Relationships

As Long as It Lasts

My discomfort was no longer about missing my father or listening to Mom's dating life but a longing for the romance that had fizzled from my own marriage

"I met Morty in temple," my mother told me on the phone. "He said, 'I like your smile.' I said, 'Are you a dentist?' Who else notices a smile?"

"A man who … likes you," I said.

"A man who wants to get me into bed!"

One year before, my father died before their 50th anniversary. A 75-year-old widow, Mom emerged from a year of mourning with a svelte figure, trading Dr. Scholl's sandals for silk blouses. She reported each date like a college roommate: "He wants to sleep with me." I wanted her to find companionship, but Morty reminded me of my father's absence.

I met Morty during a visit to Florida. Holding a dozen roses, he chatted about the weather. His polyester slacks showed his age more than he did. After dinner, he said, "Tell your daughter how wild I am over you."

"It's getting late," Mom said. "Time to go."

"Not before a good-night kiss," he said, lips puckered, arms outstretched.

The next night, Mom showed me a crumpled letter from Morty, vowing his love.

"You should be flattered," I said.

Last year, my husband didn't give me an anniversary card. "I've been busy," he apologized. I never doubted his enduring love, which began with strumming his guitar accompanied by an off-key "Stairway to Heaven." I introduced him to U-bet chocolate syrup, teaching him to make egg creams. On my wedding ring he inscribed: "I love you U-bet." But after 15 years of marriage, sonnets were replaced by, "What should I buy for dinner tonight?"

"Morty's not like Daddy," Mom said wistfully. "He doesn't play golf."

She'd guiltily complain about nursing my father for five years. The day he died, she confessed, "I'd rather have him weak and sick, than not at all."

Each time after Morty called, Mom dialed my number. "I told him, 'You're pressuring me.' He said, 'You can play all the golf you want.' This isn't about golf."

Each Sunday, Dad was Mom's golf partner. For those few hours, he wasn't a workaholic breadwinner. Morty reminded Mom how much she missed my father, yet he also distracted her from grief.

"He went for a checkup," she reported. "He said, 'To make sure my blood pressure is OK. You know, a 77-year-old man can impregnate a woman.' I told him, 'I'm not about to let you try!'"

She hadn't sounded this ebullient since Dad died. "I wish Morty was younger," she lamented. "First he said he was 79. He changed it to 77."

Wasn't it better than her recent first date? During dinner, he couldn't recall seeing her on the golf course that afternoon.

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She grumbled that he was moving too fast. At his age, I suggested, there wasn't time for leisurely courtship. She laughed, "At my age, there aren't decent men left."

Mom allowed Morty to stay with her for a few days. "Separate bedrooms," she assured me. In the shower, an ulcerated sore on his leg burst open—spewing blood all over. Calling 911, Mom almost relived the horror of watching my father die.

When Morty recovered, she sent him home. He called me, pining, "Please tell your mother to call me."

"That man!" my mom objected when I told her. "Can't get over the fact that a woman turned him down."

"He's very fond of you."

"His ego is shattered. Can't he see it's too painful?"

Fast-forward six months later.

"I met a man," my mother breathed into the phone. "His name's Roy."

"Where's he from?" I asked.

"Building Fifteen."

"And before that?"

"Massachusetts. I didn't want to tell you until it solidified."

"That means they went to bed," a divorced friend translated.

"It's been a lift," she said. "For as long as it lasts. A good widowed man over seventy who isn't senile is impossible to find."

In the middle of the night, I nudged my husband to make sure he was still breathing. He woke up and murmured, "What's going on?" Reassured, I said, "I love you." I didn't want to live without him—but I might have to someday. After Dad died, Mom had to steer herself to places he knew how to navigate, fearful of being trapped in Building 26.

Roy barged onto the extension in every phone call. He described how they "liked to touch toes" when they napped. I'd seen my parents kiss once, after my father returned from a trip. Noticing me, they broke away like lovers caught in an illicit affair.

"Will you marry Roy?" I asked Mom.

"Why ruin the courtship?" she said. "Plus we don't want to lose my social security."

Gossip abounded that she was "dating a handsome man," but it was a mixed blessing, he was "bossy … aggressive." My father was quiet but strong. Roy was strong loudly.

During my next visit, I was introduced to his explosive side. "Don't get up in the middle of my sentence!" he yelled when I refilled a glass of water. I grew weary of how he lectured rather than conversed. Unlike my placid father and husband, Roy barked out commands. In a restaurant, he ordered me not to get pasta. "Get something exotic you can't have someplace else," he insisted.

"Appease him," my husband whispered.

"At least he listens," Roy said. "You won't back down."

Who was he to speak to me that way? Blinking away tears, I fled to the ladies' room. Mom followed, insisting, "He didn't mean to hurt you. It's just when he speaks, no one else does."

"Daddy never raised his voice," I said.

Mom agreed, drying my eyes with a tissue. Roy was flawed but made her feel sexually alive. I realized that my discomfort was no longer about missing my father, or listening to Mom's dating life, but a longing for the romance that had fizzled from my own marriage.

Like many couples, we'd become complacent: too busy to craft poetry the way we'd recited vows on our wedding day. We knew we loved each other, but we didn't always say it. I wanted him to serenade me again, even if he couldn't stay on key; I yearned for him to buy my favorite chocolates. I needed to feel as young and in love as my mother.

The next night, Mom and Roy showed off sambas during an evening of dinner and dancing. My husband and I were the long-married couple chaperoning the lovesick elders. When the music stopped, Mom gazed amorously at her beau. An actor once told me, "Every scene is either about love, or the absence of love." Mom was determined to live in a love scene.

Even though he'd always been a klutz on the dance floor, I squeezed my husband's hand and asked him to dance. We started to sashay, and he did his best not to step on my toes.

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