I Turned Sixty-One This YearbyScorpio44©
I turned sixty-one this year. That was something of a surprise to me. I didn't think I would turn sixty-one, ever. Most of my life I believed I would be dead before I was thirty. I thought that even after I turned thirty. Then I thought I'd be gone before I was fifty. I had plenty of evidence that I might be right. I had been in three plane crashes and I've lost count of the cars and trucks I've been in when they crashed. I have diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease. So, I was a little surprised when I hit sixty-one and was still here.
Not so early in life I got married. I was thirty-four. I was busy going to school and doing eight years in the military before that. We stayed married ten years. For the first eight we had what I called a good marriage. We seemed to have goals and wants that matched pretty well and our sex lives were good. As good as two inexperienced lovers could have it be, when both were virgins except with each other. We had missionary sex in the dark twice a week. I convinced myself that was what married people who went to church did. Beginning in year nine of our marriage my wife, Mary, miscarried three times in a year and a half. That did something. That ended the let's-have-sex-a-lot pattern of our lives. I know now that twice a week in the dark isn't a lot of sex but I didn't know that then.
After the third miscarriage the doctors convinced us that another pregnancy would kill both Mary and the baby, so she had her tubes tied. On the way home from the hospital she opened a door into her thinking that she had never shared before.
"Since I can't have children anymore I don't have any interest in sex."
I didn't say anything. I wrote off her statement to the strain and emotion of having miscarried again and having an operation. I figured that within a few weeks or a couple of months she would be inviting me back between her legs.
Six months went by and not once had she kissed me like a lover or a wife. She hadn't joined me in the shower, hadn't patted me on the butt and was offended the three times I had patted her. I wanted to scream at her, yell, rant, beg or whatever would end the drought! She also all but stopped talking. Conversations with her were marked by short utterances like, "Whatever you want." "I don't really care" became almost a mantra.
One Friday night at the end of those six months we were invited over to the home of our pastor for dinner. We accepted thinking that there would be a dinner party. It was just the four of us.
The dinner was good and the conversation during dinner was mostly about the congregation and the planned summer activities. After dinner we sat in the living room and the pastor opened the subject that had prompted the invitation in the first place.
"I know the two of you have been wondering why we invited you here for dinner tonight. You know that it is part of my job to work with couples that are having some problems. I am always looking for signs that something is changing, something is off, in a relationship. Both Carole and I have noticed some changes in your marriage and we want to help, if we can."
Mary spoke up. "I don't know what you think you saw but I do not want to talk about any problem we may be having."
The pastor held his hands up and Mary stopped.
"What I'm saying is that we have noticed that your marriage is changing. We want to help if we can and at the least to understand."
"Then, what have you seen?"
Carole spoke. "I used to love seeing the two of you walking into church and at the end of services watching you walk back to your car. I watched you sit in church snuggled close together. Then, about a six months ago, I saw you get out of your car and walk into church without holding hands. You sit together in church but you never touch each other. I've seen you in town shopping a couple of times and there isn't any touching there either."
"What, are you spying on us?" Mary was getting angry. I could hear it in her voice.
"No. I love seeing people expressing their love and affection. If I could I'd pass a rule that everyone in church touch the people they sit near, that everyone hug instead of shake hands. I see people holding hands and I smile. When I stop seeing it I wonder what's happened."
"I don't do that stuff anymore because I don't want to encourage him," Mary said. She was sitting at the far end of the couch from me. Her legs held tightly together, her hands clenched in her lap.
"I don't understand" Carole said. She was sitting in a chair near the chair her husband was sitting in. Her hand was on his forearm. Her legs were slightly parted and her other arm was on the arm of her chair. Her body language was open. Mary's was closed, locked up, unavailable.
"If I hold his hand he will think I want sex. If I snuggle with him I can count on he will want to have sex when we get home."
"And, what would be wrong with that?"
"I can't!" The words were spat, not spoken. "I'm ruined. I'm not fit to be a wife. I know Nick is going to leave me. I just don't know why he wants to torture me first."
This was news to me. I knew she thought about things differently than I did but this floored me. What was she thinking?
"Honey, I don't know what you're talking about. I love you. You are my wife."
"It is the wife's job to give her husband children. I tried. Now I can't. When they tied my tubes they killed our marriage. I'm not even a woman!"
"I don't care about having children! I love you! I would make love to you every day until the second coming without ever feeling badly that you didn't have a baby. If you want children, we could adopt! "
"They wouldn't be my children! I'm never going to have any children!" Mary's voice was almost a scream. Tears streaked down her face. Her hands were fists held tightly in her lap.
"I love you, Mary." I said it softly. I was looking at her.
She slowly turned and said, "I love you too but I am not your wife anymore. I cannot meet my obligation as a wife and I will not degrade you anymore. Now, please take me home."
We rode home in silence. Once home she went into our bedroom and began to pack. I followed her into the bedroom and said, "You don't need to go."
"I get to make a choice. I can go as a failure, not a wife, not a mother, not even a woman or I can stay as a whore. I hate that my life is reduced to this! But, I won't be a whore!"
"A married woman is not a whore! You are my wife!"
"No! A wife can have babies! That's her job. I can't have babies! I'm not a wife. If I go to bed with you it's not as a wife, it's as a whore! Want me in bed? Do you want your whore?"
"You are not a whore! You are my wife!"
"No!" She was no longer folding things before they went into the suitcase. They were being shoved in.
"What will you do? Where will you go?"
"I told my mom that I might be moving back home soon. She cried. She thinks you did something horrible. I'll tell her the truth when I get there. I want to die."
"I love you."
"You can't! I can't be a wife!" It was a scream.
An hour later she was gone. The next day I was sitting at my desk at work not getting much done when the phone rang. It was Mary's mom. We had known each other for nine and a half years and this was the first time she had ever called me at work.
"Nick, this is Elaine, Mary's mother." There was no emotion in her voice. It was flat and cold. I wondered what Mary had told her.
"I recognized your voice."
"Nick, Mary told me everything last night."
I interrupted, "No, Mary told you less than half of everything last night. She told you what she made up as real and she told it to you as fact."
"Nick, I am so sorry."
"For teaching Mary all her life that her number one job in life was to get married and have babies."
"Then the apology needs to be given to her, not me."
"I gave it to her. She wouldn't take it. Now I can't give it to her anymore."
"Once was all you could say it? Say it again!"
There was a pause on the line. When Elaine's voice came back it was a whisper.
"Nick, Mary killed herself."
I don't know if I hung up the phone or I just dropped it. A secretary told me later that I screamed "No!" at the top of my lungs and cried for over an hour. Mary was gone!
At the time I believed that I would never love anyone again. I wouldn't date for fifteen years. I could have, but I wouldn't.
I worked and I focused on that to get me through each day. I was in the office before dawn and left after dark every day. On the days that the office was closed I worked at home. I boxed all the things in the house that reminded me of Mary and put them away. I wasn't alive, I was surviving.
Ten years after Mary died the company hired a secretary for me. They hired a woman about my age and she was great. She didn't push me to be friendly or to chat. We did our jobs and as long as the conversations were about business I was even comfortable. She called me Mr. Peterson and I called her Mrs. Archer. If I had been asked during the first years of our working together to describe Mrs. Archer I could not have done it. Her looks did not intrude into my thinking.
In the fifteenth year of our working together Mrs. Archer changed. It wasn't me, it was her. One day I went into her office and I smelled something. Not the standard office smells but something that got my attention. I handled the transaction that had me go into her office and went back to mine.
For the rest of the day I thought repeatedly about what that smell might be. On the drive home it hit me! The smell was vanilla!
Early the next day I went into her office again and noticed the smell of vanilla was there again. Then I noticed something else. Mrs. Archer had softly curled red hair. It cascaded to her shoulders and shined.
I had never noticed that she had red hair. I thought that she must have recently colored it.
I buried myself in my work. Thoughts of Mrs. Archer intruded into my concentration two or three times a day for the next couple of weeks. I can't say that she was doing anything differently than in the past because I cannot recall ever paying any attention to what she wore, or smelled like, or how she had her hair, or anything except she did good work.
After a couple weeks of having her intruding into my thoughts I noticed something else. I was driving home from work and I turned on the radio in my car. For most people that wouldn't even be significant. It was for me. From the day Mary left I hadn't listened to the radio, a CD, or any music. I had moved my music collection into the room where I kept all of Mary's stuff. The door to that room had been untouched for years. I found myself driving down the Santa Monica freeway listening to an oldies station. I almost had a wreck!
The next day I got in my car headed for work and I sang along with some of the old music.
I attempted to refocus myself on my work. I was afraid if I started listening to music again they would play some of the stuff Mary had liked and I would feel the old hurt again.
A couple days later I took a report in to Mrs. Archer and she was sitting at her desk having lunch. It looked like a sandwich brought from home, an orange and a Diet Coke.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt your lunch." I turned to go.
"Stop, Mr. Peterson. You haven't interrupted my lunch. You have finally come in at the right time. Please sit down."
"No. You are eating your lunch. I'll come back later."
"No. Sit down Mr. Peterson. We need to talk."
Her tone and body language were clear. I sat down in the chair next to her desk. She opened a desk drawer and pulled out a plastic sandwich bag with a sandwich in it and handed it to me. Then she reached into the drawer again and I got a Diet Coke.
I didn't argue. When I had entered her office I had no awareness of being hungry but as I unwrapped the sandwich I realized I was very hungry. As I lifted the sandwich to my mouth I said, "Thank you Mrs. Archer."
"When we are at work I expect that I am Mrs. Archer. We are not at work right now. I would like it very much if you would call me Mia."
"Mia. I didn't know."
"There are lots of things you didn't know."
We ate in silence until the sandwiches and the shared orange were gone and the Diet Cokes were empty. I started gathering trash and preparing to leave when Mia spoke again.
"According to the employee handbook we get forty-five minutes for lunch. We have twenty-three minutes left. I want you to sit there and listen to me for the entire twenty-three minutes."
I relaxed into the chair and said, "OK."
"Did you know when I started working for you?" I shook my head and said, "A few years ago."
"Yes. Almost fifteen years ago. I had been working for the sales manager before I transferred to this office. I heard about your wife and I identified with how you were feeling. At least I thought I did. I came to work here and learned a powerful lesson. Everyone deals with loss in their own way. You were a robot. For almost five years I have worked for a robot. And, even though you didn't know it, you had a robot working for you. Both of us had shut down. We survived by not feeling and not even seeing people." She sat back a little and I noticed, for the first time, that she had freckles.
"About three months ago something happened in my life and it snapped me back to life. My sister came to live with me for a month or so. She was having trouble in her family and needed to be away from them for a little while. Every night she talked to me and I started listening. I realized that she wanted to live her life. She wanted to be happy. My sister ached for happiness, ached to have her husband put his arms around her and say ' I love you' to her. Late one night I sat up in bed and realized that I wanted to live too."
I didn't move. I could smell her perfume. I was looking at her and realizing that Mia was a woman, an attractive woman. I was listening but didn't know why she was telling me all this.
"I had shut down after Mr. Archer died. I needed a job and I kept this one so I wouldn't starve. I came to work for you because there was no emotion in here. I stayed because I convinced myself that working and living with no emotion was for the best. Now, I've changed my mind."
"Are you quitting me?"
"No. I'm doing better than that. I want you to follow me home after work and have dinner with me."
"I haven't eaten anywhere but at home since..."
"So, it's about time for a change."
"I don't think I'd be very good company."
"OK. I will be quitting at the end of next week."
"I thought you said you weren't quitting."
"If you won't come for dinner, I quit."
"It is what it is. You choose."
Mia opened the center drawer of her desk and gave me a hand-written card. Printed on the card were directions to her house.
"Just in case you don't follow very well."
I stood and walked back to my office. I have no idea what I did for the rest of the day. At five I walked out to my car and followed Mia home. I parked in front of her home and met her on the porch.
Mia opened the door and had me enter first.
"You aren't running now that I've gotten you this far."
'Ok. I'm here. I won't run."
I entered her home and she turned on some lights.
"Where is your sister?"
"She went home on the bus yesterday. Make yourself comfortable on the couch. I'll be right back."
When I sat on her couch I saw that here living room was like out of a magazine. Nothing was out of place. It didn't look lived in. There was one magazine on the coffee table, a National Geographic from last year. I thought about looking at it but Mia came back before I picked it up. She sat at the other end of the couch, turned towards me, tucked one leg under her body and smiled at me.
"You didn't even loosen your tie. I asked you to get comfortable."
My hands loosened my tie.
"I wish I had one of those digital cameras right now. I'd like to show you the expression on your face."
"Why? Do I look sick or something?"
"No. I think the right word would be bewildered."
"You may be right. I am way out of my comfort zone. I don't think I ought to be here."
"Nick, are we breaking any laws by being here? Are we in violation of some company policy?"
"No. At least I don't think so."
"Is my husband going to come home and catch you here with your tie loosened?"
"Not if what you told me is true."
"I won't ever lie to you. I haven't lied to you in the fifteen years to date and I won't start. My husband is dead. Your wife is also dead. My nearest relative is over six hundred miles away. No one is going to walk in on us. What else is bothering you?"
"Why am I here?"
"You want the long answer or the short?"
Mia leaned towards me and her eyes widened. I noticed that the blouse she was wearing showed a tiny bit of cleavage.
"I decided that if I'm no longer going to be a robot I need someone to play with. I picked you."
"I think I may have forgotten how to play. I don't laugh. I don't do anything except work."
"That may be true but I know and you know we are both smart. If we decide that what would be good for us was to relearn how to play we can do it."
Sitting on her couch what she said seemed to make sense. In the cobwebs of my memory I could recall that I used to know how to play. It was a long time ago. Back when I first met Mary. I looked up at Mia and said, "OK. What do we do first?"
"We already handled first. We got out of the office. Now, as for second, what if we start with food?"
"What do you normally have for dinner?"
"I open the freezer, take out a frozen dinner and pop it in the microwave."
"Not tonight! Tonight we are going out! What kind of food did you like when you used to have fun?"
"I remember loving to go to a Chinese restaurant! I loved Kung Pow Chicken!"
"Take your tie off and we'll go. I know a Chinese restaurant near here."
My tie went into my jacket pocket and we went to the Hunan Garden in Mia's car. During dinner we both did something that surprised us. We laughed. We drank two pots of Chinese tea with our meal and both used the bathroom before we left to go back to Mia's.
Mia didn't invite me in when we got back to her home. It was almost nine o'clock and she said it was time for me to go home and get some sleep.
In the awkward moment before I turned to go I wondered what I was expected to do. Should I try to kiss her? Shake hands? A hug? I couldn't decide so I turned and went to my car. As I opened the door I called out, "Thanks. See you in the morning."
The next three days we shared lunch at Mia's desk. On the third day, during lunch, I asked Mia if she would go out with me on Saturday. She didn't ask where we would go she just said "Yes." That night I figured out where I wanted to go.
At 8:30 I called Mia at home and said, "Mia, would it be OK with you if I picked you up at seven in the morning and we went for a walk in the mountains?"
"Seven? How long a walk do you want to go on?"
"Until we are done. I don't want to set a time limit. I want to walk with you and have fun."
"Oh. In that case I will be sitting on my front porch wearing my old hiking boots at seven. Should I make a lunch for us?"
"I can pick something up at the market."
"Not a chance. They don't know how to make hiker's lunches. I'll have our lunch when you pick me up."
"Are you sure?"
She was. When I arrived at her house I was five minutes early. There was a woman sitting on her porch steps. The woman had a baseball cap on and her short red hair showed around the hat. She was wearing a light blue shirt and dark blue shorts with the oldest, raggediest hiking boots I had ever seen. Beside her on the step was a battered blue day pack. When Mia saw my car she smiled and stood up.