Del’s an attractive person, but no one would accuse her of beauty. Her facial features are on the large side: not chiseled or refined. She was born a brunette in a culture that favors blondes. She grew hands and feet that were above average in size, and she required corrective lenses till her cataract surgery. That was eight years ago. Del is 67.
She walks well. She has excellent posture. She developed an outgoing, laughter-loving personality to compensate for her lack of coltish youthful loveliness, and that has aged better than beauty. She garners enough admiring glances from strangers to know she could look worse.
But she hasn’t often been propositioned, approached, or harassed the way prettier girls report. No stranger has ever exposed himself to her. In fact, she numbers the occasions of sexual insults at two.
When she was 16, she was propositioned by a well-dressed black man, on a cable car. She was shocked at the time. Mostly because she had her 13 year-old brother with her! How would that work? She practically spit in the man’s face as she voiced, “You creep,” grabbed her brother’s upper arm, and got them off the conveyance.
The scarier event occurred three years after that. By then she was a sophomore at Cal. It was a bright spring day, and she’d spent it in San Francisco with her roommate and a gay friend of theirs. They had hitchhiked into the city and that’s how they returned to the East Bay.
The guy who stopped for them was oldish, white, and drove a two-toned VW van. Glen got in the front seat and the two young women rode behind. The driver exited 80 at Ashby and that’s where the friends split up. Del was heading to her boyfriend’s place on Alcatraz, which was the direction the driver was going. Her friends got out of the van and planned to thumb a short ride north.
The driver invited Del up to the shotgun seat and she moved forward. He put the van in gear and they left her friends. After he made the expected right turn and proceeded a block, he pulled over, looked at Del with a leer, and spoke. “Let me see your panties.”
She doesn’t remember if she said anything before opening the door. She was astounded – the demand came out of nowhere. She was perplexed – even if she did flash the dude, what would he say next? But mostly she was active – right hand levering the door handle, right foot over the running board and to the ground, when the driver blurted, “No! Wait! Oh jeez. I’m sorry. Get back in. I’ll take you where you’re going.”
For what it’s worth, she thought then and after that he was sincere. But she jumped out of the van, shooting “No way!” from her mouth like bullets, and striding forcefully toward Ashby without a backward glance.
Half a block later she broke into a run. By the time she’d traversed the rest of the distance to where her friends still stood, she was shaking and shook up.
That’s it. Nothing worse. But of course she retained the memory.
Half a century passed. She finished college and made her way through her reproductive and earning years as well as she could, which was well enough. She came out the other side with two grown children, four grandchildren, an ex-husband, and a decent-enough retirement account that she didn’t have to fret about basics. Her relationships with everyone but the ex-husband were good.
She’s been single for half of that time. She describes herself as enjoying her 26th year of marital recovery. She wouldn’t mind a little company, especially some weekends and for traveling, but no one is introducing her to an eligible companion, and her tentative excursions into senior Internet dating have not been fun or fruitful.
A month ago she met a man. They were on the same crowded train, and had a fast, two-stop conversation. She exited with his card and the notion that she’d like to talk some more.
They met deliberately a couple of weeks later. She wasn’t as impressed as she had been at first. She learned that Orson was a sad soul. That shouldn’t have surprised her – for their initial conversation she’d been almost manically happy (coming from a fun, wine-laced lunch) and he’d confessed to being down. She must have been misled by his quick questions and answers.
He was ten years younger than Del, less read or educated, and not as attractive. She’d taken a first impression away of “beige,” and that continued to resonate for her. He was pale of skin, what hair he had seemed colorless, and although he wore jeans and a gray long-sleeved shirt, he somehow left a khaki-toned image behind.
On the plus side, he was over six feet tall and not fat. He could walk. He was into asking and answering. He made it clear that he wanted sex, which was both flattering and bothersome. Del didn’t care to fuck Orson, but she wasn’t averse to getting to know him better, and she thought something might come later. Maybe. She was comfortable telling him that. He seemed to accept it.
They got together again. He brought his dog over to meet her, and they took a long walk. There were no lulls in their conversation. Each had plenty to say. Del found her own words more interesting than his, but she didn’t have a bad time. When they returned to her place, Orson walked up behind her and began rubbing her neck and shoulders. It felt nice. He nuzzled her neck and told her she smelled good. She didn’t stop him. She let him turn her around then and kiss her. But as she pulled back, he took her right hand and tried to move it downward between them. She realized he wanted her to feel his erection. She spun away from him and blurted something about his arrested development.
He apologized. She said okay, and indicated that she’d see him again. But maybe not. She thinks of him daily, but can’t find it in herself to be eager to see him. She likes describing herself to him, in her head, but she has to admit she isn’t feeling the need to speak the descriptions out loud.
Mostly, though, she’s hesitating because her mental image of Orson bears a striking resemblance to that long-ago dirty old van-driving man.