A Brief Experiment with Married Men, Part Four
The bacterial wages of sin
The next time I saw Sam, we met at a restaurant in my neighborhood, where he had already ordered a glass of red wine and was staring fixedly at the baseball game on the TV above the bar. (As a painter friend of mine once remarked, you could have a great Matisse hanging in a bar, and if there’s a television, no one will so much as glance at the canvas.)
I tugged at his lapel and asked playfully, “Am I going to have trouble competing for your attention?”
“Hey, I’m a guy. You gotta cut me some slack.”
“And I do. I just wish someday someone would explain the mechanics of baseball to me so that I can get as involved as you do.” I told him the only game I’d been to in the last 20 years was at Shea two summers earlier, where I shivered during interludes of heavy rain, ate overpriced hot dogs for dinner, and couldn’t for the life of me understand why this is America’s most beloved pastime.
He gave me a hug. “We’ll go to a game together. I’ll show you why it’s so much fun.”
I liked the sound of that. He asked me what I’d been doing over the last few days. “Writing a book review of a new survey of Mark Rothko’s career.”
“Who’s Mark Rothko?” he asked.
I couldn’t help it, but I cringed inwardly, just a little. Not to be a snob, but could I really get involved with someone who had never heard of Mark Rothko? “A major painter,” I told him. “A big deal in mid-twentieth-century American art. He and Jackson Pollock were near-contemporaries. You have heard of Jackson Pollock?”
He nodded at that, and I said, “Tell you what, you take me to a baseball game and I’ll take you to the Modern to see the Rothkos.”
“Deal.” He kissed my forehead.
And for the time being that settled the culture wars. Over dinner Sam told me more about his vast extended family and growing up in the South. It was a brutal childhood—his father polished off a fifth of bourbon a day and frequently took a strap to the kids—so far removed from my easy suburban upbringing that my heart went out to him. Sam was matter-of-fact in discussing his past, the soul of unadventurous normalcy in his dark-blue banker’s suit and striped shirt, until he whispered, “I can’t wait to take your clothes off.”
And we were in for another marathon night of it, though this time I was better prepared with condoms and lubricants (yeah, yeah, I know….I shoulda thought of these first time around….at my age, really!). Sam was a big snuggler—he told me from the beginning he loved to spoon—and it was very sweet to sleep with his arms around me most of the night. I couldn’t help wondering why his wife refused the advances of such an affectionate man and what the situation was on the home front.
The next day he text-messaged me, “I like sleeping with u.”
And I texted back: “Me 2.” When you’re having a great time in the sack, you’re totally unashamed of lapsing into teen-speak.
And now, gentle readers, I must enter some territory never covered in romcoms or Harlequin romances, not in Bridgerton or Sanditon, or to the best of my knowledge in the pages of the Misses Austen or Brontë. So if you are at all squeamish about the betrayals of the body, I suggest you skip this installment and wait for next week’s. I am talking here about the sort of occasional unpleasant consequences of strenuous fucking. It’s true that the more lethal sexually related ills, like syphilis or gonorrhea or even AIDS, can turn up in war novels, sweeping historical dramas like Out of Africa, plays, and even an episode of Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria. But those other little ailments, like urinary tract infections, don’t seem to merit much attention. Maybe because they are more common among women? Could it possibly be that fatal STDs are simply more macho, whereas our complaints are, well, just “female complaints”?
For several hours after Sam left, I was pleasantly sore…. the kind of chafing and mild tingling that reminds you that you’ve had a good time the night before and brings a little secret smile to your lips when you’re walking about on your daily rounds.
But by evening the soreness had turned to pain, burning pain when I took a pee, sharp pain when I walked, and I headed to the drugstore to scope out over-the-counter remedies. When the salves and the douches had no effect within 24 hours, I decided that I had indeed come down with something like cystitis, which I hadn’t suffered in years, and on Wednesday morning I realized I needed to make an appointment with a gynecologist. The only problem was my regular doctor, whom I’d always liked immensely and had been seeing for years, was not on the insurance plan I had switched to in the previous year. So I found a very short list online of ob/gyns who were on the plan. The first one I called couldn’t see me for a week. Another, a certain Dr. C, was several miles away from me on the Lower East Side, but at least she could give me an appointment that afternoon.
Dr. C’s office was in the basement of an older apartment building opposite a hospital on Second Avenue—a grim windowless space with a few faded posters and nothing to read in the waiting room but ancient copies of People. After endless forms and a half-hour wait, the receptionist ushered me into the inner sanctum. Dr. C proved to be a swarthy, forbidding woman, most likely in her 60s, with a dark mustache and Heavy eyebrows that marched across the bridge of her nose. I suddenly felt as though I’d been asked to report to the principal about some unbelievably stupid prank.
“I, um, have a new boyfriend,” I told her after describing my symptoms. “He’s really big….” I attempted a smile. We were, after all, woman-o-à woman-o here. She didn’t smile back.
“Let’s take look” was all she said before sending me to the bathroom with an empty urine-specimen bottle.
And then I was in the stirrups and Dr. C was doing her thing; the first touch of cold metal sent a stabbing pain up my spine. After she collected a swab, she instructed me to get dressed again and wait outside. I noticed a microscope on a side table and deduced that she could make a diagnosis then and there.
I did have an infection akin to a UTI, and both my “partner” and I would have to refrain from intercourse and take a week’s worth of antibiotics.
I dreaded giving Sam the news, and debated whether email or phone was preferable. I mean, hell, I barely knew this man. (And why did I assume this was all my fault? I wasn’t the one with the outsized dick, which probably started the bacterial migration in the first place). But he took it gamely, even if I could almost hear the wince in his voice. He offered to send a messenger for the pills after I’d had the prescription filled.
But then there was a problem with the pharmacist, who told me in a crisp British accent that she could not provide double the dosage because my insurance wouldn’t cover that. What if I paid for the second set of pills out of pocket? She wouldn’t do that either, for reasons that made no sense to me but probably had to do with some obscure pharmacist’s code of making patients feel miserable and guilty, especially if they’ve been having great sex with a married man and get infected with an STD (you slut! you miserable slut! this is what you deserve!). When I called Dr. C to see if she could bring some pressure to bear or call in a separate prescription, she informed me firmly, “I’m not his doctor. I can’t do that.”
If there is a God, He/She was clearly doing everything within His/Her power to punish me.
The only solution seemed to be for Sam to see his own doctor. But didn’t have one in the city, only a family physician in St. Louis, and he certainly couldn’t go to him with a problem like this. So I called my own GP, and without going into elaborate detail, explained the snafu. The receptionist scheduled an appointment for him with Dr. B the next morning.
Sam was, under the circumstances, astonishingly grateful for my efforts. It seemed to me he had every right to call down the hounds of hell upon my head (even if we didn’t know who was carrying the offending microbes), but he didn’t. He simply remarked, with a touch of amazement, “You are a remarkably resourceful woman.”
“Let’s just be grateful for the miracles of modern medicine.”
So Sam flew to St. Louis for the weekend with his little vial of pills and I continued to take mine, and within a few days whatever infection had been traveling through my system was wiped out and I could walk without pain once again. In the back of my mind, I was sure he’d want to call it quits and return to his monkish routine, but instead I got an email over the weekend praising certain female attributes in unblushing detail and expressing a desire to get together on Wednesday.
What a guy.
Top: Richard Tenant Cooper, Syphilis, gouache, 1912