How We Became Strangers
And in many ways our relationship deepened, now that we had this child to protect. We had plans now, and they were plans for all three of us. We upped our workloads to save for a down payment on an apartment. The day we signed the papers for our first mortgage I called D., hysterical, fearful of the debt we had incurred. But we managed. When my first book of poems was sold and D. set up his own law offices, we toasted with Champagne and takeout. We were doing the big things now, the real things, living the future we had dreamed. We were parents now, with someone else equally or more important to take care of than ourselves.
And then one day this little boy was 6 years old. He was walking, he was running and climbing and jumping and talking so much we couldn't shut him up. He still came into our bed at night and wedged his body between the two of us, stretched out his arms and asserted his kingdom. He had demands. Read to me, he ordered. I want juice. I don't want that, and crash, his plate of macaroni and cheese and carrot sticks went down to the floor. Let's go to the park, the beach, Rugrats in Paris, I want this, Mommy, can I have that? How come the sky is blue, Mommy? Mom, come—when I was in the middle of cooking dinner, or stealing away for 15 minutes on a weekend to find the thread in a paragraph of the novel I was working on. At home, after a day at the office, there was no room for thoughts in my head, let alone any reason to feel sexy, to feel like a woman men desired. I was filling bathtubs, rubbing in shampoo, putting calamine lotion on bug bites, making dinner, trying to think up answers to my kid's questions. I fell asleep sometimes at nine o'clock squished into my son's twin bed, still in my T-shirt and stretch pants. Now that the boy, the lovely intruder in our marriage, was off to school, choosing his playdates, reading to himself, now that there was this little window in my life—was it any wonder, really, that it wasn't my husband's attention that I craved. The man I married got up in the morning as tired as I. He went into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, shaved, put on his suit and tie, and walked out the door. When he came home at night, usually after our son was in bed, I was too tired to ask him about his day and he was too wrapped up in anxieties about the office to ask me about mine. I was curled into the couch with a manuscript or asleep. He stayed in the living room watching the Knicks or talking to one of his clients on the phone. Sometimes we made love, but it was short and uninspired, more the kind of lovemaking where you're checking in to make sure someone is at home. I still desired my husband—sometimes watching him read my son a story or pitch a baseball to him in the backyard, my stomach did somersaults—but a little faucet had turned off inside my body. I didn't want to be touched.
Talking with other women at the same stage in their lives as I was, I realized that the lack of sexual desire I was experiencing was more common than I had known. Many of us were walking in the dark. It wasn't until later that I began to see I had entered a phase in my marriage that was about reinforcing a commitment to what we had built, and I understood, for the first time really, what it meant to be in it for the long haul. But back then, when I was deep into feeling the loss of my sex-charged youthfulness, I wanted the man I knew everything about, the man I had deluged with questions until he told me about every girl he had kissed, every fight he had with his mother, I wanted him to be transformed into someone new again, someone with whom I could start from scratch, someone who would pore over me as if I were some kind of intricate puzzle rather than the bitch I had become, the woman who nearly had a breakdown when she discovered at midnight there was no milk in the refrigerator, who complained that we worked too hard and still didn't have enough money, who freaked out if toys were scattered all over the floor, who was lonely putting her son to bed every night and had no qualms about making that loneliness known. I wanted to transcend what had become the routine of my life.
Next: "In my mind I mapped out an intricate affair"