Disclaimer: This fictional story contains explicit sexual material and coarse language. It also examines the human frailties associated with substance abuse and mental health issues. Persons under 18 years of age, and anyone who might be offended by such content, should not read it. None of the characters depicted in this story are intended to represent any real person now living or dead.
This is a tale of unexpected and unwanted romance, love lost, and the consequences of personal shortcomings. It is told exclusively from the male point of view; however, that perspective is tempered with considerable introspection. In the aftermath of intimate relationships between men and women, observers typically assign blame to one party or the other. But, the actualities of human sexuality are seldom so clear-cut. The cultural stereotype of the mindless, lustful and predatory male is an unfortunate psychological burden society places upon children and young adults. So too is the image of the conniving, shameless and needy female. No one is blameless in such situations, and perhaps no one is to blame at all. Shit happens, or maybe it’s just the random interactions of volatile chemistry.
My name is William. I am a middle-age unmarried man whom most would describe as a nice, caring, intelligent though eccentric, individual. The following is an exhilarating but ultimately regretful chapter from my life story.
It began in April of an otherwise ordinary year when I moved to a townhouse in another city. My new next door neighbor, whom we shared an outdoor patio and entranceway, was a struggling single mother with a precocious and often defiant 10 year old daughter named Carline. However, Nora was not exactly single. She was two years separated from her husband of four years. Mark, who lived nearby with his daughter Sissy, worked as a repairman for our property manager.
I first met Nora and Carline during my move-in. Both were extremely friendly and engaging, perhaps a little too much for my reserved nature. But, for the next month or so, I didn’t have much contact with them. As Nora told me later, she mistakenly assumed I was “gay” (i.e. homosexual) probably because my enlightened mannerisms weren’t as stereotypically masculine as typified by her rural western upbringing. You see, Nora was sexually abused as an adolescent and physically abused in adulthood by “all the men in her life” – as she informed me sometime afterwards. Since she was raised in a strict, conservative, patriarchal, and gun-oriented environment, her predisposition towards men was quite understandable.
By July, things began to change. Nora began knocking on my front door in the day-lit summer evenings wanting me to come outside and talk with her. I did, and we had several pleasant conversations about the stars in the sky and about life in general. Although, I remained wary of getting too involved. One of the promises I made to myself was to not become romantically entangled with a woman who lived in such close proximity. That was a promise I inevitably failed to keep.
As we got to know each other, I had other reservations. Nora was a devout Christian and had strong anti-government views. She also expressed some bigoted sentiments when incidents between police and minority communities occurred. Conversely, I was non-religious and ideologically liberal. But, because I deeply respected everyone’s right to hold their own personal beliefs, these cultural differences were not as alarming to me as was Nora’s overly eager – in my opinion – interest in me as a man.
These reservations I had about Nora should have dictated my actions. They didn’t because I succumbed to recent feelings of loneliness and to an abrupt desire to finally have a family after a near-lifetime of solitude. Furthermore, I was powerfully attracted to Nora sexually; and, it was quite obvious that this feeling was mutual.
The sweet peas sprouted vivaciously from less than ideal soil. At first, they flourished. Then, they began a desperate struggle for survival.
In early August, we were spending more time together and the flirtation between us really heated up. Sexual innuendos ran aplenty including one in which Nora suggestively joked that “I’m going to attack you…” after I escorted her daughter to the corner store for some ice cream. By this time, my previous caution was totally overwhelmed with lust. On a Saturday, with Carline away at her father’s house, we had our first intimate encounter which began at my residence and ended up on her living room floor. We kissed passionately, grinded against each other, and I moved to massage her vagina. To my utmost surprise, she immediately closed her legs. So, I moved up to her breasts instead. Again, she protected them with her arms. It was then that I realized something was wrong. I rolled over onto my back beside her and said, “It’s okay, if you are not comfortable I understand.” She started crying and sobbed, “You’re the best thing that’s ever come into my life.” I stroked her shoulder to reassure her reluctance was indeed okay with me. But, to my surprise once again, she moved down, pulled off my shoes, pants and underwear, grinded against my left leg, and performed fellatio on me. During which Nora giddily remarked, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you are bigger around than most men!” I was unresponsive and told her that “the mood had passed.” She got up suddenly and went to the bathroom. We spent the rest of the night on the patio drinking and flirting, then retired to our separate homes rather inebriated.
We met on the patio the next morning. Nora asked me to refill her glass with the vodka we had been drinking the night before (“hair of the dog,” as she referred to it). I suggested it was too early in the day to start drinking again, and that apparently didn’t set well with her (days later she referred to my resistance as “controlling”). This was the moment I began to realize she was an alcoholic. In the weeks that followed, I also became aware that Nora regularly used prescription pain relievers and sleeping aids (i.e. opioids). When the subject of sex came up, she exclaimed “That can’t happen again, I’m married.” I reminded her that she was separated from Mark. She was insistent, and informed me that she still loved him.
For the next few days, we continued to see each other. I was feeling amorous and acted seductively – though still gentlemanly – while we embraced. Nora was responsively welcoming, but it was clear she was having regrets. So, I decided it was best to cool off the relationship; however, my subsequent avoidance of her provoked anguish in Nora. “You wouldn’t even look at me,” she told me later in exasperation. We talked, and redefined the relationship as just a friendship. A couple of days afterwards, I asked her if we could stop flirting with each other because it was causing me problems. She agreed, but was visibly annoyed by the request. Following that discussion, Nora acted coldly and avoided me for a few days. I then sent her a card inquiring how she was feeling about us. She answered my phone call the next day with a hostile rebuke. It floored me emotionally, but I took it well. It’s over, I thought. Fair enough. However, the following day Nora called me to apologize. She said she didn’t intend to be mean or to hurt me. Now the rollercoaster ride was in full swing.
When Nora called me she was sobbing so badly that I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. We sat down side-by-side on the patio. She apologized once more, saying that she was very sorry for hurting me and that her current life situation (i.e. her demanding job as a social worker, her stressful responsibility as a single mother, her separation from Mark, and the complication of our relationship) was terribly confusing and disturbing for her. I hugged and consoled her warmly which did put her at ease. Nora’s morose mood then shifted very quickly. She became suddenly playful, so much so that she reached down and deliberately touched my penis while I was hugging her. I gently moved her hand over to my left thigh. She said, “I guess I shouldn’t have done that.”
The sweet peas overcame their initial struggle with a little outside help. They shot up the latticework with great zeal, climbing ever higher towards the sunny blue skies.
Throughout September, Nora and I became closer and closer, virtually inseparable. I began helping her with various technical problems she was having. Our evening camaraderie occurred almost daily. I started smoking her cigarettes (after several years as a non-smoker) and buying bottles of booze for us to drink. I also developed good relationships with Carline and Nora’s dad Paul. We played card games, board games, and I supervised her daughter’s use of my exercise equipment. I cooked meals for them, and accompanied them on many shopping trips and other excursions. One weekend, I went with them to Carline’s sporting event in a nearby town. I got to know Carline’s father Eddie too. We shared each other’s domiciles on a regular basis, and I felt as though I was becoming part of their family. And, our de-facto romance rekindled as well. On many occasions, Nora and I partied well after midnight, sometimes as late as 3:30 am. We embraced frequently and passionately, and she periodically rubbed my genitals with her knee giving me an erection. Nora would entice me to look at her cleavage, displayed her bare ass cheeks to me in my bedroom, and would lay on top of me when putting me to bed. She was no stranger to my bedroom, and I was no stranger to hers. Still, I was wary of going too far. Memories of the previous month lingered on my mind. I told her during one late night escapade that I wasn’t going to “make any more advances.” She told me that our wariness to engage in overt flirtation was not allowing her to “be herself.” But, she did thank me once for not taking advantage of her sexually aroused state. “This has never happened to me before,” she remarked on multiple occasions. Puzzling contradictions to be sure.
During this time, Nora and I sang songs together. We discussed the frustration she was feeling over her marital separation. Mark didn’t spend much time with her, and only conveniently wanted to sleep with her (Nora would allow this only when Carline was away). It bothered Nora that Mark’s daughter self-identified as a lesbian, and that Mark had genital herpes (although she herself never developed symptoms). It also bothered her that I admitted to infrequently being afflicted with cold sores on my lips. But, Mark seemed to be her biggest problem. “He tells me he loves me, but I don’t see it in his eyes,” she bemoaned. When I asked about the prospect of them getting back together, she said there was a 99% chance of that never happening. Regardless, she told me many times, “I love him.”
We also discussed my interest to “give back” my modest – yet substantial – accumulated wealth to a worthwhile beneficiary as well as the value of my net worth, and her deep desire to adopt a child. Nora explained her highest priority was the safety and future of her child (Nora was paranoid about germs, pedophilia, and the biblical End Times prophesy). These conversations were generalized, although the unspoken implications were mutually apparent.
One of the songs Nora intentionally sang to me was Landslide by Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. It told the story of a middle-age woman troubled by change and wanting to caution her new lover about getting too involved with her. The message was obvious, though hardly necessary. Despite intimations such as that, Nora was in a peculiar state of denial about our relationship at times. She kept insisting that we were “just friends” even though the other residents of our complex believed otherwise. Nora’s other next door neighbor, Jenny, suggestively referred to us as “the dynamic duo” and once asked if we were “going sleep together” late one evening. Nora retorted, “I’m married!” From my point of view, there was no ambiguity. We were much more than friends. Deep inside, Nora knew that too. Every time I blamed myself for falling for her, she corrected me. “It takes two to tango,” she always said.
Fall for her, I did. For only the second time in my life, I fell madly in love. I withheld informing her for weeks, but she eventually pried it out of me. Nora’s reaction was something in between disbelief and outright ridicule. She wouldn’t have it. I was hurt and retreated into my humble sanctuary afterwards. I didn’t attend Carline’s camping trip, to which Nora later admitted that she “wanted me to be there so badly.” This contradiction didn’t make sense.
At the end of the month, Nora and I had a momentous day. We were on the patio having a wonderful time. She moved my chair right next to her and lovingly said, “We’re getting so close.” But, within a matter of minutes, she made a curious remark about my long-lost ex-fiancé and abruptly went inside her dwelling . I waited for a while and found her scrubbing the toilet in her bathroom. I asked, “Is something wrong?” She curtly replied, “You know I love my husband!” I was shocked, and drove off to a bar to get hammered. I returned a couple of hours later angry, confused, and very drunk. I sat on the rainy-wet patio steps in an ugly mood. Nora came out very shook-up and tried to admonish me. I was apoplectic. Soon, I passed out. Nora put me to bed.
The next day, Nora issued another apology. I had calmed down, and was blaming myself. The following Tuesday, we all threw a birthday party for Carline. She had turned 11. It was a great time.
Three days later on the patio with Carline away with her father, Nora said Mark wanted to come over and sleep with her, but she was worried that I wouldn’t want to see her anymore. I said I wouldn’t interfere in any way. Then, I kissed her on the cheek and wished her goodnight. But, I was extremely hurt and had had quite enough. When she came over to apologize yet again the next day (I hadn’t slept a wink), I dropped the bombshell. “I can’t take it anymore. This has to end now.” She agreed with my candid explanation, but was visibly shaken by my stern resolve. She asked sarcastically, “Are you happy now?” “I’m not happy,” I replied. Even though I didn’t tell her, my decision to end our relationship was nothing less than a desperate act of self survival. For someone who had suffered from self-destructive behavior and suicidal impulses early in adulthood, the emotional distress simply had to stop one way or another.
That final conversation revealed Nora’s stunning state of denial about what had transpired between us. Despite her numerous apologies, she steadfastly refused to accept any responsibility for my hurt feelings. Her “I have many male friends” comment implied that her flirtatious nature should not bear any unwanted consequences. Two other single men in our complex with which Nora previously had similar relationships with after Mark had left her, Steve and Rod (as well as Eddie), might disagree. I certainly do. But, in the end, it was totally my fault. I knew better, but was unable to control my own emotional weaknesses.
As autumn brought shorter and cooler days, the sweet peas withered and died. They yielded little fruit, and the few pods which did grow were dry and tasteless.
After we stopped seeing each other, our random interactions were polite yet tense. Much was left unsaid, it seemed; and, much more had been poorly communicated. I had time to reflect on it. I remembered Nora telling me that Mark and I were alike in many ways, and that she wished she could combine our individual qualities into one husband. I remembered the personal secrets she confided in me such as the frightening domestic turmoil of her life and the lesbian relationship she had once been involved in. I remembered that night in early September when I told Nora to “forget about me” and her wistful response; “How can I forget about you?,” she asked rhetorically. I remembered overhearing Nora vociferously answering her daughter’s inquiry or suggestion one Saturday night, “I already told you he doesn’t want to talk with me anymore!” I also remembered overhearing a very loud phone conversation Nora had on the patio with a female friend, “I’m getting rid of the men in my life.” Three days later, after Nora had twice nervously and hastily avoided me, Mark came over to sleep with her while Carline was home which obviously violated her own hard rule on such activities. At the end of November, Nora and Carline moved out. It is my sincere hope that she and Mark can resurrect their marriage, for Carline’s sake if nothing else.
The characters of William and Nora are portrayed as flawed personalities, not to make for a more compelling story, but to illustrate how the human frailties which are inherent in each of us often complicate our interpersonal relations. The telling of the story from the male point of view conveys the essential subjectivity necessary for readers to emotionally connect with the romance. If I was a woman, the subjectivity would be feminine and the story would be told quite differently. An objective point of view, however, would lack feeling and would portray these two characters as troubled individuals who simply plunged into a relationship which was doomed from the start. – Author
Withering Peas: An Unwanted Romance. Copyright © 2016 by Robert A. Vella. All rights reserved.