Fall 2009, Volume 7

Memoir by Matthew Gordon


As we watched the commercial together for the first time, I admit that I misjudged Catherine’s laughter.  It so happened that during a break in a riveting episode of Celebrity Apprentice, just as Dennis Rodman was about to get fired, a couple appeared on the television, speaking candidly about a pill—called EXTENDZ—that had miraculously rekindled the fire in their love life.  Proudly, the virile man, with his bodacious package of a wife sitting by his side, boasted of his newfound and increased sexual endurance—with a delightful little side bonus of enhanced size.  Catherine and I chuckled together at the obvious absurdity of the entire display.  Ha ha ha.  Olympic stamina and a larger penis!  Could life be any better?

But then a few nights later, when we saw the commercial again, I began to realize that the joke was on me.  Apparently, as laughable as I found the man’s reaction to the benefits of this miracle pill, it was his wife’s contribution that had Catherine atwitter.  Coyly, the woman says at the end of the ad, “I thought, ‘Hey, we might even get to make love more often,’” implying that she has had a hard time coaxing her man into the sack recently.  This, I painfully discovered, is what my wife thinks is funny.  Not that couples would be interested in such carnival-like effects that should be kept to the privacy of their own home—just that a woman would actually relish the opportunity to have intercourse more often!

And somehow, the emasculating thought of Catherine laughing at that commercial is buzzing around my brain, like a nagging mosquito, as I stare at myself, completely nude, in our bathroom mirror, preparing to lather my scrotum with a handful of shaving cream.  I’m alone, fortunately, and can hear the kids fighting outside in the yard.  My charge—doctor’s orders—is to shave clean my family jewels, preparing them—and me—for my scheduled vasectomy the following morning.  

“How clean, Doc?”

“You ever seen a naked mole rat?”

But I can’t be too annoyed with my urologist; he’s agreed to see me on a Saturday morning, while the rest of his practice group is out of the office, to spare me the humiliation of exposing myself to so many people I know and work with in this town that seems to get smaller each day.  “The old back-door snip-eroo,” he’s calling it, though for so many reasons that doesn’t allay any of my concerns.

It also doesn’t do much to absorb any of the irony that drips from this calculated decision that relates directly to my own sex life.  In some ways, it seems like just yesterday that I re-discovered Catherine, though it was actually nearly 20 years ago, back in college.  I’d known her since middle school, when we were both 12, and had always run in the same crowd with her.  We went to a dance or two together—including a “Sadie Hawkins” affair where, according to Catherine, I spilled an entire pitcher of ice water on her and the three young ladies who accompanied her as I reached across the long table for my third roll of fried dough.  

But it wasn’t until years later, when she showed up at my college—allegedly to see a mutual friend of ours who went there, too—that I fell head-over-heels in love with her.  I still remember exactly what she was wearing when she miraculously appeared in the lobby of our dorm: a slick soccer track suit top, with her own college team name emblazoned across the back; form-fitting acid-washed jeans, tapered perfectly down the leg, a true sign of the times; and hip running shoes that seemed to allow her to walk on air.  A brief and awkward hug hello, and I caught a whiff of her thick blond hair, which cascaded over her shoulders and smelled like fresh strawberries.  She must have said something, but all I could do was inhale that sweet bubblegum breath, which danced from her ever-so-slightly glossed lips.  Perfection.  We kissed by the water fountain in my hallway, long after everyone else had gone to bed, and as I gently slipped my hands under the back of her shirt, I felt her warm, smooth skin and pulled her in toward me, tight against my pounding chest.  Oblivious to everything around us, we were both thinking—and believing—that we would always burn for each other in this way: a deep, hot hunger that cannot be sated.

Fifteen years of marriage, though, can take hold of that hunger and extinguish it like a blanket dropped gently over a roaring fire, reducing it in time to smoke, ashes, and dust.  Graduate school, building careers, and raising three kids (including twin boys) exact a heavy toll.  Before you know it, you’re thirty-eight and looking forward to the highlight of your evening: getting the kids in bed, pouring a glass of wine, and sitting comatose on the couch in front of Two and a Half Men reruns.  This, sadly, is where we found ourselves.  Or, I should say, this is where Catherine, mostly, found herself, tired all the time, like gravity had been turned up a notch and was dragging her to the ground with a force that could not be denied.  It was all she could do—after managing the house, getting the kids to school, paying the bills, playing with the baby, volunteering in town, picking the kids up from school, driving them to soccer practices and doctors’ appointments, putting dinner on the table, and, with barely an ounce of strength left, cleaning them up for bed—to keep her eyes open past 8:30 each night.

But I think men are just in a different boat here.  You see, for reasons I can’t explain, I never lost that hunger, that flame, and can’t imagine that I ever will.  In fact, sometimes I wonder if I actually crave physical intimacy with her more now than I did as a wild 18-year-old with raging hormones.  To me, Catherine’s still that clock-stopping beauty that appeared on my doorstep years ago, beckoning to me with her fresh face, innocent smile, and lean, muscled body.  I still find myself, even today, peeking at her naked breasts as she changes into her running clothes each morning.  Or straining to catch a glimpse of the bare flesh of her lower back, as she reaches down to scoop up the crust of a PB&J sandwich that has fallen on the floor.  Or running my hand across her firm bottom as she passes me in the kitchen of our house.  She’s as tempting—as seductive—as she ever was to me, and that’s why I’m willing to fight seemingly unbeatable odds to get her back to the bedroom each evening.  She could be fast asleep, drooling on the suede pillows of the couch, and I’d still make a play at her, willing to pull out all the stops, the fine little tricks I’ve taught myself over the years: a sensual foot rub that somehow seems to migrate up her leg (“That's not my foot anymore!”), spooning with her when we finally get under the covers (“Something’s poking me!”), or even flopping around in bed in fake disgust at her unresponsiveness, turning on Sports Center far louder than it really needs to be (“Zzzzzzz....”).  And on the rare occasion that I can actually get her juices going, too, I still have to peel through layer after layer of sweatshirts, undershirts, pajama bottoms, and thermal leggings (“It’s so cold in here!”) and take care to practice safe sex (“What’s taking so long?  My window’s closing.”).  It’s almost not worth the trouble.  Almost.

Which is why I’m standing here, in our bathroom, preparing myself to go through this outrageous ordeal. (My brother, who had the same procedure done last year while he was living in London, swears that he actually saw smoke and heard the doctor joke with the attending nurse about it.  But he was sedated, I’m thinking.)  The moment the shaving cream touches my scrotum, however, I begin to regret the decision—or at the very least that I’ve chosen a shaving cream with wintergreen-fresh menthol.  But it’s too late to turn back now, so I carefully—and I mean carefully—commence my tricky assignment.  And that’s when I notice that someone’s watching me.

“What are you doing!?”

Only it’s not exactly a question.  It’s more of an accusation, a charge, like she’s caught me doing something illegal.  I try to remain calm, cool, in control of the situation.

“Whaddya mean?”  (That’s the best I can do?)

“I mean, What... are... you... doing?”  She’s serious now, and walking closer to me, which makes me more anxious than I want to be with a razor this close to my penis.  So I hold her at bay with the only thing I’ve got left: the truth.

“I’m doing what the doctor told me to do... for the vasectomy.  You remember that little procedure we agreed was the right thing for us to do?”

She’s taken aback by this, and I should just let it go, happy to have the situation neutralized.  But something in my genetic make-up kicks in and forces me to add:

“But I have to say that ‘us’ is feeling much more like ‘me’ right now.”

I’m not sure what I expected from her after a comment like this.  Something along the lines of pissed, probably.  Maybe even disgusted.  Best-case scenario (but highly unlikely): amused.  What I didn’t anticipate at all was what I got; she said nothing, nothing at all, and her eyes welled up with tears.

I moved to her, still lathered and still naked but trying to seem normal, and reached out to her.  She turned her head away from me and held her hand up, indicating that she wanted me to let her be, so I just took her hand and held on to it before trying words again.

“What?  What’s wrong?  I'm sorry, I just...  I didn’t...”

“No, it’s not... it’s not that.  It’s not you.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s just...  It’s just that this is all so final.”

“What’s so final?”

“This!  This surgery.  All of this.  I just can’t believe that Molly’s our last child.  And that we’re 40 years old.”


“Oh, come on.  You know what I'm saying.  Can’t you just let me be sad about this for a minute?”

This time I know better and say nothing.  She continues.

“I just can’t believe that this is where we are.  It’s gone so fast.  Too fast.  It feels like last week that we were talking about starting a family.  My god, we were so excited.  And only just before that we were in college, and I came down to New York to visit you.  You remember that?”

“I thought you were visiting Larry.”

“Whatever...  It feels like we blinked our eyes and lost the last 20 years.  Half of our lives!  What have we been doing with ourselves for the last 20 years?”

“We dated.  We broke up.  We dated some more.  Got married.  Had three great kids.  And moved into this house.”

This time she’s the one who doesn’t respond.  So I try a different approach.

“Cath, are you happy?”

“With what?”

“With all of this.  With us?”

“Of course I am.  I wouldn’t want this any other way.  Why?  Are you happy?”

For whatever reason, this is when I remember that I’m standing in front of her naked, with shaving cream all over my now tingling balls.  

“I couldn’t be any happier.”

Finally, she laughs, and we hug like we did back in the dorm hallway, beside the water fountain, when the only thing in the world that mattered to us was each other.


On a brief vacation with friends a while back, one of the guys called it quits for the evening and said he was going upstairs to bed, where his wife (and the rest of our wives) had retired hours earlier.  We teased him as he made his way out of the room, knowing that he, like the rest of us, would be trying to get his wife in the mood, even if just for a moment.  

“Hey, what do you think the odds are of you getting some action tonight?”

“About one in 365.”

We all laughed at the joke he was making because it was hilarious, but also because there was more than a shred of truth in it for all of us.  Despite the reports that men’s sex drives decrease as they reach their thirties and that women’s increase, I’ve seen no personal evidence that this is true.  My drive seems to remain constant and undeniable; Catherine’s is also pretty constant, hovering, though, around nil.  But it really doesn’t matter.  The lives that we’ve lived that have carried us to this point, where physical intimacy is wonderful but rare, are also the lives that have made our relationship so rich, so multi-dimensional, and so irreplaceable.  These lives have produced some of the things—three, in my case—that are the most meaningful to me.  Even though I’d like to make love more often, I cannot help but feel completely fulfilled.

And if all else fails, and I’m completely off track, at least I’ve got EXTENDZ to fall back on.


BIO:  Matthew Gordon is a part-time coach and landscaper from Washington D.C.