Blossoms began cascading over Noni. Blindly, unaware that Jesse was shaking the budding tree covering her with soft pink and white petals, Noni gently caught a few in her hand as we inched our way to a nearby bench. This was the first visit that we had with Noni since Covid started and the changes are significant. She has moved into 24-hour memory care. The days of soon to be 94-year-old Noni racing around campus from one activity to another, guided by the small amount she could see out of the periphery of her right eye, are over.
Settling in, Noni suddenly begins searching through her fanny pack for her Jitterbug cell phone. Jesse asks, “what, do you have a boyfriend calling.” Without missing a beat Noni laments, “I wish. I would like to have a little fling here to make things spicier.” As we help Noni adjust her fanny pack she suggests, “push it up more and help me get a bosom.”
Jesse and Noni reminisce about some of their adventures. Their trip to Italy with members of the senior center. Where they walked hand in hand as Jesse guided her over the cobbled streets, taking every chance he could to pull out the selfie stick. And their standing dates to senior water aerobics after Jesse broke his hip falling off a ladder. His body saturated in tattoos, wild hair flowing, sporting a long goatee, Jesse was a sensation. Fondly, Noni recalls, “I always had a good-looking young man on my arm.” She smirks, “the ladies loved him. I was popular because of Jesse, and everyone always asked where I got him. I bet they would have paid to hang out with him.” I gasp. “Noni, were you pimping Jesse out.” She shrugs, “well, if you put it that way.” Uninvited she adds, “I’d rather have a younger man. I don’t want to have to take care of anyone.” I describe what a cougar is. She proudly exclaims, “I’m a jaguar.”
“Here I am to save the day,” I sing as I burst into Noni’s room with a taco salad and margarita in hand. She goes for the margarita first. “It’s kind of fun not to have anything in my stomach because then I can feeeeeel the margarita,” she chortles. “There is no point in having alcohol unless you can feel it. So, we’ll top off on the taco salad later.”
Noni returns to a complaint that she frequently voices about the food at the residence not having enough salt. Gently she reaches out and clasps the plastic cup placed in front of her. Leaning over, she sticks out her tongue, using it to feel the edge of the cup. “So, how are you getting your salt intake in,” I ask. After a few licks she responds, “well, I haven’t been getting enough. I haven’t had any margaritas lately.”
Later, Noni proclaims, “I’m always ready for a drink and I don’t have a drink with anyone but you.” I laugh joking about what that says about our relationship. She responds, “I don’t know if that’s bad or good or what it says either. But we don’t have to worry about the reasons for it. We enjoy each other and having a drink together.” Reaching her cup toward the sound of my voice she proclaims, “cheers.”
Our culture tends to forget that the elderly are still sexual beings. I do as well until Noni questions me about my dating life and shares her thoughts during my bi-monthly visits. We spend all our time laughing when we are not watching or, in Noni’s case, listening to Perry Mason on my laptop.
Noni was an avid traveler before she started to go blind, and I tend to visit locations off the beaten path. As we talk about dating through the lens of traveling, she suggests, “find someone who wants a long-term relationship, or they won’t fork out a lot of money to travel with you. Unless its overnight travel of course.” “Oh, Noni,” I laugh. “Well, it certainly needed to be said,” she responds.
“Are you going on a date while you are here,” Noni asks. This is something she has previously talked about; encouraging me to have a man in every port. I hesitate, so she jumps in. “It’s not a bad thing, you know. It’s one of the options. And you can have that option and ten other options. You don’t just have to stick to one. Just tell me about it tomorrow and whether he is a plus or minus.”
But Noni also encourages relationships. “As you are getting older you need someone you can have a date with next year as well. A friend one as well as a sexual relationship. Right now, you can have a sexual one anytime.” Reflecting on her own relationships, Noni says, “after everyone died around me, I was back in the field, and I just couldn’t find anyone who would meet my standards.” She recalls, “once I went on a date with a guy and he forgot his dentures. We had to go back so he could get them.”
Contemplating her current circumstances, Noni laments, “right now, I would take anything.” She elaborates, “hugging is good whether I like the guy or not. I would like to have a hug once in a while.” Noni tells me she has thought about becoming a lesbian to fill this need. “You don’t have to have sex. You can have body contact. Go to bed together and hug and kiss. You can still have a loving relationship. It’s just a matter of the two bodies against each other which are comforting.”
Noni loves to dance. “I think dancing has a lot to do with sex. It’s not necessary but it certainly gets you prepared for it,” she tells me, “it leads up to the final act.” She adds, “if they’re really good they can push you wherever they want you – whether its dancing or sex. Maneuver you around and your body tends to fall into position. And it’s always better with someone else.”
“Is sex the center piece of relationships,” Noni muses, “I don’t know what percentage I would put on it.” I ask, “what if you don’t like them but the sex is really good?” She thinks seriously for a minute staring into space, then responds, “I don’t know how I would react then. It would depend upon the scarcity of the supply.”