I was having a conversation with an older male friend of mine about Woody Allen and the fact that he married his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. I was sickened and appalled. “If he raised this girl as his own, that makes her his daughter, he shouldn’t see her in that way. Sure the child’s not blood, but it’s wrong.” I argued.
My friend basically told me that if a woman was legal, she was up for grabs.
I was bothered by the crassness of his answer. Although I have heard men talk like this, I always believe most men have a sense of decorum. However, an incident that I can best describe as sickening and eye-opening, had me question my belief.
I was good friends with my ex-boyfriend’s family. The relationship was years in the dust, both he and I moving on and dating other people, but I was still considered ‘like family’ and they would invite me to family events, take me out for dinner for my birthday and they even held a little small gathering for me when I graduated college. I considered his father my second father, and I would make a habit of sending birthday and Father’s Day cards. His mother was a woman I admired for her cooking. I appreciated their wiliness to keep me as a part of the family and loved them very much.
During a visit to a restaurant, my second-father jokes that his wife thought there was something going on between the two of us. At first, I thought he was joking, until I noticed his eyes looked a little different. As he spoke of our alleged affair, I wondered why his wife hadn’t joined us. I continued eating, not saying a word as I wondered where the conversation was going. It remained lighthearted, and my ‘spidey’ senses remained at bay. We finished dinner and walked towards our cars. I thanked him for dinner, and was ready to get into my car and drive home. I stood by my car door and nearly lost all feeling in my legs when he asked to kiss me. I felt the color drain from my face and my mouth drop. I could feel my eyes grow to the size of silver dollars and my tear ducts open slightly. My stomach did the Watusi.
“You’re coming on to me?” I asked.
He immediately apologized for asking, saying he had read me wrong and he thought that was what I wanted. When he apologized, he told me he thought I had been looking at him in a suggestive way for years. He told me that my stare was so intense sometimes he had to turn away. I don’t remember the exact mechanics of how I walked away from him and got into my car, but I recall half-heartedly taking the twenty dollars he handed me for gas money. As he gave it to me he politely suggested that I not share the situation with anyone and that we would still be okay to hang out, he just knew where the boundaries were now. I felt like I had just gotten paid off.
As I drove home, I replayed the entire evening in my head wondering when I could have sent him signals. I wondered if I had been wearing something suggestive. Was it my fuchsia top with the beaded detail, or my skinny jeans? I looked him in the eyes as he spoke, did he think I was giving him the ‘come hither’? I remember thinking how much he looked just like his son at a particular moment while he was talking to me. How they both had lines around their face that looked like parentheses, enclosing a friendly grin. Maybe he noticed that. I wondered if his wife had really thought there was something between us, and if I had crossed some line by remaining friendly with the family. I didn’t know if it was protocol to call and ask.
As I thought about his apology, I remembered him telling me he looked at me like a grown woman, not as his son’s ex-girlfriend, that we were equals. What ran through my head was a barrage of questions, trying to figure out exactly when I became a ‘grown woman’ in his eyes, and how badly I wished I could reverse that perception. Me being a ‘grown woman’ didn’t change the fact that he possibly had been lusting after me and desiring me ever since he met me. And when did he start looking at me that way? Was it the first day I met him and we all sat at the dinner table trading stories? Did he look at me in that way when he told me I could do better than his son? Did he feel that way every time he hugged me or kissed me on the cheek? It was like I had been propositioned by my own father. I hated the blatant lack of respect for me and loyalty to his marriage. I hated the way that one question erased years of a kinship and mutual understanding that I believed I had.
I received a text that night, “Hopefully you made it home okay. I want to say that I’m sorry. I was reading your eyes and words wrong. Please forgive me. Other than being somewhat embarrassed, I see that you are a true friend. I did have a nice time and I hope to do dinner again in the near future. Please accept my apology. Stay in touch.”
In hysterical tears I called my older male friend and told him what happened. His voice remained as matter-of-fact as when we talked about Woody Allen.
Pietra Dunmore writes short stories, creative non-fiction, and poetry. Her writing has appeared in Philadelphia Stories, Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly, For Women Who Roar, Hippocampus Magazine, and The Journal of New Jersey Poets.