There was a man in the kitchen cooking for me.
I had heard about Moroccan fish, but never tasted it. The sauce was red: paprika, dried chilies, white pepper, cilantro, and turmeric.
Since I consider myself to have an educated palate, I delight in finding foods I haven’t tried. The fish was being prepared by big, meaty hands. A former soldier. A builder. A father. A man who ate with his fingers.
I’d met him at a women’s workshop, of all places. At home, I was a single parent who played both mother and father from the beginning. The stereotypical roles of protecting and providing won out over nurturing, but my son had just turned 18 and was going off to college, so the heavy-lifting felt finished. At work, I coached Ivy League-educated C-suite executives. I was accustomed to being strong and smart there, too. The course was an opportunity to explore parts of myself I pushed aside.
At the end of the weekend, men were brought in to pair with us for an activity. My eyes moved from one to the next. Different ages. Different races. Different body types and faces. There were three who I felt drawn to. But after an icebreaker, I was clear that I didn’t want to partner with any of them, which probably explained why 157 online dates hadn’t worked—my first instincts aren’t always accurate.
I chose someone else—the man who was now in the kitchen chopping herbs. At the end of our exercise, we said we’d find each other on Facebook and we did.
I liked being cooked for. We found a rhythm in the kitchen. While he finished the meal, I filled glasses and set the table. It was summer on the West Side of Los Angeles. A heat wave with no air conditioning. The 100-degree temperature along with the spice of the food made me melt. Tension of any kind had no chance of holding on. It evaporated instantly.
The eating led to kissing. Sweat from his brow made his glasses slip until he took them off.
“Alexa, kitchen off,” he yelled.
The room grew darker. I laughed. He found my face, my hair, my arms.
“What do you want?” he asked.
I knew he had studied tantric sex. He knew how to hold space for a woman. To be present. To help release the years of trauma contained in the pelvic floor. All the messages we women get in words and sideways glances about who we should be and how much pleasure we’re allowed to have.
There was trauma in my pelvic floor. A huge iron anchor. A grip.
“Would you like to come into my bedroom?” he asked.
I offered my hand and let him lead. The air was dense and hot.
“Alexa, hallway 50 percent,” he yelled.
“You could be nicer to her,” I offered. “Okay,” he said, kissing me.
“Alexa, hallway 20 percent. Thank you, baby.”
The room was dim. It made the sound of our breath louder. Almost visible.
“Tell me what’s happened to you,” he said.
I recounted the trauma. The assaults. The violations. He listened. And then it occurred to me that these obvious abuses were not the things that left me feeling empty and aching.
“What hurt the most were the men who carried out their agenda while I remained invisible. They never saw me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “We don’t know. Nobody teaches us.”
He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t resist blame. Instead he owned what had happened to me for all men. I kissed his lips, remnants of the spices remained. He found the rest of me. The incarnate—and the infinite.
Forgive them, for they know not what they do. I had heard those words countless times but I finally understood them. It’s ignorance more than evil that makes us commit unthinkable acts.
That night, I started to open. To find safety. For those next months before my son and I returned to the East Coast, I let this man in, but not just him. I softened and strengthened in the world. I grew less suspicious. I found more compassion for the hearts of men who have also suffered and felt unsafe.
Even though I was leaving the home where I raised my child from a boy to a man, leaving the golden light of Santa Monica for good, I was found. This man gave me experiences I had never had—the meal of Moroccan fish and the gift of finding a home inside my own skin.