He was coming down the street toward me. Today. When I was going to my physiotherapist’s office for treatment, after an operation.
Years ago, I would have broken into a sweat at the sight of him, wondering what to say. Or not say. This time, he recognized me, flagging me down, and I, with an astonishing lack of erotic interest, shook hands, according to formal German custom, asked how he was, before we moved on to the eternally safe topic of my children and how they’ve grown.
Is it possible that ten years ago this man formed the center of my guiltiest inner life? At the time, I didn’t know what hit me when I looked in his direction. Back then, I saw only an incredibly athletic, handsome, talented dancer. Back then, I could barely glance at him without wishing to see him naked. I feared he would notice my intense lust. I feared that he would not. My pulse pounded, sweat slid from armpit to rib cage. Loins aflame, I descended into shame. He was a young man. A good ten or more years younger. I lectured myself at the time. Many a disapproving note sounded in my unresponsive brain, all to the tune of “inappropriate wish.” But lust has its unstoppable hormones. The more I banished desires, the more they elbowed away my good intentions, demanding space—scenes played out vividly in my mind, naked dancer, naked me, sweaty sheets, loud panting, deep moaning—how the heck did I get my children, all, at the time, in kindergarten and elementary school, across the street without getting me and them hit by a truck? Did I notice traffic lights changing from green to red? Was I half-listening to demands for snacks, not quite looking both ways, luckier than I’m worth? The worst part: I was enjoying a perfectly delightful love life with my husband, a real life, not a fantasy life. Why was I daydreaming about the handsome dancer?
You know, gentle reader, the word “menopause” never even occurred to me.
I was then, I am now, a married woman with three children, who, yes, believe it or not, was really used to desiring none but her husband. This young, attractive, dancer-man: he’d never look at me. I felt sure plenty of women, young, far more attractive women than I, were eating out of his hand. I hated those women. The sight of my dancer—I thought of him as mine—he brought a flush to the cheeks of an old person. A hot flush. Or flash. A friend my age called hot flashes “my own private summer.” Usually less extreme, this moment consisted in asking a roomful of shivering persons whether it wasn’t hot, and removing my jacket. Just when I’d taken it off, hung it over my chair, I saw nobody else in the room seemed inclined to remove anything. They were winding scarves around their necks because I’d left the window wide open.
Flash forward to the present: that dancer who was so handsome to me: Imagine a male Josephine Baker. Also wearing bracelets. Why didn’t I notice the bracelets? But the leotard, the body in it, grabbed me. The thick, long outline of penis. That dancer. He had a build and a look I found very sexy.
Doing jazz dance, he looked serpentine, androgynous. Doing ballet—he seemed as graceful as Giselle. Feminine. Yielding. Did I notice this at the time? I did not. I saw nothing but the fantasy he stirred up.
It took a long time to understand what had happened, but now I realize I was re-living my thirteenth year. What does a young girl do when she thinks about maybe kissing a boy, but that’s scary? Fall in love with a gay guy. A beautiful gay guy. That’s what I did—at thirteen, and again, forty years later, just when my second adolescence hit.
Menopause was always something that happened to other people. It never occurred to me to think, when, in my late forties, my period started early, or didn’t start, or went on for three weeks, that anything but pregnancy might be happening. Sitting with my two-year-old daughter on my lap, bursting with pride at having a womb that could produce her when I was already forty-seven, I just assumed I’d gotten lucky again. Why not? A friend had had a child at fifty.
I was, and am, ready to go on forever. I don’t think I’ll notice the signs of impending death any more than I noticed those of menopause. I can’t delude myself that life will continue after I’ve rounded that bend, but I can assure women who develop strangely disturbing crushes and burst into sweats when the room is cold, who find themselves imagining their husband has left for work without them when of course he’d never do such a thing, who suddenly imagine people are against them, who wring their shirts out in the middle of the day that this, too, shall pass. That sex will go on and on—believe me, it will. You need more grease. But you’re thrilled with your husband. The two of us, we look at each other, each time and think: We’re still here!
Melissa Knox’s book, Divorcing Mom, a Memoir of Psychoanalysis, is forthcoming from Cynren Press (Winter, 2019). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Concho River Review, The Clarion Project, The Santa Ana River Review, The Other Journal, The Offbeat, and elsewhere. She teaches English and American literature in Germany and writes a blog, The Critical Mom. Connect with her on Twitter: @MomCritical