The Last Day of My Innocence

“I am other, no longer what I was before the affair of yesterday.”

An idyllic Thursday in June 2006 was my last innocent evening. A friend and I strolled along the utopian Main Street of Franklin, Tennessee, and savored beer and oysters in the heart of the historic downtown. We discussed plans for my seventh re:Create arts conference and marveled that I no longer worked at the local megachurch, or any church, for the first time in thirty years. We dreamed together of what my “early retirement” might look like.

I was happy to be free at long last—an empty nest, no job, no encumbrances—or so I thought. I had no clue that a Femme Fatale would captivate me in less than twelve hours. That carefree night, I could never have suspected the life-altering events before me.

Innocence. Ah, that illusive term. Perhaps I should say mostly innocent. After all, I had lived nearly five decades. Three decades in ministry witnessing every conceivable offense known to humanity: incest, blasphemy, murder, suicide, addiction, self-mutilation, hatred, lying, cheating, fighting, gossiping, disloyalty, betrayal, racism, misogyny, bigotry, ageism, white supremacy, inquisitions, manipulation, psychosis, child abuse, lust, fornication, onanism, and yes, adultery.

On the last day of my innocence, was I free from legal guilt of a particular crime or offense? Yes. 

Was I free from guilt or sin through being unacquainted with evil? No. 

Did I exhibit a lack of knowledge—was I ignorant? No. 

Was I free from guile or cunning? No. 

Did I lack worldly experience or sophistication? No. Yes. I’m not sure. 

Was I chaste? Yes. Wait, does masturbation count against me?

Was I harmless in effect or intention? Yes

Was I free from sin? No. 

Was I candid? Yes. 

Was I lacking or deprived of something? YES. 

At forty-eight, I was still young and chaste. The wind tickled my skin in my topless Jeep Willys. On the last day of my mostly innocent self, I drove up a winding driveway to paint watercolors in the lower meadow of a friend’s verdant country estate. Spring was in full bloom, and nature was throbbing with sensual beauty. Upon spying the alluring countenance of the siren sitting on the porch at the end of the road, I felt a chill and, for a brief moment, considered making some flimsy excuse, turning around, and departing. 

On that Fateful morning in that attractive setting, Fascination came running at me, and my Factuality fell apart. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t know what to do in the next few seconds.

Why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I run? Over the years, I Fled when my sixth sense sounded alarm bells. Was I so naive that I didn’t try to safeguard myself? Was I so Fragmented that I offered my heart to another?

Why didn’t I resist? Others—friends and therapists—yet mysteriously, never my nuclear family—have tried to answer that question for me. You were forty-eight at the time. It was a classic mid-life crisis. You were an empty nester with an empty dream house. You left the stage too abruptly. You were bored. You were suffering religious trauma. You no longer felt any responsibility to your children or your god. You had served them selflessly long enough. You were exhausted.

Three or four beautiful people had tried to seduce me over the years, but I had not wavered in my fidelity; I had stubbornly maintained my innocence. Why then? Friday, June 17, 2006. Really? It had been so long—married almost three decades. Why, then, after all those years?

Sometimes, I’m embarrassed by my failure to stand and finish well. On other days, I tell myself not to be silly. What do I imagine I could have done? Really? 

It was a perfect storm. I had just left the psych ward of the local hospital with my close friend who had attempted suicide, and I was helping another friend deal with a destructive son, his home falling apart. Very little sex for a man who wants (needs?) it every day. Wife spending eighty-plus hours a week with her new lover—an all-consuming career in real estate. Big empty dream house. Big empty life.

What I do know is that I was incredibly lonely, and I Felt so utterly tired after thirty traumatic years in the ministry. Somehow, that day, mysteriously, magically, at the end of that road, I found someone who listened and knew how I was Feeling—the first person to hear me, empathize with me, and see me in a very long time. It Felt intoxicating.

I will not use that person’s name in this account. She was my Friend, my Fan, my Fancier, my Foreteller, my Familiar, my Fate. I found myself thinking of her, perhaps Forgivably, as my Famishment—as in hunger and the need or desire for sustenance. However, I will refer to her more decorously in this text as “the F.” What I call her in the privacy of my mind is my business. 

When two Famished and passionate people intersect, the result is not an addition formula (1+1) but an exponential equation: F2 (F x F). The kinetic energy creates an explosion, a collision of atoms, and a chemical bond. Yes, it was the last day of my innocence. There was no physical sex for several weeks, futile resistance, but that day, the affair began. I was other. 

For several months, a torrid affair raged without anyone the wiser. Our spouses were occupied elsewhere, content to make love to their careers. But lying had never been a practice of mine, and daily deception was something I could not continue for long. And so, on another fateful day, I confessed the affair to my wife. 

My therapist later told me that due to the childhood abuse my spouse and her family had suffered, even after twenty-eight years of faithful and monogamous marriage—she forgave me, perhaps, but could not reconcile with me. She immediately put me in the place of her long-deceased father. “No man, not one, can be trusted. I knew it! Randy is just like my father.” My therapist told me during our sessions five years later that my marriage was over the night of my confession.

Normal people would have begun divorce proceedings the next day. But we yielded to peer pressure—family, friends, church leaders—and suffered through four more horrific years of shaming, distrust, vindictiveness, and judgment, as only Christians can do.

Seduction. A look can be used from far away. A look can go a long way toward forming a nurturing bond between famished people. A sensual expression happens at a distance, but a touch is intimacy; a touch is tactile. It is electric—a sensory medium for transmitting powerful exchanges. Here I am, Friend, the touch whispers. I’ve been waiting for you. Do you Feel me? I’m right here beside you. I’m placing my loving hand on your arm. Feel that? Chill bumps. Here’s some more, and some more after that. Breathe. I’m here. I’m right beside you. Catch your breath. Touch me back. 

It took about thirty seconds to navigate that driveway. In half a minute—if you happen to be in a religious frame of mind—you can recite the Lord’s Prayer: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Or, eschewing religion, you could read one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, the one about Filling a Gap, or better suited, A Rat Surrendered Here: the most obliging Trap, Its tendency to snap, Cannot resist. 

The duration of an Our Father Prayer, or twelve lines of poetry, was how long it took to climb that hill of Famishment—a Famishment of Friends—a Fateful sating of the salivating hunger of two ravenous souls. 

To this day, the affair remains blissful to me—the inexplicable communion, the euphoria, the fulfillment. I would not trade the experience for anything. I can’t speak for “the F.” A mutual friend, a Christian, told me “the F” had suffered much shame about the affair. I wonder if that is true. Perhaps. More probably, “the F” was shamed by others, the “sinless” ones. But I think she, too, was happy during our time of intimacy. 

Yet we reluctantly dragged ourselves off each other, commanded never to see or touch one another again. We were to do the “right” thing. Our six months of communion—our physical and mental feasting—were over. And soon, I was Famished once again. 

Her husband told me months later (yes, her husband, as he did the “Christian” thing and forgave me while insisting I never see her again) that he asked “the F” what she missed most about the affair. She said without hesitation, my Friend. As incredible as our sexual liaisons were, what I remember most about that surreal half-year was our extraordinary conversations in between the sex. Food of the gods were those talks, Food of the gods, banqueting, regaling the meanings of body, mind, soul, and spirit. 

In my former Christian circles, it was fashionable when the prodigal would return home with tail tucked after an affair to beg forgiveness and humbly accept the ridicule, shame, and judgment of peers and family, to repent in front of the congregation, and then perhaps start a ministry—”Ten Easy Steps to Affair-Proofing a Marriage.” The church required a subsequent life filled with contrition while wallowing in the mud of one’s transgressions.

But not me. For a while, that Fateful Summer, I was Full. I had a Friend. And I will be FOREVER grateful that day when June was bustin’ out all over, that last day of my innocence. And for “the F” with whom I Feasted.