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Posts tagged ‘polyamory’

OK, so here’s a dilemma.

A few weeks ago I was in San Francisco to attend a conference. I stopped into a toy store in “Pleasant Valley,” as Laird calls the suburb where I grew up. While I was looking at Brio trains, I became aware of a guy standing next to me holding a chemistry set. I got the impression he was checking me out. For the longest time I stood there, unable to turn and face him — maybe because in my subconscious I already knew who he was. Finally I turned and, sure enough, recognized my brother.

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Here’s my memory of how it began.

I’m ten years old, sitting on the edge of a lake alone. The wind has died, leaving the air perfectly still and silent except the chirp of a small persistent bird. My bare foot dangles in the water. I watch the ripples as they travel across a surface otherwise as smooth as steel.

Then voices come to me, a great splash, laughter. I scramble up on the rough granite, slip my flip flops onto my feet and follow the fishing trail through the trees. In 30 or 40 yards, I catch glimpses of pink skin between the pine needles, and I stop in the trail, uncertain so long that ants whose trail I have interrupted begin climbing my toes.

I hear my mother’s voice and I think she has said my name. The sounds are coming from off the trail a bit, and twigs brush against my bare shins as I approach. Then I push aside a long branch and see them. Read more »

I have listened to your advice. Yesterday I confronted Charlie.

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They haven’t met face to face, my husband and his pen pall.

An image came into my head as I wrote that: Charlie’s face and her face, the face of this other woman. I saw his thick silvering hair, the broad forehead wrinkling and brows rising as he smiled. And within inches, hers, constructed by my imagination: pert, oval, hair pulled back, lips pursed…

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Back in the Bay Area for a medical meeting, I drove to my mother’s house. I wanted to ask her about Fallen Lake and whether she remembered events in the way the book tells them — or the way I remember them.

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I slept at Mom’s house and then went over to Darby’s the next day. By the time I got out of the car I was already questioning the purpose of my visit. Darby and I had never had the kind of conversation I was planning to have with her. Read more »

My name is Darby. I am an alcoholic.

Actually, my name isn’t Darby — that’s just the name that Laird Harrison used in his book about our childhood. But this also isn’t an AA meeting; in fact I don’t know who is reading this, so I might as well keep this fake name to protect the shreds of privacy that are left to me while making my one important point. Read more »

On the scent

I see now that I am in trouble — in trouble with Charlie and in trouble because I have no where to turn but this blog.

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This past month has been agony. I have been afraid even to post here for fear that Charlie will read it. But now, considering what’s happened, I guess it doesn’t matter if he does.

The night I smelled her, Charlie’s lover, in my bed I ripped the covers from my body and swung to my feet. So clumsy. So like a man not to think of changing the sheets. Didn’t he know I could smell her? Didn’t he know I could feel the impression she had left in my bed, my emotions, my life? I reached a hand to Charlie’s blind offending face, then stopped before it touched his cheek. I wouldn’t wake him, yet. No. If I’d been less certain, I would have wanted to sample his excuses, explanations, prevarications. As it was, I needed evidence, not to convince myself, but so that we could get past the denials. So we could deal with whatever lay beyond.

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I am in a safe place now. I’ll explain later how I got here. But for now, let me try to catch you up on the madness of my recent life.

Shortly after I got Zulya’s address, I went to Boston for a business meeting. I’d told Charlie I was spending two nights there, but I found myself unable to focus and I ended up heading back the next day. As the train clacked back to New York, I refrained from calling to tell him about my change in plans. I made up all sorts of reasons — I didn’t want to disturb him. My cell phone was low on minutes. I might stop for food and couldn’t give a reliable ETA. Of course none of them was the real reason. But why should I have to make excuses to him? Wasn’t he the one who had to account for his behavior?

It was almost eleven when I opened the door to my apartment. The TV was on in the living room and in its glow, Lucia stirred from the bed she’d made on our couch. “Oh, Adrienne. I fell asleep!” She sat up, rubbing the side of her head. “Your meeting is cancelled?”

“I had to come back for something. Where’s Charlie?”

“He asked me to stay. Some customer needs him right away.”

“What time is he coming back?”

“He doesn’t know. Maybe not today.”

This was it then. The room began to pulsate.

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Still trying to catch this blog up to everything that has happened in the past few weeks…

Zulya stepped back in surprise, and I followed her. For a second I stood inhaling the baked apple odor in its native habitat, less cloying than in my house, rich with tobacco, wine and soap. Then I focused on Zulya. Up close, her skin looked weatherworn. Her hair, even at this hour, was tied back in a long pony tail. She tightened a silk bathrobe around her svelteness. “You have no right to force in here!”

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On the run

Lucia arrived not long after Dante woke up. She hustled the kids off to school.They were hardly out the door when the phone rang. I froze with my hand above the receiver. Two rings, three, four. Then I could hear Charlie’s baritone Read more »

Taking refuge

Trying to keep my eyes on the road after I arrived in California last week, I groped in my handbag for my cell phone. With a thumb, I scrolled to the entry for Matt. A lot of people in Pleasant Valley go to sleep at ten or earlier, and I prayed as I listened to one, then two, then three rings, that Matt and his wife weren’t among them.

“Hello?” It was a woman’s voice.

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But I did not call Charlie that night. I still feel such rage toward him, I don’t think I could articulate an intelligible word if we got on the phone. Instead I called my father.

“Matt Wrightson!” Dad was speechless for a full five seconds. “Where…?”

Whenever I’m with my father or his wife, we pretend that Laura and her family never existed, that there never was a group marriage. Read more »

I offered to take Matt and Penny out for dinner the night after I arrived here, but the two of them adhere to the Dean Ornish diet; they had almost given up on restaurants because they usually just end up ordering salad anyway. Factoring in the kids’ predilections made it impossible. Instead, Penny made an inedible quinoa casserole. When I wasn’t picking up quinoa grains from the carpet, or restraining Dante from making a mast and sail with a broom and afghan, I watched my hosts with fascination. Read more »

OK, I guess it’s my turn. As the “Matt” character in Fallen Lake, I’ve relegated myself to lurking up until now, reading Adrienne’s posts with bemusement, especially as related to me. Unlike her, I don’t take offense at Laird Harrison’s whole enterprise in writing “Fallen Lake.” While he takes poetic license in his account of these events in my childhood, I think he describes the essential outline accurately.

But I now see the necessity to set the record straight because Adrienne has misrepresented some points from our discussion of the other day.

I’m not a genetic determinist. Human behavior clearly results from the complex interaction of genes and the environment. On a more basic level, we human beings are simply patterns of matter and energy that belong to larger patterns, influencing and influenced by other patterns.*

My wife, “Penny,” looking over my should tells me that I will have completely lost my audience with the previous sentence. The point I want to make is that Adrienne’s impulse to blame the decision of our parents to join in a “group marriage” for various behaviors of their children is misguided. Take for example the obsessive compulsive diagnosis I received at age 11. My therapist based it on theories with no experimental foundation that were slightly evolved from Freud’s concept of the “anal retentive” character. Recently gene studies have shown associations between variants in glutamate system genes and OCD  (including SLC1A1 in five independent studies). My mother needlessly blamed herself for my “condition,” which was merely the result of my rather unusual attempt to understand the world scientifically at an early age.

Forgive me if I continue in that effort.


*Seen in this light, the classic “nature vs. nurture” debate is resolved, since these are fundamentally cultural distinctions, with more metaphorical than material significance. Does this knowledge deprive us of what philosophers call “free will?” I don’t think that’s a very important question either. What’s important is that the pattern I call “me” is compelled to act on the other patterns around me in such a way as to try to preserve those patterns as long as possible in something close to their current form.

When I met Ivor in Califano Park, I didn’t know how to begin a conversation with him.

“Matt’s changed,” was what I finally came up with.


“Well, he’s married. For most people that would be ordinary. But there was a time he couldn’t connect with anyone. Now he doesn’t seem so… eccentric.”

“He doesn’t think he ever was.”

“Do you?” Read more »

Ivor’s yowl

Chubby and crew cut, with big glasses, Andy looked more like the Michelin man than the athlete I had pictured as Ivor’s companion. But the calm, gentle way he took my hand, made me like him right away. Read more »

“Not a commune.” Ivor looked embarrassed. “Okay, this is going to sound weird to you but I had this fantasy that Julie and the kids and Andy and I would all move into some kind of village somewhere that we could live in separate houses on the same block and the kids could play in between. One of those places where the whole neighborhood acts as the parents. Somewhere we could both see them every day without having to get a court order.”

“Does anyplace like that still exist?” Read more »

My impulse was to duck out of view, but I rolled down the window.


“Oh my!” The familiar laugh rippled out or her. “Let me have a look at you!”

I stepped out of the car and she grabbed me. Read more »

About halfway through my second glass of iced tea, my beeper went off. It was a call from St. John’s, so I excused myself to use my cell phone. Afraid my voice would carry too loudly even from there, I took the stairs to the second floor. On the first landing, something caught my eye, an eight-by-ten photo framed an hung on the wall. By then, I was already on the phone, and it was a long conversation; one of my patients was scheduled for angioplasty and Naresh didn’t think it was necessary. It’s rare for me to forget the details of a case, but now I could hardly remember enough to make my argument. After I hung up with him, I figured I should check my messages, and as I half-hoped, half-feared, Charlie had called again. Read more »

A bill to allow children more than two legal parents passed today in the California Assembly. It has already passed in the state’s Senate and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown.

It may sound like validation of the polyamorous lifestyle, but the sponsor  says it’s nothing of the kind. Read more »

If kids can have more than two parents, biological mothers and fathers will begin to lose their importance before the law.

That’s the essence of the objection that traditional family folks have mounted to legislation expected to pass the California Legislature this week. Read more »

In that moment, just hearing Charlie say he had broken up with Zulya wasn’t enough for me. As Anabelle suggested in her comments on my last post, I couldn’t trust him, at least not yet. I needed proof. And an apology.

As I put the phone back in my handbag, I finally took in the picture I’d been staring at. Sure enough, it was a photo of the famous four-person wedding: Dad, Mom, Laura and Leif stood on their dais, joyful but self-conscious. Leif is dressed incongruously in a tuxedo, Dad in a jacket and tie, Mom in a business suit and Laura in a green scoop-necked dress. I imagined that anyone who looked at this picture could tell, by the way their hands are linked, that these are more than friends.

As I absorbed the photograph, my breath shortened. Read more »

Read the previous post.

When Laura said she had more photos of the group marriage, I was surprised by the eagerness in my voice. “Can I see them?” Read more »

Read the previous post

Ivor’s ex-wife, Julia, lives in a brown-shingled house in the Oakland hills, tucked in a grove of live oaks and so obscured by camellias and rhododendrons you can barely make out the door. Ivor pulled the Explorer to a slow halt and sat idling for a moment as though having second thoughts before he cut the engine. He didn’t turn to face his kids and for a while there was silence in the truck. Read more »

Were our ancestors polyamorous? That is, did they have multiple spouses? Influential biologists going back to Darwin think we descended from small bands of people whose sexuality was not confined to a single partner. Read more »

Read the previous post.

Thanks for the comments about where I should go. I liked Annie’s idea. Apparently this place where Leif lives has a kind of open-door policy for anyone willing to put in the effort of finding it, somewhere in the North Carolina mountains. Read more »

Without asking me the kids had found the VCR in the living and were watching an old Bill Nye the Science Guy video, about the only video Ivor had in the house. I turned it off and knelt in front of them where they sat on the sofa. Read more »

Dear Adrienne

Dear Adrienne,

Will you forgive me?

I just discovered this website with the story of everything you have gone through in recent months. It took me some time to believe it was you who was writing under this assumed name. I read it with growing shame.

When we first met, I saw myself reflected. Everything I wasn’t, you were: beautiful, light, a healer of hearts. For years I was completed in you. Then one day I woke up to realize you weren’t there anymore.

Somewhere in the diapers and the takeout cartons, we had lost each other’s pulse. I still caught glimpses sometimes of your thoughts as you pulled nylons on in the morning, or I heard your whisper before we said goodnight.

I tried in my clumsy way to get through to you, to find time for us to be alone together. But there was always an appointment at the hospital, a patient, a fundraiser, a deadline that came first. We had become partners in the business of affording good schools, colleagues in putting pizza on the table, coworkers in paying the mortgage, no longer together in nourishing each other.

I got up from our bed one night and stumbled to our computer where a few taps took me out across the globe. There were thousands of women there. And their faces turned to me. When I spoke, Zulya answered. She has nothing on you, Adrienne. Not your poise, not your dedication, not your energy, your power to do good. But she was willing to entertain a conversation, and I needed that all these days and evenings alone.

The night you came to Zulya’s apartment was meant to be our last. I only went there to break up with her, face to face. I should thank you for bringing the children, because I saw in their expressions what I was doing wrong. I realized how much I need them, how much they need us to be together.

But it’s not only them. In these days since you’ve been gone, I’ve realized how much I depend on you. Every day you get up knowing what needs to be done, for your patients, for our kids, for our life. If you didn’t always have the time for me I wanted, it was only because you were using it to save someone else’s life. I should never have held that against you.

I know I’ve said some things in my phone messages that I shouldn’t have said. I was desperate, lost. I know I have no right to expect your forgiveness. But if ever you find the generosity to talk to me again, I will be here waiting.

And I love you.


We followed Leif outside and into a second building, constructed with modern wallboard and wood planks. Half the roof was taken up by big black solar panels. “This is our common house,” Leif said. Inside was a kitchen equipped with a restaurant-sized refrigerator and gas range. A woman was washing lettuce. Her dress was a kind of shapeless beige shift, embroidered with a Greek key pattern. Something was bubbling in a huge kettle on the stove. “Corinne,” said Leif, “this is Adrienne, Dante and Chloe. They’ll be staying with us tonight.” Read more »


Dessert that first night in Selu turned out to be fresh strawberries with cream supplied by Christine, the community’s only cow. Dante and Chloe had relaxed a little by then. They were getting lots of attention from the Selu kids, who wanted to know what television shows they watched and whether they had Xboxes. Read more »

The trail headed upwards now, and my breath came shorter. I paused to shift Chloe from one arm to the other. “How much further?”

“Not far. You want me to take her?”

I hesitated for a moment. Chloe didn’t like being held by people she didn’t know, but my arms were about ready to give way. “Okay.” I took the bedding from him and he took Chloe from me.

“Want a ride?” Leif said. He held her up to show her his smile, then gently transferred her to his shoulders. She didn’t peep.

“Harmony House,” I said. “That’s where you lived after the breakup?”

“Yes. The den of iniquities where my sons were forbidden to go.” It was the first time his voice had edged away from equanimity since we had arrived in Selu.

“What happened to it?” Read more »

Another day passed and another after that. I hadn’t slept so much in my adult life – an early bed and then long afternoon naps. At first I worried that the kids wouldn’t have enough to keep them busy. Read more »

It was a hot day and the corn went on forever. By the afternoon I was sweating, my hands were chafed and my legs ached. Afterward, while the kids got lessons in how to make corn-husk dolls, I wandered off by myself into the shade along the creek. Read more »


The kids had indeed been fed, and hardly seemed to have missed me, though in few minutes Chloe rushed up to grab my knees with her applesauce-covered hands. I was just in time to get the last of the tomato and basil salad to go with my corn.

Leif had already slipped out by then. In fact, after our first night in Selu I hadn’t talked much to him. He showed up in his hut long enough to start the fire for us, then he left. It wasn’t hard to figure out he was sleeping with a woman – or women – elsewhere in the commune. Read more »

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