The Scariest Place
by John Lehr
this woman I used to know left her husband. She went off to some artist colony, met a guy, and ran off with him to Florida. I didn’t know what an artist colony was then, but you can bet I remembered this incident when my wife was accepted to Yaddo—the famous artist colony in upstate New York. My friend Noah told me that these artist colonies were sexual free-for-alls. Yes, a lot of writing gets done, but a lot of other stuff gets done there, too. Now I don’t care if you are Stephen King or one of those guys who brags that he writes every episode of his TV show by himself, but my experience is that after four hours of continuous writing, you’re done. That leaves twenty hours of sleep and … research—if you know what I’m saying.
So when my wife came back from this artist colony and told me some guy turned her on, you’d think I’d panic. I didn’t. My wife says a lot of things. On our first date she talked for five hours straight and I fell in love with her. She writes a lot of things, too. She wrote a 350- page book about our sex life. Or rather our lack of sex life. And it has pictures too! Everyone’s face is blacked out … except mine.
Now, I wasn’t always the impotent, fearful, halfman my wife paints me as in her book. No, friend, I used to rock hard. I had shoulder-length hair, an alcohol addiction, and a taste for the pharmaceutical drugs stolen out of your medicine cabinet. I smoked three packs a day, sampled heroin, and once spent the night with two large sisters and their larger friend in a trailer home in a small town in the Ozarks. The word flaccid was never used when you referred to me. I was a whambanger, ladies and gentlemen. A maverick. A nut.
So when my wife tells me she had some tremors of sexual electricity towards some geeky writer at some artist colony, I’m saying inside: “Bring it on.” I know my wife and I know that she would never cheat on me. Cheating, in her world, is panicking about some guy she accidentally flirted with in the drinks room of a fancy writer’s colony. Drinks Room. Please. I had sex on the fairway of a golf course in Edinburgh, Scotland, for crying out loud. I spent the night on acid in a county jail. I know a little bit about breaking rules and my wife just doesn’t have it in her.
So, John. Tough guy. What happened to you? When did you get flaccid? Was it going sober? Was it the antidepressants you were prescribed when they found out you were clinically depressed and had been self-medicating with alcohol for fifteen years? Was it the Propecia you took like clockwork knowing the one reason your wife actually would leave was if you were bald? Sure. But the main reason I lost interest in sex with my wife? It wasn’t dangerous anymore. I wasn’t with the bartender in her room above the bar after hours. I wasn’t with the gorgeous Polynesian woman while a party was going on around us. And I certainly wasn’t with the transvestite in the backseat of a car.
Nope. I was sober and married. And let me tell you that this was the scariest place I’d ever been. Here you are with this amazing woman and then things go south and you are in therapy, A.A., and couples therapy trying to figure out why you don’t want her physically but at the same time knowing you would die without her. So when she comes back from Yaddo and tells me she thought about getting it on with this writer, I’m thinking: “Jesus, woman, I got enough going on here. You take this one. You decide whether you sleep with that guy or not. I’m trying to keep my brain from exploding by telling you my feelings without any Percocet and Pabst.”
But, right after that freak-out thought, another one came through: “I trust this woman.” And I haven’t trusted—well, anyone. Not like I trust her. Boys, I recommend the couples therapy. If you like the wild side, if you like going to that dark place, it’s the place to be. I mean, how often do you get a chance to be in a room with only two exits? Thankfully Jennifer and I exited the door marked “stay together,” and even if she didn’t know it, I knew she wouldn’t cheat. I trust her. And, the funny thing is, after I realized I trusted her, I started wanting to have sex with her.
John Lehr’s essay appears as the Afterword in the paperback edition of his wife’s book, Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex: A Memoir (ReganBooks, September 2005).
John Lehr is a writer/comedian who has appeared on television, film, and off-Broadway and is married to a woman who wrote a book about his lack of sex drive.