your hand carelessly waving down your being, from torso to legs, like a beautiful bimbo opening door #2 on a game show.
Perhaps you were simply expounding the physical benefits of the ancient tradition of yoga, secularized and monetized by the West, as all unbastardized spiritual paths are, but if you were talking about fitness levels and the long sinewed lines of muscle on your arms and your slender build, well, not sold. The only thing you could sell with that is that the muscle definition you do have, you got from yoga because you do not have the build or inclination for weight-lifting. In that illuminating moment, I could have known you think about it and long for more muscularity. I could have known you do get it from yoga because it’s the only fitness routine you have aside from long walks and sport fucking. I could have softened to you and towards you, though I did not Know then how you hid your insecurities with bravado.
My reaction in that moment was laughter. I did not know all of this other about you then. I did not realize that you had revealed the innocence of your sweet boy inside—that vulnerable, unsure, unsteady boy propelled forward by the self-assurance of your intellect. I thought you were being prideful and arrogant, so in a sudden peal of laughter, I ran my hand up and down in the air just outside your bubble and sardonically hooted, “Yes, all of this!”
This should have been a big reveal to me, but I hadn’t yet begun unpacking you or me back then. I was moved toward laughter, something I hadn’t been for a year, and yet it was at your expense. I had not yet begun to delve into the feminine archetype by learning to understand the mind, mythos, and culture of men. Knowing you set me on that path. This moment at SeaStar set that in motion. Knowing you as a culmination of 20 years of knowing boys and being afraid to touch my inner wisdom to teach those boys in the softest and kindest ways possible brought me to this moment.
Perhaps once a man knows a woman and is unable to completely abandon knowing her, he adopts an innocence in their interactions, free of innuendo or suggestion. You drop your pants and decide to bathe in my bathroom with our son because he wants normalcy. I want him to experience normalcy, too. While I haven’t polled other split-up co-parents, the ones I do know aren’t parading naked or randomly handing out at their exes’ houses, ready, free, and open to take a bath when the child asks.
And what do I do with this? Sometimes I stay and play over the edge of the tub, smiling graciously and in what I think is a loving and encouraging way, being “part of” this scene because it is my house and my son wants this ease and normalcy and I don’t want to create yet another path where his longing reaches are conditioned to be pulled back. This is how we become socialized that our desire is not okay and must be suppressed. This is how we write on the body that our natural inclinations must be rescinded and a normal arc of movement is ceded through the tension of withdrawal and retreat—the hunch, the kink, the crinkle, or the crick.
I share our son’s desire and wish to death it was not being suppressed. I do not want to feel this anguish of rejection, of reaching for and longing for someone and being told no, or worse, being rebuffed with silence. I do not want this for him. So I create a space in my head and in my heart and in my home and my bath for him to want his father and get him. I yield saving my heart more anguish. I acquiesce by not rejecting my son’s request, nor his father’s willingness to comply with that request.
Because children need their father. Because fathers don’t usually leave children but will give up the struggle with a gatekeeper mom. Because we left each other, Joe, to avoid extinction by one another. Because we have this son, and perhaps he was the was the purpose of the union. There was no beautiful life, only this beautiful child. There were moments of joy overshadowed by our un-integrated and un-harnessed dark sides allowing our most youngest and most defensive selves to run our show.
My gut tells me to allow this bath routine. My gut also tells me to control the environment. You do this as a teacher. If you control the environment, you do not have to control the people in the environment. So I control it by putting limits on when and how much time you can spend in my house. I control it by telling you that you may not wander through my bedroom, which adjoins to our son’s room, especially while I am dressing because while I generally know that my body is a good one—flawed, aging, ravaged by growing three humans—a part of my young self criticizes it when you see me changing and a mild shame and self-loathing washes over me, its whiff undetectable by me until I finally sit down like this and write it down. In writing it down, I can name it. You know how I like to name things so I can deal with them.
So to answer your questions of late: my pussy is fine. The cervix is gone and the cells are healthy in the surrounding areas. They tacked everything up with 100 six-month stitches and she’s good to go. I don’t know if it will feel like a 20-year-old, but at least what must have looked like (because it certainly felt like) an unsettling and startling “falling” will no longer be present.
My breasts continue to be angry, and the oncologist has no idea why this keeps happening. You do not need to bear any witness to these breasts because I am engaged in a fight with an infection that has attacked the biology of my female-ness, my knowing, and I know you like women who don’t complain about physical ailments—another reason for you to stop trying to catch glimpses of me changing. I can manage all of this until I begin to feel judged by you. When that happens, you get visiting hours and all the longing reaches for each other snap back into place.
I will not be naked with a man who does not possess the courage to declare his desire for me. It’s as simple as that. I know you love me. I event think you desire me. I believe you are terrified of me. But until you have the courage to fully step into your love and desire for me, own it, name it, and call it to me, I will not be naked with you.
Yes, you may continue to be naked with me. It does not make me lust for you; it merely calls a slice into living that was an ease and a nurturing comfort of bathing you, or you sitting near the bath talking to me as I bathed during our time. You did not bathe before me, only showered. Then you luxuriated in it. It created a space for intimacy. It strengthened us even as it softened us.
I believe there are strong links to that time that germinated your desire to be close to me through bathing with our son in my big bathtub. It is safe for you to be vulnerable with him, and you do not feel safe being vulnerable—showing your Self—to me. You are safe to show me the ways you learned the intimacy of a bath in this way. I see it as a demonstration of what you learned and what you took away, even as you hid from me in other ways, and even as you withheld all other parts from me.
Part of that other withholding is the one-way effect of welcome—you enter my home, you do not invite me to enter yours. The two times last summer you did invite me to enter yours, you dropped trou to bathe with Rex. I was uncomfortable the first time and left the room. I sat on the bench in the hallway so you would know I was not snooping. I was uncomfortable the second time, but I stayed.
I do not go to your home much because you do not reciprocate openness and grace. This is likely exacerbated by having your eldest son at home. It would probably make you look inconsistent to convey to him, your daughter, and your friends that I am so monstrous and then to invite me over. You invite me when he is not home, when they have not come to call. If you ever step into courage and your desire for me, you will have one heck of an undertaking to undo that mess, making them believe that the mentally ill hellion you righteously left is, in fact, not crazy. You will have to admit you were hurt and you scapegoated me, and these are not things I expect you to do.
We are in this place, incongruent and ill-timed, as much of the logistics have been for us. You are you, I am me. Like uneven parallel bars, we stand in perpetuity to one another, not seeing eye to eye, though I see you.
You may drop trou and bathe.
You may not see me naked.
End of story.