Thursday, August 21, 2008

Writing: First Date

Caroline Childs had a date.

She was terribly excited, but she was also terribly nervous. Caroline hadn’t had a date in fourteen years. She hadn’t had sex in three, and for twelve years before that, it had always been with the same man. Her husband—ex-husband, she reminded herself—Lorenzo DeGrazie, had been carrying on an affair during the last two years of their marriage, completely behind her back, while she took their three children to and from school, cooked his mother’s Italian recipes, and kept up her figure—no small feat, considering the three children and the Italian recipes. Lorenzo, meanwhile, had gotten fat, bald, and smug, and one day he came home from the office with divorce papers.

That had been a year ago and the proceedings were at last complete. Her girlfriends at work had convinced her to have a divorce shower, complete with a gift registry, on the pretense that she hadn’t had one for her wedding (they had eloped). She registered at Bloomingdale's because, even though none of her friends were rich, she felt she deserved, for once, something nice. At the party, after drinking two cosmopolitans and approaching tears at each toast, Caroline was asked whether she had been out on any dates yet. Quickly, she said no, of course not, but after a bit of teasing, she admitted that she did have a crush. He was a single dad; she had seen him walking his daughter to school often. They lived in the same neighborhood and took the same route.

Everyone had gotten excited and asked what did he look like, what did he do, what was his name, how did she know he was single? He looked tall, dark, and handsome, ha ha, she didn’t know what he did, something with restaurants and wine—he had given her his card—his name was Eduardo, and he was single because he didn’t wear a ring, and the one time she hadn’t seen him and his daughter walking to school for a week, and then saw him again, she had asked where they had been, and he had said that his daughter had been away to her mother’s in California, where his ex-wife’s mother was sick.

But he might not be single, just because he’s not married to her any longer. He might have a girlfriend.

The girl who said that got kicked in the ankle for being negative.

But he was single, because he had, finally, after months of banter two or three mornings a week, asked her out. There was a strange coincidence, or perhaps it was just the coincidence of Spring Break, that his daughter was going to be in California again, and her children were going to be with their father’s family in Jersey. Do you like wine? he had asked her, his dark eyes drilling into hers. Ha ha, my ex-husband is Italian! she joked, before she realized that had been perhaps the wrong thing to say.

But he hadn’t minded, and now they had a date, for Saturday, which meant she had a week to get ready. She hated all of her clothes, needed a trim and a manicure, and had no idea what they would talk about over dinner. She was afraid to eat in front of him, worried that her underwear wouldn’t be sexy enough, and uncertain whether she was supposed to even let him see whether her underwear was sexy at all—though, to be honest, she didn’t think she’d be able to help herself. It had been so long. She was ready to just invite him over to her house for cocktails, but all the girls at work said no, no no, you can’t do that.

The girls at work were very helpful, in fact. They told her all sorts of things she hadn’t any idea about. One girl, in her twenties, told her that she had to, absolutely had to, have a Brazilian bikini wax if she was even considering letting him see her in her underwear. Caroline was comfortable with her body and ran on a treadmill at the gym every day, but she had never had anything waxed, and had never done anything at all to her personal hair, except soap it in the shower. She had seen some of the younger women at the gym with all kinds of strange configurations—disturbingly neat triangles, the stripes that Cosmo called “mohawks,” and even perfectly hairless mounds that looked as chilly as the Roman statues at the Met. But she had never thought that any of that was an option for her, she just hadn’t even considered it.

The girls asked her even stranger, more personal questions. Did she have vibrating condoms at hand? Flavored lubricant? They told her to go downtown to a store called Toys In Babeland and buy a butt plug. He’s European. He might like that. Caroline was horrified. She didn’t even know such a thing existed. No wonder Lorenzo had left her for another woman; he was European, too! (Eduardo, it turns out, was South American, but no difference.) They asked her what she did for birth control, and she laughed and said nothing; one of the girls, in a stall of the ladies’ room, showed her how to use her mouth to put a condom on a banana, which she had then eaten for lunch. I do it every time I go out with a new guy; it drives them wild! Caroline mustered a grimace that the girl thankfully took for a smile of gratitude. It’s gonna be great! she promised.

And now, the time had come. For her date. For her first date in fourteen years.

Caroline took a deep breath, tucking her hair behind her ears and locking the door behind her. She had done it all: the manicure, the trim, even the wax; she had bought a new black dress, a new kind of perfume, and opened a fresh package of nylons. In her bedroom closet was a discreet paper bag containing condoms, lubricant, and a strange, silicone cork still in its packaging—that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to touch, although she did find her waxed area strangely thrilling.

At the bar, Eduardo was a perfect gentleman. They were having a pre-dinner drink—martinis, rather than wine—and he told her about his business and his country and his life. He had traveled all over the world. Caroline smiled and sipped her martini, blinking her eyes up at him and wondering whether he would want to kiss her, or if she had done all that work for nothing. After she finished her drink, he ordered her another one, even though she told him she didn’t need it—she was feeling terribly tipsy. In fact, she wasn’t feeling very good at all. She needed to go to the bathroom, but she was afraid to stand up, she felt so tipsy. In fact, the table seemed to be falling away from her hands, first on one side, then on the other. She held onto the sides of it tightly, then let go because she was afraid he would see. He kept talking and smiling, his dark eyes drilling down into her. I think, she said, I think I need some fresh air. He helped her up and walked her out. She could barely pick up her feet. She could barely look out of her eyes in front of her. Everything was spinning. His arm was hot around her. Then, she was holding her key, and trying to put it in the lock of her door, but the hole was so small; she couldn’t find it. He took her key from her and opened the door, half-carrying her inside. Do you want a drink? he asked as they stepped into her apartment; she shook her head no and collapsed on the couch. Then he was upon her, like a panther, his body muscled and dark over hers, his tongue down her throat, his hands searching for a zipper. The couch swung wildly underneath her, first one way, then the other. Stop, she said, stop, I feel sick, and somehow, she pushed him—pushed him up, off of her, and out the door, locking it. So sick, she said, to no one, and ran to the sink where she puked and puked. So tired, so sick and so tired, and she dropped right there on the kitchen floor, and slept, until Monday afternoon, waking, maybe, she couldn’t remember, to pee and to puke, since she woke up in the bathroom, her head on the toilet seat. She thought it was Sunday, until she saw her answering machine flashing a message—her boss, wondering where she was.

Oh shit, oh shit. Without wondering what had happened, she took a hot shower and opened the closet to find something to wear. That was when she saw the brown paper bag, sitting where she had left it.

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