When Susannah and I were lovers, the fact that she was married seemed irrelevant to me, except it limited our being together. I knew she could not love me any more than she did, husband or no husband, that he could not matter in the same way, that if she made love to David in the morning and me at noon it subtracted nothing from the truth of our love. She did do that, at least once; she told me so. But not to make me jealous, or threaten me in any way, simply as a curious, unexpected event in her life that she knew I would be interested in. Entertained by. We were complete, we were a world and though this world of ours was tightly bounded in time and space, nothing could make it less than whole.
At the time when I met Susannah, I sold anesthesia equipment, blood gas machines and the like. I was at Children’s Hospital in Boston to replace a faulty gas chromatograph in a diagnostic lab, and I was passing through a waiting room and in a space off to the side of it, I saw this beautiful woman kneeling with four small children around her, one of them buckled into a contraption that was somewhere between a stroller and a wheelchair. Later I found out she was doing play therapy. I stood on the threshhold, uninvited, and watched her. She seemed to be as oblivious to her own beauty as the children were, but seeing her had cut the thread of my life and I could not move until its continuity was restored. After a minute she felt me looking at her and turned to look back at me; she didn’t seem offended or even surprised that I was standing there staring at her. It was as if we had an appointment. Finally she said, “Would you like to join us?”
On the day when I first kissed Susannah, we had known each other two months. We had lunch together in a different neighborhood, away from the hospitals (where David also worked), and we were walking up a side street toward my car. Abruptly I stopped walking and she stopped with me, as if we had gotten our cue from a prompter offstage. I put my hand up to her cheek as if I was brushing away something that threatened to get in her eye. I was like a teenage boy using a transparent pretense as an excuse to touch a girl, and she saw through that too and was beginning to laugh at me, but before I could complete the gesture or she could laugh we were kissing. The world fell away, there was no more pretense, only truth; when we could think again, we both knew what was going to happen between us.
I was twenty-eight years old when we met. I liked my body then. I felt, I see now, secretly superior to men my present age. The natural arrogance of flat-bellied youth. Not that I am, I suppose, repellent now, but I can no longer imagine that I’m attractive either. I feel I am sexually just a blank space. I provoke no response. When I was that age, the desire I felt for a woman was a joy in itself, independent of its fulfillment, which I didn’t realize at the time because of what I took for granted: it was not unimaginable that she might desire me. And if she did, I knew I would be able to give her intense pleasure, sometimes more than she imagined I could – it sounds self-deceived, but I know what happened between Susa and me. No one can contradict that. I wasn’t heavy around the middle the way I am today, and I was lighter still because I was single, unencumbered except by myself. That, of course, was no small exception when the loneliness would set in. And yet even when I was the most lonely and horny there was some part of me thinking, This can’t go on forever. I masturbated often and hopefully, imagining a future lover. When I saw myself in the mirror, it did not seem impossible there would be one.
My fantasies were nothing compared to Susa herself. I never wanted anyone as much as I wanted her. When she and I were lovers, if I thought about her as I walked down the street, I started to get hard. We still share having been those two people, and though I don’t know if I want to say it’s always enough, I imagine it’s more than many people have. Her body is different too now, of course; the suppleness is gone from her waist, replaced by a formidable kind of solidity. She was always strong physically, but now you can see that strength from twenty feet away.