Perceval and Karina

 oxford

I once met a man at Harvard when I was pretending to be a woman from France. He was a third generation attorney named Perceval Harkness Granger the third.  It was the actress in me, looking for something more interesting from life than the hand I’d been dealt. While he told me about himself, I got busy assembling a French accent and history to match. I was just back from France so my clothes reflected the culture.

Yes, this is my first trip to America, I told him, I’ve come to study music.

I was without shame. Unfortunately, the more we talked, the more I liked him and by the end of lunch we’d made arrangements to see each other again. Now I was really stuck. If I wanted to be with him, I needed to continue to be the person he’d met, which would be an on-going challenge.

The show-down came when he gave me a surprise birthday party, decorated his apartment like a street in Paris and invited all of his friends who spoke French.

 I wanted to make you feel at home, he told me.

 How dear. The only problem was that I didn’t speak French. I just had a great accent from spending my summer there. I walked cautiously from guest to guest, like a swimmer in shark infested waters telling them my latest lies.

I’ve promised that as long as I am in the United States that I will speak only English. That’s what I am here to learn, forgive me if I don’t join you.

It had taken everything I had to maintain my charade with Percy, but convincing a group pushed me over the edge. I decided to end the game. We’d dated for the better part of the school year, when I asked him to join me on a park bench to discuss ‘some things of common interest.’ I drank in his image for the last time. He was a handsome young man with dark wavy hair, his eyelashes, thick brush strokes executed with precision. He had opened my eyes to the world of art films, coffee houses, Harvard University and what it felt like to stand on a solid family base.

 My voice sounded flat and ordinary, as I let go of my French accent and explained what I had done. Everything felt different as I did, colors, textures, the light, the very air smelled different. When I finished, he got up and walked away, feeling angry, embarrassed, and used. That was the last I ever heard from him, except for a book he mailed to me written by Eric Fromm, called, The Art of Loving. He wanted me to read it, but the title was enough. I got the point.

Last year I decided to Google him and found he had died. Percy decided not to become a lawyer after all. He migrated to writing instead, leaving a creative legacy for television, theater and the screen. Maybe I inspired him. You think?

Sensible Shoes

The tall black stiletto heels, the sculpted leg leading to a short skirt, folds of silk draped in her blouse and hair falling in cascades of brown – she reminded me of myself at 18, although I’m sure she was closer to 25. I’d been living in Paris and fashion was everything, youth, beauty and fashion.

Paris transformed me at that age. The garter belts with shopping-bagsstreams of scarlet ribbons against black lace, fastened to hold seamed stockings in place. The lacy push-up bras allowing me to have curves I only dreamed about in my slow development. Men who followed me down the street entranced by my beauty; a beauty the boys back home never seemed to notice. Europe ushered me into an exotic womanhood; a womanhood far removed from my rural roots and the full bodied cotton underwear my mother provided, the multicolored ones with each day of the week embroidered on the side.

In Paris I learned to put on thick brown eyeliner that came to rest like little wings at the corner of each eye and to paint my lips alluring colors of bold sensuality. I was excited to move fully into the womanhood I had waited for as a child.  Paris was my launching pad. 

I stood near her, both of us rummaging the Goodwill for hidden treasures. I held my gaze a little too long, and she caught my eye as interest, connection, and smiles traveled through the aisles between us.

My shoes are sensible now. I never venture far from the ground or my arthritic toes would complain. My inner ballerina has left for the remainder of my life. But there she stood with all of life ahead of her, perched on those feminine control towers waiting to soar into the next great adventure, while I’ve become the older grey-haired woman wearing sensible shoes.

Surprisingly I felt no regret or sorrow. My life has been rich and full, my sexuality more deeply profound than the girl in me could have imagined. I didn’t know then, that it was not the trappings that made a woman. It wasn’t the glitter, the allure, or the package, although I loved it all!  It was self-assurance and lots of permission to be fully and completely who I am, whatever that might look like. Untangling my essence from the cultural web and the opinions of others has been a life journey, but in the end, the only one worth taking.