“It was a long day”, she said, flinging herself into bed next to her husband of five years.
He had his back to her. She hesitated then reached out,
“Lennie! It’s my day off tomorrow. Yours too, right?” Her fingers played on his back.
With a grunt he withdrew. With a pang, she felt the dagger of rejection going straight through her heart, leaving the hole in there deeper than before.
But this wasn’t anything new. They had been to counseling and they’d been to retreats. They had heard other couples with intimacy issues and had learned a thing or two about their own problems with it. She had thought Lennie was receptive to all the talks but things would just return to what they were a week or two in.
Was living without it possible? She thought sadly. Today was their tenth wedding anniversary and she had waited for her husband to say something, show affection or even just look at her as she dressed for him. She had sent the kids to her parents’ place for the next two days.
Ten years had seemed important to her. Like it denoted a landmark. Most of her friends had celebrated their tenth anniversary with a blast. She racked her brains for some useless trivia and then finally remembered. Yes, this was their aluminum anniversary.
She laughed mirthlessly to herself. This was fitting. For her cold-hearted husband, every anniversary should’ve been marked with a cold metal.
She had a lonely dinner while he sat on his laptop watching a movie. She took one look at herself and wondered if three kids later she was just not desirable. Probably, she answered to herself. Disheartened, she went to bed.
Lennie came to bed soon after. She wondered if he waited for her to sleep. She couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. A few tears escaped her eyes. She decided to bring the kids back early.
As Kimberly walked into her parents’ home the next day she was met with the familiar aroma of delicious food wafting from the kitchen. She sometimes wondered if she would’ve ever left her parents to be with a stranger if she had known how marriage would treat her. As she was transported back to time, standing at the threshold to her mother’s kitchen, she saw some images dancing in her eyes.
Lennie asking her out for the first time.
Lennie telling her how beautiful she was.
Lennie and her in complete harmonic rhythm and time standing still.
Kimberly over the moon for finding a man who completed her soul and her body.
They both craving each other, seeking each other and claiming each other.
The sheer abandon in losing control.
And then the distance. The slowing down. The drifting apart. The growing apart.
She relished these memories and felt that she frequented them more than was probably good for her. She knew it was all in the past and her husband was a mere phantom of his former self. She lamented losing her husband. She wondered if libido could suddenly completely disappear so soon after a man enters marriage. She reasoned that their initial crazy attraction was likely due to stolen moments and the headiness of new love. She knew she was asking for too much. But was she? Was it not right to expect her husband to hold her like he did before at least once a month, if not more?
“Hi, honey”, she heard her mother’s high voice and saw her coming into view.
She hugged her mother. For some reason a few tears escaped her eyes. She brushed them off before Rose could see them.
She looked at her mother. Rose Thomas didn’t look a day over forty and Kimberly knew she had to be in her sixties. She had asked Rose her age so many times but her mother always deflected the question. Kimberly suspected her mother didn’t like to be viewed as a sixty something year old.
She often marveled at how young her mother looked. She looked almost her mother’s age when there were at least thirty years between them.
Love, she answered to herself, Dad’s love keeps her young.
“Don’t take them so soon. You promised I’d have them the whole weekend”, Rose complained.
“Lennie wants them back early”, she lied, “You know how he is”.
“Honey, if I had a beautiful wife like you I’d never pick up the kids early but what can I say”? Rose laughed rambunctiously.
Suddenly Kimberly felt vulnerable. She didn’t feel beautiful. She knew she was beautiful once but not anymore. She averted her eyes as her mother continued to look at her.
“I’ll get the kids”, Rose said.
Kimberly was glad her mom didn’t ask questions ever.
“Lennie! Do you think we need to go for counseling?”
What for? She thought to herself. For never being together. For never needing each other. For not giving in a marriage. For selfishness.
“Well, I think we have some problems that we are both aware of”.
He turned to look at her,
“Kimberly! I don’t know what else you want. I love you more than anything. Our anniversary is coming up. It will be 12 years. Aren’t you excited? We have the longest marriage of all our friends. It’s an achievement considering all the financial troubles, the kids, your work. Aren’t you glad for what we’ve achieved? Why are you always focusing on the sad stuff? So we don’t have sex every night. So what? Is that really what this relationship is based on? Think about it. Of course these things fizzle out with time. The frequency just doesn’t remain the same. Ask anyone”.
He took her in his arms and kissed. She forgot everything. It was so unlike him to even mention these things. May be he’s changing, she thought before surrendering to him.
The following days proved that he wasn’t changing. It’s hard to change when you don’t see a problem as a problem. He thought she was erratic and unreasonable in her demands. She had learned to remain quiet except the occasional talk about it.
Today was their fifteenth anniversary. She woke up feeling old and tired. There was a sense of loss that she couldn’t explain to herself. She decided to make it all better. So she jumped into the shower, wore her best office casual before rushing to the office and ate a large cookie. She felt a little better.
Rose called. She had arranged for her fifteenth anniversary at her place and had invited a few close friends. Kimberly didn’t want to burst her parents’ bubble of her and Lennie’s happy marriage so she always went with the program.
After work she went to Rose’s place. Her kids were going to get picked up by their dad so she had thought that she’d lend her mom a hand.
“Mom!” She called out from the kitchen.
She heard some commotion upstairs and started walking upstairs. She called again when she came close to her parents’ room.
“Can you wait outside, dear?” She heard her mom’s hurried voice.
She found that a strange request but went downstairs. As she was munching on more cookies she saw her parents coming downstairs, both wearing a sheepish expression. They both looked extremely happy too.
“George has a history of marking others’ anniversaries”, Rose said with a huge grin.
What? What did her dad have a history of marking others’ anniversaries with? What was going on? Were they wrapping her present and didn’t want to get caught?
She wondered why they looked at each other conspiratorially.
The party was great. Kimberly let loose after a long time. She decided to stay the night with her mother and help clean up.
Something about her made Rose ask,
“Is everything okay, Kimberly?”
She smiled at her mother, “Yes, Mom. Why?”
“Nothing. You’re awfully quiet.” Rose shrugged her shoulders. Then said,
“You’re happy, right, honey?”
It was all she could do to not throw herself in her mother’s arms and cry. She felt vulnerable, like any minute her secret of being the unattractive and undesirable wife would be out. She had never thought about a good coverup for her lackluster sex life. She had always thought that people wouldn’t know. But can people see it? She feared with mounting dread.
Rose was watching her. She gently took the utensils from her hands, set them on the kitchen top and took her into the family room.
“What is it, dear? For two people who are in love with each other, you and Lennie didn’t seem to be enjoying your fifteenth a lot”.
So people could see!
“We are good, Mom. You know how tired he usually is. Life of a lawyer!” She smiled.
But tears escaped her eyes. A sob or may be two sobs reached her heart and broke through years of restraint. She felt weighed down by the weight of her secret and how she had been carrying a bad marriage with her all these years. She felt like she was cheating on her husband whom she loved by breaking down like this. She felt powerless in her search for the truth.
“Kimberly!” Rose cleared her throat. “When you’re ready, I want only the truth”.
She decided to confide in Rose.
“Mom! We haven’t had sex in two years”.
She found herself talking. For the first time with no remorse or regret. She had no shame or inhibition. She felt her mother was the safest place to discuss this. She won’t judge her or Lennie. She described the dwindling of passion, her begging for it, his turning her down every time she made a move, all the therapists who had told them that they had different libidos, girlfriends who had divorced or cheated when in similar relationships, her own feelings of being unattractive and undesirable, the pain, the sense of loss of years past, the emotion that she had invested into it, the loneliness and finally, the confusion about how much is enough.
Rose listened to everything. She asked some questions but she mainly listened. When Kimberly had talked her heart out, she said,
“Dear, forgive me for saying this but if this has been going on since shortly after you got married then you should make a choice. You can either stay with him or you can stay happy. It sounds like the two don’t go hand in hand”.
Kimberly was stunned. To hear her traditional mother recommend divorce for intimacy issues was a shock.
“But Mom, do people divorce for these things? Does that ever happen? I mean, what will I tell people about why we got divorced?”
“First of all, honey, you don’t have to tell anyone anything that you don’t want to. Secondly, yes this is a legitimate reason to leave your selfish husband for”.
“He’s not selfish. He just doesn’t want to have as much sex as I do”.
“May be he isn’t selfish. But he’s also not someone who has acted selflessly. He has ignored your needs because they don’t satisfy his own. Do you think you would’ve been married to him today if you didn’t desire him for the last ten years?”
“I don’t know, Mom”.
“I can tell you that there is very little chance of a man to put up with a sexless marriage. They usually leave their wives if they don’t satisfy them in bed”.
Rose looked at her. She could sense the pain behind Kimberly’s gray eyes.
“You know your dad and I were having sex in the afternoon when you came unannounced”.
Kimberly burst out laughing. Rose smiled embarrassedly too.
“No way, Mom, really?”
“Really, child! Really! With my sagging boobs, hanging stomach and dry hands he still wants to make love to me as much as he wanted to when I was young. Sure he needs some help as I need some help too but our sex life is one of the reasons why we have been able to be married for so long and love each other so hard”.
“But Lennie says that marriage isn’t about sex”.
“Of course it isn’t. How could marriage be only about sex? But in a monogamous marriage he is the man who you can have sex with so he is essential to sex. He doesn’t realize that. Marriage is about a whole host of things, including sex. It’s important for people who it’s important for.”
“He used to be so romantic. He’s not anymore”, Kimberly said wistfully.
“He changed,” Rose observed sadly. “But you don’t have to be unhappy. You can have another shot at this. And another. And another.”
“As many as I like?” Kimberly teased her mother.
Rose peered at her daughter’s prematurely lined face. She had raised a confident woman who was proposed by several men before she chose her husband. She was a strong girl and had been selfless in giving herself. She was beautiful too. Very beautiful with eyes the color of a rising storm. Grey with flecks of black. Sometimes when she cried the black took over and it looked like waves in an ocean. When she was happy the grey would shine through, making her face shine like alabaster. She was a porcelain doll with a heart of glass that was broken again and again and again by the pain of rejection, the worst pain that a man could inflict on a woman. She wondered how anyone could decline her child, so beautiful and wholesome. Some people change with time, she then thought to herself. But Kimberly won’t pay the price for someone else changing, she decided.
“As many as you like, Kimberly”. She took her daughter in her arms.