After we see a production of Hamlet, Doctor P wants to go to a coffee shop in my neighborhood. The P stands for perfect, because he isn't. Not yet. I don't know him that well. We can't find an open coffee shop. Of course not. It's Saturday night in Greenwich Village, but it's after 11pm. We hadn't noticed.
The Doc wants to schmooze he says, but it takes persuasion for him to accept my invite. He has been in my apartment before. Surely he's not concerned about imposing on my hospitality? So, is he afraid that being alone with me tonight will lead to more intimacy than he wants? Is he shy, or just really interesting?
I hang up his brown leather bomber jacket. I make tea. He prefers loose leaf to bags. Cool, I think. So do I.
Doc sits on the sofa in front of the coffee table where I place the teapot, cups, and strainer. He's wearing khakis and a tattersall dress shirt. I sit on a chair at a ninety-degree angle from him. When I'm with him I wear a dress, this time a gray one. Always a V-neck. I am 72 and hoping I'm not showing wrinkled cleavage. We chat, but soon we urgently need to know Who was Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense? We are both look-it-up-on-the-Internet junkies, and for a moment my laptop and I move next to him -- but not too close -- so we can share the screen. The answer is Robert MacNamara. How could we have forgotten? The doc dropped out of a course with him at Harvard more than 50 years ago. So boring, he says, that he was propelled into medicine. I return to my chair. But it's back and forth for me between sofa and chair as new questions arise. Who will moderate the vice presidential debate on Thursday? Martha Raddatz of ABC. What is the philosopher Saul Kripke's specialty? Modal logic. Was Zorba the Greek a Broadway play as well as a movie? Yes. Sitting at right angles again we talk about our grandchildren, children, and deceased spouses. When I show him family photos on my computer, I sit next to him, or rather -- we are not touching -- next to a space filled with invisible baggage. His wife died of cancer, and he can't bear the last picture of Steve and me. The doc's wife lost her hair, too. She minded that less than losing her breasts. The doc and I understand. Our spouses lost body parts and we are permanently wounded, the price we willingly pay for our forever connection to them.
This 74-year-old man hangs around until 1:30 am. He did that a week ago, too. Before he leaves he asks if I want to watch Thursday's vice presidential debate with him -- if he can finish with his patients early, he says, which he won't know until about 4:30 pm that day. I don't mind uncertainty. This is two firsts in one -- the first time on a date he asked for another, and the first time that less than a full week will elapse before we see each other again.
"I'd like that," I say. Then I sense -- I don't know how -- he wants us to watch the debate here, where I live. I ask to make sure.
I've intuited correctly. "I don't want you to come to my apartment -- yet. It's too messy," he says.
He is right about what I don't want to see. This man claims to mop his own kitchen floor -- occasionally. He has apparently gone years without hiring someone to clean. This summer, before I had met him in person, he wrote to me about his childhood, his parents and how they met, his in-laws' escapes from Nazis in France, and his sometimes mopping on Saturdays. I knew right away from those emails that he was unusual in a way that appealed to me. Something indefinable touched me so deeply that it took me a month to look at his photo. I wanted to be so hooked on his interior that I wouldn't care if he turned out to be unshaven and beer bellied. No, I'm not ready to see his apartment. I will not go out of my way to find deal-breakers.
"My only TV is in the bedroom. We'll have to sit on the bed," I say, mindful of what seems to be Doc P's reticence to be in a position where I might aggress upon him. I don't mention the device that can turn my laptop into a television because all too frequently it doesn't.
"All right," he replies.
Is he being polite? I don't want him to lose his nerve and fall back on the if-caveat in his request to watch the debate together. "I promise not to attack you," I say.
"Should I make that promise, too?" he asks.
I blurt out, "No!" pause "no." I use his name, which is not Doctor Perfect.
One or both of us has laughed.
A few minutes later he is leaving. As he puts on his jacket, I turn on my bedroom light so he can see that the television is only a few feet from my bed. He notices two wooden, straight-back chairs off to the side. "We can sit on those," he says. He is serious. He couldn't be oblivious to the reality that they are as they look -- uncomfortable.
Well you can sit on one, I think, but I won't. It is impossible to lean, slouch, or relax in those chairs. They only work pulled up to a table where you can rest on your arms. Watching television from one of those chairs would kink my spine for a week.
The doc enters the elevator. He hasn't hugged me. I wish he would. I don't mean just that I regret he's leaving without hugging me goodbye, although that's true enough regret. I mean that never in the fifteen or sixteen hours we have spent together has he hugged me. There are times, when I enter a room and he doesn't stand, it seems he actively avoids touching.
Dr. P is still talking. For a second he uses his hand to prevent the elevator door from closing. At that moment he is happy.
Me, too. Despite my longing to touch his face, I know that for the indefinite future I will gladly sit beside him on those hard-seated chairs. It surprises me that there is a hollow in my heart where so far no one has been. I suspect this place is for him.
But I don't know that yet. Yet is a word of self-delusion perhaps. I am a hopeless romantic, and my vision of the future is only what I want it to be.
Be careful what you wish for, I think. Accept his pace.
This is fun.