Going Solo

Oprah October 2015 CoverMenopause was the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s been nine years since I’ve had sex with anyone other than me, but at 57, I don’t think of myself as celibate or sexless. I’m simply clear-headed.

A promiscuous child of the free-love ’70s and a hard-partier until the ’90s, sex was my currency. If I wasn’t desirable, I felt invisible, and by my early 30s, I was using a color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of all the names, dates, photos, and details. But, I gave up the booze, my estrogen began to ebb, and without them, I lost my sexual appetite. Sex wasn’t making me feel good or important anymore; it left me empty. I started forgetting to be that girl who slept around. Then one night I slid into bed and realized it had been years since anyone else had slid in there with me.

The vodka haze & hormone fog had lifted, and I was left to figure out who, if not that hyper-sexual being, I was. I had to redefine myself. I did stand-up to a room full of twenty-somethings who stared back silently, I got my motorcycle license, jumped out of a plane. Started to love my body for all the other things I could do with it. I chucked my high heels, danced all night in cowboy boots, and went home alone to a new queen-sized bed, sleeping diagonally, corner to corner along with that delightful cliché, a cadre of cats. I posed naked for painters, photographers, and sculptors. I laughed louder, and more often. I spoke my mind. Conversations about life, pain, the world, and hope replaced faceless seductions. The quality of the men in my life changed, from one-night stands to friends and companions. I was free.

Maybe there’s a Venn diagram with my name on it where sex and companionship overlap, but I’m in no rush. I still have sexual desires. But I also have the Wahl All-Body Massager—with two speeds and seven attachments.

 

Previously published in the October 2015 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

Verbatim & Translation

Overheard at Juju’s bagels. Verbatim.

Scene: Two elderly neighborhood women–let’s call them Myra and Sylvia – playing scratch-offs and schmoozing. Myra goes up to the counter and orders tea for them both.

Myra,  turning to Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: You want the boy should put sugar in your tea?

Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: What? I can’t hear you.

Myra, louder: Sugar?
     translation: What, now you’re deaf? Sugar. Do you want sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar?
     translation: You don’t have to yell, I’m not deaf. Do I want sugar? In my tea?

Myra: Sugar?
     translation: Yes. What? You think I mean a pile in the middle of the table? A ten-pound bag maybe?  Sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar? Yeah. Sugar.
     translation: Sugar? Of course, sugar, what do you think? Thirty years you know me, did I ever not have sugar? You have to ask?

Myra, turns to counter man: Sugar.
     translation: One tea with sugar, for my meshugah friend. A lovely woman she is, but a little deaf she is going.

photo by jshdoff 2016
photo by jshdoff 2016

Shoot Me

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what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Big Edie: It wasn’t such a good day.

Me: What can I do to make it a better day for you, Ma?

Woman with gunBig Edie: Shoot me? (Big Edie’s standard answer.)

Me: I don’t have a gun anymore.

Big Edie: You had a gun? What did you do with it?

Me: I sold it to my coke dealer.
(silence)
I bought it from my heroin dealer, sold it to my coke dealer, and gave two pockets full of hollow-point bullets to a dirty cop who moonlighted in the after-hours clubs.

Big Edie: A cop?  You should have called the cops on him.

Me: That’s what you took from that story? I bought an illegal gun from a heroin dealer, sold it to a cocaine dealer, and you think I should have had the cop arrested?

Big Edie: Well, they’re not supposed to moonlight.

She’s got a point, there. You have to admit it.

 

 

 

Leave a Message at the Beep

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I input her contacts into the new Jitterbug (aka old people’s cell phone). My numbers, her friends, the mechanic, the fire department, the senior center. Now, showing Big Edie how to use her new phone and how to find a phone number and dial from the list of contacts:

Me: Ma, find my number and try to call me at home.
Big Edie: But you’re here. You’re not home. (looks at me like I’m an idiot)
Me: Ma, just find me and leave me a fucking message.

So, she did. (scroll down for closed caption)

 

“Okay, this is your fucking mother leaving you a fucking message….(giggles)…bye.”

Thinking About the Brownsville Rape

These are the facts, so far:

I can’t stop thinking about this, and following the details as they come out. He was drunk. She was drunk. Still, something is missing. Something in our culture is broken and I’m struggling to make sense of it.

I’m childless, but I still wonder what I would do if it were me and my child. Or me and my father. When I was raped I kept it a secret from my parents; I was afraid my father try to go after the man who had done it. That man would have killed my father and not lost any sleep over it. I did what I did to protect my father, maybe this father did what he did to protect his daughter.

Maybe he thought he’d be no help at all if he was dead. That they’d have to kill her too then, so there’d be no witnesses to the murder. Maybe he didn’t think at all and just acted on instinct–a gun in your face, running seems like a natural reaction.

She will have to come to terms with the rape. Rapes. With that feeling of safety having been ripped away. A trust in the world, shattered. At least one in every five women have had to do the same thing–figure out who they are after they’ve been raped. Figure out if they are the same person, or if they’ve changed and how. But, I wonder how this girl will process the knowledge and memory of her father–a father who only recently came back into her life–running away and leaving her with them, no matter what his reasoning was. I wonder how he will come to terms with the knowledge and memory that while he was running away from her, she was being brutalized. I’m trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle that might help make sense of this whole thing.

Being raped at gunpoint by five men when you’re alone.
Being raped at gunpoint by five men while your father runs for help.
Is one worse than the other?

He didn’t seem upset, said one store owner, when he asked to use the store phone. Maybe that’s how he handles stress,  I say, maybe he shuts down, closes off his emotions. He wouldn’t be alone in that. Or maybe he was in shock. After I was raped, and my rapist had left the house, I called my job to let them know I would be late to work. And then I started to get ready to go to work. Shut down. Survival mode. It’s one way to deal with extreme stress.

Another store owner said the man was frantic and didn’t make any sense. Maybe that’s how he handles stress, he falls apart. He’s not alone in that either. When my rapist was still in the house, I crawled on the floor like an animal, the sounds I made not even close to words. I was frantic, and I didn’t make sense.

Did her father put up a fight, or did he run away as fast as he could?

What if it wasn’t random at all but some awful payback for something he’d done but his daughter had to pay for. Some drug deal gone bad. Or money owed. Maybe she was payment. I feel awful for thinking that, but it happens. People sell their children to stay alive, to feed the rest of their family. People do awful things all the time, to survive or for the pleasure they get from their cruelty.

The youngest boy is 14. He is four years younger than the woman he raped. He is someone’s son.  Someone raised this child in a way that he thinks this is acceptable behavior. This is a child who gets pleasure from his cruelty, from someone else’s pain, from dominance.

Someone pointed out that we do things in groups we would never do alone. That’s true. Maybe that’s the get-out-of-jail-free card that explains the 14-year-old. And gang rape is certainly nothing new. But I cannot get beyond that idea that someone, people, parents, or the state raised these boys to think rape is okay, that it is manly, powerful, and some kind of birthright they’re entitled to.

Except two of those boys were turned in by their parents when the discovered what had happened. Those two were raised by parents who knew right from wrong well enough to know their children had done wrong.

Where did things go wrong that those moral lessons did not penetrate these children deep enough so that this couldn’t have happened?