The Most Important Thing

Ruth Innes

My affair was a comfortable, casual, once-in-awhile thing. My lover lived in a distant city and we saw each other only occasionally. That was the way I liked it. The final fight with my ex-husband had left a sour taste in my mouth about men in general and I'd vowed to have nothing more to do with love. It only caused heartbreak in the long run. But I did miss a little excitement in my life -- the kind of excitement that only the opposite sex seems to be able to supply -- a little romance and a little sex.

In my youth we were taught sex was bad, for girls anyway. The very real fear of becoming pregnant and the shame of having an illegitimate child prevented a lot of sexual encounters, or at least prevented the enjoyment of them. But my pregnancies were a thing of the past and my children were grown up and on their own. I was free at last, but my freedom didn't seem to do me much good. I resented the easy way kids today were able to enjoy sex without the fear that had been instilled in me. Yeah, they had to use condoms and they feared all the sexually-transmitted diseases, but it didn't seem to prevent them from doing what they wanted to do (at least in books and on television). I had been born too soon for the sexual revolution to do me any good.

Herb, my old college boyfriend, came into my life at just the right time -- shortly after I had figured out that I missed male companionship. Herb and I had indulged in some necking and heavy petting while we were in school, but, true to the mores of our times, never "went all the way." He surprised me by calling one day when he happened to be in town. We met for dinner and were both surprised, I think, when, after dinner, we fell into bed with each other.

"Well, my dear, that was delightful," he said the next morning. "We really should do it again sometime."

"Yes," I agreed, "if you ever get to town again be sure to give me a call."

It was a month before Herb called again -- just time enough for me to start wondering if he ever would. "Hi, I'm here. Should we have a repeat performance?"

"Please," I said.

By the third time, we were comfortable together. "I think what's important here," he said, "is that we are old friends who just happened to become lovers. The sex is great but it's not the most important thing."

Again I agreed with him and felt sure he'd keep coming back. I looked forward to his visits with pleasure. I didn't think my children would approve if they knew how their mother was carrying on, but if I was careful they'd never find out. The fact that Herb was married did bother me at first. "I love my wife," he kept insisting, "but this isn't hurting her any."

Well, I wasn't sure about that but I rationalized that she was Herb's problem, not mine. Herb had married a much younger woman and he let slip in numerous ways that it was a relief to be with someone his own age.

"I have to keep explaining things to her," he complained mildly, "and I can't dance with her. I just can't gyrate the way she does."

Our affair seemed ideal for both of us and I gave no thought as to how it would end. I must have assumed it would go on until one or the other of us grew tired of it -- or too old for it. Neither of us wanted nor expected any more than what we had. Herb, however, was not willing to accept less.

Then my son Jimmy ran into a spell of bad luck, couldn't work, and needed surgery on a knee. He asked if he could come home and live with me until he could get back on his feet again. What can a mother say? Of course I assured him he'd be welcome and not only he, but his girl friend, moved in with me. My other children's reactions were strangely mixed, from being surprised and angry that I let Jimmy and his girlfriend share a room (the oldest) to telling me I was a real rad mom (the youngest). I had gotten used to living alone, but truly didn't mind having Jimmy and his girl friend with me. They contributed to the household expenses and it worked out fine except for one thing -- Herb. The next time he called and said he was in town I told him my situation had changed.

"My son and his girl friend are living here now, Herb. I wouldn't feel right about having you spend the night with me."

Herb laughed, "But why? You're not doing anything they're not doing. If you condone their sleeping together how could you condemn yourself for sleeping with me?"

"I agree. I've had all the arguments with myself. But it would not feel right. How about we just have dinner."

There was a long silence and finally Herb said, "I've gotten used to more than just dinner with you."

"I know. Me too. But don't you understand?"

"No, I don't understand at all. How can you be so irrational? It's your house after all. If you let your son and his girl friend stay together there, why won't you let me come and spend the night with you? If you're worried about setting a good example, it's a little late for that."

"I know you're right, Herb. And I know that Jimmy probably wouldn't mind one bit if he knew I slept with you. But I would mind knowing that he knew."

Herb's tone grew cold. "Well, if that's the way you want it. I'll call you again sometime to see if your situation has changed."

I'm still waiting. If he ever does call again, I'd like to remind him about what he said was the most important thing.

© Ruth Innes

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