My cream-colored shrug so easily slipped off my shoulders and ran down my arms to the floor. This is not what I had envisioned as necessary to break the ice and the process of melting away fear and self-consciousness. He saw and felt no fear, only assured of his movements, which were seductive, and I wondered where my scars were because he did not see them. He didn’t even see them under the blush colored and thin double strapped lace bra. My cheeks blushed to match the bra that fell to the floor near the shrug. My eyes glanced down at the fallen attire along with my fallen modesty.
* * *
There comes a time in a single woman’s life when it is no longer wise to believe that a tailor-made Prince will knock gently at your door. Two decades past divorce and far too many start-ups that went south — far too many dating sites that proved to be more about scammers, a man holding a dead fish in a profile photo, or a profile photo resembling Charles Manson tends to wear a woman down.
A surprising day presented itself, one that was suited for an old-fashioned diary once written in as a blushing young woman. I was convinced the afternoon was guided by a Universal Power.
After my friend’s late arrival from Los Angeles and indecisiveness, involving detours on where we wanted to land for our tete-a-tete in the perfect environment, we finally arrived at one of our favorite and sexiest spots in the Riviera hills of Santa Barbara.
We were told that a patio table wasn’t available, so we were directed to the bar. I couldn’t help noticing people being seated at our special sofa two-top. The delay was a faux pas on the part of staff.
With hunger and impatience rising, we were finally seated. We took a big breath of serenity and indulged in flutes of sparkling rose. While chatting with my friend who paused to respond to a sext message from her Latin paramour with a big smile on her face, I noticed a feeling of envy surge through me. We moved in the direction of speaking about the challenges of romance as we sunk down in the sofa for further comfort. I told my friend how I’d come to a place of realization by saying, “I just may be single for the rest of my days, especially since it had been an incessant period I’d been romantically connected to a man.”
I stumbled and shamefully blurted out my sentiments on the horror of going through years of a breast cancer ordeal followed by stating, “If a miracle would appear and bless me with a desirable man, it would take an indeterminable amount of time to trust anyone after going through so much trauma.” I went further and said, “The type of man I’d be interested in close to my age wants a woman 10-20 years younger and that is a damn fact.” I had witnessed it repeatedly on the deeply discouraging internet dating sites. My friend took it all in said, “You’re still beautiful and there is always hope.” I smiled at her in gratitude as my eyes closed and inhaled the eucalyptus scent to push away the feeling of hopelessness I went to bed with every night.
I thought that I was past my torrid affairs, which I’d cling to as I grew older. I drifted from these inner thoughts back to the splendid view and light-hearted girl talk when a tall, dark, and arresting gentleman suddenly appeared to offer his apologies for the major employee mishap. It is a 5-Star property, and this was the man acting as private consultant to work out the troubling kinks to ensure they remain 5-star. After finally obtaining our prized seat on a sofa with luxe pillows, sipping our glass of sparkling rose, eating California cuisine, and a good hour of staring past the eucalyptus grove to the deep blue sea while conversing like teenagers, we didn’t care much. This gentleman, nevertheless, comped us a second sparkling rose at $32 a glass.
I got up to make my way to the restroom and carefully walked from the terrace to the lobby, where said gentleman, with an unusual name I never quite caught, passed me coming the other direction. Catching his eye, something electrical immediately ran right through me and nearly stopped me from moving forward. Was it a ghost of a past life? A sexual spark hit me… hard.
I was torn between backing away and pushing toward him. He was immediately turned on. Do I still have that effect? He’s so much younger than me and I found myself being drawn back to days when my sexual prowess was consistent. So much has passed in the choppy currents of life since then. He grabbed my face, and I was brought back to the moment in a jolt of sensual power with his purposeful kiss telling me exactly what path this rendezvous would go down.
My spunky friend and I dragged ourselves from the elegant terrace enjoying the deep golden red of sunset lighting the trees and table with a magic-hour glow. I looked for the gentleman that had kindly comped our drinks to thank him, but he disappeared as did thoughts of attraction, which were more than likely a result of pale pink bubbles in a flute. I laid in bed thinking how silly to be convinced of a super-energy with someone at least a decade younger. Regardless, a well-deserved polite thank you to the man whose energy shot through my body as if the spirit of a significant past lover from another century seemed right.
“Wait, wait, I’m not ready… I feel embarrassed.”
A barely whispered, “why?”
I no longer knew.
I figured I would reach the hostess and ask her to pass along a thank you when I phoned the next day, but I didn’t expect her to say, “He’s standing right here. I simply wanted to thank him for coming to the aid of two women. I heard an enthusiastic baritone voice on the other end of the phone. He knew who I was and after a polite and brief conversation he said, “Let’s meet for a drink downtown.” I was convinced that it was a matter of a friendly gesture toward a local, and he would welcome a change of scenery on an evening off.
Sitting in a wicker chair on the patio of a wine bar, I met the gentleman originally from a region that straddles both Europe and Asia and a US citizen for decades with a permanent residence a couple states away. He was residing and working in town at a piece of heaven in the hills — a temporary position. Had there not been an unexplained staff screw-up, we would have never crossed paths.
I had a top shelf shot of Tequila. I was told by a healer that it is pure and doesn’t give you a hangover. It wasn’t a romantic date. But it was a welcomed diversion to meet-up with someone I met organically as opposed to the dreadful internet dating. He was the perfect age of fifty. Conversation was easy and flowed without a hint of strain. Since it couldn’t be a date, especially with the age gap, I was at ease to be candid. He wanted to know about me, my book, my background. His background was something hard to imagine — A land of ancient history, and poetry.
When I stepped away, he ordered me another shot of Tequila. My balance was off from both alcohol and him. I was careful to not finish the second shot. I was already tipsy, and keenly aware of how long it had been since I’d been in the company of a striking man whose tempting masculinity excited me, which led me to chatting up a storm. He didn’t mind.
I was easily spilling personal information by a confidence-induced shot of Tequila since he was simply someone interesting, cultured, well-traveled and educated (possessing four fluent languages) to talk to, which is a rarity in this small resort town. He continued to probe me about my book and what inspired me to write a memoir. I revealed I’m a breast cancer survivor, which is not something I would be inclined to reveal on a first date. The telling of a convoluted breast cancer ordeal is only a small part of my book, but it has been a big part of my life the last several years.
He divulged being divorced with three young kids. I switched the discussion back to his culture and all the places he’d traveled to and lived — sitting with a man enjoying verbal stimulation was a wonderful departure from daily routine. I told him about my upcoming travels to Italy. It had been a while since I was lifted to a feeling of pleasure by being fully engaged in an exchange with a man where I could share both joys and pains.
A sip of a second shot of Tequila prickled down to my toes, and I quickly turned shy and nervous around his robust maleness oozing from every pore. I felt out-of-control. This is what Tinder dates must lead to and then women get in trouble. I was in trouble. I’d drifted so far out to sea in my isolation that it was nothing like getting back on a bike again. Was he pulling me in to his shore?
My jeans were on the floor. My hands over my stomach that’s no longer completely flat. I was grateful for not wearing one of my surgical bras, which I often do since it’s easy and not confining. As I was standing there no longer 50 years old and unsure of which part of my body to hide, he said, “You have a beautiful body.” He moved his hands down to my navel and then to my back and hips where I heard a near inaudible groan.
Suddenly, as I was scanned up and down from long legs stretched out in front of me with a pair of stylish coco colored suede sandals to the nice top and makeup well-applied to my pink flushed face, I heard a compliment. Wait, what? “You look really nice; you have great style.” Did I detect a hint of lust in his compliment? Yes, I’m not that off in my intuition and it was the look in his nearly black eyes that looked like discs sending a shivered thrill to every cell. I became too aware of myself with heat rising to my head. If it were a date, it’d take more occasions of getting together before I could open myself to sex after all the assault to my body — losing my breasts, losing the erotic feeling from cutting all the nerves… no longer feeling like myself. The energy I felt since we first made eye contact was undoubtedly exhilarating but also unnerving.
I needed to go and knew to get home before dark. We’d been together more than two hours on a warm August evening. We took a brief stroll. He wanted to drive me home but how would I get my car the next day. He insisted on at least following me to be assured of my safety.
I said, “It’s been a really long time for me.” He couldn’t imagine how long, and it would be humiliating to admit how many years had passed. I then stated, as he was kissing me with a taste of malted whisky on his warm tongue and continuing to undress me, “Perhaps we are moving too fast” but knowing I wouldn’t stop. What I couldn’t be prepared for was his intensity — his take-charge sexuality. It is what I prefer. I’ve had to be strong my whole life blazing new trails on my own and survive the unimaginable time and time again; this is one area I don’t want to be the take-charge strong one.
I missed alluring, wild, and extended sex. Beyond the fact of never losing desire for hot sex, is a yearning to be seen. I’m not the easily understood type or someone most men take time to work their way through the abundant layers to discover all that I am and still hope to be. But not only did my new Turkish friend quickly scan me on the outside, he presented an astute summation of sizing me up where my inner self is concerned. We agreed that we both had an instant attraction and some sort of unexplained cosmic explosion between us.
He could go longer than I needed but I couldn’t stop. I’d become numb, numb to my nature — my natural instincts of a lustful hunger. But this was not the plan. I was meant to take an extended stroll of getting to know someone and trust enough to ignite the low flame and my utter fear of sex never being the same again. I said, “I no longer have feeling in my breasts from a double mastectomy and it used to be such a huge turn on for me in foreplay.” He kept going and only said, “Do you have feeling down here?” I relented and let the moment be what it was — animalistic sex!
Three hours later, we exchanged numbers. I put his first name in my phone unsure of how to spell his last name. I promised myself not to become obsessive by seeking a text.
I fully expected the tryst to have been a one-night stand. Dear God, a one-night stand at my age. But a text, I should say, a sext came in.
Gentleman: “I want to see you tonight.”
Gentleman: “Yes. You’re on my mind and can’t wait to see you again… to be inside you again.”
Gentleman: “I can come by after I finish up at work around 10:00.”
Would I be awake? I’m so used to being in bed early and up early ever since surgery after surgery from sheer pain and exhaustion. I noticed that by getting in bed before 9:00, I could escape the deep loneliness I’d been feeling by getting into bed with Stephen Colbert or videos of amusing animals before going unconscious.
He came through the door. No words. He picked me up, my legs wrapped around him. I silently said to myself, “Oh My God, this is movie sex.” In the movies, sex can look so hot. Women are picked up like they weigh nothing, and sex happens against a wall. This was better. There was no wall and there’s little wall space in my small abode anyway. I was held in mid-air. I’m tallish and not as skinny as I use to be. He’s over six feet and holds me without strain. I was swept up in movie sex and no longer nervous. He slid inside me. The volcano builds and erupts. No words. Just breath.
It had been an achingly long time. I’ve had a handful of make-out sessions the last several years but little else. This was unexplainable. A fantasy that became real and threw me into the world I’d been missing – A world I thought had been permanently buried.
He continued to engage me in sexting. I was happy to play along. It was temporary. I would be leaving for Italy in a month, and he would soon be going back to his kids and hometown.
The stars aligned though by delivering an unforgettable collision. Our fling continued via sexting in Italy and an occasional visit when he came through town. Sometimes our sexting went late into the night where longing would shoot through me as he described where his hands would land and positions that would take me to sweet rapture.
I realized that what I thought had to be a slow, romantic scenario to get me to a place where I could trust someone enough to have sex was not meant to be. Instead, I was catapulted out of my stupor to an awakening — I am still a sexual, sensual woman and the loss of my breasts to cancer cannot take that away.
I accepted the hot sex in my life and the sexting where I was explicitly told what was going to happen next. Another lift in the air, another experience of him taking charge of me, and whispering in the dark while the resident owl made his presence known. We’d lie in bed as he’d sing me a song in his native tongue. He talked about the ancient culture and history of his province. He explained the significance of the predominant color of lapis blue seen throughout the 2,500-year-old walled city. He compared the blue of my eyes to the blue color in the country he left behind. We would speak of poetry. He interpreted a Neruda poem to perfection. And I embraced the moment without thoughts of future.
I was quiet. He read my mind. “You’re ready to go again, aren’t you?” I smiled to myself in the dark but didn’t utter a word. He said,” Ok tiger, let’s go.” He had the ability to take me to a sensational place—a place where all dark shadows disappeared, and I drifted to a sublime alternate Universe. From that moment on, I was called ‘tiger’ in every text and sext and when we were together again.
Life presents unexpected and unexplained encounters between a man and a woman, and it doesn’t invariably mean it becomes until death do us part. Desire is life’s intriguing mystery. Why fantastic sex doesn’t necessarily lead to true love, or a wonderful connection doesn’t always lead to great love and hot sex will forever remain a mystery. At least I am better at accepting this phenomenon in life but still hold to a thread of hope for a gentle knock on the door presenting ideal love.
Valerie Anne Burns has had essays from her book, Caution: Mermaid Crossing, Voyages of a Motherless Daughter published in Sea to Sky Review, The Remnant Archive, Libretto Magazine and HerStry. Essays in print include Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times Won’t Last but Tough People Will and Rituals Anthology by Bell Press. Additionally, she’s had a poem published in Writing Through the Apocalypse by Weeping Willow Press. In September 2021, she received a Finalist Award from Page Turner Awards in the category of manuscript submission and was awarded scholarships to the 2019 Santa Barbara Writers Conference and the 2016 Prague Summer Writing Program. In addition, she was sponsored on a trip to Italy and The Dominican Republic for a breast cancer survivor retreat, where an essay from her book became a launching point for the workshop she created and presented, “Living and Healing Through Color.” She traveled to Rome September 2022 for the same nonprofit where she blogged about her experience. She previously worked in Hollywood as a story editor and in production, as well as, having her own business as a makeover specialist for home décor and wardrobe. Santa Barbara is home, and the place where Valerie Anne has survived breast cancer. Being near the ocean brings out her “inner mermaid” and gives her the peace and clarity she needs to write, along with the strength and grace she needs to mother herself through the stormiest weather.