I walked into the beautiful foyer of the Belmont Place Inn, in Greenwich Village, New York. Katherine sat behind a small desk in the corner. I barely recognized her. She looked radiant and sophisticated. Different from the Southern California girl, in her jeans, running two restaurants.
“Wow Katherine, look at you!” I greeted her.
“It’s just my work clothes”, she replied.
I hadn’t seen Katherine for over two years and actually we hadn’t been that close in the latter years, before she left California to move to New York. So the first few minutes were a little awkward and strained.
I had come to New York for the weekend to celebrate my daughter’s tenth birthday. I was taking my two girls to the New York ‘American Girl’ store. I looked up the Belmont Inn on line and thought it would be a good way to see Katherine at the same time. She was now managing this gorgeous boutique hotel and was able to get us a good rate.
It was a red brick building with steep steps up to the front door. Inside it was furnished with antique furniture and padded upholstered wainscoting. Fresh flowers adorned every surface and hotel staff quietly scuttled about making sure all our needs were met.
The girls and I went to the dining room for breakfast where Katherine later joined us. Our stay was very short, only that Saturday, leaving again on Sunday so we didn’t have much time to linger.
We took off and explored New York. First walking we passed the Flat Iron building. On previous trips to New York I had always missed that one land mark and it really tickled me. What an amazing building. We grabbed a hotdog and sat in Madison Park watching the tame squirrels come up to us in the hope of a bite.
Next we made our way to the Empire State building, where we took the elevator to the top. Then an open top bus round the city where we jumped off at American girl, near the Rockafella center. This was followed by a visit to FAO Schwartz and a quick jump on the giant piano that featured in the movie BIG with Tom Hanks. Then a Hansen cab ride around Central parkand an open top bus back to our hotel. It was eight in the evening in New York by now.
My girls stayed in their room with their new acquisitions, knowing I was downstairs with Katherine who was now finishing up her shift. She poured me a glass of champagne and while I watched her talking schedules with her employees I recognized that she did look older, and although never pretty, she was still attractive in her unique Italian way. Perhaps a little too thin. I noticed a tattoo on her arm I had never seen before. She complained about some guests to the manager coming on duty, and “The Smiths in room four might want some decaf coffee after their walk”. Her tone was a little resentful and angry which surprised me.
“Right now Susan”, she turned to me, “let’s sit and chat. Tell me about that lovely man in your life.”
It was nice to have this quiet time with her, no distractions. She grabbed my hand. I was totally comfortable in the beautiful surroundings with the promise of a catch up conversation with an old friend.
I asked about life in New York, was she sorry she moved away from California? How was Joe that lovely husband of hers? How was her mentally ill mother coping with her being so far away, and her brother, a missionary in Estonia. “He’s married with a baby”, she said. “His wife has red hair, and their baby is as ugly as can be.” I was a taken aback. She said it angrily. “That kid got the worst of them both”, she said.
“Wow”, I replied., “ but you’re an auntie”.
“Yes I am, and I’ve never met the kid. My brother wants nothing to do with coming home and helping me with my mother.”
I asked her about the tattoo. “It’s my father’s initials”, she said. “I miss him.” Katherine’s father had died 12 years previously from cancer. He was given three months to live when first diagnosed and died two weeks later.
Katherine was married to Joe. They have been together 17 years, 8 years married. It was Joe’s dream to come to New York, so when Katherine sold the restaurants they packed everything up and started their new life. They sold their 2500 sq foot house and garden for a 750 sq ft apartment over looking the Hudson.
He found an art studio on the 5th floor over looking Gramercy Park. He shared the studio with a famous artist who had done paintings of Princess Diana and other dignitaries.
“You should go and see him tomorrow Sue. The studio is literally 5 minutes walk away, it is amazing. Joe is in his element. The networking here in New York just happens with no apparent effort. He is actually selling his art now, rather than giving it away.”
“And what about you Katherine?” I asked.
“Actually”, she said, “I don’t know about me. I feel kind of lost. I am so over qualified for this job. Plus it’s only four days a week. I mean, I like it, it’s easy but I think I might eventually open another café”.
“Are you serious? Do you really want all that hard work all over again?”
“I have to do something, and yes I like all that hard work”.
“What about the roof top gardens? You talked about starting your own roof top garden business”.
“Now is not the time to start a new business, in this economy. I would love to do the roof top gardens. In California, when I wasn’t working I had my friends, I had my garden. There was always hours of things for me to do when I was ‘relaxing’. Here I’ve become almost obsess ional about exercising. Do you still run?”
“No, one marathon was enough for me. All that time in thought got tedious. Now I take ballroom dancing. That is where I met Brian.”
“I would love to take salsa lessons. I told a friend of mine to drag me along. I don’t mind being the only married person amongst all those other singles.
And there are other things worrying me. I am bored. Maybe it’s a mid life crisis. Joe knows there is something up. Starting with the tattoo. I’ve lost weight in a different way than ever before. Look, I have no boobs. I love the way my body looks though. I can walk around naked without any worries.
And I have the most amazing sex drive. After years of feeling absolutely nothing. The problem with it though is that I feel nothing for my husband.”
I was shocked. Joe is a good looking man. Tall and very attractive by most people’s standards. His long hair had suited him, and now his short hair and beard looked good on him.
“You don’t find Joe attractive?”
“No. And before I thought that the reason I had no sex drive was because of the business. I thought it just took everything out of me. Rather how mothers with children must feel. Depleted at the end of the day. Joe never forced me to have sex either. So we just let it go undone. Now though, I have a huge drive and no one to share it with. I have tried. The other day I bought lingerie and lay on my bed waiting for Joe. When he saw me splayed there, he simply said ‘that must hurt’. I tried again another day and this time he couldn’t stay hard. I think it’s the change in me that is un-nerving him. I spend a lot of time on grooming too, and I mean, I’m groomed EVERYWHERE!”
“Have you ever discussed this with him? My marriage was the same. I would tell Mike, ‘do you think I like feeling this way? Feeling guilty every time I come to bed. Not wanting to be touched. I don’t want that either. I want to want you’. It is so frustrating. Can you not discuss it with him, and say it’s haunting you?’
“I’m not there yet Sue”.
“I know, it’s a process and eventually something will give and you’ll have to say something or do something.”
“I have had one indiscretion Sue.”
Another huge shock for me.
“With a hotel guest. Also called Joe. From the UK”.
“How did that happen? I mean how does it go from ‘Good evening Mr Blank’ to going to bed together?”
“It was amazing Sue. Within five minutes we connected. I decided to show him his room, rather than get a member of staff to do it. The tension was there, we both felt it and once inside the room, he pressed me up against the wall and kissed me. We were in bed together shortly after that. It was the most amazing sex I have ever had. He is married too with a child. It was only one indiscretion but over a period of a few days, and now I can’t get it out of my head. Am I supposed to go through the whole of the rest of my life never feeling that again?”
I didn’t know what to say. Katherine and Joe were always everyone’s ideal. They didn’t have children and seemed so connected. They really enjoyed each other.
“What do you want to do? Do you think you are looking for excitement in the form of a whole new relationship?”
“No, no, I would never leave Joe. We get on so well. We never argue. We are both mellow.”
I had never thought of Katherine as mellow. I don’t think anyone else who knew her would describe her as mellow either.
“Katherine, I would be so sad to see you and Joe break up and please don’t think I’m pushing you in that direction, but maybe you need some fire. I mean you have always been the main bread winner. Joe may be an amazing person and everything but maybe there are other amazing people out there. I think you have two issues going on. What to do to feel fulfilled in your life and what to do about the sex and more than that…your marriage.
I know how you feel to a certain extent. I am divorced and now in an amazing new relationship – where the sex is fantastic and I am pulling away from our family business and taking up other things like dance and writing and I have invented a board game I want to get sold. So I understand the need for passion.”
“You’re right about Joe. Maybe I do need the fire. Fire stirs up the passion. Joe has never done a single drug in his life. Never drank. He is so ‘white bread’ and I know no one would believe that, being a musician and artist and everything. We have a lot in common, and so we never fight. Who knows, maybe he is getting sex elsewhere too? I mean I think Joe and I can intellectualize it all and if we knew without officially knowing, we could keep our marriage while finding sex outside.”
I was beginning to think I should keep my mouth shut now. This was Katherine’s life journey, but I personally can’t see how a marriage can sustain when both partners are looking else where for sexual fulfillment. Maybe I’m wrong. Different things work for different people. I’m no shrink. I didn’t bargain on this conversation. I didn’t know what advise to offer.
“You have to do something Katherine if it’s causing you this amount of stress. It’s not healthy and not fair.”
“I could carry on the way things are. I know how to pleasure myself and the cyber thing works, so for now, that is what I will do.”
I wanted to let her go before she had any regrets about telling me.
“You know Sue, when I go back to visit my Mom which is about every six weeks, I always take one evening out to spend time with my girlfriends. Some confessed to having had indiscretions too, and they are married with children.”
I gave Katherine a hug and left her to get back to my girls. What a revelation. It made me wonder about all these women out there having these ‘indiscretions’. I have known and still know a lot of women having affairs with married men, but until now, no married friends popping out for a quickie before going home to change another diaper. Then calling it an indiscretion – which makes it sound like something worth justifying. It made me wonder about integrity and commitment. I understand all the yearning and wanting something more than we have. I know that only too well but popping out for a quick ‘indiscretion’ on a Friday night, makes mock of the whole relationship thing, whether that relationship is to your children, your husband, your boyfriend or whoever.
The next morning at breakfast Katherine urged me to pay Joe a visit at his studio. Before leaving I asked her what she did last night. She said she went to local restaurant where a friend works, sat at the bar with a book, tuna tartar and a glass of wine. It sounded idyllic, like a scene from a film, where some handsome man sidles up and asks, ‘do you mind if I join you?’ It feels like she is almost a predator, looking for it, wanting it. ‘I am available for a quickie’ pinned to her back, with the probability of the yet un-said ‘and possibly more’.
I took my girls to Joe’s studio. It was truly wonderful. A steep climb up the five floors to a wonderfully bright conservatory, perfect as an artist’s studio. Joe looked good. Age only made him more handsome. He was surrounded by enormous paintings of naked women. Completely exposed but beautifully painted. I wondered if this was his sexual outlet.
Our New York trip was rapidly coming to a close. I took my girls for a ride on the Staten Island ferry, so they could wave at Lady Liberty herself.
People came to America for freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Now it seems we are determined we are not going to live as Thoreau said ‘lives of quiet desperation’, we are going to go after that happiness, no matter what the cost.
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