Adolescent Erotica



The truth about my life is in my memories. The facts from the past are frozen in my memory like exhibits in a museum. No one can change them except my memory itself. During the moments when it dusts them off, some other sound, scent, autumn light or forgotten phrase that has long since passed can crop up and then the memory’s truth grows fuller. Or the opposite: the exhibits that my memory rarely visits fade and shrink until they finally disappear, thus narrowing my past’s field of vision without me realizing it. But they are there, those facts condemned to oblivion, and they are surely part of the truth of my world, except that I can no longer call them up when I want to take that world in. And so the full truth slips away from me: the truth about my persona is always fuller than the truth I can tell. Yet I nevertheless possess the largest share of it – others know only separate, often disconnected parts, or, to use media jargon, others are poorly informed. This is why they interpret me incorrectly.

The facts which no one disputes are that my name is Vladimir Panov, that in 2011 I turned 65 and retired from my active career as an IT specialist – some even deigned to call me a computer genius – and that I live in Carmel, California, with my wife, Annie, who is thirteen years younger than I am. Yes, it’s the same Carmel where Clint Eastwood, my favorite American actor, has owned a home for the last forty years. Clint was even mayor here for years before Annie and I bought our house, which is actually outside the town itself: our address is 27984 Cabrillo Highway, south of Point Lobos Ranch. Carmel’s full name is Carmel by the Sea, which gives it a French charm – if it were on the Côte d’Azur, it would be Carmel sur Mer! – but whoever catches a glimpse of it remains forever captivated by the wild California beauty of its bleached cliffs, eternally pummeled by the waves; amidst the cliffs, hidden coves with crystal green-brown water alternate with white beaches. The first time we were here, Annie and I slept at one of the houses at Mission Ranch. That overnight stay played a fateful role in both of our lives – a memory that belongs to Annie and me alone. But to help you better interpret my life, I will try to tell you about what you don’t know. Annie will tell it her way, which will differ from mine in many of the crucial details. We will leave the interpretation to you.

After that romantic experience at Mission Ranch, there was no way we could resist buying a house in Carmel. But housing prices there – as could be fully expected – were astronomically high, between one and twelve million dollars. A dozen or so years ago, however, IBM, the company I had worked for since I immigrated to the United States in 1989, had included me on the team that was developing a new type of hardware for the US Defense Department, a commission that brought me a couple million. We immediately invested them in that miniature estate, precious because it was on the very shore of the ocean. In a strange coincidence, only a month later, in September of 1999, Annie’s father, a highly respected journalist from the San Francisco Chronicle, Mr. Aaron Weitz, suddenly passed away at the age of eighty and she inherited his house on the French half of the island of St. Martin in the eastern Caribbean. So we found ourselves the owners of two ocean-side homes. But I’m crazy about the sea, so we decided that instead of selling one (most probably the one in St. Martin), we would split our time between the bright Caribbean sun and the cypress-laden fog of the American Pacific Coast.

Our house had been built on a cliff amidst the pines and cypresses. From the second-story windows a small, sandy beach could be seen, which was used only by a handful of families nearby. Annie travelled frequently. She was director of IBM’s marketing department, which was headquartered in North Carolina, and despite the fact that she did most of her work from home over the Internet, her position required her to meet clients at various locations around the world, and sometimes to take part in on-site meetings. She had gone to law school at Princeton. Our son, Weston, who was born on June 18, 1993, is a freshman studying international relations at Stanford.

Annie was 32 when I met her; back then I was still living in Burlington, Vermont, not far from the Canadian border. It was the summer of 1991. Exactly two years before that in Bulgaria, my wife, who had M.S., had departed this world without leaving a trace. She didn’t want us to have children, because she was afraid of communism. She was a morose person, in despair over the lack of a future, she was constantly telling me that she felt like she was in the grave already. Her love for me was the only joyful element of her generally sad life. If I had left her, as I had wanted to several times, attracted to women with more cheerful attitudes, I would have been signing her death sentence. And surely I was born lucky, because she came down with a fatal illness – and its worst form, no less, the kind that kills you over the course of two or three years – and freed me from my moral scruples at an age when I was still attractive to women.

I submitted my documents to emigrate to Canada only a week after her funeral. I took advantage of a business trip to Belgrade to secretly stop by the Canadian Embassy and to fill out the forms, with almost no hope that it would amount to anything. Then I realized – even though it would have been the obvious solution to our existential problems – that I hadn’t wanted to leave Bulgaria with her. Our egotistical instincts work in unforeseeable ways, or rather, they work regardless of what we consider morally acceptable.

The Canadians had given me an appointment literally one week after November 10, 1989, the day when the communist dictatorship declared itself nonexistent. I can’t swear that I would’ve made it to the interview if that hadn’t happened; I wasn’t nursing any hopes and was letting things happen according to their own inertia. But the party-internal coup, absurd in its suddenness, created temporary chaos and I was able to go to Belgrade unimpeded. And so I became one of the first Bulgarians to receive a Canadian immigrant visa and at the end of December, I left my homeland forever.

I didn’t leave anything or anyone behind. I quit Bulgaria taking with me disgust devoid of grief. A word for being unappreciated by your own people hasn’t been thought up yet – it is unknown outside small, closed communist societies – but it is closest to bitterness; however, it lasts a lifetime. I started over from square one. The difference between me then and the adolescent, who twenty-four years earlier had stood at the foot of his future with his unrealistic hopes, lay only in my mastery of computers. And in my hopes. I had learned that the more realistic your hopes are, the more foreseeable the future is. But what happened to me could not be contained in any hopes, nor could it be foreseen.

Unlike most people of my generation, my sex life in Bulgaria hadn’t been chaotic. I didn’t use it to muffle the despair. My sexual energy went into reading books and thinking up unrealizable computer schemes. But I wanted to have children. However, just as communism blocked my creative path, my wife likewise put a stop to my natural fertility. I believe I have good genes. At eighteen, my son is a lot like me: raven-black hair, big, dark eyes, an aquiline nose, thick lips, long legs, a flat stomach and the nonchalant gait of a person who knows his worth. His mother, Annie, also has strong features, preserved from centuries of intermingling between Jews, Arabs and Turks in their eternal disputes over the lands around the Mediterranean Sea.

It is not an exaggeration to say that in Montreal, I felt like I was beginning my second life. As an adolescent – disoriented, but free to dream.  Especially about women. I suddenly discovered that I love women. I also realized that women were interested in me. But it is still difficult for me to say in the same way that these women loved men. The verb “love” contains so many meanings that I need to clarify what exactly I’m talking about. The sexual factor comes last. Interest in the personality is key. To my own surprise, yet gradually and permanently, this insight worked its way into my consciousness: women here are so independent that they are attracted to men because they are interested in them as people; and because of sex, of course, but not just because of sex, and also not because of some implicit subordination. Thus, sex naturally comes about as a result of this interest – at the end of a competition between equals. The women on this continent – professional women, I should make that clear – had no need for me to boost their self-confidence or to protect them. They would seduce me before I even realized that anything was going on. Life went by at a dizzying pace, and if I wanted to be in step with it, I needed to shake off my innate, oriental dreaminess.

I became terribly interested in this type of woman. They challenged me to rise to their level. My first boss was a woman. She hired me, she evaluated me – what’s more, she showed me what I was worth here, where the battle for talent is fierce. But in those years, the Canadian IT industry was stagnant, while the market for tech workers in its southern neighbor was simply swallowing up talented professionals. When I informed my boss that I had found a better-paying job with IBM and that I would be moving only 120 miles south, her reaction was a mixture of delight and disappointment. She was losing a top-flight expert, perhaps losing a good friend, but she also knew that I was too big for her small company and that my ideas could materialize only at firms with unlimited funding at their disposal. But she also sensed that if she didn’t try to keep me by offering a higher salary, one day she would reap the rewards. And that’s exactly what happened: two years later I convinced my bosses at IBM to contract with her company to produce the PC boards I was designing.

Perhaps you already think that I’ve strayed off topic. Not in the least. When I got settled in Montreal, I had two choices: to start visiting prostitutes or to look for a long-term partner. My status as a widower, which I didn’t hide, increased my allure. Being a free agent on the sexual market after suffering a tragedy – and I say sexual, because true love is not yet being sold, thank God, although it is consumed – swathes you in a melancholy that women, most of whom are sentimental, mistakenly take as a romantic halo. Like I said, I didn’t cheat on my wife, with whom I had good if monotonous sex. I don’t remember a single one of my sexual relationships before her that is worth mentioning. School-kid sex doesn’t count, since back then I was irrational, egoistical, and unattached. You could almost say that I was a virgin. But at that age, you couldn’t get over virginity by going to a whore house. Many of my middle-aged friends were like me – especially if they were married – but they would never admit it. This middle-aged male virginity is a combination of knowledge and naïveté or, if you will, speculation and ignorance. I could but I don’t do it. That is to say, I know what the others are doing and there’s no particular art to it, but I have chosen to be monogamous and I’m satisfied. The fatal mistake that we men make is that we aren’t interested in the evaluation of the sole witness to our sexual performance: the woman we are sleeping with. And this is heightened by the chamber quality of the sexual act: no one is watching us and there are no universally accepted standards – each one of us is a standard unto himself. In all the great novels – don’t forget: they were written by men – the love affair runs its course as if the man knows all the secrets of the sexual art. And that he never fails. In all onscreen love scenes from the time of shy cinema to today’s practically pornographic exhibitionism, it goes without saying that the kiss leads to the ultimate sexual experience.

If we were sufficiently intelligent – or honest with ourselves – to take an interest in what women think of our true performances in bed, we would realize that there, too, we are the weaker sex. Now, when I truly have serious sexual experience under my belt, acquired throughout the second half of my life, I can confirm that the only non-virgin men are those who have learned to master sexual performance through relationships with various women. I’m talking about relationships on the spiritual level, in which sex comes as a natural consequence. I think that Annie will shortly confirm what I’ve said. But I recall that between my thirtieth and fortieth years back in Bulgaria, I had become friends with a lunatic who fancied himself a writer and who managed to publish a few short novels. Forcible sex was their main topic. The female characters suffered from some implausible male brutality, from which there was no escape. The woman was depicted as an object, a rag, an animal that simply endured. These morally preposterous works, which were not wholly innocent, were praise for the brutal men who have been unscrupulously playing their games for centuries. In these games, women were property that exists in accordance with male desires. I myself was at the opposite extreme: I loved, respected, valued, worshipped beautiful women; I was shy around women, afraid of them. But I wanted to know and understand them.

It soon became clear to me that in order to find a steady partner… God, what a pompous phrase! Let me correct myself: It soon became clear to me that to find a special woman in this milieu that was so foreign to me, I needed to walk a middle path, to let the women in my field chase me while I learned to play by their rules. Now here’s where my looks will be to my advantage, I thought to myself. What I quickly learned, however, was that women were after my intellect. To them, my cock, my exquisite fingers and my long legs were merely a continuation of the thoughts which arose in my brain. And so as not to miss out on those thoughts – which were actually emotional metaphors about the world I had lived in – women began teaching me how please them even more during sex. When I submitted to them – and this came naturally to me, I just have an amenable personality – they immediately told me what they found lacking in my performance.

Before I met Annie, I had five relationships, each of which could have gone on for a long time: two with Francophone co-workers in Montreal and three with Americans. They were all erotic women, they experienced sex deeply and passionately. But not a single one of them knew how to fall in love. They made love with me, but didn’t fall in love. Or if they did, they never managed to make me come to love them. And that wasn’t because they were married or were in long-term relationships. On the contrary, three were quite ready to marry me; one of them even insisted on getting a divorce so we could be together. But I sensed that even though they had been my teachers in sex, I surpassed them in my readiness to love them. I didn’t ask myself where I had gotten my ability to love: enduringly, devotedly, to penetrate not only their flesh, but also their hearts, to create tranquility and coziness in their souls, to fuse with them in a way that simultaneously preserved their identities and joined them with me. They could not do this. They had no experience with it and did not strive towards it. Disappointed, I abandoned them.

What these five luxurious women had in common was that they were able to have sex and to find in sex that, which their female nature needed. And they really were luxurious. Montreal is a city of wealth and luxury, Boston and San Francisco are every bit its equal. I travelled between these cities for work and that’s how I met them; through them, I somehow naturally fell into a luxurious world, which was created from money without necessarily being padded by culture. Such luxury spoils you, it gives you the impression that you can get away with anything. As President Clinton later put it, during the Lewinsky Affair: you do it, that is, you give yourself over to sexual excess, because you can – in other words, you have power: thanks to politics or your money. In my case, it was thanks to my mind. And if I hadn’t been looking for a woman who would love me, I would’ve lived out my life in sexual satisfaction. Sex is easy – it can be learned. Love is hard – it requires natural talent. Besides, these women hadn’t met men who were looking for love, nor had they learned from their fathers that men are weak and vulnerable because they don’t want to admit how deep their need to be loved is.

The difference between them lay in how they experienced their pleasure. Not in their nakedness, the position, the passion, the eyes shut in abandon – but in the throats, with which they made various sounds. Not in the foreplay, nor in the gestures they used to show me how to take them to make them feel as if they were taking flight towards the climax – but in the final episodes, which lasted various lengths of time and during which they completely forgot about me. In that finale, their total self-oblivion passed through the larynx. That most sexual of the human sex organs showed women as they really were – without being controlled by the brain. The larynx is under the guardianship of the most conscious part of the brain and when it is freed from this tutelage, it sounds with all the passion the woman is capable of. It leaves nothing artificial, all the piled-up layers of culture disappear, that which we call moral decorum falls away. My girlfriend from Boston, for example, let out the quietest of whispers, while my second French lover from Montreal filled the space with a wide range of passionate melodies. The other Frenchwoman uttered phrases with dirty words in English and did not quiet down for a long time after she had reached her peak. The throaty moans of my last partner from San Francisco increased my arousal to the point where if I didn’t come immediately, I would have exploded from the inside – even if an earthquake were to bring the ceiling crashing down on our heads right at that moment.  No porn film has such a nuanced soundtrack of female erotica in the moments of her absolute abandon, while no one has even tried to recreate them in a romantic film. Prostitutes fake it. With bored women, it’s depressing. The passionless ones don’t even bother with the soundtrack. But it is a product and embodiment of intimacy. And when I say that these women made me a man capable of fully satisfying them, I mean nothing more or less than the fact that they let me observe them – and more importantly, to listen to them – during their most intimate experiences. I had earned their trust: I was open and unequivocal that I was going to bed with them not for my own pleasure, but for theirs.

By the way, I don’t mean to lecture you about sexual intimacy, but rather to tell you how I met Annie. The important thing is that I met her after those wonderful sexual girlfriends of mine had taught me how to treat them, how to squeeze the maximum pleasure out of loveless sex. It would be more accurate to say that I taught myself, since thanks to my intelligence I immediately realized that they wanted me to observe them; that is, to hold off on my own orgasm. They also observed me after that and told me whether I was good or if I had fallen short.

But I wanted to have children. I wanted to be with a woman who was so in love with me that she was able to love me as much as she would love the children we would create together. Did such a woman even exist, I asked myself, in this world of frenzied mobility? And if she does exist, how can I meet her? I went to my office every day, read through the news, looked over the company’s reports, focused on my project and forgot about women. I remembered them again when I saw them at cocktail parties or was on a business trip. My frustration grew. I didn’t want to grow old as a loner.

In the summer of 1991, I was sent to IBM’s administrative office in White Plains, New York. Things weren’t going well for the firm, major layoffs were in the works, they were looking for ways to revitalize the company’s business model. One morning I was reading the newspapers in my temporary office on Westchester Avenue – back then, the Internet didn’t yet exist, so where else could I get the news? However, I had the feeling that we were on the very cutting edge of the web’s creation – and my gaze fell on a small ad that struck me as unusual. I recall that it was a Saturday, the day I usually read the literary supplements. The ad was in The New York Review of Books, the highbrow magazine for intellectuals, in the personals section. Woman seeks man as sperm donor – followed by initials and a telephone number, with a California area code. Now, I can’t explain what exactly attracted me about that ad and why it struck me as unusual.

Artificial insemination was already an everyday thing in America: there were sperm and egg banks, a serious legal framework had been constructed to protect all participants in the process, who were nevertheless veiled by the necessary anonymity. I knew that young men earned pocket money by donating sperm, while female students from the most prestigious universities were offered hefty sums to donate eggs, which would allow them to live the college highlife for a whole semester. However, the A. W. in question seemed to want to meet the father of her potential future child. In any case, it was clear that she wanted to find him herself, without the usual institutions or agencies acting as middleman. The ad finished with: “Every attempt at direct contact that has not been arranged in advance will be reported to the police” – that seemed too threatening to me. Yet it also signaled the seriousness of the person who had placed the ad.

Until then, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I could be a sperm donor at forty-five. After reading that ad, however, precisely this was my first thought. My desire to have a child, or rather, my fear that I could end up without children, had made me subconsciously sensitive to everything related to the subject. I had been producing ideas and spermatozoa my whole life. My ideas materialized literally every day, but my sperm just went to waste: in sterile sex that assuaged my egoism and that of several beautiful women, but did not leave anything in its wake. I was sure that in my memory, my sexual recollections would fade just as flowers wilt in a vase, even if their water is changed every day. A child born into the world would not be like the intimacy of the sexual act, which was jealously guarded from prying eyes, it would not be like an orgasm known only to me and my partner, unshared with society – a secret, which everyone rushes to experience as often as possible, yet also a secret, which no one rushes to tell to everyone else. A living child would be part of the cycle of nature, the most wonderful way for me to communicate with people, a negation of my innate egoism. Yet this ad – at first glance, at least – seemed to uphold the social taboo: if I became a sperm donor, nobody would know that I was the father, not even I myself. The unusual thing was that the woman who had placed the ad wanted to meet the donor – who by law should be anonymous – in person. It wasn’t clear how this meeting would take place and how anonymity would be preserved.

You can already guess that since I am going on at such length about this ad, I dialed the phone number and arranged to meet the woman. Yes, the voice on the other end of the line was female, but that couldn’t be A.W.’s voice, could it? It was a very polite female voice, which, like in a detective novel, asked me my name, address and place of work, and, after a pause, during which the scanty biographical data which I had given were most likely written down, gave me an appointment on the mezzanine level at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in Union Square in San Francisco. They served afternoon tea there, the voice told me, and at four o’ clock sharp, I was to sit down at a table at the southern end of the mezzanine and to order green Chinese tea and almond cake. I knew the hotel, I had stayed there on previous business trips, A.W. clearly had luxurious taste. I chose the date of the meeting, because I wanted to combine it with a business trip to Palo Alto in the very heart of Silicon Valley.

And so, on a melancholy afternoon in July at around 3:40, I sat down on the mezzanine level of the Westin St. Francis Hotel and ordered green Chinese tea and almond cake. The California light had receded to the west and the space, with its high ceilings, looked milky gray, with yellow splotches cast by the lamps between the tables. I don’t know why, but in my memory the sun nevertheless lights up the space and the decorative plants cast colorful shadows on the tables. That’s surely how I want it to be, since the sunnier a memory is, the more melancholy it calls forth. But that would have been impossible at four in the afternoon, because the hotel’s windows look to the east, towards Union Square.

The waitress brought the tea and cake on a porcelain service and arranged the cup, tea pot, and plates on the snow-white tablecloth: the tea came with petit fours and little fruit tarts, as well as an exquisite bowl of tropical fruits.  The tea was done steeping precisely at four o’ clock and I filled the cup in front of me halfway. Most of the nearby tables were occupied by elderly people, I was the only one alone. No one crossed the lobby except for the waitresses. My curiosity was growing. I wouldn’t say that my uneasiness was growing along with it, even though one corner of my mind suspected that all of this might be a scam. By 4:15, I had drunk my tea with part of the petit fours and had eaten the fruit: I was saving the cake for last. Two women whom I hadn’t noticed until then got up from the neighboring table and headed towards the reception desk. They didn’t look like typical guests, that is, they looked like intellectuals, but dressed too elegantly. I was able to fleetingly determine that one of them was very beautiful – again in an atypical way: she had thick black hair, unlike most beautiful American women, who are blond. At 4:25 a girl dressed in the hotel uniform came up to me and left a small folder on the table. “This was left for you, sir,” she said with the completely polite and noncommittal smile so symbolic of American service. In the folder, there was a piece of official hotel letterhead, upon which a female hand had written: “Dear Mr. Panov, you are an attractive man. Your rapid ascent within the computer industry also leads us to believe that you are highly intelligent. We are not interested in your character – the fact that you have no criminal inclinations or confirmed tendencies towards alcoholism is enough for us. A man’s character is the most unforeseeable thing and, according to the latest genetic research, how personality is inherited is a result of many accidental events and unknown factors. However, the fact that you come from distant genetic stock increases the chances of our child being gifted. Mr. Panov, your appearance at the meeting we had arranged leads me to believe that you are willing to become the anonymous father of our future child. You have been selected from seventeen candidates, whom, after 150 phone calls in response to the ad, we had chosen according to our own criteria. We request that you make a decision immediately and, if it is affirmative, set the folder on the table before leaving the hotel; we will call to inform you of the location of the first sperm donation appointment. If it is negative, return the folder to reception. Thank you.”

There was no signature. We, our? This was either some cult that wanted to blackmail me, or it was a lesbian couple looking for a father for their child. Or perhaps the use of the plural was some code or tactic to mislead me. Perhaps the woman had undertaken all of this without her husband’s knowledge and wanted to keep it veiled in mystery, so that her true identity would remain well-hidden. Or else the husband was some pervert who was in on the plan and who wanted to play the voyeur as I stood in for him in bed, since he wasn’t able to impregnate her.  The rational, almost clinical tone of the letter – without necessarily being cold – indicated serious intentions. Yet it also warned against any sort of emotional expectations. I had too little information to make a decision, whatever it might be. If I agreed, the risks looked enormous. Was the payoff worth it? And the payoff would be getting to know a pretty woman – I can’t explain why I necessarily assumed she was pretty, but I had no doubt whatsoever that she would be pretty – and to convince her to deliver me from anonymity, if I became the father of her child. If I refused, I might be missing some chance to have a child offered to me by destiny. Until that moment, I had almost lost hope that I would find a woman who would bear our child out of love.

I slowly finished my cake, called over the waitress to pay my bill, left a large tip and got up. I set the folder on the table, next to the porcelain tea service. While I had been savoring the sweetness and aroma of that slice of culinary art on my plate, I had decided that my character was sufficiently adventurous – I had moved here from the other side of the globe, after all – so as not to fear a mysterious sexual experience, whose end could not be foreseen.

A week went by and no one called. Impatient, I called the telephone number in the ad, but it had been disconnected. From my room on the top floor of the Fairmount Hotel, the whole, matchless bay could be seen, along with Alcatraz Island and the two bridges. In the evenings after work, I would sit by the window and stare at this magical landscape, as if expecting some solution to the mystery I had agreed to take part in to crop up out of it. Instead of forgetting, of dismissing everything as a figment of some sick imagination, my curiosity grew ever stronger. Perhaps this is what the people from the ad were after. I was no longer thinking of one woman, but about the people who wanted to ensnare me in their incurable suffering. One morning during the second week of my insistent waiting, an envelope was shoved under the door of my room: I saw it as I was going to the bathroom to shave. There was a yellow piece of paper inside, upon which was written: “4 p.m., August 8, the Lodge at Tiburon, Room 207, knock three times.”

August 8 was a Wednesday, while the letter had been slipped under the door during the night on Sunday. I had three days to prepare. Tiburon was one of the luxurious small towns in Marin Country, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, populated by rich people with imagination and artistic flair. Destiny was somehow leading me far from the heart of America, forcing me into territory where the human condition was inseparable from fabulous wealth and thus indefinable from a moral point of view. That kind of money wore down indoctrinated morality to the breaking point, a person is free – in the sense of challenged – to solve moral dilemmas all on his own, without the guiding hand of a definite system of morality. I believe that this is tremendous trial: for everything to be permitted and to have to impose the necessary moral taboos yourself.

On Tuesday, I rented a car, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and slowly drove through the small streets of Tiburon. The silhouette of San Francisco quivered beneath the gleaming sun to the south, the sailboats were moored in the small marina, the waterfront tables were filled with locals, life was passing as it does everywhere in the world where the red roofs of houses rise on the hills and cliffs along the bluish-green water, immersed in the greenery of aged trees; the only difference was my knowledge that the people who lived in those houses and ate at the cozy little restaurants had unlimited sums of money at their disposal and could buy the world if they so desired. Not literally. But they could buy its moral systems, just as they bought old paintings and locked them away in their houses far from the gazes of the millions who could have admired them in museums for a pittance.

What was lying in wait for me amidst this beauty? Would my trial be moral or sexual? Or both? The hotel was slightly outside the city, on Tiburon Boulevard, clearly deliberately chosen so as to be hidden from curious gazes. I liked that its front façade was half-covered with old vines, from which hung huge bunches of ripening grapes.

Early Wednesday morning, I took the ferryboat from Pier 41 in San Francisco. I reached the hotel on foot. At four o’ clock sharp – these people certainly loved the number four – I knocked on the door of Room 207 three times. The door opened. In front of me stood a thirtyish woman of average height, with thick, dark hair, dressed in cream-colored linen slacks which erotically emphasized the folds between her lovely flat stomach and shapely thighs.

“Come in,” she said, without smiling. Her eyes were almond-shaped, but not vapidly pretty, they watched me with a deep intelligence that barely managed to conceal the woman’s uneasiness. They were accentuated with eyeliner, her lashes were covered with mascara, between them her snub nose betrayed something child-like that had been conquered by knowledge and culture, but which had nevertheless preserved its propensity towards fantasies and adventures. Her mouth, however, precisely outlined with bright lipstick, was that part of the face that immediately gave away her interest in the sexual. Her hair fell on her shoulders, whose graceful line was accentuated by the straps of a black tank top, with no bra underneath.

“Thank you. My name is Vladimir. Vladimir Panov,” I said with a smile and stepped into the room.

“I know,” she said. “Thank you for coming.”

“Everything was so mysterious,” I said, sitting down in the classic hotel armchair near the window. “Do you care that I’m from Bulgaria?”

“No. The only thing I care about is you getting your job done,” she said with exaggerated seriousness.

“Are you A.W.?”

“Do you really need to know?”

“I would like to at least know your name if I’m going to sleep with you. But if that puts you out, I will content myself with at least being sure that you are the woman from the ad who led me to this hotel.”

“Rest assured, the ad was not a scam,” she said, avoiding my eyes.

“Why did you pick today exactly?”

“According to my temperature curve, I am ovulating and that means I have the best chance of getting pregnant.” Perhaps I was imagining things, but the woman was trying to hide some sort of uneasiness, perhaps shame, even, by trying to use neutral language. I was looking her in the eye the whole time and at one moment I caught a spark of interest in my physical presence, which was discordant with her even tone and the impersonal information she was imparting to me.

“And why do you want to get pregnant?” I asked the stupidest possible question.

“That’s not your concern. If need be, I’ll pay for your services. Until now, the question of money hasn’t come up, or at least you didn’t bother to ask. But I am willing to pay as much as you say.” This question caught me off guard. It reminded me that I hadn’t grown up in America.

“Shall I get undressed?” I replied to put an end to the conversation which was starting to make us both feel awkward. It was clear that as individuals, we were far more complex than the way in which we were forced to discuss the reason we found ourselves together in this accidental motel room.

Without answering, she sat down on the bed and began taking off her clothes with her back to me. I also began undressing. I still did not feel any excitement. She lay down and covered herself with the sheet that had been stretched out perfectly by the maid, almost to the point of tearing. Before that, I had never lain down with a woman without a kiss. Or without helping her get undressed. I slipped under the sheet on the other side of her and touched her shoulder. She was lying on her back, with her head turned away, not trying to look at me. Her skin was cold, yet it burned me, because I felt my erection and, so as not to miss the right moment, without waiting any longer I moved on top of her half-closed legs.  Penetration seemed impossible, as she was moaning in pain. I saw that she was reaching out towards the nightstand, where there was a jar of lubricant. She opened the cap, took some with her fingers and began rubbing it on herself to make it easier for me. But she did not attempt to apply it to me, which would have solved the problem far more quickly. Guiding myself with my hand, I penetrated the vagina, which was resisting with all of its physiology, and began moving rhythmically. No sound came out of her mouth, her eyes remained closed, the sexual act was being committed with one-hundred percent of the violence inherent in it and which lovers hide behind gentleness, attentiveness and throaty sounds of joyful pleasure: the woman was experiencing the pain of her inviolability being destroyed, while I pushed ever further inside her with growing force and frequency, as if wanting to punish her for the fact that she existed and was making me sweat so as to fulfill her desire to be forced. But this time, she was not expecting my efforts to give her pleasure – the reward for the pain suffered. She hated pleasure. The phallus repulsed her, because it was an organ of violence. She was sacrificing herself, submitting to the phallus-hammer in order to create life. And this instinct within her was stronger than the pain, than the revulsion, than the ingrained cultural norms and moral prejudices.

I finally came and got up out of my side of the bed. I felt that disgust with myself that usually seizes me after masturbation. She piled all the pillows under her legs and kept lying there, without paying me any attention. I took a shower, got dressed and left the room.

One morning after about a month, during which I had done everything possible to erase the incident from my memory, I found a message left on the answering machine in my office in Burlington, Vermont: “Mr. Panov, we need to meet again: Wednesday, same place, same time.”

I can see that while I’m telling this whole story, Annie is smiling. Her very presence here, at this session, gives away my story’s happy ending. And I’ll soon let her have the floor, so she can tell you her own experiences as they have been preserved by her memory. But my goal is to tell things exactly as I remember them, so that you can experience the mystery of that loveless conception, just as I experienced it. Annie and I were invited to speak in front of your group therapy session because we agreed to talk in detail about our sexual experience in an unusual situation. In this way, you would be able to reflect on the limitations both of our sexual arsenal, as well as our memory. But also on their enormous potential, which sometimes remains unused, since people don’t pay them enough attention. We won’t be answering questions, however. We are not experts who can offer you some scientifically proven truths. I am sure that no such truths exist. Our task is to give rise to questions within you, whose answers you can search for by yourselves within you own lives.

The moment I heard the message, I realized that I had been expecting it. And if I hadn’t gotten it, I would have been disappointed my whole life. Not so much because of the sexual thrill it immediately evoked in me, but rather because of the possibility it offered to reach the bottom of the mystery with which A.W. had turned my more or less well-controlled life upside down. Without that phone call, I would never have known if I had become a father. I would never have found out what had made that woman sleep with an unknown man, an immigrant at that, from a country which no one here knew anything about except its name. At the same time, I was also fearing the call. The woman was pretty – the memory of her body was pleasant. But the thought of once again experiencing her indifference – of feeling like a patient in a sterilized surgical chamber – horrified me.

My first reaction was to not respond to the message. In any case, I would have to buy a plane ticket to San Francisco, reserve a hotel room, and take two or three days off work. But then I got to thinking that the woman deserved a humane response. She had suffered through the first terrible incident as much as I had, perhaps it was even more traumatic for her; she had subjected herself to shame and degradation in a human encounter, which had been brought about and necessarily played out sterilely, despite the fact that insemination was its goal. She had suffered pain, while I had at least had a moment of pleasure. As often happens, the man had a painless means at his disposal that was categorically denied to the woman. The stakes for her were much higher than for me. I would once again ejaculate my spermatozoa, shake everything off, wash up and disappear out of her existence, while she would be left in a constant state of anxious anticipation of whether the longed-for child had been created or not.  What made this act different from rape? Only the fact that it was initiated by the woman, and not by some sexual psychopath, and that the child was wanted.

And then I was curious: what kind of woman would seek out a strange man to father her child? There were plenty of agencies and clinics for homosexual women which used anonymous sperm donors and where fertilization took place in a test-tube under highly controlled conditions.

I bought a ticket to San Francisco for the first Tuesday in September, on Wednesday I went to Tiburon and knocked on the door of Room 207 at the Lodge at Tiburon, the woman answered, we got undressed and the sex was almost an exact repetition of what had happened a month earlier. I had no right to ask questions, and no right to request a different kind of meeting.

The same scenario repeated itself in October, November and December. There was one difference, however, that gradually began drumming its way into my consciousness. After each meeting, I liked the woman more and more. In November, I decided to bring sandwiches and beer, but she refused to sit at the table with me after the latest attempt at insemination and I ate the sandwiches that evening in my hotel room in San Francisco. In December, I bought flowers and a bottle of wine. She smiled when she saw what I had brought, but she didn’t want to talk after the brutal sex. I left the flowers and the wine and she didn’t call after me from the door to tell me to take them away. In the days between our meetings I thought about her, about her wonderful breasts, which I had looked at beneath me while I was laboring over our task – yet so far, all my labor had been in vain – about her sensual lips, which I had been forbidden to kiss, about the intelligence in her eyes, which was forbidden from participating in our practically animalistic relations. I say this last thing not to emphasize some baseness or cruelty on her part, but because – if you’ve noticed – animals mate in total silence.     There was no message in January. Nor February, nor March… The more months that passed, the more my hope dwindled that I was ever to see the woman again and find out the gender of the child she had likely conceived from me. On the one hand, I felt natural satisfaction that I had fulfilled my role, while on the other, my regret grew over our unrealized relationship. For a long time, I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but it was as if I had fallen in love with that woman, whom I knew nothing about, other than that she was beautiful. Instead of fading, my memory of her body grew ever more insistent. My sense of guilt over subjecting her to violence also increased – it made no difference that the violence had been desired and provoked by her coldness. What prevented her from acting normal? I wondered to myself. I didn’t exactly know what normal was, but I imagined that if she had expressed even a minimal dose of interest in the sexual act, she would have arrived at the same result, perhaps even more easily: she would have a child in her womb, and I would disappear out of her life. Now, however, I wanted to stay in her life. I hadn’t been rejected by her like some unwanted lover, in some sense I had even been desired, but I felt like someone yearning for the forbidden fruit. Over time, she became a mirage I could never manage to reach and this made my heart ache ever more painfully. A sure sign that A.W. was lodged in the most sensitive zones of my character was the fact that as early as autumn, I had broken off my relationship with a sweet Californian, the most erotic woman I had ever met until then. It’s unclear to me why a person sometimes punishes himself by depriving himself of love. But I took my punishment philosophically, as a sign of inescapable loyalty to love – because in my case, the love object was absent, so I couldn’t be loyal to the object itself. Cheating is the classic cause of romantic drama; in my case, I had no woman to be faithful to, yet despite that, my growing feelings for her stopped me from having sexual encounters with other women. In this respect, I contradicted my zodiac sign, Gemini, because I wasn’t showing the duplicity inherent in people with that sign.  It was as if some invisible force was making me act contrary to my own nature. It would be frivolous to breezily call this force “destiny,” because in my opinion, destiny is something we judge as much as we can from the facts of our past and for that reason its outlines are to a certain extent unforeseeable. Or at least that’s what we imagine. It was a matter of an invisible force, which seemed to be binding me to that woman without me even knowing her and without knowing the force itself: was it a sexual, emotional, or intellectual force? When I wasn’t thinking about her and instead peered candidly within myself, my state could not be described as anything other than being in love.

The spring of 1992 blossomed and changed to summer, then summer began to ripen and grow heavy, the end of August came with its yellow hues portending autumn, my love was developing along its invisible pathways within me: a lonely, unsatisfied, melancholy love, prepared to wait forever, it seemed. And then, at the most unexpected moment, when all of my defenses were down, a female voice left a message on my answering machine. Even now I can’t explain how they always managed to call when I was out of the office. The voice was different from the one which had arranged my meetings the previous year. But it was highly reminiscent of the woman whom I had slept with at the Lodge at Tiburon. The message, in an unmistakable Californian accent, was as follows: “Mr. Panov… [pause] Vladimir [a long pause]… I am A.W… Annie Weitz. Perhaps you remember me. I didn’t manage to get pregnant from our meetings. I fell into a serious depression and had to see my therapist quite frequently. Now I’m doing relatively well. I’m wondering whether it would be extremely pushy to ask you for yet another meeting, this time in Mission Ranch near Carmel. If you are free over Labor Day weekend, call 415-621-4114 and leave a message. I suggest we meet Saturday, September 5, in room… [pause] it’s an accidental coincidence, this is the room they gave me… [there was a smile in her voice] in room 207 in the Farm House, around four o’ clock.”



            Vladimir had reserved a luxurious suite at the distant Bunkhouse, which dated back to 1850. Mission Ranch was an old ranch which Clint Eastwood had transformed into a 22-acre estate featuring old buildings refurbished as boutique hotels in the 1980s. When I was little, my father had taken me there, it’s a little ways inland from the ocean, about a ten-minute drive from the beach, but with fantastic views, which is why I chose it for our meeting. At that time, the ranch was still a private club with a lot more land, which had been transformed into meadows, even though originally, in the mid-nineteenth century, and for a long time after the end of World War II, the ranch had produced butter and cheese for the population of the Monterey Peninsula. The buildings are kitschy inside, but during the summer the outdoor spaces smell of horses and hay, while the breeze carries the unmistakable, dizzying scent of the ocean. I was born and grew up in Santa Cruz, but by that time I had been living in San Francisco for thirteen years already. My father had taught me to sail, to fish, to dive into the deep – it wasn’t called scuba-diving yet back then – in short, he made me a child of the sea. But more about my father later.

There was something about Vladimir that reminded me of Mission Ranch: I started thinking that he would feel good there. Tiburon wasn’t his style. The motel made him anxious. I made him anxious – although surely I was more anxious than he was. Tiburon was too urban, while there was some kind of freeness about this man that made him akin to the solitude of the ocean.

For years thereafter, we loved to reminisce about our experience at Mission Ranch – more distant every time, yet more vivid. I’ll never forget how I saw Vladimir on the lawn in front of the Bunkhouse. I had arrived from San Francisco in my BMW in the early afternoon and, while slowly circling the ranch’s houses in my car, I caught sight of him sitting in a chaise-longue and taking a sip from a glass which he had set on the little table next to him. Later he told me – you remember where, right, Vladimir? – that he had made himself Turkish coffee in a special cezve he had bought in Istanbul, and drank it from a porcelain cup with cookies, exactly as he remembered his grandmother drinking it in the afternoon with her friends in their yard in his Black Sea city. She would let him dip the cookies in, but not drink the coffee itself, and the combination of bitter coffee with sweet cookie infused by the coffee became forever his most intimate means of experiencing utter happiness no matter where he found himself in the world. Until this very day, every Saturday or Sunday Vladimir makes himself strong Turkish coffee in that cezve and drinks it on the terrace of our house overlooking Gibson Beach, a horseshoe of golden sand on the southern end of Point Lobos.

He didn’t recognize me in the car, so I hurried to park in front of the Farm House. I went up to the room on the second floor, took a bath, and waited for it to be four. Such periods of waiting have often been described, especially by men, who always imagine that the woman is waiting with baited breath, her heart racing and her thighs spread – so I’ll skip over mine. The only thing worth mentioning is that I had staked everything on our upcoming meeting, but despite this, I was calm. Without being cold. I simply waited for the time to pass, I had confirmed with my own eyes that he was there and that he had even done something unforeseen: instead of arriving from Carmel or from even further away, say, San Francisco, only for the meeting itself, he had reserved a room in the very place where he didn’t know what awaited him.

There is one thing for sure that he didn’t know: that the woman awaiting him had never felt the desire to sleep in a bed with a man until then. Except for one, which was taboo, however: my father. But that was a child’s desire, which was erotic only insofar as in adolescence what is unknown about sex is experienced as arousal without expectations of release.

My father was an amazing person. And a terrible one at the same time. My mother was his second wife out of five total. The first four bore him one daughter apiece, but he didn’t remain on good terms with any one of us. Finally, when he was fifty-five – I was fifteen at the time – he found a young lady, I think she was twenty-five at the time, who wrapped him around her little finger; whenever I was with the two of them, he would gaze into her eyes and wait on her like a faithful servant.  But still, even she could not restrain his urge to sleep with every woman who struck his fancy. He died on top of the mulatto girl who took care of their house in St. Martin while his wife was at the market. He was eighty, he had never been sick, his prostate wasn’t even enlarged. I remember that during my last visit, three months or so before he died, he bragged to me that when he pissed, his stream was still as strong as a horse’s.

The wonderful thing about such a father is that when I was a child, he showered me with attention as if I was the only girl in his life. The repulsive thing is that when I started getting breasts and pubic hair, he ceased to notice me. This person, my father, either feared incest like the devil fears incense or had gotten it into his head that once a girl reached puberty, she could take care of everything on her own and had no more need for fatherly love. I don’t discount the possibility that his wives, and even his lovers, may have been jealous of his daughters. His looks were irresistible: he exuded absolute virility without being handsome, and that’s something that can’t be described. It has to be inhaled and swallowed by the eyes; under his gaze, every woman felt desired and was instantly ready to go to bed with him. I know women, who, in his presence – he would interview them for the newspaper and make sport of their embracing feminist ideology – forgot what they preached and, subjugated by forces more powerful than the brain, undressed themselves in their bedrooms breathless, powerless, ashamed, and in the end, after the orgasmic shrieks, disgusted with themselves. My father never took advantage of his intimate knowledge of them. And this was again part of his natural virility – the part that manifested itself as intellectual loyalty.

He liked to tell the story of how, when I was a baby, he would hold me in his arms and kiss me, change my diapers, smear diaper cream on my bottom, and give me milk from a bottle. My first memory is of him setting me on a pony and leading me through the forest near our house. Hundreds of other memories of picnics, of us swimming in the ocean, hiding from the rain under some random eaves or simply beneath the branches of the giant redwoods, him walking me to the school bus or picking me up from school in his Buick, hundreds of memories of a happy childhood, from which my mother was practically absent. In fact, she really was gone after my fifth birthday, when they split up and I stayed with him and his new wife. My older sister lived with her mother – I only met her later. Nothing changed for me then. My father had taken care of me from the start, more than my mother, an arrogant beauty of Dutch descent, of whose presence I remember only the scent of her perfume and the shoe collection that filled up a whole closet of our house in Santa Cruz.

My father’s third wife was a Jewish woman, she had a little girl when I was ten years old, but I don’t recall my father splitting his attention between me and his newborn daughter. He continued courting me – that’s the exact word, when I look back from my present viewpoint – and in any case, his wife left him a year after the baby was born and took my younger sister with her. I would come to know her later as well, only when I was in college. After that, Aaron got one of his mistresses pregnant and had to marry her to avoid a public scandal. This fourth wife turned out to be even more short-lived than all her predecessors, since he managed to divorce her after only a year and a half. She took her daughter with her, and to this day I have yet to meet her.

I gradually began to realize the significance of all these facts as I was growing up. I think they explain quite unambiguously why my admiration for Aaron began to be mixed with revulsion. And while my admiration was directed at him personally, my revulsion spread to all men. Likewise, he managed to make every one of his lovers and wives feel adored, while he, in fact, felt a deep contempt towards women. In this respect, an analogy can be drawn between womanizers like him and the daughters who grow up with such fathers: in both cases, the attitude towards the opposite sex is a strange, juicy mix of admiration and revulsion. Strong men are constantly unsatisfied by women and their sex drive forces them to seek out ever newer partners, as if that will help them get to the bottom of the enigma of the feminine influence that holds sway over them. Strong women, conversely, refuse to expect satisfaction from men, realizing that they will not be understood, and thus they look for love among the own kind, again perhaps to understand themselves better. However, all strength contains weakness within itself. And if you ask me, the weakness of both men and women lies in the fact that they project their personal experience with specific individuals onto the entire gender which these individuals seem to embody within their imaginations.

I take after my father. This is the reason I am simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by him. It’s like having a doppelganger to a certain extent: you love him when you discover within him your own good qualities, and you hate him when you see him revealing the same faults you have. But since he is a man, while I’m a woman – even as a child, I have always had feminine reactions – the sexual attraction, whether subconscious or not, sharpened the liking or hating to the point of an irresolvable conflict, which, however, remained hidden both from those around me, as well as from my own self, at least during the crucial and ongoing periods of our interaction. Anytime sex is involved, things get out of control. They become mundane. And in mundane, everyday life, unexpected surprises greatly outnumber the foreseeable events. And they are far more traumatizing. As I see it, it was exactly one such mundane, completely banal yet outrageous event that turned out to be fatal for my relationship with Aaron, but it was even more fatal for my life.

For the first seven years of my life, I loved seeing my father, kissing him, snuggling up to him, letting him spoil me, doing everything I could to keep his attention. And he submitted to this. There was something romantic between us, even though I was a young child and he was a solid, middle-aged man. He never did anything to make me suspect that he was anything more than just my father—the fact is that I came up with all these arguments and evaluations much later and no one can guarantee their absolute truthfulness. In any case, I’m not interested in psychobabble disguised as psychoanalytic theory, which says that children block unpleasant early childhood experiences out of their memory. For that reason I haven’t undergone so-called deep therapy and nothing in my memory has led me to suspect some past event that might seem even marginally perverse. I fully believe that my father was a completely normal person, with a healthy, albeit excessive, interest in sexually mature women. There was never any sexual molestation, absolutely no hint of incest. What I’m interested is how my psyche took shape, what I felt towards him, regardless of the fact that his behavior as an adult who was fully conscious of the sexual shades of father-daughter relations must have pointed me in one direction or another. I was in love with him like a child until the moment it happened.

It was a winter day and they closed my school down some time around noon. They called all the parents, but they didn’t manage to reach my father. The principal’s solution was to put me on the bus along with all the other kids – something that had never happened before: my father always came to pick me up after school in the afternoon.  The bus driver walked me to the door of our house, the front door was open and I went inside without ringing the bell. I remember going upstairs to the second floor, simultaneously frightened and attracted by unfamiliar sounds. I hadn’t expected anyone to be home. The door to my parents’ bedroom was slightly ajar and I peeked through the crack. My father was naked, he had mounted some woman such that his legs were wrapped around the outside of her thighs, and he was rocking back and forth as if riding a horse at a trot. The sounds were coming from the woman’s throat – I only understood their meaning ten years later – and they were strident and breathless; I thought she was choking and that my father was tormenting her. Paralyzed like every child at the sight of something she doesn’t understand but finds terrible, I kept watching until the woman let out a deafening scream and my father got off her and stood up. By chance, I caught him in profile from my vantage point and I saw his penis: enormous, or at least that’s how it seemed to me then, but even now it still seems to me that it was disproportionately large for his five-and-half-foot height, ugly and threatening, yet at the same time helpless and vulnerable, spattered with blood and feces, a piece of disgust-inspiring hose stretched out perpendicularly beneath his belly. Even now, when I see it in my mind, I shudder in revulsion. He leaned over the woman, who was lying on her side on the bed and began caressing her gently. At that moment, I finally snapped out of my stupor and quietly went to my room. I don’t remember how and when he found me lying on my bed, but I was partially comforted by the fact that he showed no signs of having realized what his seven-year-old daughter had seen. And so Aaron continued treating me like his beloved daughter and, actually, I’m revealing this memory for the first time in my life right here before you. I haven’t even shared it with Vladimir, because from the very beginning he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the details of my homosexual past.

I can’t gauge how that mundane incident affected my sexuality, a stranger would be able to gauge it even less, no matter how much experience they might have with manifestations of the human psyche. I’m describing it in detail so that there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that there was a traumatic turning point in my life, and from that moment on my disgust with my father began struggling within my soul with my admiration of him. His penis was the image that I could not get out of mind, even though it faded with the years. But there were no answers to most of the questions in my childish little head. Why was he so gentle with that woman – gentler than he was towards me, his own daughter? Yet why had he violated her with that ugly weapon at the same time? Why was she not resisting the violence, but instead crying out in pleasure? Despite the fact that at seven, I couldn’t differentiate screams of terror from cries of pleasure, I can hear that scream in my memory – thanks to later experience – as a categorical cry for orgasm, which every woman insistently desires. Why hadn’t he ever tried to force me with that weapon? Would I have cried out, too? And if so, how: in terror or in pleasure? How did I think to hide the fact that I had seen him in such a hideous state? But why should it be hideous!

I was a smart girl, but that turned out not to be enough to understand many things outside and inside myself. And there was no one to turn to for help. My father continued taking care of me, but he didn’t give me any guidance – I was free and protected, but left on autopilot. Women came and went, I had girlfriends, but for some unclear reason I quit playing with boys. And when the spring of puberty blossomed in my body, and along with that my father stopped kissing me, holding me in his arms or helping me get changed before bed, some vague hatred seized me every time one of the boys in my class or some man on the street looked me over. One evening, while saying goodbye to my best friend, I kissed her on the lips and unexpectedly realized that I was wet and that I wanted the kiss to continue. The next day I made her kiss me for a long time. And that’s how everything started.  I can’t remember how old I was, somewhere around 13 or 14. It was so easy for us to excite each other and to talk about how repulsive the boys were in their bristling stickiness. In high school and later in college, I slept with lots of girls: some of them stayed lesbians, other came around to liking men and got married. A hackneyed story. And because I was a woman, society wasn’t interested in my homosexuality, since no one suspected it; in any case, I didn’t wave it around like a political banner. On the contrary, I was sexy and lots of men hit on me. But I had already become an intellectual and I easily found excuses to turn them down, citing work, career plans, and other such things. There were surely suspicious rumors about me, since not a single man could brag that he’d slept with me. You know that that is one of men’s favorite pastimes. They want to sleep with lots of women, almost as if only to be able to strut around for one another afterwards. I had not crushed a single man by belittling his sexual potency. For that reason, I didn’t have any male enemies. Virility began to interest me devoid of its sexual aspect – the very thing which is most important for men themselves, as we know. And it has not ceased to intrigue me to this day. Because I don’t have it and I can’t replace it with anything.

My father, for example, was very virile, because he was a good person and everyone felt safe with him. OK, make that everyone who wasn’t a beautiful woman doomed to be invited into his bed. I can only imagine how satisfied he must have been when, after their orgasms, his women gushed about how good he was. He died without my knowing whether he ever realized that his virility was not contained in his big cock. Ever since I became a woman, he never once asked me why I didn’t have a boyfriend. He surely must have wanted to ask. Our relationship continued to be good, without being particularly deep. But I couldn’t take advantage of his virility. For one, he didn’t consider me a woman towards whom he could feel any particular interest: for that, the woman had to pique his sexual appetite. And the other thing was that my life was rolling along happily and I didn’t need to burden him with my problems. And my life really was rolling along happily, because in my last year of college I met a girl whom I fell in love with. This girl’s story was similar to mine: a manly, promiscuous father, insufficient motherly affection, some spontaneous loathing of boys her age and early sexual experimentation with girlfriends. She fell in love with me, too. We both decided to continue our education at Stanford, we lived together in a pleasant apartment in Palo Alto and imperceptibly became a couple. We didn’t care whether we could get married or not. Our sex life was fantastic – neither one of us tried to dominate the other, that is, to play the man. After living with Vlado, it’s hard for me to say that I really had true orgasms with her. But that doesn’t matter, because what I experienced in those moments of caresses and exhilaration was enough for me. I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that the same held true for her. We constantly explored our skin, seeking out our pleasure zones. The most important thing of all was that I didn’t act as if her satisfaction depended on how good I was in bed, nor did she. The opposite was also true: her sexual satisfaction was not grounds for me to think that I was some sort of sexual superhero. If our libido sometimes flagged, we chalked it up to problems in the outside world, but she never thought for a second that she was a poor sexual partner – unfeminine, so to speak – if I remained unsatisfied on any given day.

I didn’t tell my father for a long time. I was afraid he would disown me, because I had heard him speak extremely contemptuously about homosexuality. But perhaps he only looked down on men with such an orientation. I was still his daughter, after all. I suspect however, that most men are accepting of lesbian sex, since they are attracted to women in the first place. When I finally told him – I remember that it was in the summer of 1983, when we had both gotten our master’s degrees – he didn’t seem surprised or judgmental. He hugged me, said I would be “daddy’s little girl forever” and didn’t even ask to meet my girlfriend.

And so Mary and I – that’s not her real name, I can’t announce it publicly – lived out our best years, the ones between twenty and thirty, together in love and harmony: two professionally successful, sexually satisfied young women in California, where no one gave us any grief about our sexual orientation. But still, something wasn’t quite right. The world around us was filled with couples having children. True, none of these couples lived in perfect bliss, our acquaintances fought, made up, hated each other and then fell in love all over again. Many of them broke up and then paired off again as new couples and had other kids. But the presence of a man at home – of a partner who looks upon the world as a place that owes him respect only because testosterone runs in his blood and who experiences himself via his phallic power over others – created tensions and challenges that piqued my curiosity. The feeling gradually took hold within me that I had been deprived of knowledge of something that was important in the lives of others. Why shouldn’t it be important for me, too? I asked myself. That monstrous weapon that at the age of seven I saw my father waving over conquered female flesh, was it really as terrible as I had imagined? I started discussing this topic with Mary, but it turned out that it didn’t interest her. She said that she would hate herself if she felt attraction to men and that she had always forbidden herself from thinking about men. I loved her so much that over the course of a year or two I also started hating myself because of my thoughts. But my imagination turned out to be stronger. With its help, the desire to have a child welled up in my soul.

Thank God that Mary and I were in agreement on this point. She was prepared to care for a child, but not to give birth to one. Adoption was out of the question. I was convinced that it needed to have my genes and that my blood needed to flow in its umbilical cord. For Mary, there was only one option: artificial insemination. The most popular method. Without being able to explain why, something in me resisted that anonymity. I wanted to know the father of my future child. What’s more, it turned out that I actually wanted to sleep with him. This came out during one of our arguments, in which we had both started yelling at each other and, when she stuck out her tongue at me and screamed “Well, fine then, go and sleep with him!” without thinking, I yelled back “that’s exactly what I’ll do!” This shocked both of us, we looked at each other, and I, stunned by the subconscious desire I had spoken aloud, burst into tears and hugged her. Several weeks passed before I was able to overcome Mary’s jealousy and explain to her logically that we weren’t a normal lesbian couple and that our child needed to know who its father was. I didn’t want for that child to take our arrangement as the norm, especially if it was a girl. But even if it was a boy, he would still need a father figure on hand for his development. Every child needs to grow up with a father in order to understand its own gender. A good father becomes a positive example to be followed – a bad father creates conflicts whose resolution one day helps the child, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy, assume an attitude towards men. The feminine state was fact of nature. The masculine state was something that had to be learned.

The problem was not whether the child would know its father, but rather how he would be used. There were ways of getting around the anonymity law and for him to be simply a donor. But I hate unnatural things. Something inside me had awakened and was making me want ever more strongly for my child to be conceived in the normal, physiological way. I had to swear to Mary that I would sleep with the man only until I conceived and that I would not emotionally invest in the relationship. And so our conspiracy began. We didn’t want anyone to know that we were looking for a man, while the candidate who would eventually be approved as the father should not find out under any circumstances where we lived or have access to any information whatsoever that would allow him to meddle in our lives. We placed the ad, thought up a way of seeing the man I would lose my virginity with, while keeping him ignorant about it – but note the difference: I wouldn’t be doing it for his sake, but for the sake of our future child – and settled the question of the hotel. And everything happened just like Vladimir said, as if scripted. Our conspiracy was perfectly planned, down to the very last detail. With one single exception – the thing that changed my entire life.

Mary and I giggled like schoolgirls when we saw Vladimir at his table, looking around the café at the Westin St. Francis, his gaze sweeping over us without stopping; that is, without suspecting that we were the women who were ensnaring him in a spider web from which there was no escape. We especially had to choke back our laughter when he got up somehow solemnly, nudged the folder onto the uncleared table with his hand and quickly jerked it back as if burned, before slowly heading for the door, his body swaying. But as I snickered, an unfamiliar feeling of weightlessness pierced the pit of my stomach. I would understand it only later: it was that most eternal feeling of a woman who is experiencing both fear and sexual desire and who cannot yet recognize which of the two is the true feeling or it is as if they are both arising simultaneously and continuing on together until the realization of the desire is reached, the moment of orgasm, through which the fear dissolves into the delight of submission to male power, it melts into the slack muscles, which only a moment before were taut to bursting, and transforms into a triumph of female endurance, which is capable of suffering and thus overcoming the man’s spurious, fleeting, self-deluded superiority. Until then I wasn’t familiar with that feeling in the pit of my stomach, because fear was lacking in my sexual desire towards another woman.

On my way to the hotel, I felt only fear. All my nerves were on edge, I was ready to burst into tears at any moment, while at times I wanted to hit the brakes and never reach the site of that terrible meeting. I finally pulled up to the hotel: sweaty, exhausted, sacrificed. Because the only thing that stopped me from giving up was the hope for a child. I took a shower, put on make-up and waited; the fear never left me. I was a thirty-two-year-old virgin, but none of my life experience was able to overcome my fear of the violence which awaited me. At exactly four o’ clock, he knocked on the door. My horror leapt into my throat. But there was no going back now, I had to get up and answer it. I already knew that he was a handsome man, but that which surprised me was his friendly expression and his complete calmness as he introduced himself. Perhaps that made me feel a bit better, because I remembered to lock the door before going over to the bed. From that moment on, I wanted to get my punishment over with as quickly as possible. He started talking to me, I can’t remember about what exactly, I answered automatically. Looked at from the outside, this whole scene was rape, pure and simple, even though I myself had arranged it. The ropes with which this man bound me were deep within my soul, which yearned to create a child. He didn’t wave a knife in my face, nor did he tie my hands behind my back, but I was afraid of his natural strength and of that which would have to penetrate me in order to plant the child which I wished to bring up – the same thing that would bring him only pleasure, without taking responsibility for everything that would happen to me after that. And despite all my internal resistance, I submitted to him, led by natural forces whose power over me was greater than that of my culture and prejudices.

What’s more: I had prepared myself to be raped. I remember very well how he got an erection when he lay down next to me and immediately wanted to enter. He acted rationally, like a man who needed to get his job done; even later, when the two of us recalled that moment together, he told me that I had told him that I expected him to get the job done and in so doing, I had forbidden him from engaging in any gentle foreplay. But I was dry, drier even than sand in the desert; my body knew that it would be raped and had rallied its own defenses. However, I had set a jar of cream on the nightstand, which I used to lubricate myself, I closed my eyes and… felt terrible pain. I don’t even remember crying out. I just lay there and waited for him to finish. Thank God, this man knew how to behave. Without much noise, he immediately got into that eternal game of in-and-out with his own rhythm and soon came with several strong thrusts. From that moment on, I stopped paying attention to him. I placed pillows under my legs to elevate them, and lay there like that for around ten minutes. The fear had left me, a lazy calm engulfed me. When I got out of bed, he had already left. I didn’t feel anything for him: best to forget the violence as soon as possible. But as I was standing there next to the bed, my gaze fell on the sheet, which was bloody. The space between my legs smelled of blood and caviar. But there was another scent as well: the scent of my own juices. This whole mixture of secretions from my glands, sperm and blood running down my thighs: without it – without suffering it! – there could be no conception. The discovery that my body had been aroused without signaling my brain, which was stubbornly resisting the violence, made me feel ashamed.

When Vladimir and I returned to that moment in our frank conversations, he admitted to me that he had also felt ashamed. Following the logic of events, he had also felt raped, because it was not his own will but curiosity that had led him to that hotel room in Lodge at Tiburon. He had submitted to my instructions not because it was in his nature to be submissive, but precisely the opposite: because he had been intrigued and was sure that once he got into the adventure he would be able to cope with any unexpected situation. In his male body, there are not impulses towards submission and it works in synch with his brain, which controls it. What had surprised him and what he hadn’t been able to cope with was the shame that seized him once he realized that he had become a rapist against his will. The instant he realized how dry I was, it struck him that despite my stated desire to sleep with him so as to have a child, I was a helpless woman whom he was subjecting to violence. He liked me and was horrified at the thought of raping me. He realized that the mutual consent to sex between the beautiful, intelligent woman who had invited him to meet and himself did not mean mutuality in what was experienced. Nor equality. The feeling of guilt stemming from this initial shame hounds Vladimir to this very day – it’s no coincidence he said nothing of this to you – and it makes him doubly gentle and considerate with me.

But just imagine my horror and shame when I realized that I hadn’t conceived. Horror, because I sensed that I would have to be raped again; shame, because I could not hide from myself the fact that somewhere in the very depths of my being I was happy that that would happen. It was as if I wanted my meeting with this man to be repeated. Of course, I said nothing of my happiness to Mary. Instead, the two of us cried over this cruel twist of fate for several evenings running. But the dice had already been cast: I couldn’t give up at the first sign of failure. She once again left messages on my inseminator’s answering machine. I went to our second meeting even more nervous, but this time my fear was whether I could keep up the pretense of being forced. Thank God, my body still hadn’t given its consent to sex with a member of the opposite sex and the bit with the lubrication had to be repeated. When he left, there was no blood between my thighs, but the sticky liquid again smelled of caviar and that female sap which had first appeared when I was thirteen and which has accompanied me my whole life.

This time, too, it was as if some outside force prevented me from conceiving and I had to suffer my same fate in November as well, and then again in December. He tried to talk to me, he had even brought dinner, while the last time he showed up with a bottle of champagne, but I was already worried about something else. Why couldn’t I conceive? I was gripped by the fear that the reason lay with me and I would be doomed to die alone. My lesbianism, it seemed, was not a random occurrence, but something deeply encoded within me. Frankly, I’ll admit that it never crossed my mind for even a second that the problem might be with him. Obsessed by my desire for everything to come about naturally, I hadn’t stopped to think that in fact, he hadn’t been checked out. I was overwhelmed by self-pity: that I was foolish, that I was helpless, that not once, but four times I had let myself be raped, that my growing attraction towards this man – and who knows, maybe towards men as a whole? – had to be nipped in the bud. I didn’t know him, I didn’t know what he felt for me, how he took the whole situation. His constancy was a good sign – he never once called to break a date or was never even late for our meetings. But I had imposed myself on him and it never even crossed my mind that in so doing he could develop anything but contempt for me. Exactly on Christmas of that year, it was 1991 if I’m not mistaken, I decided to not call him anymore.

After making that decision, my self-pity was compounded by despair that after everything that had happened, I would never have any reason to meet that man again. Mary couldn’t understand what I was going through at all, so I stopped talking to her about what had happened during those autumn months. Also, I no longer loved her as much as I had before. I turned to my shrink for help. Six months of therapy every two weeks brought me some relief, the shroud of confusion was torn from my brain, the shame over my voluntary rape cleared up a bit. I started talking on the phone more often to my father, who was living the highlife on St. Martin with his mistresses. Once in the middle of July – I remember it very clearly, because on the previous day Mary had moved out after we had had a serious fight – as we were talking about the problems I was having with Mary, without realizing it I told him that I was in love with a man. The feeling that had subconsciously accompanied my emergence from depression suddenly became real when I said it aloud. You won’t be surprised when I tell you my father was clearly delighted. Not that he said as much or congratulated me, but his voice softened and he started telling me stories about his life. He got so carried away that I was hardly able to get a word in edgewise to remind him of how much this long phone conversation was costing me. I hung up the receiver and looked towards the bay.

I was in love, childless, and alone. My only tie to the man whom I had fallen in love with in the most absurd possible way was a phone number, which I couldn’t even be sure was still his. He surely thought, or so I imagined – if he even remembered room 207 at the Lodge at Tiburon anymore – that I was in love, pregnant, and happy with my female partner. Oh no, he never once asked me whom I was going to bring that child up with – I didn’t allow him to talk to me about anything serious – yet he surely sensed that I was living with a woman, since what husband could be so deluded as to allow a strange man to play his own role in bed? I was able to delude Mary, and in fact, I was practically telling the truth when I described to her the four sex acts, in which my resistance was far greater than the inklings of desire that I felt once they were over. She and I continued having our womanly orgasms, but this was more due to routine than to some irresistible thrill. But now she had left and I had no plan as to how to see him again, nor the decisiveness needed to make a plan.

And that’s when the idea of Mission Ranch popped into my head. A romantic place, and what’s more I could reproduce the same situation there, but this time I would go prepared and, most importantly, ready to be loved. What a strange thing destiny is! The work phone number I had kept in my address book rang and on the fifth ring the answering machine picked up and gave, in an Eastern European accent, the usual invitation to leave a message for Vladimir Panov. Panov! I had forgotten or I had never known the last name of the man whom I had already slept with four times and who surely had some memory of me, some image of a nameless woman, whose body he had penetrated by force. Could you forget a thing like that? The name Panov caught me off guard and for the first few seconds I forgot the little speech I had memorized. That is, I addressed him as Mr. Panov, then I decided to be more informal and said his first name and only then did my confidence return. I hung up the phone and prepared to wait for the day when he would either show up at the appointed meeting or I would be left alone, foolish, without love and without a child – a fate I surely deserved. Why did I pick September 5 exactly? Not so much because of the long Labor Day weekend, but because I had calculated that I was most likely to ovulate then.

This intrigue was more risky for me than for him. I didn’t dive into it out of curiosity, but to make a change in my life. I was staking not only my prestige and pride as a woman on it, but also my sexuality, my chance at motherhood, in short, my whole future. If he didn’t come to the meeting, I would be doomed to unhappiness forever. If he did show up, but I didn’t like this new kind of eroticism – there was no guarantee that what I had vaguely imagined after those four compulsory acts would happen and would cause me to fall in love with this man – I would be heading down a path that had led many people to turn their backs on and even come to despise love. I would have fallen into half-feelings, struggling to turn our relationship into something precious, pretending that I was in harmony with myself and him. Snobbery allowed many couples to live in half-love. Not that I thought all that at the time, but looking back at that turning point in my life with the eyes I have now, I can see that was the most likely alternative. But then I got inspired. I had suddenly set a very lofty goal for myself: I wanted to experience the full range of eroticism contained within my body, and I imaged that through it I would reach a love that lived up to my idealized notion. It was as if I had entered my second puberty: my jumping-off point was some adolescent idea of eroticism, but muddled by my homosexual experiences. How could I be sure that this experience would help me when I kissed the man and felt his hard-on with my stomach? It was highly likely that my childhood memory of that monstrously ugly thing hanging beneath my father’s belly would destroy the purity of the erotic experience. Besides, I hadn’t read enough novels to know how to transform my erotic impulses into true, deep emotions. These doubts troubled me, yet my enthusiasm was sufficiently strong, while the energy it gave me was inexhaustible.

Moments of supreme happiness cannot be planned. Nor can they be foreseen. As I was waiting for it to be four o’clock there at Mission Ranch, I turned on the radio. Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum” was playing, an evening service, which, like much of Mozart’s work, begins evenly and as if carelessly, but at one moment the soprano soars above the strings’ harmony with a sublime, divine melody. It was the only sound in the hushed hotel. It was a sunny afternoon. There wasn’t even a breeze coming in from the ocean, but I could sense that it was there, beyond the open window. The light in the room was orange-blue. I sat stunned, being led into ecstasy. And nothing disturbed my state of perfection. I felt it a long time, I tried to capture it in my memory… and at that moment there was a knock at the door.

“Come in,”I said in a voice that sounded husky and muted, since I hadn’t yet snapped out of my reverie.

The door opened and on the threshold stood Mr. Panov, dressed in white jeans and a white turtleneck, swarthy and well-built, his eyes fixing me with a searching, yet friendly gaze.

“Good afternoon,” he said and closed the door behind him.

“It really is good. I’m so glad you came!” I said and drew closer to him.

“I couldn’t resist your voice on the phone,” he said, reaching out with both arms. “Mozart?”

“Yes, Mozart,” I replied and also stretched my arms out towards him.

He took my hands and kissed my fingers. Then he wanted to pull my hands towards him, I gave in and found my face beneath his. I closed my eyes, the music was still playing, his open lips seized mine and at that moment I understood that I wanted this man to penetrate me, that I wanted to experience with him happiness like that which I had been immersed in only minutes earlier, I wanted him to love me.

But he didn’t rush. He went over to the radio and switched it off. In complete silence, he sat down on the bed and set me in his lap. He began kissing my neck and after some time he whispered my name for the first time: “Annie.” He whispered it once and kept kissing me on the lips, on the eyes, on the folds behind my ears. A pleasure I had not experienced before arose at the base of my throat, a sweetness that would not dissolve, even though I tried to chase it away with my moans. In the pit of my stomach I felt no fear, only desire, a reckless desire for all of this to never end, yet at the same time to end in some inimitable,  volcanic way. I was wearing the same linen pants I had worn when I met him the first time at the Lodge at Tiburon and I could feel him unzipping the zipper and slipping his hand inside, caressing the hot skin of my stomach, then taking them off, and without removing his lips from mine, removing his own pants as well. From that point on most things have fused in my memory, but I do remember how considerately he asked me whether I was ready, whether it wouldn’t be painful for me, and how long it should last, and how gently he spread me and ushered into me that repulsive weapon, which this time brought me pleasurable pain and I uttered his name for the first time, “Vladimir,” and how, from the eruption of the pain until the moment he came inside me, a new, as-of-yet unknown physical joy welled up in me, made of complete physical euphoria combined with a deep gratefulness towards the man who was bestowing it upon me.

It didn’t matter than I didn’t reach climax that first time. Perhaps I did actually climax without realizing it. I say “I didn’t reach it,” because after that we went through a period in which he took special pains to teach me how to experience my pleasure such that every time it would take me to the place where physical joy merged with spiritual bliss. I began to truly reach orgasm only when my love for Vladimir reached its culmination. It combined the egotistical satisfaction within me, which he could not feel, with ecstasy over the fact that I saw him experiencing his own egotistical satisfaction, as well as gratefulness to him for agreeing to be my lover – and mine alone!

I was lying next to Vladimir in the absolute silence of the afternoon by the ocean, asking myself where this erotic experience, which we had just created for each other, would lead me.

For me, September is a month filled with grief, but that September, back in 1992, turned out to be the happiest one of my life. Not only did I like Vlado and fall in love with him, but I gradually came to truly love him and without even realizing it, I forgot that I was repulsed by men. It was as if someone had forced me to betray my feminine nature. After that first afternoon together – which has been burned into my memory forever – we felt young and free and we stayed at Mission Ranch for the whole week after Labor Day. We talked about everything, had sex whenever we felt like it, lay on the sand, explored the sights of Carmel and temporarily ceased caring about the world. I no longer simply wanted to have a child. I wanted to have his child.

Perhaps all of this seems too beautiful to be true. But it happened to me and I guarantee you that it wasn’t planned in advance. But still, personal happiness can’t be the end goal of our efforts to overcome our human failings. Every happy story contains just as many intrigues and unexpected twists as every tragic one. Holding on to your happiness once you’ve tasted it requires no less spiritual strength and determination than does overcoming your internal tragicness and continuing to live after having gone through some drama. Happiness is not a deserted island that you wash up on after a shipwreck. On the contrary, it is the ship, which you must steer unharmed through life’s pitfalls like Odysseus – a happy hero who is constantly challenged by fate. A challenge happened to us, too, a challenge that never ceases to remind me that our relationships with people are a constant obstacle to our sense of happiness.

Before we left, I called my father and told him that I had fallen in love with a man who hadn’t grown up in America, and if I decided to get married, I would invite him to the celebration. I sensed that this news made him happy, but he didn’t say anything besides the usual formal congratulations. My father surely loved me very much, he loved me in some special way of hiя, but throughout the whole of his life he never managed to show this to me. In any case, I never found out how much he had suffered from having left his fatherly role unfulfilled – but surely the fact that his love remained unacknowledged and, in his soul, unreciprocated, was very painful for him – nor did my father ever realize what harm he had done me with his womanizing and his inability to express his true feeling Due to this very inability, he dealt me one final blow before he died. It’s not so important that this blow didn’t kill me, nor did it bring about some huge change in my life: the important thing is that due to his lack of sensitivity, which even the most intelligent egoist cannot overcome, the sky above my happiness grew cloudy and he condemned me to doubt for the rest of my days whether absolute sincerity and mutual devotion really can exist between two people.

We were married by a justice-of-the-peace in Tiburon at the end of September, before I even realized that I was pregnant. We invited two colleagues of Vladimir’s from IBM as witnesses. Aaron Weitz made a stately appearance, in a white linen suit and an expensive Panama hat, with a red handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket of his suit coat. The only thing missing was a cane to complete his image as an aristocrat who had fallen on hard times from a Latin American novel. Mary didn’t come, even though we invited her. We drank champagne in the office at city hall, then had lunch on the terrace at Sam’s Anchor Café, awash in the bluish-green reflections from the marina. Vladimir later told me that I looked like a Hawaiian princess in my wedding dress. I was at the peak of my happiness, but one corner of my mind was nevertheless observing how the two most important men in my life – the only important men up until that moment – were unsuccessfully trying to conceal their animosity towards each other.

Weston was born in June, a Gemini. Our lives flowed by, inspired and dynamic; the more I came to know Vladimir, the more I was convinced that I had found the man with whom I could be happy “’til death do us part,” as the wedding vows say. In 1995, I was hired by IBM. In 1999, we bought the house in Carmel. It was August and we were impatient to move in, that’s why we didn’t wait for the new furniture and our boxes of house wares to arrive, but instead started camping out like vacationers: we slept on inflatable mattresses and spent whole days lying on the beach, gawking at the emerald underwater world with our snorkels. Weston would be starting first grade at the end of the month and my only concern was finding a good school for him.

The first phone call at our new house came during the night of our third day there. It was my father, calling from St. Martin. Dispensing with the ceremonial formalities usually expressed when you call people who have just moved into their new home, he launched straight into telling me, with an old man’s noticeable breathlessness, about some tapes of an interesting confession by some immigrant woman who was Bulgarian and who had made a living as a freelance journalist for newspapers in California. The woman had lived alone in Sacramento and had killed herself, the police had found her accidentally and had taken the tape as evidence in the investigation. One of the crime reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, who had met her through her work for the paper, managed to get a hold of the tape, and since he knew that Aaron’s son-in-law was Bulgarian, he had called him with a request to ask his son-in-law to do an interview with the paper.  Before agreeing to bother his son-in-law with this, however, Aaron asked to hear the recording. In it, the woman told her life story in English, it was like a confession, and this confession mentioned “Vladi” several times, and “Vladimir Panov” once. “I can’t say whether this is just a random coincidence or if it really has to do with your husband,” my father spoke aloud into the receiver the thought which had already pierced my brain. I kept quiet and Aaron then said that he would send me the tape so I could hear it and ask Vladimir whether he knows this woman and if so, whether he would be willing to help the reporter with his story, and perhaps the investigation that was trying to establish the motives for her suicide, as well.

The tape arrived two days later and I listened to it alone before telling Vladimir. Then the two of us listened to it together. Vladimir was crushed: the woman, whose name was Diana, turned out to have been a part of his past, which he had wanted to forget. From our long conversations after this, it became clear that he had suppressed it most likely subconsciously, rather than deliberately, and certainly not so as to hide it from me. He realized that he was largely to blame for Diana’s death and this shook him. I told him that I forgave him: in her name, in the name of all women, I forgive him as his most beloved person. There was no way I could not forgive him – I would have lost him if I had stuck to the moral extremism so inherent in me. More precisely, my moral evaluation of his past did not fit with the morals of the person whom I had fallen in love with, and I preferred to change my evaluation, rather than to reject the person. The unquestionable relativity of human morality over time allowed me to realize that a man like him did not remain the same over the course of his lifetime; he had changed, had become a better person. Over the following years, he kept repeating to me that even though I had forgiven him, even if our son would one day forgive him once he found out, he could never, ever forgive himself.

And so, Vladimir’s past came between us – not so much as a vague stain on our amorous solidarity, but more as a reminder that we can never experience happiness without having caused unhappiness. And that we cannot erase the memory of our share of the responsibility for that unhappiness – we carry it in our memory, in the depths of our biographies, even in the necessarily positive and constantly improving image, through which we project ourselves to the world. There is no such thing as complete happiness. And the reason behind this realization, which otherwise was quite useful for me, was my father, Aaron Weitz. He died suddenly during September before I was able to ask him why he had told me about the tape. He could have decided not to do so.

Listen to Diana’s confession. It speaks of a very distant past, which, however, was not lived in vain. Vladimir carries it in his character, for better or for worse. But even stranger still is the fact that this past affected my destiny, too, in the most unexpected way, even though I never knew Diana. What’s more, she is no longer with us, so as to give further explanations or to change her version of things.



My name is Diana, I’m fifty-three years old. I’ll take my own life two hours from now.

Two hours is enough time for me to tell it… my short, miserable life, needed by no one… I don’t care that maybe no one will hear what I’ve gone through. Then again, somebody might. I know you’re here, Vladi, I saw you once on California Street, near the Fairmount Hotel. There was no way I was wrong: it was you, my Vladi. I hadn’t seen you since then… But could I ever mistake your slightly careless gait and that spontaneous virility that you exuded even back in school, when you were barely out of puberty and had immediately become all the girls’ object of desire. I didn’t say anything to you. Someone told me that you got married here, in America, to an American. It’s funny, isn’t it, for a person like me to express any hope, but still, you never know, maybe my story will find its way to you somehow, to remind you of the distant past, which is gone for good. I’ll tell it in the language of this country: I can’t imagine you’ve forgotten Bulgarian, but maybe it will be easier for you not to hear it in your native language: even at this moment, I still want to protect you… as much as I can.

No, no, I’m not bitter. I’m just robbed of all hope, betrayed, crushed – harmed, ruined… or rather, a ruin – a woman without a future. And we were so young! We were classmates at the French High School in Varna. You were a communist brat – I had ended up there by accident. I had straight As in junior high and ranked first on the admissions test, without any personal connections. My father had been declared – oof, I don’t know this word in English, but it means a person whom the authorities don’t trust – but still, my mother’s uncle had connections to the communists and somehow no one made the effort to take me off the list of accepted students. They simply increased the number of students admitted so that all of you, the comrades’ kids, would get in.

We lived in a dorm in an old building on Stefan Karadzha Street, near the Sea Garden. It was great! In the morning we would come down to the classrooms straight from our bedrooms. Afternoons began in the schoolyard, in the early fall those were sweetly carefree hours of chattering about the summer, about the boys, about the teachers – while in the spring and in the early summer, they were filled with the intoxicating expectation that something would happen.

But even after it happened, the expectations didn’t stop tying my stomach in knots: I would see you from afar, surrounded by girls from my class whom I slept with. Oh yes, girls, I knew how libidinous you were, and I hated every single one of you, so narcissistic, but in fact so completely at the mercy of your own desires. And at the same time, I longed for you girls to be mine: I wanted to dominate you, to control you, to use your weaknesses, to mock you when you put on airs during afternoon classes between three and seven – pretending to be interested in the lessons, when in fact the only thing you were thinking about was what would happen that night, after dinner and especially after the teacher on duty turned out the lights and I would slip into one of your beds and the whimpers of pleasure you received at my hands would evoke the greenest envy in the girls in the nearby beds. Some of them pleasured themselves, so as not to burst. But all of that disappeared with the morning bell, lying hidden until the following night. During the day we were simply girls and boys united by dreams, laughter and tears, innocent for a long time, several years, until the moment we left the boarding school and were on our own “in life.” Or with life.

The memory of that now is so sad. And I’ll die two hours from now. I’ll die just like my love for you – suddenly and for good. Could I have imagined back then that I would end my life prematurely… what could that possibly mean? Has anyone ever determined when death is timely? The difference is that I will put an end to my life by my own hand, while my love was killed by others, by other things, by other people, by “life,” and it is precisely for this reason that it has continued smoldering within me, killing me slowly and gradually… until I finally arrived here.  At true death, caused by the unbearable memory of the most unbearable beauty.

The beauty of my love for you… the magnificent, one and only Vladimir Panov. I’m now calling up a memory of it – of that most beautiful of all beautiful and promising beginnings – to make it easier to put the strychnine in my glass and drink it down. If you’re not already convinced of it, one day you’ll have to arrive at that innermost revelation about man: the more beautiful a memory is, the more painful it is and the more strongly it reminds us of death. Because you can’t believe that something even more beautiful could happen after that. It didn’t happen to me, in any case!

I first caught sight of you at the beginning of eighth grade, we had just gotten back from the autumn labor brigade, we were supposed to have gym class during second period, I was walking down the hallway in my running pants and T-shirt, and you were coming towards me, taller than I was, with that gait that I would dream about my whole life, the gait of a lion ignoring the puny animals around him, except for those which you’d picked out as prey; you had been looking at my thighs, and when you got close to me your gaze shifted to my breasts… I must have felt that, because there was no way I was composed enough to watch your eyes… and for the first time, truly for the first time, I remember because it had never happened to me before then, I felt some wetness between my thighs the moment we passed…  because I immediately went to the bathrooms and saw the stain on my running pants… an ephemeral wetness, which seemed to precede the shivers beneath my breasts, but surely the order was the other way around, however, back then those things were new to me and I’m likely adding subsequent knowledge to this memory, knowledge of the jarring vibrations which your looks, and later, your kisses would throw my body into, a thrill that I could not experience with any woman since I lost you. And since your gaze, even when we first met, made me realize what I possessed, instead of going to gym class I rushed to the bathroom to see… not the wet stain on my pants… but to study my legs and breasts. I realized that I had slender funnel-shaped thighs, the triangle between them was opened wide, my hips were just barely beginning to curve at the sides. My breasts were more than impressive, braless, covered only by the white cotton material of my gym shirt, they jutted out round and firm from a broad base. I pulled up my shirt and as I looked at them I felt myself growing aroused: my own mammary glands were like those of a Greek goddess, yet not made of marble, but of warm, pulsating flesh. Even now they are not saggy, they were my pride and joy throughout my whole unhappy and tumultuous sex life.

I was satisfied with myself, as far as my external appearance was concerned. But at the same time – funny that it happened in September – I was seized by the restlessness of anticipation, an absolutely unclear expectation that something had to happen, yet I couldn’t imagine what that thing might be. A good-looking guy had caused me to see myself with new eyes, that was all. Summer had worn itself out with sun, the drizzling Varna autumn was on its way, yet I felt like a bud beginning to burst open.

We were in the same class even in the preparatory year, but you boys were on a different academic track and who would have paid you boys any attention anyway, while you guys kept your distance from us girls, too. But now I started passing by the door of your classroom often to catch a glimpse of you. In the afternoon you played basketball in the schoolyard, I hadn’t paid any attention until then, but ever since I passed you in that hallway I ate lunch quickly and ran outside to watch. You were good, something like the team captain, you made lots of baskets, I could sense that the others were always looking at you, but you didn’t even glance at me… it was as if you weren’t seeing anyone… while it turns out that you liked seeing me, you admitted it to me later. Finally, in the middle of October, at an evening party you invited me to dance a tango. Back then we didn’t have a stereo, to say nothing of a live band, one of the upperclassmen was playing accordion… The Beatles had just come out and were forbidden, of course, a couple of the guys whose fathers were diplomats bragged that they had records of French singers… I remember Johnny Hallyday and Charles Aznavour… unbeknownst to our teachers, we studied the concert posters secretly smuggled in from abroad… Oh, that tango was like one long kiss. It couldn’t end with the end of the music and, without realizing it, I followed you out into the courtyard, into the dark… that’s how I remember it, pitch black, perhaps there were lit street lamps, but in the schoolyard all the lights were out, the last evening classes were surely already over, you were leaning against some railing, it was as if I could sense you by smell, some other music was wafting out from inside, it wasn’t a tango, the rest of the world disappeared, I slipped into your arms and you slowly raised my face to yours, I closed my eyes and opened my lips and you pressed yours to them… what pleasure washed over me, I can feel it at this moment almost with the same clarity, who knows, perhaps I can feel it even more strongly now than then, things in memories are usually exaggerated, since subsequent experience has been layered on top of them…  but God damn it, how is it possible that after thousands of often ugly fucks, mostly with women, my memory is still in a condition to bring to light my life’s first kiss, that promise of happiness, of eternal life, that innocent and naïve feeling that there is eternal love and that love is everything in this world. And perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, causing me to make up that which I really wanted to have happened? No, no and no again! That’s exactly how it was, but everything that followed contradicted it and strove to turn it into a lie. If only I could forget it… or if it hadn’t happened… But here I am, in the final hour of my life, trying to return to its beginning, to rewind the film, albeit devoid of any hope that I could shoot it in some other way.  How stupid that you’re not here, so I could remind you of that time and you could once again raise my face to yours and… and again press your lips to my open, virgin lips. And to promise me that you would not do again what you did… you wouldn’t lie to me that you’d be mine forever, you wouldn’t deceive me as you deceived me then. I’m surely being unfair! You simply could not love me as I loved you…

Well, I’m not going to sit here and psychoanalyze you in any case… especially not now, when in order to find the strength to kill myself I want to transport myself back to that time when I was truly, unreservedly happy. You and I were from different classes in that “classless society” – as they drummed it into our heads almost every day. Perhaps that played some part, but I wonder whether it was important? Did someone forbid you from loving me? Did someone wag their finger at you? No, you were just a spoiled little momma’s boy… and that spoiled sense of entitlement was reinforced by the girls who stuck to you like flies to honey… and nobody gave you a compass… a moral compass, what a pompous phrase… yet true!… nor did you seek out a compass in order to see that its needle would point to me, to me and me alone. Your south! Or, if you prefer, your north – ever since you were a child they had taught you to keep working your way up ever higher. It got cold up there, however, while I was warmth, the womb, the loyalty, the sunny mood, the southern light that you needed to withstand the sickening monotony and gutlessness your parents and the party they served kept pushing you towards.

Shit, all of that is layers that built up later. Back then, in eighth grade, we continued kissing and fondling each other, turning each other on and thinking that this excitement was all there was! And neither one of us made a move to go any further, to desire that which is known by the ambiguous word “intercourse”… we were still young, inexperienced, shy… and scared that someone would see us and we would get in trouble. They would surely expel us from school – the handbook was in lockstep with official attitudes: no sex whatsoever for school children. Plus, there was no place to do it. Back then, we still didn’t know what it meant to “rent an apartment,” we lived at the boarding school… come on now, why am I making all these excuses, we simply didn’t have the necessary imagination for such things.

The summer came, school let out, we each went off on various vacations… and when school brought us back together in September, you greeted me coldly and I could sense that our kisses needed either to wait for better times or to simply be forgotten. We would talk from time to time, but neither of us touched on the smoldering subject, I would see you around the schoolyard with various girls, I started hearing that you were going with a stunner from the neighboring class, but later that died down, too, but among the girls in the dorm your reputation as a good lover was spreading. What exactly that meant, nobody could… or wanted to… explain, but for me the shocking thing was that you had started actually sleeping with girls. So there was somewhere to go after all, there were girls who grabbed at that thing which had hardened between your belly and mine while we were kissing, and they had spread their legs to be violated by it lovelessly, for pleasure alone. One of us girls became famous, especially at the beginning of ninth grade, for giving head to any guy who asked. I think you slept with her, too. Then, in tenth grade, I started slipping into the girls’ beds in the evening to get revenge on you – full-on masturbation, as if I were competing with you…

Tenth grade at the French High School! 1964… that means we were  almost legal age… at the other high schools, people would have already graduated at 18, but we still had one final year ahead of us. I was born in April. And exactly some time around my birthday, a hormonal frenzy gripped me so wildly that I decided to confess my love to you and sleep with you. While my love had been building up like a festering pimple during those two years, not a day went by when I didn’t think about you and remember the days of our kisses, of our unfinished sexual arousal, which washed over my body and kept my nervous system in a state of constant tension, which I took as love. Oh, Vladi, after so many years of sexual excess and ruined feelings, I can say that yes, I do know what love is… and that love is an eternal feeling of deep connectedness to one single man, whose happiness is the most important thing you have to look after throughout your whole life. And if he in turn looks after your happiness in the same way, then love is requited.

Vladi, you surely don’t even remember me, but I never stopped looking after you my whole life – even though you weren’t there to take advantage of it. I’m not certain whether unrequited love is necessarily unhappy love… okay, so my love for you didn’t give me wings, but in any case it helped me avoid becoming definitively embittered towards everything and everyone. At the end of the day, I turned its corrosive poison against myself and here I am, in the hour before I self-destruct once and for all. In this hour, I’m thinking about you, my love. And I drank the nectar of my love secretly, in the most hidden depths of my soul – hope never abandons even the most fallen person.

But back then, when I had just turned 18, I was a slave to my sexual juices. Given my unconscious ignorance about the true dimensions of love, they kept me in an exulted state of tension, which I took for love. But that was only the beginning of love. So as not to freeze there, love needs two people – it needs the other, who also feels the tension of the juices washing over his body and who also thinks that this is it, love! And what’s more: back then we didn’t know what awaited us in so-called life, our brains were free from social engagements, our lives seemed ordered by our parents – or disordered, depending on how the Party looked upon your parents – and we could focus all of our energy on that attraction, which remained unclear until the very end: is it love or just sex, or do the two go together, is it a fleeting attraction or something lasting, forever and ever – an attraction immunized against external influences. But still, God, how naïve I was! But I’ve stayed naïve to this very day… I’m ashamed to admit it, but because I loved you, I was saving my virginity for you. I was saving myself for you! And when I was finally suffocating with desire, I went to you and offered myself up to you.

That sounds awful somehow, even to me after so many years of sexual experience – some people might think my life has been a depraved life, loose, perverted, they pile on dozens and dozens of labels just to distinguish their bourgeois ideas about morality from my obvious immoderation… I don’t want to say “liberation,” because here, in America, I realized what it means to be truly liberated… But examined without prejudices, the truth cannot be otherwise: I challenged you to come meet me alone and mindlessly, intuitively I started playing all my feminine tricks to get you to really look at me, even with the very corners of my brain I realized that you might see me as just another schoolgirl dying to spread her legs for you. Big deal, I told myself, let things start off that way, and we’ll see where they go from there. Once it falls into my net, the fish will be mine – and I’ll cook it up however I want.

No, no, back then I wasn’t so cynical. At this moment my brain is so overheated that I’m getting confused. My deepest desire is to be honest with respect to you and our past, Vladi. But my memory is uncertain. What happened at the end of the April of ’64 seems beautiful and divine to me at some moments; a promising start, when both you and I were pure, innocent, entranced, deeply feeling adolescents. At other moments, however, it seems to me like a power struggle, for the sake of satisfying our sexual desires. And it was a struggle, in which you always played the role of the deceiver, and I – the victim, no less. Thirty-five years later, that has to be the most likely version. At the end of the day, I will die without you knowing about me, without you caring what happened to me in the years after you took my virginity. However, my honesty demands that I be fair. I never managed to come to hate you. I never succeeded in seeing you merely as a callous, cynical player. Never! I am convinced that there were reasons that were stronger than you were, which guided your behavior back then. For that reason I don’t want to… and I can’t… stick you with all the blame for my ruined life. But no, I don’t want to free you from guilt in order to appear noble in my own eyes. I’m sure that you are a wonderful person who in the period of your adolescent erotica acted badly out of ignorance, out of inertia, due to a confused moral system – or the lack of a moral system, due to some kind of arrested development. And I have maintained this conviction my whole life. So I was looking after you, Vladi: by nurturing your image in my soul and developing it as if I were living with you… And somewhere amidst its most mysterious deeds, my soul believes that you have evolved in the same way in your life. I prefer to die with this belief, so that nothing can kill it in reality. All of this is a sure sign that what I felt for you, Vladi, was love. Love!

But back then, when I invited you out on a date to that café by the seaside, I didn’t know it. Then I was dying for you to be mine. To possess you. Me alone. But I could only possess you by showing you how feminine I was, only by convincing you that I was better in bed than the other… whores. They really did act like whores, while I didn’t sleep with guys, I was saving myself for you. You just needed to find that out, I thought to myself, and that would make you love me. On top of everything, we had been together in eighth grade, you couldn’t have forgotten our kisses.

Strain your memory, lift me out of oblivion, see me sitting at the table in that café, which had just opened for the season – it was still early in the year, but the weather was unusually warm – the sea was a pale green, a spring chill was in the air, the trees had barely begun to bud, the simplest, most ordinary landscape in our most ordinary little homeland. I’m sitting there staring intently at you, I am completely open to you and, what else can I talk about, besides reminding you that my first kisses had been with you and that I hadn’t forgotten them and that now I’ve grown up and I want you to come back to me for good. No ambiguities, I grabbed the bull right by the horns. You, insofar as I can trust my memory, didn’t frown, you didn’t push me away, on the contrary, you told me that you would never forget how we had kissed – for you, too, they had been your first real kisses – in the Sea Garden or in far-off corners up against the school fence, before the bell rang to call us to bed. The waitress interrupted us, we ordered cake and old-fashioned sodas, they hadn’t started importing Coca Cola yet, you took my hand, set it on the table and began stroking my fingers. We sat there in silence for a long time. Until they brought our cake.

We started eating and chatting – about school, of course. Do you remember now? The day was fading, our plates were empty, you looked me in the eye and stroked my fingers, I think you felt awkward, but I had sprouted wings, the tables around us had started filling up with people, most of them older, it was time for us to get up and go somewhere into the darkness to kiss. We went down to the beach. The sea wasn’t visible, but the sound of every wave hitting the sand echoed in my heart like a slow second hand, measuring out time in a new way: stretched out, sweet, endlessly promising, as if it would never end. I didn’t know then that there were memories, that things stood before me and I also didn’t realize that one day they would be behind me… I was a blank page, a pure soul, an as-of-yet unopened treasure chest, an untouched virgin. I was the richest woman [in the world] – rich with promise – but I didn’t know it. What I did know, what I could only feel, were the erotic impulses that were pushing me wildly towards you, a future man, also rich with promise.

I was a little afraid of the dark, but you took me by the hand and said that there was no one on the beach at this hour, that we were alone under the stars – and bright stars had indeed risen in the sky above us, I have never seen them that bright again, I have always lived in cities, in rooms, hidden away, I searched for stars on the skin of the thousands of female lovers who gave themselves over to me with unexpected, perverse voluptuousness. And perhaps I was afraid of the impending tearing, of that unknown, yet so eagerly anticipated penetration. We started kissing like crazy, I unclasped my bra under my blouse and slid your hands beneath it, I wanted you to touch my breasts, my head was spinning… and at the moment when I would have lost consciousness, a searchlight began feeling its way over the beach, it passed over us and retreated out to sea; the coast guard was doing its job. Startled, I realized that I didn’t want it to happen on the sand, it was too risky to put our most intimate moment out on display: even the most starry darkness was not sufficient cover for a couple in love. That’s exactly how I thought of us, as a couple: for the first time I also included you in something that we would do together. Or that we shouldn’t to, as it would expose us to danger.

Despite all the spontaneity of my love, Vladi, the fear of punishment was always there inside me – later, far too soon, actually, I realized that the darkness in which we wanted to hide was actually a metaphor for the evil that controlled everything, even our bodies. It had stalked us, that darkness, rather than protecting us. But we, blinded by the light of our adolescent bodies and dreams, did not yet have defense mechanisms… those came later… Back then I could never have believed that I needed to protect myself even from you… to create a defense mechanism for myself. In moments of arousal, in those instants when you as a person were enraptured by my love for you – when you drank from it – you were separate from that public morality, which was viciously waiting to catch us red-handed in love and to punish us – you were innocent, from my point of view. But most of the time I wasn’t there by your side, you had forgotten me and then you had once again fused with that which slowly, but surely destroyed me… and led me to this point, to this poison. But I free you from blame. I, who never ceased to feel love for you throughout my whole life, I have the right to free you from blame… I’m not sure whether it’s a question of forgiveness, since your sinfulness has not been proven. But insofar as I suspect that you are part of the guilt – something like a personal incarnation of public guilt – I want to exonerate you.

The tape is running out – I need to flip it over. As a good reporter, I know that this little gadget always needs to be set and ready to go from the very beginning… but my report has turned out to be longer than… Look, I pressed the button on my life’s final lengths of tape. I want to make sure I have the strength… Where was I? Oh yes…

Try to remember what happened as precisely as you can! You let go of my breasts, I nervously refastened my bra and buttoned up my shirt, we left the beach and headed down a walkway lit up by street lights, I stopped you and kissed you to overcome the awkwardness of the situation. We promised we would see each other every day, even though we were in different tracks at school, and that you would look for a place where we could… where we could what? Well, it went without saying that it was no longer an option for us to just make out on the streets and for you to come in your pants. I didn’t stop to wonder then where you had slept with all those other girls, but it turns out that most of them had taken you to their houses when their parents were gone. You had sometimes taken advantage of your own parents’ absences. But I got it into my head that you wanted it to be more special with me. And you gave in. At least you showed that you, too, wanted it to be more special. May passed, with its proms, its peonies and summer plans, but we still hadn’t found our place. Everyone had already guessed that we were a couple. This earned us unofficial jealousy from the girls and official reprimands from teachers as well as your and my parents. But we were blinded by each other… I was blinded, I can’t speak for you with certainty… and we each were both constantly aroused by the other – in our imaginations and almost every day, when we went out together – and we didn’t pay attention to anything except our desire for that arousal to be made real in something which for me was still unimaginable. I have never craved sex as much as I did during that spring.

And so finally one afternoon in June you took me to your place. You told me that your parents had gone on vacation and taken your younger sister with them. Shivers ran down my spine. Even now I can remember how my nipples hardened, how I was trembling as I walked with you towards your home – it was on that beautiful boulevard along the Sea Garden – how we went into your house and how we crazily… no, I don’t want to remember anymore, I want to put the memory off, because I know that after it, death will come. Back then I didn’t know that when something you have wanted so badly finally comes to pass, regret sets in and you wish it hadn’t happened so you could keep looking forward to it. Is there any thrill greater than that of anticipation?

But time is merciless, it finally happened. You were not surprised that I was a virgin, you had expected it, you were very gentle with me. And that was that! My sex life had begun. It began at the very crux of my pure love, in the beginning it simply fed that love, it sucked you into it as well, it turned out that after that first time it wasn’t so hard for us to find places for sex: we did it anywhere it seemed sufficiently certain that no one was going to barge in on us, we even did it outdoors, we already knew how to give each other pleasure, in one of the following times I consciously experienced a real orgasm for the first time, I learned how to help you refrain from coming until I had come. But once begun, all good things start coming to an end. That end can be a new beginning, but it can also be boredom, decline, despair, separation, death. We can head towards that end slowly or gradually, putting off as far as we can in time… nothing human can go on forever… but something can also bring about the end suddenly, brutally, with the cruelty of innocence or of morality.

Our sexual feast continued into the middle of August. We were the second shift on the work brigade, sunburned from the beach, with vague dreams for our final autumn at school and what awaited us after that. While on the brigade, we slept at the local village school: the boys on mattresses in the gymnasium, the girls on cots in a couple of classrooms. At night there was only one teacher on duty, who slept on the first floor, so you often came and slept next to me in my bed. We didn’t have sex, because we weren’t sure whether the girls around us were asleep. Besides, that initial thirst, which had kept my throat constantly dry and feverish, had been quenched a bit. We could lie side by side more calmly, and when you grew too excited, I would help you dissolve the pressure with my hand.

I was sick and running a fever that day; in the evening you came to give me medicine and then lay down next to me. We both unwittingly fell asleep. Some time around midnight I woke up from the blazing lights and saw the teacher on duty next to the bed shoving you and chasing you off like a dog. You left sleepily, you didn’t even manage to kiss me, while the teacher, of course, set upon me with insults and threats of serious consequences. You didn’t dare flout the rules again for the whole rest of the brigade. You didn’t avoid me, during the day we still went out to work together and held hands in the evenings. But something had changed between us. You didn’t come looking for me when we got back to Varna.

On the first day of school, the principal called me in to inform me that the teachers’ council had expelled me and that I was being transferred to a normal high school. They kicked me out, but they didn’t even lower your grade for behavior. How could I have known that the image of the most painful, fatal parting of my life would be a dusty bus on a sweltering August afternoon, which had just driven the brigadiers back to town from the village, and your back with a backpack moving farther and farther away from me down a street with flowering linden trees? You had gotten off the bus before me and that whole picture was burned onto my eyes from the steps of the bus. A breeze blew from somewhere and the leaves on the linden trees turned their backs, like girls ashamed of the wind blowing up their skirts.

You abandoned me and slowly, but surely forgot me. I can’t say “we forgot each other,” because I, in direct opposition to you, kept remembering you ever more clearly. But I immediately began struggling against that ever-increasing memory. At my new high school, I rushed to seduce my fellow schoolgirls: aggressively, unscrupulously, and hopelessly. I used that final year of high school to perfect the art of sex with women, which later came in very handy in overcoming my loneliness. I can’t say why I chose to fight in precisely this way. The most elementary explanation is that after you, I didn’t want to have any relationships – least of all sexual ones – with other men. But the desire to get revenge on all men also played a role. I didn’t care what you would think of me, since you had dumped me so cruelly. I later learned that you men are all base egoists, but back then you surprised me, because while we were together you had always been so gentle and devoted and I had imagined that you were the embodiment of the male nature. Conversely, women were ready to die for me. I was very good in bed and my fame spread throughout Varna over the years. It is surely a natural gift. Women, especially women in that closed society, were shy, as if they were uneasy about expecting to have an orgasm without being violated by a man. After you, Vladi, no one else has penetrated me. I never allowed anyone to violate me, not even with my consent. I was no stunner, but I had a certain charm – today they call it “charisma” – and lots of men tried to seduce me, even if they knew which way I swung. The fact that I batted for the other team wasn’t a problem for them, they were omnivores, as long as they had something to come into. At that time, however, I didn’t know a single woman who wanted to sleep with a homosexual man; besides, no homosexual man would dare come out of the closet! But women, above all, don’t brag. This made my discrete sex life possible, which was in total contradiction to the morality of the day… not only that, it was punishable by public censure, and could even get me sent to a labor camp… yes, it became possible for my homosexual life to continue until the moment I left the country in 1992 – I flew off to America on exactly the same day in August when I had seen your disappearing back for the last time 28 years earlier – and in this way lending a sense of completeness to my existence. Every person earns self respect by having a reputation for being the best at something, for doing it professionally, so to speak. Being the best lesbian was a question of professional honor for me. And it earned me respect.

The cruel irony in all this does not escape me, Vladi. The women I slept with were deeply unhappy. There was nothing deprave about them – they simply didn’t know what to do with their lives… with their free time, if you will. After I graduated from high school and we all scattered in various directions, I turned my attention towards the young ballerinas at the opera. I had decided not to have long-term relationships. And this was not hard for me at all, because at that time I still couldn’t fall in love with a woman. They are too characterless, they wait for you to control them, they keep cooking up intrigues: it’s terrible to be alone among women, where the opposite is lacking, you fall into unbelievable pettiness; jealousy and treachery take over even the most timid women; their only good quality is that they fall in love deeply and lastingly and suffer afterwards. But I would leave every lover as soon as I sensed that she had fallen in love with me. I was ruthless. And that just made me all the more desirable. The ballerinas fluttered around me, they tried to overcome their collective impotence through solo performances in bed. Then they flew off and grew old. I started getting tired of them and somehow I accidentally discovered that married women are far more interesting sex-objects. And objects of observation. One of my marvelous ballerinas introduced me to a beautiful middle-aged woman at a restaurant once, presenting her as the wife of one of the city’s communist bosses; you surely remember him, he was a friend of your father’s. This woman called me a week or so later and invited me over for coffee. She had looked me up in the phone book and wanted someone to talk to. She didn’t work and I later decided she would have been a good prototype for a Milan Kundera novel, whose female characters also sleep with dissident intellectuals who earn their living by day as housepainters. I only read Kundera once I was here, in the States, but he made me strongly recall my bored communists Madonnas. This “comrade’s” pretext was transparent and I readied myself for my next easy catch. We had barely finished our coffee before we threw ourselves on her double bed, behind heavy curtains, we made love at length and voluptuously, not like with the ballerinas, who came quickly and jumped up out of bed to go to rehearsal. And I’ll admit something else to you: this woman excited me so much that I wanted her to bring me to orgasm. There was more fat beneath her skin than her body needed, but she managed to use it unbelievably erotically: she would pant as if on the cusp of coming, then she would pull away and start in again, showing me she wanted to switch roles. At first I didn’t give in, but at one moment I gave myself over to her hands, my nipples were simply bursting with hardness, my innards beneath my belly were in spasms that demanded relief. And in one cataclysmic moment, we both screamed in ecstasy and flopped down, breathless, on either side of that enormous bed.

That communist wife turned me on to a new type, far more interesting than the previous one had been. So I began searching. And it turned out to be no problem at all: there were plenty of bored, sex-starved housewives. But I have to be honest, in this final hour of my life there’s no reason to put on an act: these women challenged me not just to forget myself along with them in this sexual liberation. I also started falling in love. I went through two serious relationships – both of them ended heart-wrenchingly, yet at the same time they slowly and surely filled me with deep loathing towards my very self. No, it was more like self-pity. The older I got, the more addicted I became to needing someone to love me. I turned into a selfish bitch, who didn’t want to give love, but only to take – I resembled most of the men around me. But while men have other qualities that make up for their egoism, I saw myself from the outside as a repulsive, vindictive, callous user. I had sunk so far that there was no swimming back to the surface from that abyss: my sins were unforgiveable. For a whole twenty-eight years, I lived on the edge between sex and love, in half-sex and half-love, exulted and debased, victor and vanquished, predator and prey. Actually, in the interest of accuracy, it was a whole twenty-five years!

How strange coincidences in life are sometimes, it is as if someone is masterminding them! At the end of 1989, when the communist government was losing its grip on power, I suddenly stopped getting my period. I was only 43 years old and the realization that I was entering menopause hit me like a slap across the face. People around me were full of hope, they were excited that something would change, while my life grew somber, because I realized that along with my hormones, the only weapon that had propped up my self-respect to some extent had also disappeared: my voracious sexual appetite. After deep soul-searching, I found with enormous regret that I had actually been secretly hoping to meet you again someday – and perhaps even to meet someone else, a man – and to start everything over. I had been living as if in a dream, I had pretended not to see time flying past and with criminal negligence I had looked upon myself as eternally young. It was a shattering blow. The years ahead of me grew short. There was no time. Men gave me the eye less and less often; the number of women willing to sleep with me declined menacingly. I didn’t have a serious career, either – I never did get a college degree, I kept putting it off, imagining that my youth would never pass, in the bog of communism it was easy to find a job as secretary to some director. Then to another, and yet another… and so I kept pulling in a salary sufficient for my bacheloresque existence. Suddenly, however, at the start of the new post-communist decade, the secretarial branch was flooded by young chicks in provocatively short skirts, bursting with flesh and caked with make-up – how could I compete with them? There was nothing more for me to do here!

I gathered together the last shreds of my energy and ran away. How I finally reached the States is a long story. But I can’t lie to myself: I was drawn to where you were. Over the years, I had heard about you here and there, I knew that you’d gotten married, that you didn’t have children, that your marriage wasn’t happy.   Surely it was destiny that I never once ran into you randomly on the street or on some bus or anywhere else. You and I were simply walking down completely different paths, despite how much I may have wanted them to cross again some day. How could I have been so contemptuous that I never once swallowed my pride and called you, or sent you a card for your birthday or at least found your phone number and called as if I had accidentally dialed the wrong number. I never once went to our high school reunions – so you wouldn’t see me, although surely they told you about me. Were you repulsed or did you feel sorry for me? You’re a Gemini and you always have an alternative in every case. I’m an Aries and I don’t like to lose, that’s why I’m so sure that I actually won you over – with my constancy, with some sort of stubbornness, which gave me the strength to love you in absentia, to look after you in my thoughts and dreams, to protect you from evil from afar. Now that I’ve found out that you are finally happy, married to a woman who looks after you and that you have freed yourself from your egoism and are deeply attached to her, that you do everything you can to make her happy, that you have a son… [Diana’s voice breaks down into tears]… now I can go. You no longer need me. I have completed my mission. I blame myself for the hurt I caused to many women – but they also got joy from me, too. But I forgive myself for my immoral life, which was the price I paid for the constancy to love you. There is something heroic… I say this without irony… and something selfless, something resigned in a woman loving one man her whole life. Except that my beloved man is also happy without me. I have nothing more to live for.

Okay, now I’m pouring the strychnine into the glass. But before I drink it, I want to remind you of something wonderful. The most beautiful thing that happened to us. It happened a very, very long time ago, but it seems like only yesterday, I remember it in unbelievable detail. I’m completely convinced that you will hear it on this recording and that you will remember, too. The tape is running… but there is enough room to fit in this first and final memory. And if some day you hear it, it will reawaken in your memory and will continue to live on, as long as you are alive.

June in Varna. You take me to your house. It’s early afternoon, the streets are almost empty – Sunday… The lindens are green, so green, but the first blossoms are yellowing here and there and from time to time the scent of linden wafts in on the breeze. The scent of fried zucchini or meatballs drifts from some houses and somehow mixes intoxicatingly with the scent of the warm sidewalks… in Varna they are made of gray concrete slabs with parallel furrows on the surface, back then there still wasn’t much asphalt and the streets were dusty, but the sidewalks in front of the houses were always swept clean or even washed with water. It was clean in front of your gate, too. The yard was covered by vines climbing on a metal trellis. We went up the cement steps to the upper floor. I wasn’t out of breath, yet my heart was beating so fast it felt like it would explode. My breasts were as hard as the marble of Greek statues, while moisture dripped from between my thighs, sickening me with the scent of woman. You opened the door with your key and stepped back to let me pass. I didn’t think of it then, but now it’s clear to me: I am not yet a woman, only a sexual ball pumped up with desire, dying to become a woman. And there is only one man – the man chosen by the future woman – who will receive the privilege of opening the door to my womanly potential. My own eroticism gives him the key. And since in that carefree arousal – in that adolescent erotica – there is no consciousness of the future, the privilege is usually bestowed on some random man. I am doomed to give it straight to the one who deserves it forever. And that will make me unhappy. But I don’t know that.

I step into the entryway and turn around, you close the door behind you and I cling to you with my whole body, I press my lips to yours, wrap my legs around you. You lift me up and carry me through two doorways. We are breathing rapidly. Or rather, I am breathing rapidly. Unlike such scenes which I have seen hundreds of times in movies, you don’t tear my clothes off, you don’t take off your pants with your left hand while pulling your member out with your right and aiming it between my legs, so that I, pressed against the wall, will be violated with agonizing, frantic thrusts. You set down me on the bed, your parent’s bed, extricate yourself from my legs, put your arm around my shoulders and lie down next to me. You start kissing me again, such long, long kisses, you finally carefully unbutton my shirt, take off my bra and start kissing my nipples, first one breast, then the other. I quiet down, everything within me is melted like resin in the sun and is flowing… tears, sweat, dampness below.. I am yours, in a melancholy ecstasy which I have no control over…  I lose all sense of time, but it is long, endless… or has it stopped?… you take off my skirt without taking your lips from my breasts, you kiss my stomach, you only need remove the final cotton barrier to that towards which you are striving and which has long since been yours already. And when it, too, falls beneath your gentle fingers, you turn aside for a moment and take off your shirt, then your pants, then your underwear and then… our two skins are pressed together along the full length of our bodies, your face is above mine, your weapon is in my scabbard, a sheath made for you alone, I did not feel pain when you entered there, you are moving it rhythmically, my throat trembles with a pleasure heretofore unknown, my whole body clenches against the lava swelling from my insides, until I finally explode and  you hold me bent like a bow in your hands… for a long, long time… until I finally realize that I can relax onto the sheet stained with my blood. … You also relax on top of me, but you are not heavy, you are still gentle, I am so focused on my own body that I don’t know whether you’ve come, what you experienced, but you tell me that you feel incredible and I sit up on my elbows and ask you to lie down next to me.

And so the two of us lie there in that June afternoon near the sea in Varna, satisfied and happy, young and carefree. Innocent in our ignorance. In love because of our eroticness. And we talk about the future. We talk that about which we know the least, practically nothing. The afternoon flows away, the day dies down, but we don’t pay them any attention. From our erotic peak we can see everything, everything looks beautiful, because we don’t have binoculars to examine the details. Now that I’ve learned about the details, despite the suffering they’ve brought me, I return there, to our peak. And I will depart with my memory of it. The most beautiful memory: the memory of the future.


Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel 

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