The Thoughts Still Haunt Me
A True Story by Adam Gunn
Every couple dreams their marriage will be perfect, particularly if they are young and haven’t yet experienced the disappointments of adult life. Stephanie and I certainly felt that way on the Tuesday after Labor Day of 1968 as we took our vows near Columbus, Ohio. The next day we piled our stash of belongings into the red Volkswagen bug and began our first transcontinental trip, arriving in our new home in the northern Bay Area just five days later, our legs cramped from the thousands of miles we’d driven, yet hungry for each other’s bodies.
Had she trapped me into marriage too early? Perhaps. We’d been sweethearts in high school, then for three years through aborted efforts at higher education. In my senior year of high school she’d given her virginity to me, for the next couple of years the largest problem we had were the logistics of finding a place to screw.
In January of 1968, the night before I’d enlisted in the Navy, the draft board hot on my heels, she’d promised fidelity to me. In June, when I’d been transferred to the San Francisco area and found it to be my personal promised land, I wrote her letters about the paradise. She wanted to join me, and to underscore that desire she began dating an air force man, her letters were full of him. In my youth I let myself believe that if I lost her my life would be worthless, and the idea that he’d made love to her, whether true or not, infuriated me. I telephoned her, an expensive proposition to a seaman first class, proposed and a few weeks later took accumulated leave, flew back to Columbus and we wed.
I was attached to Mare Island for a year and a half for computer training, only thirty miles north of The City. We found a series of furnished apartments, on the nights I wasn’t required to be on base we made love more often than not, explored California as we did the crevices of our bodies. Life was, indeed, as perfect as it ever would be, we had each other.
The orders for my remaining four years of enlistment came through, I would be assigned to the aircraft carrier Ranger, then sailing in the Western Pacific to fly jet aircraft that bombed the Viet Cong. I’d heard the details by then: As long as the war raged, the ship would spend eight months of the year deployed across the ocean, only three or four months of rest and refurbishment.
The discussion of where Stephanie would spend the deployment was settled, she’d return home to stay with her mother. In January of 1970 I flew halfway across the globe to meet the ship in the Gulf of Tonkin. For the next six months our letters, which took at least a week to cross the ocean, sometimes a fortnight to reach each other, were full of love and disillusionment with our separation. Needless to say, a married woman who has tasted the joy of independent living and the mecca of California wasn’t content to live in a backwater town with her relatives. After the ship docked in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, I took leave, Stephanie and I were reunited.
But just for a few months. Even those were interrupted as I had to spend every fourth night aboard ship with the duty, and five times we left port for sea trials lasting from a couple of days to weeks. In September Stephanie stood on the dock with other wives as the drab hulk was pushed from the mooring, turned west and headed through the Golden Gate.
Another nine months passed, lonely months for both of us. My life was dictated by the rhythms of sea duty, thirty days on the line, six in a Philippine port, punctuated by visits to Hong Kong and Tokyo before returning, blissfully, home. Stephanie’s life was not so rigid; she spent the months going to movies and clubs with her girl friends, working as a clerk, she flew home for the holidays. Her letters were sometimes filled with frustration; a woman of her age, one who has tasted the wonders of sex, has certain needs, ones that can’t be assuaged easily. In February she wrote to me of her glee when she and a friend visited a seedy shop in San Francisco and she purchased her first dildo.
I asked her if she was approached by men in a restaurant or bar with her friends. She was a beauty, even in my fifty year old photographs I can see that. She was tall, in heels she reached nearly to six feet, her legs were long and pleasing, her breasts were conical and copious. The fashions of that time tended to bralessness and miniskirts, I couldn’t blame men if they were desirous of her body. Stephanie answered that every once in awhile someone might try to buy her a drink, before she accepted she told them she was happily married and their opportunity was limited to conversation. My belief is that during the cruise of 1970/71 my wife was numbered among the most faithful of women.
I recall the first night after our return to the States in June. As we steamed through the bay on a clear yet misty June morning we spied the dock, filled with families. Luckily my section didn’t have the duty, I was in the first wave of sailors to hit the gangplank. I quickly found her, she wore a red dress she’d sewn herself, we imitated all those photographs you’ve seen of a sailor in dress blues hungrily kissing his woman, we headed for our apartment. I remember stripping her, how we stroked each other, I can almost still taste her tightly drawn nipples. She moaned as I came the first time, too soon, but I was raging again in just moments, for hours we screwed. Some of the rest of that day was spent at the pool, drinking beer and luxuriating in conversation and tales, in the evening we found a pizza parlor, but most of it was spent naked in each others arms.
We caught a break, the ship was slated for a complete overhaul. Even better, it would be performed at Hunter’s Point in the city of San Francisco, we wouldn’t need to relocate or be separated for the nine months of renovation. We found another, better, apartment in the hills of Oakland, settled in for an extended period of togetherness, rare for a serviceman’s wife.
Through the winter of 1972 we enjoyed each other. Life wasn’t perfect, of course; we had every minor plague that young couples suffer - less money than we’d like, our car broke down and had to be fixed, we argued about silly things. But we were in love, we managed mirth and passion.
I believe a turning point came when we made friends with another Navy couple. We hung with them on weekends and some evenings. She, as I remember, had an olive complexion, was short and her boobs didn’t quite fill her bikini top. He was shorter than Stephanie, but had muscular arms and a crude sense of humor that appealed to my wife. One night over more than enough beer and wine, I became aware that somehow I was sitting next to the other wife, and she was kissing me. I cooperated, even to the point that I opened her blouse and sucked a nipple. Through the fog of tipsiness I noticed Stephanie was likewise engaged with him, in fact she had his penis out and was stroking it with her hand. There’s nothing more to the story. I was faithful to my wife, she was loyal to me, the four of us dressed and had another beer.
But that opened a topic Stephanie and I had never broached. We talked about the encounter afterwards, understood that neither of us was upset at the indiscretion, discussed how it had been nice to kiss somebody else. I wanted to ask her if she would have liked it to go further, but felt shy about raising the enticement. Nor did Stephanie, if she was like-minded, verbalize her desires. In the daze of youth and the belief that faithfulness in marriage is a virtue, we simply ignored the mountain in our bedroom.
In the early 1970’s - really the last gasp of the period known as the Sixties - sex was a common topic. Movies showed female nudity, even to full frontal, advertisements were full of double entendres, the San Francisco Bay was a laboratory for alternative lifestyles. Why we never went back to our friend’s house and participated in an orgy is a question that baffles me. Perhaps he shipped out; or it may be that they realized Stephanie and I would have to be pushed to commit adultery and they didn’t wish to force us. Or, maybe, they were as embarrassed at the rashness as we were. In any event we never got involved with them again. And yet I dreamed about screwing the other wife and I have no doubt, particularly in light of events yet to transpire, that Stephanie lusted after the other man.
The shipyard period closed, the Ranger was scheduled for sea trials. In a matter of a few months, I’d be floating across the Pacific again, Stephanie would be on her own until the ship returned.
One weekend evening we walked to a cheap Chinese restaurant in the Fruitvale district. As we returned home in the gloaming I remember Stephanie begin a conversation. “Have you ever thought about making love to someone else?”
“I don’t know.” I had, of course, but I wasn’t willing to voice my fantasy. Then, falteringly, “Have you?”
“I wonder what it’d be like, sometimes. You know, would it be different?”
“You mean better?”
“No. That’s not what I mean. I just think it would be different. I think I’d like to try that sometime. You’d like to, wouldn’t you?”
I remember I didn’t answer her. My thoughts on the subject weren’t formed, I was confused. After we returned home Stephanie put on a negligee, we made love in the living room, our window open to the dim light and my mind wasn’t on her, it wasn’t on the fantasy of another woman, it was obsessed with the apparition of someone else undressing my love, sucking at her beautiful breasts, then climbing above her, spreading her thighs and inserting himself into her. I discovered competing emotions. The first was repulsion that another man might possess the body which belonged to me alone, the other a grizzly curiosity about how she’d relish it. I pictured his sperm being pumped deeply into her as I screwed her powerfully. I doubt we discussed the new thoughts afterwards; such ideas are muted after an orgasm. But we made dynamic love again the next morning before I drove her to work.
A few days later, the Ranger had it’s first sea trial after the yard period. A simple two day cruise west of the Farallones, just a jaunt to shake the ship down. I performed my duties as always, yet the thought of Stephanie and another man refused to leave me. In my bunk I silently masturbated thinking of my wife and her phantom lover. I even wondered if that very night she’d taken the incentive, going to a bar, picking a handsome devil up and having her way with him.
Of course she was still my woman when I returned, she told me she’d stayed at home and worked on a jigsaw puzzle; the half completed picture of an Italian town confirmed her story. That weekend, as we began our foreplay, emboldened by a bottle of wine, I queried her.
“Did you mean it when you said you wanted to have another guy?”
“I just wonder what it would be like. Just one time, that’s all.”
“What if you liked it?”
“I wouldn’t do it again, not if you didn’t want me to.”
“And you want me to say it’s okay?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I don’t want to cheat on you, I’d never do that. Never!”
I didn’t give her permission that night, I’m sure. But I considered it. I wondered, if it was just one simple screw, what harm would it do? After all, everyone was doing it, weren’t they? And I had desires of my own. If she did it, it would only be fair if I was allowed to lie with a woman as well, wouldn’t it?
The following week the Ranger put to sea again, three nights this time, constant drills of the ship’s company, General Quarters, Damage Control, Abandon Ship. We were readying ourselves for war. I was preoccupied with my tasks, of course, but I still had plenty of time to consider Stephanie’s request. My mind was muddled, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but the experiment - for that’s what I thought it would be - fascinated me. What would it be like for her, going to a man’s bedroom, letting him undress her? Would the taste of him be different? She was rarely quick to orgasm with me, would the other man set her off? I masturbated to the dreams.
That weekend, I brought the theme up. I asked her again what her desires were, she repeated what she’d already told me. She was intensely curious. She had no one in particular she wanted to have sex with, but there were guys at a bar near us - I’d been there with her - that flirted with her whenever she and her friends stopped for a beer. No, she hadn’t done anything yet, wouldn’t even think of it unless I sanctioned it.
And so, as we caressed each other in the darkened bedroom I allowed it. “One time,” I said, “just the one time. And you’ve got to tell me all about it after it happens.” She was beside herself with my consent, she was wild in her movements, she orgasmed quickly and hard.
She delivered me to the dock on Monday morning, it must have been the third of April. We kissed, and the specter of her infidelity was on my mind, and I’m sure on hers as well. I fully expected by the time the ship returned she’d know the feel of another man inside her. And I watched her drive off.
The next two weeks was spent in sea-trials. In the radar center we tracked incoming aircraft, new pilots landed on a ship bobbing in the ocean for the first time, with the additional two thousand men of the air wing on board it was crowded. We continued the drills we’d started the previous week, got better at them. My shipmates and I settled in to our routine, trained the new guys. And I stewed.
There was no way for me to reach Stephanie, I couldn’t have waved her off if I’d wanted to. Every night as the sun slipped below the horizon I’d wonder if that would be the night she’d head to the bar, allow a guy to put his arm around her, kiss her, and then take her home. The time dragged slowly.
On Friday we passed under the Gate Bridge, but the omens were poor; there was an offshore wind, I could tell the waves were high by the way the ship rattled. When we approached the dock in Alameda the tugs crawled to our hull, but they had a backbreaking chore of pushing us to the pier against the wind. Time and again we sat almost next to the dock, but the gusts were too much; the Captain announced we would anchor in the Bay, try again tomorrow.
I was disgruntled. Just over there was my wife, I could see the hills of Oakland lit by thousands of lights. I didn’t know if she’d had a sexual experience, had no way of finding out. Had we been closer to land, I wonder if I’d have done something crazy like jumping overboard and swimming to shore. I know I didn’t sleep much, and when 0700 hours came the Captain announced the winds had abated, we were going to head in. It took an hour and ten minutes until we were tied up and the gangplank was erected, and then I was on the pier. Stephanie was waiting, our arrival time had filtered down the grapevine.
I remained frustrated, one of my shipmates had asked if we’d drive him home, of course I agreed. In the interim I couldn’t ask her what, if anything, had happened in my absence, but I gazed at her legs as she drove, and I noticed sly glances in my direction, as if she carried a secret. We dropped my buddy off, within a block my hand was on her knee and the question was out of my mouth. “Did you?”
“Let’s wait till we get home,” she stalled. And then, in just a few minutes though it seemed like hours we were in our driveway, climbing the flight of stairs, entering the front door. I popped into the bedroom to change into civilian clothes, she brewed a pot of coffee. And then, at the kitchen table, she satisfied my curiosity.
“It was last Saturday evening. About ten o’clock I went to the bar, Steve was there with a friend of his. He bought me a beer, put some music on the jukebox, asked if I wanted to dance. Then he put some slow songs on and I let him hold me. Oh, honey, it felt just so good with his arms around me. I don’t know if he knew what I was thinking, but I knew what I wanted. And then, it was after midnight, I said I was going to walk home, and he offered to take me and his friend came with us.
“I asked them if they wanted to come up for another beer, and they said okay, and then, well, I just took his hand and led him into the bedroom. He kissed me, and then he took my clothes off and he took his clothes off and we got into bed.”
“What do you think?” she scoffed.
“Tell me what happened.”
She hesitated. She’d promised to tell me everything, but now she seemed nervous about it. But knowing she’d given her word, after taking sip of her coffee, she explained. “He felt me down there, put a finger in. I was on my back, and then he climbed on top of me and put it in.”
“Did it feel good?”
“It was all right, I guess. He kept pushing it in and out, and then he came.”
“Did you come?”
“No, I wasn’t even close.”
“The other guy, what was he doing?”
“He was in the living room watching TV. Then I saw him open the door and stick his head in. He watched a couple of minutes but he didn’t see much, we were under the covers.”
“You didn’t do both of them, did you?”
“Of course not!”
I paused, a little dazed with her revelations. “Was it what you wanted?”
She grinned. “Yes. When Steve left, he told me I was great in bed.”
“Did he say he wanted to do it again?”
“What did you say?”
“I just sort of brushed him off.”
For the moment I was satisfied. And, I’ll admit, I was aroused by the thought of my wife screwing Steve. I stood, held my hand to her. She understood what I wanted, she was the one who led me to bedroom. Stephanie was spirited, after she undressed me and revealed her underwear she kneeled above me on the bed and took my prick into her mouth. This was a rarity, not something she often did except for special occasions; well, I guess that was a very special occasion! I was almost ready to pop, I’m sure she understood that, that’s when I pushed her away. I pulled her shoulders to the bed, like Steve before me I spread her legs, covered her with my body and pushed myself inside her. I was where the other man had been, she was mine once more! As I thrusted, Stephanie held me and cheered me on, I came quickly, forcefully.
And then, suddenly, it was over. I felt drained. My wife had sex with someone else, she would never be just mine ever again. Oh, she snuggled to me and I cuddled her, my hand on her breast - the one Steve had held! - and tried to calm, not only my breath, but my emotions as well. Stephanie slipped off into sleep, my mind was racing. I wasn’t upset, I realized I’d been complicit in the violation, I had no kick. But I knew if I could take it all back, I would. After awhile, I slipped out of bed and tried to read a book, my concentration slipping from the thoughts on the page to the specter of my wife in a dark room, letting a stranger screw her.
In a bit Stephanie woke. I have no idea what we did that afternoon, but knowing us we got out of the house. It’s likely we got our swimsuits on and drove over to the beach in Alameda. Perhaps we took our bicycles up to Tilden park, maybe we drove into San Francisco and walked the hills. I only know I tried to come to grips with the new paradigm. I know my belief was it was over, Stephanie was done with her experiment.
I dimly recall that late in the evening, when we were tired and had a bottle of cheap wine in us, Stephanie and I made love again on the living room rug. My consternation ebbed, now the thought of Steve’s mouth on hers, his hand embracing her ass excited me. As part of the foreplay, we explored more details of the expedition. Yes, Stephanie admitted, she liked the way he held her. No, his cock wasn’t any bigger than mine. They only screwed the one time, when he got up to leave she wanted him to stay and do it again, but he said he had to get his friend home. No, she hadn’t given him a blow job, she wouldn’t have minded but he was in too much of a hurry. When we made love I had her describe in detail what it felt like to have him inside her and she had a bit of an orgasm. When I came again, though, the morose covered me like the dusk turning into blackness.
A fortunate - I say it now, in retrospect - occurrence happened, I had the duty on Sunday. That meant I was required to be aboard the ship by 0800, I wouldn’t be home again until 1600 on Monday. As I went about the light chores required of me, I allowed myself to think about how Stephanie had been unfaithful, but also how it had brought joy to her. I came to grips with it, or at least I thought I did.
Monday afternoon Stephanie picked me up after her job was over at 5 PM, we headed home, she made something for dinner, we watched television. I reached for her, she allowed it but I could tell, somehow, her heart wasn’t in it.
We made love in the bed again, afterwards I started to talk, tell her of my insights. “I’m glad you did it,” I told her, “and the only thing I don’t like is you got to have a guy, but I didn’t get to have a girl.”
“Oh, honey, don’t worry about it. If you want a girl, it’d be okay with me.”
“Of course, it’s only fair.”
Then I started another line of thought. “You know, I’m going to be out at sea now quite a bit, then in September we’re heading for WestPac again. I know you get lonely when we go away, do you get horny too?”
Cautiously, I could tell she wasn’t being candid, she admitted she felt her urges. And I proposed a solution. “So, maybe, just every once in awhile, you could, you know, pick up a guy. Now that you did it once, it’s not like it’d be a big deal, not if you didn’t treat him like a boyfriend or something. What do you think?”
I’d expected her to be happy I gave her permission to have more affairs, even though we’d agreed the first time would be the last time. Instead I felt a soft shuddering, my shoulder was suddenly moist with her tears. I tried to comfort her, but the whimper became open weeping. It took her a good five minutes to calm herself.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Oh . . . I”m such a . . .” She couldn’t get her thoughts out.
“Tell me,” I commanded.
Reluctantly, her words filled the bedroom. “That night you were supposed to come home, you remember?”
“The night we couldn’t get into port because of the wind?”
“Yeah, that night . . .”
“What about it?”
“Oh, I was so let down. Just hopeless. I was waiting in the parking lot for you, and when the news came that you weren’t coming in I cried for a little bit. And then I went to the bar. And Steve was there, I let him buy me a couple of drinks. He asked me if he could take me home. Honey, I know I shouldn’t have, but I was drunk, and since we’d done it once I couldn’t see why not, so I let him drag me into the bedroom . . .”
I got out of bed, livid with the thought of her broken promise, with the knowledge that she’d let Steve fuck her again, angry that this path of being a serviceman and his wife was just so very screwed up.
The story doesn’t end well. I loved her, I believe she loved me, but the separation of military service and the time we were living in conspired against us.
After I calmed down, it took me days, after I’d digested that she’d drowned her sorrow in sex, we came back to the idea we could both have affairs, I think I believed we could survive that. Of course I was naive, we were too young.
Through the war games that summer, Stephanie picked up more men than I was comfortable with. On the beach in Alameda she let a teenager drink some beer with her, took a bath at home while he watched; the conclusion was what you might think. She took a shine to an insurance salesman that was trying to turn one of my friends and I into agents. One night after a ‘class,’ my friend took me out for a beer, I’m sure that’s when the salesman began his long affair with my wife, hidden from me until much later. After we headed across the Pacific she became indiscriminate, I didn’t get the details through her letters, but I read between the lines. At least once, probably more, the salesman took her to a party in Marin county, she participated in orgies. I know she smoked pot, I can only assume she also took LSD and other drugs.
She became pregnant, she was admitted to the naval hospital with a mental breakdown. I was recalled from the Ranger to care for her.
We had the baby, after I was discharged in January of 1974 I got a job in Silicon Valley, we had another tragedy, a stillborn son. To be closer to her family, for her support, I got a job in Ohio. She seemed fine. Then one day I discovered she’d started an affair with a therapist she was seeing.
Are you surprised that, even though I forgave her, though I lived through her indiscretions, I still loved her? Then she walked out on me, taking our children with her after ten years of marriage. Somehow, forty years later, the thoughts still haunt me.
The above is an absolutely true story, with the exception that I’ve changed ‘Stephanie’s’ name for her privacy. I don’t offer it as a caution to young couples, although the circumstances aren’t unique, differing from many other’s only by details, I’m not sure there’s anything to ‘learn’ from my tale, youth needs to make it’s own mistakes.
The details are as accurate as my records and my memories can make it; of course, after forty-four years some impressions may be misremembered. Unfortunately, I’m unable to compare my recollections with Stephanie; although we’re friends and I see her a few times a year, her mind has slipped into the abyss of Alzheimers, even when we talk about the pleasant times we spent in California her mind is muddled.
If this story seems familiar, I fictionalized the matter in my series ‘The Sailor’s Wife’. If I’ve bored you, my apologies.
And, should you have questions, comments or other thoughts, feel free to leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.