“Can’t Think Straight” is a brutally honest, self-deprecating, emotionally wrenching and somehow still laugh-out-loud funny memoir of betrayal — and one woman’s year of relearning to make out on public pool tables and maybe even love — whatever that means — again. Here’s an excerpt:
I fly to Palm Beach to visit my grandfather, Bernardo.
Born into a noble Portuguese family, former diplomat, man about Georgetown, multilingual author whose first book was published at age twenty-four, and once so handsome he was under contract with a Hollywood studio because he resembled a more masculine Tyrone Power, Bernardo’s now ninety years old and preoccupied with his coming death. This, according to him, is set to happen any day now, despite his being in perfectly fine health, his mind as sharp as twenty-five-year-old’s, able to dredge up incidents, places, and people from decades ago with finely pointed fidelity.
Here’s a guy who’d always gone his own way: he’d had three wives (all gorgeous enough that they’d modeled professionally) and couldn’t stay faithful to any of them. His first wife, my paternal grandmother, had been the recipient of one of his most audacious displays of womanizing: three days into their Catskills honeymoon, he’d snuck off to cheat on her with another newlywed.
Of course, he’s an old man now, his Don Juan days behind him. He’s lonely, tottering around his tiny Palm Beach apartment. It would have been nice if he’d had a wife to keep him company. But they probably would have driven each other nuts. Besides, we all die alone.
My grandfather had heard about the breakup but not the reason for it. When I get to the “He’s GAY!” part, he does the standard-issue “What?!” Then, unlike anyone else I’d told, he starts laughing. “I thought it would be something more dramatic.”
“More dramatic than that? You set the bar pretty high.”
“Why would he want to be with a big hairy man when he could have you?”
“Actually, it’s big hairy men he prefers. How’d you know?”
At dinner, I ask my grandfather if any of his marriages had been “open.”
“With Roxie,” he says, naming his third wife. “She liked women. She’d bring them home for a threesome. She loved to go down on me while the woman went down on her.”
Yep, this from my ninety-year-old paterfamilias. We’d never limited our conversations to grandfather-approved topics like heartburn and baseball.
“Did you ever get insecure because she liked women so much?”
“To a certain extent.”
But despite having a wife who brought women home for him, the marriage still fell apart. I never quite knew what had happened, except that Roxie once mentioned how she’d filed for divorce after Bernardo disappeared for four days over Christmas. I guess even if you give a man total sexual freedom, you still expect a modicum of reliability.
My grandfather and I are walking back from dinner when Aaron calls. He’s been staying at the apartment to watch the cats and updates me on them, then tells me he cleaned the bathroom. “You didn’t have to do that,” I say.
“It was disgusting.”
I tell him how my grandfather doesn’t get him at all. “He’s revolted by men,” I say. “He doesn’t understand how anyone could prefer a man over a woman.”
Aaron chuckles, hesitantly. I’m twisting the knife a little, making him feel like less of a man
“Well, baby, so far we’ve broken up so you could spend more time drinking at Last Exit. Are you doing any real work on yourself?”
“I’ve been to a couple of gay bars.”
Ask a stupid question.
“In Chelsea?” I gulp.
“There are gay bars in Brooklyn.”
Ask another stupid question.
“How’s that going for you?”
“Not too good. I can just about say hello.”
I can picture it: Aaron, paralyzed with shyness. He was never good at the pickup.
Over dinner, my grandfather had told me that a great passion requires great suffering on both sides. He’d only felt it twice in his life, on neither occasion with his wives. The first time was when he was twenty-two, with an older woman whom he’d followed to America (I have her to thank for being American). Then there was a woman named Christina. He considered her the great love of his life. The relationship was fraught with jealousy, raging dramas, blistering arguments, and phenomenal sex. One night at a party, after seeing Bernardo dance a little too amorously with another woman, Christina had extinguished her cigarette on his hand (he still had the faint scar) and then tried to burn down his apartment.
Yet even this supposed great passion couldn’t stop him from straying. Christina had once walked in on him having sex with her best friend. I’d asked him why he couldn’t keep it in his pants — not even for his soul mate.
“Because,” he said, “I always wondered if I was a good husband, a good father, whether I would get a good job. One thing I knew I could do well was to get women into bed.”
We all have our strengths, I suppose.
From "Can't Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed-Up Love" by Kiri Blakeley. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Citadel Press .