“I am getting used to considering every sexual act as a process involving four individuals.” -Freud in an 1899 letter to Fleiss.
But why, my beauty, stop at four? Of course, yes, there’s my mother, never one to diminish her importance, filling the bed as she filled a room, and your father, critical of the whole world, especially his family. They take up a lot of space. Hardly any left for us. But that’s hardly the end of it; it gets much worse. For there’s also my father, weighing in at 200 blustering pounds, swinging that belly of his around the bed, and your mother, who, God knows, never stopped talking, never stopped talking never.
Your mother, my father, do try to be polite and not take over the bed—truly; they announce themselves as the most polite and politic of parents; instead of adding bulk, my father stuffs himself into my bones and skin. I can feel him in there, suffusing me, very depressing. He weighs me down; I can hear him in my own speech. And, I hate to tell you, love, but you’ve begun, these past few years, to sound a good deal like your mama.
The mattress sags. I touch your breast but oops my elbow hits someone’s nose. But this time it’s not our parents. Who then? Maybe it’s their parents, busy milking their children’s hearts. Our parents twist and turn to avoid the four of them but, doing so, take up more of our space. Not to mention the Hollywood beauties and macho leading men, inhabitants of glossy ads and TV specials who, with their publicists, get between us and the camera. The cameraman sets up light reflectors around the bed, and there we are, kissing someone, kissing everyone.
Let me come inside you quick before that space is taken up as well. Hold me.
Shh. Our children in the next room. Stay under the covers in case they come in.
I remember before we were married when we didn’t have to share the space or didn’t know that we were sharing it. We were the Original and Solitary Lovers, making our own sweet world. The bed belonged solely to us, though it might be actually rented for the occasion—a weekend in New York or a week on St. John’s. Our parents, three still alive back then, were—alive or dead—silent ghosts walking near us in Central Park, or snorkeling translucently, if living ghosts can snorkel, in Cinnamon Bay. In those days, no interference from the ghost gallery. But listen—if we didn’t feel their presence even back then, if we weren’t uneasy that they’d eventually surround us and come inside us and get between us, why would we plan to take off time from our careers to crew a schooner for six months? Which course, of course, we never did. We never ran from them to be alone.
But how could we imagine the overcrowding?
They can’t resist observing, can’t resist commenting, sometimes kindly, sometimes not. We should ignore, but with all those elbows and asses shoving and sticking out, it’s hard not to hear criticisms of our relationship. Back and back, generation by generation, in too many languages so that they end as gibberish. They’re generally not so pleased with one another—your parents and their ancestors, my parents and their ancestors. Everyone has a bone to pick. There’s Swedish and Russian. There’s French and English. The Ashkenazi bicker about whose Yiddish is “correct” and who speaks like a “grubyom.” It’s an argument about class and locality.
From somewhere near the foot of the bed, as we hold one another, a song breaks out in what sounds like Ladino—it must be my ancestors from the Ottoman Empire. Their music doesn’t harmonize with your great great great grandmother’s lullaby in Gaelic. Oh, what’s our music, my love? When will we ever be alone with one another? A bed is just a bed, not nearly big enough. We could slip away to make love on the livingroom floor if it weren’t for the children.
I make an announcement: Have you no consideration for us? Please wait under the bed till we’re done, then slip into sleep with us so we can dream you. Oh, I promise we’ll dream you, costume you in outfits that will make you unrecognizable.
But no—you kiss and squabble, spilling out of the bed and over the floor of our bedroom, so many different kinds of clothing, until the room, too, is crammed.
“Daddy? Mommy? What’s that noise?”
“It’s just us, being silly. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.”