In my mind, his age is equal to mine, our bodies align. He is 36.
I want to have drinks with Judith. She is 87 and sits cross-legged in her chair. I want her knees, and to shadow her as she unapologetically celebrates her well-lived life.
I am entertained by the friends I sit between. They have known each other since they were 3 and 8. Their mothers were best friends. They live on separate coasts now but make time to travel, reminisce, and delight in what they have, what they lost, what they carry, and what they cherish.
I am here because I want to be noticed. I like and respect the instructor. Her writing style speaks to me. I have submitted a personal essay for consideration in an upcoming book she is working on entitled, The Essential Essay: Crafting the Story Only YOU Can Write.
"Give a brief introduction of who you are and why you are here," is her prompt. She turns to her left and nods to the person in the first chair to start. I am to her right. I do math and surmise I have 10 chairs and 20 minutes before I take center stage.
I want to stand out.
"My name is Shannon," I say when it is finally my turn. I know not to say my last name because people often get stuck on it. Kennedy, wow, any relation to THE Kennedys, they'll wonder.
"I am writing about my cancer as it collides with my sexual awakening," I say.
"It's a remarkable time in my life. I am facing a stage 4, terminal illness. But we are all terminal," I add - pause for a ripple of muted giggles.
"I am currently in remission and feeling just fine but I don't know for how long and don't want to waste a day, minute, or second of my time.” This cheeky rhyming is unscripted and usually means I’m on point and connecting with something larger than me.
“My first instinct, after hearing my diagnosis, was to travel - see and taste places unknown. But I am not permitted to fly, due to three pulmonary embolisms – a party favor from my last surgery. They tell me these can snap from my lungs and race to my brain by something as simple as a bump to my head, or cabin pressure. Instead, I have decided to travel inward - focus on self-discovery, self-love, and self-care. Part of that includes my sexuality. I have made the deliberate decision to stop pleasing men and for the first time in my life, ask that they please me - sexually."
The room is silent, all eyes are on me. I elaborate just a bit more.
“I want to put this delicious chapter of my life in full view. But I don’t want to scar my family, especially my daughter. How do I do that? How do I know when to stop, what is too much, too raunchy, or too self-indulgent?”
If I got an answer, I didn’t hear it. I already know the answer. It’s part of my voice, my purpose. It wouldn’t flow like this, it wouldn’t unfold like this, if it wasn’t meant to be written.
I could always publish it as fiction, but I like owning it. This is my journey to the divine feminine - an energy force focused on my intuition, receptivity, and interconnectedness and the healing, harmony, and growth that arises from it.
At the closing of our first day, we are given a writing assignment. The prompt is…
The hardest thing I…
We are told to write for 15 minutes and limit the piece to 800 words max.
This assignment does not appeal to me. I don’t want to focus on the hard parts of my life. Not here. Not now. And worse, I don’t want to hear other people’s hardships. Not here. Not now.
How do I turn “the hardest thing I…” into something lighthearted?
I call my daughter, Ling and my best monkey, Robin. Ling has a wholesome idea – the hardest meal you ever cooked. Robin, in true monkey form, nails it. “Write about the hardest dick you ever had in your mouth.
Clearly, she is BRILLIANT.
Assignment: The Hardest Thing I …
Write for 15 minutes, 800 words or less.
We have created an annual tradition - running the Damon Runyon 5k cancer research fundraiser held in Yankee Stadium. Year one it was Ling, her fabulous husband, Pete, and me. Then there was COVID and it was canceled, and then we lost our focus. This year we are back and we added two new team members, my grandson Jacky Blue and Airport Man.
If you are a Yankee fan, it is a HUGE thrill running up and down the decks and laps on the field. If you are not a Yankee fan, there is still a HUGE thrill running the stadium, passing the dugouts and home plate - eclipsed by the expansiveness of bleachers, billboards, and scoreboards.
Afterward, we retreat to my house - lounging and rehydrating in the living room.
In the center of the room, is a small chest that serves as a coffee table. It is the first piece of furniture I ever bought, and I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it roosted in a storefront window on Greenwich Avenue in 1983. Does that make it an antique? It wasn’t then but it’s been 40 years. What defines an antique and if it is, am I an antique?
Inside the chest is memorabilia that spans the course of my life ranging from Congratulations on Your Baby Girl cards given to my parents, hair wrapped in waxed paper from a pixie haircut my father arranged, against my mother’s wishes, on our way to the World Fair, report cards and class pictures tucked between treasured memories of my father and children.
My daughter lifts the lid to the chest and pulls out items that speak to her. First, a book she wrote in the 2nd grade titled, “The Monkey that ate too much Candy,” and reads it out loud. Airport Man focuses on a yellowed newspaper dating back to 1997. On the left column of the front page, is a picture of me as it relates to an article about female-owned and operated businesses. Beneath my picture is Oprah’s. I saved the paper not so much for the article but because my picture is above Oprah’s.
He is seated, calf over thigh, in a low-ride, Jonathan Adler lounge chair. The paper is open wide, shielding his upper torso when Ling uncovers a ripped page from one of my journals, preserved in a plastic sleeve.
“I know what this is,” she declares as she studies the list of names that line the left side of the page. “these are all the men you’ve slept with!” she spews.
With that, Airport Man, folds down the paper and uncrosses his legs. All eyes, including my grandsons, are on me. “No, no, no… those are men I’ve dated,” I counter.
“Why isn’t my father on here?” she asks. The list is so old that her father and my third husband are not included. “I ran out of paper,” I say, jokingly.
No one is laughing. Especially, Airport Man.
She scans the names and screeches… “Tommy Lee! You slept with Tommy Lee?!?”
I stand, emboldened by my beloveds, and as best I can. defend myself.
“Not THAT Tommy Lee! Not Pamela Anderson's Tommy Lee.”
“My Tommy was a third-string quarterback for the New York, Jets by the time we… dated. He destroyed his career when he got into a car accident and blew out his knee.”
With that Ling, Pete, and Jacky Blue hastily departed. And I was left alone with Airport Man.
Airport Man is furious – humiliated that my sexual encounters have been aired out in front of him. I do my best to calm him, knowing how ridiculous he sounds but understanding how vulnerable this makes him feel.
I do my best to soothe him, “It’s been 40 years. 40 years since I briefly… dated him.”
Despite my efforts, nothing settles.
On the morning of his departure, we wake to sheets that are tussled and bundled at the foot of the bed.
“Do you know how humiliating this was for me - to hear about your sexual escapades, in front of your family!!!”
This is the moment I realize Airport Man is a staunch conservative.
From this point on, few words are spoken. There is no morning sex. We ride in silence to the airport. When he exits the car, he will not hold my gaze. He is polite but abrasive. I am crushed.
I wake several times that night… Tommy Lee’s cock is deep inside my mouth. I try to speak but his cock is huge, stiff and all-consuming. I am choking.
The nightmare revisits me, over and over again. It is by far, the hardest thing I have ever had to swallow.