IN THE LIGHT OF MEN (or the follies of Mrs. Gautreau) | The New Engagement

IN THE LIGHT OF MEN (or the follies of Mrs. Gautreau)

By Sam Desmond

The role of the mistress—glamorous, passionate, forbidden—was intrinsically romantic to her because even the most innocent, simple communication was made exciting and tragically fleeting.  A lust-filled gaze turned into a casual nod of ‘hello.’ A naughty emoji in a text sporting exaggerated whore-red puckered lips.  A lingering embrace with hands closely guarded north of the Mason-Dixon line.

She had forever admired the drippingly sexy, aloof mistress in cinema and literature along with the otherwise honorable, diligent, and devoted husbands/fathers who couldn’t help themselves in the coquettish touch but iron fist of a femme fatale.  It was feminine allure to the furthest exultation.  She had longed to be covered in rose petals in the masturbatory fantasy of a Lester Burnham.  Or, as a haughtier reference the Didoan kink in the well-laid, globally impactful plans of Aeneas.  She chose not to see the seedier, debased side of men who were serial “cheaters.”  Instead she venerated the deep friendship of an affair that could grow without the mundane entanglements of mortgages, laundry, and child rearing.  She wanted to be the breath of fresh air to an otherwise dutiful good man who gasped to take it in.

Never considered a traditional beauty, she loved feeling like she was giving the middle finger to the conventional wife/mother who pathetically believed her aging skin and sagging tits could compete with the nubile twenty-somethings who would always be around.  No, she didn’t believe any woman could possess a man fully and show her mortality.

In her adolescent, high school fantasies, she dreamed of being a metropolitan co-ed marrying Patrick Bateman, the consummate gentlemen and bedroom misogynist, who would of course ‘cheat’ on her, but continue to be loyal in public face. That’s what marriage was: teaming with the ultimate political ally who defended you to the death, but only with an audience.  With a European marriage, she (and Patrick), could play the conformist darlings and toy with affairs to bolster their self-esteem.

Her husband was nothing like Patrick Bateman.  Instead, he was devoted, understanding, and despite their mutual agreement and delight at an “open” marriage, never had a mistress.  Despite her self-throat-slitting reassurances to others that “…he can fuck some 22-year-old hottie.  He’s prime dick, he deserves it!  He can brag to me later about how she tasted like peaches and cream…” it was really just poor bargaining for his social respect.  Throughout courtship and matrimony, he flirted with other women in her presence—cashiers, waitresses, good friends, frenemies, co-workers—much to her immediate chagrin and latent rage.  She could see others ‘feeling sorry’ for her and nothing could be more detrimental than pity for someone who longed to be envied.  She constantly told him, “…let the waitress blow you when you go to the bathroom, not while I’m asking for more bread.”  But he knew this was the one thing she couldn’t be ‘cool’ enough to tolerate.

In her solitude sitting on the ocean side of the island, admiring the moon’s ability to exploit another’s light, she wrote the last of her farewell letters to the good men, who to her fractured soul, had faltered, but never fallen for her.

***

“My dearest ______,

I hope that you’ll treasure the week we spent together in ____ as much I have all these years.  I know it was during one of the worst times in your life, but you had that Gatsby grin in all of the memories I have of you, so I like to believe that I could’ve made you smile as a friend. Because you’re a good man and a great father, I know you probably remember our week together with guilt over betraying _______.  Don’t dwell on that. 

Whether it’s the bullying of third-wave feminists or just your hard-wired Catholicism, you needed to be with a friend who understood the loneliness, the pain of an unappreciative partner and the general hopelessness of it all in order to go on as the caring educator and father that you are.  Always remember that when you do your job, you are saving children from their insecurities at a time in their life where identity is in crisis mode.  Knowing you only in my adult life, that is what you have done for me.  No one, not even ______, has ever made me feel both beautiful, sexy even, and intelligent like you have.  Perhaps that’s why you’ve always been so popular.  The David Larrabee of every party, just sharing the flattering light you exude to cast out the shadows of others.  I love you as a treasured friend, not a mistress.  You’re too wonderful of a person to be sullied with that word.  Your children will know what a truly great man you are before you fall on your death bed because as they branch out into the world on their own, the years of pushing them to achieve their best by reminding them of their intrinsic, but honeable, talents will carry them through the paralyzing cocoon of adulthood.  I know you always took it as a joke when I called you a DILF, but you really are an amazing father.  When your son delighted in wearing dresses, you didn’t admonish him and hide his ‘dirty habit’ from the world. You just continued on teaching him manners, reminding him to “lift his skirt gracefully” as he ascended the deck stairs in his sister’s Snow White dress.  You approached the possibility of a transgender son with your logic as a scientist and your humor as a safety net—“well, we can evaluate his wishes when he’s older and can verbalize better.  But at least we know he’ll be a gorgeous girl, so transitioning won’t be too terrible.”  Freudian as it sounds, I fell in love with who you were as a ‘dad.’ 

Love always,

______________”

***

“Dear __________,

I hope you’re doing well.  I’m sure you’re as busy as ever and dreaming of going deer hunting instead of wasting away weekends in your office. Remember that you have the privilege of letting that room seem as a glass pedestal of your professional success if you choose not to tell anyone it’s a melamine prison.  It’s that hunger for more, for better, that’s so integral to why you’re such a brilliant and diligent litigator, but the reason you’re so hard on yourself and unable to see your accomplishments.  You’re not just a ‘janitor.’  You’re equal parts artist, alchemist, and academic for your depth of understanding of the law, legal creativity, and ability to transform the shortcomings of lesser men’s hollow bravado into appellate gold.  The other lawyers are so rampant in their mistakes because they know you can fix it and your modesty will give them all the glory of your brilliance.

More than your legal acumen, you are a great friend. With the kindness you showed me in the short time we worked together, I can’t imagine the bond you had with your best friend who took his life before we met.  If you were even half as good to him as you were to me, then I understand why you mourn him like a father, brother, and son.  I don’t know if you remember this, but you once complimented me on my accent and vocabulary, saying I sounded like I was, “born into the upper class.”  This would have meant the world to me when I was at my best, but you can’t fathom what it meant to hear this—that a part of my former cultivated self lived on—at one of the darkest moments of my life.  That a handsome intellectual could recognize an element of sophistication in someone as obese, unkempt, and depressed as I was. 

When you read my writing, you were respectful enough to offer critiques, but kind enough to remind me of my talent.  When I met up with you again months after I left the firm and lost 75 of the 150 pounds I gained, you were so unabashedly complimentary about my appearance.  When I told you I still had to lose another 75 pounds before I hit my prime weight, you said, “really, that much?  Well you look amazing now, but if you keep at it you’ll be even hotter.” 

Then we hugged goodbye and my imagination started to let me believe you held me past the point of platonic.  Then you said, “You smell really good, too.”

I know we had a handful of sporadic e-mails and phone calls after that that were lovely, but you never took me up on my lunch invitations which I had always wanted to turn into a trip to the Hilton across the street from your office.

I had such a steamy seduction scenario in your office where I would stand up from the chair across from you and saunter over to behind your desk, lean on it in front of you sitting on your chair and take your left hand in both of mine, kiss it (like the Pope’s ring) hold it to my breast and say “I’ve been thinking about your hands since the day I sat in your office and you described how to gut a deer.  You leaned back, closed your eyes, and of course being a gentleman, apologized for not looking at me, but said you needed to visualize the slain animal.  I watched your hands move deftly as you told me it was best to strip down to your underwear because of all the blood.  That you had to pull out the anus and tie it off with dental floss to control gut spillage. That you eat the liver on site."

You’d then move your hand, of your own volition, up my skirt or down my shorts (I thought the skirt would be better logistically for fingering, but knew shorts looked better for my ass.  Either way there were nude Duchess Kate espadrilles involved).  You’d know without prodding to play with my clit and move it clockwise. I’d moan lightly and you’d smile, your rare smile, as I got wetter.  You’d grab your jacket and lead me out.  I’d tell you to let me pay for the hotel room because I had an open marriage and a paper trail for you would be terrible.  Then we’d fuck intensely with the bed still made.

I never did reach my goal weight to wear the outfit I wanted for that scenario and after a dozen non-replies I got from you, I stopped dreaming, resigning that I wasn’t “hot” enough to warrant an indiscretion from a good man.  But even as a wannabe lover, I really just wanted us to be good friends.  I love you for your kindness and quirkiness.

Live long and prosper, comrade,

_______________”

***

“Dear ____________,

‘Oy!  (It’s, English.  Like ‘yo’, but backwards.) ☺’

I can’t believe how many times I heard that corny joke from you and laughed.  I’ve always loved how your sense of humor in the beginning was so painstakingly safe, but you always seemed to enjoy my inappropriate, exceedingly racist/sexist comments.  I fantasized that you laughed because you had the same twisted, quirky sense of humor, but could never let it out because of what a driven businessman you are.  It was like I finally got the chance to know--on a personal level--the man behind all the cases I prepared for SVPs, MDs, CFOs, A**holes, at Lehman and Fortis. They had showed me glimpses of their charm, but never what they would have done for a woman they had wanted to bed.

I know I probably creeped you out with my over-the-top compliments, but either I deify or demonize someone and you were on the side of the chosen.  I looked back at my e-mails to you during closing and I referred to you as a “Robert Moses-type power broker” and “a catch and a half” to the single women of the tri-state area.  And of course, your beautiful, WASPy name.  I know you’re too pro-American (because you've only owned Fords) to ever file for the UK citizenship you could acquire through your mother, but I always thought I’d be able to convince you to apply after explaining how you could expand your real estate empire with a British passport. Like some type of reverse colonist.

In this vast suburban sea of Dads in cargo shorts and sneakers, I could buy you ties from the Met gift shop during the multiple intermissions for Wagner knowing you’d compliment my ‘overwhelming good taste’ and remind me of how sophisticated you thought I was for being an opera fan.  When I tried to set you up and kept asking you what your ‘type’ was I was hoping I could fit the profile.  But sadly, I don’t ever think you listed a characteristic I fit.  I was too fat to be the “lady on the street” you needed to grow your brand, yet not curvy enough to be the “freak in the bed” you wanted to “get down on all fours.”  And to hear you drunkenly quote a rap song sprinkled with your own intrinsic, slight misogyny was wonderfully intoxicating for me.

It always made my day when I got a call from you after 11:00 at night because you were willing to talk to me while you were still in the office.  Whenever you said anything even mildly disparaging about someone I took it as a sign that you at least trusted me enough as a friend to let your veil down, if only slightly.  I guess since you made it your life’s work to determine and negotiate the value of tangible property, I thought if you saw me as worthwhile, even as a fling, it meant I had to have some worth.  But ultimately, you probably just called back begrudgingly to be polite and make sure my unstable passion didn’t write an angry Zillow review about you.  Either way, your attention and curiosity meant the world to me.

Love,

___________________________”

***

She had always known that her death would be by her own hand.  After her first experience plummeting into the abyss, she lived every moment of happiness as a countdown to when the darkness would cloak her again.  She was proud of herself that she harnessed the periods of beautiful energy into tangible writing, ready for mailing after her death.  Her husband knew these letters would be his responsibility to post following her inevitable suicide.  She knew he would be devastated, but relieved of the pressure and the patience to keep her functional.  He was her guardian angel who clipped his wings to be in the trenches with her and despite being overwhelmed with love and gratitude, she only gave him her worst. She always knew the best she could do for him was release him of the malady of loving her.  It was the only suicide letter, even in her greatest splendors of terrifying mania, she could not write.  He could see through her bullshit and still wanted to be with her despite the ugliness that remained (or revealed itself) once her charms were called out.

All the years they were together she spent abusing him to force him away from her.  But he never left.  He fought her dragons and trained her to fight them on her own.  But the darkness always won and he didn’t need a bullshit letter deifying him.  She wouldn’t insult him with that now.  Besides, Woolf had already out-written her decades ago and even her suicide was disgustingly derivative of a master’s.  Instead, she sealed a poem she had written years ago during her last depression that had been the closest she came to capturing her love for him:

“THE UNWILLING PATRON”

How do you stand by me, through all the trials I give you?

Can you ever forgive me for all the roles I’ve made you play?

            The Father

            The Lover

            The Savior

You handle the carousel of therapy

            with such grace, I can barely

            genuflect in your wake

I don’t deserve the breath you

            waste on bringing me back

            to existence

But you always bring your generosity,

            cutting all the warranties I dread

Thank you for the patience I haven’t

earned

Thank you for the love I never

            imagined

Thank you for the halo that you wear

            so unconsciously

If ever I do pull myself together,

            you’ll be the first to reap the benefits

But you’ll be the last to piece it whole,

            for all I’ve ever given you are

            shambles of the monument

I’ve built.

All my love,

____________________”

She placed a rock on top of each letter she had written and turned her attention to the cinderblocks, rope, and Gorilla duct tape she had also brought with her on the ferry.  She slithered the rope through a cinderblock and made knots to secure it.  Then she knotted and wrapped the rope on her leg and used three rolls of duct tape to keep the rope from slipping off her once she was in the ocean.  She repeated the procedure with her other leg.

The madness had returned and she could no longer torture the one and only man (person, really) who saw her as gorgeous when both her internal and external lights had failed to come on.  She lay back on the sand and looked up at the beaming moon.  Charlatan, she thought, you’re a con artist fooling everyone for millennia that you have any worth beyond what you rip off from the sun. 

A photobox, labeled “Open in Case of Suicidal Ideations,” was next to her final letters.  Inside were pictures of their life together, their wonderful fur children who had passed, inscriptions in journals he bought for her, and years of birthday, Valentines, and anniversary cards from him. She read her favorite note from her husband, one last time:

“…May we always continue to build a stronger and fruitful life together. Thank you for changing and letting yourself experience joy and bring happiness to our lives.  I love you, babe!”

She stood and picked up the cinderblocks staring out into the moonlit ocean to join her monster, muse, and mentor. 

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