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Jocasta Complex

I watched my son breathe. His chest rose and fell, straining against his Superman comforter. The room was dark, but I could see everything as if I had on infrared glasses. Outside, a breeze whispered softly, tapping against the glass. Standing guard were his plastic, green G.I. Joe men, ready for combat. Everything else lay strewn about the room like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—first grade schoolbooks thrown onto his desk like discarded memories, clothes draped furniture like curtains—bathrobe on his desk chair, pants on the floor, shirt wrapped protectively long the bed frame. And finally, the boy himself. As usual, my heart gave a little flutter at thinking about him so personally. His breath, his heartbeat, were too faint for human ears to detect, but I thought with a mother’s intuition, I could surpass all bounds—perhaps I really did hear the calm throbbing of his life force, muscles grinding in dream-state, brown curls falling over his eyes.

A Jocasta complex, I thought vaguely, remembering old psychology courses mixed with mythology. She must have felt something for Oedipus since she married him. And when she found out he was her son, she’d already borne him children. I retched suddenly, grasping the wall for support. What could induce a mother to love her son so immorally? What could induce me? I closed my eyes, reaching back to my earlier life, love affairs, old enemies, a family of mixed strength and victimization, a feeling birthed in childhood that I was utterly alone. A son birthed in adulthood, who loved me unconditionally.

In the distance, I heard my husband preparing for bed. The water creaked on and off as he brushed his teeth, washed his face, right on schedule. He grunted, the bed belching as it accepted him into its depths. Against my will, I sensed him fidgeting. Emmett is not the kind of man who will come and demand why I’m not doing what he expects me to. My heart turned cold, fingers drumming like icicles against the wall of this house I share with my husband and son. I’m not sure if I’m turned off by the thought the stereotypical controlling man or the notion that dear, soft-spoken Emmett isn’t manly.

I know manly. It’s something that invaded my life early on—a small seed in elementary school that grew into a giant, gaping weed by college. At first, I just thought it was a phase they’d grow out of, when they threw spitballs and laughed at us all. (How I came to such a revelation when I was only 6 years old, I do not know.) My mother just told me I was being hypersensitive. “Lina, boys will be boys,” she said assuredly; everything in her life is assured. “If they bother you that much, then make friends of your own.” That word would come to define all of my young life—hypersensitive.

I’d grown up in an overtly female family though no one would dare accuse my mother or sister of possessing so meek a trait as hypersensitivity. My mother, Diana, agreed to marry my father on one condition—that she’d still have the freedom to live out her life as she chose. Tall and robust with frizzy hair and brittle skin that comes from forging your way into a mostly-male business world, my mother carefully planned my birth to coincide with the completion of her master’s degree. She’d been the first woman in her family to receive decent marks in high school, let alone attempt 8 years of college, so the person I turned out to be, her first-born daughter, must have been a devastating blow. Abnormal brain functioning, the doctors said, holding my squirming, colicky form aloft when I was born one month premature. Emotionally damaged, they amended a few years later when I went off on my own, reacted viciously to the physical touch and held discourse with the air. No one ever said sexist—not then. How was I to know that not all male children would grow up to be my father—quiet and aloof, tiptoeing home from work a few hours before my mother, earning half as much income, preferring literature and theatre over football and beer?

I became aware of the changing attitudes of prepubescent boys and girls by watching my sister, Amira, who was only one year younger than I. Slowly, she packed up all her Barbies and My Little Ponies to make way for the chapstick and other cheap make-up the Mighty Diana would allow her to possess. The phone became a new source of strain at our household as Amira insisted on having lengthy conversations with her friends, planning get-togethers and dropping boys’ names like Hansel and Gretel dropped crumbs in the woods. “Oh my G-d, did you see Eric Atkinson the other day?” she shrilled, painted fingernails wrapped around the chord. “He is so cute!”

The guys changed as well. Or perhaps it’s that they didn’t change, at least towards me. But trading their corduroys and trading cards for jeans sloping down their thighs and faded baseball caps to smash over their greasy hair, they sauntered up to my sister, wearing a smile-smirk on their still-rosy cheeks, exchanging conversation about nothing—the laughing, the flirting—all so they could brush their hands across her body. I pressed myself against my locker, as usual, they walked past me though I was invisible, as usual. Without many friends either way, I reverted into myself even more so than before. As Amira made plans to go to the mall or movies, I curled up on my father’s favorite chair, reading Mary Downing Hahn and Madeline L’Engle over and over again. It’s strange and incomprehensible how knowledge flows into a willing, young mind—vocabulary and grammar skills but most importantly, the formation of thought as if every ecstatic young reader is a budding philosophy major. As the doctors predicted, my humanities skills began to flower in the invigorating literature I fed myself, while my math and science capacity remained less than adept. What no one saw was how this would affect me, emotionally.

It started in 7th grade history when we studied ancient cultures, a myriad of myths far different than our predominately Judeo-Christian world clung to. I seized them as the stories they were—tales of love and lies and murder and deceit and of course, that which sets teenagers apart from all age groups—sex. An obsession with sex, lustful sex, adulterous sex, incestuous sex, which filled my stomach like a knowing urge, like a rush of hormones Amira and her friends had been feeding on for years. I devoured these stories, spitting them out in class laced with an adolescent insight long forgotten now. Still, my teacher found it amazing.

“I’m so impressed, Lina,” he said, flabbergasted, handing me a paper I wrote on myths and the aftermaths of Zeus’ infidelities. “I’ve never met anyone so poised, so interested and insightful since—well, since I left college!”

One of the boys in my class snorted; I turned in his direction. It was Lionel Weiss, jock with the highest GPA in the school. His group of henchmen turned to look at him in the gruff male way that signifies admiration and started laughing under their breath, shaking their heads in exasperation, as if they’d heard all this before. The bell rang and we scurried off to our next class.

But the reaction of Lionel and his thugs unnerved me in a vague, translucent sort of way—a premonition of things to come. Now, every time I was in class, my eyes and ears seemed to find a special way to record the going-ons of the jocks who sat in the back of the room—how they carried on conversations in what only the deaf would call whispered tones, their sarcastic group-think way of mocking the teacher, the discussion, and—with more and more frequency—me.

In the back of my mind, I started to picture my favorite Greek goddess, the warrior, Athena, sprung from the head of the king of the gods himself. My mouth curled into a sneer like theirs as I envisioned my favorite myth—Athena conquering a spoiled young girl who had the audacity to compare herself to the deity’s magnificence. Slowly, the girl, Arachne, morphed into Lionel and his friends and I, Athena, pointed my serene hand at them, reduced them to spiders and crushed them under my foot.

That vision would haunt me for years, the sheer and virulent hate induced behind my eyes. Could it really be them who were so “monstrous”? We were all locked in a tumultuous circle—their mockery, my anger—while the rest of time just went on: slowly, slowly, the fascination with the first kiss gave way to the first boyfriend, the first “touchy-feely make-out session,” then, blunt as everything in high school, the first “time.”

My body and mind were changing as though I had an infatuation with myself. Narcissus, trying to possess the face in the water… a curse. I packed on pounds the way a homeless person collects scraps of nothing for his shopping cart—layers to distance myself from the leering populace. I still spent most nights in my father’s favorite chair but my tastes grew older with my age, as I traded in dog-eared Stepping on the Cracks and A Wrinkle in Time for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. In English, we “enjoyed” Homer and Sopphocles, then moving forward at great speed, tried Shakespeare, Dickens, then onto the “modern” Knowles, Salinger, Fitzgerald, Huxley, all men, all. It was hard enough to guess at their themes when being branded a know-it-all since middle school. I spent a good deal of time sequestered in the back of the room, wishing I was Jane, escaping from her abusive family or Catherine, engaged in an illicit verbal affair with Heathcliff, against her brother’s and husband’s consent.

But after a lifetime of being beaten down to a pulp, where the only place where I felt confident was amongst the gory daydreams of my brain, I didn’t hold out much hope for college. I was coming up on that time of my life when I couldn’t look at a guy and not jerk back in reflex, like preparing a punch. Even my father, the most feminine person in my household, filled me with such disgust that I could hardly look him in the face. “It’s not like you’ll be seeing a lot of me soon,” he said, hurt, as I manically packed up all my belongings for college to avoid shopping with him. I can imagine now, looking back on it, that he must have been dreading being abandoned in our home where Mother ran everything like a military drill and a withering glance was the best compliment he could get out of Amira. Then again, by that time, was I really any different?

My mind was so hardened with distrust and hate that I imagined my body as rock-solid yet flaky. It took all my exertion to pull to pull a smile onto my face when meeting new people. “Hi,” I said through a slit in my mouth, slighter than the non-existent gaps between the stones of the pyramids. “I’m Lina.”

That’s the way I was progressing when she found me. I’ll never forget the way she looked, standing in the rain, pounding on the front door of the dorm. I was passing by on my way to the laundry room and peered out.

Wisps of her raven-colored hair flew across her stubborn face, like Medusa’s locks subdued by the storm. Her clothing, a bottomless black, clung to her body, outlining her breasts. But what struck me most were her eyes, blazing green embers, demanding to be seen. “Hey!” she pounded harder. “Are you gonna let me in or what?”

Embarassed, I fumbled with the heavy door, cheeks flushing red. Deep down, a primal urge tingled. “Sorry,” I gasped.

She eyed me up and down as though interrogating my body. I sucked my stomach in, wishing all my good clothes weren’t in the wash. “It’s OK,” she said off-handedly, masking her emotions behind a complexion of ivory. “You live here?”

“I’m a freshman. My name’s Lina.” The words came out eagerly, like a dam bursting through my rock.

“Me too. I’m Matilda.” She grasped my hand, pumping life back into it. “Don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

“I’ve been… studying…” I addressed the wall behind her. “I… study a lot.” My heart fluttered dangerously as I heard Lionel’s laughter in the back of my mind.

“Well, maybe I’ll see you around,” Matilda said, peering into my eyes. Her gaze was intense, lasting a second and a lifetime before she was gone, walking down the hallway, her hair bouncing jauntily behind her.

My obsession came hot and fast as I saw her behind my closed eyelids and felt her through the excited thumping of my heart. Matilda… I immediately associated her with Roald Dahl’s masterpiece—his protagonist, a shy, misplaced girl with a secret genius that seemed to elevate her past the hilltops. My Matilda definitely was the genius. While other girls in the freshmen class fretted over schoolwork, popularity or living away from home, Matilda possessed an air of confidence and bravery like a warrior princess. It amazes me now that I didn’t draw the correlation between her and the Mighty Diana—the leadership persona, the individual bent, even her dark hair and ivory skin put her in the same appearance category with Mother, Amira and me. Certainly she was the Holy Grail of every guys’ fantasy, I thought with a sinking heart—to tame such a fire! But I’d soon learn that Matilda would never allow herself to be tamed.

I never expected her to live up to her promise of “seeing me around.” Matilda seemed hardly able to take on girl friends, let alone sniveling ones like myself, who spent most of their time locked in the past, reliving grade-school horrors. But less than a week after we met, a tray clanked down at my empty table during lunch and her ember orbs stared into my soul.

“Hey… Lina, right?” she said casually. “This seat taken?”

“Yeah,” I said, then fumbled like a rock was lodged in my throat. “I mean no—that seat’s not taken and yeah, my name’s Lina.”

“Cool.” She dragged out a chair and thunked down. “How come you’re always over here by yourself? You’re not scared of people or nothing, are you?”

Asperger's Syndrome, the doctors explained to my parents long ago. A distant cousin of autism. Nothing to be worried about, folks; she’ll grow up relatively normal, but might retain a mild fear of social contact.

“I… study a lot,” I said again. It felt important to emphasize that since I wasn’t a socialite, I was a damn good student. “I… find it hard to meet people.”

“Well, you met me easy enough, didn’t you?”

I nodded slightly, feeling more and more uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure whether I was reacting to her words or just her physical presence.

She seemed to respect my meekness by remaining silent for a moment. Then, just as easily, she re-broke the ice. “Well, listen, I’m gonna go to the movies tonight; get off campus for awhile. Wanna come?”

I blanched. “You’re asking… me?”

She chuckled. “Yeah sure, why not?”

I took a few deep breaths, my mind going blank as though I were blacking out. “Well… don’t you have a boyfriend?”

Her face suddenly darkened, like a shadow was passing over us. “I’ve never had a boyfriend,” she spat.

Her vehemence struck me physically as I drew back. I’d never heard a sentence so packed with hatred against boy, not since my private delusions of Athena-me crushing skulls. I grinned to think how Lionel Wise-Ass would react to Matilda.

I can’t remember what movie we opted to see; like most of our courtship, it passed in a blur, the more poignant memories being to feel her greasy fingers in our shared popcorn bag, to hear her sarcastic laughter as she berated the sillier parts of the film, to feel her breasts against mine as we hugged goodnight, my phone number implanted firmly on her palm. And then, as though there were some genie behind me, granting wishes, our actual relationship morphed into my illusioned one, with Matilda calling me every night, me, hacking through my defenses like an old picket fence, our outings going from once a weekend to three times a week, from public hangouts to private hide-aways, from hugs goodbye to kisses on the cheek, forehead and finally, mouth. I still remember that first time Matilda grabbed me to her, raking her fingers across my cheeks and into my hair, filling my mouth with her bittersweet taste. I still couldn’t call us lesbians at that point, though since that moment, all my repressed tingles of desire were officially set loose. How my mouth would water when I saw her pass me by, how my heart would flutter when she blew me a kiss! Everyone around us was soon alerted to the “more than friends” status of our relationship but unlike high school, where boys and girls alike desperately groped around for things and people to hate, my college was diverse enough to be open-minded, with a Gay Students Alliance to boot.

But even I wasn’t daft enough to believe that either of us wanted the relationship to end there. Back in my early adolescence, I entertained notions of remaining celibate until marriage but then the hormones of young adulthood washed over me in defiance. I’d already witnessed Amira, in her normal-track hormonal state, get trapped in the whirlwind of obsessing over a guy, not to be released from it until she went out with him, kissed him—maybe even had sex. I certainly didn’t view my relationship with Matilda as a meaningless fling that I desperately wanted to purge from my mind but was also aware that denying myself pleasure with her would be a lot like denying my right to breathe. Matilda, for all her blustery control, brought the subject up as a joke, far detached from us, never demanding, but every day drawing it one step closer to us as our relationship progressed. By that time, our love was thick—most secrets being divulged, hands and mouths groping most freely over our clothed bodies, we seemed to come to an unconscious yet joint decision. We had just gotten back from an indie-rock concert; I felt so flushed and alive, gyrating to the discordant tunes with a bunch of girls like me—girls who refused to be dominated by male passions and pursuits—girls who could feel love—emotional, spiritual, physical—towards womankind instead of some testosterone-ridden sect.

Matilda might have picked upon those vibes; by then, if someone had seriously commented that we were soul mates, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Her mouth lingered over mine for one second longer than usual; when she pulled away, I felt those uncivilized primordial urges down below for the first time in months.

“Is it time?” I asked simply. (In years to come, I would marvel over this lustful statement, my Freudian slip, perhaps, an archetypal truth that all people must seek union with another soul—be it man or woman or beast.)

Matilda paused, perhaps for the first time in our relationship. “If you want to. When?”

It was my turn for pause as I remembered all those years gone by when I had no friends or plans, when I had to worry over nothing or no one save myself and my book, where philosophical and moral questions weren’t raised, where it wasn’t a remote possibility that I’d strip off my clothes and let someone else see and alter my body in its most vulnerable state.

Then again, what is ready? Was I ready to pop out of my mother one month early, was I ready for the taunts of boys while still hypersensitive, was I ready to find a soul mate in college? All I knew was these things shaped who I was. At least with Matilda, I didn’t have to be alone.

“Now,” I said forcefully, like a bad actress in a corny soap opera. “I want to—now.”

Matilda kissed me again and somehow, groping, we backed into her empty room and she laid me on her bed like a bridal offering. Rummaging around, she set up some illegal candles to add some “mood” and turned on a soft-rock station to give us a rhythm, I suppose. And then it just… happened. I can hardly explain, even now, for being with Matilda was more a psychedelic metaphysical experience than anything sexual. I can tell you we were naked, that she guided our movements, becoming one with me, that I didn’t just feel it in my vagina, breasts and mouth but the arch of my back, tingling of my hands and fullness of my mind and spirit. Matilda, after all, had dominated me long before our relationship turned sexual, before we were—lesbians. I couldn’t edge around that word anymore; not after she’d seen me naked, not after we’d mingled in orgasmic bliss together. I pondered over the question of whether or not I was de-virginized or if I’d remain pure until a man entered me with his penis but there was no doubt that I’d lost all the ignorance of virginity; I now knew what it felt like to have a lover please my physical body and emotional soul. All that remained now, though, was whether or not I’d take my final steps out of the closet.

Though the entire college seemed to be aware of our gallivanting, the Mighty Diana, my father and Amira were an entirely different matter. Dare I tell the family who already viewed me as enough of a freakish outsider that behind their backs, I’d indulged in an emotional relationship and slept with—a woman? In the end, I opted for blunt truth. My dreamer self saw Matilda and me growing old together anyway and my practicality hinted that a clandestine sexual affair bordered on unpaid prostitution.

I told the three of them together, on a visit alone back to the house, but they reacted as two—parents and sister. My father, who was always quietly shocked at the flamboyant or boisterous affairs of us womenfolk, seemed to stand out more starkly as the Mighty Diana gasped and sputtered for air, as though I’d held her head under water. “You—you can’t be serious,” she finally wheezed. “You—slept with someone? A girl?”

I felt a mixture of annoyance and amusement rising in my throat at finally besting my powerful mother. “You say you’re tolerant of homosexuality,” I snapped, unable to keep the smirk off my face.

“I—am…” Mother flushed. My muscles spasmed at her lack of control. “It’s just… you’re 19-years-old, Lina; how can you possibly know what you want? And—it’s a hard life—being gay…”

“So what—should I marry an ass like Lionel Weiss just so some other dickhead males won’t give me a hard time for not being drawn to their shrimpy erections?” my voice shook with rage, immediately turning to fear. I hadn’t felt such steaming anger against guys since high school.

“No, Lina, we want you to be happy,” Daddy put in as earnestly as he could.

I turned away from them, disgusted, but my sister’s response would soothe me; her reaction was what I’d expected from the whole family. “Are you absolutely insane?” she shrieked, throwing her hands into the air. “First of all, just the thought of a woman with another woman is just like—eww…” She drew a deep breath, eyes darting around nervously as though she expected some gay rights association to jump out from behind the family pictures. “Second of all, what will people say? How can you walk down the street—kissing a woman?”

First of all,” I mocked her, “we don’t usually get that physical in public anyway. Second of all, what does it matter, what anyone thinks? I have Matilda; that’s all that matters.”

“But how do you know,” she stopped, thinking hard, as though composing Philosophy for Teenage Ditzes in her mind, “that you don’t like guys if you’ve never been with one? What if you just… try acting normal?”

“I don’t think G-d gave me any choice in that one,” I answered bitterly.

The floodgates were officially opened between Matilda and me; now that we’d had sex once, what was to stop us from making it as frequent as dating and kissing? I grew paranoid, however, because I could not recall a single time we uttered the words I love you during our first love-making session, so I prowled around the library until I finally settled on The Greek Poets compiled by Moses Hadas, and put my bookmark in the Sappho section.

“Throned in splendor, deathless, O Aphrodite, child of Zeus, charm-fashioner, I entreat you,” I read to her one evening after we’d separated, propped up by my elbows on her bed, “not with griefs and bitterness to break my spirit, O goddess; stand by me, rather, if once before now far away you heard, when I called upon you, left your father’s dwelling place and descended yoking the ground chariot to exquisite doves, who drew you down in speed aslant the black world, the bright air trembling at the heart to the pulse of countless fluttering wingbeats.”

She laughed, rising and gathering her clothes. “You’re so cute.”

But a “black world” was growing despite and maybe even because of our fledging sex life. I’d never actually asked but I assumed she was experienced, the way she so tenderly administered to my needs, but that fell to the wayside in coming months as her movements grew coarser and soft moans turned into authoritative growls and commands as if G-d was forcing me to live up to my theory that lust was just an animal instinct we human beings played on. Most disturbing was her insistence on control; she suggested each sexual encounter, took me back to her room, laid me on her bed, stripped off both our clothes, straddled me and began. Once, I tried to be a little more aggressive myself, tried to push her aside and lay on top, but she slapped my hands and slammed me back down, screaming, “stay where you fucking are, bitch!”

I was so hurt that I didn’t even draw the correlation between this and the insults I imagined Lionel Weiss said behind my back. Hastily, I squirmed away from her, making a grab for my clothes.

“No, wait.” Her arm was on me again, this time soft as usual. I looked up into her ember eyes, nearly hitting my head on the dresser due to their expression—the fathomless, pain etched in with coarse green strokes. “I’m sorry. It’s just—I have to be on top.”

“But why?”

She drew a deep breath, her body jolting mine. “When I was 10, I—“ she shook her head decisively, silver tears dripping down her rigid face. The sight of her vulnerable rigidity hit me so deeply that her next words didn’t resonate properly. “I was raped,” she said firmly. “When I was 10. I was raped.”

My breath caught in my throat, head falling back into her white mattress. “W-who?” I sputtered.

She turned her head away from me, eyes tightly shut. “Just a family friend,” she laughed, as though discussing some sitcom on TV. “He just… pinned me down in his car and it was over before I even knew what was going on. But G-d, Lina, those seconds stretched for hours, that look in his eyes, the pain as he ripped away my clothes and just kept fucking, fucking, fucking…

She groped at the air, hands turned to claws and I could suddenly see it, her ivory skin cracking with the strain and exertion of a grown man plowing ruthlessly into her innocence. I blinked tears out of my eyes. “But—he’s in jail, right?” I asked hoarsely.

“Oh, the trial, the g-ddamned trial!” Matilda spat. “Wasn’t it bad enough for a 10-year-old girl to live through it once? Without recounting it to the world, without some dickhead lawyer trying to prove her a liar? But yes, he’s in jail!”

“But that’s good, Matilda,” I said earnestly. “That makes you a hero—locking up a dangerous pedophile—“

“Bullshit!” Matilda screamed “It wasn’t no fucking pedophile, it’s just men, all g-ddamned men, always having to have their own damned way no matter what it costs anybody else! You see them all the time—dickheads ruling the world, idiot politicians, waging war, having sex however and whenever they damn please, spreading their sexist ideals! Even your Lionel Weiss was a dickhead in training; you saw it!”

“No,” I said desperately, trying to convince myself as well as her. “We can’t generalize—“

“Like Hell we can’t!” Matilda was suddenly off of me, pacing like a growing tsunami. “They do it to us all the g-ddamned time! Women have to be our perfect sex toys. Women have to stay home, cook our meals and breed our babies. G-d forbid one of those bitches is actually as smart as us! You saw that, Lina, you saw it!”

Yes, I reflected darkly, the snorting laughter, the fear and anger that followed me through grade school like the plague. What kind of masochistic monster was I to deny seeing Lionel for what he was? And the wise-ass was just a snobbish teenage prick; on the grown end of masculinity, a pervert could freely force himself into Matilda’s childhood body just because he wanted a fuck. Was it not a complete cycle of berating women, then using them? “You’re right,” I said, awestruck. “You’re so right!” I ran to her, embracing her ivory body like she was the Virgin Mary descended from heaven; Matilda had given me the divine right to hate a gender due to both of our troubled pasts, given me an answer as to why things were so hard for us. You have no idea how freeing that was, how blinded one could get by the sunlight after spending years locked in self-hating darkness.

I’d grown from a lust-filled teenager, struck my Cupid’s obsessive arrow, to an uncertain lesbian to a full-fledged lover of women. Like with any zealot who embraces his particular religion or ethnicity, I took my lesbianism as a matter of pride; I possessed the higher knowledge not to be attracted to the lowly man; I could endure, even in the face of isolation. That final trait would become more real to me as I boldly joined the Gay Students Alliance. I still reflect with bitterness on this organization, which was supposed to bring me closer to like-minded people, but actually alienated me further. Club policy stated that they couldn’t deny anyone entrance but that didn’t stop the strained smiles, rolled eyes and exasperated sighs Matilda and I were greeted with whenever we attended GSA functions. It would take me years to piece together and acknowledge that their disdain for us came from the universal belief that we did not so much love women as we hated men.

But back then, this simple truth was lost in the mud for me; as stubborn as my mother in matters that interest me, I still tried to suck-up, like trying to beat my high school record. Unlike that place, though, where I only wanted a moment’s peace from being the outsider, here I desperately wanted to belong, to be accepted into this cult of lesbian love.

Matilda, however, was not enjoying the ride. We’d been going out for a few years now and her life always moved fast. “You should just give this up,” she snapped after I dragged her along on a miserable night of trying to be at ease in a GSA dinner party. “Stop sucking up like a slut on a jock’s dick. They’re never gonna accept you, not after so many years.”

“But they have to!” I wailed like a petulant child. “They’re gay, we’re gay! Why can’t we just get along? We have to stick together against the homophobes!”

Matilda blew out an exasperated sigh. “Why does everything have to be so serious?” she demanded. “I grew up, forced to be serious. Now, I just wanna have some fun!”

“I just wanna belong,” I said simply and even as the words escaped my lips, I knew they were the most insightful utterance I’d ever proclaimed. Ever since being born before my time, ever since being branded emotionally damaged, a freak, rather than brain damaged, at home with the mentally retarded, I kept looking at all the edges of the earth, kept longing, with that ache in my heart, for some group to claim me, for one moment of peace.

Somewhere outside of myself, Matilda came to a resolution. “Then you and me got a problem.”

She said she wanted to see other people. Ironically, this didn’t bother me so much; for the past several months, my focus had shifted, slant-eyed, from Matilda to the pursuit of the lesbian life. It was only after I saw her on the arm of the assistant coach of women’s basketball, like some Betty and Veronica comic for stereotypical, masculine lesbians that I began to crumble. Matilda didn’t mean a small reprieve; she meant to leave me behind. And this woman, with her gruff voice, bulging muscles and older age could be a real challenge for Matilda’s thirst to control. I remembered, with shame, how easily I let her dominate me; perhaps I was a man’s perfect sex kitten (or fat cat) after all. The thought had crossed my mind, on several terrifying occasions, that perhaps I was straight, getting aroused at Matilda’s whim, the thrill of her lying on top of me, whispering her worn, dominating promises and commands. No wonder the GSA despised me, no wonder Matilda rejected me, no wonder my utopian life of three years was crumbling like it never existed. Maybe I had denied my true longings—to be with the fiendish man.

The thought was too harrowing to stay in my conscious memory for long. I stripped years off my life like dead flesh, getting caught up in my pre-relationship obsession with my old lover. Physically, the dead flesh began to melt away as I turned toward a new path in life—anorexia. I had filled myself with so much of her ambrosia that mortal food, without her, seemed like a cruel joke. But I could hardly take comfort in my new, smaller-sized clothes; who’d be around to enjoy the body beneath them now? But soon, someone would find me.

His name was Emmett and he was an exchange student at my college for one semester of Junior year. Perhaps that was the reason our union was fated to work out; we had no history together.

We met at a mutual internship where he was apprenticed to a news reporter and I distributed mail. In theory, it was my job to “move up the ranks”, get involved with “real” journalism since, unless I wanted to learn Greek and move across the world to study Greco-Roman mythology, reporting seemed the only available way to put my humanities-driven education to use. In truth, I was the same shy little girl I’d always been except that now, instead of being afraid that mankind would harm me, I knew they would. How could I bear to ask people a hundred dull questions about their unimportant lives when I was repulsed by both man and womankind?

These feelings must have played on my face; most people stayed away from me. But Emmett, who perhaps, deep down has always been as masochistic as I am, started to grow obsessed with me. At least that’s what I think it was; I wasn’t used to being on the other end of the obsession spectrum. His eyes darted around me like lasers as I made my rounds across the rows of cubicles, his hands shook like maracas every time I cam within 10 feet of him and the most cohesive utterance he was able to force past his lips was “t-th-thank you.”

I registered all this in my peripheral brain as my primary function at the time was to mull over Matilda’s betrayal. I can hardly fathom how I was able to do anything during those first six months, from going into work to remembering to breathe. To distract myself from seeing her in life, I continually recited the end of the poem I’d read to her—the part she never cared to get to—as if I were an ancient orator, practicing Homer recitation for the earliest Olympic Games.

Swiftly then they came and you, blessed lady, smiling on me out of immortal beauty asked me what affliction was on me, why I called thus upon you, what beyond all else I would befall my tortured heart: “Whom then would you have Persuasion force to serve desire in your heart? Who is it, Sappho, that hurt you? Though she now escape you she’s soon will follow; though she take not gifts from you, she will give them; though she love not, yet she will surely love you, even unwilling.” In such a guise come even again and set me free from doubt and sorrow; accomplish all those things my heart desires to be done; appear and stand at my shoulder.

But she would not appear, no matter how much I willed it, she would not love me again, even unwillingly, for the fickle goddess of love did not hear my pleas—

“Hey, Lina?”

“What?” I exploded, shaken out of my thoughts.

Emmett drew back and for a moment, it seemed that his courage had jumped out of his skin; I smiled wryly with a touch of disgust at finding a man more hopeless than myself.

“I was wondering… would you like to see a movie later?”

That’s exactly what Matilda asked me, I remembered with a strange jolting feeling of my heart jumping yet sinking at the same time. How dare this fool mock me? “No!” I snapped.

Emmett’s face paled like a sad little girl’s and in a nearby cubicle, I heard someone groan. “Oh, for G-d’s sake, just go with him!” the disembodied voice proclaimed. “Then we won’t have to put up with his puppy dog love crush anymore.”

My face paled and I had every intention of ripping down the wall and punching the chauvinist pig on the other side. But then… I like to think that I looked down, saw the desperate and defeated look on Emmett’s face, the same one I wore like a permanent expression, circling the phone during the first few months of Matilda’s and my courtship. Perhaps grasping the last vestige of empathy still lodged in my body, I cleared my throat and amended my answer. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly, almost as awkward as he was. “Yes, I’ll go with you.”

His face lit up as if brushed by the power of G-d.

But as our time together increased, that softer sentiment was replaced with something harder, greedier. Emmett made it impossible not to take advantage of him, with that dog-like loyalty, growing steadily stronger with each passing “date”. I started to think to myself—maybe if I’m seen with him more often, at several different locations, I’ll run into Matilda and really make her jealous. Here she thought she’d disposed of a sniveling little girlfriend the way one might throw away a used tissue but little Lina had a trick saved up her sleeve; she had been able to subdue and dominate a man. Granted, every person who’d ever so much as laid eyes on Emmett knew he wasn’t stereotypically masculine—with his short, spindly body, pasty-colored skin, wire-rimmed glasses and golden curls that belonged on the head of a ten year old. I constantly battled myself over disdain for his feminine ways (I’d seen what my father had been reduced to) and growing attraction towards this kind-hearted guy who, for the very reasons I despised him, was my perfect match in the opposite sex. Emmett had come to that conclusion as well; after visiting me for an extended weekend one year later, as I stood ready to see him off at the airport, he dropped on one knee.

“Will you marry me?”

I jolted back in surprise as if I were Frankenstein, the monstrous creation of Mary Shelley. “What?” I asked, appalled.

“Look, I know you still love Matilda.” His face flushed as red as the rose he held out to me. “Part of you will always love Matilda. But—she dumped you two years ago; certainly, she’s not coming back now. And isn’t there part of you—some bisexual part of you—who even just likes me? Cuz I’m crazy about you, Lina, your spirit and drive, beauty and resolve; surely you of all people knows what it feels like to be crazy in love.” He switched knees, shaking his cramping legs. “I can give you a good life, Lina, I swear. I’ve already got some offers from local newspaper companies. I can take you away from your family. We could start our own family.”

My reflex to pummel him to death slowly ebbed away. His wisdom rung like the Gospel in my ears as if the austere Mighty Diana had spoken through him. Matilda wasn’t going to take me back; I didn’t even know where she was anymore. My plans consisted of keeping my job as mail person until graduation in a few months and—then what? Beg Mother to move back home when I didn’t have a definite plan for the future or a steady income? Emmett offered me sanctuary—with blind love packed behind it.

I swallowed back tears, wondering who I could be if I wasn’t a full lesbian. But my life had been made up of leaving secure environments—whether they be good like Mother’s womb or bad like high school—to uncertain ones. I set my jaw and stared determinedly at Emmett’s blurry reflection. “Yes,” I said resolutely. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”

We set the date to coincide with our college graduations. My parents were ecstatic. “I’m so thrilled for you!” my mother squealed as though she were my sister. “I knew this thing with Matilda was—just a fling, just a bit of experimentation. But Emmett will give you a healthy, normal life.” Her face turned serious. “But you will look for a job after the honeymoon, won’t you?”

For the first time in her life, Amira shocked me. Perhaps college had also gotten to her in inexplicable ways, forcing her to reject her small-minded philosophy of high school and embrace a broader lifestyle for popularity’s sake, at least. She wore her hair in a tidy bun, waves neatly falling down her cheeks and even invited me for coffee a few weeks before the big day. Perhaps I finally wasn’t an offense to her, since, as the wedding was to take place in a county courthouse, I hadn’t begged her to be maid-of-honor as I promised I would in my youth or perhaps she was just wishing me bon voyage for my upcoming move across the country.

“This will be good for you, Lina,” she said, all seriousness as if she were an oracle. “With time, you’ll grow to love him.” She took a sip of her drink. “I know you still have…some feelings for Matilda; perhaps you were even a lesbian but surely this is safer, Lina, no one will persecute you for being with Emmett.”

I stared at her, impressed. “Last time we talked about this, you sounded like I was the one with a problem for loving a girl.”

A familiar uncomfortable expression crossed my sister’s face. “I still don’t understand how a woman could be attracted to another woman,” she admitted, “but I’ve grown to accept that. What I don’t accept, though, is people willingly choosing lives they know will be hard.”

“Because life is pain,” I said, passing down my last scrap of older-sister-wisdom. “Without pain, there’s no change. And without change, we’d be dead.”

Ironically, I made the ceremony as painless as possible, showing up, garbed in my work suit in front of a civic judge with a tired voice, our parents clustered around us, trapping me in the traditional lifestyle. Within half an hour, we signed the papers and were legally husband and wife. The Mighty Diana strut about, fretting about my lack of class but I just wanted it done as covertly as possible, maybe that with speed, I could fool myself into missing this betrayal against Matilda, against lesbianism, against rejecting the time-honored lifestyle, complete with allegiance to husband.

How then I failed, starting with our much more conventional honeymoon at a beach resort. More virginal than I was, Emmett took me aside that first night and painstakingly, as if stumbling through a difficult exam took my last shred of childhood and introduced me to the heterosexual relationship. Not that I’d acknowledge it at first; in my mind’s eye, I replaced his jabbing, male protrusion with Matilda’s moist hands or mouth running over my vagina. But soon, time swept me up again, living far away from the life I’d known, surrendering myself to him at even intervals, I started to straighten like a reverting pasta string; jumping out of the boiling pot, becoming hard and rigid again, getting put back in the cardboard box with all the other grain-colored sticks. I stared at myself in the mirror each morning, my sunken face hiding behind scraggly hair, wondering if I were indeed stupid or cruel enough to submit to this chauvinist life of being a man’s wife, cooking and cleaning, allowing him to enter me, after all the hurt I’d suffered at their hands! Emmett and Lionel were two different people; any child could see that, but Matilda’s words came to me like a wise sage from the past—

It’s just men, all g-ddamned men, always having to have their own damned way no matter what it costs anybody else… sometimes just a whisper, sometimes more insistent that I started to think I was losing my mind as I clutched at my churning stomach, a more and more normal sensation for me. My vision fogged; I grew dizzy and disoriented, my meals became erratic—unable to keep anything down one moment, practically inhaling food the next.

“I’m going to call a doctor,” Emmett finally mustered up the courage to proclaim, shaking like a leaf in a storm. But I had a sudden idea. Barely stopping to think, I raced to the nearest drugstore and selected a long, thin cardboard box, about to fall apart in my hands. At home, I barricaded myself in the bathroom then went through the steps I learned so long ago—in high school sex ed. When I came out, my hands were clammy, holding the urine soaked stick.

“Emmett,” I rattled. “There’s no need for a doctor. I’m pregnant.”

Nine months was all it took to erase all conscious connection with the last four years, depositing myself back in a time when I could hardly conceive of the homosexual lifestyle, where I prayed, hope against hope that some day guys could change for if they didn’t, what kind of future would I have? They say the most lasting way you live on is through your children.

My son wracked my body, fighting for possession. But I was used to feeling out of control, used to the pain of it and though this baby penetrated deeper into me than even Matilda did; I couldn’t help but embrace our relationship, in whatever form. This baby would enter the world carrying little pieces of Emmett but more of me, where he spent 3/4ths of the year hiding in warm seclusion, changing from a joint egg and sperm to a real, live human, just like you and me.

My mind skips over the labor itself; the horror it must have been to have my thighs ripped open by my son, from the insides out. For weeks, I worried that he’d be premature, as I was, destined to be diagnosed with my life but the boy arrived on time, healthy and pink, squealing for air.

I’d already known from my sonograms the gender of my baby but as I saw him, big and roundish with a tiny penis staring me in the face, it suddenly hit me. I’d have to change my attitude towards men (or at least this man; could he really be my baby?) if I wanted either of us to have any peace.

The boy immediately moved out of my stomach and into my heart. I held him, ignoring Emmett’s touch, drawing him into a world more secluded, more precious than the one Matilda and I shared. “He needs a name,” I whispered. “A wonderful name.”

Instead of calling the Mighty Diana, I consulted the Internet to see what my own name meant. I’d already known that as a last sign of respect to our dead Ashkenazi culture. Mother had named Amira and me after two of her great-grand aunts, grumpy spinster sisters by reputation, though long dead. The Internet listed Lina as Arabic in origin, meaning delicate. I laughed around. Proof that G-d had a sense of humor.

I used that same website to pull forth the name that would become my son’s. In a sudden fit of possession, I typed “delicate” in the query box of boy’s names and centered on a Hebrew translation, closest I could come to Arabic. “Adiv,” I said, decisive. “His name will be Adiv.” Lina and Adiv, delicate souls, named after an ancient Semite world…

Emmett was surprised when I announced the name of his son to him. But as usual, he put his hands into the air as if warding off attack and let me have my way. “Adiv it is then,” he conceded softly. “Interesting choice, Lina. So… mysterious.”

He was much more insistent that I extend my maternity leave from my job and for once, instead of bemoaning my sexist role, I was overcome with joy. No more drowning under the world of journalism, a new assignment every week, setting up interviews, thinking up questions, having to write a concise, interesting article every Wednesday to turn into my editor like 2nd grade homework. “Her husband got her the job here, you know,” one of my colleagues, oblivious to the rules of secrecy whispered nearby one day. He looked like Lionel Weiss.

Now, my job would be attending to my son, another boy I had to please and I’d never let it escape my memory that he was male. The fact fascinated me, like one of my many slow-growing obsessions as I watched him grow from a round-faced infant to a chubby toddler with my thick, brown curls, then a little boy, wearing sweaters with pictures of fire trucks and sports logos pasted on them, like symbols of pride. Sweaters I’d picked out, ecstatically wondering if Adiv would like my offerings, pushing him further into the stereotypical male role.

My Psych 101 course came back to me in spurts, as sporadic as my sudden decision to take the course, a new fascination with the human mind in the midst of dating Matilda. Like any good sexist female, I focused on the most sexist of male psychologists I could find—Sigmund Freud. Siggie and I shared other similarities too. We’d both cast off the rigid Judaism in search of more promiscuous pursuits. We both seemed to blame our mothers for everything wrong in our lives. And most importantly, we both couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of sons. I delighted in hating him.

“The Oedipus Complex,” my professor started off one day. My ears perked up, drawing my mind out of the muck of early morning. “Scholars of Greek mythology should know this phrase. Can anybody tell me the story of Oedipus?”

My hand shot into the air, faster than any time before the pre-Lionel days. “Oedipus was the king of Thebes,” I explained. “At his birth, an oracle told his parents that he’d kill his father and marry his mother. So they sent him away. But the Fates wouldn’t be deceived; one day, Oedipus met the man he didn’t know was his father riding in the woods. They fought, Oedipus killed him and married his mother as the oracle foretold.”

“Very good, Lina,” the professor said approvingly. “Freud too was interested in this story, using it as a backdrop for one of his concepts—which he named the Oedipus Complex. He pinpointed a time in the young boy’s life when he’d be obsessed with killing his father and marrying his mother.”

The male population in the room chuckled quietly at this pronouncement. “Not to worry; it’s only a theory,” the professor concurred with them. “It’s only supposed to last a few years in your childhood anyway, from three to five. And Lina forgot one little detail in her account of Oedipus.”

My heart dropped to the base of my stomach.

“When Oedipus realized that he’d married his mother, Jocasta, it resulted in her suicide and his exile.”

I could surely discount that last part in the present. I had no desire to marry my son. But the thought played at my heartstrings like a musician at the lyre. To be desired by my own son, flesh of my body, as I had been desired by no man before! (Emmett’s schoolboy obsession with me didn’t penetrate my heart and Matilda was long gone.) I watched Adiv with a second pair of eyes, anticipating those moments when he’d wrap his arms around my neck, whisper “I love you, Mommy,” and plant a wet kiss on my cheek. My heart filled with something desperate like a heavy stone expanding in the cavity, pushing me to be near him, to possess him. And one night, as I snatched at his head to kiss his cheek, my lips brushed against his open mouth.

Horrified, I locked myself in the bathroom, hitting my head against the wall the way I did when receiving bad report cards in high school. When Oedipus realized that he’d married his mother, Jocasta, it resulted in her suicide and his exile. This was not normal. Not at all like Matilda and me, where we were both of age, willing, unrelated and adoring of each other’s soft, female forms. I shuddered to think what my family would say if I called them with the news that I loved my son as if we were my lover.

It’s that Matilda girl, the Mighty Diana in my head proclaimed. She did this despicable thing to you. I’ll haul her ass to court! I’ll sue her for all she’s worth!

Are you insane?
Amira hissed, reverting back to her high school self. You must be, after all that abnormal behavior. You better shape up or you’ll screw up his life too!

In desperation, my mind fled from these extreme versions of my mother and sister and found my father sitting in his favorite chair. Daddy? I pleaded. Did you ever feel the Oedipus Complex for your mother? What did she do?

But my father just looked at me blankly. Without my mother’s backup, he was nothing.

I stayed in bed for a week, sick with… well, I called it the flu. “Mommy can’t see you right now,” I heard Emmett whisper to Adiv one day. “She doesn’t want to get you sick.”

I taught myself to repel my sexual feelings that had been locked up so tight since after Matilda left me. I still longed after my son, yearned for his every particle of bestowed attention, but when I explained it to the Mighty Diana, she laughed with empathy.

“That’s normal, honey,” she assured me. “You have no idea how possessive I was over you as a child, how I wanted to shape you into the best person you could be.”

I slammed down the phone.

But soon, something else would add to my growing sense of fear. One day, Emmett came home from work, smiling excitedly like a little boy who’d caught a butterfly. He called Adiv to him, sat him on his knee and pulled out two tickets to a baseball game.

“Wow, cool!” my son cried.

My muscles spasmed. “What’re those?”

“Well, there was a raffle at work today,” Emmett explained, “and I won. He tussled Adiv’s hair. “What do you say to a little baseball, my boy?”

“That would be awesome!” My son exclaimed. “Charlie from my class said—“

“Charlie?” I snapped. “Who the hell’s Charlie?”

“Lina, please!” Emmett looked alarmed.

“What the hell do you want to take him to a baseball game for anyway?” I prattled on, oblivious to anything but my sudden rage, including the fact that I, too, had encouraged Adiv’s love of the stereotypically boyish sport, buying him much more aggressive, masculine emblems as well. “You want to teach him violence? Make him more manly, hmm?”

“It’s just a game,” Emmett whispered insistently, hands hovering near Adiv’s ears. I couldn’t bring myself to look into my son’s face. “Come on, Addie.”

“Addie?” I exploded, quaking like a volcano. “What did you call my son?!”

“It’s a nickname,” Emmett said shortly. “He’s my son too. We’re going out. Get a hold of yourself, Lina.”

“Don’t you dare take my son away from me!” I screamed, lunging after him like a crazy person. Emmett pushed me away with his free hand, holding Adiv in the other.

Terrified, remembering Lionel’s leering taunts, I hit back at him, striking blindly at his nose and mouth and then—horrifyingly—my son.

He screamed, the sound of a frightened child being abused by someone he trusted. All my rage left me and I stood there, empty.

Emmett shoved me back into the house. “Get a hold of yourself,” he repeated gruffly, slamming the door in my face. I heard the car roar away, my son’s screams still ringing in my ears.

I felt so empty, I couldn’t even cry. I missed the weight that used to cling to my bones, distancing myself from such banal emotion. I decided to fill up, a car out of gas.

We had a bottle of wine left from a recent dinner party. I never so much liked the stuff but I grew up hearing stories about how it released you from your emotion-locked body. I waited for the day that never came, where Amira would invite me to share in this experience with her. Now, nearing 30 years old yet still innocent, I’d have to do it without her expertise.

The tangy stuff slid down my throat and I collapsed onto the couch. How has my life come to this? I thought glumly, but my mind refused to let my pessimistic wanderings to farther. Instead, I focused on each swig, the liquid traveling down to my stomach and up to my brain, erasing all the fear, anger and sexuality that had plagued me. At least for awhile.

Sometime later, I must have been drunk; my mind kept playing snippets of memory for me, as if I were dying. When Oedipus realized that he’d married his mother, Jocasta, it resulted in her suicide and his exile.

Some time ago, in 10th grade English, we read Hamlet and discussed the Oedipus Complex, I remembered with a jolt. Our teacher, an eccentric Shakespearean major, walked around the room in choppy circles, explaining Hamlet’s feelings for his mother.

“S-some scholars believe that Hamlet was obsessed with Gertrude to the p-point that he wanted to marry her,” he said as though this were the most fascinating thing in the world. The guys in the class were a lot more derisive than the ones in Psych 101 three years later, whispering all sorts of obscenities under their breaths. They’d learned, early on, that they could do that in this class and this teacher wouldn’t notice.

“C-comments?” the teacher said excitedly, like suddenly coming to this conclusion. “Yes—what do you all think? Lina?”

I nervously tucked a raven curl behind my ear, ignoring Lionel’s snorts as if by being called on, I’d claimed participation in this sexual act. “But… Hamlet is against incest,” I said uncertainly. “He says it several times, in reference to Gertrude marrying her brother-in-law. Why then, would he want her to commit worse incest?”

“Ah, Lina, but you’re focusing on the wrong relationship,” the teacher said, for once sounding in full control of his faculties. “You’re focusing on Hamlet and Gertrude. But really, Hamlet desire lies in fulfilling his duty to his father; by marrying his mother, he will carry on the family responsibilities. In all matters of the Oedipus Complex, where the son desires the mother, it has less to do with his love towards her and more to do with emulating his father. The son views himself as the extension of his father, and his mother, excuse the sexist statement, is property of the father. To learn how to be a man, the son must possess her too.”

I dropped the now empty bottle to the floor and the tears finally came. Nothing had changed after all. I was still being used and possessed by guys, even my own son. I longed for Matilda, longed for the place I thought Adiv had filled. I blacked out.

A hand on my shoulder jolted me awake to a gorging headache. Against my better judgment, I forced open my eyes and saw Emmett, looking more golden than usual. “Are you OK?” he asked uncertainly.

I nodded and pain spread at my temples. I tried to get one word out—“Adiv.”

“He’s asleep,” Emmett said softly, “and he’s fine.” I felt a hand gathering beneath me. “Let’s get you to bed.”

I glanced at the floor, a few more feet below me now, then at my not-so-spindly husband with new-found admiration. “Sorry,” I mumbled. Perhaps it made me just another housewife, sniveling in the arms of a man, but it was too late to go back to my female-power lifestyle.

He put me on the bed, drawing the covers up to my chin. “It’s OK,” he said earnestly. “We all have our days. I know you care about Addie—Adiv.”

“Call him whatever you want,” I mumbled, growing drowsy into the fluffy, feather pillows. “That’s my gift to you.”

The night Emmett and Adiv went to the baseball game, I prepared my big apology. I bought pastel-covered party favors, plates, silverware, napkins, complete with cartoonish baseballs and bats, then ordered a cake with our hometown baseball logo, the word “Score!” suspended above it.

Adiv entered the house, flustered and talking about the big win but when he glanced into the dining room, his mouth dropped.

“Congratulations, sweetie,” I said warmly. “I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you.” That was my skirting around an apology.

“Awesome!” my son exclaimed, not looking at me. “Wow, cool, Dad, look!”

I cut us all big pieces, then we both agreed to tell Adiv that was enough for the night. During our “meal,” I tried to look animated, asking Adiv questions about the game and slowly, slowly, he looked at me.

A few hours later, he ran into our room, decked in his pajamas, and hugged Emmett goodnight. “Say goodnight to your mother,” my husband instructed.

My son hesitated; we hadn’t touched since my hand jabbed out to smack him by mistake. I held open my arms and slowly, he climbed over his father and into them.

I wrapped myself around Adiv, holding back sobs. “I love you, Mommy,” he whispered, planning a wet kiss on my cheek. Then, I let him go; I knew it was time. In the doorway, he smiled at me.

That was all a week ago. I grimaced to think of how we all returned to our normal states. Emmett passive, Adiv trusting and me… obsessed. I stared into my son’s room with longing, thinking about how I entered this world too early and stayed too late.

A soft hand fluttered to my shoulder and Emmett’s voice whispered in my ear. “Ready for bed, honey?” He was always so restless without me.

I considered pressing my back against his chest, looking innocently up into his eyes and thanking him for putting up with me all these years. I’d claim that someday, maybe soon, I’d love him as a wife ought to love a husband. But I couldn’t bring myself to be that kind-hearted or deceitful; I had my own role to keep up. All males, save my son, were to be kept at a distance and my heart could never be opened again, save by the phantom memories of Matilda’s love. I’d go on, as usual, surrendering myself to heterosexual sex, the menial duties of housewifery, a weekly telephone call with my parents and seeing my sister every Thanksgiving. The only pleasure in all of this was to be Adiv, male and from my body rather than desiring or detesting it and even as Emmett led me away for another night of wifely duty in bed, I could not help but stare at my son’s blood-red lips.

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