By Carol Weis
You discover your daughter has learned the facts of life. She is only seven when this profound experience occurs. Your husband has taken over this duty you thought would be yours. One your mother never shared with either you or your sister. You’d find out from your cousin when you were both nine. An image that would repulse you for a very long time. Your anger and grief about losing this right of passage with your daughter, your only child, becomes just another sticker in your already thorny side.
Sex is a thing that is hard to think about. It was your husband’s last straw, and one you have no interest in sharing with anyone but yourself. You occasionally flirt with guys at AA meetings, with no intention of going anywhere with it.
A habit that lingers from your drinking years.
And then the day comes in therapy, when it seems that your therapist might be at her wits end with both of you. She suggests you go on an overnight date, away for a night without your daughter, sleeping in the same bed without having her around.
It’s not that you haven’t tried a version of this before. Since your separation, you’ve slept overnight at his apartment, with ground rules about sleeping in the same bed. If he makes advances when you feel you’re not ready, he has to respect what you say. You’re more like a brother and sister right now, laying next to each other in your parent’s double bed.
His attempts at intimacy are always turned down.
His frustration with you, a more than obvious thing.
He books a room for the two of you near Saratoga Springs. He’s excited with the prospect, you are wary at best. You’ve never in your life had sex without liquor, the idea causing terror and a desire to drink. You find a baby sitter who will sleep at your house; your daughter is anxious about you leaving for the night, tugging at your already circumspect sleeve.
Your husband has agreed not to drink so the playing field is even and you check into your room like virginal newlyweds might do. You have dinner at a local restaurant, you sipping soda water, while he has a coke. You stumble over words, both knowing what’s in store, the reason you’ve come here, a marriage at stake. You talk about your daughter, who you both adore, the incentive for trying to make things work and why your hope is still alive. He says he just can’t imagine never being able to share another bottle of champagne with you. The sadness in his voice is palpable. You take a sip of it and swish it around in your head.
Surely a red flag of what’s to unfurl.
You go back to your room, not knowing what to do. The booze that’s always blocked your fear and insecurities, a thing of the past. You are so unsure of how to start this dance, your heart’s thumping a beat you can’t possibly follow. He tells you to unfasten his buttons, an easier thing to do when you’ve had a few drinks. You possess the awkwardness of a 15-year-old with her first love, the agility of a 5-year-old learning to tie her shoelaces. You want this to be so special you can taste it on the buds of your tongue, feeling it in the tingle of your ribs. But when you slide into this hotel room bed, a clandestine act that once incited great passion, and begin making what used to be called love with your husband, or something you thought was love, you sense the gig is up. Though nothing was actually said, you know deep down inside that the love you’re desperate to retrieve, is nowhere to be found.
Your drive home is mostly quiet, intermittently small talking each other as you speed along, like neighbors do who stop by while you’re gardening to say hello. You gravitate towards your easy chatter, speaking of your daughter, wondering how she’s doing. The awkward in this drive slouches in the backseat, itching to be home in jammies and a comfy robe.
Our sexual experiment is difficult to discuss. Your therapist sees it in your faces, the walls with the writing clearly written on them. You’re still not sure how this will play out. The following month, you’ll start individual therapy with her.
Soon to uncover the stuff that needs to come out.
Carol Weis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared online at Salon, xoJane, Literary Mama, Nailed, and The Mid, and has been read as commentary on public radio. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, Divorce Papers, and the Simon & Schuster children’s book, When the Cows Got Loose. She’s been working on two memoirs, one with her daughter, Maggie, about their struggles as a teen and recovering mom, and one on her own, about her drinking years and recovery, where this essay appears. You can follow Carol on Facebook, or on Twitter @CarolWeis, where she chronicles life in six-words.