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I loved way she outlined the bubble letters on our art projects and cut pieces of construction paper into perfect circles.I loved how she was always there with her short hair, driving the purple minivan whose license plate I memorized.
I liked Sean, too, but I can’t remember why other than the fact that he had hair that got blonder the longer he was in the sun, and that he liked a football team other than the Patriots. Jason was the best because his parents were divorced, which meant there were two families to love.
His father and stepmother invited me to their cocktail parties, took me to a New Year’s Eve dinner in New York City, brought me home when it was too late for Jason to drive, and paid me for painting the side of their house.
Neil and I had decided to meet for a drink on my way through Madison, and I was only a few blocks from the bar where we had agreed to meet when he texted me, “Mind if my wife joins us? I had thought that so much of this trip would be terrifying, but none of it was. That night, the four of us didn’t talk for long, but we talked about a lot: writing residencies and freelance jobs, slush piles and waiting to hear back from editors, writing contests and how long it takes for a piece to be published. She was vulnerable and brilliant and quick-witted and kind, and I could see why Neil loved her.
” During our time in residency, Neil had told me about what it was like to be in an open marriage, how many of the men his wife met on dating apps were more than happy to sleep with a married woman, while most of the women he talked to were too suspicious of his situation to ever meet. If anything, being on my own made me feel alive again — wild, even — and I was starting to realize how many of my life choices had been made for the wrong reasons. After only a few minutes of talking, she confessed to me that her day had been terrible.
Their house was where I was introduced to life’s greatest luxuries: gas stoves, hummus, bread that wasn’t white, olives that weren’t black.
“This girl is great,” I remember Jason’s father saying every time I offered to help with dinner, every time I set the table, every time I cleared my own dishes without being asked. She took me shopping to find an armchair, went for walks with me around the neighborhood, sat across from me at her kitchen table after September 11th and talked about how everything was terrible.When I was a teenager, I didn’t fall in love with boys — I fell in love with their families.In seventh grade, it was Sean’s mother, who came to our classroom every day to help the teacher with whatever needed helping.Our group texts were slaloms of blue bubbles that bounced happily between topics relevant to our respective lives: teething and sleep training, diaper rash and birth control that was safe to take while breastfeeding, being hungover, being unable to remember the name of the man I had slept with the night before. But when I told my friends I was sleeping with Neil, the husband of the woman whose essay we had discussed in detail, something changed.I explained to them how Neil had been the one to bring up his wife’s essay the first night I met him. That their phones are locked for security purposes.By the time I met Neil, my friends had all gotten married, one right after the other, then pregnant, one right after the other.For a while, these differences didn’t come between us, because, for a while, I was on that same path.Back then, we didn’t care about the marital status of the men we slept with, because, back then, the only people we were loyal to were each other. We were writers, and we bonded in the way that people who have these things in common do.We created our own form of family, and we had clung tight to that for the past decade. I was really nervous to meet you.” Her honesty endeared me to her instantly. It reminded me of what a friend said when she was the first among us to have children.A few minutes later, one of my friends finally wrote, “I can totally see why it’s hot to be in your position.” And then, in all caps, “I WOULD NOT WANT TO BE THE WIFE THOUGH.” “If I were the wife,” another one wrote, “I’d rip his fucking balls off.” Months later, my friends would tell me that they were worried when I told them I was sleeping with a married man.When it happened, though, it was hard for me to see anything in their texts other than the way the tone changed, the way the enthusiastic back and forth we had maintained for years had come to a standstill.