The only other time Del was affronted by a callous-male personal comment, she was still called Adele. She was fourteen. The occasion was a party in her friend Annie’s garage.
That was fifty-three years ago. Good as Del’s memory is, there aren’t many images from that night. She remembers the record-player: one of those old suitcase-portables, with a short near its stylus. Anyone who touched the business end of the arm risked a little shock, which seemed perilous because of the punch spilled beneath the table on which it played.
“Don’t stand in the puddle or you’ll get electrocuted,” some of the guests warned.
The garage was crowded and not well lit. Most of the kids weren’t dancing.
Adele had a crush on a boy named Steve. Maybe “crush” is too big a word; she just recalls him as the possibility who was most likely at the time. Steve was tall and cute enough. He was more athletic than smart. They’d been saying “hi” a lot lately. Mutual friends had conveyed unsubtle hints of attraction to each of them about the other.
It took an hour before Steve asked her to dance. They jiggled around facing one another for the length of a Beatles song, and then each retreated to the area where close friends lurked. Adele was feeling rather confident when Annie, making the rounds of the garage, approached and confided.
“Wow. I just overheard Steve talking about you to Doug.”
“What did he say?” Adele asked.
“Ech. I never heard it before. ‘If she’s old enough to bleed she’s old enough to breed.’”
Talk about a turnoff! Adele’s first reaction was shame. She felt humiliated. She’d thought Steve liked her as a person. She assumed they were at least friendly acquaintances, each about to discover if there was more for them. It rocked her world to receive evidence that he considered her just a body. And Adele was a late bloomer (her mother’s phrase). She’d skipped third grade so she was younger than her classmates. She’d begged her mother for a (training) bra, but she didn’t yet need it. In fact, she wasn’t old enough to bleed; her first period was still months away. As offensive as the rhyme was, she wasn’t even eligible to have it refer to her yet.
She lost interest in Steve. She didn’t feel rejected or disapproving, so much as genuinely alienated. She remembered his words long after she forgot what he looked or sounded like. That stupid rhyme. And she did think it literally stupid. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t wise. And it wasn’t true.
Now she’s Del. Now she’s 67. She has been married and divorced, she raised two children and enjoys four grandkids. She worked as a business consultant for almost 45 years before starting her recent retirement process. She had post-marital relationships in her 40s and early 50s. It’s been a lot of living, but it’s also been over a decade since Del had sex.
She figured it was not likely to happen again. She tried Internet dating a few years ago, but the men she attracted were nondescript, life-humbled, age-whipped gentle souls who were nice enough but terribly boring, and toward whom she felt not one quiver of chemistry. Del knows most available men her age are either looking for a nurse or a younger mate. She hears from her girlfriends, those few who are still with men, that the sex is either rare to the level of nonexistence, or pharmaceutically-enabled.
A month ago, she met a man. It happened “organically,” she has told friends. She boarded the train back to her office after a Tuesday lunch in the city. There were no seats, and she stood by the sideways bench near a door. She was quite content to hang from the strap; she was in comfortable boots and only going a few stops.
The men on the bench offered her a seat. First the youngish buff black man nearer the door, and then the older pale behatted white guy beside him. She refused each, with thanks. Two stops before her own, the black man exited. The only thing that made sense was for Del to take his seat.
The white guy started talking to her. He apologized for not offering her a seat sooner and said he’d had a rotten weekend. Del was feeling particularly outgoing and responded with a sympathetic comment. They rode two stops before she exited, and exchanged names and an enormous amount of information in that time. He briefly described the business he was trying to launch, which effort apparently accounted for the bad weekend. She took his proffered card when she stood, and said she’d look him up. She smiled at him as she left the train and noticed the way he smiled back. She had to admit that flirting had occurred.
His name was Orson. Four days later she looked at his website and sent him a bland email. She wrote that it was a pleasure meeting him, said his business looked interesting, and wished him luck. There was nothing coy about her delay; she was busy with an old friend visiting from the east coast, and she didn’t want to be distracted looking for Orson’s response (Del doesn’t know how she’ll respond to romantic possibility now, if it were to occur, but she has a nervous history with a tendency to over-irrigate a sprouting passion).
Orson answered with a long midnight email. He sent her pictures of his Russian Hill garden (one of the subjects covered in their fast acquaintance was the coincidence that each lived in a tiny apartment with access to outdoors). He told her he’d be in her area the next week and suggested they meet.
That didn’t work (Del had to go to the office that day). Nor did their subsequent plan to rendezvous in the city, where she’d be the day after – Orson had to deal with a new business emergency. Their third plan was the one that took: the afternoon tryst at the campus bell tower close to Del’s place.
By then two weeks had passed since their initial meeting. Their email correspondence hadn’t deepened; each was nervous and uncertain the other would be recognizable. As it happened, they had no trouble with that identification.
It wasn’t love at second sight for Del. But the conversation was almost as easy as it had been on the train. She didn’t find Orson repulsive. She thought he was rather interesting. Certainly more so than the Internet dates.
They talked about her marital history and his childless bachelorhood, about her self-employment and his enterprises (he was on his second start up, having made enough from the first to acquire a bit of rural rental property), about his California legacy family and her descent from recent immigrants. Orson explained the vision injury he’d sustained as a teenager: how it limited his future plans but expanded his empathy.
Del asked him how old he was, and learned she was born over ten years before him. He was breezy about it; clearly he didn’t mind. She wondered briefly if she cared, and found she didn’t. She felt at least as youthful and fit as Orson, and more attractive.
Then he touched her. Del was startled when he reached over and caressed her left upper arm, but she didn’t flinch. It just seemed odd to her – so soon, in bright daylight, what for?
She scooted a little away from him, naturally, conversationally, and he retracted his hand. But a few minutes later he did it again. As if she’d said something that delighted him (she hadn’t). She murmured, “You touched me.”
He smiled sideways at her and said, “Well yeah.”
“It’s okay, I guess. It just seems odd, here, now, already.”
“Hey,” Orson blurted. “Grannies need cock, too.”
What a conversation stopper! He apologized immediately. “Oh jeez,” he said. “I’m sorry. I can’t believe I said that.”
Del indicated, non-verbally, that he was forgiven. But that wasn’t true. Her real reaction was suppression of the retort, “Oh yeah? What for? You wanna explain this need?”
But she wasn’t there to argue with him. In fact, a few minutes later, instead of lambasting him for his stupid words, she leaned forward and planted a kiss on his mouth.
He was surprised but responsive. Del is pretty sure she did it to discover if there was any possibility of a physical future between them. She thought that kissing him was not repulsive, but it didn’t curl her toes either.
Their date concluded with a casual agreement to see one another again. Del was going away for a long weekend visit to her descendants and she agreed to send him an email when she returned. Orson asked for a hug before he left her, and that embrace felt better to Del than most of their time together.
As with their first encounter, it was up to her to initiate further communication. She liked that. She thought about him now and then in the ensuing five days, while flying to Portland, while trying to fall asleep on the old futon in her daughter’s house, while attempting to pay attention to grandsons’ minute narrations about the latest video game. At no time did she want, nor could she imagine, Orson accompanying her on such a trip.
Del almost always does what she says she will. She had agreed to send Orson an email on her return and she did so. The morning after she arrived home, she transmitted another bland message: “I’m back. Portland was good. The weather was better than I expected. I hope your weekend was nice.”
She was lukewarm about seeing him again. No lust had been awakened in her. She was a bit interested in hearing more details about his troubled youth, but she knew she could make them up if necessary. She decided she’d leave it to him, to charm her if possible.
She expected a response the next day. Orson’s emails to her had all been sent in the middle of the night, and this one was no exception. So she wasn’t surprised to see his name in her inbox the next morning. But she was at the brevity of his message: “I got stuff done.”
“Wow,” she thought. “Pretty cold. And unnecessary. I didn’t ask. Oh, I guess he wants to keep the door open or something. Maybe his four words are passive-aggressive crap. Whatever.”
She decided to forget about him. So she was again surprised to see an email from him, the next morning, sent not in the middle of the night but at 9 a.m. He included a video of his dog. He asked permission to visit her the following week, and to bring his pet along.
Del likes dogs. She was not charmed but she was slightly warmed. She wrote back that she’d like to meet his dog but that the following week didn’t work. This was not a device; she really didn’t have a day without at least two business, medical or social appointments. She offered the week after and he took the first available day, typing “All good things are worth waiting for.”
She still wasn’t charmed. But she smiled a little. She agreed to the date. She knows she has time to cancel it if she wishes. For now she’s letting the subject sift. She isn’t looking for a significant other. She won’t have one. She isn’t looking for sex, but she might be open to that. She doesn’t mind getting to know a new person.
But that phrase! Even grannies need cock? Said in a wheedling tone that reminds her of her grandsons?
How stupid. How unfunny, unwise, and untrue. As if the penis is what women want or need from men. Weird. It’s like the beginning and end of Del’s sex life has been bracketed by nonsense.