My wife, with mild trepidation, approved this missive.
Mirage A Trois
Marinating in the afterglow of my 40th birthday weekend, with the yard cleaned and the dishwasher on its fifth cycle, my wife and I shut out the lights and nestled together in bed. She had orchestrated an epic two days which had involved months of planning and included friends from all over the country. For me, it had been the pinnacle of birthdays, conceived and carried out in grand fashion despite my annoying inability to answer a question she had asked repeatedly since I had turned 37.
“What do you want for your 40th birthday?”
With unwavering and annoying consistency, I had answered “I don’t know,” until I eventually waxed prolific and mentioned it would be nice to spend it with a few friends. From that lone seed and her creative combination of thoughtfulness and drive, she had ushered in the beginning of my next decade with an indelible flourish, a flourish that I imagined would never be topped.
With one additional “Happy Birthday” and a kiss, she propped herself up on one arm, leaned over me, and smiled. Eve wore the same smile after her first bite of the apple, a subtle but definitive signal that we were on the cusp of an intimate epilogue to the weekend. And then, tapping my chest gently with her index finger, accentuating each word as she spoke, she popped the question.
“What do you want for your 50th birthday?”
Hoping to still be alive didn’t count, nor did any variation of “I don’t know” or “let me think about it” or “I can’t think that far ahead.” That hadn’t worked for my 40th, I was told, and it wouldn’t play for my 50th. Jewish wives are forward thinkers.
50, she explained, was a far bigger deal than 40. “Top of your head. One shot. What do you want for your 50th birthday? I need something, or this party is over.”
I thought for a moment and defaulted to a not so uncommon quip of mine, a standby for questions such as what do you want to do tonight? What shall we do this weekend? and what’s your favorite color?”
“You, me, and another woman.” As my words drifted in into the humid post-party June air, out the open window and over the rental tables that were stacked in the driveway, the thought “oops,” came into my head. She propped herself slightly higher on her elbow and looked down on me. She didn’t rush her response.
“OK.” She said.
In Chinese, a word’s meaning hinges on inflection and context. A deceptively simple word such as “shi” for example, carries a multitude of meanings dependent entirely on how and when the word is spoken. “Shī Shì Shí Shī Shǐ” may sound as if the speaker is stuttering, but the words actually translate to “The Lion-eating poet in the stone desert.” As any remotely seasoned husband knows, the word “OK,” when spoken by a spouse, is subject to the same multitudes of interpretation.
“OK?” I said, tentatively, looking for some bearings.
“OK like ‘OK’ or OK like, ok?”
She tilted her head to the side and repeated the word “OK.” In her mind, as she would tell me later, why argue about something a decade away. A lot can change in ten years. She might gain interest. I might lose mine. So she went with a convincing and temporal “OK” and then put the finishing touches on the mostly sleepless night of my 40th.
Plans for my 50th flowed but mostly ebbed for the next several years. In the few times the subject came up, she would casually affirm her “OK” for the three-for-all. At 45, she had second thoughts about the prospective threesome. “After really thinking about it,” she explained, “That’s the kind of thing that can be good when you’re in college and experimenting, but wouldn’t be good for a marriage. You can’t undo it.” And so the “conversation” hibernated.
In the days following my 49th birthday, her sentiments abruptly shifted. With no prompt from me, she unexpectedly reverted to the initial plan. 50 only came once. You’re on. It’s happening! And in a heartbeat at a post-49th birthday breakfast, theory transitioned to tactical, and “should we” morphed into “with whom should we?”
“Seriously,” she said, responding to my quizzical stare. “Who is the third person?”
In my mind, despite the 9 year prologue, the possibility of a ménage a trois existed on the same plane as the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and time travel. All fun to think about. All from the land of make believe. I wasn’t biting.
“Yes, of course the third person will be a woman, and no, she won’t come from an assisted living home.” She went on to inform me that the handful of celebrities I had suggested were already in relationships.
“I’ll figure it out,” is how she left it.
I received occasional updates as June approached. In the pre-Tinder era of 2008, she had found a web site and had begun researching candidates. She read profiles, screened for any possible health issues and steered away from anyone married or charging for the experience. By the first week of June she had appropriately narrowed the field to three and began a series of phone interviews. On Friday, June 13th, she set me off to work with a kiss and, an “oh by the way,” she had chosen a finalist, and everything was set for the next night, the eve of my 50th.
“Don’t worry,” she added, “The kids have sleepovers.”
During my first client meeting of the day, I couldn’t shake off the images of the time traveling Easter Bunnies that kept hopping into my head.
Saturday night we treated ourselves to dinner at a swanky local steakhouse. Since I was only on the cutting edge of 50 and we hadn’t once mentioned retiring to FL, it did strike me as odd that she had made our reservations as early as she had, 6:00 PM with a “let’s be on time” added as I was getting ready. Odder still, at dinner, she mentioned that if she were drinker, she could really use a drink.
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m sort of nervous,” she said.
“Why would you be nervous?” I asked.
She shot me that look that were equal parts pity, exasperation and disbelief, the same look that husbands get when they return from grocery shopping with only two thirds of the items on the list, and 1/3 of those being either the wrong brand or the incorrect amount.
“Because, we have a guest. We have to be home by 8:30, and I’m a little nervous.”
In response to my quick monologue about how I didn’t buy it, that she was funny, and that given I was turning 50, it was obvious I wasn’t born yesterday, she calmly stepped through a few points of her own. In the same tone wives assume when tracing the meticulous preventative steps that they had laid out prior to your forgetting a 3rd of the shopping list, she reminded me of several key points. The ménage a trois web site she had shown me. The profiles she had read. The phone calls. The redhead we would be on a first name only basis with. The kids on a long planned sleep over. How it would be awkward at this point to bail, though she would understand completely if I wanted to change my mind. Then she served up her coup de grace.
“You showered before dinner, right?” She accentuated her look of concern when I hesitated by gesturing to the waiter and asking for our check. “We have to get home. You have to shower.”
I was rapidly relegated to the kids’ shower so she could get ready in our bathroom. As she dashed off, she handed me a pair of brand new silk boxers with the redundant follow-up instructions of “wear these.” My fashion coordinator – at work, at play, and at play. The evening was accelerating at a disorienting pace, and I was working to collect myself through the haze of a single martini while simultaneously balancing surges of excitement and intermittent spikes of panic. I told myself to keep up, which I meant both figuratively and literally. As I stepped out of the shower, I heard the doorbell ring.
“I got it,” she shouted from our bedroom. I heard her footsteps, the front door open, and voices. When they knocked at the bathroom door, I nearly fell backwards into the tub. “Give us a moment. We’ll call you when we’re ready.”
I immediately took a quick second shower, repeating the phrase “holy shit!” at random intervals and varying degrees of intensity. After I dried off and finished brushing my teeth for the fourth time using one of our kid’s undersized toothbrushes, my wife shouted I should come in, and that she would be out in a second.
I walked to the bedroom and peeked in with the same tentative glance you take when you are exploring some unexplained noise that emerges from the guest room in the dead of night. I could hear the sink running as my wife finished whatever the hell it was she was doing in the bathroom. The room was illuminated only by candlelight. And there with her back to me, staring out the bay window was an incredibly tall redhead, long hair down to the small of her back, wearing an ensemble of lingerie banned in 6 southern states.
I was a deer in the tail lights, helplessly uncertain of the next step. I had forgotten her name, though I did remember everything was supposed to be first name only. More to the point, the adventure had not come with a rule book. Did we greet by shaking hands, hugging or kissing, or some combination therein? Was it a social faux pas or expected foreplay to introduce yourself to someone who wasn’t your wife in a physical state which my newly acquired pair of silk boxers were doing more to accentuate than disguise. These critical nuances and complexities never surfaced in my fantasy. In between the seconds that I was wondering just WHAT THE FUCK my wife could possibly still be doing in the bathroom and praying that one of them knew CPR, I took a moment to coach myself that whatever the official rules might be, coming to a close before my wife made her entrance was poor form. As I had learned as a kid from a grandmother forever citing Emily Post, wait for the hostess to sit before starting and certainly before finishing the meal.
I settled on a set of opening remarks to break the ice, introduce myself, and set everyone at ease.
“Hey,” I said, the word stumbling out in three syllables.
The Victoria Secreted gazelle turned around very slowly, revealing the flip side of the heart stopping lingerie package and vibrant “come hither and be devoured” eyes that leapt out below her bangs. I was a millisecond from turning to the bathroom door and shouting “MAN DOWN!” when I realized the woman in front of me was actually my wife. It was she who stood at the bay window in the flickering light of the candles, wearing a long glamorous auburn wig and elevated on 6-inch raised strappy sandals. She had the water running in the empty bathroom accompanied by a radio talk show. I had been taken nook, wine, and sinker – duped, electrified and unexpectedly relieved. Our long stretch of laughter eventually modulated into a longer night of mirage a trois (less one) athletics that are also banned in 6 southern states.
In the predawn hours of my 50th, my mirage and I (who remains on call to this day under a code name I won’t reveal) lay together in bed. Before we faded off to sleep, my wife propped herself up on one elbow and kissed me. Then she lay on her side and tapped my chest gently with her index finger, accentuating each word as she spoke.
“What do you want for your 60th birthday?”