“Forgive Me!” by Joyce Carol Oates

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“Forgive Me!” by Joyce Carol Oates appeared in MQR’s Summer 1991 issue.


For expediency’s sake I am writing this love letter to you, and to you, in duplicate, because there were two of you, D. and N., and neither of you knew of the other, — that is, neither of you knew at the time that the other was also my lover — though you were friendly acquaintances, and both of you knew my husband to about the same degree.

Unless you, N., were a bit closer to my husband: you played handball together, didn’t you? Now and then.

D., you rarely wasted time on athletics, if I remember correctly. Your aggression took more direct forms.

From one of you, I received this delicate jade ring which I wear sometimes — though not too often: I have so many rings — on the smallest finger of my right hand. Was it a gift from you, D., or from you, N.? — forgive me for not remembering. Nineteen years is a long time in lives as crowded as ours.

From one of you, D., or N., I contracted a venereal infection, — of a minor sort, cleared up after a single visit to my gynecologist and a two-week regimen of daily antibiotics. A sensation of burning and itching, nothing like the terrible venereal infections lovers transmit to one another these days!

N., you knew nothing of my relationship with D., though you seemed to be resentful of him, and jealous, as friends can be while remaining friends, a brotherly sort of intensity there, though not ever intimacy. I seem to remember an exchange of words between you at a party that, pressed a little further, would have become an argument: you, N., had seen you, D., and me, standing together in a corner of a room, talking earnestly, and you’d stared at us, and though it would not have crossed your mind (any more than it would have crossed your mind, D.) that there stood a sexual rival, and not merely the threat of one, you couldn’t stop yourself from approaching us and interrupting.

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Image: Louise Bourgeois with Tracey Emin. “I Wanted to Love You More.” Digital print. 2009-2010. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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