I sat up in bed, panting and red faced. Ronnie wept. I hate when she cries. "Honey, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say." Please don't mess with my mind. I rolled toward her and put an arm around her waist. "You're Beautiful" was playing; I hoped she wasn't paying attention.
She flashed her frostiest glare at me. "Don't apologize. I'm sick of it. It doesn't work any more." She pulled away from me to reach for her cigarettes on the nightstand. After lighting one, she held the pack toward me, grinning without humor. "You might as well. The damage is already done."
While taking the pack, I thought, You never used to be so hateful. I lit up, recalling how I wound up in this predicament.
We were watching TV an hour ago. I spotted a tear on Ronnie's cheek and asked what was wrong.
She hesitated, looked at me and let it out. "Why don't you touch me any more?"
I was devastated. I sat slack-jawed, not thinking to put my arms around her. Fifteen thoughts hit in fewer seconds. My mental hand reached outward to choose one, but couldn't. I muttered, "Oh, my God." It wasn't good enough.
Ronnie said, "I'm not that old. I still have the same feelings."
I grasped at straw-words: "I know, sweetheart, and you're beautiful as ever."
She glared at me for that. "Then, what's the problem? I thought you took care of it."
I didn't have an answer, so it got worse.
Her voice crackled from a sob. "Are you seeing someone else?"
"Then what's going on?"
I flashed to the last time we made love -- tried to. I'd lost my erection. "Honey, I think I have a problem."
"I know that," she said, her voice more acidic than necessary. "What is it? Do you just not want me any more?"
"Of course I want you." We've always been honest; I hit her with my flashback. "Do you remember the last time?"
Ronnie took my hand with hers. "Yes. It's happened before. It's normal."
Her switch to tenderness caused me to think, I just jumped onto a roller coaster. Her empathy amplified my love for her. My memory worked overtime, to other occasions. I said, "Shit".
"I just realized this isn't new."
Ronnie squeezed my hand. Barely audible, she said, "I know".
I looked her eye-to-eye. Mine filled with tears; I knew what I was about to say would hurt her. "I've been avoiding you. I swear it hasn't been a conscious choice. I..."
Inside, I raced to face what I'd been doing. "Fear of failure. I've let it stop me from trying. My God, what have I done to you?"
Ronnie put her arms around me, opening the floodgates. We kissed, touched and headed for the boudoir. I lit candles and turned on the cd player. Her favorite music is in there. We continued to caress and kiss. A few minutes of tenderness and preparation led to normal responses. Being with her again gave me the sense of oneness we had for years, the thing I most missed. I felt my heart rate zooming, my breathing become like a dog's and my body's defenses take away my manhood of the moment. Poor Ronnie. I love her, deep and real. I do want her, but my damn body won't cooperate. I knew she felt me shrink inside her.
"George, what is it?" The tenderness, tears and patience in her eyes sliced my heart.
"My body went ... into safe mode, if you'll pardon the expression."
Ronnie doused the glow from her eyes and put the grapefruit in her voice. "Well, I don't want you to have a heart attack over it."
That's when I sat up and apologized, ensuring the predicament.
A typical Baby Boomer, I started to smoke cigarettes in my mid-teens. So did Ronnie; we both fell into the trap. We've never been the most active couple. We're not the type to climb cliffs, hike or work out. We're not inactive, just not active enough. We even joke about "The E word", referring to exercise. Our activities have been cards, Yahtzee, computer games and an occasional round of darts. Now we're "middle-aged;" things are happening that we didn't anticipate. Grocery bags have gotten heavier. We both have floppy flesh below our triceps. We aren't "couch potatoes," but we spend our share of time there watching DVDs and reruns of series we missed.
I decided I'm at the time of life when I need to increase my stamina. I joined the Y. I began doing laps in the swimming pool. I got winded, but kept it up four days a week. I admit I felt better after about a month. It wasn't enough: the same old problem in bed.
I added treadmill to my routine. I was healthier, but it didn't solve the problem. After two-and-a-half months, I began to use weight machines. My body firmed within another month. Just not there.
I hated to see Ronnie's disappointment. After another failed episode, she asked me to see my doctor.
"You think I have a mental problem?"
"No, silly. I was thinking ... maybe you can get a prescription."
She said, "It can't hurt to try."
The big V did help. Sometimes, its effective period expired before we got amorous. I decided to try one of the long-durational prescriptions. It worked better for a while.
My performance wasn't there, even when the equipment was. Of course, Ronnie realized it, too. Well, sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Each week, the failure- to-success ratio worsened: square one. I thought I did all I could. Three months ago, I gave in and accepted the one step left was to quit smoking. So I did. It didn't help right away; after a few weeks the success ratio improved. We were both optimistic -- for three weeks. The success rate dropped again. The damage was done. Decades of cigarettes ruined our intimacy.
I thought of suing tobacco companies. That's already been done. I'm angry at them, but more at myself. I expressed all this to dear Ronnie. She insisted, even though she missed me, nothing will ever part us.
I feel like I have a premature death sentence. Now I'm physically healthy. My brain, the most vital erogenous organ, works fine. It's southward I suffer from a vestigial appendage. I should have many years left. I wonder if I can get accustomed to dispassion.
I'm smoking a cigarette. It's all Ronnie and I are sharing. We're not talking; no words work. Until this second, I believed the intimacy issue was primary. Now that she placed her ashtray between us on the bed, I see more clearly and wince at the symbolism.
I flick my ashes.