Sleep. That must have been what we were talking about. I can’t think what else would have gotten this particular group of women talking about this particular topic.
I was meeting with six colleagues, all women, ages 35 to 65, all professionals. Our leader was late, so we chatted idly in the way that co-workers who aren’t close will chat. One of them, I don’t remember which one, asked the question.
Carrie planned thoughtfully for her first night lying in the arms of Morpheus, the god of dreams. Her husband moved out that day, so she knew the only arms waiting for her in that big brass bed upstairs would be those she conjured up in her dreams.
She covered the bed with fresh sheets. She sprayed those sheets with her favorite perfume, Escape, by Calvin Klein. Drew a hot bath and luxuriated in the old claw foot tub until the water turned chill. Rummaged through her grandmother’s wooden hope chest to find the tissue paper packet enclosing the nightgown she wore on her wedding night ten years ago. Slipped it on. Climbed in between the crisp sheets, inhaled the scent redolent of sensuality and love.
She made love to herself. Made love to herself because she knew she deserved it, even though she and love had been strangers for quite some time. Made love to herself because she was determined to keep that spark alive in herself, ready for when the time was right to invite someone else besides Morpheus to lie in bed with her.
The same four women have gathered together to celebrate their birthdays for 30 years: Alexandra, Brenda, Cassie and me. We’ve never missed one.
Imagine the lives we’ve shared in our birthday dinner chatter, our tales of businesses started and prospering, wedding plans, divorce proceedings, death, travel to exotic places, new careers and retirement adventures.
We’ve celebrated with casual backyard barbecues, catered dinners at home served on heirloom lace, silver and porcelain. A chef gave us lessons on preparing Indian cuisine in one of our kitchens. We went to the Cirque de Soleil. We skinny dipped in a neighbor’s pool.
For my birthday, for the first time in these 30 years we gathered around a table far from home. The place was the Culinary Institute of America, outside of Calistoga, California. Alexandra and Brenda ordered from the menu, but Cassie and I surrendered ourselves into the hands of the student chefs by ordering from the four course, prix fixe menu with wine pairings. Every mouthful of food and every sip of wine aroused my nostrils and titillated every taste bud as it all rolled over my tongue and down my throat.
This is me, about to dig into the fourth course at the Culinary Institute of America
We were predators, Alexandra and I, leaning on the copper bar, me sipping my fresh lime margarita, she sipping her Anchor Steam beer. Our eyes hungrily scanned the room, taking in the group of men standing to my right, the group of men standing to her left and the people seated at tables around us.
“Ah, the Vixen Divorcee is out to get picked up,” you’re thinking as you read this. While this might be a natural assumption, you would be wrong to think it. I’ve never picked up anyone in a bar and am not about to start now.
No, Alexandra and I were actually hungry. We were specifically hungry for the roasted, organic, free-range chicken salad served at the Zuni Cafe on Market Street in San Francisco. I should qualify that by adding its famously served at Zuni Cafe on Market Street in San Francisco.
The contemplation of what activity clenches the jaws, contracts the abdominal muscles and furrows the brow of any woman of a certain age? Considering what action fills her brain with anxiety and her heart with trepidation? What thought incites a riot of classic avoidance behavior?
Buying a bathing suit.
My own avoidance behavior is such that my one bathing suit, purchased in 1995 in Kauai, bears the marks of several seams resewn and holes darned by my hand.
But I was heading off to California on vacation and had determined that the Vixen Divorcee deserved a fresher image. Too that end, on a rainy Saturday in early June I convinced my friend, Susie, that our time would be best spent shopping for beach wear.
By crossing the threshold of Nani Nalu Beachwear Boutique, we left behind the chilly, dreary midwestern day and plopped down in Aruba. Or Jamaica. Or Key Largo. Or anyplace with palm trees, exotic birds and bright colors.
On a perfect Sunday afternoon in June I bike across the city to the park. Life is good. The world is full of happy people holding hands, pushing kids in strollers, soaking themselves in the spray from fountains, amusing themselves with the fanciful art.
I have everything to make me content; a comfortable bench to sprawl on, a cold lemonade to sip and popcorn to munch.
My bubble of contentment bursts when I spot him striding across the plaza, headed right in my direction. Chet, the guy I broke up with months before (Breaking Up is Hard to Do). Chet, holding hands with a woman, both of them beaming.
You’re scanning a shelf at the book store and from the corner of your eye you watch the man standing next to you crouch down to browse the bottom shelf, except that you notice his eyes are drifting more over your legs than they are over the book titles.
You’re practicing your upward facing dog position in yoga class, with your head craning up, but you catch a glimpse in the mirror along the wall in front of you of the guy to your immediate left, and you can see he’s paying much more attention to the form of your ass then he is to his own yoga form.
You’re standing at the grocery store checkout counter and you can feel a pair of eyes boring into your back and you know they belong to the fellow who, on this crowded Saturday, elbowed his way into the line right behind you.
The year was 1973. The tale started in New Orleans and ended in Key West. The main players were four college seniors on an adventure.
One of them was a pre-med student. Another was pre-law. One was a history major and the last one wanted to be an artist. They’d convinced their academic advisors that the best use of their January term was to cross the southern part of the United States reading literature of the region as they went.
Picture them setting off on their journey of discovery at a time when no one rode bicycles. In six weeks, they encountered only one other person on a bike; a teenager in Alabama who pedaled ten miles with them before shouting out that he had to get home for supper and that he wished them well.
Their bikes were packed with tents, sleeping bags and books. For clothes, each carried two pairs of jeans, three changes of underwear, two tie-died t-shirts, one cotton shirt and one jacket. Their whole life for six weeks was compressed into what could fit onto the back of a bike.
Picture them, the college boys from way up north riding with their shoulder-length hair blowing out behind them and their beards growing thicker with each day, passing through the bayous of Louisiana and the small towns of Mississippi and Alabama.
Bennett was one of them. (You met him in Adventures Happen.) He enchanted me on our second date with his tale. The spell cast by the four adventurers led to date three. And four.
This book came to me through my girlfriend network. Recent divorcee, Darlene, regaled my married friend, Susie, with tales of the contents of the book, Getting Naked Again. The book gave Darlene the impetus to hop on a plane for a weekend of adventure with a single male acquaintance of hers. Her goal was to get over her fear of sex with someone other than the man to whom she’d been married for 25 years.