The Once in a Lifetime Kind
I’ve waited long enough, let enough time pass. It’s time now to say what kind of thing it was and put it out of mind, though I doubt that I will ever be done with it completely. This is not to make heavy weather about it, though I did make enough heavy weather about it for a long while after it was officially done. Maybe even to celebrate what happens to every lucky person sometime before they die. It finally happened to me too, at the ripe old age of fifty-nine. Too old for love, you say? No, just coming into my real self, my final self for the rest of my life, the one who knew, after all, what I should have been doing and saying all along. And if this love hadn’t happened, and given me the opportunity to play my hand as I should always have played it, that would have been the real unsuccess!
To mark this, I didn’t succeed in convincing the man to stay with me. No, he had professional fish to fry elsewhere, was a little younger, and had his own career dreams to meet before lying down for the great count of his own. But I, at last, had success at being my real self as a lover, at finally being able to say what I wanted from a man, at courting him as I wanted to be courted, not just sitting there like a stupid shy flower because that’s what’s still expected of women in some ways. Not just flirting when flirted with, mildly back, always only hinting, but coming right out myself brazenly and initiating the back-and-forth. Not just playing a stereotypical role and being some other man’s or many men’s dream lover, but 1 being my real self, roistering when I wanted, cantankerous at times, outrageous as often as possible—and I think in the final days, though he didn’t come out and say it, he respected me for it, though it had been uncomfortable for him.
And now, you want to know, at least I would if I were in your shoes, as a reader, what our relationship actually was? Where I met him, who he was, who I was to him? Well, I was his client at a community counseling center. He was a new recruit to their team, had much to prove and was not much in the money, to hear him tell it in unguarded moments.
I say in unguarded moments, because he started out trying to protect his dignity and his status with the usual “And how does that make you feel?” routine, but I wouldn’t let this go on for long. I said things back like, “How do you THINK that makes me feel? Why would I be telling you if it didn’t make me upset/angry/happy/sad?” And he would respond with something exasperated, like, “Look, I have to ask you that! That’s the way the thing works. I might think I know the answer, but if I make an assumption, it might be the wrong one.” I said, “So we have a few mistaken assumptions. Let’s just be real people together, okay, and forget all this stuff you keep throwing at me about Freud, the charlatan, and all that poop! Honestly, a man who was so dishonest and vain he wanted to stand on a box to have his picture taken with taller people, yet he’s supposed to be the last word after all this time when it comes to what makes other people tick! And don’t get me started about his dirty bathroom mindset and his views of women!”
The thing is, my counselor, we’ll call him Adam, since after a very short time of arguing with him and plaguing the life out of him I was also trying to play Eve. He had a cute sideways smirk, gorgeous ringlets of black hair with which I was in mad love, a wonderful profile, lovely brunette skin tone and chocolate brown eyes, a tall, slender body shape with nice shoulders and shapely hands, and other parts that were equally worth serious consideration and admiration, but at which I was not supposed to be looking. I did anyway and even though I suspected he was a good bit younger than I, he denied it and indicated that we were almost of an age. I still pretended I thought we weren’t. As well as leaning on my superior education to his, in order to keep him in line or to pretend that I was trying to do so. After a while he began to see the joke as I meant it to be, as he was quite bright: there were no flies on that boy, as they say in the country.
What was also important was he shared my same liberal politics, though of course counselors are supposed to eschew discussing issues like religion and politics except as they relate only to the client’s needs. But I wasn’t born yesterday either, and I knew when someone agreed with a provocative statement I’d made and when they didn’t. Counseling isn’t a replacement for knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom, of which I feel I had my fair share gained from my life up to that point, and I was satisfied that he was an admirable sort all ‘round.
I suppose if I had been less in love or more insecure of myself at the time, it would have bothered me that I was overweight, hadn’t had really nice clothes, didn’t wear much makeup or sometimes any at all, that in fact I wasn’t a standard “woman” in the way a lot of men expect. But there are people who make you so much in love with them that you fall a little more in love with yourself, and he was one of those.
He seemed a little too thin, so I took him special things, a large bag of homemade cookies, a special homemade salad with avocado dressing, Reuben sandwiches, croissants and butter, other little bits and bobs, and I made him a hat during one winter that I saw him. Though ostensibly he accepted these gifts—and different counselors have different policies on accepting gifts from clients— because he thought it helped my progress, I always felt that perhaps he needed me for a time as well, and I thought it an equal exchange of courtesies.
After a certain point, I was always taking in poems I’d written for him to read, and though he wasn’t a literary sort, he had great intelligence and was a good reader. Also after a certain point, most of the poems were love poems, which were to him, and which he was told were to him, and he read them anyway. He attempted to distance some of my more successful literary tactics with awkward 4 literary criticisms. I felt I had the upper hand because whether he or anyone was willing to admit it, literature was long ago the first psychoanalysis and psychology, and has always had the upper hand when it comes to trickery and winning the day verbally, whether intended as love tactics or otherwise.
As you can see, I have been made to feel overall more successful in life by Adam, so you can imagine that I felt grieved when he began to cancel the odd session now and then, then more frequently. As an old lag of the system, it had been my experience that when that started happening, the counselor was on their way up professionally, and had to take interviews elsewhere, which they didn’t have the time to do at other times. So, they cancelled times with patients whom they felt didn’t need them as much as others and did the interviews.
I couldn’t bear to lose him at first, but I had somehow at last become a realist, and so I asked him point-blank one day if that’s what he was doing, rather than waiting to hear the inevitable from him several weeks later or when he actually found a job. I had never been able to let a lover go before without much whinging and crying and holding on and grieving at their coattails, but the nature of our relationship saved me. I think he too was relieved that I was honest, and told me that there was another job opening up that he couldn’t afford financially not to take. I asked when he had to leave and when my last session was to be, and he actually was able to give me a date a month or so further on.
It may sound funny to call him a lover, as he himself now and again tried to act like it couldn’t actually be the case. He’d say, “You don’t actually know me, or anything much about me.” But I always replied, taught better by the I Ching as I was, with this quote: “Men think they reveal themselves only by their most overt and outright actions. But actually, they reveal themselves with every motion, every gesture, every breath, every thought they utter.” And no one could say I hadn’t been paying intense attention to him all along, and taking note of everything. Even today, nearly seven and a half years after I met him and five years after the very last time I laid eyes on him, I can remember his appearance, his voice, complete conversations we had, and other details.
But one of the best legacies he left me is the determination to attempt fully to be myself. I finally got together the poems of a lifetime and published them, and though I certainly haven’t gotten rich off them, people who are important to me either have gift copies or have told me that they have ordered copies of my book. I took up my prose writing again after that initial victory, and have had some success with publications, though again not financially. I have made some excellent friends in the literary community, and have found the strength from these successes, as I count them, to cope with reverses and misfortunes that have recently come in our family. I hope to find time to continue these pursuits when time allows. But without Adam, none of these hares would have started for the hunt from the bushes.
In my final and considered opinion, it was a genuine love, and in fact the best and truest and most successful love of my life, as I believe it to be, as it required the most of me of any of them, even more than those of longer duration. And I grieved the loss of it more than any other, and it caused me really to mature more than any other (though when I’ve being melodramatic, as we all are from time to time about love, I say that the loss of it aged me more).
And I was fortunate enough to next have yet another excellent counselor who had known Adam and is able to help me get over the loss of him and move on with my life. He too is a lover and a genuine person, but I love him dearly as a professional friend, and only hit on him in jest, when we are making fun of the world and its foibles. He has a commitment in his own life, and is happy and satisfied and though I will likely never have that sort of relationship in my remaining life, I enjoy what little he tells me of his. He shares, that is. It’s a tactic all counselors who want to be the best they can be should think of doing with their clients whom they figure they can trust, to allow little bits and pieces of their lives to come into the conversation as a bridge of human nature between people engaged upon the same work, from either side of the otherwise too-wide divide.
And so ends my tale of “The Grand Affair.” There is a lovely song by that title by a singer called Ralph McTell, and I always felt mournful in the old days that none of my great romances had that feel to them. Now I can say that one honestly has, without a physical clench other than a handshake being exchanged (much though I tried to have such a thing come to be), and without a residence being split up. Only, I’m calling my tale “The Once in a Lifetime Kind.”
Victoria Leigh Bennett, (she/her). Resident in Greater Boston area, born WV. B.A., Cornell University, M.A. & Ph.D., University of Toronto. Degrees: English & Theater. Website started 2012: creative-shadows.com, now contains 8 novels & various reviews/articles mostly of literary nature. Pub’d. “Poems from the Northeast,” 334 pp., August 2021. Poem repub’d. from book @winningwriters.com, September 2021. CNF pub’d. @press_roi, January 2022. Fiction pub’d. @press_roi, January 2022. Poetry pub’d. @cultofclio, January, 2022. Short fiction acc’d. for pub. @press_roi, February 20, 2022. “Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris)” acc’d. for pub. @thealienbuddha, February 2022. Has also written 1 collection short stories. Current WIP: 9th novel, new Poetry/Fiction/CNF. Regularly on Twitter @vicklbennett, sometimes on Facebook at Victoria Leigh Bennett. Victoria is a member of the disabled community.