Wednesday

HIS PROSTATE/MY LEFT BREAST

“Should I put on the Jacuzzi?” Tim calls in from the kitchen. I am sitting in the living/dining room putting nail polish on my toes and watching one of those nature shows, this one about a man who hung around grizzly bears on the Alaskan Peninsula until he was eaten by one. Our friend Sarah Lerner, a Manhattan psychoanalyst, joked he must have had an abusive father he was somehow trying to win over.
“I’ve got to wait for my toes to dry.”
“How long does that take?”
“’Bout half an hour.” Before I left the hospital, the day nurse warned me there’s a tendency to let oneself go after surgery and that I should pay particular attention to my appearance. Ironically, it was something she learned from me in a class I taught on after-care in the early nineties.
Tim breezes in from the kitchen and hands me a glass of orange juice. “A half hour is perfect. That’s exactly how long it takes to heat up.” He heads out onto the patio, flips on the spa, and hurries back into the house. Despite this being April in Scottsdale, it is 44 degrees out. He stoops and kisses the top of my head. “I’d sit with you,” he says, “but I’ve got to keep stirring the oatmeal.”
“That’s okay. I’m really into this.” I nod at the TV, an appliance as of little interest to Tim as a coping saw is to me. I would never admit it to him, but I absolutely love frittering away time in front of the television – soap operas, quiz shows, almost anything holds my interest when I’m in the mood just to veg out.
“Want a cup of chamomile?” It’s rather astonishing how solicitous Tim has been since my operation. I hear him humming to himself as he flits about, adhering to his morning routine: slice an orange, pull himself into tree pose on his right leg, heat his cup under a cascade of hot water, assume tree pose on his left leg.
He has little idea how observant I am of him, not unlike our now deceased half collie, half standard poodle was of me. If I left the bedroom to get the morning paper in just my panties, Arnold would remain on his blanket at the foot of our bed. If I pulled on slacks or a skirt, he would scamper after me, anxious that I was leaving the house.
So I am pet to my husband, he the sun around which I revolve. Despite his sense of himself as kind, polite, interested in others, our marriage has been mostly all about him. Tim.

It never fails to amaze me how blue the Arizona sky is at the northern tip of Scottsdale, here in the foothills of the Tonto National Forest. I am lying on my back in the hot tub, one of Tim’s large, golf-coarsened hands under my ass, the other, like a rudder, at the small of my back. We are both naked, Tim looming over me, slowly turning me around and around, a favorite ritual of ours ever since we bought our place in Desert Vistas.
I try not to think about how I look to him, my left breast, never more than a 34B, now as flat as a young boy’s, the still purple welt of a scar snaking from my armpit six inches down my ribcage.
And, yet, knowing Tim as I do, I doubt that it is putting him off. Since the night we met in 1955, his libido has seemed focused, often to the point of annoyance, on my rather expansive thicket of very dark pubic hair – so much so that he has consistently resisted my intention of having it waxed, a continuing embarrassment during swim season. I am reassured by his erection bobbing against the bottom of my thigh.
Great wafts of mist are forming as the heated water of the Jacuzzi meets the cold, dry Scottsdale air, nestling me in a cocoon of swirling clouds. For the first time since my surgery I feel myself truly letting go. As with Tim’s prostate cancer, I know it will be years before I can be sure the disease has not returned. But lying here in my husband’s large, strong hands, I feel a sense of relaxation and optimism begin to suffuse my body.
Perhaps that is why it takes me several seconds to realize that Ethan Lerner is staring at us from the porch of our house, not fifteen yards away. There is a thick palla verde tree between us, and I suspect this is why Ethan is standing there as if he somehow cannot be seen. He is absolutely riveted, and I let my eyelids flutter close, as if I am fully asleep. I do not want to startle him.
I am surprised that I feel absolutely no desire to cover up or to alert Tim, whose back is to the porch. I’ve always felt a certain affection for Ethan, and I think he for me, each of us married to a more extroverted, domineering spouse. As Tim and Sarah bicker over whether Joyce Carol Oates can write or not, Ethan and I chat about our kids or how much we like caramel crunch ice cream. There is a real feeling of simpatico.
The sad thing is, and he’s a good-looking man, I have never felt even the slightest hint of desire for Ethan. I suspect the feeling is mutual. As I’ve observed our friends over the years, it seems inevitable that we’re attracted to personalities different from us. The passive for the aggressive, and vice versa.
Suddenly, I feel Tim bending over and I know what is coming next. He is going to take a great wad of my pubic hair between his lips and hold me afloat, something that, one, I resist because it is painful and, two, usually submit to because it is proof of my rather extraordinary buoyancy. I wriggle out of Tim’s grasp, and the splashing seems to snap Ethan out of his trance. Hurriedly, he bends to place some kind of package in front of our front door. I assume it is a fruit basket or flowers, in honor of my recent surgery.

The phone rings early in the afternoon, and it is Sarah Lerner, wanting to know if I feel well enough to come over to their place for dinner. I wonder what Ethan has told her about my scar.
When we step into the Lerner’s modest living room, I am dismayed to see the Phayers and Posnicks there as well. We and the Lerners have smaller homes, the Phayers and Posnicks massive houses, the size of mid-sized hotels.
A stack of small gifts and cards and bouquets are on the coffee table. A Welcome Back to Desert Vistas, Emily banner is draped across an armchair. I pretend to be touched, overcome, but, really, I’m trying to put the operation behind me, yet people keep shoving it back in my face.
Ray Phayer pops out of his seat and gives me an especially warm hug, kissing me directly on the lips. I hope Tim isn’t watching. He maintains most wives are cheek kissers, and that it is too forward to offer your lips to another man, even if he is a good friend.
“I don’t know,” I tell him, “in my family we’ve always been lip-kissers.”
“You don’t kiss women on the lips,” he counters.
“No, that’s true,” I allow. “But I don’t mean anything by it. It’s totally platonic.”
“Nothing’s totally platonic,” he replies. “Not even taking a shit.”
Ray’s hair is completely silver now, and the pad of flesh under his jaw seems fuller, softening what I remember to be a strong, firm chin-line. Still, he is the handsomest among our quartet of men, and I find myself flirtatious around him, anxious to please, drawn toward his chest and shoulders. I am glad to be feeling this way, the first hint of an amorous impulse since I was diagnosed back in January.
During dinner, which out here in Arizona is rarely served later than seven, I look up to see Ethan staring at me. When I smile at him, his eyes dart to the side. This happens several times. I wonder if the purple scar has fascinated, hypnotized, repulsed him. A wave of sadness floods over me. I am sixty-two. Broken blood vessels are creating a roadmap across my face. My once perfect ass is beginning to sag. I have lost a breast.
I am ten, twenty, at best thirty years away from the end. Quick, somebody do something.
There is a lull in the conversation. I see Tim lay down his salad fork in a way I have come to recognize over the years. He is going to say something. I wonder if he is one-tenth as aware of my patterns as I am of his – probably not.
“So, Ethan,” he says to the table at large, “What did you think of Emily’s scar? Not so bad.”
Panicked, Ethan glances over at his wife Sarah, looking for some kind of support; but she simply gets up and goes into the kitchen, as if to bring in another dish.
“I – I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” he finally manages to blurt.
“Oh, come on, I saw you staring at us in the hot tub.” Tim traces his hand down his side, indicating the location of my scar. “That jagged purple thing. You couldn’t miss it.”
“Thanks a lot,” I pipe up.
“Oh, my God, you saw Emily naked in the hot tub,” says Alex Posnick. “I’ve always wanted to see her naked.”
“Even with my jagged purple scar.”
“Especially with your jagged purple scar. Oh, my God!”
The conversation rages on about the trimness of my figure – I am just under five feet and have weighed the same ninety-seven pounds since my senior year in nursing school. Sarah, returned from the kitchen, Stella Posnick, and Ray’s wife Miranda join their husbands in flattering descriptions of my ass, my waist, the slenderness of my arms and legs.
I can’t be sure whether their compliments are sincere or whether they are simply trying to make me feel better about having just lost a breast; either way, it feels absolutely wonderful to be the center of attention. I flash back to a fantasy I had as a seven year old girl of myself as a gorgeously browning chicken, turning slowly on a rotisserie as the cuter of the boys in my second grade class watch in admiration.
It is almost a contest now, the men trying to outdo each other, citing ever more obscure areas of my body they would like to see unclothed; and the women how much they’d like to trade their arms, thighs, facial structure for mine.
After awhile, their words fade under and I am seeing only their faces, eyes eager, animated, kind. They are rallying behind me, using whatever they can to cheer me up, these sixty-somethings whose parents and friends are dropping like flies all around them. Despite their jealousies and disappointments and fears, they have actually found enough generosity of spirit to want to make me feel safe and loved. This is so much better than my parents were able to manage when I failed a test or got picked on by my clique or lost a boyfriend.
I start to cry – loud, heaving sobs – I can’t help myself. Tim gets up and takes my hand. “Come on,” he says, “I’ll take you home.”
“No, no, I’m enjoying this too much. Oh, God, I can’t stop crying.” Ethan reaches over and hands me his intricately embroidered damask handkerchief. “Go ahead,” he says, “Sarah’s father left us dozens.”
I blow my nose loudly, smiling through my tears. “You guys are so great,” I manage to say.
When we leave, I give every single one of them a lip kiss, a good long lip kiss, even the women. And they kiss me back, and I hope Tim is watching.
Tim switches off the light. “Good night, sweetie, Sleep tight,” he says, rolling away from me. I toss my book on the floor and snuggle in behind him. Turning the events of the day over in my head, I don’t say anything for the longest time.
Finally, I say, “We’re in the same boat now, you and me.”
“What do you mean?”
He knows what I mean, I’m sure of it. “You don’t have a prostate, I’m minus a left breast.”
“Yeah, but Saul is going to make you a new one. You can’t get a new prostate.”
“Yeah, but a fake tit is no replacement for a real one.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he says. “We’re in the same boat.”
“Are you happy about that?”
“Well, I’m not happy you’ve had cancer, that’s for sure.”
“Well, we’re more in balance again,” I say. “The order has been restored. I think you’ll be in a better mood.”
There’s not much he can say to that, but I am feeling a surge of love for this man I have been together with thirty-nine years now. I slip down beneath the covers and take his flaccid penis in my mouth.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asks. “Are you ready?”
I don’t answer, just keep sucking his penis. It gets firmer, though not a full-fledged erection. But I have an instinct I can get it inside me.
I moisten my fingers and transfer the saliva to between my legs. It has been almost two months now and I need to repeat the process several times. I climb on top of Tim and, despite dryness and a certain amount of pain, gingerly lower myself down upon him. I can sense his penis stiffening inside me.
As I lean forward to press my chest to his, I feel his hands reach under my nightie till his large, calloused right hand touches my scar. Slowly, tenderly, firmly, he moves his palm across my nippleless breast, massaging the soreness, drawing a warm wave of blood to the area until the pain seems to disappear.

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