Introduction : So there I was with my best girlfriends at a Korean Day Spa in Fort Lee, NJ for a day of pampering and unbridled girl talk.
Vicki and I followed Beth, Sophia, and Olivia through the door to the spa. I lagged behind my sisterhood of four, watching their curvaceous bodies and round asses sway, hands fluttering as they brought each other up to date. I waded slowly into the hottest of the tubs, a large, shallow blue-tiled pool ringed with at least a dozen women and girls, not one larger than my thigh. I settled near a jet and cooked. One by one, Vicki, Beth, Sophia, and Olivia joined me with the requisite “Argh! It’s ho-o-ot. Oh, man! Ahhh, that’s good!”
“Ya think we stand out enough?” Vicki said in her best Bronx honk. What didn’t she inherit from our mother?
“Nah, we blend right in,” I countered, glancing down at my ample C-cup breasts bobbing, cocking my head at the trainer bra–sized boobs of the dozen other boiling women and their offspring.
“One wrong move and my butt could cause some serious injury. I never saw so many small-boned people,” Beth whispered.
I was ready with my “back on Atkins—I have to lose 60 pounds—women are so screwed” rap when Beth usurped my place.
“I got the most amazing head last week,” she burst out, totally smug.
Oh no she didn’t! She’d switched up the order of our traditional agenda: weight and body image first, then sex. I looked to Sophia to put a stop to this. She was, after all, the grande dame of the group, our resident moderator. She rolled her eyes but didn’t rescue me.
“Let me guess. It was Kevin. I’ll bet my last paycheck it wasn’t Larry,” I snapped, my guts in a sudden uproar. This was a sex-talk ambush. I had to warm up before I could listen to her gush about the unbridled pleasure of her lover working away between her legs. I needed conversational foreplay. Beth met Kevin over free-range eggs at a food co-op a couple of years ago. Who knew organic groceries were an aphrodisiac. I’d been listening to her talk about him every day since. I saw him once getting out of a car and that was close enough for me. None of us wanted to socialize with anybody’s lover. It was enough to talk about them in excruciating detail.
Besides it wasn’t about a particular lover. It was about my friends dealing with the various stages of disgust, heartbreak, and finito with their marriages. Husbands who couldn’t or wouldn’t meet them where they were, as they were, now. Two of them found refuge in their extramarital affairs. Vicki was seriously flirting with the idea, her discontent heightened by her brush with death.
Beth was unstoppable. “Well, Kev is fantastic. He loves women’s bodies. He spends hours romancing the vulva.”
Blech. I slid down and let the embryonic water cover my ears. I could still hear every word. They were sending out sex vibes that the water amplified like shock waves. I felt them trigger an internal seismic upheaval I didn’t understand. Usually our girl-time is a no-holds-barred free-for-all that I treasured. Why the talk today was provoking an anxiety attack was beyond me. But it was.
“I’m hungry,” I announced, standing up fast enough to send waves crashing over the sides. “Apparently the food upstairs is delish—lots of protein and cabbage. Perfect for Atkins, which I’m back on, in case anybody is interested.” I wrapped myself in the complimentary micro-mini-towel and stormed back to the dressing room.
I had been feeling uneasy since the night before. My youngest son, Ben, had found my dust-covered wedding album on the top shelf of our living-room entertainment center. He pulled it down and started leafing through it, asking for the names of all the dead relatives. I sat on the couch next to him and annotated my ancient wedding party. He and I looked at the pictures of the slender, 20-year-old bride and her fresh-faced groom. “Mom, you look like you were Andrew’s age when you got married.” He was stunned that I was ever that young.
“Well, I was a only couple of years older than Andrew, but I was even younger than he is now when I met Daddy. I was a mere 17 on the cusp of 18.”
I told Ben the familiar story of how “Daddy and I met” during my senior year at the Village School in Great Neck. I was a reporter on the school paper doing my version of an investigative piece on the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, a mysterious military college full of “older” men in uniform. It was a place where good girls didn’t venture.
“Really, it was my chance to go meet ‘—an Officer and a Gentleman’ you remember the Richard Gere movie. It was a big hit right around then and I must have seen it three times. And look what happened. Two years later we got married under a cross of swords. Hollywood had nothing on us.”
“Did you ever have any other serious boyfriends?”
My voiced cracked. “Nope, Ben, he was and is my one and only. “
“Aw,” Ben said, punching my shoulder affectionately. “That’s so sweet. None of my friend’s parents have been together that long.”
Sweet. That’s what everyone said. High school sweethearts, how unusual. And under the cooing was always a little bit of surprise and the unspoken question: how is it possible to be faithful to one person for that long?
Thumbing through my wedding album with Ben, I felt newly self-conscious about my life, restless, and it pissed me off. I was successful by any measure. I was a prominent patient advocate, damn it, regularly interviewed by the national media. I cooked and shopped, and mothered two clever, sturdy boys. Maybe now that I had done it all, built the family and the organization, I finally had enough time to stop running and just feel. Sure, there had always been the vaguest hint of envy when the girls ran on about their escapades, but I hadn’t had enough time to give it any thought.
Besides, I loved my husband. My beautiful husband. We were true life partners. I opened new worlds to him—fatherhood, friends, and travel. He was my ground control, the perfect helpmate for a woman with a full-time, slightly off-the-charts life. He generously pitched in without ever complaining. I thought he was handsome. He thought I was gorgeous, even if I didn’t. We were a well-oiled marriage machine. I thought we had it all. So why was I suddenly shaking with discontent? What the hell was missing?
I was marooned in the spa’s giant dining hall, stranded in an ocean of wholesome families in the same hide-your-gender outfits, when it hit me. Sex. Steamy and luscious sex. Sex like I’d hadn’t had in I don’t know how long. I couldn’t even remember the last time I truly wanted hot, steamy sex.
Under my Until now, I’d done a masterful job of squashing the urge for anything other than what Gavin and I had when we rubbed up against each other. But an unnamed desire was there—rumbling, insistent, impolite, and, scariest of all, bubbling toward the surface.