“I THINK I SEE HIS car!” my mom called.
He was ten minutes early and I still had to put on lipstick. “Get the door!” I yelled, reaching for my cosmetic bag. It was on the dresser next to a metal tin full of quarters.
By the time I rushed down the hall, I found my mom talking to him out in the yard. Taller than I had imagined but completely bald, he had a lanky build. He was wearing ocean-blue corduroys that looked new, boat shoes, and a light jacket.
“Welcome! I’m Joy,” I told him, putting out my hand. It was all I could do to keep from jumping into his arms.
“Arthur,” he said. His handshake was firm, and also gentle. Arthur was my mother’s date, but I wouldn’t have been more excited if he were my own. My 78-year-old mom had been suddenly widowed three years earlier. After working through her shock and grief, she was ready to meet a man. I was ready, too.
This wasn’t just her first date since my father died; it was her first date since 1968. The stakes felt impossibly high.
I’d had a front-row seat to my parents’ 51-year marriage. It was like seeing a nonlinear off-Broadway play in the summer: stifling black box theater, no air conditioning, just praying for it to end.
“Why does he stay with me?” my mother asked many times over the years.
“Why do you stay with him?” I’d reply.
“He puts up with me,” she’d said. While I think my dad loved my mom, in his own complicated way, he did not adore her. I wanted her to be adored.
“So, you stuck around to see if I’d show up, huh?” Arthur said to me now with a smile.
“Basically,” I confessed. My 12-year-old son and I were on our way back to New Jersey after a weekend visit to my mom in Massachusetts, but I wasn’t leaving till I got a look at this guy.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’d never not show up.” I believed him. He had serious mensch vibes.
“Oy,” my mother said, gesturing at the lawn. “Look at all those brown patches.”
Arthur nodded empathetically. “My yard is patchy, too.” This topic made sense since they’d been introduced by the woman who worked the phones at Al’s Landscaping.
“Joy’s a very pretty name,” Arthur commented.
“Thank you.” I smiled. “My mother chose it.” I wanted to convey that someone with such good taste would make a perfect companion for the rest of his days on the planet.
“It suits you,” he said. “You have a joyful personality.”
I appreciated the sentiment, but couldn’t help thinking that my own father would never have praised my personality, or anything else about me, to my face. It wasn’t his style. My mother would fish for compliments when the three of us were dressed up for Rosh Hashanah, walking a half mile to the temple since all the better spots were taken by the time we arrived. “We could have parked closer if you’d been ready on time,” my father grumbled. All we ever wanted was for him to say we looked beautiful.
Instead, he saved his quarters for me to do laundry in New York City, even after I moved into a house with a washer and dryer. Providing for me was his way of showing care. It mattered. A lot. And yet, I wondered what it would have felt like to be a father’s treasure, not just his obligation.
This date with Arthur wasn’t just my mother’s second chance to be adored. It was mine, too.
My mom and I hugged goodbye and I drove back to New Jersey in a state of gleeful delirium. Arthur had picked up my mother before two o’clock, so I waited until seven to call, figuring she’d be home by then. Unless lunch had turned into dinner, and then a straight shot to the chuppah.
My mom answered right away.
“So, how was it?” I asked.
“Well,” she said. “I don’t want to bore you with the details.” “Are you kidding? I want to hear everything!”
But did I really?
First, there was Arthur’s driving. She told him to slow down at the intersection near her house with no stop sign, but he didn’t, and he nearly got hit by another car. Then the restaurant. It was dreary. The food was bad. “I had wonton soup that didn’t taste like wonton soup,” she said. The egg roll was soggy. She only ate half. She forgot the name of the other dish she liked (crab rangoon) so she didn’t order it. Whatever Arthur ate, “looked like baby food.” He talked about his prostate problem, and how he had to get up three times a night to use the bathroom. “So much for sex,” my mother said.
“How did you leave it?” I asked, holding onto hope Arthur had pulled out a smooth move in the end.
“He walked me to the door and said he’d be in touch,” she said. “But I kind of hope he won’t.”
When my mom first confessed she wanted to meet “a companion,” I was concerned she’d fall for a guy too quickly. But now I saw that she wasn’t going to settle for just anyone. She wanted to be adored, too.
There would have to be a next time—for both of us.
Joy Peskin is the executive editorial director of a children’s books imprint at a major publishing house and a court appointed special advocate (CASA) within the foster care system.