Centerfold from “Evolution of an Orgasm”
I sit alone in the Cornell University’s movie theater, waiting for “Love and Sex” to begin. I’ve been without a boyfriend, partner, spouse, for over two years – something that is good for me, but tastes like spinach not well-washed, without any dressing.
Yes, I am an attractive woman; people say I am a Faye Dunaway look alike, but that doesn’t usher in the “love of my life.”
I’ve always enjoyed sex, despite being deprived until I was 22, a virgin for my husband that I’d hoped and been duped to believe would be my one and only. Like I am the only one in this movie theater – until just now, one middle-aged couple chooses seats four rows behind me. Then, a fortyish woman drops into her cushioned fold up chair by herself, and now two college girls. All delicately spaced throughout the rows, as if trees competing for the sunlight. Who comes to a movie like this at five in the afternoon?
I asked my friend Steve to come along, but he had things to do. He’s been a friend for eighteen years; we weave in and out of each other’s lives like night-lights, plugged in, or pulled out. When my two daughters were in elementary school, they would come with me to Cornell’s Teagle Hall, where I would lift weights, and Steve would mind them while he handed out towels. They loved Steve “Teagle,” as we called him, a jokester, and lover of children. But I had to turn down his offer of romantic love back then, because I was not physically attracted to him, although I loved his spirit.
I’ve been to Steve’s house for parties, run with his blind friend, bought his children’s book, seen movies with him. He’s written newspaper articles about me. He’s helped me with self- publishing. We’ve had many talks about his or my marital difficulties, and shared his children’s friendship with my granddaughter. Once, our naked bodies met in a hot tub at a friend’s party. My hand found his erect penis underneath the water, others not suspecting our playfulness. Our eyes met, but never our lips. Just hugs of appreciation.
Summer 2000 changed that. Our paths crossed again, this time at the annual June Ithaca Festival. Only his daughters were with him, he being separated from his wife for two years, like me from my husband. Steve was still trying to revive his marriage; I was not. I danced with Steve on the soft green grass, helplessly noticing how his biceps and pectoral muscles had filled out. The glimmer in my eye now reflected his, which I had not been reciprocated in the past. I began to wonder what it would be like to make love with this man, whose great heart I’d always admired.
In August, I saw Steve again while I was dancing on the Ithaca Commons, outside in the sticky air. It was near my birthday, and he offered to give me a massage for a birthday gift. I, laughingly, took him up on it for some future date.
My heart was softened again, as I read his Thanksgiving Ithaca Times article about his two daughters, and how they taught him to cheer for the rat’s survival on their farm. I smile as I write, thinking what a rat I’d become, causing Steve’s focus to swerve from his marriage, conflicted over what was his responsibility, and what was mine. I knew Steve was not “the love of my life,” and that our honest friendship could stay just that.
The day before Thanksgiving, I was depositing money at the bank, and as I left I told the teller, “Have a great Thanksgiving.” She replied, “I will, and I’ll probably gain ten pounds due to the turkey.” Without hesitation, I came back with, “It’s not the turkey’s fault.” We laughed, and she said, “Well then, it’s the pie’s fault.
It’s a Sunday December morning when Steve arrives at my glass door with his massage table in hand. He finds the space in front of my wood stove an ideal place for bodies to be born naked to the tender firm strokes of his farm-worked hands. I had not known until now that he went to massage school back in 1979. I hadn’t had a full body massage in years, and hadn’t particularly felt the need, but the almond oil of human contact from a dear friend was welcomed. We talked for the hour of his laying of hands to my body. I felt Steve’s respect of not only my body, but also for my person. His touch was not sexual in any way. I felt my heart connecting to my loins as we explored where each of us was in our relationships. Deep things. He said there was an unspoken agreement between him and his wife that they could be sexual with others while they were separated, waiting for each other to change. Waiting for his wife to find therapy as a way to salvage their marriage, as Steve continued his. I wondered again about my responsibility. I’ve
always been too responsible for others, my needs lagging behind like a toddler trying to walk as fast as its parent.
Steve became so warm near the end of the massage that he took off his long sleeved sweat- shirt, revealing his bare chest. I wondered again at what is happening to me. I would go with my heart. Like a cherub, I rose off the massage table, and I hugged Steve a big thank you that has no words. Our hands held each other, my head to his chest, his hands up and down my back. The almond oil brought our bodies together where there is no separation of oil from vinegar. My head
bent back, and our lips met for the first time in eighteen years. I wondered at their wideness. After a minute of consensual kissing, I asked, “Are you all right with this?”
“If you are.”
I was. I took his hand like a child would, and led him upstairs to my white iron bed, where my one remaining piece of clothing was removed. And his. I was all at once amazed, accepting, and comfortable with what was happening. I was trusting my heart to become whole. We felt our skin meld into each other’s like long-lost kin. I felt the ocean waves rise and fall as he so tenderly wandered my body. I looked up at Steve and said, “Since this summer, I’ve wondered what it would be like to make love to you.” He replied with a smile, “I’ve wondered that for eighteen years.” We laughed. We returned to the waves of our souls, closing our eyes to feel the center-delight of our bodies. “Afternoon Delight” played along as our fingers played. I opened my eyes to say, “Look at me,” and his blue eyes and John Travolta mouth reminded me of my brother’s face. I felt connected again. I now felt attracted to this man physically, as well as to his heart and mind. I told him so. “This is (w)holy.”
“Well, we are in church,” Steve grinned as he has just entered me. “The Bible says our body is the temple of God.” Holy Spirit, I thought to myself. I chuckled as I said, “Yes, it is Sunday! What a great way to know the Divine, it is truly what church is!” I laughed heartily because I was happy to have made this greater connection to the divine love in us all through this man who has seen it in us for 18 years. And my tears were for the sadness of not seeing the goodness in myself for all my growing up years. Not until I was 38 years old! In 1984. When I left the organized church…
And opened my heart, like I do deeply in my weekly crying sessions with Susanne, where I have come to experience the critical healing that tears provide. Even my male Bangladesh client says, “Crying makes me happy.” After ten years of this heart-opening work, it has become easier for me to connect my irritation to the hurt child walled off and defended by the anger, because the tears spout only when specific words roll off my tongue. Sometimes I surprise myself as to when my tears spontaneously appear, like when I spoke the exact words that I had said to the bank teller: “It’s not the turkey’s fault.” I began to cry as I spoke those syllables, and immediately I connected this seemingly off-the-cuff statement to how I had always felt, feelings hidden in the crevices of my heart. From age three on, every week, I heard in Sunday School how “it was my fault” that I didn’t deserve god’s love. I had been born in original sin. Through my tears, I’ve
had the image (several times) of me falling off the small chair I sat in close to the Sunday School table, where we gayly sang, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” The knowing was in my brainwashed mind only, not in my heart, where tears tell me my truth – that I am loveable, and so sad not to have felt that for so long.
Now, less than four hours after my “church” experience with Steve, I’m waiting for “Love and Sex,” to begin. The lights are dimming, as the movie splashes the big white screen with color. Just enough light to see a slightly built man about to sit down four rows in front of me. “Ken,” I say, full of surprise. He immediately comes and folds down the chair next to me. It is another one of those synchronous moments, where Ken’s and my life intertwine, meeting at the most auspicious times and places. As if energy of certain colors flies together like those of the rainbow after a storm. Ken, like Steve, is another friend with whom I’ve connected on an intellectual level, without the physical attraction crystalizing in me. We figure for about sixteen years. And like Steve, our paths cross every few months. My surprise is doubled this day, because it is Steve and Ken meeting me on the same day!
After the movie, Ken has forty-five minutes before an appointment, so we meet at a nearby bagel shop, where he buys lasagna, and I ask for a cup of hot herbal tea. I leave it up to him to pick the flavor. While he orders, I find a table where we can sit. He tells me he ordered vanilla almond. My mouth flaps open. “Unbelievable,” I gasp.
I tell him about the almond oil used for the massage I had that day. About the four almonds I eat every day to ward off body toxins. There is no reason for either of these men to know that I like almond. Almond, I later notice, can be split into al-mond. Mond comes from Latin, then French (monde), and Italian (mondo), meaning world. So almond can mean all-of-the-world. So today, have I connected with all-of-the-world?
Or all of me? Or at least most of me? The divine source of me? Is it no longer my fault, that I am unworthy of god’s love? I can still play by memory “I Am Not Worthy, the least of his (god’s) favor,” on the piano. Out of five years of piano lessons, it is the only song still committed to memory.
The following Sunday, Brian, my platonic friend of eight years known mainly as a dance partner, has dinner with me after our practice. I think about the “turkey” as I eat my chicken breast dressed in its Mexican spicy black bean sauce. I tell Brian about my synchronicity with Steve and Ken during our mouthfuls. I forget to tell about the almonds. The waitress asks if we would like dessert. Brian asks what are the choices. She lists: chocolate decadence cake, flan, almond nut pound cake, Mexican ice cream and raspberry torte. I tell Brian to choose.
“We’ll share the almond cake.”