MY VERY OWN GIACONDA
by Irving Kenneth Zola
I had known you for many years, but today still felt like the first time. On the way over I tried to picture you. It felt silly. I knew you so well, but now I couldn't remember how tall you were, or if your legs were thin, or whether your eyes were brown. But not so with your smile - the left side of your lips almost always curved upwards. Sometimes I thought it was sardonic, but tonight the word that came through was enigmatic.
As I pulled into view of your house, I damned it. What greeted me were two steps with nothing to hold onto, then several more with a very low slung railing and a final half dozen with a banister leading to the front porch. All in all a long climb, to be done slowly and with difficulty, and hardly the way I wanted to present myself on a first date.
Damn, I thought to myself, this whole date business is ridiculous. A little arithmetic demonstrated that it was over twenty years since I had last called someone for a date. And yet here I was, forty-six and adolescently nervous, wondering about how I look or what to say. Such obsessing did, however, serve a purpose. For while I was pondering such serious matters, you turned up at the side of my car. Unlocking it before I had a chance to get out, you asked, "My car or yours?"
I was caught off-guard. It never occurred to me (oh latent machoism) that on a first date we would take your car. That thought really threw me back in time. I remembered how important it was after my polio to pick up a date in my own car. It was as if its power replaced that lost in my legs. But you didn't seem to have a stake in my response, so calming myself, I said something witty, like, "This one's already going."
You slid in and made yourself comfortable. Turning to me, you asked where we would eat. I suggested several places and when we agreed on one, I paused to figure out how best to get there. "The easiest way is to go straight ahead and then take a left," you answered without being asked.
"Are you sure?" I said, realizing as I did that it was a silly question.
You ignored my hesitation. With what felt like awesome confidence and without letting the conversation lag, you dictated directions. Before we were thirty seconds into the ride I realized I was completely under your control. Funny word, but that's what it felt like. A Ladies Home Journal article of many years before flashed before me. It was about how not to get a man, how a woman should appear demure, awed, and never assertive. Taking my eyes briefly off the road, I looked at you and laughed but I don't think you guessed what it was all about. Our arrival at the restaurant completed the scenario. You came quickly around to my side and opened the door.
And yet through all this ostensible switching of roles, I felt more amused than threatened. This was going to be, as I had guessed, when I called three weeks previously - quite an evening. It took me over five years to make that call. Five years when I often inquired of mutual friends how you were doing and who was your lover of the moment. But several weeks ago my impulses got the best of me. When a mutual friend casually remarked how your prominent status (you were after all a member of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and a co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves) often intimidated male peers, I impishly interjected, "Look, let me know if you ever think she'd be interested in older Jewish men." The reply, "What makes you think she wouldn't be?" was all the encouragement I needed.
And so here I was back with you at your house. Dinner had passed pleasantly enough. Since we knew each other so well, there wasn't much of that background parrying. And when you asked if I'd like to come in for a minute, I quickly accepted. I did have a doubt, however. I found you so literal in everything you said that I thought a 'minute' might mean just that and the prospect of so much climbing made me pause . . . but only for a moment.
The first date syndrome still lurked in my mind as you took an isolated seat in the corner of the room. For my part, I first sat on the couch, then feeling the distance, slipped to the floor and oh so slowly (and I thought subtly) edged my way toward you. The topics we covered were a curious blending of intimacy and politics. We spoke of our previous relationships, our involvements, our excitements, our disappointments. More and more I recalled what I had thought of you many years before - almost awestruck by your presence, the utter command you seemed to have of everything you did. And then I thought of something else. One day, I think it was at a meeting, your face was caught by the light in a way that highlighted that sharp Armenian nose. And as I sat there, admiring, I heard myself say to no one in particular, "Being with her is serious business." And so it feels tonight. If we're playing any games, I don't know what they are. In fact, as I look up at you I feel absolutely clueless. I have not the foggiest idea about how you feel about me, but I know that I want you to feel something. I know I am ready to get involved in that seriousness. So risking the proverbial egg on my face, I ask, "You lead an extraordinarily full and busy life. Do you think there's any room in it for me?" Immediately I had the wish to retract, to qualify, to hedge myself with humor. But you spared me the necessity. With your eyes closed slightly and your smile curved upward, you reached down and held my face in your hands, saying, "I can always make room for important things."
copyright Irving Kenneth Zola