Five years or so ago, I called a buddy that I had roomed with for a year in college. I don’t know what came over me, but I knew he was an iron worker in San Francisco. So I went to the union web page and there he was working for the union. They gave me his number and I reached him on his cell as he was driving to check out a job. We exchanged notes, and when I told him I was married, he laughed and said, “So you finally got over your woman problem?”
35 years later, he still remembered my “woman problem.” Maybe that was because whenever the subject came up, I said I had a “woman problem.” People only know what you tell them about yourself. The “woman problem” was code for a whole bunch of issues, possibly pathological “shyness,” a “complete lack of self-esteem,” a stunted “emotional development,” an utter lack of experience, upon entering college, in the whole general area.
I was not aware of the full extent of the problem until I was attracted at the end of my first year or maybe the start of my second year in college to Elsa. First, I had never known anybody named Elsa and second she was exotic looking being a generation removed from one of those little countries near Russia, Estonia maybe or Latvia. For a while I pretended that the attraction was not really there or that it was not mutual. But one evening I am studying in the stacks, and I look down the long row of books and there she is sitting at the other end.
So I go down and ask her what’s up, and she says she is there to see me. Oh, yea, I say, and sit cross legged on the floor, and we talk a bit, and somewhere in there, she asks me what qualities I look for in a woman. I was dumbfounded; I had never gotten to know a woman well enough to know they had particular qualities. But off the top of my head, I said, intelligence. That would be number one? She said. I didn’t know about that but I couldn’t imagine myself being with a woman that wasn’t smart.
Whereupon, she starts to document how intelligent she is. Her SAT scores were higher than mine; her high school GPA had been higher than mine. Her IQ, if you could believe those tests, was higher than mine. OK, so she was intelligent, but that for me was of secondary importance since I was wondering if maybe I had not acquired, while sitting there, a permanent boner and would never be able to stand up again without embarrassing myself.
In a way that boner might stand symbolically for the very backboner of my “woman problem.” A) I was not comfortable with the natural process of the boner, and B) the fact that she could look at me and I would get one meant she was in control. A meant I could not relieve myself of the boner by moving deeper as it were into the relationship, and B meant I could not risk moving deeper into the relationship without possibly losing my mind and flunking out of school.
At the time, I didn’t have an inkling of how much my woman problem was related to my mother and my fear of completely disappearing into that place where boners go.