Thursday, June 2, 2016
God's Cruelest Irony
God’s cruelest irony was that he enabled male sexual potency, watched its sad and inevitable decline, but assured that men would nevertheless think of women all the time – in their dotage, in their wheelchairs, in the nursing home, and on their deathbeds.
Bob like most men had been obsessed with sex since adolescence. In his case well before, although when precocious Nancy Brierley had held his hand, walked with him into the woods behind the Country Club, and pulled his shorts down, he had no idea what was what, what to do, or what was up; and just stood there listening to the mocking birds and blue jays and wondering whether or not a ball hit off the fifth tee could make it this far into the pines.
Nancy Brierley was his first lover, if you can count the fumbling and groping that she initiated in the dry leaves; but despite his surprise, his innocence, and his wonder, he never forgot it or her.
When he turned forty, he first began to think of age, longevity and sexual potency. “How many more years do I have?”, he asked himself before women would cease being attracted to him, when he would become background or wallpaper. At the end of each decade he asked himself the same question – even though as he turned fifty he had an Angolan lover; and in his mid-sixties was still very sexually active.
Yet inevitably and assuredly by the time he had reached his seventieth birthday, he found himself alone, without sexual companionship, and with little likelihood of promise. Although he had not lost interest in women, they had somehow lost interest in him. Although all he could think of when he sat at the bar alongside the twenty-, thirty-, forty-, and even fifty-somethings sipping their margaritas, martinis and Scotch sours was sex, they never even noticed him, let alone acknowledged his presence.
He had finally passed the threshold he had dreaded all his life – the point of no sexual return, the abyss of sexual nothingness, the final and irrevocable passage.
Most of his friends were far more accommodating if not resigned. They had accepted their fate and folded themselves into a life of predictability and error-less journey. They sat in side-by-side beach chairs with their wives of many decades, played with grandchildren, took senior classes at the local library, and tended to their roses.
Unfortunately Bob could not let go of his sexual ambition; and despite his sags, lines, creakiness, bad vision, still felt that there were more women in his life.
There was Dolores from the gym, still pert at sixty, trim, fit, and proud of it; and Bob made a point of chatting her up on the rowing machines. They both loved wine and travel, both adored Donald Trump and believed in his promise for America, and both were clearly lonely.
Dolores had been married for many decades but marriage never assuaged feeling of loneliness, anomie, and sexual futility. Yet there was something especially futile and pointless about chatting up this matron, Bob confided. The relationship could only end up as dry and shriveled as their aging sexual organs, so what was the point? They both simply did not want to give up the idea of romantic sex – not love necessarily, but something physically and emotionally satisfying.
There are many kinds of love in the world, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, but never the same love twice – a romantic notion which described Bob’s early life. He never forgot his first love, his first lover, and his first intimate companion – all the same person, this perfect, seemingly unattainable woman. Nor did he never forgot his last love – a young woman thirty years his junior who overlooked his age and his creaks and crevasses, and found in him a patient, attentive, solicitous, and insatiable lover.
The woman left him of course. She had all the future in the world and so came to her senses one October. For the first time in his life it was Bob who was left on the curb.
Yet he could never rid himself of his sexual memories. How and why, he wondered, after a life of such diversity, cultural adventure, competition, innovation, and reward could he still be so obsessed by sex and by its loss? What did this say about him and his life?
As he re-read Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and wondered if he had deceived himself as badly as Ivan and was as unprepared as he was for death, he put the book down, listened to the leaf-blower next door, and concluded that he had. He had done little with his life, so dominated as it had been by women, cherchez la femme and the charade of deception that accompanied it.
He shook his head to get rid of the nettling doubts. “What will be will be”, he muttered, “and what was was.” No second guesses, no whimpering about lost opportunities, no sexual regrets. A hand of cards was dealt at conception, and one had to play it, period.
Old age is neither for settling old debts or settling old scores. Nor is it for recouping missed chances or profiting from wisdom and maturity. It is a time of reconciliation between expectations and a bad hand. Whatever else, the wife stood by me. The children were dutiful. Winters in St. Bart’s were restorative. The Washington Post published one of my letters.
Except for the dreams, all would be in order and in its place. How could God be so cruel, Bob thought, to give him, a bony remainder, imaginary sexual adventures that had long been out of reach?
“I have even forgotten what goes where”, Bob confided to me at the birthday party for one of his niece's children.
Bob’s was a life well-lived according to most accounts; and most people would be happy to have had his travel, his adventures, and his friendships. Yet God and Fate saw to it that all he could think of in his declining years was sex – not sex had, but sex to come; and therein lay God’s irony and Bob’s frustrated demise.