I was sixteen when I met my ex-husband, and we married before I turned twenty, divorced when I was twenty-five. Finally our house sold and I was far from home, in my own apartment in Ft. Lauderdale, feeling grown-up, thrilled to be single. It was time to enjoy some of what I’d missed in the sixties.
My Aunt Jean visited me once in Ft. Lauderdale and stayed at a beach hotel. It was 1976, and I met her on my day off. My aunt must have spent some time chatting at the bar with a young man before I got there. Had he been hitting on her? I liked his easy smile, his sturdy frame, and sandy hair. I estimated he was near my age.
The three of us chatted for a while and he asked for my phone number before he left me alone with my aunt. His name was Larry.
The following evening, he and I went out for dinner and then drinks at the Banana Boat.
“How long has your aunt been a widow?” Larry asked.
“She’s not a widow.”
“Yes, she is.”
My head felt scrambled. I was in therapy and the doctor had been training me to doubt my impressions and perceptions. I no longer trusted my own thoughts or knowledge.
“She told me she was a widow.” He leaned toward me for emphasis.
“Well, she isn’t. My uncle is alive and well. I think I’d know.”
“Why would she tell me she’s a widow? You’re saying she’s lying?”
“Look, I don’t know what she said, but I know she’s married to my father’s brother, who isn’t dead.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want you to know.”
“I think I’d know if my uncle had died. My parents would have told me. I would have flown to New York for the funeral.”
“Maybe.” He squinted at me.
My uncle was twelve years younger than my father. I did a quick mental calculation. “Jeez! My uncle’s only forty-nine.” I preferred mathematics to speculating about why my aunt was vacationing alone in Florida and telling young men she was a widow.
“She said it was sudden. Heart attack.”
He seemed convinced that what she said was true and what I said wasn’t. I didn’t like it. “Let’s drop this. I don’t know why she told you she’s a widow. Maybe you misunderstood.”
“Let’s just forget it.”
He smirked. “If you say so, Denise.”
“My name’s Joan. Why do you keep calling me Denise?”
“That’s what your aunt calls you, right?”
More scrambled brains. Then I understood. “I’m her niece. You know, da niece and da nephew. She’s from New York.”
Larry laughed and gave my hand a squeeze.
I felt good. Larry wanted me. I could tell. And I was really single even if my aunt only wished she were. I could do whatever I wanted.
“I hate this place,” he said suddenly.
We were only halfway through our drink. I was sipping white wine, but I felt the alcohol as my shoulders let go. “Okay. What do you want to do?”
He leaned toward me again and looked straight into my eyes. No smile. “I want to fuck.”
I stood. “Okay. Let’s go.” Maybe he meant to rattle me or scare me, but he’s the one who seemed startled. I wanted to get laid, to let loose a bit.
We went back to my apartment. I headed straight toward the bedroom and Larry followed. I closed my bedroom door and left my dog in the living room where she wouldn’t distract us.
A bit of preliminaries and it was time for me to do something about birth control. This was before the AIDS crisis, long before my worries about Herpes and other STDs. My main concern was not to get pregnant. I’d gone off the pill to give my body a rest.
“I need to put in my diaphragm.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I don’t want to get pregnant.”
“I had a vasectomy.”
“You’re not serious.” My instincts told me not to believe him. Maybe if I could replay the whole thing today, I could give a better reason than intuition or instinct, but I felt sure the risk was too great. He was surely no more than thirty and had said he was widowed. Perhaps that was what had begun the conversation with my aunt. His wife had died in a car accident and he said he had one little boy. Even if that much were true, it seemed unlikely for him to have had a vasectomy already.
“Here.” He pulled the sheet away from his genitals. His erection had wilted, but so had mine.
“Where am I supposed to look?” I tried to remember the drawings in biology class in college.
He ran his finger down the central seam of his scrotum.
I wasn’t very experienced, but was pretty sure all men have that ridge of wrinkled skin between their testicles, like my ex-husband’s. “I thought everyone had that.” I look on the sides to see if there are scars from the incisions. Wouldn’t a vasectomy be on both sides? Would there even be a scar?
I didn’t want to argue. “I’m going to put my diaphragm in. It’ll only take a minute.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I’ll never be able to relax enough to enjoy you if I have to worry.” I got out of bed.
“You don’t have to,” he called out, but I’d already closed the bathroom door.
Why was he objecting? It isn’t as if I’d asked him to wear a condom or had refused him. I wanted sex too, although I was having second thoughts. I might have called the whole thing off if I hadn’t been afraid to anger him.
It was quick. A flutter of an orgasm for me. When we were done, I felt uneasy, ready to be alone. I had to be up early to get to work the next day in Miami and it was nearly eleven. I knew I’d never be able to sleep if he stayed. “We better call it a night.”
“You’re throwing me out?”
I turned my voice to a sleepy murmur. “I gotta get some sleep.”
He sat up and leaned over me, pressing my shoulders to the bed. “I’m not leaving until I’m ready. We’re going to fuck again.”
If I had been uneasy before, I was scared now. In my most cajoling voice I said, “Come on, let’s not spoil this. We can get together again on a night when I don’t have to work the next day.”
“I’m not leaving until after we fuck again.”
“I’d love to do it again and again. But next time.” I forced a laugh. “I have to be up by five tomorrow.”
“Come on. Don’t spoil such a lovely night.”
We went back and forth a few more times, but I persuaded him to leave, assured him we’d have another date. When I locked the door between us, I let myself feel the full extent of how crazy the whole interlude had been, how terrified I was. He knew where I lived. He could stalk me, come back any time.
What I wanted most in the moment was to get all trace of him out of my body, but I knew better than to disturb the seal of my diaphragm. I settled for drawing all the drapes and shades and taking a shower. Not wanting to have the scent of him near me all night, I changed the sheets, too.
I woke early. It was just over six hours since we’d had sex and I wanted to pull that diaphragm out, but I had another thought, and drove to work early.
I worked as a microbiologist, and my job was forty-five minutes from my apartment. As soon as I arrived to the empty lab, I took sterile cotton swabs and two glass slides and headed for the bathroom. I inserted the swabs high until I felt the stop where the dome of the diaphragm covered my cervix. I twirled the cotton tips and then rolled them on the glass slides. After they dried, I fixed them on the heating plate, and stained them.
When I looked at the slide under the microscope, I didn’t have to search long. I recognized the normal bacteria of a vaginal smear, a few yeast, and epithelial cells. And there, predictably and oddly satisfying, were the large oval heads of sperm cells.
I was glad I was alone. The two women I worked with wouldn’t arrive for another twenty minutes and I could huff and swear and keep the story to myself.
The next evening, Larry called. I didn’t tell him what I knew. Now he seemed dangerous and I had no desire to tell him off. He asked to come over, not to take me out.
“No. My husband is here,” I said softly.
“What? When did that happen?”
“Today. He was here when I got home. I gotta go now,” I whispered, and gently hung up. My hands trembled. I really wished my ex-husband were with me. I checked my door lock and drew the shades and drapes again, realized being married had once offered a layer of protection. But then I remembered how much I’d wanted to be on my own, to not endure anyone telling me what I could do or who I had to be.
I never heard from Larry again, but at least he didn’t leave me with his child. All he left was a small scar you might notice whenever the lights dim or when I talk about men.
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and has taught workshops nationally with a focus on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), and her work has appeared in Rattle, The MacGuffin, Streetlight Magazine, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia, where she writes a poem every day and is working on a memoir titled Arguing with the Dead. www.JoanMazza.com
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