Sitting next to my husband, Fred, in the hot tub, I watched as his hands began to wander across my body, touching my leg, my thigh, my—
“Hey, what are you doing?”
“Just looking around.”
He looked down at his penis bobbing in the water. “I believe I have an erection.”
“Is that unusual?”
He didn’t answer, but moved closer, wrapping his legs around mine, leaning over for a deep, tongue-filled kiss. His hands roamed over my arms, my shoulders, my breasts. It was clear what he had in mind, but we hadn’t done anything sexual in over a year. Our last successful attempt had been so long ago that I assumed we would never have sex again. He had had trouble keeping an erection for years, and since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he seemed to have lost the desire and the ability to touch me sexually.
Now, he was turning around and maneuvering himself into position between my legs.
Oh, I wanted to give in, but I didn’t dare do it without lubrication. It was also sweaty and awkward in the spa.
“I hate to interrupt things but meet me in the bedroom,” I said. “Don’t stop to shut the lid or anything. Hurry.”
I didn’t even pause to dry off, knowing how quickly the urge could leave him. Wrapped in my wet towel, I hurried to the bedroom, threw the stuffed bear off my pillow, pulled the covers back, and opened my nightstand drawer, where the K-Y Jelly lived.
It wasn’t there. There were six pairs of shoe inserts, ten handkerchiefs, two prayer books, and a tube of estrogen cream, but no plastic bag with the K-Y. But! I knew immediately where it was: my suitcase. After our last trip, I left it there. I figured I didn’t need it.
Where was the suitcase? Up on the top shelf in the garage. Talk about an erection killer.
And here was Fred, ready for action. Oh my God, what could I rub in there to make my post-menopausal vagina slippery? Hemorrhoid cream? We had a lot of that, but I was afraid to use it. ChapStick? Didn’t seem logistically possible. The best option seemed to be the estrogen cream. I wondered what that would do to me and hoped I wouldn’t wake up ten pounds heavier, with a beard.
What it didn’t do was lubricate.
From the instant Fred’s penis touched the edge of my vagina, all I felt was pain, as if I was being ripped apart. I clutched his shoulder, gritted my teeth, and let him push in and out, thinking, Come on, come on. I was willing to hang on until the end, but suddenly he said, “Oh no, not again.”
He went limp.
As he pulled out of me, I began to cry.
At first, it was the pain; then, it was everything: the loss of Fred’s driving, the sleepless nights, our inability to communicate, my inability to leave him alone, the frightening future of dementia. I had given up on sex with him. I had been celibate for thirteen months. He was losing his mind and dying piece by piece. Now, when he seemed to be miraculously back, making sense and holding out the possibility of a sex life, we had failed again. I couldn’t stop crying. So much for being calm and supportive.
Fred kept apologizing. “What can I do to make it better?” he asked.
I think he mostly felt bad about the physical pain he had caused. When he asked, “Did I hurt you?” I nodded. But that wasn’t really it. If we got a regular sex life going, I was confident the pain would ease. And if I had even a glimmer of excitement, it would help, but we didn’t dare take time for foreplay. Though that wasn’t it either.
I realized as I cried that the old Fred was there, the guy I hadn’t encountered in months. “I don’t want to lose you,” I wailed. “The way you are now, you’re here, you’re your old self, but you’re not always like that; you’re confused.”
Ms. Buzzkill, bringing up the illness.
“Yeah!” I shouted into the darkness. “I hate Alzheimer’s!”
The dog, lying at the foot of the bed, stirred and looked up, wondering what all the shouting was about. I began to calm down.
“I only came to your side of the hot tub to get away from the light in my eyes,” I confessed. Fred laughed. “Suddenly, you were running all the bases.” More laughter. “Then I come in here, and the stuff is in my suitcase, and I’m looking through everything for something slippery.”
“It would have taken a hell of a lot of ChapStick.”
We both laughed, the tension broken.
We held each other for a long time. Fred still had a semi-erect penis waving around. We got out of bed and searched our respective bathrooms for a jar of petroleum jelly, which I knew I had bought. We didn’t find it. I offered to do a blow job.
My poor, innocent Fred. Not since the guy that preceded Fred had I tried to make a man come in my mouth. That was a long time ago, and that guy’s penis was much smaller. At least Fred’s was clean and smell-free, thanks to the hot tub. I got a mouthful of bromine; God knows what that does. But Fred was too self-conscious to come.
He volunteered to get down the suitcase.
On the floor of the den, I unzipped zippers until I found the plastic bag with the tube of K-Y. Back in bed, I squeezed out a handful of the stuff, greasing up both of us, and in he came. The entry was all right; I even felt a glimmer of pleasure. But as he pushed harder, I felt pain up past my navel. Never mind. I’d heal later. Slowly but surely, he was moving toward ejaculation.
“Oh, oh, oh!”
He came. Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
“Did you come?” he asked.
“No.” I tried to keep the of course not tone out of my voice.
We lay together a long time, our skin sticky from sweat and K-Y, the dog snoring. Fred explored my body with his hands, praising my soft skin, my “mountains and valleys.” I felt beautiful. I enjoyed his furry chest and muscular arms. Under my roving hands, he felt handsome and strong as ever.
It was nearly 11:30 before we got up to clean ourselves, turn off the lights, and take our pills. Fred still had a bit of action in his penis. Now I could laugh and tell him, “Get that thing away from me.” My vagina burned when I urinated. It felt torn and bruised. Fred promised to be more “attentive,” meaning to have sex more often.
I knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep, but it was sweet, and we said so many I love yous, in tears, in laughter, in gushes of love. This was the man I had married, the love of my life, come back from the dead for a couple of hours.
Was it the full moon? Was it watching the family slides I had found in the back of the closet that afternoon? Was it the steak salads we ate at Flashbacks surrounded by tables full of travelers with babies and small children? Was it seeing me naked in the dusk?
Would it happen again?
I didn’t know. I knew my crotch hurt. I knew hot flashes woke me up many times during the night. I knew Fred talked in his sleep, something about “not yet.” I knew I watched to make sure he didn’t get lost on his way to the bathroom.
I knew he stood in my office doorway the next morning, smiling at me, not leaving even though I was writing, finally coming in for a kiss before heading into the kitchen.
We joked about putting this event in the family newsletter: “News flash! They finally had sex.” But of course I couldn’t tell anyone except my shrink.
Poor Fred was so horny. Once he got going, he was like a grabby teenager, trying to swallow my breasts and get into my vagina as quickly as possible. I was so surprised I didn’t know what to do.
Was this a new phase? Was this a flickering of old brain cells coming back to life? Should I encourage it even if I never had an orgasm and his plow of a penis kept tearing me up? Was it worth it for the closeness and a moment of renewed self-esteem for Fred? Yes. I would have sex with him again, no matter how much it hurt, for as long as he was able, but it wouldn’t be enough. The man I loved would continue to disappear one brain cell at a time.
When I came out to the kitchen, I found him sitting at the table, trying to get his pills organized for the week. After helping him put the right pills in the right boxes and turning on a TV show for him to watch, I retired to the bathroom to run a hot bath, into which I sank ever so gingerly.