I reimagine the last moments I had with my husband, Jacob, often. The feel of his freshly washed hair slipping between my fingers.
The smirk on his face as he sat next to me on the floor of our bathroom while I soaked in the tub, handing me a lit joint and fumbling. He dropped it on my chest and we laughed at the little flame that posed no real danger.
Nothing could hurt with him protecting me. In the contentment and warmth of our home that New Year's Eve, we made love in the afternoon. Sweetly, tenderly he said without words: I know you so well, I love you so much, I want to make you feel so good.
When I woke up from a short nap, he was not in bed with me. I turned down the hall from our bedroom and found him unresponsive in the bathroom. I wanted to protect him and bring him back to life. But there was nothing medics or I could do; he died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed aortic dissection. The last moment I shared with my husband was intimate, and in the darkness without him, I longed for his touch.
In the depths of my grief, I wanted sex and intimacy without having to date, compromise or be emotionally available to anyone new. I did not want to make small talk about my life as it was falling apart.
Having sex with strangers healed me in ways that therapy, friendship, travel, writing and photography could not. These encounters made me feel empowered, desirable and more in tune with my body. They gave me agency when my life felt out of my control.
1. The Hotel Manager
Arrived in a suit, which made him appear as an escort. Because it was the first, all that mattered was he did what I asked. It was glorious.
I started the list because I felt it might never end; a string of love affairs might pale in comparison to the type of connection I shared with Jacob. When he was alive, I never felt the need for anyone else. With him gone, I feared that these casual hookups would bleed into one another and that the faces or details would be harder to recall as time passed.
12. The Entrepreneur
The first time was electric, magical, wild. The second time, he acted overly comfortable in my house and helped himself to a shower without asking whether I was satisfied. I wasn't. He's the only one that has made me feel used. I prefer getting what I want.
I found that making myself vulnerable gave me confidence, and experiencing pleasure made me feel alive. I worried about how friends, family members and the public would judge me. Promiscuity is assumed to be self-destructive, but it was helping me rebuild.
When I first brought up the idea of sex with others on my Instagram, one troll commented: "Your husband's body is not even cold in the ground and you're lying next to strange men. He despises you from the afterlife."
17. The Barber. Big, big flirt
A great build. While admiring my skin and the thrill of being with an Indian woman for the first time, he called me "morena." Unmatched me after I made him dinner.
I didn't want to care about meeting people's expectations of how I should think, feel and act. But of course, it hurt to know that people who had never been in my position had specific ideas about the amount of time that should pass before I opened my heart (or legs) to another person. I plotted for five months before my first encounter.
25. The Touring Musician
I could have talked to him for hours. His mind and charm were the most intriguing. Our chemistry was intimate and wonderful. He had such beautiful skin, which I probably will never see again.
What I was doing was far from new – people seek casual sex on the internet all the time – but for me, it felt subversive. I scheduled meetings and designed my own sexual revolution. The time I saved by not dating freed up space for my friendships.
33. The Guy with Four Jobs
I told him: "Let's get to know each other before we have sex. I want things with you to be different." I sat on his lap and looked in his big, brown eyes. He told me about his past and his imminent divorce. We laughed, a lot. Then, because we lack self-control, we had sex anyway.
I figured that my proclivity to be in a committed, monogamous relationship would take time to re-emerge. While I had the freedom to explore my sexuality with a variety of people, I cleared out a drawer in Jacob's dresser and filled it with condoms, lube and sex toys. I bought expensive lingerie. I got my first Brazilian wax. Sometimes I was submissive, other times dominating. In every encounter, I felt power in choosing the narrative.
35. The Lab Scientist
He laid me down on the couch and caressed me for a very long time. He began with a gentle approach, but soon made it clear that his confidence and knowledge would leave me speechless. Perhaps he's the best I've ever had.