Lying next to one another on the bed, at last, I made a confession, a taut, music box, spring open confession. On the bed, staring at the ceiling, my mind cranked the handle. My suppressed puppet shadow leaped up and out.
“Gabriel, I've told no one what you told me. I have something to say. Like me, you can tell no one. Listen, as I tell you why I am not admirable."
How to start? Will he talk?
"Did you ever think about becoming a priest, to be Father Gabriel?"
"No, like you I experienced a soapy shower transformation."
"Pretend you’re a priest, hear my confession. I will do penance. Do you know the confessions inviolable seal of confidentially, a most sacred vow?"
"Something’s troubling you. Like me, you’re carrying too much inside. I know the priest’s confidentiality vow and will honor it. You can confide in me."
With his promise, I did what I promised never to do. My sins, not the venial but mortal, sprang open and sputtered out, released at last. After years of suppression, they bubbled forth in a low disconnected monotone, as if the sins of another. I confessed to myself, of course, he the sounding board to echo my words but it was the first time I heard them.
I started with my revealing I’d accepted marriage for security instead of love. Skipped to Gary when the thrill of beauty and a simple kiss as a train passed, caused me to waver.
Then, I went deep mortal, not in erotic detail as related here but by the deeds and numbers, without excuses. I told of crossing Edward's threshold, my transformation into the fantasy of being his Asian doll, the clothes, jewelry, Porsche, upscale restaurants and social status he provided which I confused for love.
I admitted my conflicts with Enrico as manipulations of an Alpha male, not for sex but to belittle and bully him, for my ego satisfaction.
I told him when I relocated to the Pacific Northwest, I tried to reform but failed in a one-night stand then libidinously seduced Daryl for excitement and affair club membership.
I droned on how, for flattery, I let Elliot pursue me as his trophy and instead how he became my trophy, to be tossed aside. I explained facing middle age, I retrofitted and used William as an ego sop and sex toy and being caught in the act and hit with a shoe. I ended with Paul, my debasement and God's punishment for wantonness.
Like a good priest, he didn't interrupt. After Paul, I whispered, "That's it, father. I'm not admirable. I'm tainted."
Silent, awaiting judgment, a feeling of relief swept me, the long-suppressed hidden burden carried inside eased, the secret puppet finally exposed to another.
After his long, silent for digestion, he replied, "Once I'd have thrown stones, perhaps the first. I feel so sorry for your husband. You're a Mary Magdalene, a sinner. Still, you help people, the Good Samaritan. You’re trying to save me. Your sins, while terrible and many, are not lust. Something else troubles you. In adultery, you search for something missing. It’s not for me to speculate or judge. Forgiveness comes from within and from the one offended, your husband. It will take time for you to heal but you must and only you can do it. That’s all I can say.
The rosary, three times, before Mary Magdalen."
"Thank you, Father."
The penance, meant as a levity response to my heavy sigh, caused no smile. Too lenient for my infractions, I added renewed Mass attendance with the three rosaries to sanctify each attendance.
Back at the bank parking lot, I told him not to hide the motel credit charge, to let his wife notice by leaving the receipt out and if she mentioned it, to say he needed time to think about himself.
She didn’t notice it. That night, after she left to meet her lover, he moved her belongings to the other bedroom and took possession of the master bedroom. He was no longer Mr. B&B. He was evolving into Mr. A&A, Alpha Awesome. The next day, when she did mention the motel receipt, he stared at her, made no reply and left for work.
We became lovers of a sort. Although there was sex it was dispassionate, his sexual tension release to rebuild him, my adultery, an act of charity. I did my penance but confessed no more. My helping him was sufficient for my self-esteem rebuilding. It was always at the same motel. We split payments. I paid cash and he used his credit card. We met only during lunchtime and less than once a week.
It was strange to be in bed with someone my height. I didn’t care about an orgasm. I was restoring a fractured male ego. My satisfaction was emotional for helping him. He tried to ensure my satisfaction but he was not "my type". I was there for a spiritual need, not sex.
When atop, I imagined being young again at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk, riding the Merry Go Round to the relaxed gait of the wooden horse’s up and down gallop and the organ’s melody. As I rode, I remembered reaching for the brass ring, catching it and tossing it at the clown's mouth on the canvas wall. If I climaxed it was the buzzer of a successful ring toss but like when young, it didn't matter if the buzzer rang or not.
When he was ready, we rolled over and he finished, my pleasure only helping him regain self-esteem, which regained mine.
He was trying to save his marriage. I told him he had to be ready to lose it to save it. Under my direction, he had an attorney draw up divorce papers that were served to her at her work. Getting her served at work, announced publicly it was she who was getting divorced, nipping any covering lies she might attempt.
It put him in the decision position. He could move forward or cancel divorce proceedings based on her actions. She needed to understand, he was no longer Mr. B&B, her footstool. My instructions were to act as if the marriage was over, except for paperwork.
As expected, she panicked. Her fantasy haven was not so safe. In irony, she accused him of cheating, true, in a manner. She stopped belittling him, dropped her lover and started pursuing him which she assumed would make him grovel back to her.
With me as a backup, he remained aloof, forced her to reconcile on his terms. When asked what he wanted, he told her she destroyed their marriage and now she had to rebuild it by sending a no-contact letter, answer all his questions, write down a timeline of everything, tell the daughters and undergo an STD test. She balked and attempted hysterical bonding but he stuck to Alpha mode. After a few tantrums, the progression march of divorce proceedings, she caved.
Full disclosure hurt him. Her affair was the third and the first was with a family friend, a double betrayal. Things that he could not make sense of during the last ten years at last added up. In the end, however, after twenty-five years together, reconciliation made the most sense, financially and for the family. They began a new marriage, the old one gone, he a man, she a woman, partners. We stopped visiting the motel when she moved back to the master bedroom.
He had a wife who admired him. Anew marriage based on his forgiveness and her appreciation for it. The bank noticed his change and he got a raise. I changed our company's bank, knowing it was best to leave what ends well, alone.
We both were whole. I confessed, was forgiven and returned to being a chaste wife, my secret puppet shadow locked in storage, mentally trussed in silver chains. Whole again, I was cleansed of Paul. At age forty-five, I started the rest of my life, each day the first.
As she renewed her marriage, I did too and re-devoted myself to hubby. I still shopped for sex but for hubby’s pleasure. We traveled together on business; toured the world on vacations, saw the postcard landmarks, ate at famous restaurants, stayed in classic hotels, the sophisticated couple doing "tourist" passport life stamp requirements while holding hands.
We considered ourselves sophisticated tourists because we’d in the past hosted foreign exchange students. It started as a result of a next-door neighbor doing so. They sponsored a German student. The wife was the one having an affair with her preacher. Her husband, a Vietnam vet who lost his arm in the war spent his time drinking beer and fishing. They had two daughters, the eldest, the same age as the exchange student. She was attractive and wild. His grades consequently suffered but his English ability advanced rapidly, including teenage American slang.
While fully occupied at their house in extra-curricula activities, he soon was hopping over the fence and visiting our house because he was hungry. It wasn’t because his host mom was a poor cook. She didn’t cook. Hubby and I nicknamed him Fritz and soon he was a regular at our dinner table.
From him, we learned about the foreign exchange program. We hosted students from Japan, Russia, Germany, and England. Our kids wanted to spend a college semester in Europe as foreign exchange students which we granted. Our son went to Germany and the parents of our German host student hosted him. There he learned Germans insisted on speaking English to Americans, learned little German but met Fräuleins.
Part of our vacations included visiting the parents of students we hosted. Once we stopped by Bad Tölz, Germany, to see Bavaria at Christmas time due to my love of Holy Night when sung in German. We reconnected with our exchange student and met his family. The father thrilled hubby speeding on an autobahn and the mother taught me German recipes.
We ate pastries and admired the snow falling to create a beautiful white Christmas outside while we sat snug inside before their fireplace. All spoke English except a lonely figure close to the blazing fire, the grandfather. He grunted in a paragraph in German to all but to no one in particular, talking to himself. Hubby asked our hosts what he said.
The father replied, “He said he can sleep naked in the snow falling outside.”
“Sleep naked in the snow? After a sauna?”
“No, no, he was a prisoner during the war. He didn’t get back to Germany until 1953. You ever hear of Stalingrad, Siberia? That’s where he was captured then sent to.”
“He’s one of the 5,000 who returned of the 300,000 surrounded, the 100,000 who surrendered?”
“Yeah, he talks about it but no one wants to hear about the war now.”
He was left to his memories, no one interested in grandpa’s story except me.
It’s then the seed to write Balinese Puppet Shadows was sown in my mind.
As hubby and I evolved into our new marriage, I also discovered things about myself, material things, not mental or moral. Sitting in a French chalet, sipping late morning tea as hubby snarfed down buttered pastry with his black coffee, before our next postcard check-off, pangs of memory swept me.
I’ve wanted things too much.
Things, their discarded trail is my life’s summary. Desired, acquired, used, discarded, their junk trail, reveals who I was, am and will be. Junk’s my life’s portrait. Where’s my childhood, bike, the 57 Chevy of my first kiss, Edward Porsche which zoomed me to San Francisco, the station wagon with the kids in the back? Oh God, clothes!
My life’s, a trail of things, discovered, yearned, acquired, used, discarded. It’s not the photos saved that reflect who I am, it’s my trail of junk.
At home, with my “sophisticated” recognition of “things”, I swept closets and the garage for erasures. The subsequent trips to the Salvation Army included a silken mini dress and a pair of shoes that crossed a forbidden threshold.
Cleansed, I recommitted to myself, as if just out of an honest confession, to the right side of God. I never suspected future adulteries would outnumber past.
Author Notes: After confessing and helping another the wife re-commits to her husband and enjoys life with him.