Read A Round-Heeled Woman Online
Authors: Jane Juska
And now we are alone. Jonah backs me up to the bed, his hand on my breast, his mouth not at all too red or too wet or too dry. He kisses me and I fall away into desire. I am lying next to a real person, a man who seems to like the way I feel. He is warm and hard in places, soft in others, smooth and rough. I touch him, run my hands up and down the whole of him. He touches me. I squirm. He laughs and dives south. He's not old at all. I come in minutes, probably seconds. Then it is his turn. “Talk dirty,” he commands.
“I don't know how,” I say.
“I'll teach you,” he says. “Say âcunt.' ”
I don't want to, and I don't like his language, which does indeed qualify as “talking dirty.” “Say âfucking cunt,' ” he says. “Are you? Are you a fucking cunt?”
“Shut up,” I say.
He does and plunges into me. I like it. I love that part of sex, when the man first enters me. I know, I'm supposed to be complete, to be whole in and of myself, but truly, I love getting filled up. I do have, after all, this open space. And all that feminist stuff about sex being violence has never been true for me, though probably it's just that I never had enough to know. “Don't stop,” I order Jonah. He doesn't. “Come in me,” I say. He does.
Well, how about that. Kind of military, wouldn't you say: commands and obedience, mission completed in a minimal time period, thank you sir. I will not have another orgasm with this man Jonah. But I don't know that yet and so I will try because I think I ought to. I think that, in order to have successful sexâthe right kind of sexâthe woman has to have an orgasm in her vagina. I am just about as dumb as I was forty years ago when I read Doris Lessing's
The Golden Notebook
and, for the first time, saw the word
and heard a character say “tampon” and “menstruating.” In it her two women, “free” women, complain that men “get erections when they're with a woman they don't care anything about, but we don't have an orgasm unless we love him.” Well, I don't want to believe that; I want to get an erection and have an orgasm just for the sheer pleasure of it. It seems to me logical and right that I be like a man in this regard. Plus, there is this G spot. It's in the vagina and I'm supposed to have one. In the seventies I had heard the word
for the first time and was directed by women in the articles they were writing to forget the vagina and go for the sure thing. That was a relief, though I remembered, when I was married, having an orgasm in what I'm pretty sure was my vagina, so when Shere Hite came out with this G spot, I had to admit that I probably had had one. Isn't that what dildos go after? (That is not a rhetorical question.)
Well, right now, I have a real, live dildo, so if I do everything right, this man is going to hit my G spot (a carnival game on the midway in which the object is to ring my bell) and the world will rock. If I do it right. So Jonah is page one of the test booklet. Here is the scoring: simultaneous orgasm, 1,500 points (perfect score); vaginal orgasm, 1,200; clitoral but he does it, 1,000; clitoral but I do it, 700; he comes but I don't, 500; nobody comes, 0â10. (The 10 is if both of us try.) Jonah certainly seems without problems in this area, at least so far as his pleasure is concerned, so we're pretty well assured of 500 points, enough to get us into the next round. Right now, he is the only one here who seems not only willing but eager to keep trying. I am filled almost to the brim with pleasure when he does. I have never been crazy about tests, but this one . . . I agree with President Bush: testing should occur regularly.
Hours later, or probably an hour later, I stand at the window looking out at all of San Francisco Bay. The sun is going down behind the Golden Gate Bridge. The red silk nightshirt, which, thinking about it now, reflects the brilliance of the sunset, I am sure, slides along my body just as Jonah had and will again. “Jonah,” I ask, “what do you have in your bag?”
He laughs and opens his bag. “I brought some special things just as I said I would.” He pulls out a bottle of champagne. “The rest is more of the same, one for each night.”
“I was afraid, you said, you implied . . .”
He laughs again. “Just wanted to keep you on edge.”
“That's not funny,” I say.
“Yes, it is,” and he bites into a chicken leg.
At the end of the second day, which is much like the first, except that Jonah doesn't go down on me again and so I never come but that's okay, I put what remains of our picnic on the table in the living room of the suite and put Rachmaninoff on the CD player. Jonah opens the second bottle of champagneâit is Spanish sparkling wine, “Cheap,” Jonah saysâand I turn to get the champagne flutes. I can't find them.
“Shall I call housekeeping and complain now or wait until morning?” I ask.
“Might as well strike while the iron is hot,” Jonah says.
I am furious. I can't believe a hotel as reputable as this one is would include thieves on its staff. The woman on the other end of the phone promises to check her supplies carefully. “In the meantime, would you like us to send up two of ours?” And they do. Promptly.
The next day we rest. We take walks. I hardly notice his shuffle. Jonah tells me about the plants growing along the way. He holds buds and petals in his hands and shows me parts of them, gives them names I have never heard before. It is while he holds the buds and leaves that I notice the skin on his hands stretched between the joints: it is pulled tight and smooth until it looks glassy, almost transparent, like the skin I see on old people. How old is this man and does it matter? Arm in arm, we walk down the streets of my neighborhood and I want to call to people, Look! Look at me! I am a normal woman! Here is a man who is touching me! Aren't I the most enviable woman you know? Don't you wish you were me? Didn't I do right to run an ad and sleep with a man I hardly knew? Don't you wish you had done it? Be happy for me, please. What keeps me silent and humble is the knowledge that I didn't get it right yet: I didn't have a vaginal orgasm. Jesus, sometimes I wonder about myself.
Jonah is a masterful storyteller. He tells stories about hard times in Sri Lanka, about his three children, grown now, his three ex-wives, gone now, his work with UNESCO, that, too, in the past. He tells jokes, not one-liners, story jokes that go on and on and are wonderful in his telling of them. Sometimes they are so long I guess the ending before he gets there and he laughs as he swings into the punchline. “You're the best audience I've ever had,” he says. “You are a wonderful listener.” I bask.
On the evening of the third dayâCelia's check had been used up long beforeâJonah pours champagne into the hotel's flutes; the glorious second movement of the Bruch warms the room. I smile at Jonah across the table. “How old are you, really?”
“I told you in my e-mail,” he says.
“You said in your e-mail you were some years my senior. How many years senior?”
“You look older than your photograph. I think you misled me, Jonah.”
“I never lied.” He looks down at the olive pits and chicken bones on his plate.
“How old are you?”
He looks past me, out the window where once again the sun is going down on the Golden Gate Bridge like I wish Jonah would on me and maybe would if I weren't too shy to ask. “I'm eighty-two. But I never lied.”
That night, in bed, I get wet. I can feel the dampness in my red-white-and-blue shorts. I reach over for Jonah. He is lying on his back, eyes wide open. He says, “I do not desire you.” And he rolls onto his side away from me.
It is the longest night I can remember. I lie on the edge of the bed, sick with humiliation, begging the morning to come. What had I done? Why didn't he want me? Jonah sleeps, still as death, the sheets pulled up under his chin.
In the morning, as I brush my teeth, I decide what to do. From the bedroom I hear Jonah say, “Do you want me to leave?”
“Yes,” I say, and hand him the phone number of his airline.
We are silent almost all the way to the airport. Finally, I say, “Since I must look at this as a learning situation, do you have any thoughts about this debacle?”
Jonah looks straight ahead and says, “Get yourself some K-Y jelly. You get dry before I can get in and I can't keep it up long enough for you to get wet.” What do you know, a test I didn't even know I was taking; no wonder I flunked.
My hands on the steering wheel are steady, the car moves ahead in a straight line, and I tell a joke. “There is this house of prostitution. The new owner decides he will put some class into the place. So he hires professionals. On the first floor he puts telephone operators.” (This is a very old joke.) “On the second he puts secretaries. On the top floor he puts teachers.” My voice is admirably steady and uninflected. It oozes with bitterness. “After about a month, the owner looks at his books and realizes that the first two floors are losing money. The third floor, the one with the teachers, is making money hand over fist. He decides to listen at the keyhole to find out what is going on.” Jonah stares into traffic, still without his seatbelt. I resist the urge to unlock the door and push him out. I continue with my joke. “On the first floor, where the telephone operators are, he hears, âI'm sorry, your three minutes are up.' Well, he thinks, that explains that. On the second, where the secretaries are, he hears, âSorry, it's time for my coffee break.' Okay, now I understand, he thinks. So he goes to the third floor, where the teachers are busy making money. He leans against the keyhole and hears, âWe're going to do this until we get it right.' ”
At the drop-off, Jonah gets out, pulls his bag, now empty, or so I believe, from the backseat, leans into the car, and says, “I hope you get what you're looking for. You deserve it.”
I wish I could quote a witty rejoinder here, something like “Fuck you.” But I can't. I was too angry, too confused, too humiliated, to put anything into words. What was I looking for?
Back home, I call the hotel and release some of my anger onto housekeeping. Where the hell were those flutes? I want to know. When the woman assures me they have looked everywhere to no avail, I say, “I would like to be paid for those flutes. I would like you to replace them.”
The rest of the day passes like molasses on cement. Exhausted, I thank whatever it is that brings eight P.M. around. Thank goodness I can go to sleep and tomorrow everything will be, will be . . . I open my bag and throw everything into the laundry basket: my red nightshirt, my pajama pants. Wait a minute, where are my pajama pants? I plow through my underwear, my socks, throw my shoes on the floor. No pants. Where on earth? Probably tangled at the bottom of the bed. I call housekeeping. No pants, no red-white-and-blue shorties.
And then it hits me. Housekeeping hadn't taken the flutes. Jonah had. And he had taken my pajama pants. No one else could have, no one else would have. I race for my purseâ money is all there. What could he have wanted, this liar, this thief, this eighty-two-year-old man who had brought me back to life, sort of? Eventually, certainly not then, I would feel flattered. In his way, he wanted to remember his adventure to the other side of the country, to a woman he had courted across the ether, in a place too rich for his blood. I hope that's right.
A long time later, months later, when I was able to think about Jonah and me without cringing, without crying, I considered the matter of age and passion and desire. Jonah, I'd bet anything, wondered if he still could; I was a way of finding out. More than that, like me, he was looking for a place for his passion. The world has little use for us: we are old, what business have we with passion? So we found each other and who would know? Who would care? Old people, they should be dry. But we weren't.
Not at all philosophical that first night, I sit on my futon swathed in my big old pajamas and think about my ad: So, is it answered? Did I have a lot of sex with a man I like? Kind of, sort of, maybe. But I got rejected. No matter what he stole, he didn't want me. I got dry, I got ugly, I got whatever I got to make him not desire me. “I don't desire you,” he said. Oh god, I hurt. It would take me a long time before I could imagine that Jonah, too, hurt. What Jonah was saying, I believe, was just that: he no longer desired me. I hadn't done wrong; neither had he. For more than two whole days, he had desired me and done wonderfully well by me. I suspect that is why, despite my imperious demands for his sexual history, my insistence on being in control, he flew three thousand milesâhe wanted to find out about himself. Sexual partners for older men are no doubt as scarce as they are for older women. And here was my ad, blatantly, boldly calling for sex. If he had told me by e-mail of his real age, would I have urged him to come all this way? Would I have met his plane if he had? No, I would not have. I am ashamed.
But I would not get philosophical for a long time. That night, I think only of myself. I open the bottle of wine I bought in the week before Jonah's arrival. Perhaps, I had hoped, we would get along so well we might spend an hour or so in my very own cottage. He might like me not so rich as the Claremont suggested I was. Face facts. He doesn't desire me.
I drink the whole bottle.
Back to the Couch
You'd think I would have quit. Heavy losses in the first two rounds. Low test scores. Injuries painful though not fatal. I am, however, an equal opportunity woman. One Catholic, one Jew, how about an Episcopalian or a Muslim orânow, this was appealingâan atheist. But first, to the outpatient wing for a binding up of wounds. Back to the couch. Back to Dr. V.
During the five years I spent redesigning myself on Dr. V's couch, I did what analysands are supposed to do. (Debate over this is current.) I transferred my feelings for my father to my doctor, thereby gaining the opportunity of (forcibly) examining those emotions and coming to some kind of rational assessment of them. While I did this to good effect, I went beyond and fell in love with Dr. V. At least, I think that's what I did. And, if I thought I did, then I did. People who say “Oh, you just think you're in love” don't know what they're talking about.
Dr. V was perfect for me. (Are you laughing?) He understood me. (Now you're laughing.) He was like me (sort of), well, gosh, we had similar interests! Bach, for instance. And, more obscure, Trollope. I learned this not because Dr. V told me butâwell, listen.
Dr. V's office is a small, brown-shingle cottage at the end of his own personal driveway, not unlike a primrose path. Inside is a small waiting room, a bathroom, and the inner office. The walls of the inner office are lined with books. On the table are beautiful miniatures from Africa or South America or Alaska, or Albuquerque, what do I know? Freud's desk held artifacts, too, ancient, small, intriguing, though not so colorful as these. In both offices, they sat where the doctors could see them. I think they helped keep the doctors from strangling their patients or just plain falling asleep.
In the room is a fireplace. One time, during the cold of winter, the heat stopped, and Dr. V lit a fire in the fireplace. From the couch I watched this sexiest of all men (him), wearing a herringbone jacket with leather elbow patches, urging sticks of wood (me) to blazing light (him and me). Now, I ask you.
During another fifty-minute hour I am lying on that damn couch, which looks pretty much like Freud's, and groaning about a passage from Trollope's Miss MacKenzie. In the passage Miss MacKenzie is lamenting the passing of her good looks. She is getting old. She is forty. I, age sixty, am wailing. And Dr. V says this amazing thing: “I think you're forgetting how that scene ends. It ends with Miss MacKenzie seeing her image in a mirror and kissing her reflection.” Oh god, of course, he is right. But imagine! I held my breath. Trollope's novels, certainly this one, are long. How could anyone recall the end of a particular scene? We were meant to be, Dr. V and me. (Bear with me, dear reader, especially if you are Dr. V.)
So, of course, this man, this doctor, this scholar, this lover of music and literature, was perfect for me. Plus, he was Jewish! And I was pretty sure he read the
New York Review.
The only problem was, he wouldn't cooperate. Finally, I had to accept the fact that he was my doctor. Period. Goddamn professionalism gets in the way all the time. At the end of the five years I was still in love with this man who had had the good timing to get a divorce himself during my tenure as his patient. I was sure it was because of me. (I blush as I write this.) But he wouldn't come across even figuratively. Finally, I realized that analysis had done all it could for meâa lotâand that staying on would only prolong my misery over unrequited passion.
One year later, I wrote that ad for him. One year posttherapy and I wasn't cured. After I sent the ad in to the
New York Review,
I wrote in my journal, “I'm still looking for the likes of you.” And now I was going back. Because I didn't know where else to go, what else to do, and I hurt something awful.
So I am lying on the couchâagainâfeeling like a failure and I am telling him about the ad and I tell him about getting sixty-three responses and suddenly I hear these strangled sounds from behind me, from Dr. V in his chair behind my head. He is laughing! “Forgive me,” he stammers. “Of course, I read the ad. I suspected it came from you. Trollope was the signal. I wondered how things turned out. And now”âhe's practically hiccuping with laughterâ“I just can't remember when I've enjoyed a story more.” He laughs out loud. And so do I. Right there, we become friends.
Love is a tyrant, isn't it. It keeps you in thrall, it makes you do things you would never do in your right mind, go places you don't especially want to go. It screws up your thinking, not to mention your stomach. “Love is a universal migraine,” wrote Auden. He's right. It was so liberating not to be in love anymore.
Except I was, almost, again, on my way to servitude and vulnerability and excitement and passion. With Robert. Fickle, that's me.
Dr. V had helped me get free of my mother, my grandmother, my own self, whom I had kept a stranger all those years. He had seen me through exactly that traumatic experience the critics of psychoanalysis rail against: recovered memory. A bad rap, recovered memory syndrome. While I was in analysis, the
New York Review
was full of articles outlining the misuses of psychoanalysis, the abuses perpetrated by its practitioners, the duplicity of Freud himself. I read the
New York Review.
I knew by reputation some of the writers of those articles. Their credentials were impeccable. I was scared to death. What would this Svengali, this Rasputin, lead me into? What would Dr. V do to me?
Still, it came. One day, after my session, I was driving home thinking, as I always did after my fifty minutes, about what had transpired in Dr. V's office. I had been talking about my mother, about her Victorian view of sex, about the sadness of my grandmother's marriage, about the silence that surrounded everything sexual. Sex did not exist in my upbringing. But I had come to understand during my thrice-weekly sessions that sex, talked about or not, encouraged or not, hidden or apparent, went on in some form in the life of every man, woman, and child. “What,” I wondered idly, “did Werner do about sex?”
Werner was our hired man, my mother's and my grandmother's. Werner was retarded, a thin man of indeterminate age, his face lined with years, or was it pain, who rode his bicycle uptown on errands for my family, sort of a town character. He chopped wood, moved furniture, washed the cars, fed my father's horse, cut the lawn, shoveled snow, all those things a retarded man could do, all those things my mother, father, and grandmother were too busy or not quite strong enough to do. He spoke very little, never carried on a real conversation. In his back pocket, in a brown paper bag, he carried peanut clusters with vanilla or maple centers purchased from the City Drug. When I was little, five or six, not long after my brother was born, I followed Werner around on his errands, his jobs. Sometimes, he offered me a peanut cluster. He lived in a little room in the attic of my grandmother's house.
On Dr. V's couch, I began to remember Werner's room, the rocking chair, the little window that looked out over the main street below and across the street to my house, where my mother was. I liked Werner's room. It was more my size. And then I began to remember images: Werner's striped OshKosh overalls, the fly which was level with my eyes when he stood facing me, and, after endless sessions of agony on Dr. V's couch, Werner's penis emerging. It was like a faucet; he showed me how to pump it up and down and how to drink from it. On the couch in Dr. V's office, I threw my hands over my eyes and sobbed. Dr. V never said a word. Then we went to work.
I am, if you haven't already figured it out, a clichÃ©. Here I was, a victim of sexual abuse discovering it all on a doctor's couch, recovering my memory, repressed as hell, falling in love with my analyst. Well, you have to start somewhere.
Here's what I came to understand: I was probably repulsed and fascinated, curious and frightened, by the experience. I do not recall there being more than one such incident, though I do recall tiptoeing upstairs to Werner's room when he moved to a room over my grandmother's garage. I remember that. I remember being terrified on those stairs that Werner would be at the top, and feeling relieved or disappointed or both when he wasn't.
Sixty years later, I learned that little girls have erotic feelings, too. I learned that my memories and perceptions were true, that they did not arise solely from fantasy or from reading the
I learned to trust myself. I understood that it was not the experience that had a lasting effect on me. It was the silence. For I told no one. And in 1939 in a little Ohio town where everybody knew everybody, where everyone looked after everyone, no one, not my parents, not my grandparents, not the neighbors, wondered where this little girl went, where I might be going, as I followed Werner across the street and through the back door of my grandmother's house. No one wondered what Werner might do for sex. No one wondered about sex. Even so, somewhere in all that silence, they had taught me that sex was forbidden. It was bad. I had done a bad thing. So I kept ever so quiet. Werner worked for our family for the next thirty-five years.
Repression became a way of life for me. Pretending, lying to myself, mainly not thinking: I got so good at pretending that by the time I was having sexâwith Jack; with Tom, my husband-to-beâI could convince myself of just about anything, even that I wasn't having sex, that I was just going camping or resting in a park at midnight on a blanket with a friend. I was a pro at not thinking. But, oh god, how I needed to feel. And I couldn't, all blocked up like that.
I tried, though.
In 1962, my third year of teaching high school English, I was terribly busy. My passion had all these places to go, all these kids to use it up; there were all these books to be read and loved again. I was tired all the time, but I was happy. So why did I begin to go out at night alone? I was twenty-nine years old, on my way to being an old maid.
I sat at a table near the window of Little Joe's cafÃ© in North Beach in San Francisco. My school was far away, my little rented house just across the Bay Bridge. In the back of the cafÃ© six or eight young men played pool. A few couples occupied nearby tables, but for a popular place, it was pretty empty for a Friday night. I had come here many times, in the beginning with my friends, then occasionally alone after my friends and roommates married and scattered to the four corners of the universe, dragging babies and basinettes behind them. By now, I knew the bartender and the cook at Little Joe's. I ordered a beer and a Hangtown fry.
He stood at the bar and he was alone. I went to the bar and ordered another beer. He was tall. He looked down at me, smiled, and introduced himself. His name was Tom. He was from Cleveland. He was a graduate student at Berkeley. In math. My dad would approve. Tom was a sports fan. My mother would approve. Perfect.
The following weekend we went camping. We never left the tent. On Sunday evening we left the campground exhausted and the next weekend we went again.
After a few months, I decided I must be in love with Tom; how else could I excuse my behavior? Tom naked was something else: he had those wonderful muscles over his hips that Greek statues haveâthink Michelangelo's David. He looked a lot like most of Art History 101. Though I saw myself as the ancient carving, the squat, rotund Venus of Willendorf, I began to feel less embarrassed about my body. Lying down I wasn't so short and stubby. Lying down became my favorite position. Lying on top of me was Tom's. We were a perfect match.
Back in Ohio, my mother had given up on me. “I just tell everybody who asks, âOh, we've given up on Jane. We don't think she'll ever get married.' ” To my sister she said, “I worry about this camping Jane and that boy are doing. I'm afraid of what might be going on there.” My sister replied, “She's twenty-nine years old. I hope something's going on.”
Far away in California, clinging to the vestiges of what I knew was my duty, I should have jumped at the chance when, in December 1963, just before my thirtieth birthday, Tom proposed. I should have been relieved, elated, even grateful, but I knew I didn't love this man; lots of times I didn't even like him. He made me ashamed when he snapped his fingers at me when he caught me gnawing a fingernail. He made me afraid when he drove my car pell-mell and helter-skelter across lanes, within inches of other vehicles, through yellow lights, asserting all the while that if there were an accident, it wouldn't be his fault, he hadn't broken any laws. He made me angry when he turned all discussions into arguments and he humiliated me when he demanded in front of the other bridge players that I explain exactly why I had bid four clubs and led with a heart. He was not nice to me, and beneath my desperation I knew I didn't want to marry him. But ahead of me lay a future so empty save for my mother's disapproval, so dark, so lonely, I said to Tom, “May I have time to think about it?” He gave me a peck on the cheek, said, “Sure, take all the time you want,” and trotted off to his rooming house full of graduate students just like him.
Not long after, I missed my period for the first time in my life. I went to the doctor for my first pelvic examination and the test that would determine my future. I was pregnant. I called Tom. He came right over. I said, “I've thought it over and I would very much like to marry you.” He would make it all right. He would explain everything to my mother. We would be happy. Everybody would be happy. I was happy. I was going to have a baby. I burst into tears.
“I'm pregnant,” I sobbed. “I'm so sorry, I really am.”
Tom looked at me very seriously and said, “I suppose the wedding ought to be sooner than later.”
We were married that summer, me in a dress that hid the bulge in my tummy, Tom in a suit I bought for him at Brooks Brothers. My father flew out for the ceremony. My mother was not well enough to make the trip. The reception took place in the driveway in front of my house in Berkeley. The weather was unseasonably hot. I do not know what disaster befell the men, but the high heels of the women sank into the tar, and for an uncomfortable time we were stuck.