I was naked before the hotel-room door closed behind me. I love the rare occasions when we are behind the locked door of a hotel room – just me and my wife, Sheri. No kids. No neighbors. No one who hasn’t seen me naked more times than she’d like. I threw back the shades and walked straight onto the balcony. Our room was one of the few with a solid, three-foot-tall, concrete and plaster railing, rather than the metal slats with three-inch gaps leaving nothing to the imagination of anyone peering up from the pool or hot tub below. “We could have sex out here, and no one would know,” I thought, but was smart enough to not say out loud. I’ve come a long way in my sobriety, and the associated adolescent immaturity shedding.
I went back into the room, fired up the gas fireplace (even though it was the middle of the summer), ripped back the comforter and sheets, and wallowed around on our king-size bed. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I often hear advertisements for hotel-quality sheets you can purchase and have shipped to your home. I don’t know about you, but hotel-quality sheets are not exactly enviable in my world. We usually experience the sheets in a hotel as we trudge across Kansas or Missouri on our way to and back from Sheri’s family in Indiana – Sheri and me and four kids crammed into a single room at the Super 8 or Days Inn. The sheets resemble worn sandpaper, and almost always include complimentary cigarette burn holes or blood stains bleached to a pinkish hue. It had been ten years since we last celebrated a Sheri milestone birthday in a luxury hotel room, and for once, I didn’t feel compelled to check the hotel-quality sheets for pubic hairs.
Sheri giggled as I celebrated her birthday by prancing around the room in my birthday suit. She didn’t join me in my mid-day naked romp, and I didn’t ask her to. But she giggled. She felt safe. That meant a lot.
I’m not a rapist. I never was, even at the height of my alcoholic insensitivity. I was horny and selfish and persistent and whiney and manipulative. I pushed because I was never comfortable. Enough was never enough. Never enough beer. Never enough whiskey. Never enough sex. And definitely never enough common sense to see I was driving my wife away.
I pushed, and she felt guilty. I pushed, and she got angry. I pushed, and she felt insecure. I pushed, and she learned to hate me.
Hate is one of those things that’s awfully hard to unlearn.
“Wait until you see this!” I shouted from the bathroom. Sheri looked at me and smiled at my enthusiasm about our own in-room jacuzzi tub. She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t roll her eyes and give me that squirmish look so familiar from my years in active alcoholism. She smiled. While looking at me. Progress.
I got dressed so we could get on with the birthday weekend. We hiked, we shopped, we swam in the beautiful hotel pool, we ate a semi-extravagant dinner, and we sweated together in the sauna while talking about distant vacation destinations in Europe and Asia we might someday visit together. We spent a morning exploring the local hot springs pools. We rode a mountain coaster like we were teenagers and ate ice cream that was hand-made at a cute little deli. We went to the Friday night rodeo where we both ate something that was sold as a Bratwurst, but Sheri called soggy, tasteless tube meat. The rest of the rodeo was a blast. The tube meat gave us both minor issues in the morning.
And we had sex. It was loving. It was intimate. It was on Sheri’s terms (it was her birthday celebration, after all), but I was consulted. Mostly, it was none of your business, so I’ll keep this paragraph dedicated to Sheri’s birthday sex nice and brief.
This weekend getaway was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in two distinct ways.
First, when I got out of the hot springs after two hours of soaking in various pools at various temperatures, I felt light and euphoric. There was almost a numbness to it. It wasn’t a lack of sensation, but rather a lack of reaction. I just felt calm in a way that was totally unfamiliar. Sheri said it sounded like relaxation, and that I usually suck at relaxation. I felt like my shoulders dropped about two feet. I walked slowly and enjoyed the pace. It was bizarre and I liked it. I’m pretty sure I drove hours into the mountains and found a pool of water that had recently touched the molten center of the earth before bubbling up all around me just so I could feel like a human is supposed to feel.
I could not have felt that way back when I was drinking. I was unable to reach that state of consciousness. I used alcohol to relax, but it was limited in its effectiveness. I could zone out. I could feel nothing. But I couldn’t experience everything around me with simultaneous intensity and calm. If you want me to say stupid things at elevated volumes, then pass out in an awkward or traumatic way, give me booze and I’ll make you proud. If you want me to reach a waking meditative state, I’ll need about five years of sobriety and some 105 degree water, please.
The second way in which our weekend alone together was new and unique was in the way my wife and I interacted. She wasn’t tolerating the father of her children in an effort to maintain an intact family. She was having fun with someone she liked.
“Like” gets a bad rap as the derelict step-brother of “love.” Sheri has always loved me as a life-partner and major genetic contributor to her offspring. Love might be hard to attain, but it is lasting in many ways. I hear people say all the time that they love their alcoholic spouse, they’re just not in love with him. Honestly, I find that distinction really confusing. The rodeo bull riders we saw Friday night were both throttled, and in the throttlization process initiated by the bulls. Love is both confusing, and it receives all the attention when we think about romantic relationships. When it comes to restoring our marriage, “like” has all the power.
Sheri likes me again. She likes being with me. She likes my suggestions about where to go and what to do. She likes my never-ending supply of sarcasm and hushed criticism for people we don’t know. We once heard a minister say in his sermon that we shouldn’t talk badly of people, even quietly or under our breath. Sheri and I looked at each other and agreed that if we took his advice, we’d have nothing to talk about. So we ignored his preaching and talked about what an idiot he was on the way home from church.
The point is, our love is static and relatively consistent. Reaching a point where Sheri likes me again – now that is new and profound.
Love keeps us married. Like is where the happily lives.
As we sat in eastbound I-70 traffic heading back into Denver on Sunday afternoon, it was all I could do not to yank the car through the median and head back to our mountain retreat. Alcohol stole a lot from us. Through humility, exploration and persistence, we’ve gotten a lot of it back. But there’s no replacement for time lost. Sheri likes me as much as I like her, and there’s no more time to lose.
So let’s not waste time. The next time we go away, I’ll already be naked at check-in in the hotel lobby. Let’s see who’s giggling then.
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