Saturday, July 5, 2008

Something in the air

It is July. Summer is here in earnest and there is something in the's been years and years, but that something is always the same....every summer....forever I imagine.

I was a year into college when a close relative I'll call Anne fell terminally ill with cancer. I became her day nurse. One moment I was a college kid, the next a live-in caregiver. I became very intimate with Anne's physical being. I became very intimate with sickly stuff nobody ever wants to think about like bad smells and bodily functions and pills. I became very intimate with that thing we all fear called “the end.”

We talked about all kinds of things at first. Anne was a beautiful and very sexual woman -- she portrayed herself as confident and seductive. I admired her greatly from the time I was a little girl. She wore rhinestones and silk. She was almost burlesque. She was also rather prone to drama. She sent me out shortly after my arrival to purchase a white uniform. I was her nurse. She wanted me to look like one. I delivered her food on trays. Friends were “visitors” and had to be checked in.

Eventually, we both sort of went silent, settling into the gloom of fading light. I began to read to her to fill the empty spaces. The Prophet. Gifts from the Sea. Robert Frost. People Magazine. It didn’t really matter what I read, as long as there was a voice present. We watched TV. She smoked a lot. Packs and packs. I changed diapers, monitored medications, gave enemas, took temperatures, scheduled hospice nurses.

A couple of weeks before she slipped away, we began to talk in earnest. It was all about regret. And fear. And hopelessness. It was all about sex. I learned that Anne, who was in her mid-70’s at the time, didn’t experience had an orgasm until she was in her late 50’s. Her late 50’s!

I learned that one of her husbands forced her to have an illegal abortion. Anne was injured during the procedure and left unable to have children. She thought the damage was punishment from God. She thought her cancer was punishment from God. Of course I assured her otherwise, but her fear was real.

Before she realized sex meant more than doing as told, Anne said she thought of it as a “requirement" for being in a relationship. There was no joy in the act itself. Sex, she said, was as tedious as doing the dishes. By the time she discovered otherwise, the sand was streaming through the hourglass at an alarming rate.

I learned from her and at a very early age, not to take it for granted -- that lovely thing called sensuality...that thing called pleasure. The blissful, orgasmic, beautiful, erotic, electric, oh yes! joy of sex. The sexy part of sex. It comes in so many forms, at so many moments, not always physical, and is always a gift.

One afternoon a former boyfriend visited, essentially, to say goodbye to Anne. As he was preparing to leave, he leaned down and tenderly kissed her on the lips. "He kissed me!" Anne exclaimed after he left. "He kissed me on the lips! You're young now," she said. "And it probably seems strange...but it never goes away, even when you're old and sick like me....the need to be wanted....the desire to be desired."

It's that time of year. There is something in the air....that reminds me....that life is beautiful.

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