Essay: carey shreve

Essay: carey shreve

The Whiff

It started with a whiff. It was soap and clean, warm male, and my body unwittingly reacted. If I were in my twenties, I wouldn’t have been surprised, but midway through my sixties, I hadn’t felt a spark like this in a long time. While my body was signaling interest, my brain immediately registered that what I was feeling was “wrong”; wrong because the male standing in front of me was a twenty-year old student. This was his second year in our classroom, yet, this was the first time I’d involuntarily and viscerally responded to his maleness. I answered the question he’d come up to my desk to ask and as he moved back to his seat, I welcomed the distance between us.

 

I tried to dismiss the fleeting fizz I’d felt as the result of not having been in a relationship for a number of years, but that I’d responded to him so unexpectedly nagged at me. Why had I not had that response whatsoever when I’d been around men in my approximate age range? Men that would be an “appropriate” choice, versus a very young African American man with a cognitive impairment? I was frequently around men in a variety of social settings and even had some great male friends, but…nothing. And, now that I’d had this response to him, I found myself flushing whenever he was near me. I’d try not to stare at his hands, but my eyes would end up looking at them. His smell would swamp me with memories of the pressure of warm lips on mine and the scratch of a beard as faces rubbed together. I recognized what I was feeling as lust, but I couldn’t understand why it was lust for him and no one else.

 

As a young woman, I’d been full of lust, but also shy around men, so unless alcohol supplied some courage, I rarely made a move. Even then, I didn’t especially enjoy casual encounters. For me, intimacy required some time to build; I needed to know the man a bit and feel not only attracted to him physically, but also mentally. I wanted someone with wit, with kindness, and with a healthy lust as well. So, my partners were not frequent and usually happened with the start of a new relationship. Once married, I committed myself to the union I’d entered and never had any interest in being with another man for the 23 years of my marriage; It simply never occurred to me that stepping outside of my marriage was an option, even though I sometimes felt lonely in our relationship. My fulfillment came from raising two daughters and working with special education students.

 

After my divorce, I spent ten years with a man whose lust matched mine. I discovered a wildness that had been dormant for years and I reveled in the depths of it. I felt satiated and smug – like a hormonally-driven teen versus a woman in her mid-50s. When our relationship ended, I was devastated; I’d put all of my energy into building something I thought was going to last. It left me scarred in hidden ways that I’m only now discovering.

 

In the three years that have passed since he and I ended, other than a few lukewarm first coffee dates, I’ve veered away from looking at men for potential relationships. I tell others that it’s because my life is too busy, I’m still working on “me”, and I’m not interested in the challenges a relationship would bring to my life. But, it’s really none of those things, but rather fear preventing me from giving someone else a chance. I’m hiding out locked in safety mode – guarding my heart against potential pain. I’ve shut the wild, lusty woman down, silencing her with food and overspending. I devote my time to worthy causes – working with others on the same path of recovery, mentoring young adults in my job, and spending time with my family. Through it all, I tell myself I need nothing more to be happy. Yet, a mere whiff has sent me whirling around for days; it has been an alarm clock signaling I’m not ready to stay asleep quite yet. Granted, It’s a safe whiff because I know I’d do nothing to advance my feelings. And, safe also because he’d never respond to a woman old enough to be his grandmother. But, enough of a whiff to unsettle me. To make me question whether this placid road I’ve chosen is all I want. Deep in thought, I hear Joni Mitchell in the background and suddenly it hits me - I want nothing to do with playing it safe; I want to be a wild seed again and let the wind carry me – at least one more time.

 

Sometimes I get that feeling

And I wanna settle

And raise a child up with somebody

I get that strong longing

And I wanna settle

And raise a child up with somebody

But it passes like the summer

I’m a wild seed again

Let the wind carry me

 Joni Mitchell, For the Roses, 1972

 

about the writer: carey shreve

Carey lives on a dirt road in Paw Paw, Michigan surrounded by the woods, and she divides her time between working with Special Education young adults, supporting other women in recovery (which in turn supports her!), and spending time with her granddaughter, Maddi, who is wise in the ways only a 4-year old can be. When a free hour presents itself, she loves spending time in the woods - preferably with paper and pen in hand, weather permitting. And she never says "no" to a decent piece of dark chocolate.

Painting: victoria saccomagno

Painting: victoria saccomagno

Personal essay: wendy stein

Personal essay: wendy stein

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