Mr. Wrong: Real-Life Stories About the Men We Used to Love

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9780345490216: Mr. Wrong: Real-Life Stories About the Men We Used to Love

“Don’t date this guy, he’s crazeeeee.”
–Diana Abu-Jabar, “Of Romance And Revolution”

Mr. Wrong is the tug behind your navel, the guy who lights you up like a Roman candle, the danger you can’t resist. And just about every woman, at some point in her life, has encountered one–or many.

Women everywhere will see themselves in these witty, wise, and entertaining personal essays by some of the literary world’s most accomplished and bestselling authors, including Jane Smiley, Audrey Niffennegger, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ntozake Shange, Roxana Robinson, Marge Piercy, and Ann Hood. Readers will delight in the array of Mr. Wrongs encountered in these pages–from harmless and charming to revolting and offensive–and ultimately relish the notion that even if we succumb to the temptation of an utterly reckless romance, we can emerge with our hearts intact.

By turns wry and heartfelt, lighthearted and redemptive, these insightful, uplifting real-life stories run the emotional gamut, from Whitney Otto’s satisfying tale of a Mr. Wrong who receives his comeuppance in an unexpected way, to Robin Westen’s steamy account of lust with a zen master, to Monika Ekk’s rueful “I Married a Wanker!” Some are hilarious, like Marion Winik’s “The Ten Most Wanted,” while others, like Catherine Texier’s “Russian Lessons,” take us to the dark side of love and longing.

For every prince charming there are a million frogs. If you’ve ever trusted a man you couldn’t trust, Mr. Wrong will make you laugh, cry, and shake your head in recognition at yourself and your friends.

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About the Author:

Harriet Brown is the award-winning author of The Promised Land, a collection of poetry, and The Good-bye Window: A Year in the Life of a Day-Care Center. Her poems have appeared in Poetry and Prairie Schooner, among other literary magazines. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and other national publications. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Madison, Wisconsin.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Guru
Robin Westen
If anyone peeked at the hand I was dealt they would see all aces. In the mid-nineties I had a glamorous job writing for television with an Emmy Award to prove it, a handsome British boyfriend, Zeke, a spacious downtown loft, a purse packed with credit cards, perfectly manicured nails, and plenty of shiny baubles. I spent lunch hours at designer boutiques and evenings ordering martinis in New York's high-profile restaurants.

But behind my Sex-and-the-City-Dream-Life-come-true, I was feeling like a clam ripped of her pearl, empty and searching for what I'd lost. I wondered from a place deep in my core: "Is this all? Is this IT?"

I was probably propelled toward introspection because despite the glitz, these were tough times. My mother was battling breast cancer, my relationship with the cool Brit often left me longing for fire, and my television work felt flimsy and meaningless. The glittering veil was flapping.

During my period of cosmic questioning, out of the blue a photographer showed up at my office door. Expecting to give his book no more than a cursory glance, I ended up lingering over each image, stunned. The pictures felt oddly alive, shimmering with translucent color.

"It's called Kirlian photography," he said in a hush. "As you can see, there's an aura or life force that surrounds each living thing. These colors"--his fingers fluttered like bird wings above the picture--"are the physical manifestation of this energy."

Then the searing look: "Of course, most of us can't see this stuff with our naked eyes."

Okay, I was at a particularly vulnerable moment in my life, and perhaps susceptible to spiritual hype, but I was no fool. This sounded like hooey.

"I'm pretty busy," I said, snapping his book shut and feeling uncomfortable, bristling as my defenses spiked.

Before leaving, he handed over a card with a downtown address written on it. I tossed it on top of a pile of papers, expecting never to give it a second glance.

But I was dead wrong.

There's a Buddhist adage: "When you're ready, your teacher will find you." It didn't take long. The very next day, the mysterious photographer reappeared at my office door; this time he wasn't alone. Beside him stood a stocky Asian man with a shaved head and a rock-steady gaze. He wore a midnight-blue velvet shirt over his round-as-the-globe belly, jean shorts, and flip-flops. It was the dead of winter.

Our encounter was so shockingly out of place within the context of my daily office routine that I was suddenly struck dumb. Like a mime I beckoned the odd pair inside my office, shutting the door behind us.

The photographer gave a few directions. "Just sit across from Master Eknath and look into his eyes. No talking."

It didn't occur to me to question why they were here or whether this was a good idea; suddenly I had no thoughts. Simply, it was clear that I should do just as suggested, and I seated myself as instructed. I let my gaze settle on the master's eyes and within minutes--or an eternity--everything turned into a flickering grid of light.

Oddly, the light show seemed perfectly normal. More striking was the sudden infusion of love pouring into me like smooth cream from a pitcher. This was love at first sight, the unsentimental version. After about five minutes of relentless eyes-to-eyes gazing, Master Eknath stood up abruptly and said, "We'll see you soon." Then the odd couple turned around and walked out of my office. Just like that.

What transpired on that day is still in many ways a mystery to me, but what I can tell you is that some kind of psychic door or channel opened and everything around me shifted. I suddenly felt simpatico with my colleagues--even those who only hours before had scratched like needles against my skin. The script I wrote that afternoon breezed along as if I had a direct line to the muse. And I was happy. Happier than I had felt in months.

It seemed only natural to follow the yellow brick road. I reached for the card tossed aside the day before and called Zeke to cancel our evening plans.

After work, I went straight to Eknath's martial arts studio, which was off a busy New York cross street. When I walked in, I scanned the room and saw Eknath sitting on a round cushion at the head of the studio, posture erect, eyes lowered, looking impressive and serene, like an overstuffed pasha. Several dozen lithe and attractive men and women dressed in ghostly white moved silently in front of him in a series of slow tai chi movements.

I stood by the door, shy and uncomfortable and thinking I had made a ridiculous mistake. Just as I was about to turn and walk out, Eknath's boom-box voice bellowed, "Come! Here!" He beckoned me with a patting gesture to sit on the floor beside him. I remember feeling terribly self-conscious, but I obeyed, folding my legs and sitting as still as I could for almost an hour. There I was, the Queen to King Tut. And once again bathed in a feeling of all-is-well-with-the-world. Simply, I felt golden.
Let me admit right here: Even before rooting around my inner life of awareness, I knew this much about myself. It wasn't looks or money that grabbed my heart (my recent handsome boyfriend the exception); it was power and dominance. Thus, my romantic history included falling for--and bedding--my college professors, a couple of bosses, a well-known broadcasting mogul, an aging pop artist, a renowned opera impresario who was old enough to be my grandfather, and a narcissistic politician. Many of these men were married. Yet even with this eclectic repertoire, it never occurred to me that a short, fat, middle-aged, manipulative, and conniving cult leader could ever be added to the list.

But I should have known better. Love is blind, or, more likely, as Bruce Springsteen put it: "I was blinded by the light."

If Jim Jones could get 913 followers to commit mass suicide, wasn't it possible for a charismatic Zen master to gaze into my eyes and convince me to leave my boyfriend, no longer fraternize with friends and colleagues, and give up the glamorous life of restaurant-hopping and designer shopping in exchange for twelve hours a day of meditation, manual labor on the cult's rustic estate, unquestioned obedience, and the willingness--no, eagerness--to hand over several thousand dollars as well as sex on demand?

Experts who study cults say it's usually the best and the brightest at a vulnerable moment in their lives who are most susceptible to falling for unscrupulous gurus. Eknath's Zen cult was no exception. His glassy-eyed followers, who forked over thousands of dollars monthly, were attractive and accomplished, among them a lawyer, an architect, a computer software executive, the owner of an advertising agency, a renowned artist and pop singer, a couple of Connecticut socialites, a published author and journalist, and several university graduate students studying everything from molecular chemistry to social work. Red flags, flashing lights, screeching sirens should have been going off in my head, and they were. But I turned away and opened the window instead.

After I had gone through a month of tai chi classes, meditated with the group three times weekly, and paid five thousand dollars for a series of energizings to help clear my system of "bad vibes," Master Eknath was waiting outside the ABC studios in his black Mazda Miata to whisk me away for an energizing session--free of charge. "What an honor," I thought, innocently enough.

A CD of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World was playing as he sped along the West Side Highway en route to a park underneath the George Washington Bridge. I sat bolt upright in the leather seat (trying to hold my meditation posture), staring unabashedly at my driver, utterly mesmerized by Eknath's huge stomach, the way his stubby fingers grabbed the gear shift, the snapping clack of his chewing gum. Everything about him felt irresistible, and by the time we reached the park, innocence had gone on a hike; my body was aching for the master's touch.
I didn't have to wait long. As Master Eknath led me along a steep path, he suddenly stopped and pulled me so close I could feel his breath against my neck. "You'll come deep and hard for the Universe," he whispered into my ear as his fingers deftly lifted my Prada shift. A few minutes later the Universe was vibrating. Eknath, it turned out, was also a master of clitoral massage, and my orgasm sprang from so deep inside me and traveled with such velocity through my body that it was as if a switch, one I never knew existed, had been flipped on: sexually charged--one thousand watts and burning.

For the past few months I had been futilely trying to ignite sparks under my coolly British Zeke. This was instantaneous combustion. Within a month of my first rendezvous with the Zen master, Zeke and I were splitting our joint possessions down the middle and I was leaving our spacious loft for a ground-floor hovel in the West Village.

Precious real estate--2,000 square feet of New York City rent-controlled loft--forfeited. But I was dazed by my sudden sexual connection to the Universe, as well as the spiritual practice at the tai chi studio where I attended classes now every night after work, and my devotion to the powerful Eknath and his ability to make me shudder and come with fingers, tongue, and his surprisingly puny but adept penis. I considered a lost loft worth the sacrifice.

Most women can recall at least one man who so meshed with their body's needs that sex became like a drug. But my connection with Eknath leapt to another dimension. Sex with him was exactly as Shelley Duvall described to Woody Allen in the classic film Annie Hall. It was transcendental. Yet this was no Hollywood yarn. It was real-life consumption.

We met each evening on the sly after the tai chi classes, unbeknownst to his other students. Sometimes Eknath came to th...

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