The Light Switch
by Jennifer Lehr
ten minutes into my stay at Yaddo—an artist colony housed in a turn-of-the-century mansion in upstate New York—and I was wondering, What could I possibly have done to deserve this beautiful, this perfect a salvation? Peace, quiet, nice, intelligent, talented people, my own charming writing studio. All of my meals made. A pool. A forest. A rose garden. I didn’t recognize myself for a little while. No husband. No bills to avoid. No job hunting. No TV. No couples therapy.
And then there was the Drinks Room where I could be found virtually every night for the first two or so rainy weeks hanging out with a small group of writers. I loved that there was a drinks room and I loved the Drinks Room. Dark-gold velvet upholstery, deep mahogany furniture, oil paintings hung salon-style, marble busts, a grand fireplace, and two heavy sliding doors that kept the noise inside. Heaven inside of heaven.
After a typical night of Scotches and talking about our lives for hours, I found myself in bed being kept awake by my buzzing, lit-up body. I was caught totally off guard. I couldn’t believe that I could possibly have been so oblivious as to miss the super-strong electrician who had snuck into the fuse box inside my body and heaved down on the handle, eliciting that unwriteable sound that is made when thirty million gazillion watts of energy are called into action. But as soon as they were on, I knew who the energy source was: the graying-hair writer from the Drinks Room group. Shocked by the light, I couldn’t find the fucking switch.
I didn’t love it that the next night, after dinner, I was excited to join the Energy Source on a walk down the Drama Drive, around the ponds, through the rose garden underneath the bright moon, aching to hold hands and make out. Instead I walked with my hands behind my back, each one holding the other from reaching out. Trying to fall asleep that night was worse than the night before. There is no way you could be sitting next to me in the dark and not notice my body glowing and vibrating. What is happening to me? I wondered. How did this happen? Why do I find this man so attractive? Am I really married? How dare I talk to him all night and lead him on, I asked/chastised myself. Now, Jennifer, Miss Holier-than-thou, you are now the unavailable, flirting, leading-him-on one that you learned to avoid so that you could find someone to love.
Wait, that’s a little presumptuous. How do you know he is being led on? Just because you had a few engrossing conversations and because he cleaned your glasses for you at the breakfast table? I shot back in my defense. I’m not a fucking idiot, thank you very much. He is obviously attracted to me, I told myself, stating what I assumed was the obvious.
Yes, maybe he is attracted to you but he knows you’re married. MARRIED. You are NOT responsible for his feelings. You don’t have to not have engrossing conversations with a fellow writer—which is one of the purposes of your visit here—just because you happen to find him attractive and are afraid you are leading him on. And furthermore even if you are leading him on—which I don’t think a few conversations constitutes—you don’t have to feel guilty that you aren’t kissing him as if you were a teenager afraid of being called a tease.
I can’t believe that you are actually feeling guilty about making yourself seem attractive even though you are unavailable. You can be an attractive, engrossing person, Jennifer, and not feel guilty about it. It’s okay, I said, trying to talk myself down.
Yes, but that’s not the problem. The problem is the buzzing and how to turn the buzzing off.
Maybe Jennifer, maybe you just have to be honest with him, I proposed.
Okay, I’ll contemplate this outrageous thought for a minute. What would an honest Jennifer say?
Tell him that you know that there is obviously some attraction between the two of you. Reassure him that, yes you do find him attractive and do love talking to him but you are married and you are sorry if you have spent too much time talking to him as if you are interested in kissing him because you aren’t, I offered.
No, no, no. I can’t assume that he wants me to kiss him, I can only say I feel attracted and am sorry but…. And then all of a sudden I knew what I had to do.
I turned over on my belly and thought certain thoughts, which led to other more graphic thoughts starring the Energy Source. It must have been precisely at the moment that I could no longer think any thoughts at all that the electrician re-entered my body and heaved off the switch because the next time I saw the Energy Source I was surprised/shocked to find him annoying. His voice was annoying, what he said was annoying, how he walked was annoying … everything about him annoyed me. Fuumph! The lights went off as quickly and as hard as they had gone on. Thank God I’d found the switch. I was free to go back to loving my husband.
Adapted from Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex: A Memoir.
Jennifer Lehr, the author of Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex: A Memoir (ReganBooks, 2004), is working on her new book, Why Have Kids?.