- All of Me
In a bar, at Shakers, I wait for my friend Norma to join me for a drink. I’ve known Norma for twenty years since I first immigrated to Roanoke. I’ve been meeting her in this bar for over a decade, mostly for gossip and child-free time. We got acquainted at a fitness center, where she taught step aerobics and now takes Zumba classes. In my mind she’s hardly changed—the same plump body and lascivious smile. The curves of her breasts and buttocks are taunting. Both Norma and I have been married for nineteen years, with two children, who are about to graduate high school. She has daughters and I have sons, and we’ve always joked that they should get married, so we can finally be connected not only through spirit but through the blood of our future grandbabies.
Other than our age—forty-five—we are very different, Norma and me. She’s blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned; I’m half-Russian, half-Armenian with a bale of black hair and skin that looks tan all year round. She’s a lighter side to my darker one. Norma loves comedies and Hallmark family entertainment, and I crave the tragic and the desperate. Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky. I listen to classical music that can make me weep in the midst of dinner or sex—a Rachmaninoff elegy or a Chopin nocturne, or Scriabin’s Revolutionary étude—and Norma favors jazz, nothing too fancy, no Monk or Coltrane, but maybe Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Charlie Parker on the sax. “Oh, but how he caresses that instrument,” Norma would say. “I could make love to that man all night.”
And she would, if she could, but she can’t. Norma is married to Jerald, who’s tall, silent, handsome. A man with large hands and a befitting penis, Norma brags and brags. I don’t share her enthusiasm on the size of her husband’s genitals, his tool of sin, but even I get curious. Can a woman love a man that dearly for that long that even his penis size grows proportionally to the number of years they’ve shared? First it was like this, then it became like that, and now it’s the most potent, beautiful, magic wand. All [End Page 140] Norma has to do is rub it with her hand or stroke it with her lips. Oh, the pleasures of giving and receiving!
Arguing with Norma is a joyful challenge because while I think in dichotomies and absolutes, she prefers shades and semitones, watery pastels. Raised in a country that forbade everything but science and servitude, I keep insisting that the world is bipolar, that one cannot know the good without the evil, bliss without agony, but she pinches her soft lips together so that from a distance they resemble a rosebud, then slowly pulls them apart, her mouth blossoming into a full smile. “Not true,” she says. “Yes, true,” I insist. “In my country, suffering overrules pleasure.” “Then all your women are virgins?” she asks, her face now as serious as when she attempts to read a Russian novel on the beach. She has many—by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Bulgakov—all gifts from me.
I should mention that Norma’s literary palate is much more yielding than mine; she compromises, allows an occasional thriller, mystery, or romance. Chick lit. She argues that if women don’t read other women, don’t empathize, then it’s over, the world has turned Paleozoic. “Back to the womb we go. Can you imagine the darkness?” Norma is an ob/gyn nurse; she spends her days staring at strange vaginas, which, she insists, are gloriously different. In shape, color, and size. She imagines how lost men must feel when they approach what they think is familiar territory, hills and coppices and caves, only to discover a parched desert or a lush steppe, the occasional swampland. Go ahead and conquer that, my dear! Get drowned, get chocked between those fleshy thighs. Norma enjoys flaunting her knowledge, partly because she wants me to use it in my stories, partly because there...