Polly and I became fast friends, and the joke was on Bertha. It was true we were different from each other, but we were also different from the other young women in town, and this drew us together. She had a bawdy sense of humor and little modesty. Polly slept buck-naked and was proud of it. We all learned to knock and wait a decent interval before barging in on her first thing in the morning. Unapologetic and straightforward, soon nothing she said surprised me.
One day we were driving back from picking up the mail in town. The road lay in an unbroken line straight to the horizon, corn on one side of the road and cotton on the other. A strange configuration, not the same as in New Mexico, where the plots were much smaller. A few dozen Negroes bent over the cotton, stuffing the fluffy buds into burlap bags. They didn’t raise their heads when we passed.
Polly broke the stillness with one of her outlandish questions. “When you’re asleep, do you ever dream about making love?”
“No, but I’ve dreamt I was naked at church. No one seemed to notice, and I wasn’t trying to cover myself up either. Do you dream about . . . it?”
“Every night of my life, and in the daytime, too.” She giggled. “I always ask women, see if there’s anyone else on earth like me.”
“Well, if it will help, the closest I’ve come to dreaming about doing it is when I dream of Bill, but nothing really happens. I mean, in the dream, we aren’t doing anything, but I get this powerful feeling we might.” I warmed to the exercise, breathless in the recitation. Polly listened intently, her lips parted, as if she were a doctor listening to me describe the symptoms of longing. “In the dream he’s looking at me, and I want him to touch me, but he doesn’t move. I feel it’s about to happen, like I could make it happen. This wanting keeps growing till I can’t stand it any longer. I’m almost there, it’s almost about to happen. Then I wake up.”
Polly laughed. “Slow down, girl. Take a few deep breaths. Come to think of it, I will, too.” The dusty road stretched out ahead of us, and two crows hopped from corn hedge to cotton row, keeping time with us. “What do you do about it,” she asked, “when you wake up?”
“Do? Well, I get up. I can’t really go back to sleep.”
“So, what do you do?” I asked.
“Well, that’s the difference between me and most women. I don’t have to do anything, because in my dreams I get touched everywhere I want. That’s why I wake up so refreshed.” Polly winked. “But you can bet if my dream didn’t get to that point while I was asleep, I’d sure know what to do once I woke up.” We laughed. She knowing, and I at the threshold of knowing
. . . almost there.
Just like that the seed was planted, the sprout of permission broke ground and waved its happy green in the sunshine. In my next dream I was back on the roadside with Bill and I raised my skirt as I’d done then. This time, I parted my knees and he watched my hands slide down the inner slope of thigh, to hide myself, one hand over the other. His eyes pleaded for more. I moved my hands so he could see, covered myself again, one hand replacing the other, a game of hide and seek, the pressure of my hands increasing the tempo of the game.
I awoke to ecstasy, a pillow squeezed between my thighs. Radiating from my groin, exquisite spasms traveled outward and downward, causing my toes to curl, my foot to cramp and me to jump up and stand on one foot, grinning like a ravished fool. I might have arrived at such rapture anyway. The Sandoval diaries said it could happen. But it is to Polly Tarver I am most grateful, for it was she, and not my husband, who taught me to command my own pleasure.