The Old Flame
It's not that Joe's been looking unhappy lately. Just tired. And stressed. And distracted. Like me.
"This is for you," he says, handing me a big white envelope.
I put down my spoon. I open the envelope. I pull out two plane tickets. "We're going to Venice," he says.
"Venice, Italy?" I ask. I can't quite grasp the concept. When we first moved to London we traveled a lot, but we haven't been anywhere in a very long time. Since our first child was born, to be precise.
"Venice, Italy," Joe answers. "For your birthday. I thought it would be nice to do something romantic."
He's not wrong. It would be nice to do something romantic. If I had the energy. Or the inclination. If I weren't feeling so romantically preoccupied.
"But who's going to stay with the kids?" I ask.
"Alexandra," Joe says, referring to our babysitter. "I asked her whether she would do a weekend and she said yes."
I know I am lucky to have a husband who both wants and can afford to take me to Venice. But I really don't want to go. Just because I've been getting tired of staying home with the boys doesn't mean I want to leave them. Not even for a weekend. Not even to go to Venice. And especially not to get on an airplane. If I'm going to go anywhere, I would like it to be to sleep.
But I know better than to put up a fuss. My husband is young and virile, and if I don't want him embarking on the path that you hear the husbands of distracted new mothers embark on, I'd better get with the plan: not simply agree to go to Venice but even show enthusiasm for the idea; not only have sex when I am there but even—if I can remember how—be sexy.
"Thank you very much," I say, making a point to kiss Joe directly on the lips. "That's a really sweet thing to do."
The big Friday morning arrives, so does our taxi to the airport. The children lunge at my shins, begging me please not to go. I drop to my knees, pull them into my chest, and learn the origins of the cliché "Bite your tongue." I literally have to sink my top teeth into my tongue to prevent myself from uttering the words "Talk to Daddy. If it were up to me I would never leave you."
I continue biting my tongue as Joe and I walk out of the house and into the taxi. The taxi pulls away. Joe puts his hand on my thigh.
I bite my tongue so hard I think it will bleed.
"Okay," Joe says, removing his hand. "Why are you being like this?"
"Because you're pigs!" I want to shout. "Because you're all pigs! Because even the most enlightened of you is only after one thing and that's sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. Yes, I have agreed to come on this weekend, and yes, I have agreed to appear enthusiastic. But can't you nonetheless intuit that this might be a little bit hard for me? That I might need some time to transition? That my hormones have me wanting to stay home with my young, not flying off on a dirty weekend with you?"
But to answer this truthfully would clearly defeat the purpose of going away in the first place. And so I move down to the next item on the list of things that are tormenting me: fear that our plane might crash.
"Because we haven't figured out who should take care of the children if anything happens to us!" I wail.
"We can take care of that on Monday," Joe says, looking out the window, narrowing his eyes, and running his hand through his hair, which I notice is going gray at the temples. I feel instantly, terribly guilty. He was very kind to go ahead and plan this weekend. I must be nice to him even if it kills me.
"I can see at once why Venice has inspired so many writers"