Ripe Forbidden Fruit

I few days ago I finished reading Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Marquez and now I have no other book to read. Well, I do have One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I’m hesitant. When I read a couple of pages a while back, I felt it was too abstract.

I enjoyed Memories of My Melancholy Whores more than Love in the Time of Cholera. It was shorter and simpler. Here are the parts I underlined:

* The world is moving ahead. Yes, I said, it’s moving ahead, but it’s revolving around the sun.

* I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature. I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I pass myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my repressed rage, that I am punctual only to hide how little I care about other people’s time. I learned, in short, that love is not a condition of the spirit but a sign of the zodiac.

* I became aware that the inevitable power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love.

* Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love.

* As I was reading The Ides of March, I ran across an ominous sentence that the author attributes to Julius Caesar: “In the end, it is impossible not to become what others believe you are.”

* I became a man of easy tears. Any emotion that had anything to do with tenderness brought a lump to my throat that I could not always control…

Have you read it? Memories of My Melancholy Whores is about a journalist who seeks an adolescent virgin as a gift to himself on the eve of his 90th birthday. And he finds one. And falls in love with her. The idea was extremely disturbing to me. The book is so powerful and beautifully written that by the end I was not as upset. But I’m still upset. I don’t understand the obsession with virgins. Where is the sexual appeal in a girl — almost a child in this case — who has no experience in love-making? It’s a mystery to me. I’ve never felt it. If anything, it’s an instant turn-off.

A female friend in her forties once told me she understands why men are attracted to young women. “They’re fresh,” she said, and not just physically: older men find their liveliness irresistible. They revive the young man, the boy, they ceased to be long ago. The tired, old, repetitive world becomes new, different and exciting again. These I can understand. I’ve been there.

When online chatrooms first became available I “met” an 18-year-old girl who was in her last year of high school. Although I knew her age, I never got the feeling I was chatting with a teenager. She seemed wise beyond her youth, with a sexual imagination I had not encountered in any woman at any age. The things she whispered over the phone were more tantalizing than anything on Penthouse Forum. Reality slapped me on a couple of occasions when she stopped and yelled at her parents over something.

Fortunately for both of us, she lived in a different city, and we never saw each other. I didn’t hear from her for a long time and then a few years ago she called. It was a nice, cordial conversation. We spoke about how our lives had changed. She was married, unhappily, and working. I sensed her wish to keep the conversation going. I, on the other hand, felt embarrassed by the memory of getting involved with such a young girl and even though she was now only looking for someone to talk to, someone she trusted in the absence of a meaningful, satisfying, relationship with her husband, I told her I felt uncomfortable. I’m sure I came off as a hypocrite, as if this sort of thing was unethical and beyond me.

We still exchange emails once or twice a year. I keep it strictly friendly and very careful not to cross a line of propriety I’ve drawn for the sake of my own sanity. I’ve made too many stupid mistakes in this virtual world where I spend most of my life. It’s so easy and tempting to lose your mind in a split second and fire off an email for an instant thrill.

More than the youngest woman in my life, Memories of My Melancholy Whores reminded me of the oldest.

Men brag about taking virgins and have few qualms about showing off a wife or girlfriend half their age. Older women are a different story. They don’t get approached, acknowledged or celebrated in fiction or real life nearly as much as the young. That has been changing . You don’t hear about “old bags” as much as “milfs” and “cougars”. Women don’t think the way their mothers did. They don’t feel like they were born just to produce children. They see no reason why they should stop having sex even after menopause.

When I was 30, I transferred to Hunter College in New York. I was not immediately eligible to live in the dormitory, so I rented a room in a two-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side. J, the landlord, was in her late fifties and had never married. She was an industrial artist and worked on her designs on a desk in the tiny kitchen. There were all kinds of rules I had to follow in the bathroom, kitchen and backyard. She did not want anything or anyone to disturb the small space that was her world.

J had obviously been a very attractive woman when she was young. She still had a beautiful body and took good care of herself. But there was no sexual tension. It didn’t cross my mind that anything could happen with a woman so much older than me. And she felt the same. She wasn’t sexually active. The closest person in her life was a gay man.

I liked her, even though she was difficult and got easily agitated. She was often on the phone arguing about some stupid thing somebody had done. I loved it that she constantly fought and argued with neighbors, businesses and city officials for the right to take care of the trees on her street. She was out there every other day dragging buckets of water, schlepping the trees. Who does that, I thought? There was something noble about it.

Our friendship gradually grew. We soon started jogging together around Washington Sq. We went out to dinner and movies. She included me in her small circle of close friends and invited me to join private dinners. She was growing on me. The idea of having a relationship with a woman twice my age was no longer out of the question. I wouldn’t dare admit it to anyone, but I was attracted to her. There was no doubt about it.

On her 59th birthday I took her to dinner and when we got back to the apartment we sat in the garden for some wine, as we often did. I had been thinking all week about how to approach her about making love. I was clumsy and clueless with women around my own age, let alone a much older woman. Do I just, like, kiss her or should I have a conversation and make an official request? I figured the latter might be more appropriate with someone who was not only much older, but also had not been with a man for a long time. I was scared as hell. What if she called me a pervert for even having sexual thoughts about her and kicked me out of the apartment? It was too late. I felt I had to do it and get it over with.

After a few sips of wine, I took out a box out of my pocket and gave it to her and wished her happy birthday. It was a pretty bracelet with faux ruby stones. She was thrilled. She gave me a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. It was time. I was about to die from fear and anxiety. But excitement, too.

“J… I want to ask you something.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Well, it’s not easy to say, but… I’ve become really attracted to you and…” I paused, and her eyes opened wide and she leaned back against the chair. I took her hand to stop mine and hers from shaking.

“… and, um… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making love to you, J…”

How my heart, and hers, did not explode then and there, I do not know. J was looking at me in disbelief. Thank god she did not look angry. I even detected a blush. She put her head down and began to rub my fingers.

“I don’t know what to say… This is such a big surprise. It’s been so long since the last time I had sex or even thought about sex.”

Is that a… yes? Or a polite no? My mind was racing. I stood up, took her hand and led her to her bedroom. This was virgin territory. We were breaking conventions. A 30-year-old man was not supposed to be making love to a woman with the same age as his mother. But it turned out to be more enjoyable than anything I imagined. There was a relaxed, care-free feeling that isn’t always there with younger women.

A few weeks later I moved to the dormitory. J and I remained friends but did not see each other very often. When I left New York, we lost touch, except for phone calls that became less and less frequent. During a short visit to New York last year, I decided to surprise her. I dropped by her apartment and rang the bell. She was so happy to see me and it was so wonderful to see her. Not much had changed. At seventy-something she was still jogging every day. Her work desk was as a cluttered as ever. Same paintings and photographs on the wall. Same bed with the same beige cover. But the trees on the street, they had grown taller and greener.

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