The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2005 Peter Schulman

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When I Look Back

You only get so many years and then it's over. Even more important, you only get so many good years.

I was beginning to worry that my good years were quickly running out.

Don't misunderstand me; I didn't have a bad life, far from it. I had two children I adored, a husband I still loved and a gratifying career in which I was quite successful.

But it paled in comparison to the exciting life I led just over twenty years earlier. Even after we married, we would have dinner out, go to clubs, dance all night on weekends and make love as long as we had the energy.

Now I barely remember what it was like to make love. My routine had become, well, routine. I worked all day and came home to make dinner for the family. Garrett would clean up while I did some small piece of housework so the rest of it would be more manageable on the weekend.

Success comes at a price and I often had to bring work home to be prepared to hit the ground running the next day. On weekends, I had to clean the bathrooms, vacuum, do laundry, wash the floors, iron and I'm getting too depressed recalling all these things to finish the list.

I tell you these things not to justify my behavior, but so you can understand the state of mind I was in. Did I really want to look back at seventy and say of my life that I had worked very hard and that my children and husband seemed pretty happy? What about me?

I knew I had a problem, but how to solve it? I could ease off at work to make more time for whatever else I wanted to do. But I was ambitious and couldn't accept stalling at this level. I couldn't cut back much more on the relationship with my husband or there wouldn't be any more to cut back on. I couldn't ignore the needs of the girls. In just a year Janet would be in college and Brianna would follow the next year. Somebody had to do the housework. Where was the time for me to come from?

Before you jump to the conclusion that Garrett is not pulling his weight, he plants the garden and cleans it up in the fall. He shovels the snow, mows the lawn and paints the house when it needs it. He repairs whatever needs repairing. He finished the basement by himself, no small feat for a professor of history with no previous construction experience. He can do whatever he sets his mind to.

We may not have the old excitement in the bedroom, but we have good times in almost every other room in the house. There is no one I would rather talk to about practically any topic from politics to the economy to morality to evolution. As much as I have come to know him, he still surprises me by being able to rethink his positions and come up with new solutions to difficult issues.

But life wasn't exciting. And so I dwelled on it, trying to figure out what it would take to put back the verve.

I began to see an answer at an out-of-town Continuing Professional Accounting Education conference attended by half a dozen people at the management level in my firm.

For one thing, I didn't have to make dinner. I didn't have to shop for it and I didn't even have to pay for it. There was no housework to do. There were nobody's needs to attend to after dinner. The only person I was responsible for was me.

The hotel had a lounge where I could have a few drinks or as many as I wanted, without worrying about who would be sober enough to drive me home. As long as I could stand, I could operate the elevator and handle the room key.

The facility was used for conferences so often they had a band every night. I could dance to my heart's content if I could find someone to dance with me. That would not be a problem. I've stayed in good shape, it's harder to advance if you let yourself go, and the empirical evidence showed that men still found me attractive.

I work for a progressive firm and I was the senior member of our retinue consisting of four women and two men. We had dinners together, though for the first night the ladies drank without the men, who chose to watch Monday Night Football.

Jack was married, Don was not. Don, at 26, was the youngest member of the team and the focus of much of the conversation of the other women. I had very little prior contact with him but they had. They called him Don Juan behind his back, although from the tenor of the conversation, he would have been proud to hear it, rather than embarrassed.

Don was around six feet tall and unnaturally good looking. He knew it and, according to them, was always trying to score with women who worked for the company. None of them could say whether he had succeeded. He was ingratiating and people seemed to naturally like him and to like to be with him. That was probably why he had risen so quickly, although I might have been selling him short just because of his good looks. I'd been told that clients really liked working with him.

We reached a point that first night where we had drunk too much. I know this because Patty took the conversation beyond where businesswomen should take it.

"I hear he has a big dick." She giggled uncontrollably.

"That's what I heard, too," said Sharon.

Alice was having trouble adding her opinion due to the alcohol, but she managed. "He does. I danced with him and he pressed it against me."

"No way," laughed Sharon.

"Just how big was it?" asked Patty.

With two fewer drinks none of them would have found this so funny.

"You have to watch out for slow dances with him," said Alice.

You would have thought from their reaction she was the headlining comedienne.

"You have to admit that he is dreamy," said Patty.

"He is not unattractive," I said.

Obviously I was a few drinks behind. That didn't stop them from thinking I was very funny. We began to realize we had consumed too much and our little party broke up soon after that, and we all returned to our rooms.

I didn't get to sleep right away. I thought about Don, his hard body and his boyish good looks. He was fifteen years my junior but that didn't stop me from thinking of him in a sexual way. All right, fantasizing. But that's no sin, is it?

Dinner the next night was different. I found myself trying to catch pieces of the conversation at the other end of the table. So were the other women. I hadn't noticed before how much attention they paid to Don.

It was difficult trying to maintain the conversation at my end of the table and listen to him. I may have misheard some of the things he said.

" catch more flies with money than with vinegar," I heard him say. I almost laughed but it would have been completely inappropriate to the conversation I was having with Patty. This guy was really clever, switching honey to money because we're accountants.

"Like I always say, to thy own self be true, just like that Dickens guy said."

Wasn't it "thine" and wasn't it Polonius in Hamlet? I shook my head to get the cobwebs out. He was probably just putting them on, though they didn't seem to be laughing. Perhaps it was over their heads.

They started talking politics and it spread to the whole table. Alice admitted to voting for Bush.

Don disagreed with her politics. "I always vote Democratic. Like Rodney Dangerfield always said, I don't belong to any organized political party."

I waited. I waited. "I'm a Democrat," I said, way too loud! Wasn't it Will Rogers? I think I'd had too much to drink.

"Me too," said Don. "You know what they say, you vote Democrat when you're young and Republican when you're old."

I thought it was if you're not liberal when you're young you don't have a heart, but if you're not conservative when you're old you don't have a brain.

I was clearly missing too much of the conversation to understand what was being said and I resolved not to drink with dinner tomorrow night.

Don told Alice how impressed he was at how much thought she had put into her presidential selection, even if she had voted for the wrong guy. He said it with cheery good humor. He had a way about him. Alice beamed.

The band began to play and he whisked Alice away to dance. When they returned she was flushed. He came around the table and asked me to dance. I accepted.

"What a lucky guy your husband is to have such a beautiful, intelligent wife."

No, I'm not that , of course he was right. I must be beautiful. He had told me and Don wouldn't flatter, would he?

"I love the way you move, Roberta. It's so sensual."


"I love the way you move, Bobbie."

Then a slow song came on and he got to love the way I moved slowly. I could feel it between us. They had been right. It was big. I think that's when I started to get an idea of what I could do to rescue my life from the doldrums. I could have an affair with Don Juan. I could have that excitement you only get at the beginning of a relationship, imagining the infinite possibilities of what was to come.

I could also have the excitement of sneaking around, never knowing if I would get caught and destroy my marriage. I absolutely didn't want to destroy it; that thought was almost too horrible to bear. But the idea of the thrill of running that risk was exhilarating. After a couple more songs we returned to the table and he took Sharon out to dance.

That gave me more time to reflect. Did Don do this with all the girls on the theory that the more he tried the luckier he'd get? If so, it was a good theory. Looking at him trying out his moves on Sharon, did I have any second thoughts? Not on your life.

Did I really want to look back at seventy and remember how I let this much younger man just use me for his pleasure? Hell, no. I planned to look back and remember how I used him for my pleasure.

Don returned Sharon to the table and Jack and Patty excused themselves for the evening. Was there something going on there? Don asked me to join him on the floor again and off we went.

Another slow song and he was pressing against me again. He slid his hand down to my ass and I pulled it back up. "You can't do that while the others are watching, Don. They might talk."

"I'm sorry. It's just that you were moving so well to everything I asked it was like you were kind of a subversive, like you would do whatever I asked."

My hearing was apparently still a problem. "Just watch yourself here. Maybe we can have some fun later."

"You got it sweet thing."

We danced some more. Then we headed back to the table. On the way I made a decision. "I'm in room 837. Maybe I'll see you there later, after you've finished dancing with Alice and Sharon."

"I think you will."

"I think I'm going to call it a night," I announced when we reached the table. "You guys have fun and I'll see you in the morning."

I got back to the room and fixed whatever of my makeup and clothing had been disturbed by dinner and dancing. Then I called Garrett to preempt him calling me later.

"Hi, honey. Things are going well."

"So do you have any further plans for tonight? Doing something with the girls?"

"No. I just left them. I'm a little tired so I think I'm going to go to bed. How are the kids?"

"They're just fine. You have a good night's sleep and I hope you're better rested tomorrow."

"Thanks honey. I expect to be in much better shape tomorrow. I love you. Bye."

It felt nasty and exciting to obliquely refer to the activity I had planned to put me in better shape for tomorrow. I felt delightfully wicked. This wasn't at all like me. But it could be. It could help me break the bonds of boredom. Delightfully wicked now, would I feel ashamed later? I had no experience with this sort of thing.

I browsed through some of the conference materials while waiting for Don to show up. Like I said, the empirical evidence was that I was attractive enough for men to be extremely interested. I had no doubt he would come. It took him around 45 minutes.

I let him in and he pointed to the scattered conference materials. "I see you're preusing the handouts. It's always good to be prepared."

I though that before we did anything here, I had best go to the bathroom and clean out my ear wax. He misunderstood my bemused look.

"You look tense, Bobbie. You look like you could use a good massage."

That sounded great until he kept talking.

"People tell me I'm a really great masseuse."

Could he possibly be a woman posing as a man? Was he revealing her true nature to me in a slip of the tongue? I wasn't giving him sensual, seductive looks. All he was getting was looks of confusion.

"Oh, you want me to take charge? I can be pretty dominate." He was approaching me with his seductive, confident look. "And like I said, you seem like the subversive type to me."

Was he with Homeland Security?

I took a step back. Was I that confused or was this a guy who had needed someone else to take his exams for him to earn his college degree?

"Okay, we can skip the massage. But you are one hot lady and my blood is burning to be with you, beautiful."

Better. But I was having second thoughts.

He put his arms around me and pulled me in for a steamy, lengthy kiss. It sizzled. This was it. This was the kind of excitement I had been looking for! We separated, but I tried to move in for a repeat of the adventure.

"Before we get too far, my lawyer told me I have to tell you this so I don't get sued again. I have gentile herpes. It's not in its contiguous stage but my lawyer says I have to warn anybody before we do it. It's a prophylactic measurement."


I must have sounded a little put off to him. "You know, gentile herpes."

I had never for a moment suspected that he could be Jewish.

"You know, herpes. But it's not communicative now. I have no open legions."

"What?" Each one was getting louder.

"You know, an STP."

"What?" He had a gasoline additive?

"An STP kind of disease or something."

Were we on candid camera? Was I really considering cheating with Mr. Malaprop? Did I really want to look back at seventy and say of my life that I cheated on my husband with a man who didn't have the mental muscle to carry my husband's intellectual jockstrap just because he was pretty and I felt something was missing in my life; that I risked my marriage and the well being of my children for some cheap thrills with a man who might have a more difficult time learning to fetch than my Jack Russell Terrier?

How did he get through college? He must have seduced the female teachers. Maybe he was just lucky at multiple-choice tests.

If genital herpes had gotten him sued, what other little surprises might he have for me? I had no interest in finding out. How could I make him understand? Could I fracture the language enough for him to comprehend?

"Don, this was a big mistake. I'm not that kind of woman." That remained to be seen. "I drank too much and got carried away but I can't do this." Good excuse. That he would understand.

"You just need a little persuading. Take off your clothes," he ordered.

"Don, I'm not a submissive and I'm not looking for a dominant man. I'm just a loyal housewife whose judgment became clouded by a little too much alcohol. I don't want to do this and you don't want to do this."

He stiffened up as if he was planning on taking me by force.

"Don't. I'll scream. I'll scratch. I'll tear you up so bad you'll have to go to the hospital. Leave before you do something you can't undo." My tone was very calm, the kind of tone I had often used with my kids; the one they understood meant don't mess with Mommy.

His body relaxed and he turned for the door. When he reached it, he looked back and said, "You don't know what you're missing." He left.

He was wrong. I was grateful for what I was missing with him. But I had a lot to think about.

I still wanted to find that lost excitement, but I needed to consider it in the entire context of my life. Who was I? What was important to me? What did I value most? Did I really want to look back at seventy and say of my life that I was most happy I had found someone to screw other than my husband? Would that be a life well-lived, a life that mattered, even if I did not leave emotional wreckage in the path of my behavior?

My career is important to me. I derive great satisfaction from the recognition of my peers. How much respect would I command if I lost my job due to an affair with a coworker, let alone one over whom I might have some power? I suppose I could find someone not connected with my professional life to avoid that threat.

Did I value my marriage? Very much. It would have been one thing to cheat on a boyfriend back in college when I was weeding through a string of prospects, looking for someone to make a life with. There was almost an unlimited supply. Boyfriends were fungible. Husbands were not.

I knew Garrett well enough to know that he would not accept my cheating just to have a little excitement and for the thrill of getting away with it. If he found out, it would be over. I knew exactly how he would say it. "Bobbie, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." And that would be it. How could I love him as much as I knew I did and still consider doing this to him? It was a paradox for which I had no explanation.

What about my children? They would be devastated by a breakup. And they would take daddy's side. Why not? When presented with this factual situation about anybody else's life, I would take daddy's side. My parents would be crushed. They thought the world of Garrett. His parents would be crushed. They thought the world of me.

I undressed to get ready for bed. I washed off my makeup and settled between the sheets naked. They felt sensual against my skin. It might have been because I was fortunate to have been between them alone when I had come so close to being between them with someone else.

That's when I realized it. This was just a stupid midlife crisis. I hadn't recognized it because I thought it was the exclusive domain of men. And that realization, in turn, led me to my epiphany.

It was trivially simple to completely transform my life. I just had to realize that the things I have been doing are exactly the things I value most.

It wasn't that I had worked hard at my job, but that I had done it well and helped people in performing with diligence and skill.

My children are happy and well-adjusted and I am a significant contributor to that. My husband is happy and devoted to me. That was a major accomplishment and, if I love him as much as I believe, should be a source of great joy to me.

The "pretty" happy I had demeaned them with, was the midlife crisis talking. I am blessed to have all this in my life.

Joni Mitchell was very perceptive, but it isn't always true that, "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone." I would not pave paradise to put up a parking lot.