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Memories and Moonlight: A narrative from Ms. Gimply’s collection
I. Anticipating and Remembering
It was a beautiful afternoon in late October. The sun was still far above the horizon. I laughed at myself for being ready so early. Was I becoming overly eager in my old age? No, I assured myself, I had been just as eager when I was young.
I had spent the earlier part of the afternoon preparing a light supper for two of us, seeing to the table setting and putting the wine by the cool window on the north side to reach the proper temperature for serving.
Then I bathed and did my hair and nails. I spent a long time selecting the right underwear. Then I donned the robe that now was loosely open in front of me.
Now, I had nothing to do but wait. With no particular plan, I pulled an old photo album from the shelf. As I thumbed through it, my eye was caught by the group picture from our church picnic. A moment’s reflection reminded me that it had been in the late Spring of 1969.
My eyes were drawn immediately to our pastor. His picture showed him as a bit stiff and dressed more formally that the rest of us. His was the only necktie in the group accept, of course, the one worn by old Deacon Grimsby. On impulse, I took up a pad of paper and a pen and began to write these words.
The pastor in the picture was young and, in spite of his attire, was trim and handsome. He had a kind of curious magnetism that thrilled me still. He had been my first lover.
Then my eyes went to myself. I had been thirty years old then. The picture made me look young and even pretty. I was young and pretty at least until it came to my wasted legs with braces and orthopedic shoes. My crutches were at my side and I had tried unsuccessfully to make them inconspicuous. My first reaction was to be thankful that now we have materials to make braces lighter and less conspicuous and that we can get shoes that if not stylish, at least do not look like they were intentionally designed to be ugly. Of course, I rarely use braces any more as I rely more and more on my wheelchair.
II. Being a Girl and Becoming a Woman
My next reaction was to relive the hurt and pain of my teenage years and of my young womanhood. Life had been good when I was a young girl. Other children didn’t seem to mind that I was different and couldn’t keep up with them. And, besides, I got to have my picture in the local paper every year when the March of Dimes time came around. I was never one of the big time polio poster children, but everyone in our little town seemed to know me.
But my teenage years were torture. I became interested in boys just like the other girls did. I had crushes that consumed me. But the boys never reciprocated. Even worse, the other girls never recognized that I was just like them. Many of my friends brought their boy problems to me as if I was a neutral, sexless, passionless oracle. Of course, I listened and gave them advice and swallowed my pain.
I was never a cheerleader. But, of course, I was expected to volunteer to sew the cheerleaders’ uniforms. I was never asked to a dance. Instead, I served behind the punch table. I couldn’t have danced much anyway but it hurt to watch all the other girls being held close in the boys’ arms.
Eventually high school ended. I graduated with honors. As I walked slowly across the stage to receive my diploma, my classmates and the audience broke into applause and spontaneously stood. My eyes filled with tears, but not for the reasons they thought. They saw a poor, brave, crippled girl who had overcome her adversities to accomplish the feat of completing high school.
I’m sure that made them feel warm and wonderful. Probably some of them had sentimental tears. But I cried because none of them really knew who I was. They couldn’t see that I was a real girl who wanted and needed everything the other girls had.
Then, I was a woman, I guess. I filled my life with church and volunteering at the library. Our extended family had agreed (to be fair, I had agreed, too) that I would be the one to take care of Gran and live in her house and eventually inherit it. Gran was getting a bit dotty in her old age. She had started to burn the food and to forget to pay the bills. The family feared that she would leave the stove on and burn down the house or have some other some other kind of senile misadventure. Of course, the neutral, sexless, passionless, and crippled sister, cousin and niece was the ideal solution.
I really didn’t mind. I loved Gran and I liked her even more. She could tell stories of things that happened long ago and could even be quite earthy when the story required it. Her house had two stories connected by a great Victorian stairway. The stairs were a drawback but if I planned well, I could limit my traverses to coming down once a day in the morning and then returning in the evening.
We did have a cleaning lady who came in three days a week. That was cantankerous old Mrs. Fogg. I was almost twenty-five ataşehir escort years old before I was told about the absent Mr. Fogg. In our town, children were protected from this kind of knowledge. Gran told me that Mr. Fogg was a drummer. (Perhaps my younger readers must be reminded that a traveling salesman was called a drummer.). He had come through town selling widgets of some sort. He and Mrs. Fogg had a whirlwind courtship and were married within a week of their meeting. Two weeks later he was gone, never to be seen again. Dear Gran ended her narration with some especially earthy remarks that I will not repeat here.
In spite of her grumpy disposition, I always liked Mrs. Fogg, especially after Gran told me her story. At least she had ventured into life. She knew something about passion and love even if it hadn’t worked out for her.
I continued at the library and at the church. I read stories to the children on Saturday mornings. I was on duty at all the rummage sales, bake sales and church suppers. It was much the same as high school except for not having to face all the embracing boys and girls. Then things changed again. Marriages began.
I was never a bridesmaid. It wouldn’t have been seemly for me to be seen crutching and creaking down the aisle with the able-bodied women. I understood that but it did not ease the hurt. It was even more painful when they came to me in a panic for last minute alterations to their dresses. Of course, I was at all the receptions to serve refreshments and to watch the guests and the wedding party dancing.
I was never a bride. When my friends were marrying, I desperately wanted a husband. When they soon had babies, I was desperate for children. But, after a few years, my friends began to confess their problems to me. I seemed still to be a neutral, sexless, passionless oracle. I heard stories of infidelity, drink, domestic violence and the loss of love. It did not take long to be convinced that I did not want a husband.
It was more difficult to convince myself that I did not need to have children. But, I gradually accumulated a collection of nieces, nephews and young cousins. They all seemed to love their Auntie unconditionally and I reciprocated. They needed me and I needed them. Gradually, I understood that I didn’t need to produce more children myself to be connected with the oncoming generations.
So I was liberated when I was almost thirty years old. Well, I was liberated from needing a husband and children but issues remained. My last desperation was for a lover. I wanted a man to hold me and to lie in my bed.
These days, you can read that we had a sexual revolution in the sixties. Even if we did, the revolution did not reach our town. At least it did not reach us by way of the written word. Ms magazine proclaimed the sexuality of women in 1972. Cosmo came on at about that time, too. Masters and Johnson published their research in the seventies.
I explored marriage manuals from the fifties and before. They were not very helpful. A few books kept in the locked room at the library were of use. But generally information was scarce.
Instead, I took matters into my own hands. I mean that quite literally. I experimented with pleasuring myself. I liked to lie naked on my bed at night and caress every part of my body. My breasts were particularly sensitive as were my thighs. I would slowly let one hand slip between my legs. At first I would let one finger slip into my vagina and explore the sensations there. It made me feel wonderfully full. As I gained experience, I began to use two fingers and then even three. The feeling of fullness put me into a dreamy ecstasy when I imagined that my lover was there.
But the fullness was not fulfillment. But when I explored further, I found my clitoris. Of course, I didn’t know the name for it then. I didn’t know the names of most things sexual until a few years later. But even without a name to call it I was fascinated by this bit of tissue that grew and contracted as if it had a mind of its own. I always found it hard and swollen after I had explored and stimulated my vagina.
One night I simply began to stroke my clitoris with a finger. I remember the evening vividly. It was warm and I had opened the window wide. I had drawn the curtains back as far as they would go to admit what little breeze there was. The moon was full and shining in.
I lay uncovered and naked on my bed. My body seemed to glow in the pale yellow light and to radiate its own light as well. As I continued to stroke, my imaginary lover came with the moonlight and became so real that I could feel and see and taste and smell him. Then his presence filled the room and overcame me. My body went rigid as I convulsed and shook with ecstasy as I absorbed the phantom man and poured my being into his. Then I collapsed in fatigue.
I think I shouted or screamed as well. I was glad that Gran was oblivious to noise as she slept soundly and without her hearing aid. I was glad, kadıköy escort too that our closest neighbors were not very near. I lay there a long time, in and out of sleep, and felt little waves of pleasure come and go.
I was so unnerved by the experience that I didn’t repeat it for at least a week. During that time, I took serious stock of myself and my situation. I squarely faced that I was trapped in a small town. I knew that my disability made me unattractive to most men. But I knew that I had to overcome my circumstances and start a serious quest for a real lover.
I periodically visited my cousins in the city. On my next visit I made an appointment with a gynecologist. I had intently studied the issues about birth control. Although the pill had been introduced in the early sixties, there were issues about blood clots. Poor circulation in my immobile legs ruled out the use of the pill. I had already settled on the use of a diaphragm. I only awaited the doctor to agree and to measure me for size.
I took a cab from my cousin’s house. I don’t remember what lie I told about where I was going. In any case, I found myself in the doctor’s office.
I did not like the nurse. I’m not sure why. She instructed me to remove my clothes and to don a skimpy white gown. Of course, she meant my braces too, but she didn’t say it in words. I complied.
Then the trick was to get from the chair where I sat to the examining table. I could walk a bit without my braces. I rose by lifting myself with my crutches and the back of the chair. I carefully stiffened my right knee. Without the brace, my knee was hyperextended and quite fragile. In any case, it would support my weight. Without its brace and shoe, the other leg was useless. My extended toes barely reached the floor and offered no support.
I walked this way at home for short times every day, mostly from bed to bathroom and return. First I leaned to the left and put my right crutch forward. Then I leaned to my right and extended my left crutch. Finally, I pulled my right leg forward and steadied my knee to begin the process again. It was easy as long as there were no steps or other obstacles to be surmounted. Also, more than a few minutes of it would make my right leg sore for days.
I turned carefully and used my arms to lift myself to sit on the examining table. The nurse took my crutches and propped them against the wall near the chair and my braces. She still acted as if she didn’t like what she was doing.
The doctor came after a short wait and interviewed me about my health history. I had nothing to confess except for the effects of polio which were obvious to anyone who had me dressed in a short gown. He slid his stethoscope under the gown and listened to my heart. Then he asked me to breathe deeply. I guessed he was checking my lungs.
Finally, he said that he was going to proceed to a pelvic examination. He left the room after instructing the nurse to get me ready. At her direction, I gathered up my legs and laid back on the table. She extended the stirrups that were to hold and separate my legs. I had to ask her to help me place them in the stirrups. She seemed to resent it but complied. Finally she lowered the hinged end of the table so that the doctor could have unimpeded access to my most secret place.
Waves of conflicting emotion flowed through me. At one level, the stirrups were reassuring and supporting in a way that reminded me of my braces. But I also felt a flush of terror at being so open and vulnerable with nothing between me and assault except the thin gown. Over all that was the sense of satisfaction that I was really a woman and was about to have the experience that proved it.
The nurse left the room and I felt a brief wave of panic. I recognized the emotion and it subsided. I often feared being abandoned where I could not rescue myself. But in addition to the fear, there is a part of it that thrills and excites me. It has been a recurring part of my life and in recent years I have begun to explore the thrill and excitement side.
The doctor returned. The nurse stationed herself at the side of the room where I did not have to look at her. For the first time I looked directly in the doctor’s eyes. He was beyond middle age but not elderly. His eyes were kind and not judgmental. He looked like had seen a lot of life. He had the trace of a European accent that I could not place. I liked him and I trusted him.
My young readers must be reminded that in those days many doctors were still reluctant to prescribe birth control to unmarried women. So, I had worn my late mother’s engagement ring and had invented a future husband. He was, I told the doctor, even more disabled than I and we were really not going to be able to raise children. I also hinted that we had already been intimate and that our need for protection was urgent. He seemed to believe me or, at least, he did not object to the lie.
After a brief and reassuring conversation, bostancı escort bayan he pulled back the skimpy gown and I was exposed. I felt vulnerable but at the same time I felt safe with him. He unwrapped an instrument that I later learned was called a speculum. Then he coated it with some sort of jelly.
“This is a lubricant that will make things go easier,” he said. Then he slowly pushed it into my vagina. I gasped a little. “I’ll go slowly, he said, and you need to relax.”
He had misinterpreted my gasp. I had welcomed the penetration. After all, I had already welcomed my three fingers and I was delighted that the speculum wasn’t much bigger. He slowly inserted it to its full length.
“Now I will expand it so that can see into your vagina,” he said in a soothing voice, “Relax. I will go slowly.” I trusted him completely. Of course the nurse was there but out of sight so it felt like there were just the two of us.
He began to turn something on the instrument. I couldn’t see what it was but the speculum began to grow in me until it was a size that I had never imagined I could hold. My emotions raced from one state to another. At once, I felt violated and fulfilled. Discomfort and pleasure competed for attention.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” he told me as he peered into me with the aid of a light. “Looks fine,” he said laconically, “Now I’ll take a smear from your cervix and we’ll be done with this part.” I felt something like a small pinch and a moment later the speculum began to relax its insistent hold and I felt it withdraw. As it did, I gave another little gasp for no reason that I recognized.
“Now I would like to examine your internal organs,” he said in a matter of fact voice as he donned a latex glove and slathered it with some more lubricant. “That requires two fingers inside and my other hand on your abdomen.” Before I could speak, his fingers were gently entering. I welcomed the human touch instead of the speculum.
Then his left hand was on my belly and began to explore in concert with the right. “Your uterus seems to be normal,” he intoned, “Now, will check your ovaries and fallopian tubes. This may pinch a little or even be momentarily painful. I’ll be as quick and as gentle as I can.”
He was right about the pinching and the pain, but it was over soon and he said “Wonderful, wonderful,” as he explored me. He finished quickly and pulled off his glove. I assumed we were finished.
“Just to be complete,” he said, “we should examine the back of the vaginal wall.” Then, to my surprise, he put on two gloves and lubricated them. “Try to relax,” he intoned again. “This will take only a few seconds.” Then he was inside my vagina again. Then to my astonishment, a finger of his other hand slid into my rectum and two hands together probed the thin tissue between them.
It was over in an instant before I could even formulate a reaction. There were only vague reactions of violation, fullness, wickedness and perversion. I cannot honestly say that I disliked it.
He shed his gloves and pulled the gown to cover me. He gave me a little smile and rested his hand on my knee. (Yes I know that modern feminist consciousness experiences that as sexist condescension, but I matured in the fifties and I felt reassured.) “Everything is just fine. If you ever decide to have a baby, there is no reason not to.”, he smiled, “Except you should be careful of the extra weight on your legs and your balance might become tricky.”
He agreed that a diaphragm was the best choice of contraception and he wrote a prescription for one on his pad. He said that the instructions would come with it and that I should read them well. He insisted that it should never be used without the spermicidal jelly that I would get at the same time.
After he left, I dismounted from the stirrups and then the table with the help of the nurse. She was still grumpy but I didn’t care. I dressed and fastened my legs into their braces and returned to the reception area.
The receptionist phoned for another cab and it arrived soon. I settled myself into it as the driver hovered solicitously by. I directed him to stop at the nearest pharmacy and we were off.
The pharmacist stared at me long and hard and without embarrassment after he read the prescription slip that I gave him. I stared back, also without betraying embarrassment, until he broke our gazes and got on with his business.
He handed me a small white paper bag. I brazenly asked him to include an extra tube of jelly. With his eyes still averted, he complied. I paid at the register and emerged to find my taxi.
Memory is often a poor guide to what actually happened in the past. What I remember is that I emerged to the street with the words and music of “I am Woman. Hear me Roar” playing in my mind and in my ears. The historical fact seems to be that the song was never heard until some time later in the seventies when Helen Reddy made it popular.
Whether memory serves or not, I felt as if I had been liberated. I went from the door to the waiting cab with a sense of triumph. I thought back to my graduation from high school. Now I was really graduating into the world of womanhood and sexuality. There was a standing ovation in my mind.
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