Saturday, September 26, 2009

Notes from a 43-year-old woman

Excerpts from Sheri's journal, 1991

Jan. 14 — I’m hoping to play volleyball today. I need to go, to see where this emerging feeling for a new man might take me. It is unlikely, but it’s there. He appears to be considerably younger than I, a sportswriter….What attracts me is his intellect and his kindness. He seems secure in himself. And it appears, although I admit I may be misreading simple friendliness, that he is interested.

Feb. 10 — Things moved into a new phase with Mike Downs. We now, after a flurry of message-sending last Monday night, have a date to go hiking on some nice weekend…And it leaves me a little afraid, feeling awkward….Does this guy know how old I am? And how old is he?

Feb. 11 — When I walked into volleyball, Mike was distant, chatting away with R.N. (young and cute). I think he is just friendly to everyone.

Feb. 19 — He is 26. Isn’t that too young? How come I find a soul mate and he’s only 26? I have nephews older than he.

Feb. 26 — I must tell Mike how old I am.

Feb. 27 — Mike called asking if I’d like to go out for pizza tonight. I said yes, of course. And then he fumbled for words and said, “This is just a friendship, right?”…. Put away the fantasies, Sheri. Your bed is still empty. Maybe you thought there was room in it for a 26-year-old. You were wrong.

March 4 — Michael called (He’s Michael now). Asked if I’d like to see “Dances with Wolves” tonight. And have dinner beforehand. If this is a friendship, it’s OK with me.

March 12 — Alternating between giddiness and terror. This is uncharted territory, and I am doing dead reckoning. I knew when he came here bearing a bouquet of iris and a carton of ice cream that this would be the night to dispel this “only friends” myth. He thought I was 36… then decided I was 40 or 41. I told him the truth, then, after he told me it didn’t matter…. I am embarking on a great adventure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The Washington Post ran a live chat this week during which two funny women entertained replacement words for "cougar." An excerpt from "Please Don't Call Yourself A Cougar":

Raleigh, N.C.: Let's use the same terms as an older male hitting on younger women...

...such as Lecher or Dirty Old Woman or Perv.

Ellen McCarthy: Lecher doesn't get nearly enough use, does it? Can it be used in the feminine? Lecheress?

Monica Hesse: Skeeve? Skeevette?

Somehow Dirty Old Woman just makes me think of a lonely cat lady. And that makes me sad.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Older Women: A Personal History

The one I’d marry one day steps through the newsroom to return my record album (a Congolese Mass), paying no attention to who stares, steps up to my desk and I stand to meet her: smiles, she hands me the album, we chat, comfortable, and after she walks away (leaving the air tingling with possibility’s electric hum) a colleague sidles up and says, “So Mike, who’s the blonde?”

Years earlier, senior year in political science, I’m paired with a woman with salt-and-pepper hair for after-hours study, and later we’re pals driving hours out of town to watch David Bowie in a retrospective, her teenage daughter back in the apartment they shared, and though my parents tease me about an older woman, there’s no stardust falling ’round me, and I never had the sense she expected that, either – but, you know, sometimes I read headlines and still can’t tell you the news.

Travel farther back, and she’s three or four years older, five at the most – I can’t remember – but a graduate student, and dating her that summer feels like driving fast through red lights because we keep it a secret in the small office where we work, how we undress each other, what she teaches me about sex, laughter, and the brassy joy of a woman from Chicago.

Now I’m fourteen and my friends ogle Farah Fawcett posters on their walls, but late at night I’m watching PBS and As You Like It with Rosalind played by Helen Mirren – twice my age at the time – and I am smitten, because California tans and curling-iron hair aren’t nearly as sexy as confidence and wit, and Willie Shakespeare knew that, too.

Way back, almost before memory there’s an aunt, younger than other aunts and pretty, too, with no children of her own, sweet to me, her grammar school nephew, and after a long family trip I whine about a sore back, so while others play cards or unwrap lunch, she kneads my shoulders, explaining that you massage around the knot and not the knot itself, and her fingers through my shirt raise goose bumps on my arms and a boy’s crush in my heart, and years later I’m still astonished how even an innocent touch can seduce.

Sometimes I wonder whether there’s something in me that’s different, strange, better or worse, that can explain this anomaly of love. Brain chemistry? A particular gene? Zodiac signs? A person, a time, a place? Patterns elude me because for every older woman there is one younger or the same age. These days, young men go on reality TV or to mixers intent on bedding an older woman. That’s the anomaly to me, as odd as seeking a woman of a particular zodiac sign, or income, or one who is left-handed rather than right. Stop looking. Stop wondering. One day she might be there, Sagittarius, earning a third again your salary, batting a volleyball with her right hand, pony-tail swinging. So you think, well, every day is an accident, history isn’t fate, sometimes the news is good.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Class Reunion

Word came recently about my college reunion this fall. I’m not going, but it put me in mind of two reunions that my brave husband accompanied me to and for which he has long ago forgiven me.

The first time we’d been married only a year. We were in my hometown visiting relatives when a friend called to announce an impromptu gathering of my college class to celebrate 25 years since we graduated. Michael was 29. I was 46.

He felt like a tagalong, a guppy swimming with big fish. My classmates had become doctors, lawyers, professors. The host was a judge. I knew I belonged with you, he said. I just didn’t know if I belonged with your people.

I don’t remember feeling embarrassed about having a young(er) husband. Maybe I was a little worried about the reaction of my college friends, but I always relished the role of the maverick, the nonconformist. So I did a bad job of sticking with him, turning him loose in the big fish pond while I caught up with friends. I remember thinking that if I pretended it was normal to marry a man 17 years younger, everyone else would think so, too. 

Well, think again. I thought I was presenting a brave face to the world, but really I was just in denial.  Michael is exceptionally good at drawing people into conversation. But here he faced a vast tangle of intertwined lives almost impossible to decipher, and even harder to whack through to make a connection. He was just making some progress on that front when my ex-husband showed up and introduced himself. Yikes!

I was in another room when the two of them shook hands. Michael remembers not feeling intimidated at all. Instead, he felt cocky, he says, comparing my ex’s balding head and pudgy waistline to the photos he had seen of our married years.

Fast forward eight years to the 40th reunion of my junior high class. Now we were all past 50, some of us grandparents. By now, Michael had met many of the people who were there, had made a path through that overgrown jungle of relationships and memories. 

Still, it shocked him that my peers no longer looked middle-aged. You were all moving into old. People were getting gray, thinking about retiring. And that must mean… my wife is getting old, too

I haven’t been to any of Michael’s class reunions. He’s never wanted to go, and I don’t, either. Being a maverick takes you only so far.