Adrianna and Sam (when your hands are too small to hold all the pain)

Adrianna was tough. She grew up in Bed-Sty and learned at an early age never to take shit from anybody. Once in her junior year in high school, on the subway returning from a football game, a guy in her algebra class started squeezing her thigh. She dumped her hot latte on him and punched him hard in the face. When he hit her back, she kicked him in the groin and the guys on the train had to keep her from stomping him. With most of the other guys at school it was different. She delighted in the horny way they looked at her and she’d let them slide their hands down her pants and touch her ass. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t attracted to them. How they loved her ass. And when her breasts grew larger she felt awesome. She’d let them suck her nipples as they massaged her ass and made her come. But the orgasms were nothing compared to the feeling she got when they gave in to her, the way she could manage them. Every day when she returned home, she’d savor her conquests – under a table in the cafeteria, a supply closet, the boys’ locker room. The power she had over them. It was the best part of her homework.

Adrianna admired her father. He was tough and buff and riveted bolts on a New York City skyscraper. Before that he drove a garbage truck for the city but got fired for punching his boss for giving him shit about putting in too much overtime. Once he told her you learn a lot about people from picking up their garbage. He’d never finished high school but was clever enough to buy a rundown bar in Green Point just before the neighborhood was invaded by people hungry for cheaper rents and more closet space. He made a shit load of money but blew most of it on drugs and gambling. When he was high, he had rough sex with Adrianna’s mother and sometimes beat her. It infuriated Adrianna as she listened to her mother’s cries and sobs at night. Her mother was weak and passive and resented Adrianna for being so much like her father. Adrianna could tell by the way her mother slitted her eyes when she looked at her. She knew her mother hated her. That’s why it amused her when she lectured her mother on how to handle her father. “If you punched him hard in the face, just once,” she told her. “It’s a management problem.” Adrianna knew how to manage her father, not by punching him in the face but by letting him hug her, dry rub her ass and sometimes more. The same strategy she used at school. When her mother finally left her father, Adrianna stayed with him because he told her he needed her. He’d also saved enough money to pay for her four years at NYU.

Adrianna was 26 when she first came to see me. She had dark brown hair that hung below her shoulders and wore sweats with a tight tank top and bare midriff that made it hard to avoid admiring her survivor abs. Her face was clear and beautiful which made it easy to miss the fear in her eyes.

“They gave me your number from the hotline,” she said as she selected the chair furthest away from me.

“How are you feeling?

“Like shit. How are you feeling? Must be hard trying to fix people.”

“I don’t fix people.”

“What do you do?”

“Listen to their stories, try to understand them.”

“Why would you want to listen to my story, let alone understand it?”

“I like listening to stories. And it’s a mistake to think I won’t be able to understand yours.”

“So what’re you like a biographer who identifies with his subjects then grows to like them?”

“I don’t always like them. When I saw Silence of the Lambs, I identified with Hannibal Lecter’s alienation. That doesn’t mean I want to have dinner with him.”

“You wouldn’t want to have dinner with me.”

“That’s when he beat you, isn’t it.”

“What’s the point of going over it again? It never lessens the pain.”

“No, but it lessens the loneliness.”

She looked at me for a long moment like a terrified child. “I keep hearing Samantha screaming. We were at the kitchen table. I’d baked chicken with mushrooms and broccoli. Sam was just three years old. She was scrunching her nose at the broccoli and I told her she’d have to eat it with her chicken. I asked Carl if he’d emptied the vacuum cleaner knowing he hadn’t done it. It must have been my sarcasm, the way I looked at him. He grabbed my hair, slammed my head down on the table. Sam started screaming. He must have grabbed her and locked her in her room. He dragged me to the basement door and pushed me down the stairs. I remember crawling back up, blood dripping on the steps, crying out to him I was sorry. I don’t know how much later it was when I realized he’d unlocked the door. I saw him lying on the sofa. I almost went to him to promise him it wouldn’t happen again. But I thought of Sam’s screams, the way he once smacked her when she was cranky and wouldn’t eat her lunch. Adrianna broke into sobs. “I had to get my baby out of there,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

Adrianna met Carl at a theme party in his dorm. The theme that night was Gold Pros and Tennis Hos. She noticed him staring at her, legs splayed, swiveling her hips on the dance floor. He started to dance with her, cupped his hands around her ass and pulled her tight against him.

“You’re as subtle as a garbage truck,” she said.

“I can’t wait to own your gorgeous ass,” he answered.

She let him drag her to his room, excited by playing the sleazy slut. What turned her on most was the power she knew she had over him. She let him pull off her clothes and throw her down on the bed. When he moved to take her she flipped over suddenly and let him do doggy. She came quickly as he thrusted into her. Her pleasure was intensified when she imagined her mother watching.

It was still dark when she awoke and realized she’d been so exhausted she spent the night with him. She sprang for her clothes as he stirred. As she was leaving, she couldn’t resist asking him, “When are you gonna take me home to papi?” Before he could answer, she jumped on the bed and massaged and sucked his penis until he came. When she got up to leave, he followed her but she escaped before he could touch her. Perfect, she thought as she glided through Washington Square Park to the West Fourth Street subway station, one bird with two shots.

The next time she saw him she was walking on West Fourth Street by the park. He pulled up beside her on a motorcycle. She didn’t recognize him until he took off his helmet.

“It’s an 800 cc Harley” he said. But if you go for a ride with me your tits will get wind burned.”

“800 cc’s is the smallest size Harleys come in,” she shot back and he laughed. The way he looked, his hair all askew from the helmet, the longing in his eyes, made her laugh with him.

“I’ve got another helmet,” he said.

Adrianna had never seen the Jamaica Wildlife Preserve, four miles of hiking trails that wound around salt marshes populated by geese, owls and other assorted species. When they arrived, he took her by the hand and without a word led her to one of the hiking trails. They walked about a mile before he spoke.

“The thing I like about this place is people, complete strangers, always give you a friendly greeting. It’s like they’re not from New York,” he said.

“It helps that they’re strangers,” she answered.

Later they stopped and rested on one of the railroad ties that serve as benches overlooking the duck ponds.

“Sometimes I imagine I’m a goose among geese, living a pacific life of anarchy,” he said. “From T. H. White, The Once and Future King, when Merlin transforms young King Arthur into a goose among geese so he can understand the true meaning of anarchy.”

Adrianna shook her head, then burst out laughing. “An anarchist, learning to write computer code at Cooper Union. In three years you’ll be lobbying for tax breaks for Apple.” Before he could answer she got up and walked away from him, oblivious to the cool breeze blowing off the bay.

The next weekend, she didn’t know why, she let him take her to Storm King.

“The Alexander Calder sculptures perched on the hills are awesome,” he said earnestly.

She smiled at him cynically. “Yes, like great birds of prey or is that geese?”

He looked at her as if she’d slapped him. It surprised her that for a second she had an impulse to hold his hand. As they wondered the grounds, he told her his heart wasn’t in engineering and writing code, that he really wanted to be an architect. He had this dream of designing a series of vest pocket parks in Manhattan where people could stop and take time to breath. Part of her believed he was feeding her another counterfeit line like the quote from T. H. White. She was tempted to give him a sarcastic answer but the raw, hungry look in his eyes made her want to touch him.

Carl kept calling and she saw more of him. It must be the sex, she told herself. He started doing things that surprised and pleased her. Instead of yanking off her clothes and throwing her down on the bed, he helped her undress slowly. Once when she tried to pull him down on top of her, he gently nuzzled her breasts and kissed her tenderly. When he finally took her she had this weird feeling that he wanted more than sex and it excited her. She stopped commuting from her father’s house and spent her nights with Carl. They found a tiny sub-let in the East Village. She welcomed the routine they created. Breakfast at daybreak; running to her first class at Stern after she left him at Cooper Union; engrossed on their laptops in the Bobst Library or in good weather in Washington Square Park. On weekends they took long walks on the High Line, eat pizza washed down with too much Stella Artois and strolled down to Battery Park. Everything around her appeared more vivid. The brownstones in the East Village took on a luster in the early morning light that she’d never noticed before. As she walked along East Fourth Street, she noticed an old woman on her door stoop feeding pigeons, a couple exchanging an affectionate kiss before taking their separate paths to work. She felt in harmony with the neighborhood. A warm, peaceful feeling swelled inside her. She wondered if this is what it felt like to be in love. She quickly dismissed the thought as she passed through the cold, cylindrical columns at the entrance to the Stern School of Business.


“I can’t remember exactly when it changed,” Adrianna told me. “For a long time our love making was sweet and tender. Then he started resenting me and the sex got rougher. It was like he was trying to pry me open. He used his fingers and sometimes a dildo while he was inside me. Once he used a butt plug which really hurt me. He came almost instantly. He told me that if I tried harder and we did it more I’d start to enjoy it. I felt like he was trying to poison me. It was then that I realized he hated me. Right after that I was pregnant.”

“How did you feel when you found out?”

“My first thought was to get rid of it. He made an appointment at Planned Parenthood. I wouldn’t go. He grew more resentful. By then he’d given up all thoughts of architecture. Twitter wanted to hire him after he graduated. He pleaded with me to go with him to San Francisco. He screamed at me that there was no place in our lives for a baby. I ignored him. When the nurse showed me her image, I burst into tears. I knew then I’d do anything for her, this innocent little girl growing deep inside me.

“Tell me about your pregnancy.”

“It was rough, the physical changes. I was hungry all the time, had to pee every 20 minutes. Forget about morning sickness. It was all day sickness. A couple of times I almost threw up in class. I grew fat as a whale. Little bumps appeared around my nipples. Hair grew faster all over my body. My nose got bigger. And I smelled different, like a citrusy, sugared orange. Weird. Women getting more beautiful when they’re pregnant, sentimental bullshit. What frustrated me most was the fatigue. I couldn’t jog or do aerobics. I did some downward dog and that helped. When Sam started kicking at night, I couldn’t sleep. Near the end, I had sciatica and had to move back with my father. I couldn’t lift anything and I could barely get up.”

 “How was your delivery?”

         “It took 12 hours. But I forgot about the pain when the nurse gave me Samantha. She was so tiny and fragile. I remember thinking I’ll always protect you. And the way my father looked at us, with such tenderness. I knew he would be there to help me. Carl was there but when he wouldn’t hold Samantha, my father grabbed him by the neck and kicked him out. I thought he was gonna strangle him. A few days later, Carl took off on a motorcycle trip. He was gone for most of the summer. After I got used to Sam’s feeding schedule, I moved back to the East Village. My father understood that I needed to be alone with her and agreed to come later in the day. The mornings were the best times. The rapture in Sam’s face as she gurgled and sucked and feasted at my breast, the sun streaming in through the plants in the bedroom window.”


Carl returned drunk in the middle of the night. It was the first time he hit Adrianna. If it hadn’t been for Sam she’d have bashed him with a hammer or maybe stabbed him. Now her first thought was to protect Sam. It was easier when the fall term began and they saw less of each other. When he wasn’t at Cooper Union, he spent most of his time out drinking with his friends. When he did come home it was to eat, watch videos and then fall asleep. He sometimes played with Sam but Adrianna always felt like he was playing with someone else’s child. Samantha grew tense and often cried when he held her. Carl knew better than to approach Adrianna for sex, even after her body recovered from giving birth to Samantha. The look on his face when he saw her stepping out of the shower didn’t excite her the way it used to. Her anger at him began to fade. She felt like he’d already left her.

Sam was almost four when Adrianna graduated from NYU. She stood on the stage in Washington Square Park waiting for her diploma and smiled at her father holding Samantha in his lap in the audience. The look in his eyes both both warmed and excited her. I can always depend on him, she thought. He’d been there all through her pregnancy and now he bought groceries and baby sat Samantha. For an instant as the dean handed her her diploma she felt like she belonged. Carl hadn’t come to her graduation. Neither had her mother. It didn’t matter to Adrianna. Her father would always be there.


“I have fantastic news!” Adrianna said breathlessly. “Carl left for San Francisco. He’s gone for good. And I landed a job in an internet start up in Tribeca. And my father helped find a one-bedroom a few blocks away.”

“Great,” I said stunned by her torrent of words. “But why do I have the feeling something else is going on?”

Adrianna looked at me anxiously. “I don’t know if I can tell you this. I know you’re out of the box, but this may be too far out, even for you.”

 “Try me.”

 “My father. He’s spending more time, a lot more time, with me.”

 “Like when you were in high school?”

          “No, back then I only saw him in the afternoons when I came home before he went to the bar. I‘d do my homework while he sat on the couch reading. I remember him sneaking looks at me from the sofa he’d bought years earlier that my mother always hated. Once I got up, plopped down next to him and rested my head on his shoulder. ‘You’re perfect’ he whispered and touched my lip with his finger. He was crying. His tears made my heart ache. I snuggled up to him and we just sat there together, until my mother barged in. I hated her for always interrupting us.”

“What’s it like now?”

         “He’s always with me. I love that he takes such good care of Samantha, how joyful he is with her. He picks her up at pre-school, plays with her in the park and babysits when I’m traveling for my job. And he…dazzles me. Whatever I do turns him on, brushing my teeth, peeling an orange, washing the dishes. The way he looks at me in restaurants, when we’re shopping at Whole Foods, in the park with Sam. He’s so happy. He looks younger. He told me he’s proud of me, that helping me get my degree is the best thing he’s done in his whole life. He’s adding a restaurant to the bar. I’m designing the web site. He wants to help me start my own consulting firm. He will, you know. We’ll do it together. Last week at dinner, after too much wine, I told him my entrepreneurial genes come from him. The look on his face when I said it made me tingle. I wanted to lean over the table and kiss him.”

One night after Adrianna put Sam to bed, her father kissed her.

“I’ve loved you for so long,” he told her as she trembled. He took her by the hand and moved to her desk top computer.

“There’s a song, an old song I want to play for you.”

Tears streamed down his face as Joni Mitchell’s lone, aching voice filled the room.

There’s a sorrow in his eyes,
like the angel made of tin.
What will happen if I try
To place another heart in him?
In a Bleecker Street café,
I found someone to love today.
I found someone to love today.


Adrianna lead her father to bed and held him in her arms as he sobbed. “I felt alive again when you named Samantha after me,” he said.

They made love every morning. Adrianna awoke aching for him, needing him to fill her before she could start her day. When she tried to take him, he restrained her. She came several times as he made a slow sweep of his tongue down her belly, spread her legs and put his tongue inside her. Sunday afternoons were the best while Samantha was napping. They listened to Miles Davis as they fucked and dozed the afternoon away. He never took her quickly. When he did, he only thrust part-way, fighting his desire for her. Afterward, lying in his arms, buoyed by the coarse, earthy smell of his body, she realized his hunger drove their lovemaking. It made her ravenous for him.


“It feels like a dream,” Adrianna told me. “I take Samantha to The Little Red School House each morning for pre-school, watch her play with the other kids on the sidewalk, standing there with their parents. Sometimes I believe their world is no different than mine. I go to work. I come home to Sam and Samantha. Sam always picks her up and takes her home for milk and cookies and her afternoon nap. We’re a family. Isn’t this the way families are supposed to be?”

“It’s a dream family that you’ve created to shut out the outside world, a world that’s abandoned both of you.”

“Sam has always been there for me.”

        “And you’ve been there for him because he could never count on your mother or anyone else.” I stood up, went to my bookshelf, pulled out a DVD and handed it to Adrianna. “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” I said, “about a girl and her father.”

“Rose looks like me,” Adrianna said as she examined the jacket.

“A younger you, when you were in your mid-teens.”

“What happens between them?”

“You’ll have to watch the film.”


Adrianna arrived early, tense, anxious to speak. “It’s a sad, beautiful story,” she said, “especially the tale Jack tells Rose about an ox who visits a little girl who lives in a tiny house. She asks him to join her for tea and he’s so flattered because,” as a tear slides down her cheek, “he’s…he’s not use to being spoken to. So he pokes his big nose with a ring in it through the door. But it’s way too big to fit. The little girl pulls and pulls on the ring and he pushes and pushes and the house collapses around them. Then she jumps on his back and they ride off together to get married.”

“The little girl is the only one who speaks to the big lonely ox,” I said.

         “Rose loves Jack so much. But he won’t let her marry him. He won’t let her save him from his loneliness. Not like Sam and me.”

“Yes, and at the end Jack dies, but not before his loneliness weighs heavily on Rose.”

         “Jack’s a coward! He doesn’t have the courage to claim Rose. Sam’s not a coward. He’s never been afraid to claim me, to be different.”

“Adrianna, Sam is heartbroken like Jack. He believes that you, and only you, can save him from his loneliness. And Jack really did claim Rose, not sexually but he claimed her loyalty. Jack the ex-hippie home schooled Rose. They spent hundreds of magical moments together all though her childhood in splendid isolation from the outside world. Rose even has an ox dream later in the story that’s identical to the tale her father told her earlier. His dreamy tale of marrying his daughter became her dream, a big, delicious seduction. A seduction is when somebody makes you believe what they want is what you want. Did Jack give Rose any options besides his dream as she was growing up? Did he leave her any room for her own dreams? Did your father give you any room for your dreams after Carl? Is he giving you any now? The truth is Jack and Sam both raised their daughters so they couldn’t love anyone else.”

Adrianna looked at me gravely. “I had a dream last night. Sam is making love to me. His penis is hard. He’s trying to push it inside me. His face is all contorted as he forces himself to do it but he can’t. He finally gives up and tells me it’s not working for him. I feel so ugly.”

“In real life Sam is passionate about you. The thing that drives your love making is how excited you get by his hunger for you. Why would he suddenly stop desiring you in your dream?”

“I don’t know.”

         “I wonder if it’s really your father who gets turned off in the dream? Sometimes in our dreams we do switcheroos.”

 “So what are you saying, it’s really my mother? A lot of Freudian bullshit!”

“No Adrianna. I’m saying it’s really you.”


Adrianna was in no mood for interpretation as she sat in the conference room in her borderline sexy Max Mara dress. She was pissed. Pissed at her boss who’d just given her an impossible deadline, pissed at her father and, above all, pissed at her know it all shrink. Now this nerd from IT was late for his PowerPoint presentation. She expected a pudgy look how cool I am geek from an Intel commercial. What she got was a tall, graceful guy in a jet black Armani shirt that clung to his well defined bi’s and tri’s. Adrianna split during his presentation. Half of her took in the slides on the recent changes in her company’s MIS. The other half methodically appraised possibilities. The Standard overlooking the High Line was too romantic. The Greenwich with its Shibui Spa was too public. The Bowery somewhat secluded with 24/7 room service was perfect, for intense highly focused fucking.

It amused her to suck the thin ribbons of pappardelle off her fork in the Bowery restaurant as he watched. His eyes moved hungrily from her face to her breasts. She slipped off her shoe and pressed her toe firmly against his crotch. He’d have fucked her in the elevator if she’d let him. “Fifty Shades of Gray in your dreams,” she said laughing as she pushed him backward and bit his lip. Then she fell to her knees, unzipped his fly and sucked him till he almost came. They yanked off each others clothes in the bedroom. She wrapped her legs around him as he lifted her to the bed. He plunged into her and she let out a deep feral moan as she came. “Now eat me. Eat me till I scream,” she ordered. He buried his face between her legs and sucked and swallowed as much of her as he could get. “You like chili peppers,” she said laughing as she scissor gripped his head. Then she pushed him off her and 69’d him back on top. “Eat me, eat me again,” she pleaded as she cupped his balls and sucked his delicious cock. She sucked and sucked and gobbled him up as he exploded, lost inside her.

 “There are 22 nerves in the vagina,” she said smugly as they rested.

         “Actually, according to the Padmashri in The Kamasutra there are 24,” he said, “and they all end in the clitoris.” He spread her legs and glided his tongue over her clitoris. “Feel them?”

 “Yes, she whispered and moaned softly as she came.

 “Now close your eyes and breath deeply,” he ordered.

         “Yes,” she whispered again, amazed at how how easy it was to give into him. She fell asleep with his head between her legs.

She awoke with a start and looked at her cell phone. It was three in the morning. Her first thought was of Samantha but she knew she was safe with Sam. Before she could sneak out of bed, he took her in his arms.

“Good morning,” he said. “We haven’t been properly introduced.”

“I know your name,” she answered and tried to push him away but he kept hold of her.

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

“Charles, no Roger…okay I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Archie” he said.

“Sure, and I’m Edith,” she wisecracked.

“I would stifle your mouth,” he said smiling and kissed her sweetly on the lips.

“That’s Benedict, not Archie.”

         “Very good Beatrice,” he said laughing. “My name is Nicholas. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” He held out his hand. She hesitated before taking it. “So tell me about the other hook ups you’ve had here.”

“It would take all day.”

         “I had one here, last Christmas,” he said. “I was at a party. I’d been working all weekend. I had a very bad cold and drank too much. When we got here I was totally down and she undressed me and put me to bed. Then she read me a poem from her i-phone until I fell asleep.”

 “Do you remember the poem?”

          “It was about a guy who thought he was superman. His girlfriend sneaks a drop of kryptonite under his armpit and he collapses. ‘Just like a regular guy,’ she tells him totally relieved. Then she sticks her hand down his pants and has her way with him.” Adrianna laughed, reached for Nick’s penis and squeezed it gently. “Still resting,” he said smiling. “Actually, it wasn’t just a hook up. She was here on a project for Google and we lived together for three months.”

 “What happened?”

          “She hated New York and couldn’t wait to get back to Mountain View. I love it here and I’ll never leave. She wanted us to try a long distance relationship but I told her it wouldn’t work.”

 “Of course, not enough sex.”

          “Well yes but that wasn’t the deal breaker. It was the everyday stuff. Waking up together; hanging out in the evenings and on weekends; walking the labs, I have two Labradors. Every morning we’d take them to the dog walk and watch them play with the other dogs. Sometimes the transsexuals would greet us coming off the third shift.” Adrianna burst out laughing. “They’re a warm, friendly bunch,” he said.

 “Do you miss her?”

          “Sometimes there’s an emptiness in me that’s painful. But I feel bigger than I was before I met her.”

 “What do you mean?”

          “I look at things differently. I mean, now don’t laugh at me, the world doesn’t feel as unfriendly to me as it felt before.”

Adrianna looked at him intently. “I’m not laughing. I haven’t really had many hook ups. I had one a long time ago in school. I got involved with him. Then I got pregnant. Once he beat me up, badly. I have a four year old daughter.”

 “What does she look like?”

 “I don’t know you well enough,” she answered and jumped out of bed.

 “I’ll walk you home,” Nick said as she hurriedly slipped on her dress.

 “It’s probably out of your way.”

 “Where do you live?”

 “In Tribeca.”

          “I know a great restaurant in Tribeca, on Watts Street. It’s run by these three crazy French-Jewish-Egyptian brothers who were made crazy by their French-Jewish-Egyptian mother.”

Adrianna laughed. “I know that joint. It’s got a great wine bar.”

They stopped at the entrance to her building and Nick asked her for her cell phone. He typed in his email address and cell number, then kissed her slowly on the lips.

“Will you call me?”

“What do you think?”

“Probably not,” he said.


Adrianna came in frowning and slumped on the couch. “Yesterday I learned that the guy who wrote the lyrics for one of Edith Piaf’s songs, Milord, just died. I’ve always been a fan of Piaf. I have this image of her as always cold, hungry, unwanted, in spite of her fame. How I love that song, about a girl from the docks, probably a whore. She sees this rich guy in a restaurant with a woman who doesn’t really love him and tries to comfort him. She tells him he’s been unlucky in love and invites him into her kingdom. She’s amazed when he starts crying. ‘But you’re crying, Milord,’ she tells him, ‘I’d never have believed it!’ Those lines always make me cry.”

“What brings the tears?”

         “I hooked up with this guy from work the other night. He told me about his ex-girlfriend and how much he was hurt by her.”

“He tells you about his ex-girlfriend and you’re the one who cries, like the girl in Piaf’s song.“

Tears streamed down Adrianna’s face. “Whenever I hold Samantha in my lap, she looks at me with trusting blue eyes and says, ‘I love you mommy.’ Sometimes this nightmare image pops into my head. Samantha is suddenly out in the middle of the West Side Highway, standing there terrified as the cars come rushing at her. I hug her tightly and she looks up at me and asks, ‘Mommy, why are you so scared?’

“Do you remember what it was like when you were Samantha’s age?”

         “Most of my friends have memories from back then. For me, it’s a big blank. I can only remember stuff from when I was older, my mother’s hatred. Once I bragged about getting the highest grade on an algebra test and she told Sam, ‘The girl’s all talk.’ I’ll always remember her eyes slitted with hatred when she said it. After that, the few times I ever tried to tell her anything important, the words would evaporate in my mouth. In high school, she never knew what I did outside but when guys started calling, she’d look at me with disgust. I knew I was hot back then but felt ugly whenever I was near her.”

“When you were a baby Sam was drinking heavily and into drugs. The battles between him and your mother must have been a nightmare for a toddler. When this kind of trauma happens to very young children, they block it out as if it never happened, but they can never erase the feelings. When they’re adults, the feelings often pop up out of nowhere, usually triggered by something. Your nightmare image of Samantha thrown out in the middle of the West Side Highway feels like what you’re mother wished to do to you. She didn’t do it, of course, but she wished it. Children from a very early age read their parents’ feelings better than they ever can themselves.”

“It doesn’t matter now. I don’t hate her. I never think about her. She’ll probably die and I won’t know it. She may even be dead now. I feel the same way about Carl.”

“How do you feel when you’re with Samantha?”

          “She loves to sit at the kitchen counter and watch me as I make breakfast. Sometimes she helps me put jam on her toast. Last Sunday when Sam and I were having lunch, she did a somersault on a rubber mat we bought her, then let out a screech of pure joy. When she saw how worried I looked, she came up to me, took my hands in hers and said, ‘Ferget about it big momma, piece a cake!’ Now she’s nagging me about trapeze lessons in Hudson River Park. And when she plays with Sam, they’re like a big papa bear and a baby bear.”

“A tender moment, when Samantha held your hands in hers, to reassure you. Nobody ever held your hands at that age when they were too small to catch the pain.”

“Adrianna broke into tears. “It’s always been there. It follows me everywhere. It was raining when I woke up this morning and I thought, ‘When will it ever be washed away?’”


Adrianna plopped down on the chair beside me. “I told Sam I’ve been seeing you,” she said. “He wasn’t exactly overjoyed. After he calmed down, I told him what we’ve been talking about. I didn’t expect him to listen but he did.”

“Maybe you’ve underestimated him.”

         “I never talk to anyone about what I’m really feeling, except you, but you don’t count. Although I admit you’re hands are bigger than mine.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but be careful. Some shrinks have been known to cry.” Adrianna looked at me tenderly.

“What did you tell Sam?”

         “Well, for starters I told him you know everything about our sex life and it scared the shit out of him. But when I explained it wasn’t really about sex but deeper feelings he calmed down. Then I got him to watch The Ballad of Jack and Rose with me. Some date film, don’t ya think?”

“Perfect for you and Sam.”

         “When the film was over, he broke into tears and told me he’d been selfish, that like Jack he’d never thought of other options for me. The scene that really got to him was when Rose tries to get this really sweet boy Rodney who’s living with them to take her virginity because she’s so pissed at her father for bringing another woman in to live with them.”

“What moved Sam about the scene?”

         “Rodney wouldn’t have sex with Rose. He gave her an adorable pixie haircut instead. Sam has stopped having sex with me ever since he saw that scene. I don’t know why he’s making such a big deal about sex.”

“It doesn’t sound like Sam is upset about having sex with you. Of all the people in the story, which one would you say understands Rose best?”

“Probably Rodney.”


         “He gets her.”

“Yes, he tells her she’s innocent, that innocent people are dangerous. And Rose is dangerous. She’s so pissed at her father that she let’s a poisonous snake loose in the house. Nobody ever told Rose, certainly not her father, that she’s innocent. I think Sam realized this when he saw the scene and now he’s feeling guilty. It’s healthy to feel guilty when we’ve fucked up with somebody we love because most of us are challenged to repair it.”


Adrianna looked radiant in the afternoon sun steaming in through the window. “I’ve seen Nick again,” she told me. “I’m seeing a lot of him. He has two Labradors, Caitie a sweet chocolate lab and Eric, a big cappuccino cream puff. He’s devoted to them. When I stay over, we get up in the morning, have breakfast and take them to the dog walk by the Holland Tunnel vents. It’s a refuge surrounded by big alpine bushes and a wire fence that protects them from the cars speeding down the West Side Highway. We just sit on a park bench not saying a word while Caitie and Eric romp with the other dogs.”

“Sounds like you feel safe with Nick.”

         “One morning we were having breakfast and Caitie put her face in my lap. I gave her a piece of toast. Nick looked at me and said, ‘Caitie loves you.’ I asked him if he was sure it’s me and not the toast. He didn’t answer. He just kept looking at me. The way he did, the softness in his eyes, made me cry. Sometimes he makes me laugh, especially when I try to get a rise out of him. It usually happens when we’re out walking the labs. The other day I told him, really laying it on thick, ‘You’re so gender sensitive, a bonafide metrosexual, every girl’s dream,’ I said. So he gives me this dead pan look and says, ‘Just for the record, Adrianna, my taste is far superior to any gay guy’s you can think of in the West Village.’ And sometimes he lays it on me. Once we were out walking the labs and he says wistfully – I can tell he’s setting me up – ‘You know, sweet girl, if you’d had some lesbian relationships when you were at NYU, I mean there must have been at least a few gay girls at the Stern School of Business, you might be more well rounded.’ He makes me laugh.”

“I’m starting to like Nick.”

         “He’s also a Prairie Home Companion fan. He has this big blanket with a map of Lake Woebegone that Catie and Eric sleep on with the inscription: Lake Woebegone, where the women are strong, the men are good looking and the children are above average. Sometimes in the morning, we make love. In those moments, Nick looking into my eyes, Catie and Eric resting on their Lake Woebegone blanket, I feel like I belong.”

“Lake Woe Be Gone, a nice home for you and Nick.

          “I told Sam about Nick. His first reaction was, ‘If he’s anything like that other asshole, I’ll cut off his balls.’ I suggested we have Nick over for dinner He’s never met Samantha.”

“Good move.”

         “Wait, it gets better. We invited him on a week night and I was at work so Sam prepared everything; Niçoise salad, smoked salmon, brown rice and steamed asparagus, all washed down with two great bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. My old man’s a natural restaurateur.”

“What happened?”

         “They started talking muscle groups. They both do resistance work at the gym. It turns out they know the same personal trainers and work out at Equinox. They actually made a date to work out together!”

“A lovely couple.”

         “Yes. The best part was Samantha’s reaction to Nick. We’re all sitting at the table and she’s taking in the whole scene, looking at me, at Nick and her grand pop. Then she comes out with, ‘Mommy are you and Nick gonna get married?’ Nick looks at her with a big Cheshire grin, then at me and says, ‘Maybe, but only if your mommy’s a good girl.’ Then Sam chimes in with, ‘Lots a luck Nick.’ Then Samantha starts giggling.”

“A family dinner,” I said.

         “Later we were sitting on the couch sipping wine and do you know what my Samantha did? She plops down between Nick and me, takes both our hands and joins them together.”

“It was more than a dinner. It was a feast.” Adrianna suddenly turned somber. “It won’t last. I feel like icing on a perfect cake that Nick has baked himself. I’m not essential to his life.”

“You’re just getting to know him. Ever ask yourself why he’s so moved by you?”

“I have no idea.”

“Why is Samantha moved by you?”

“I’m her mother. She needs me.”

“Sounds like Nick needs you too. Remember when he told you that losing his girlfriend left an emptiness in him, maybe an emptiness that can be filled by you.”

“What happens when we fight?”

“You’ll both stick around and give each other a chance to repair the hurts.”

“Repair the hurts, what does that mean?”

          “It means that after you fuck up, you give each other permission to keep fucking up until you get it right. Sam hurt you without meaning to and now he feels bad about it and he’s trying to repair it by welcoming Nick, like the good father he should have been. But with Samantha it’s different. What would you say her greatest need is now?

“For me to work less, spend more time with her.”

“Wrong. her greatest need is for her mother to be happy.”


These days, Adrianna comes to see me once a month. Last month she took a week’s vacation in Paris with Nick, after they’d just bought a two bedroom apartment in the West Village. I’m happy I haven’t met Nick. I hope I’ll never have to. A few days ago I got a call from Sam.

“Adrianna tells me she can talk to you,” he said, “and you ride a motorcycle.”

“How could she know that?” I never told her I ride a bike.”

          “She said that once when you went to the bathroom, your cat jumped out of the closet and pushed open the door. She saw two motorcycle helmets on the closet shelf.”

“Sam, please tell your know it all daughter two things for me. First, my wife disapproves of me riding a motorcycle and we argue about it all the time. Second, I ride a 600 cc Honda Shadow which isn’t as powerful as a Harley but a lot more dependable.”

“I will,” he said laughing. “Does next Monday work?”



Early yesterday morning, riding my bicycle back from Battery Park on the West Side Bike Path, I spotted Adrianna with Nick in the dog walk, both stretched out on a park bench. Caitie and Eric, exactly as Adrianna had described them, were rough housing with the other dogs. I stopped behind one of the Alpine bushes and watched them for a few moments, holding hands with their eyes closed, breathing the fresh morning air.

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