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The Affair

The affair began like all do: suddenly, desperately, and with a whiff of Diane Lane. Then rationalizing, crushing guilt, and finally, the first great night in bed in a long time.

One wrong turn at the intersection of two a.m. and monogamy, and bam, I was a cheat and a liar. But now I had a secret, and to a restless, middle-aged mother of two with withering ambition and thickening chin hair, that’s better than Moms' Night Out with roofies.

A business trip to New York for a hair thinning conference, and what do you know, we're both in the same hotel. I'd just called home to say good night and feign regret I couldn’t help with tomorrow’s vocabulary test of extinct marine life – when we met accidentally at the bar. We went for the same stool, ordered the same drink. And something…connected. Our foreheads, yes, but something more. We had dinner. No big deal. It wasn’t like I was texting someone knee fat selfies.

Then, a late-night karaoke bar we had no business entering, never mind vomiting in, at our age, followed by a stroll up Ninth Avenue, always more fun when you’re dressed and not alone. And that was how I began the torrid affair with…myself.

Of course, we'd known each other forever. Sure, we'd lost touch over the years - work, marriage, kids, various addictions and neuroses battling for time and attention. Hockey games and book club, weight watchers and demented in-laws, relentless small children and aging parents who spend your inheritance on cruise ship well drinks. Anyway. We'd accidentally become good at the things we’d never imagined being: older and exhausted. Plus, we were not as good looking as before, and had grown sadly accustomed to being invisible.

I hadn’t realized how much I'd missed me. How attractive I still was, in a certain non-light, when wearing those jeans I’d stopped wearing for myself. I could be funny and gregarious (if I had recently eaten, I was alone, it was Thursday and it wasn’t the third week of the month).

I reminded me of…myself, only younger and more interesting. Twenty-five years, one breakdown and nineteen pounds ago, when journalism was real, people wore concert T-shirts without irony, and I was full of energy, optimism and estrogen.

It was easy to slip back into bed together. It didn’t matter how many decades had passed. It was just as electric and satisfying as the first time. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. Eight straight hours of....sleep.

And it turns out I felt the same way about me! Like all affairs, the guilty co-conspirator reminded me how I used to feel, and also how I used to feel about how I used to feel. I liked remembering me, rediscovering forgotten shards of myself long buried. Even though it felt kind of dirty. Like Diane Lane in all those movies, I had only myself to blame.

In the beginning, we stole moments wherever we could. Gripped by an insane hunger for time alone, I’d make ridiculous excuses. I’d claim we were out of almond milk and run out in sweatpants to throw my family off the scent of betrayal. I’d escape Saturday soccer carpool to “get my oil changed.” “Has it really already been 3,000 miles?” my husband asked. Oh, yes it has, I thought, peeling out of the driveway to be with myself for a few precious minutes at a deserted Pentecostal art gallery in the next town.

The kids knew nothing. If anything, they were delighted by the new, non-yelling Mommy. I spent extra money on a babysitter, so I could be with me some afternoons. I lost weight, and started shopping again for cute clothes. Bought elegant, overpriced underwear I wore exclusively for myself.

I faked business trips. I’d meet me in the hotel, we’d have a lovely dinner at the bar and then settle into a bus-size bed, channel surfing into an extravagant stupor of mini bar snacks, Rachel Maddow, and the local news loop. Then we’d tuck into a pile of fashion magazines, and top it off with room service – for one. We missed meetings, spending entire mornings in bed with the phone uncharged, just contemplating hotel ceiling stains. Then we'd nap.

We did fun things I hadn’t done in years: smoking real cigarettes, reading supermarket tabloids, going to arty matinees, prank-calling exes..

Eventually my husband grew suspicious. “You’re going to New York again…?” and I’d name the Neanderthal ethics storytelling conference I knew was happening but had no intention of attending.

But it got too intense. When I started talking about moving in together, I panicked and tried to call it off. There were tears, screaming fights, hasty meetings where I’d mean to end it, only to end up sobbing pitifully in my arms outside a Panera.

I tried to imagine how lonely I'd be without my family and their festival of needs and perplexing demands (is there anything for dinner?) but my mind kept turning to me.

Finally, I ended it. I accepted that it had been pure fantasy. I knew I didn’t have the balls to run away with me. I’d never had any balls, which was probably why I married a man who wasn’t me in the first place.

I tried to forget me. I plowed into volunteering in the school, my job, going to the gym, anything to keep my mind off myself. And for the most part I’m okay. But then I find a business card from a Chinatown massage parlor, or a battered art-house cinema ticket stub, a dog-eared copy of Star... and I remember.

Selfishness was both toxic and enthralling; I'd forgotten just how much. Still, it was a nice place to visit.

At least we'll always have New York.

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