Sex disappeared from my marriage somewhere during our first child's first year. "No big deal," everyone shrugged, "it happens." Laundry, fear and exhaustion made up my days in a circle spun tightly around the baby. I didn't miss sex, but I missed the person who had loved it, the me before babies.
So tired, my husband and I hardly noticed that with sex gone we also suffered a corrosion of intimacy. I was aware of him only in how he stood too long in the middle of the kitchen when I wanted to pass by to get to the fridge. I experienced his body as a catalog of a hundred daily irritations. Our home simmered with the polite tension of a business-trip hotel room shared by colleagues.
The baby grew; we had another. A sort of intimacy crept back as we talked in the dark in bed about our children, but this did not feed into arousal. It was the intimacy of hostages.
One day, waiting by the preschool cubbies, a father brought up piano lessons. I knew Jim from field trips, performances. He seemed plain, preppy. But now, as he dropped his voice so as not to disturb the class and leaned into me with his enthusiasm for early musical instruction, I felt the attention of his tone, his look, his breath, as if I had stepped from an air-conditioned office into the sun. His Maine boating clothes made me weak with longing for tidiness, and then, beyond the longing, came the faintest purr of lust. Or rather, something not as youthful and frantic as lust but the feeling of wanting to feel. Oh my God, I thought as he wrote down the name of the instructor, I want him.
After about a month, this crush passed, replaced by my crush on Dan, who loved to travel to Europe and talk about good coffee; then came Ted the Republican, Stephen who could build things, Carl who hugged me when I ran into him teaching his kids how to bike. None of these men thought nursing when they looked at me. None saw someone half-asleep and miserable. They saw, even though they didn't know it, the someone who used to be there.
Sometime just after my crush on Matt (who coached Little League), my husband was standing at the sink, filling a glass. I looked at the rightness of his shoulders, felt pleased when he said the words I knew he was thinking. He turned around and I teased him, almost meeting his eye in a feigned gesture of high school flirtation. He put his arm around my middle, that's all, and the spread of lust warmed my thighs, my fingertips, and I thought, I want him.
Yes, him. My husband. Each crush had revived a dormant element of that girl, had undone the stays of maternal duty just a bit. My husband and I hadn't known, on the eve of parenthood eight years ago, that children, money and hormones would figure so prominently in our sex life, weren't aware of their combined deadly effect on sexual expression. But we also had no idea back then what power we would bank by sharing life. I wonder if anyone has had a crush on him.