My Lover’s Secret

img028“What did you do before you came to Cornell?” I asked. We sat on his couch, drank red wine, and listened to Buffy St. Marie on the stereo. He was sturdy and muscular with dark curls. My heart had decided the minute I met him. It was 1966, and I was in love.

“I went to Dartmouth as an undergraduate,” he said. “I got a master’s there.”

“And before that?”

He hesitated. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about before that.

“Ummm, I lived in Norwalk, Connecticut,” he said. His lips barely moved.

“With your parents?”

“With my mother.”

Vic at college graduation 1963

Vic before I met him: 1963

“Where was your father?” I asked.

“He died,” Vic said. His jaw muscle popped, and he dropped eye contact.

“My dad died when I was fourteen,” I said probing for more, but the topic was closed. I came to know that tight jaw well. It meant I was hitting a raw nerve or he was afraid.

That winter, we went to classes in the morning and spent afternoons making love and eating Golden Delicious apples. We cooked, shopped, and did our laundry on the weekends. I wanted to move in permanently, but he wouldn’t commit. I was 21 and wanted his arms, his voice, and our passion all the time.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” he said a few months later. His dark brown eyes were soft and earnest, but that jaw was tight. My heart pounded. Did he have another girlfriend or was he leaving for some reason? He was skittish. I wanted to circle him with love without scaring him away.

“My dad didn’t die,” he said. He forced himself to look at me.

“What happened?”

Vic's mom gave him this VW for graduation

Vic’s mom and his graduation gift

“He deserted my mother and me before I was a year old.”

“Oh.” I wanted to hug him, but I waited.

“I saw him a few times in my life,” Vic said. “He was an alcoholic and didn’t pay child support. When he showed up, he was violent.”

He reached for my hand.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“It’s embarrassing. He’s still alive, but I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him in fifteen years. His real name wasn’t Mansfield. He’d changed it before my mother met him. I’m all Italian.”

I hadn’t questioned his story. I didn’t care about his past. I was in love with a physics graduate student who rode a motorcycle and read me poetry. I loved his arms, his hungry kisses, and his black VW. Later, I realized he had revealed the wound that haunted him, his life-defining secret. Telling the truth meant he trusted me with the places that hurt.

Cornell Sage Chapel

Cornell Sage Chapel

There was mystery behind the man, hidden corners and silent secrets. Sometimes the most fascinating thing about someone is the part they try to hide.


Did your lover have a secret you learned about later? Did you find out by mistake or did s(he) tell you? For other true tales of my early relationship with Vic, read Until It’s Time for You to Go or California Hippie Capers: 1968.

  1. The setting of this story reminds me of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe in Just Kids. What a gift you have for hitting your reader with heart throbs, Elaine. And what a teaser for your book’s release. Impressive!

    • Marian, didn’t mean for it to be a teaser, but glad it is. My book says very little about our early years, although there are a few flashbacks. I write about early marriage on blog. Book focuses on time between when Vic became ill and 2 1/2 years after his death. Very little from the book has been posted at the blog–perhaps 5%. I wanted the book to offer new stories.

      • You have done what good memoirists do – present a slice of life. Your devoted readers are in for some surprising material. Wonderful!

        • Thanks, Marian. The show is on the road since Amazon started selling now and they and GoodReads are accepting reviews. I want to get to your site, but have to pack to leave tomorrow morning to give a workshop. I’ll get there eventually. Juggling!

  2. Elaine, Would love to read the rest….this is great !

    • Suzie, thanks for commenting here. I hope you’ll enjoy the book. If you poke around on my blog, you’ll find more about my early marriage and other family stories. Best to you.

  3. You have the most amazing pictures. I love reading your posts- only they’re too short! Good thing I can have your book!

    • Thank you, Janet. I write little memories here, but book is a longer narrative with almost no overlap with blog stories. Thank you for your loving friendship to me and to Vic.

  4. Every light you shine on this love makes me smile to know you both better. Love that first photo of you walking together. Thank you for another beautiful post.

    • I love that photo, too, Patti. I think it was taken in Connecticut, but don’t remember for sure. It has a date on the print, so I know it was after Vic made a commitment. I appreciate your support, Patti.

  5. Beautiful post, Elaine. . .I can’t help but wonder if Vic became more open about his dad and his wound throughout the years? Or did he always feel that he had to keep it a “secret”? ( I’ve been thinking about childhood secrets lately!)

    • Kirsten, he became open about it–gradually. At first he shared it with only a few but then he faced his wound in psychological groups we did together. He eventually wrote about it in his first book and in a few articles. Vic saw his father who was dying in a veteran’s hospital in 1970. Vic had been informed by an uncle and knew he had to go to face this, so we drove to Washington, DC with our one-month-old baby. Another story to tell. I’m glad the shame didn’t last.

  6. I wonder sometimes how men who lose their wives grieve and also how they cope with tasks that their wives once did – being the surviving elder in the family, creating, nurturing, maintaining relational ties (kin keeping), and not least, housekeeping and cooking. There is little in men’s backgrounds to prepare them for self- sufficiency in these areas.. Thanks for any thoughts you may have on this.

    • If this has been your experience, I’m so sorry. It seems very hard for anyone who is left to take on the other person’s role, especially if they have grieving children. I’m not sure the process of grieving would be so different, but sometimes it’s difficult for men to ask for help. My local hospice offers bereavement groups just for men, so you might check your local hospice organization. Paul Bennett wrote about his experience of losing his wife in ‘Healing Grief.’ C.S. Lewis wrote about his experience in ‘A Grief Observed.’ These are two of my favorite books about spousal loss. I also suggest seeking out others who have had this experience in a place such as Grief Healing Discussion Groups for Loss of a Partner. Here’s the link.
      Reaching out for support and finding people who have similar losses has always helped me. It’s not a small risk and may bring much healing.

  7. What an insightful story… Those moments are what makes and sometimes breaks relationships. Love it.

  8. I know life has its ups and downs but your beautiful tales of your life with Vic are so romantic sounding with an abundance of love between you. I enjoy reading the happiness you two shared together. You know I just love how you captivate the reader with your artful words. 🙂

    • Thank you, Debby. Our early years together were a dream come true. And, as in all fairytales, there were some tests and trials. All in all, a lucky woman. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

  9. I was supposed to give your book away to a friend who recently lost her husband. I still intend to do that. After I finish every last bit of it myself.
    Thanks for this sweet glimpse into the beginnings of love. How precious.

    • I’m glad you’re reading ‘Leaning into Love,’ Robin. Thank you Life was/is sweet and full of hope. I’m grateful when these little stories emerge in memory and ground me in love.

  10. Great post title! And a great way to introduce those of us who haven’t yet read the book to the leading man of your life.

    I will take your question about my own lover into my “box in the basement” to see what I can discover.

    • Hi Shirley,
      I’ve written quite a few pieces about my early life with Vic, digging around in the foundation and roots of a marriage that started strong and grew stronger over 42 years. It wasn’t that we never disagreed or felt irritated with each other. It was more about daring to share and show vulnerability and be honest even when it hurt. Also we liked the same food and environment, and that eases the way.
      I wonder what you will discover down in the personal unconscious. I always know I’m in for something interesting when I dream about the basement.
      Thanks for your reading and taking the time to comment.

  11. Hi Elaine,

    This is so good. I can relate so well to “My Lover’s Secret.” It’s a theme I write about in my next book.
    I’m back from a military writers conference and settling in to read “Leaning Into Love.”

    Just wanted to pop in and say hi. 🙂


    • Thanks, Kathleen. I’m just back from a Soaring Spirits Loss conference called Camp Widow where I gave a workshop, joined a flashmob, met people, and danced. But the noise exhausted me, so I have to learn how to pace myself. Thanks for reading. I look forward to coming interactions.
      With love, Elaine

  12. What a beautiful moment, Elaine, and you’ve painted it with such a loving hand. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Thank you, Gisele. It’s one of those moments in life that didn’t seem so important at the time, but when looking back, it was a huge turning point. There are more stories about Vic and his father. Always more stories. Thanks so much for taking time to comment.

  13. “Sometimes the most fascinating thing about someone is the part they try to hide”, there’s so much truth in these words!! Thanks Elaine for your honesty.

  14. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Keep writing!

  15. I think about it a great deal

Leave a Reply