Credulity: People everywhere enjoy believing things
that they know are not true. It spares them
the ordeal of thinking for themselves and taking
responsibility for what they know.
Brooks Atkinson, "February 2", Once Around the Sun (1951)
So, once I told myself that it was all over with Lainie I was free to move on to sweeter sea water. Something fresh and new was what was needed. I was determined to find a woman who had no past, no secrets and no shames. I knew it was possible to find such women. You just had to locate the convent, find the gate and hold out for the virgins.
Thatís a joke. I donít think, and I didnít think at the time, that this particular alternative was available, not in New York City and not in 1927. Remember, I told you, it was the jazz age. Everybody danced to some tune or other; everyone imbibed something potentially illegal: Gin, , Wine, Reefer, Something. I donít think there were virgins any more, not over the age of twelve at any rate. I wasnít one, not even in my heart any longer. Lainie had taken that one piece of purity away from me. That was how I saw it just then. I thought she had robbed me of an innocence I probably never possessed.
I donít know for sure how long after that I bumped into Tooie, saw her face and remembered her name, and thought about marriage to her. Let me tell you some more about her, see if I can remember the details right.
She was, and still is, about thirteen inches shorter than me. Iím 5-11. She was pert. So were her breasts. I remember them all right. "No manís land," we used to call them for fun. She had a cupidís bow mouth, for real, not just with the lipstick outlining them that way. Her eyes were green and her hear was a pale red, almost blonde, but still with a definite fire-glow hue. She had flat shoulders and those dancing dresses in the 1920s looked great on her. Her arms were little bit long and her hands were too, with long tapering fingers and long tapering nails at the ends of them.
She liked the color maroon, that dark, brown-hued red, sort of a plum color but with too much brown. It was a color Iíd never liked before I saw her wear it. She also liked jet beads sewn on to everything. I think she was the original "Image of the grave" girl. Her makeup was very, very white except for the kohl that lined her eyelids and the maroon lipstick on her pouty , bee-stung lips. Overall, the picture was a pretty one, if a bit on the bizarre side. I liked it. It was different. It was pure Tooie.
So, I was at this party and there she was. I didnít recognize her at first. Iíd only seen her that one time and that night had faded into a singular, through the spy-glass sort of view. That way I didnít have to worry too much about what I thought about it. I just thought it was a night I didnít want to think about and that was just fine. But the party was one I had gone to on a dare. A guy at work told me about it, invited me and then dared me to show up. I always take a dare, so I showed up.
I hadnít been there ten minutes when she put in an appearance.
"So, Mr. Compton, long time...." said this short white, maroon woman.
"Yes, sure, right," I think I said. (Tooie always corrects me here and says I replied something else, like "Excuse me?" with attitude, but I donít think so.) I was trying to place her, but the lights and the costume and the situation were so different that it didnít really come to me.
"Tooie OíBrien," she said holding out her hand in my direction, palm up. I wasnít sure what to do, because the name OíBrien fooled me I guess, so I bent down and kissed the palm of her hand. "Oooooh, Mr. Compton, my friend was right, you are a gentleman."
Thatís when it hit me. Tooie! Lainieís friend Tooie, the Lesbian! I laughed, and she misunderstood the laughter.
"Oh, I see. Anything but," she said, withdrawing her hand.
"No, please, excuse me (that was where I said it and without attitude I want to assure you) but I just didnít recognize you Miss Tooie."
"Itís true. Believe me. I didnít expect to see anyone I knew and certainly not you."
"And why would that be?"
"I ... donít know." And I really didnít know why.
"Well, are you engaged for this next dance?" she asked me.
"Iím free, actually."
"Goody." She took my hand and led me to dance floor and we waltzed, and that was a surprise because the band had been blaring out the Charleston just a moment before.
There is something surprising about the waltz. It insists that someone take command and that someone, I suppose, is usually the man. The man leads in the waltz. So thatís what I did. Tooie, for all her curvaceousness in this era of the sleek, slender line, was a wonderful dancer. She turned, she reversed, she kept up with me step after step, turn after turn. When I doubled the tempo of the graceful three-quarter time turns she followed along without anything more than a smile as comment on my daring. I donít know for sure how long we held the position, kept up the terpsichorical movements, but it seemed to be unending. When finally the music reached its emotional crescendo and brought us up tight and short, I know I was completely out of breath and Tooie seemed to be also.
"That was wonderful," I said to her.
"I was about to say that," she added.
I donít know what possessed me, but I leaned way down and kissed Tooie, the Lesbian. And I donít know what possessed her either, but she kissed me back.
I was about to stand back up when she turned my head with her hands so that she could whisper into my ear and what she whispered entranced me: "Iím a virgin," her voice rustled in my ear. Then she let me go.
I took her to the kitchen for a beer and we talked and I took her home and she invited me up to her room and there she undressed for me and let me examine her so that I could see that she hadnít lied. And I proposed to her. Right there and then, I asked her to marry me. It hadnít been more than a few weeks since I parted company with Lainie and suddenly that fantasy, that unreal fantasy of marrying her best and closest friend and staying close to her but at a distance, was possible. I waited for her answer but it didnít come. Finally, after she had dressed herself again, she responded to my question.
"Mr. Compton, Iím flattered," she said, "but you have to know me before you ask me such a question."
"I know you," I told her. "I knew you when we danced."
"The waltz is a deceptive dance," Tooie said. "It is filled with all the romantic possibilities as you turn and swivel and swirl. The manís arm is the only support the woman has and she is totally dependent upon him for everything. He is the super man and she the compliant babe. I, Mr. Compton, am not the compliant babe, not for any man in this world."
"You mean because youíre a lesbian?"
"I do mean that, yes, but I mean just a bit more, Mr. Compton. Do you know why I undressed for you like I did?"
I shook my head, for really I didnít. She knew that I was aware of her sexual preference, so there was nothing to achieve by undressing to seduce me. It hadnít been that.
"When I told you I was a virgin, I meant with a man." I nodded. "When I undressed to prove that to you it was because you had that look that men sometimes get that says, Ďyouíll be a virgin no longer, my sweet,í which is silly because I could scratch out your eyes before you could find your penis. Do you understand that?" I did and I told her so. "When I undressed for you it was to show you no manís land, my breasts and my pudenda. I am not ashamed of it. It is perfect just the way it is and it will stay that way for as long as I care to keep it. Do you understand?"
"Tooie, I admire your frankness," I said. "I know what you mean and what you intend for your life, but I really like you and I think we could be happy together, even without the sex."
"Youíre naive, Mr. Compton."
"Iím not so naive as you think, Tooie. Iíve learned a lot these past few weeks."
"We are done."
"And you would marry me?"
"It would mean giving her up for me. If you could do that, I would help you with your life."
"How do you mean that?"
"I mean that I will provide you with the sex you need and you will provide me with the protection that I need from an unpleasant world."
"Youíd give up women for me? I donít understand."
"No. Donít think that for a minute, Mr. Compton...."
"You should call me Vincent," I said. "I think weíre beyond Mr. Compton now."
"Vincent, then, listen to me. I will bring you the women you need. I will provide for you with meals, and housekeeping, and cleaning your shirts and undies, and you will be proud to have me at your side when you need me there. Proud. I wonít be shunted to the background. Youíll have to be proud of me and make me proud to be seen with you. Thatís what I want."
"I would, of course. But I donít understand all this."
"You donít have to now. But if you seriously want to marry me thatís the promise I need from you. Pride in me."
"I can do that. Easily. I will."
Without another word, she kissed me hard on the mouth. We were married two weeks later. And I never saw Lainie again after that wedding supper. Never. Not until I saw her in her coffin.
And Tooie was as good as her word. She brought me the women I needed and she dressed well and spoke well and read and listened to good music and I was proud, no, I am proud of her, always and forever. Proud. I know whatís true about us and not everyone we know needs to know more than what I choose to show them about us. They can believe what they want but Tooie the Lesbian and Vincent the Ass are a couple for eternity and Proud to be so.
But, of course, during a long marriage that isnít the whole story. How could it be?