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Lorette C. Luzajic
Love in the Time of Perimenopause
When my father was dying, all I could think about was sex.
It wasn't just that I hadn't had any in so long. In those years of self-imposed abstinence, with the intention to "clear my head," I had hardly thought of sex at all.
But now I did.
The clock was ticking down on the most important human in my world, the one who had made me, and all I knew was the heady hormonal undertow of time.
I thought of my lover's hands moving up and down his piano, searching for the right keys, and something hot and ravenous would uncoil inside of me.
An innocent exchange of emojis could thaw my staunchest reserves of decorum, and a frilly giddiness coursed through me. I was electric. I thought of those tidy teeth of his, manicured by a lifetime of parental conscientiousness and dutiful hygiene. They turned to fangs in my mind.
I wanted to be consumed completely. I wanted to be marked.
I was sworn off of love, because it was bad for me, like sugar. The stuff could kill you.
Yet, here I was.
It felt like a defiant invocation of life.
An act of resistance. A ritual revocation of fear.
I was starved for tenderness. I wanted it soft, melting off the bone.
I was gluttonous for flesh, for the connection of skin and sinew and muscle and fat.
I wanted him everywhere, under my skin.
I had spent the entirety of my forties thus far- half of them- abstinent. I had decided, finally, to get off the delicious nightmarish roller coaster of dating and relationships, to wait until I was old enough. Old enough to be careful, to be wise, mellow enough to allow another person their ways.
Now every precaution and preventative measure went out the window. My hands were always all over him, asking, demanding, finding. Squeezing squishy sides, poking bony knees, tilting my face towards those bee-stung lips of his. I took his hairless skull into my hands and licked it. I buried my face in his chest.
I was as ordinary as I'd ever been, my body’s sweetest offerings fading swiftly into gravity. There was loose flab wresting itself off the hanger of bones, and lots of it. My fertile bloom was bleeding out into perimenopause and my eggs and estrogen had dissipated into thin air. My legs were varicose maps. Each thigh was a lumpy sack of potatoes, pasty half-baked loaves. Once, I'd been Matisse's muse- the brunette, Lorette. Now I had become a Lucien Freud.
Yet here I was, in a place of pure wonder.
Touched for the very first time.
I used to think old women crying over spilt milk like gray hair and wrinkles was unforgivable vanity. But now that I'm experiencing the decline of my bloom firsthand, I understand it’s not just skin deep. The anxiety and defiance and helplessness we experience as we watch ourselves fade is something profound, a kind of mourning. Younger women do not have a monopoly on beauty, and there's much more to life than our marketplace value as breeders, but that truth doesn't console us from the pain of what we are losing.
It's not mere superficiality to notice my breasts deflating as their true purpose dries up. And when my hair turns silver, it will match the rings and bangles I've always worn, but transitioning to crone means coming face to face with a stranger in the mirror.
I had always been fairly liberal about sex, and it was a big part of my life through most of it. I seldom worried about whether my flaws would get in the way of being desired. I was of the mindset that if I wasn't one person's cup of tea, well, there was more where that came from. I didn't worry much about getting older- I was pretty sure I'd find a bawdy soul with whom to pass long afternoons in the proverbial rocking chair.
I worried more about love than about sex. It seemed so much more destructive. It required vulnerability and trust and strength, things in short supply.
I was in unfamiliar territory, insisting on something other than a fleeting connection, asking to go deeper or bust.
Bust had been a liberating default, a wonderful epiphany of years in which my fated becoming an artist took centre stage, a time in which I kissed goodbye the distracting temptations and complications of free love, bid farewell to the spiritual emptiness of atheism, and let go, and let God. From that point, I entertained a few more years of celibacy and personal growth before looking for love or a reasonable facsimile.
But here I was, lips more bruised from kissing than they’d ever been before, maybe altogether. I didn't know what exactly I was doing or what this was, or why Jericho was now falling under this humble man's brush of fingers. We were both astonished. We had both been thinking this would happen somehow else, to someone else, with someone else, somewhere else.
But here we were.
I pounced on him like a starved lioness, or an angry one. And I approached soft and silly in fuzzy blue rabbit ears or an elf hat from Dollarama. I was a flat footed Willendorf, a rebel without a jaw-line. My nipples were turning south, and I had started using one those little nostril gadgets made for men, the same model I had gotten for my Dad when he started dating as a senior citizen on Christian Mingle.
My stallion? My knight, my rogue pirate, my lusty troubadour? I ached day and night for his open lips, which seemed to me red and obscene when they moved, uncovered, out in public. When he spoke at work or on the transit or to his parents, I felt an arrow of intense impropriety, as if he was naked, and I was jealous. I wanted full possession of that mouth, I wanted to leave bite marks on the sides of his tongue, I wanted the food he chewed, to have it passed to me like a baby bird.
Sometimes I would stir in the night and put my tongue into his ear canal. I slept with my hands on the back of his knees, or slipped upwards from the thighs into his boxers, a cheek for each hand.
But long before my brave new love, long before we took off our clothes, when we had barely commenced our squeaky clean expeditions to the zoo or the local symphony in the garden, my life changed forever.
The man I loved more than all the others was dying from renal cancer. My Charles Ingalls. Daddy.
Suddenly, everything was urgent. Risk felt sane and caution felt like stupidity.
The clock was ticking. For my father, and for me.
But I wasn't thinking of clocks.
So, this is what the kids call sexting, I chirped triumphantly from Mexico. I was there for an art exhibition. A mildly picante comment from my beau had led somehow to me getting naked, alone in my hotel room with tequila and Air Supply.
When he went to the other side of the world, after we had nodded on the dotted line of tentative commitment- will you be my girlfriend, I had vivid erotic dreams about him taking me while I slept. I woke up with my paint-splattered pyjamas twisted and pillows tossed asunder.
We made love in the mornings. It was tender on Sundays, rushed and holy, before he stirred my instant coffee while I scrambled for my compression socks and bra.
We made love at night. Or we made something. Something harder, darker than that. Me and my new Chia-pet of wiry gray hairs, him kicking off his sensible shoes.
We made love in the afternoon. Spanx asunder.
Fortysomething. Art, work, life, death.
Sex felt like revenge, and like candy.
I did not ask for this convergence of life and death. But that is the highway of fate, the truth of our journey.
We do not contrive these matters, even if we try to: nature bestows. Why yes, she says, batting her lashes: this gasping decay, this desperate pulse, this poignant and absurd unity, this strange bond, these shaky knees, these Reo Speedwagon flashbacks: this IS the meaning of life.
I was staring into a long abyss, a still and eerie lake where the disappeared float in dreams. I was waiting for my father to sign off, to heave his last breath, I was waiting to be untethered, unplugged.
My father, who loved without condition and never counted hurts or tallied up the things that we'd done wrong.
Skin and bones and not much else, my Daddy shuffled to his bed and soon was matching soft snores with his tiny dog's.
My lover and I - my boyfriend- retired to the pull-out couch, pulled back the scratchy wool green blanket and climbed in. I clung there to my man for dear life, sick with death and desire.
It was a solemn rite, this time, this holding and being held. This is how I wanted life: expansive, compulsive, soaring, epic. Light, motion, movement, moaning, merging, melding.
This is how one clings to life, I thought. By getting on with it.
Last night in the falling darkness, in this life after death, I couldn't imagine existence without this sweetest upheaval. My man's arms, his scent, his toothy smile. Topsy-turvy, tipsy, and this time, love isn't an appetite for destruction, but for life itself.
I stood in the doorway, a woman between the worlds. One hand on his beautiful heart, one hand on the night.
Lorette C. Luzajic is editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal she founded in 2015 that is devoted to literature inspired by visual art. She has a journalism degree from Ryerson University. Her prose poetry and small fictions have been published widely, including Cabinet of Heed, Miramichi Reader, Litro, New Flash Fiction Review, Unbroken, Cleaver Magazine, Fatal Flaw, JMWW, and many more. She has been nominated for several Best of Net and Pushcart prizes. Lorette is also an award-winning visual artist with collectors in at least 25 countries from Estonia to Peru. She lives in Toronto, Canada.