Strawberries and Old Cream


“Speed it up, old man!”The spiral staircase ahead of me was pissing me off for a couple of reasons. First, it was narrow and long, and I was getting dizzy climbing it. Second, I didn’t know how many flights of stairs it actually constituted, being a spiral. The pamphlet from the hospital said I could resume sexual activity when I could walk up two flights of stairs comfortably.And mostly, it was because the voice calling me an old man was my own, inside my head. I felt like an old man, and at 54 years of age, maybe I really was.The summer had been one of change. I had been practicing law for nearly thirty years, and I needed something more to keep my mind alive, so I signed up for a university course at my alma mater, something completely unrelated to law. I was going to study psychology. Just for the intellectual challenge. That was the first change, going back to school 29 years after graduating from law school.Then three days after enrolling and paying for the course, I found myself at the hospital. Some chest pain and a twenty minute drive to the emergency department led to my admission. No heart attack thankfully, but unstable angina, and an angiogram. Five days after arriving, I was discharged with three stents in my main coronary artery, a referral for cardiac rehab and an information sheet telling me what I could and couldn’t do.Like sex. “As if,” I thought. The direct quote was “Patients should refrain from any sexual activity for 48 hours after discharge from hospital, and should only resume when they are able to walk up two flights of stairs comfortably.” The stairs were one thing, but sex? My wife hadn’t touched me for the past five years. Not an embrace. Not a kiss. Not even a gentle touch on the arm. Well, sleeping out on the sofa made that a bit hard, and I guess it was my choice. But there hadn’t been any of that even when we shared a bed, not for several years anyway, so the sofa was a nice compromise. Keep the family together and I wouldn’t have to share a bed with her – I wouldn’t have the constant reminder that sharing a bed was only that. Sharing a bed, and not sharing anything else.I made it to the top of the stairs, and yes, while slow it was comfortable. No chest pain. No panting or shortness of breath. Chalk up victory number one for the old man.More pressing challenges were in front of me, though. The sex would have to wait. Even though I had spent my three undergraduate years at this university, I was lost. The building seemed more manageable back in the 1980’s, and I remembered being able to navigate my way around without any trouble. Now it seemed as though I was lost in a maze of late nineteenth-century wood panelling and stained glass inside a building that looked like something out of Harry Potter. Beautiful, but confusing as hell. And that was pissing me off too, with the sound of the chimes from a clock tower half-way across campus penetrating these old walls to tell me that it was 2:00 p.m., and I was not yet in the classroom for the start of my first lecture. It was Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, and I was back at school with no clue as to where I was.I stopped mid-corridor and pulled the orientation map out of my backpack – Room 212-M should be close by, assuming I was reading the map correctly. Just turn around, walk about 20 yards toward the other staircase and it should be there. A quick sprint down the hall and I found myself gently opening the door and sneaking in as the professor was writing her name on the smartboard at the front of the lecture hall. She didn’t even notice me as I found a seat at the back and pulled out my laptop. Changes once more! My last time around, smartboards were the stuff of science fiction, and I took notes with a pen and paper. I was now safe in the twenty-first century, I had a seat, and I was about to catch a whiff of strawberries.I hadn’t looked at where I was sitting down when I walked in. I looked Pendik escort for an empty seat and simply made my way there and sat down. Only after I had my laptop out did I notice the young woman immediately to my left, and only after a minute did I smell strawberries. Probably her lip gloss, or some kind of body spray, but the sweet smell of strawberries was definitely coming from that woman.That was another change. Three decades earlier, I would have called her the girl sitting next to me. And truth be told, compared to my 54 years, she was a girl, probably no more than 19, sitting in a first-year introduction to psychology class. But times had changed. She was not a girl, but a woman.But I was so caught up in trying to be a student again and not to fuck up, that I didn’t really look at her. I focused on the professor’s words, frantically taking notes using my two-finger hunt and peck typing method (mental note to just bring paper and pen next time), and soon the fragrance of strawberries became just the normal background atmosphere. The woman next to me was just part of that atmosphere too.“I know that I’ve given you a lot of new information,” I heard the professor say. “That is going to be the way it goes for the first semester. We will be covering a lot of territory, so being here for each lecture is key. We are going to cover things that aren’t in your textbook too, so being here is more than just key – it is essential. I want you to find someone next to you and exchange email addresses and phone numbers, just in case. If you miss a lecture, you are expected to contact your new friend and get notes. I also want you to plan on meeting up with your new friend at least once each week, to review the material and to discuss it. There is no better way to make sure you understand what you are learning than to try to teach it yourself, so do some role play with each other, and review and teach one another. That’s all for today – I’ll see you again on Thursday, and do try to be on time.”That was yet another change. I think I had made it through my undergraduate years being anonymous. It was, after all, the largest university in the country, and while I had made some friends, my time in the classes was rather disconnected and most definitely anonymous. Now I was being told to make a new friend, and to see them weekly.“Hi, I’m Julia.” The smell of strawberries was my first introduction. And now there was a name for the woman beside me.“If you give me your cell number, I’ll text you my email address and then you’ll have my number too.” A voice and an invitation too.“Good thinking,” I replied. “Thanks.” I gave her my number, and she punched it into her own phone and a minute later, I had a text message with her email address and her number showed up on my display.“What’s your name, Dude?” I assumed she meant me, even though I’d never been called “Dude” before.“Alex,” I answered. “My name’s Alex. Nice to meet you, Julia.”“Later,” was all she said, as she packed up her own laptop and put it in her bag, walking off past me, obviously rushing to another class.But this was my only class, and I was in no rush. I was finished for the day and I took my time, watching Julia walk to the front of the classroom and out the door with all of the other students. All of the other young students. I was an old man, probably a decade or so older than the professor too. My hair was still mostly brown, but the grey was beginning to set in, and there was a nice bald spot growing at the back of my head. My beard was mostly grey too. When I sat down, my belly was not unnoticeable under my shirt. My age was in full view of my fellow students. Only my stents were hidden away, and thankfully my cardiological history was not on display.Julia. The other students. They all seemed much younger than I had remembered being when I went to university so many years ago. Political correctness Beykoz escort bayan aside, she really was just a girl in my eyes. She was probably only a year or so older than my own child, who was still in high school. I didn’t remember any of the girls I knew back then smelling like strawberries. They certainly didn’t have cellphones back then, and getting a girl’s phone number was a whole ordeal. That meant something in my youth, when a girl gave you their phone number. It meant that you were supposed to call them. It meant that they expected you to ask them out for a date.It didn’t mean role playing and reviewing psychology notes.Julia disappeared out of the door, and my thoughts returned to the present. It was time for me to leave too, and to start reading my textbook. It was time to drop into my office for the rest of the afternoon, and worry about doing some work so I could pay for this course.Tuesday was done and I had survived the stairs and the class, and then Wednesday had come and gone, and I had done my readings. A day at the office and in the evening dinner by myself, a salad and grilled chicken. That was another change. Heart healthy eating. I could manage the stairs without discomfort, but giving up the fried foods and carbs was another story.I lay on my sofa on Wednesday night, in the dark, as my family slept in their rooms. It must have been close to midnight when my cellphone vibrated and caught my attention, as it sat on the coffee table next to me. I picked it up.“Hey Alex. It’s me, Julia. Did you do the reading?”It was her. The strawberry girl. Thankfully I knew how to text – I wasn’t that old.“Yes. I did them right after class on Tuesday. How about you?”“I just finished them now. I had some other shit I had to read for some other classes.”“Cool,” I replied. Somehow I knew instinctively that using the word “cool” was not really that cool. I think she may have suspected that I wasn’t part of her demographic.“Dude, nobody says cool. LOL.” Yes, she was on to me.“You caught me. I guess the disguise didn’t work.”“Whatever. You wanna study tomorrow after class? Psych is my last lecture for the day, so we could hang afterwards and go over things if you have time.”Psych was my last lecture too. My only lecture. And I had nothing booked at work afterwards.“Sure,” I answered.“Cool, LOL” she texted back – she was clearly playing with me. “I’ll see you in the back row tomorrow. Night.”“Night.”I tried to visualize Julia after I put down my phone. I hadn’t really paid much attention, except for the strawberries. She was probably around my height, as best as I could tell, and she had long brown hair, tied back in a pony tail. Beyond that? I’d have to wait until the next lecture and pay closer attention, I told myself. I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the sound of my wife snoring two rooms away behind a closed door.Thursday morning came and I did a few loads of laundry before heading out to class. Fresh socks. Fresh underwear. A looser shirt to cover my belly. Jeans instead of business casual. I could almost pass as middle aged, and I didn’t feel so old. I was hoping Julia wouldn’t think I was being too obvious in that quest. I wanted to fit in a bit better.This time I was early, and after taking the same seat as before, I was able to watch as Julia walked in to the lecture hall. The same pony tail, but now I saw her face. Hardly any make-up, but she was young and didn’t need it. She was beautiful. Glasses. Yes, that was right! She wore glasses the last time and she had them on again. And a lavender t-shirt, and now I remembered that it was red the last time. And black leggings, with purple sneakers. She had a nice figure, not skinny but not heavy, but I wasn’t one to comment either way.“Dude, you made it!” she said as she sat down beside me. Strawberries sat down beside me too. I’d have to find out what that scent was Escort Cevizli from.“Why? Did you think I wouldn’t? I got a midnight invitation to study. I always show up when I’m invited.”“I don’t know…maybe it was past your bedtime and I kept you up, and you needed to sleep in.” She laughed when she said that.“Don’t be fooled by the grey hair. I’m sure I could outlast you and most of your friends.” I couldn’t believe that had come out of my mouth.“Big words, Dude. We can test that theory later.”I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but for the first time, I found myself imagining more than just psychology study and role play teaching with Julia. I looked at her hoping for some visual cue, but she was already setting up her laptop and looking away from me.I don’t remember much of that lecture. I took notes, but I was on auto-pilot. After years of going to court and taking notes while I spoke, that kind of multi-tasking was second nature for me. This time, I was thinking about Julia’s words and trying to put them in a context. I knew that she couldn’t have meant anything by it – probably she meant that she’d see if I could stay up and study after dark. Or something like that.The lecture ended, and Julia turned back to me.“My roommate is out tonight, staying over with her folks. You wanna come by my place to study? It’s quieter than staying in this building.”I wasn’t sure about this. It seemed so fast. Going back to Julia’s place. The roommate is away. And I am old enough to be her father – damn, that’s the first time that thought entered my head.“Only if you wanna,” she said – I think she sensed my hesitation. “We can go to the study hall downstairs if its easier for you. But it’s three flights of stairs, Dude. You up to that?”“Stairs are fine,” I answered. “I did at least two flights on Tuesday, with no discomfort.”That was awkward. If only in my mind.“Whatever. If you…” I interrupted her.“You’re right about it being quieter,” I said. “Let’s go to your place.”“Cool,” she replied. And I think I saw her wink when she said that.We walked together across the campus, talking about the class, and making fun of the professor’s little quirks. Like the way she drew happy faces instead of using other punctuation on the smartboard. And the way she would use hand gestures as she spoke, looking like a helicopter at times when she raised her hands above her head.Julia’s residence was an older building, probably built in the 1940’s. I remember the fund-raising emails I had received from my alma mater about a decade ago, as they planned on renovating the building and making it accessible and co-ed. I think I had pledged $50.00. It was now time to see my dollars at work.She led me to an elevator inside the front doorway and we went up to the fourth floor. We were strangely silent as we walked together down the hallway to a door about halfway down on the right, and Julia took out her key and opened the door for me, gesturing for me to go ahead of her. She closed the door behind her and put her bag down on the floor next to the entrance, under a series of hooks on the wall. The living area was small, with a table and two chairs, a small futon and a floor lamp, and not much else that I could see. An open kitchen was on my right. There was a door leading to what looked like a bathroom straight ahead of me, and then two other doors to either side of the bathroom, which I assumed led to the two bedrooms. Cozy, and very basic.“I’ll be back in a second…I just need to go to the bathroom,” she said. “Have a seat on the futon. Right back.” She walked away to the bathroom and I heard the door lock.I sat down and sank into the cushions. I’m not sure how people sleep on these – it was an odd combination of being too firm and too soft at the same time. My back would be a mess, even worse than sleeping on my sofa at home.I heard the toilet flush through the closed door, then some water running for around a minute. I then saw Julia come out, and quickly walk into the bedroom to the left, closing the door behind her. I sat quietly, my mind thinking of nothing in particular, just trying to be patient and also to be appropriate. She’s close to a third of my age, for God’s sake – I need to be appropriate.

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