Earlier today I was saddened to learn that a wonderful woman had passed away. A woman who has shaped my fantasies and my character for the past three decades. She was the object of my first real crush and, during that critical time when I was no longer a boy but not yet a man, a cherished and trusted friend. The funeral was months past by the time I heard of her death, so this is my way of saying goodbye.
The year was 1982. I was fourteen, awkward, nerdy and chubby. My parents, sister and I lived in a very small rural community. It was the kind of place where the entire neighborhood got together on weekends for barbecues, keg parties and, on occasion, tequila binges. The kind of place where no one raised an eyebrow if a joint happened to appear and get passed around. If it wasn't for the fact that most of the residents were respected professionals, it could easily have been mistaken for a holdover hippy commune.
There were a total of ten families within a five mile radius. A few of them had pre-school or grade school children, but I was the only one in my age group. For this reason, despite being male, my services as a babysitter were in great demand.
I worked for the woman who I'll call Marsha the most. She was in her mid-thirties and, although slim, trim and petite, she was not beautiful by any standard definition. She was, however, a true product of her generation, a flower child in every sense of the word. In short, she was free-spirited, earthy, and brazenly open-minded. All qualities that I found irresistibly sexy.
At the time, her husband was in the middle of a five year stint in prison for tax evasion, as he had somehow neglected to claim the income from his ventures in the marijuana importing business. The family's savings exhausted by penalties, fines and seizures, Marsha, formerly a stay-at-home mom with a liberal arts degree that was ten years out of date, was forced to work menial jobs twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week, to keep up with the bills.
On most days after school was over, I would get off the bus with her two boys, who were seven and eight, and walk them down the long driveway to the log kit home in which they resided. My father always described the decor of the place by saying that it looked like what you'd get if a flea market had an orgasm. Although frequent repetition soon ruined the entertainment value of the observation, it was nevertheless apt.
The entire place was richly decorated with the products of Marsha's artistic endeavors: macrame owls, giraffes and plant hangers hung from the walls and ceilings; every utensil, vase, coffee pot and chair was decorated with tole painting; and lop-sided clay pottery filled every nook and cranny. She never retained interest in a single medium long enough to obtain any true measure of skill, but her output was nothing short of astounding. Every last bit of remaining space that wasn't occupied by her sons' toys was taken up by various items that had simply struck her fancy: a piece of oddly shaped driftwood here, a handful of pretty pebbles in an old bird's nest there. She had left her indelible mark on every inch of the house, while her husband, who had lived there just as long, had left nary a trace.
As the babysitter, my duties were undemanding. I would make sure the boys did their homework if they had any. We would then throw a ball back and forth if it was nice outside or play games on the Atari if it wasn't. When it started to get late, I would make dinner - hotdogs and mac 'n cheese were the norm - see to it that they took a bath and brushed their teeth, and then tuck them into bed.
While not technically part of my job, afterwards I would usually run the vacuum cleaner, dust and do dishes. It wasn't that I was an abnormally neat teenager - far from it, as my mother could (and still does) sourly attest. Rather, I simply felt bad for Marsha and her children, and even in better times housecleaning had not been her forte.
She would usually get home around ten or eleven, after spending the day in a converted limestone mine plucking mushrooms from trays of manure and the evening hustling drinks and overdone steaks in the closest town's premiere nightspot. Only a few years before, she had practically bounced with energy. Her dark, curly hair had hung in shining waves to her hips, and her laugh had been carefree and quick. Now it seemed that every motion required a supreme effort of will. Her hair - limp, dull and streaked with gray - was pulled back into a severe bun, and her full lips were always slightly turned down in a sad frown.
On the night in question, she stopped just inside the door to kick off the high heels that, along with pantyhose, black skirt and white blouse, formed the required uniform for her night job. Standing bent over with her hands on her knees, she flexed and stretched her nylon covered feet, digging her toes repeatedly into the thick shag carpet.
When she looked up at me with a little smile, I could see lines of mascara running down her cheeks. She had cried on the way home, an all too common occurrence. She asked after her kids, and I assured her that they were fine and repeated what they had told me of their days. As I spoke, I noticed a fresh tear running down her cheek. My heart went out to her as I considered how terrible it must be to have to hear of your children's lives second-hand. After that, we stood in silence for a long moment, both watching her toes comb through the carpet.
"Would you like me to rub 'em for you?" I blurted out suddenly, surprising us both - I had always been something of a shy boy. The offer was, however, genuine. My mother and both of my grandmothers had often coaxed me into providing a similar service for them when they were in need, and I had acquired some degree of competence at the task over the years.
She cocked her head and gave me a small smile that was filled with amusement. She couldn't help but know of the crush I had on her - it was a running joke at many of the community gatherings. Her lips pursed as she considered my offer. After a surprisingly short pause, she said with a shrug, "If you're fool enough to touch them, I would have to be a fool to refuse."
As surprised as I had been that I had made the offer, it was nothing compared to my shock when she accepted. I shifted back and forth uncertainly, completely at a loss as to what to do next.
The amused little smile came back. "Let me get comfortable first. I'll meet you on the couch."
.... There is more of this story ...