Updated: Sep 30, 2020
I don't know which hurt more, when I saw the Jawman's death notice: the wrenching memory of what we had, or the fact that it didn't even rate a mention.
His Ivy League college days? -- check. His brief law career, check. Athletic memberships, summers at the family cottage and winters in the sun, check. Ditto his passions for his yellow Lab pup, his Jeep Cherokee, having a great tan, and wearing loafers with no socks. Check, check, check, and check.
But what had gone down between us: Nix.
It was possible that the memory of our seminal moments, the Jawman's and mine, was so hurtful that his survivors had chosen to bury it with him. But I had to face the sadder likelihood that his pain had dissipated in the dust of decades. While mine is not only alive, but palpably more intense. Lurking, waiting to surface cruelly, randomly, any time I unthinkingly too widely open my --
But let us go back. Back to the perfervid months, when I was a high school dropout, and my teen diaries brimmed over with him. With us.
Just shy of 17, having tanked the credits needed to graduate high school because boys have at last started to take notice of me, I have dropped out and gone to work as junior assistant to the promotions director at a trade magazine. I am getting my missing credits and fending off high school boys by night, mocking up posters and fending off traveling salesmen by day.
And then, one spring eve, I meet Him.
That first meeting is enshrined in my diary - as, since I was fourteen, had been my most private thoughts, in my most scintillating self-centred prose, meant strictly for me in my lifetime, and posthumous publication afterward by the awe-struck trustees of my estate.
Friday, April 16. Dearest Diry [sic]! There’s someone new. WHEEE! I met HIM at the folk concert last night. HE is tall, blond, terribly Ivy and distinguished and almost 21!! Called "Pye," for his initials, P.Y. - oh so suave, dahling. I effervesced, he responded - it was partly affected – he is ra-THAH affected – but at the same time was intrigued. A goil can tell! After the concert we tripped out to HIS car - a black Mustang convertible, my deah! - & back to my house. “I must see you again,” he murmurs, tipping my head back and drawing me toward him. “You’re going too fast for me, Pye,” I remonstrate mumurously. "I like you,” he murmurs back (he never speaks above a rumble). “You are a bright kid – in a couple of years you’ll really be something. I’d better take your phone number." He kisses me on the forehead. “Good night then, Pye.” I murmur mutteringly, – “Good night,” he breathes, murmurously.
So here goes nothing! I’m glad – murmurously glad!....
....Ah, the Toronto of my teendom: so white-bread and white-bred, town of Orange parades, sere churchy Sundays, separate rooms for men and ladies in establishments that serve alcohol, with windows curtained from the sidewalk so as not to lure passersby to drink. And, a hard and fast set of rules about comportment between the sexes. Here, the swinging sixties find it slippery work gaining a toehold.
And oh, the incredibly sweet power of a kiss, particularly the forbidden kind. One of the hardest and fastest rules is about the very first kiss on a date: exactly when you -- you, as one of the nice girls, not one of the besmirched who are already headed straight to hell -- are societally permitted to allow that kiss. For one of us "Nices," to kiss on the first date is an absolute, rigorous no-no. On the second date, perhaps, maybe, a decorous peck. By the third date, because with three dates you have some assurance that he has serious quasi-respectful intentions -- i.e. is sufficiently interested in getting into your panties that you are pretty sure he is hookable -- then you may allow the first actual kiss; but only briefly, and then in the most maidenly, non-engaged fashion. Only by, say, the half-dozenth outing, with him offering you his frat pin, might you, without fear of eternal damnation, societal shunning, or worse, unseemly popularity, actually, but prudently, kiss back.
So this first take-home by Pye did not even remotely count. The countdown could begin with our first actual date the following week. How little did I, or he, dream that fateful outing would mark the hour after which he would forever, in my family lore, be enshrined as The Jawman.
But put aside the mottling veil of hindsight. Return to the momentous moment: Princely Pye and little moi, embarking on our actual, official, countable-toward-first-kiss first date.
And oh, Dearest Diry, what a dream night does at first unfold.
Here is the chunk-chunk of the cast-iron door knocker, summoning me helter-skelter down the stairs, hoping my unaccustomedly slinky top is not bulging at the waistline. The black ragtop is halted majestically outside our house and Pye, resplendent in back-buckled khakis and white bucks, has trod majestically to my door.
First: tickets to the hottest show in town: The outrageous Brit duo Flanders & Swann, with their notorious star piece, one that would have MeTooers of today mass-marching on all the world's capitals: Have Some Madiera, m'dear...
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice
He was base, he was bad, he was mean;
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps (all unperforated)
And he said, as he hastened to put out the cat, The wine, his cigar, and the lamps:
Have some Madiera, m'dear; / You really have nothing to fear / Now if it were gin you'd be wrong to say yes / The evil gin does would be hard to assess / Besides, it's inclined to affect me prowess / So have some Madiera, m'dear.
Afterward, there is a university frat party -- little me, high school dropout! And now here we are, back at my door. I know, O how well I know the first-date kissing rule. But the cool outweighs the rule.
He imprisons me in his kingly embrace and bends his leonine face to mine. This involves a lot of leaning -- him so tall, me so short – tilting me masterfully backward and sideward to imprint The Kiss.
It is a long kiss. A wet kiss, kind of messy, like submerging in a bowl of warm oatmeal. My head is swiveled to one side.
When it finally ends and I straighten up, my jaw feels as though it has been wrenched from its moorings. Is skewed, cantilevered to the right, and stuck.
"Pye, Pye," I mutter through sideways clenched teeth, "I can’t move my jaw."
"Ohh," murmurs he sonorously, looking away.
This is definitely not cool.
We go to the nearest hospital emergency. The nurses laugh like hyenas. They say the jaw will probably go back into place by the morning; if it doesn’t, it may have to be reset and wired shut for six months with me taking liquid nourishment through a tube.
It does go back into place, and so, for a time, does my relationship with the Jawman, buffing up my place in society, keeping my friends aswoon.
But, just as one has been warned, as Reefer Madness cautioned about weed, kissing is only the start. Pye is pressing for more. He is trying to persuade me to go All The Way. And he is playing on my most cherished self-imaging.
As I confide to Dearest Diry: "When I tell him I want to remain virginal he keeps asking what the point is, and he can't see how anyone who is so rational and clever could be so damned irrational and bourgeois about this."
Troubled, I turn to my bible of the day: The Unfair Sex: An Exposé of the Human Male for Young Women of Most Ages, by one Nina Farewell. This witty, ironic, but deeply, bitterly, convincing tract is Miss Manners crossed with Dorothy Parker; flip side to Simone Beauvoir's The Second Sex.
In the chapter on "Lines", one jumps out: The Intellectual Approach.
“The man who uses the Intellectual Approach impresses his vis-à-vis with the respect he has for her mind. …Suddenly she find herself agreeing as he scoffs at the conventions, the taboos, the restrictions that strive to strangle the Man-Woman relationship. 'Are we children?' he asks. 'Are we to be dictated to by a hypocritical society? Must we bow to a set of outmoded rules? Do we need a scrap of paper to permit us to live as nature intended? Those rules are all right for the great mass of unthinking people, for the petty bourgeoisie, the puppets who can’t reason for themselves. But for people like you and me – it’s sheer nonsense.'... "
It was him! It was me! I read and reread it, to fortify myself. In any case, truth to tell, the wet oatmeal kisses had begun to pall. And university, now, was teeming with versions of Him. It all ended somewhat ignominiously when Pye found me necking with Alfie the drummer, at the beery closing party for UC Follies, in which, as it happens, I starred as the bad girl spy from the Faculty of Engineering.
That might have been the end of us, the fading of memories. But a small click kept him alive...
For years afterward, .my jaw would give these little clicks.. Just small random clicks. Jawman! I'd think, with tender rue.
Then the clicks got louder, oftener, and more painful. "You're bruxing," my dentist said. "Grinding your teeth at night." Custom bite plate: $500, to be replaced bi-annually for wear and tear.
Then one day, decades later, happily into my fourth, and what I fondly believed was my final marriage, I opened my mouth to yawn and thought I’d perish of hot, stabbing pain.
Had I ever had trauma? asked the ortho-periodontist. Jaw ever been dislocated?
Jawman! I thought, untenderly.
The pain has a name, it turns out. Temporomandibular joint disorder, TMJ. Many have it, but few contract it the way I did. It improves somewhat, but never disappears.
There have been CT scans. Jaw therapy, hot packs, cold packs. Anti-inflammatory medication, makes your stomach heave, so add reflux meds. Fresh $500 bite plates. Ortho visits, $250 per. MRIs to determine trauma to the mandibular joint, another $200 each. Pain clinic, for pain management. Should we wire shut? Chip the bone? Massage? Remember -- forget at your peril - always, only, take teeny-tiny bites. Never open the mouth wider than half an inch, the width of your knuckle.
To this day, the memory sears, not to mention my right mandible, every time I forget to ease my jaw open by sliding it gingerly sideways. Or, clamp down too hard with my back teeth. Or yawn half a knuckle too wide. Pain: unpredictable, jolting, unbidden. Lurking forever, like love gone wrong.
If only I'd just slept with him.
Wait till his family sees my obit.
And the commemorative song -- thank you, Flanders & Swann -- I have composed, to be sung at my wake:
He was tall, he was blond, he was brush-cut and braw,
And his eyes were as blue as the sea;
She was short, she was plumpish, inspired no awe,
O what glee, should this hero choose she!
His white bucks were snowy, his rag-top was black,
Tralala! sang her heart at the sight,
But she should have yelled: Stop! For it all came a cropper
The first time he kissed her good night:
Don't kiss that hero, m'dear!
The consequence will be severe;
First-date kissing is sin that is hard to redress,
It will plunge you to hell's deepest darkest recess,
So run, you fool, run, with what strength you possess --
Don't kiss that hero, my dear!
Don't kiss that herooo...my dear!