MY ONCE IN A LIFETIME
by Irving Kenneth Zola
It seems okay to write about her now. Its been many years. My secret, maybe ours. I remember the first time we met. I wasn't that impressed. She was attractive enough. I remember admiring her high cheek bones. But nothing else really stood out. Her eyes were covered by darkly tinted glasses, her hair was pulled back in a bun, her dress seemed almost tent-like. She looked stereotypically what she was -- a social worker.
Her husband once described her as so lovely he could not keep his hands off her. But when I first saw her I concluded that beauty must be in the eyes of the beholder.
But one summer's day changed my mind. It was like those Hollywood movies of the 1940's. There would be this plain-looking, staid secretary, dressed and made-up very severely. And then for some reason she would throw down her glasses, unloosen her hair, take off her jacket and there before your very eyes would be transformed into a beauty. And so it was with Diane. We headed off to the beach with our respective families. While I herded the kids to a vacant spot, she excused herself to change. And when she emerged I knew what her husband Paul had been talking about all these years. The high cheekbones were still there but now they were draped by her long flowing blond hair. Without her glasses her blue eyes seemed very deep, and without her everyday clothes, well. . . I simply couldn't stop staring.
"What is it?" she asked;
"Blinded by the sun," I said loudly and then added more softly "......and by your beauty."
I don't know if she heard. She only smiled and ran off toward the water.
That day seems so long ago. And after she and Paul moved away, I saw her less and less. But whenever I could, I wrote, and less frequently we managed to get together. And each time we did I saw something new and different. All I remember clearly are moments- her cradling a tearful child, a heated argument about women's rights, an embrace when I was feeling very down, an enlightening discussion about a recent novel. I suppose I grew to love her though I never told anyone. I even thought I never showed it. Though I enjoyed the hours we spent together and tried to lengthen them, I was always careful to spend even more time with Paul.
It was ten years after my summer discovery, that a snowstorm grounded me unexpectantly in their town. With no hesitation I called, "Surprise! Surprise! Look whom fate has landed in your lap!"
"Irv," she answered, "I can still recognize your voice. What are you doing here?"
Within an hour, I was sitting in their living-room. With no sleep the night before, which was my usual plane trip habit, a result of always feeling cramped by my braces in the too small seats, I was exhausted and sat there dim-eyed with a glass of chablis in my hand.
"What you need is a nap!" said Diane. "How about if we put you in one of the kids' rooms?"
"O.K.," I answered, "You talked me into it. . . . But be sure and wake me when Paul comes in."
"If I do it'll be a long nap. He's in Los Angeles on business."
Together we climbed the stairs to Sam's room. He was the youngest and seemed the easiest to displace. Without realizing it I'd started to undress while Diane was still in the room. Embarrassed I let my clothes, braces and canes lay where they were and quickly slipped into bed.
As I pulled the covers tightly and kicked the teddy bears aside, I saw Diane still fussing near the foot of the bed. Impulse got the best of me, "Will Mommie give me a kiss goodnight?" I asked impishly.
"Of course," she said and stepped closer.
As she lowered her head to mine, I realized that we'd never really kissed before, just the brushed lips, and solid hugs and pats of good friends. But to my surprise, she did not aim for my forehead but my lips. Warm and full she felt, and I wanted more. Scared that it was only me that wanted anything I held her and very tentatively opened my mouth. Hers opened in return and I needed little encouragement. While kissing and tonguing each other's face and neck, I threw back my covers. And though remaining dressed, she gently turned and let me explore her body.
"Mommie!" came a shout. In response she quickly sat up, and straightened her clothes. "I have to go now," she said, not showing any great concern with the interruption. But as she went out the door she turned to me smiling, "That was very nice."
Exhaustion and excitement took their toll and within moments I was dreamily asleep. Much to my disappointment, it was Carol the oldest girl who awakened me. "You've got time for a fast shower Uncle Irving."
Refreshed I went downstairs and there was Diane chopping onions for dinner. I looked at her for a sign, but nothing was forthcoming. Instead, efficient as always, she went on with the plans for the evening.
"I thought I'd let Carol take care of the children. There's another couple who always wanted to meet you, so I thought the four of us would go out for dinner."
In a way I was disappointed. Right now I didn't want to share her with anyone. I looked at my watch. It was nearly 8:00 p.m. and in about 15 hours I'd be gone. I was feeling very selfish but answered in spite of it, "Sure,..sounds like a great idea."
Dinner was fine as far as it went, but sadly it did not go far enough. I tried hard to listen to Fred and Sarah. At any other time, I would have been delighted to hear about the latest developments in accessible architecture or in special education, but not tonight. I suppose it was good that Diane and I sat next to each other, for otherwise I would have spent the evening staring directly at her. Sitting beside her had another advantage. I imagined that I could feel her warmth. Several times I let my leg touch hers but she gave no response.
As we drove home, Diane began efficiently checking my arrangements for the next day. When she asked if I'd like a nightcap, I hastily and hopefully agreed. But as we sat alone in the livingroom we exchanged only pleasantries. Finally she said, "Time for bed!"
I wanted to say something witty like "together?" but I was too scared. I almost began to think that I'd dreamed up our afternoon embrace. Or maybe that's all it was meant to be.
"Well," she said, giving me little room for fantasizing. "If I don't see you in the morning, you know where everything is. I'll try and be back around noon to take you to the airport. Or if not, you can take a taxi. Is that all right?"
"Sure," I said not meaning it.
I could find no excuse to linger so began the climb up stairs to my bedroom. She stayed to close all the doors and shut off the lights. As I mounted the stairs, I realized how slowly I do things, for before I reached the top, she was there behind me.
"Is there anything else you need?" she said.
"Only you," I answered.
"What did you say?" she responded all too quickly.
"Ah. . .a kiss goodnight," I said trying to cover my embarrassment.
As she stepped towards me, I placed my canes in a corner and myself firmly against the wall. If this was to be our last kiss, the one thing I didn't want to do was lose my balance.
She put her arms around me unhurriedly, and I let my lips touch hers. And then as if a master switch had been turned on, so were we.
With our tongues inside each other again, we began to grapple with our clothes. This is crazy I thought to myself. This only happens in x-rated movies. Her sweater was pulled up around her neck, her skirt around her waist, her underpants lay tangled near her ankles. I was similarly in disarray. But in addition to everything else, I was trying to keep from falling over.
Slowly I caressed her and slowly I could feel her rising on me. But a low moan, again a call for Mommie, ended it. She stood back, put all her clothes in place and entered the nearby bedroom. As she comforted her child, I tried to assess what was going on. It felt crazy. It was totally unexpected. I even thought I should feel guilty but the feeling disappeared as she reemerged from the bedroom. "I think she'll be all right. . .it was only a little nightmare. . . ." and then she hesitated for a moment, "and I think we should go to sleep now."
"Why?" I asked but I knew the answer.
"So a final kiss," she said. But before we knew it we were at each other again. "Please come to my room," I pleaded.
"No, I can't. You know. . . . .the children," and then she added, "Maybe I could skip a case conference and come back early tomorrow." It was a straw but I grabbed it.
Knowing better, we didn't kiss this time.
In my bed, I lay there unable to sleep. Several times I thought I heard footsteps outside my door. "Come in," I whispered but nothing happened. Finally, I sat up in bed. I knew she wouldn't come back in the morning. It felt like it would be now or never. I grabbed the bath towel next to the bed and wrapped it around me. If someone asked me where I was going, I'd say I was on my way to take a bath and the bath was near Mommie's room. It sounded silly but it made me feel safer.
Without my long leg brace, the trip to her room felt quite precarious. I huddled against the wall as much for protection as for balance. Her room was only at the end of the corridor, and several times I tried to talk myself into turning back. But then I saw that her door was ajar, and interpreting that as a hopeful sign, kept on. I knocked gently. No answer. I called out softly, "Diane?" Again nothing. Undaunted, I entered slowly. As I approached her bed, I said her name again. Only the even breathing of an obviously asleep woman answered me this time. "Shit," I said to myself and turned to leave. As I leaned against the foot of her bed for balance, my hand touched something soft and silky. It was her nightgown. Why was it here? Why wasn't she wearing it? Had she been waiting for me and fallen asleep? In my current state of wishfulness I grabbed that as the answer.
As I lowered myself to the bed, I wondered, what if she screams when I wake her. I started to get up again when she stirred. As gently as I could I reached over and brushed her with my lips, afraid that any pressing motion would be too abrupt. But deep sleeper that she is, she awoke suddenly. "What!" she almost shouted.
"Me," I answered softly.
"Because tonight is tonight and tomorrow may never come."
She looked at me puzzled, and then she smiled. I couldn't see her very clearly in the dark. But as she slipped her arm around me, the feel was good enough. As she kissed my ear she whispered, "But remember, we must be very quiet."
Never have I loved so passionately, so sillily and so quietly. Several times that night we placed our hands over each other's mouth and once, as I came, I nearly bit off my own finger.
As we lay beside each other, her voice became very serious. "I love Paul and the children very much, and I will let nothing destroy that. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I nodded. "But what was different about tonight?"
"Nothing really," she said as she let her fingers trace my eyes and cheeks. "I've wanted to be with you for a long time. I just felt that we might never get this chance again..." She stopped for a moment, "You know, we can never write each other or tell anyone. And when we meet, we must never show anything. You and I will know. It will be our once in a lifetime."
And so it was.