The Women I Never Had
If you’ve been reading my writing, you may have noticed that I don’t write much about the women in my life. The subject is so complex and my feelings are often so confused and contradictory that I haven’t wanted to tackle it. I’m afraid to be completely honest about the things that happened for fear of leaving myself open to ridicule or scorn. You can see I’m an expert on nothing. I have failed so wretchedly with them that I’m ashamed of myself. I don’t want to hurt anyone, slander or defame anyone, or lie about it either. When I confessed years ago to my friend
Maybe I started off wrong.
I’ll begin by saying that every significant woman in my life has been unquestionably exquisite. There were five. I think about them all more often than I probably should. Each love attachment began with exhilaration and great hope and ended in pain and grief.
I don’t know why I feel things so deeply, but I do. When the last one left me in 1987, the pain was so intense I wanted to die. I almost hanged myself to escape it. I came very close to doing so one night in the early nineties in
The main street was deserted. I stood in front of the empty café for 15 minutes listening to crickets chirp and feeling the gray emptiness which had become my life. How had it come to this? I suddenly felt nothing. I felt dead. A brief black-and-white film of my whole past sped double-time through my brain, and I saw and felt the absolute uselessness and absurdity of my life reel by and go black. There was nothing ahead on the road but more of this.
I looked directly across the street at the Woodstock Police Department which seemed deserted. The flagpole had a concrete or brick foundation and the halyard hung limp, untied to the clevis and flag-less.
That’s the way, I remember thinking, and do it now do it now do it now. I whispered the words to myself as I walked deliberately across the street: Do it now do it now do it now do it now do it now do it now do it now. With no hesitation I grabbed the doubled rope and grasped the pole with my other hand and stepped onto the foundation and wrapped my left arm around it. With my right hand I wound the rope ‘round and ‘round my neck until it was secure. Then I stuffed the remainder inside of one of the coils and gave myself a foot to fall.
I knew it would not break my neck but thought it would cut off the flow of blood to my brain sufficiently to make me lose consciousness and in a few moments I would be strangled and dead. Without hesitation I jumped backward and fell a foot, still whispering my death-song .
The rope tightened and my forehead banged against the pole. It really hurt badly. I felt an intense pressure in my eyes but the tightening on my neck was the worst. I had made one mistake. I had forgotten to fasten my hands somehow behind my back, and in the instants I hung there I didn’t lose consciousness as I had planned. My instinct to survive kicked into action and I grabbed the pole with both hands and clamped my feet on the sides of the pedestal and dragged with extraordinary effort and pushed as well as I could with my feet until I regained a footing on the concrete.
It had hurt like hell. The sharp pain of striking my head on the metal was nothing compared to the burning and constriction on my throat. I clawed the rope until it was loose enough for me to breathe. I hugged the pole for dear life and suddenly felt fear, not of death, but pain.
I knew in a microsecond that I didn’t want to die that way. But I still wanted to die. I unwound the rope and sat on the ground and wept. I couldn’t even kill myself. I felt so sorry for myself. I see it now for how preposterous, pathetic and sorrowful it was. Nothing went right for me. It seemed that nothing ever had. And I knew that at the bottom of it was that I longed excruciatingly for a woman.
It seems that I have written about this before, but I really don’t remember where or when. It might even have been recently. The trouble with me as a writer perhaps is that after I’ve written about something as well as I can, it’s gone. I seldom and rarely go back and read it again. It’s always been like that. So I apologize to my readers-- and there are a few now-- for the repetition if I did write this before.
The street was still quiet and deserted. No cars had passed, no people had walked by. It was me and the crickets. I still thought I wanted to die, but the truth was that I secretly hoped someone would see me trying to do myself in and stop me, take pity on me, listen to my woeful tale, and help me. Just please help me to live and be happier. Tell me what I was doing wrong, tell me what I should do. It never occurred to me to ask for the help of God. It simply didn’t enter my mind.
I walked down the street for a few blocks till I stood on the short bridge over a rushing river. Thirty feet below were rapids and rocks. I knew that if I dove off headfirst, I certainly would crack my skull and die either from that or from drowning. I placed both hands on the rail and tried to push myself over. I jumped up about two feet and could have launched myself on the first try, but I couldn’t do it. I tried again and again. I tried to do it for an hour. Finally the absurdity of it dawned in the little intelligence that remained, and I said aloud, “
The rope had burned a red welt across my throat and around my neck and had wrenched muscles and my neck was sore for a week. Although it was a warm Spring, I wore turtleneck sweaters until it faded. I patted the welts with talcum powder after that until it was healed. There isn’t a scar.
I thought hard about it and tried to write about it but couldn’t. I knew that failures and loneliness and my bankruptcy with women were why I had wanted to finish my life. I had failed at every single thing I had ever undertaken (except a General Science test I’ve written about.) I had failed as a son, had been a mediocre marine, had been fired from decent jobs, had failed as a news reporter, failed as a husband and father, failed as an antiwar activist and failed as a writer. I could not look back on my life and find a single important thing that I could honestly tell myself had been successful, or even satisfying. I felt like a failed human being, something that should have been a saguaro cactus in the Jornada del Muerte in the Southwest instead, a creature with no other conceivable task than to stand in a scorching hot desert for a hundred years and store water for any Indian smart enough to extract it. A cactus had more usefulness to humanity than I had.
And underneath it all was this incredibly passionate yearning for a woman, for companionship, for sharing, and above all for sex, and the fear of them I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know then as I know now that I needed to love someone more than I needed to be loved. I needed to serve someone, to please someone, to be needed by someone, and for a woman to relieve me of a sexual hunger that has never subsided, never gotten anything but stronger, even today at 68 years old. I needed intimacy. I still do. I could not find it. I still can’t.
Why has it always been this way for me? Why is it that other men I’ve known seem to have satisfied their sex-hunger before they were 30? What is it about me that frustrates the strongest urge I have ever had? I don’t know. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t care.
I guess I was a bad lover. My first sexual experience at 16 had been with a prostitute in the Midway Hotel of Port Arthur, TX--a whorehouse. Forget getting it from one of the “nice girls” of
I wasn’t brought up like that. Most of my family were women. My grandmother whipped my butt if I hurt or was disrespectful to my older sister. My mother was gentle and kind even though she was an illogical drunk (like me.) I was taught to “turn the other cheek” when insulted. My stepfather
I played football until I was hurt badly in fifth grade, but I greatly enjoyed collecting butterflies, the only pretty bug in the world. I loved birds and flowers, trees and sunsets, and the sweet dark blackberries which grew in bushes near the railroad tracks. I was fascinated by rivers and bayous, and by most of the animals I’ve encountered on my long and unfinished hegira. And after I discovered their beauty and felt their magnetic and irresistible attraction, I loved and longed for girls, and later, women.
From first to third grade in
The only thing on earth more lovely than a beautiful woman is any human infant. If an infant can’t fill you with compassion and love, in my opinion, there really is something wrong with you. Anybody who can deliberately hurt an infant, or torture or kill an infant, as far as I am concerned, has lost his or her claim on humanity. I would simply and without remorse kill that unredeemable monster and call it self-defense.
I just walked outside this nice coffee house in Marigny for a smoke and felt up a tree. I don’t know what kind it is and don’t care. It’s about 30 feet high and flourishing with the green leaves of God. Look at the solidity and strength of a tree. Feel it. Sense its purpose for Man and Earth and know you can never make one, and are not supposed to. All you can do is appreciate it and use it without harm, selfish exploitation or greed. Use it for shade or for building or for beauty and if you are lucky or blessed you can love it. To love a tree or anything or anyone at all is the greatest blessing of all.
I walked back and a bearded man was strumming perfectly some chords on a guitar with fine skill and rhythm. I closed my eyes and leaned against the building not looking at him and listened with my ears and felt with my heart the soft beauty and loveliness of his tune. I could have cried with gratitude (you can see I’m a big crybaby at heart) for those few moments.
It’s the same way with me about women. Sometimes I love them so much it wants to tear me in half. God truly did give them to men and us to them. But our lives and society are sick with selfishness and greed, ambition and competition, and what often seems beautiful outside can contain the most awful ugliness within. Nobody is excepted or exempt from catching it or infecting others with it, and certainly no human being is perfect or ever will be.
There was a fine girl whose name I’ve forgotten. It was 1958 and I knew I was leaving
She had short straw blond hair and wore jeans instead of the dresses other girls wore. She had a slim body and small breasts and a fine complexion and a spark in her eye. Unlike us she smiled a lot, and I saw that she liked me best. She talked to me more than to
No girl had ever done that. I was so surprised I think I only looked at her sweet blue eyes and said, “Okay I’ll write to you.” She wrote her address and as soon as I got home I copied it into a small address book and stored it in the things I was packing without my mother knowing yet that I was leaving.
The next day I walked into the living room with my suitcase where my mother was sitting watching television and told her I was leaving. As I’ve told in this story before, I had run away at 15 after she’d jailed me. I’d been caught in
That night in
I received a reply a week later. It contained only a few sentences, and the only one I never forgot went: “Well
In the Marine Corps I had nothing but prostitutes for four years. Prostitutes in
I learned my lesson about prostitutes with the third one I had in the Cape Fear Hotel in
I never had a woman who wasn’t a prostitute until I met a bartender in
But somehow I found five women in my life who liked and wanted me and in at least two cases actually loved me, and I them. None of those relationships lasted long enough for me to actually learn how to be a good lover. I was 50 when I caught on, and by then it was too late, because the ones I wanted (the young ones) didn’t want me. The irony is that most old men want the same kind of women they had when they were young, vital and potent: young, beautiful, sexy women.
But most young women are disgusted by the thought of sex and intimacy with old men. That’s just the way it is and maybe the way it’s supposed to be but it doesn’t seem right. Yet the longing and yearning never stopped for me. I never was satisfied enough or pleased them enough because I didn’t know how. I was selfish and stupid and wanted only what I wanted, my own rude satisfaction.
But I never—except once with
But I failed anyhow at becoming Fidel’s “new man” for years, and today I really don’t know what I am. Every moment I wonder if I’m telling myself and others the truth or if I’m only pretending and presenting the person I want to be but am not. Is this me or another persona? Is this another mask hiding an injured little boy? I’m too complex even for me to understand it all.
But I understand this: women are not so unlike men as many of them suppose. I cannot imagine a human being from
This is all I have to say about it now. I feel that I’ve broken the ice on the subject and might be able to get more specific and forthcoming but not now. Not now. I don’t want to get it wrong or do injustice to the beautiful and loving women I’ve tried with and lost or abandoned. Not now.
The women I’ve mentioned here I never really had. Of the ones I did have, well, I don’t know what they think of me or if they think of me at all. But I never stopped loving any of them. Loving them too late with an aching and busted heart that won’t heal.