When I objected, he withdrew behind a wall. After six months, I asked if he would be available to have dinner for my birthday. I heard the sound exactly as he intended it. In August, at the age of 88, Mum fell into a creek while playing golf. We felt quite lucky she did not lose consciousness and drown. I had her transferred to my hospital, where surgeons operated to stabilise her neck.
My sisters and I decided to move her into a retirement home. We needed to get her used to the idea, but the surgery had left her demented. My normally sweet mother had transformed into a harridan. I thought, if this is the future, the future looks grim indeed. I slid into a depression that held on to me tight. My despair felt interminable. I knew something had to change.
I told work that I wanted back into the partnership track, to be full time. I made plans to travel. I became comfortable staying home on Saturday nights by myself. Responsibilities accumulated, friendships multiplied; the lack of a relationship in my life seemed almost unnoticeable.
After four or five months, several friends offered to fix me up. It's not cheap, she said, but when people have to go through an interview and shell out money, they're more likely to be serious about wanting a relationship. Charles was the fifth man I met through Dating Alliance. I felt unaccountably nervous — doubtful that I'd like him, afraid that I would.
I'd met so many weird men by that point. He was originally from the Netherlands and owned a manufacturing company. He spoke several languages. He was tall, maybe 6ft 5in, bald, with a skinny, white, handlebar moustache, and he looked every day of He asked if I'd join him for dinner. When we left the restaurant, a homeless man walked up to Charles, who took out his wallet and handed him some money.
I heard him murmur, "You're not going to drink all this, are you? I wasn't attracted to him. He was controlling, probably narcissistic, one more of the same old same old. Then again, I just wanted to date. So I said OK. He asked me out that Friday night. We walked to a sushi place. Conversation felt like work, and I'd already spent 12 hours in the operating room.
After, we walked back to my apartment. We were discussing the upcoming election, standing in the kitchen, then wandered into the living room. We sat on the sofa, facing each other. Suddenly he yanked me towards him, put his mouth on mine, roughly, holding my neck tightly. I turned my head. I wanted to get a breath that didn't include him, didn't include his scent, but for that moment, I must have relaxed and the tension must have lessened imperceptibly.
He flipped on top of me and yanked my trousers down. I said again, "Stop. I thought, if I fought him, he might hurt me more, so I said, enunciating clearly, as if to a child, "Charles, if you do this, I will never see you again. Is that what you want? Afterwards, I opened the door, he walked out, and I quickly locked it behind him.
I felt the numbness of shock. Rape can make a person catatonic. It did that to me, initially. I lay in bed without sleeping. I repressed every thought, every feeling. I did not answer Charles's calls. Rape stays with you — the violence and the fear — it stays with you, in small and large ways, and it screws up your life and your relationships for years. The only relief I found was in riding my bike, the constant motion of it. I rode every day I could — along the lake front, in Michigan on day trips, in the suburbs when I visited my mum.
I had a week of holiday in October and decided to take a bike trip. Although I'd done these cycling vacations before, this one marked my first time alone. A younger woman, in her late 30s, thin and very fit, stuck out her hand. A dark-haired man walked up to us, in biking gear and a jacket.
The roads, that first day, were empty, the sky blue.
The group quickly spread itself out. I had no interest in hurrying and I planned to bike alone, at my own pace. Henry cycled with me, or behind me, all day. I answered, briefly, to be polite, and gradually the beautiful day and his genial company lifted my mood. The second day we rode toward the coast.
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Once again, Henry rode with me. That night at dinner, he ordered wine for us. He asked me questions all evening. By the time dessert arrived, I felt exposed and exhausted. The next day, he apologised. He seemed to recognise his intrusiveness of the evening before. He rode beside me again, but he kept the conversation light.
I thought, he seems like a good guy. And you cannot know someone in three days. We ate dinner with the group, then left the restaurant and went for a walk. As soon as we sat, Henry turned my barstool to face him. He took my hand and studied me intently. His question had nothing to do with living in the moment. It had everything to do with sex, meaning sex with no strings attached. But there could be no such thing for someone like me, after all I'd been through, at that point in time, with someone like him. Henry's divorce commenced soon after the Napa Valley trip.
We saw each other over the next four months, and spoke nearly every day on the phone. We lived in different states. I stayed cautious and circumspect, or I thought I did.
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Then, one day, in the middle of discussing hotel reservations, Henry said he couldn't see me any more. His coldness stunned me. I sent him an invitation to my 50th birthday party six weeks later but he declined. I never heard from him again.
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I feel confident that you would like a Hollywood ending to this story. I wish I could give it to you. But I'm afraid you would need to think in terms of independent films, not your typical big-studio romance. I stopped dating after Henry. I began writing and recognised my own patterns of behaviour, behaviour that seems obvious and destructive in retrospect. Growing old is not for sissies. On bad days, I think I've made every mistake out there and know to anticipate the worst. On good days, I know I am lucky to be alive. This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase.
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