Addiction

Brad and Rhonda Fields, married just under nine years, began the sixth day of their vacation breakfasting at the Chack Balam restaurant in the Royal Decameron Selinitas resort in El Salvador; its artisan lamps, bamboo-lined ceiling, two-story, cross-looking Mayan statue, and location just off the beach was a less than ideal setting in which to enjoy coffee and scones, wait for the sun to peek over the edge of the ocean, and discuss a spouse’s extramarital appetite.

Brad’s perfunctory stab at conversation: “Looks like a decent day, huh?”

Leaning back, eyes closed, face pointed at the sun, Rhonda weighed the pros and cons of joining in the effort at normalcy: play along and enjoy a few more minutes listening to the ocean’s version of The Myth of Sisyphus, or sit up, lift her sunglasses, look directly at him, and say, “Come on, Brad…just say it and get it over with, huh?”

Her decision: “Mmmmmm, yes, it’s so nice here. I could sit like this forever.”

She knew he could tell by the dullness in her voice that she was forcing herself to converse, but then, so was he. He didn’t really care what sort of day it was going to be, she knew that. She also knew they were going to have to talk about it before they could get on with their lives. It was silly to think, even after seven years of dealing with it, that he’d handle it any differently this time.

Three or four minutes passed and Brad came up with: “So…what would you like to do today?”

Relieved at the opportunity to string together a few sentences she played along: “Well, they have a courtesy bus here at the hotel that can take us into that little town we passed on the way here—the one with all those little shops and ladies selling vegetables in the street?—I’d love to do that.” She made her voice pleasant and normal…as much as she could.

He knew that’s what she’d say; she had a thing for arts and crafts and vendors. It didn’t matter if they were high-end or nearly junk; she just liked roaming the little stands. Actually buying something was a secondary consideration. She could shop hours and return with nothing but a small trinket-size bag holding a single pair of earrings. Of course, they’d be the sexiest pair she could find. She enjoyed looking sexy. His stomach lurched as he again failed at trying not to think about it.

Rhonda decided to play her trump card: sex. She lifted her Versace knock-offs just enough that her azure eyes could be seen, looked over at him, and said in a sultry voice, “The bus leaves around ten which gives us a couple of hours to kill and I know an excellent way to spend them.” She held her eyes on his, her head tilted and a slight smile on her lips, her right eyebrow cocked in a Well?

Shit, there she goes again. He looked down, took a deep, slow breath, looked up, and said, “So, this is the part where we just go on like a normal, happy couple, and pretend nothing happened, right?”

He’s more upset than usual. She took a thoughtful sip of coffee to delay the inevitable. She wished she were different, but she had tried being “normal” without success. Here we go… “By this part, do you mean the part where we go on with our life…our wonderful, fantastic life?” Getting no answer, Rhonda continued, “Honey, we have a great marriage—a lot of couples would give anything to be as happy as we are. I love you and you love me—I know that. We have great fun together—travel, eat at great restaurants, have awesome sex—and still give each other space to be ourselves. You go on your golf trips with the guys and come back three, four days later; you’re refreshed, you’ve missed me, I’ve missed you, and we go on. I don’t ask about the lap dances or any of the other crazy stuff you guys do down there. And I have my time—time to do what I want. This isn’t really that different. It’s something I do, that’s all…something you said you were okay with. Something that makes me feel better about me…about us. It keeps me fresh and my life with you new and exciting. But, I’m here with you now. That’s what counts, right? When you go on a golf trip, it isn’t because you’d rather be with your friends than me—you do it because it makes you feel good; you come back less stressed, recharged, and anxious to see me. She paused, waited, got no reaction, so she continued, “Well, that’s how it is with me. I’m gone a couple of days, I come back recharged and anxious to see you—to be with the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I love you. I will always love just you.

The para camarera, took advantage of the pause, cleared her throat and stepped forward: “More coffee, señora?” She held out the full carafe.

“Yes, please,” said Rhonda, leaning back so the carafes could be switched. When the waitress left, Rhonda filled her cup, Brad’s, then added cream and Sweet ‘N Low to both. She took her time so Brad could decide when and how to respond. Then she folded her hands and waited. Brad looked down between his legs and studied an aqua blue ceramic floor tile with little images of pineapple trees in each corner and an irritating hunk of what looked like gum in the center. He was nuts about Rhonda, had been since the day he first laid eyes on her.

*****

She was sitting at one of those tables just big enough for drinks and appetizers, a couple tables closer to the stage at Blues Alley, the famed Washington D.C. jazz club, than Brad’s and was with a guy that was bobbing his head to the beat. Unfortunately, the guy was nodding on the first and third beat of each measure, like they do at a hoe down—his head directly in Brad’s line of sight—and it was driving Brad nuts. The guy’s attractive date, obviously embarrassed, several times looked over at her companion like she was trying to will his head to stop moving. In the club’s faint light the shadow of their heads—hers dipping on two and four, his on one and three—looked like a teeter-totter. When the legendary piano man, Mose Allison, finished playing Your Mind is on Vacationand announced a short break the rhythmically-challenged date headed for the men’s room. Brad, pointing to her and the now-empty seat, asked the bartender to bring him whatever it was the lady was drinking. He could see her Bill-Gates-look-a-like waiting at the lavatory door tapping on his PDA with his index finger, his face message-eager and looking like an old woman counting out exact change at a Winn-Dixie. Drink in hand, he squeezed between some tables to where she was sitting, got down on one knee next to her, placed the drink on the table, and said, “I figured you could use this. After two or three more of these maybe you won’t notice your date keeping beat to the theme from Hee-Haw.”

She laughed keeping her head down, then looked over at Brad, rolled her eyes, and asked sotto voce, “Is it that obvious?”

“Not if you’re in the next room.” She laughed again showing perfect white teeth. “I’m Brad. I’d love the chance to talk to you. If you want—next time you’re up—give me your number and I’ll call you. If not, that’s okay. I’ll just remain celibate for the rest of my life, waiting.” With that he backed away and returned to his seat.

Later, as the waitresses moved between tables whispering “Last Call,” and Brad listened to the virtuoso finish his set, a tanned, toned arm slid a note on the bar to him. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you living a life of celibacy,” she said. Brad looked over and saw her smiling at him, her eyes crinkled in the corners. “I should be home in an hour or so, if you’d like to call.” She held out her hand. “By the way, I’m Rhonda.”

*****

A breeze passed through on its way to the ocean as Brad worked on his reply. Tactfulness, as had been pointed out to him on more than one occasion, was not his long suit. Finally, he raised his head, looked at Rhonda, sighed, slowly let the air escape through puffed cheeks, and said evenly, “When I said I was okay with what you do, I didn’t know what I was saying…I mean, I knew what I was saying…but I didn’t think it through. I have to admit, when you first told me about this sexual addiction thing it sounded, I don’t know…erotic, like something you read about, you know, an open marriage…Wow. What I didn’t figure on was how I’d feel later. I guess I thought we’d—well, you—would outgrow it, that we’d be enough for each other, and that you wouldn’t need anyone else. Besides, when you first told me about it you said you hadn’t slept with anyone else since we started dating, so I sorta thought maybe you were cured and were just covering your bases in case something happened. She opened her mouth, but Brad put up his hand, “No—wait—let me finish. I know what you’re going to say: You’re going to tell me this is different, that it isn’t an affair, that an affair would be a serious thing, because it’d be a sign that you weren’t happy and don’t want to be with me. You’re going to tell me that tonight isn’t like that; that you are happy, and that this thing you’re going to do helps you stay happy. Well, I’ve got news for you, baby; to me it is the same thing. What you’re doing is the same as an affair. In fact, it’s worse. Hell, I actually know about this ahead of time. It’s crazy, that’s what it is. I can’t do this. I can’t sit with you, have coffee, chat about the weather, and ignore the fact that you’re going to leave tonight and let another man fuck you. And I know all about it for Christ’s sake!” He was out of breath, his chest rising and falling. The woman’s head at the next table jerked up.

It was Rhonda’s turn to stare at the little pineapple trees on the tiles as the lady at the next table signaled the waiter with one of those silly air-check gestures. What could she say to make him understand, no, not understand—no one could actually understand—accept, the way she is? She knew they deeply loved one another, that they were perfect together. Their friends still called them the lovebirds. She laughed to herself thinking their friends wouldn’t call them lovebirds if they knew she was in the habit of spending at least one night of their annual vacation sleeping with someone other than her husband—and that her husband knew all about it. They remained silent until the escaping lady at the next table—looking back over her shoulder like she expected the quarreling couple to give chase—left. When the woman’s table was cleared Rhonda asked, “Can we try something?”

“Like what.”

“Can we try putting this aside for the day—just for a few hours—have a good time together, and forget about everything for a bit? Then when we need to—later—talk about it then?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can have a good time when all I can think about is you with….” Rather than finish, he poured himself more coffee, holding the carafe over his cup as if by waiting more would appear. He gave up, added sweetener and cream to what he had and watched little cream blobs float to the cooling surface. He absently shifted the silver…napkins…sugar—the escape into routine helping—then resumed with his voice closer to normal. “Sometimes, trying to not think about something makes you think about it even more, you know?” He paused, trying to find the right words. “I can’t promise I’ll be able to completely block it from my mind, but I don’t think I’m in the frame of mind right now to discuss it without getting angry anyway, so maybe we can try your idea…at least for the rest of the day. But, you’ve got to understand, I can’t do this anymore.”

I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore. “Honey, let’s just try to have a good day together. Can we just do that?” He seemed calmed. “And, by the way, my offer’s still on the table.” She did that Grocho Marx up-and-down eyebrow thing he always found funny. “After all, you haven’t seen me in my new Victoria’s Secret underwear.” She moved her hand over his. He didn’t pull away. She loved that he couldn’t not have sex with her. She was his addiction.

*****

Brad sat on the sofa and watched Rhonda saunter across the carpet from the bedroom where she’d put on a purple bra, matching thong (she hated panty lines), white thigh highs, and purple high heels. She reached behind her back to unclasp the bra she’d just put on. The way she undressed drove him nuts. She slid the bra straps off her shoulders and leaving on her matching thong took her time and walked to him, one foot directly in front of the other in that model-walk way. She was getting as worked up as he, her breathing heavy and audible. She stopped when she got to him, lifted his hands, and guided them to her firm breasts. He held them feeling their weight and watched her, her eyes closed, her voice making low, murmuring pleasure sounds. He lightly slid his hands down her waist and pulled her flat stomach to his face. He placed several kisses just above the thong line, then stood and softly kissed her mouth, barely touching her lips. He could feel her tremble, hear her moan; her kisses became more urgent and firm. Slipping to his knees, he lightly brushed the triangular patch of cloth with his face and smelled the perfume she’d placed there. She moaned, “I love you, baby…I love you.” Then, with excruciating slowness he slipped the thong off her hips and helped her step out of it.

Later, lying next to her, he listened to her breathe deep and even while he watched the outline of palm trees sway behind closed blinds. He could tell it was getting late in the afternoon. In a few hours she’d be dressing to go out…to have sex…again. As usual, his lust for her had won out. He knew on the way up in the elevator that it was going to happen like that. He was crazy in love and sexually drunk with her. God, he thought, if only he were enough for her.

*****

“It isn’t like he isn’t enough for me,” Rhonda had explained to her therapist during one of their weekly sessions. She had decided to seek help when she realized after three years of dating Brad that she was in love. “Brad is everything that I’d hoped,” she’d told the doctor. Since dating him she’d resisted any temptation to revert to her old ways. Dr. Sampson had told her that sexual addiction was like being an alcoholic: it’s never completely cured, just in remission—something to which Rhonda could attest. Rhonda told the doctor that, while extremely satisfying in the beginning, sex—for her— became stale after a bit. It wasn’t that she no longer wanted to be with whomever she was dating at the time; it was just that she became sexually bored after a few months. That before dating Brad she’d found a way to make her life work: Once a year or so she took a couple of days off—careful to spend them at a location remote from home—to sleep with another man. Once back home she found herself completely back in love with whomever she was involved and sexually quenched. Between these “breaks,” as she called them, she had no desire whatsoever to stray. After having tried this a few times she’d decided to do it every year, and it was working, but, when she met Brad she decided to go cold turkey and stop having sex with other men.

“So…the problem?” asked Dr. Sampson.

“The problem is…Brad asked me to marry him and I said yes.”

“Mmmmmm, that does complicate matters, doesn’t it? And since you’ve been dating Brad you haven’t had sex with anyone else?”

“No…not once.” Rhonda replied.

“But you feel the need now.”

“I just know the feeling…I know—at some point—I’m going to have sex with someone other than Brad. If I don’t, I’ll be miserable, impossible to live with, my sex drive will wilt, and I’ll wind up losing him anyway.” Rhonda hung her head and shook it slowly from side to side. When she looked up she said, “I guess I was being naïve to think that it went away—that I could be a normal person—but, after nearly three years of dating I actually didn’t have any of the urges I used to have. I thought I had this damn sexual addiction thing beat. Then—BANG!—I wake up one day last week and I feel it. Maybe it’s the stress of knowing I actually could be Brad’s wife. I just know I’m still sick, that I’ve been fooling myself.”

“So it boils down to you telling your husband-to-be the truth, or marrying him, taking your chances, and hoping for the best, is that about right?”

Rhonda looked at the clock on the wall next to a small plaque that read, I’m all right, the world’s all wrong, saw her time was about up, and gathered her purse. “Yea…that’s about right.”

*****

Her relapse came in the second year of marriage while on a business trip to the Caymans with her boss, a senior VP at the bank where she worked as a marketing specialist. She arranged to spend an extra couple of days at the conference when it was over. She told herself she just needed some time to herself, but knew full well that what she actually needed was sex; that exciting, spine-tingling sex one can only experience with a stranger. Working closely with the young guys at the bank and listening to their sexual innuendos wore on her. She knew they found her sexy—her snug skirts, low-cut blouses, the way she did her make-up, and her naturally sexual demeanor made her the talk of the bar at happy hour—or so she’d been told by some of the women with whom she worked. She’d been getting worked up and needed something—someone—new. Even as everyone was saying their goodbye’s and promising to stay in touch she was telling herself she just needed some time on her own; but, when she woke the next day to coffee and toast in bed served by a very nice, very sexy guy—not her guy—she knew it was back. Saying good-bye to the man with whom she slept wasn’t difficult, she’d done it many times before. Besides, she was ready to get back to her normal life and her husband. She was whole again, not someone wishing for more, someone unfulfilled. She couldn’t wait to get back to Brad. Just thinking about making love to him made her wet.

When she returned home she told Brad everything.

*****

“So, you’re going to continue to use our vacation every year to have sex with other men, is that what you’re saying? And that you won’t stop? What kind of idiot do you think I am?” They were having drinks—after sex drinks—and watching the staff clear the lunch buffet. The Mayan statue—apparently still pissed about something—cast a long shadow on their table as the sun dipped into the ocean. In spite of the morning’s rocky start they’d had a good day—the erotic, purple underwear, sultry sex, and that new thing Rhonda did to Brad didn’t hurt either.

“I can’t stop, Brad…I told you that. Don’t you think I wish I knew what was wrong with me? Do you think I like hurting you? I love you, don’t you see that? I tried living a normal life and I was miserable—not with our life together, or the sex—but, I wasn’t…fulfilled. I’d get so frustrated. I could have continued to have secret affairs, but I love you too much to do that. That’s why I told you in the first place. Look. You’d understand if I was an alcoholic—you wouldn’t like it, but you’d understand that I was sick, right?” He nodded. “Well then, why can’t you understand this addiction? I know you hate that I’m this way—hell, I hate that I’m this way—but when I got back from that bank trip and told you all about it you said you’d try to live with it. This is how I stay in love with you, can’t you see that?”

“Honestly? No, I can’t see that. Who could? Who could find out two years into their marriage that their wife all of a sudden feels the need to sleep with other guys? That she has some warped need to do this while she’s on vacation with her husband—that the mere doing it somehow revives her and makes her happy for another year. Seven years of this shit. I can’t believe I’ve lasted this long. It’s fucking insane, that’s what it is. And arranging it while we’re on vacation just so no one we know will see makes it even more insane. God, I wish I’d never agreed to try this. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. This has got be the last time, Rhonda. When we get back, we have to get you some help; we have to get us some help. I can’t do this another year, I really can’t.”

They sat silent, their repeat argument having for the moment exhausted itself. Besides, it was almost time for her to go—to have sex with another man. Without saying anything Rhonda gathered her handbag, got up from the table, and left for the room. Brad watched her walk down the curvy flora-line walkway to the elevator, push the button for their floor, and disappear. After several minutes he sighed, paid the bill, and followed.

*****

In their room Brad sat at the small table with “While you’re in…” and “Hotel Services” booklets spread fan-like on it. He watched through the partially open bathroom door as Rhonda, sitting on the toilet’s edge, pulled and smoothed her hose, then stood and fastened the little snowman-shaped hooks to her black garters. Next came her high heels; luminescent lavender to go with the skirt she planned to wear. He watched her unscrew the skinny eyeliner tube and carefully paint her upper and lower lids, then pick up her eyebrow pencil and apply it like an artist. He heard the snap of the powder case as she closed it and knew she was applying hot-pink lip gloss. She disappeared behind the door and he heard make-up purse sounds. Finally, the light went off and she walked to the closet to choose her outfit. She stepped into a skirt—light purple, sequin-speckled—then a slightly snug cream colored blouse. He shifted in his chair to make room for a growing erection. A necklace, dangly earrings, and sparkly bracelet finished it. As agreed, she didn’t ask him how she looked.

“Honestly, honey, I don’t know why you do this to yourself. I know you hate seeing me get dressed to go.”

“I can’t not watch. If I don’t, it’s like something you’re doing behind my back. Then I go nuts wondering what you looked like when you left. At least this way I know—I’m not totally in the dark. I know that’s crazy, but hell, this whole thing’s crazy.”

A long silence. “I guess I should get going,” she finally said standing at the end of the bed.

Silence…

“Yea, I guess.”

Silence…

“Are you going to order some room service or something?”

“I dunno,” he said quietly. “I just wish…” He slowly shook his head. A foreign game show made irritating sounds on the hotel television.

Silence.

They remained in place, neither wanting to move. At some point he heard the door close. He went to the patio door and watched her walk across the tiled area in front of the hotel to a waiting taxi destined for somewhere. Did she look sexier than usual? Don’t She carried a small bag he assumed had a change of clothes, her make-up, toiletries, and underwear. Rhonda’s plan to table their discussion for the day had worked. After spending time together and enjoying each other as much as they had, anything that had already occurred seemed too insignificant to discuss and not worth spoiling what vacation time they had left. They had stopped at the little hotel bar downstairs for drinks before going to their room. They laughed, talked, laughed, talked, and, as usual, fell all the more deeply in love. When Rhonda suggested they take their drinks with them to the room Brad hurriedly signed the chit and walked with Rhonda to the elevator, his hand gently on her back (she loved it when he did that). At about the ninth floor he moved his hand to her butt. When the elevator stopped, they walked to their room, opened the door, dropped to the floor, and had sex—awesome sex. Now she was headed off to do the same thing with another man, the smell of her perfume lingering around him. The closet door was still open, her come-fuck-me-heels neatly arranged on the carpet, his erection uncomfortable.

*****

They watched the sun’s advancing light push through earth’s spectrum; a Caribbean-typical repeat performance. “I suppose asking ‘Did you sleep well?’ would be a silly question, huh?” he said sarcastically.

“Brad…please.”

“Well…what’s the normal thing to say the morning when you’re wife returns after spending the night with another man?”

“How about ‘Honey, I’m so glad to have you back’ or ‘Are you okay?”

They sat waiting for the other to say something. Finally, he asked, “Well…are you okay? I mean, are we okay?”

“Yes, honey, I’m okay—in fact, better than okay. When I woke this morning all I could think about was getting back to you. I love you so much, baby.”

“Were you thinking that before or after he had sex with you a second time? Sorry…scratch that.”

She sighed, then said, “If you can’t accept me the way I am—and I know that’s a lot to ask—I don’t know what else to do. I’m yours as long as you’ll have me, and I hope that’s forever. That’s all I can say.”

They watched as several surfers took advantage of the nearly-deserted, early morning beach, lying on their boards, paddling out to catch a wave. Several minutes passed and then Brad said: “So…looks like a decent day, huh?”