I was messing around on the couch with an old boyfriend when he mentioned that he had a new sex med and that it was stashed in the fridge because it had to stay cold.
This is the sort of info that brings things to a screaming halt, but feature writers like me don’t mind at all, because it is so weird.
“What?” I say. “I thought this stuff was just pills.”
“They’re new little pills,” the guy says. “You have to keep them cold.”
“What if you have to travel with them?” I ask.
“I put them in a plastic bag with two ice cubes,” he tells me.
“What if you’re Lawrence of Arabia, and you want to have sex in the desert?” I say.
We are both laughing.
“You don’t get to have sex in the desert,” he says.
I’ll tell you the truth. This is one of the things I like about middle-aged sex: the level of comfort required.
“I have diabetes and have to take these little pills, which in my case take a few hours to work, so you got to give me some notice before we pull off the highway.”
“It’s been a while. I’m a little out of practice.”
“I’ve had breast cancer, and my new breasts, while spectacular, will be different from others you have known.”
The new breasts, by the way, are mine. I had breast cancer decades ago and kept my breasts, and wrote about the whole experience. When cancer cells popped up again in the same breast 21 years later, the options were fewer. Mine diminished even more when I had healing complications.
I was disappointed, though not surprised, when the plastic surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center told me I was not a candidate for nipple reconstruction. I remember very clearly the time it took to come to a mental accommodation. I had gotten into the elevator after leaving the surgeon’s office on the 10th floor, and the elevator floor numbers served as a kind of clock.
Tenth floor: Damn it to hell, damn it. No nipples. That sucks.
Sixth floor: Of course, the new ones are beautiful. Like Barbie’s. And Barbie is beautiful.
Fourth floor: I’ll just be beautiful in a new way.
I was, too, especially as I was able to have these trick-the-eye nipple tattoos. But there was the problem of what to say when you are about to first get naked with a guy. I take this up with a shrink at Memorial.
“You say, ‘I’ve had breast surgery, and I am a work of art in progress,’ ” she tells me.
I had to trim that “work of art” bit — it’s just not how I talk — but I use the gist.
“There’s something I have to tell you,” I say to the fellow, as things are about to heat up. “I’ve had breast cancer.”
“Yeah, I know,” he says. “I read your book.”
“No, since then,” I say. “And I’ve had surgery. They’re really gorgeous. They have all this new stuff these days — it’s really interesting — but I haven’t, you know….”
“You’re telling me I’m the first person who’s going to see them?” he says. “I’m the first guy to see the new breasts? You chose me? I am really honored. “
You see what I’m saying?
The first time I had sex, when I was a teenager and didn’t really know the guy though I thought I did? Deeply disappointing. The first time I had sex as a 65-year-old woman with a 66-year-old man, and we’d both had illnesses that could have killed us and left us scarred and that we had to talk about?
That was trust, that was intimacy, that was real connection.
Joyce Wadler is the author of “Cured: My Ovarian Cancer Story.” Follow Joyce Wadler on Facebook: facebook.com/joyce.wadler and on Twitter: @joyce_wadler. Previous “I Was Misinformed” columns can be found here.
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Published: October 18, 2013
The New York Times