Here Comes Trouble by Cynthia Close

I have sexual amnesia when I try to remember those most intimate moments with Pete. Sex had lured him to me, but my attraction to him was more conscious. A calculated thing. Once, after we had been married about six years, I suggested we consider having other consensual sexual relationships within the context of our marriage. Marge and Dave were an attractive couple with a little girl about our daughter’s age. We were close friends. I felt an underlying erotic tension when we were all together and I guess I had them in mind when I made this suggestion. Pete fumed. He nearly popped a gasket. It was the last time this idea was brought up. Perhaps the fact that he was cheating on his wife when he started dating me came back to haunt him.

Construction on my Fort Point studio continued. I was also working part-time as a gallery director at the BVAU (Boston Visual Artists Union) gallery on Washington Street in the heart of Boston’s Old North End. The organization moved there when we lost our luxury digs in Government Center. It was a great job for me. Flexible hours. I shared the position with my good friend and fellow artist, Renee. She and I each had a desk a few feet from each other but facing the gallery entrance so we could see everyone who came in. Some days we would be there together planning exhibitions, meeting other artists, or writing the grants that helped to keep the whole operation afloat. My lawyer friend Frank was still very active with the group. He donated tons of time and expertise to our cause, which was the advancement of artist‘s rights. Frank was also looking to date cute women.

On a warm, languid, city-summer afternoon Renee and I were both sitting at our desks. The gallery windows were open since this turn of the century building lacked air conditioning. There was a bulletin board by the main entrance where we posted notices of available loft space, exhibition opportunities, jobs, etc. I tended to be more gregarious, so greeting visitors and trying to get new members to join the organization fell to me. On this day in 1980, I glanced towards the door, thinking of nothing in particular. A slender, broad-shouldered man appeared at the top of the stairs leading to our second-floor space. His wavy, slightly graying hair caressed the collar at the open neck of his casually wrinkled pale blue cotton shirt. He stood there, relaxed, a bit of the weathered cowboy look about him, scanning the bulletin board. He turned his head and looked my way. Deeply set eyes, shrouded in shadow gripped my attention. I rose from my desk like I was levitating.

Renee stared at me and mumbled, “Uh-oh, here comes trouble.”

He’s a sculptor. Tanned and just returned to Boston from a residency in Roswell, New Mexico. He’s looking for studio space. His name is Robin. I am blinded by him. I immediately regret the shapeless, sack-like but cool and comfortable dress I pulled from my closet to wear that morning, thinking only of the workday ahead.

It was part of my job to assist artists looking for a suitable studio/workspace.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

We both smiled. He knew at that moment the multiple meanings inferred by my question. The rest was a dance. He needed temporary space immediately while he looked for something more permanent. I happened to know about an available loft in a building close to the gallery; I gave him the contact information, we chatted for a bit, and then he left. Renee looked at me shaking her head.

Flushed, sweating, giggling, I blurt, “He is beautiful.”

The next day he returned to thank me. The space I suggested would suffice for him. He was using it as a working studio while living for the short term in a friend’s apartment on Newbury Street till he found a combination live/work loft big enough to accommodate his stone carving. He let me know he would be in his new, temporary space, working to complete a piece he brought back from New Mexico, and he’d be happy to show me some things if I felt like stopping by later.

I had never in my life gone looking for a man, gone to his place to search him out, to see him, to know him. That day, I went to find him. I was familiar with the building, an 1890’s red brick, former furniture factory behind a similar building that housed the gallery where I worked. I entered the wide arched stone entrance and took the stairs up to the third floor. Most of the building was empty. All was quiet. I hesitated but reached out to tap on his door, feeling like Alice, about to fall down the rabbit hole. A youthful knowing voice, as though I was expected, said simply, “come in.”

His studio is flooded with the raking light of late afternoon sun. His back is to me as he seems to be working on a large, white, plaster relief propped up on an easel. It is a contemporary version of The Three Graces, simultaneously classical and of our time. I’m impressed. I’m standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. He slowly backs up a step, in silence, like a dancer in a dream sequence. He’s wearing a worn, short sleeved, white T-shirt that now exposes the well-honed muscles of his upper arms. The tips of my breasts just graze his back. I am acutely aware of every cell and pore in my body. Saying nothing, he keeps gently pressing backward. I can’t move. I think I may die. I’m about to swoon. He turns to face me. The spell is suddenly broken. His broad mouth curves slightly up in a gentle smile. He looks down at my feet; they are bare, in thin, strappy sandals.

Looking back up to my face he says, “I need a model for feet for a life-sized figure I’m working on. Are you available?”

The thought of someone wanting to use my feet as a model for a piece of sculpture takes me aback. I’ve never thought of my feet as being particularly attractive. I’m suddenly self-conscious.

“Do you think they’re good enough?” I ask, slightly incredulous.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t think they would work,” he says.

He explains he is trying to finish a large, female figure, a limestone carving he started in New Mexico, but the feet are giving him trouble, he needs a reference.

I’m intrigued. “How do we proceed?”

I knew the studio we were standing in was only temporary. He’d already found a permanent loft on Melcher Street, just three blocks from where I was constructing my new workspace on “A” Street in one of the many, mostly vacant, turn of the century factory buildings of an area on Boston’s waterfront known as Fort Point. My blood was rising, my cheeks were hot and flushed. He’d be moving in within the next few days. His space was also not zoned as a legal live/workspace, but he’d be living there while the landlord looked the other way. His main concern was the structural integrity of the building since the floors in his studio had to carry a lot of weight. Life-sized figures in limestone and granite must be taken seriously. So far, I’d only seen the plaster relief he was working on when I walked in. My curiosity was piqued. I’d never known a stone carver before, and certainly not one who worked directly from life. He seemed like an anachronism. We were living in a time when abstract expressionism was dead, and minimalism was king. I had forced myself to try some minimalist drawings in grad school, and my effort seemed falsified, unnatural, far from my main love, drawing the human figure. It was the source of whatever power my artwork had – so regardless of the trends; I stuck with the figure. Evidently Robin had made the same decision. We were kindred spirits in that regard.

He suggested I meet him at his apartment later that evening and we could make a plan. He warned me that it was just a temporary crash pad that a friend was letting him use while she was out of town. The “she” part caught me off guard. Who is this “she” I wondered but didn’t ask. I agreed to meet him there for a drink after work.

The rest of the day was experienced in a fog. I remember entering the building on Newbury Street. The apartment number he gave me was two flights up. I was worried he wouldn’t be there. I was also worried that he would be there.

I knocked.

The door opens immediately. It is him. The apartment is very dark, blinds drawn, sparsely furnished. I step gingerly inside. He has some candles burning on a fireplace mantle. Awkwardness. I’ve never felt so self-conscious. My body is getting in my way. He offers me a drink. Wine is sure to help the situation. He disappears and soon returns with two glasses and a bottle. He’s prepared. That pleases me. I ask him about his history. He tells me he wasn’t always an artist; he came to it later in life. He’d been in the Navy, done a tour of Vietnam. He’s about 6 or 7 years older than me. His father had been a military man, but it wasn’t a good fit for him, he bummed around after that, searching for something, he wasn’t sure what. He did a few years in the forestry service, living alone in the woods for long periods of time. He also did a stretch working in the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Labs in California. He made many attempts to finish college and later, a graduate degree. Nothing clicked until he took a sculpture course. The physicality of stone carving, and I suspect the release of aggression that occurs in that act, was a perfect fit for him. He offered to show me photos. I was eager to see them.

He disappeared into the darkened hall and returned with two albums. We sat on the sofa together and page by page he showed me his life’s work, complete from his days on a submarine when he was the quirky guy who painted figures, just cartoony things, on lockers and walls below decks. This was before he went to art school. The rest of the photos, mostly sculpture, were extraordinary. All the pieces were so beautiful, they could have occupied a Grecian building in ancient Athens. Female figures in various stages of dress or undress, but often gently carved clothing was a chance to hint seductively at the body underneath, besides revealing a spectacular skill at his craft.

I was excited. What a talent. I could not contain my enthusiasm. His arm had been resting along the top edge of the couch behind me. As his hand slid down embracing my shoulders, I raised my head and smiled. He pulled me towards him, his mouth was on my mouth. He was devouring me. I sensed myself being sucked up, enveloped, and absorbed by another being. We were suddenly standing. His searching hands were all over my body, touching everywhere at once. My skirt was at my hips. He backed me against a wall and then he was inside me. I felt electrocuted. I’d never had sex standing up. I was flying. I slowly descended. When I left for home later that evening, I knew my marriage was over.

Guilt was a new feeling for me, and I didn’t like it. I snuck into the house that first night and Pete was already in bed. My 10-year-old daughter was asleep in her room. I showered and slinked into bed beside Pete. At that moment, I knew I had betrayed our marriage in a way that was irretrievable. Pete had accepted the fact I was moving into my studio at Fort Point to facilitate my work as an artist. It was a career move he thought was momentary insanity inspired by my “artsy-fartsy friends.” He always thought I was too easily influenced. He believed it was temporary, and as soon as I regained my sanity I would move back home where I belong.

He had forgotten that I had displays of what some people might call, at the very least, mental instability, much earlier in our marriage. When Erika was about five years old, Pete and I were working together at the M.I.T. summer day camp. It was a program for children of faculty, kids from 6 to 14 (Erika got in because her dad was the director, and her mom ran the arts and crafts program.) That summer I began having what I could only call frequent out of body experiences. I did not do drugs, and I was not into any spirituality/guru or whatever sort of stuff. I would experience myself, my real self, from high up, looking down at me in my life going about my business, but the person on the ground wasn’t me. The real me was the observer. It scared the shit out of me. One weekday I formally invited my husband to have lunch with me in the student center. This request was an unusual event because he and I had so many kids to deal with during the workday we never took time for lunch, let alone with each other in an adult arena. He absentmindedly agreed. We got our lunch trays in the student center cafeteria. I looked for a table where we could talk privately. I tried to tell him how afraid I was of this feeling, this sensation I was having, the fly on the wall looking down at myself. I cried. He listened to me. He cared about me, so I know he tried to understand. But he didn’t.

“You’ll be O.K. honey,” he said. “You have paralysis of the analysis.”

I felt lost, buried my panic, stirred the food on my plate, and was sorry I had revealed my anxiety.

With Robin, on that first night, pinned against the wall in his apartment, I neglected to tell him I was married. In my head, I was no longer married but tell that to the judge. The next day, a Saturday, I took Erika to work with me. The Gallery was between exhibitions, so the entire space was empty before the next bunch of artists came in to hang their paintings. I let Erika bring her new puppy, a black Peekapoo named Walter. I’d recently bought her this dog (she picked him out) as a kind of offering. I knew that soon her life would be shaken, I would be responsible for that, and I was trying to provide her with things that would help her deal with the emotional upheaval I knew was to come.

Renee and I were working on an application for an upcoming grant deadline. Erika was running around the gallery space like a little maniac with Walter yapping merrily along at her heels. She seemed ecstatic. So much space and no one yelling at her to be quiet. It soothed me to see her in this moment of innocent, childhood abandon.

Coming from the entryway, I heard the voice that made me melt. I looked up to see Robin sauntering in. He just “dropped by” to say hello. My jaw tightened; he saw the chaos of my kid and her dog running around the gallery. The child did not look anything like Renee, so who was left? The awkwardness of that moment still pains me. Erika sensed something was amiss and ran over to hug me.

Robin laughed, “So who is this?”

Erika looked shyly first at me, and then at him. I introduced them, “Robin is mommy’s new friend.”
A relentless desire to be with him propelled me through my days. At 14, I’d become sexually active and had had a wide range of experiences before I married Pete. Once I was married, I believed I was married and managed to be faithful and true and all that – whatever – but, like Jimmy Carter said, “I had lust in my heart.”

Meeting Robin was like a nuclear explosion. Sexual experience on a whole new plane. After the chance encounter at the gallery with my child, I confessed that I was still married to her father and still living at home but with plans in the works to move out soon. Robin confessed that he had a long-term relationship with a woman he met in college, he never married and did not live with her, never planned to live with her, she’d had a hysterectomy so no children, and besides all that he was not sexually attracted to her. She smoked and smelled bad. Of course, I believed him!!! It didn’t matter who he had or didn’t have. If he was not a dad with kids – everything was up for grabs.

We found excuses to meet during the day. I had fantasies of walking along a downtown street with him and ducking into an alcove and unzipping his pants and holding his beautiful penis in my hands. A woman knows when a guy likes her. It’s when she touches him, and he’s ready, she looks at him, and he’s ready. The other woman in his life did not seem to be a priority. I’d sneak out of my house to the pay phone on the corner to call him. He’d always be there. When it came to making plans to be together, I had the impression he accommodated me. So, while there was another woman, I never felt emotionally threatened.

There was plenty of risky behavior. It was 1980 and AIDS was still nowhere on the horizon. All the STDs were treatable. He and I never discussed it. We never used protection. I was still young enough to get pregnant, and if I did get pregnant, I would have had his baby. That’s how potent the feeling was.

One night I was on my way to a gala event at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Being the token artist elected to serve on their Board of Directors provided access to the hoi polloi of the Boston art scene. A high-profile event for an emerging artist. It was very easy to take a short detour before I was due at the event to visit Robin at his studio on Melcher Street. He was pleased to see me. I wore a wine-colored silk dress, very delicate and floaty. Suffice it to say, we made good use of the time. The sex was spontaneous, mutually joyful and thrilling. At some point we had to stop, I was expected to be at this cultural event, on time. I put on my clothes, and Robin offered to walk me across the Summer Street Bridge to South Station where I had to catch the Red Line subway to Mass Ave. The velvety evening air enveloped us. As we walked, the warm, sticky ooze of his semen could not be ignored. I looked down at my silk dress as it blew between my legs and a huge dark stain started to form.

“Oh, my God, Robin, what can I do about this?” Suddenly I’d become Hester Prynne.

We were laughing, and he took my hand. We both dashed towards the lady’s bathroom in South Station. No one else was there, luckily, so he came in with me. The dress was a two-piece affair, I easily slipped out of the skirt, and he helped rinse it in the sink. We tried drying it under the wall mounted hand dryer. It was getting later by the minute. I pulled the skirt back on and made a dash for the train, leaving him standing on the platform wearing a sheepish grin. By the time I got to the ICA, my clothes were almost dry. I walked in smiling. The Institute’s director, Steven Prokopoff, greeted me with a glass of wine. I knew my paintings were under consideration for the next Boston Now exhibition. There was schmoozing to do as the evening stretched out ahead.

Armed with an MFA from Boston University Cynthia plowed her way through several productive careers in the arts including instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and president of Documentary Educational Resources – a nonprofit film distribution company. She now claims to be a writer.

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