The Vote

I’m not sure what I expected from marriage counseling, but John, my husband seemed to expect that the counselor, Dr. Owens, would fix me right up and then he (John) would have the perfect marriage. In other words, then he (yes, John), would have sex as much as he wants (all the time), and it would be great sex (all the time).

So John wasted no time in telling Dr. Owens about my relationship with my sisters. He said, Savannah’s relationship with her sisters, like that would explain everything and all Dr. Owens needed to do was get to the root of that peculiar little alliance and all our problems (i.e. his sex life) would be history.

I could not figure out how examining my relationship with my sisters would get John a better sex life but Dr. Owens said I couldn’t talk while John was talking. “Each person has the right to be heard without the spouse interrupting,” Dr. Owens said.

“Ohhh…,” I said, shaking my head in this, well-of-course-type way, and thinking, why does he get to go first?

So since John, my generally quiet husband, was suddenly on a roll, I settled back into this big leather couch, the first time I had sat down all day actually, and wondered what to cook for supper, making a grocery list in my head. I especially liked the leather sofa and I was thinking how good it would look in my living room and since it was leather maybe my boys couldn’t destroy it.

After thirty minutes of list making (including a weekend birthday party for Lorne, my oldest–that was a relief). I started drumming my fingers rather loudly on the armrest. Was I ever going to get a turn? John gave me one of his indifferent looks, which translated means, “Would you stop acting like a child?” Oh all right, I stopped.

But I knew my sisters would be sitting by their phones waiting to hear how our first session went. I didn’t want to get their imaginations going anymore than I guessed they already were. Paula, who is married to Charles, the absolute sweetest man on earth, can’t understand the whole marriage counseling thing. She said, “What do you need marriage counseling for? Just be married.”

Abby, who is getting her doctorate degree in psychology said, “They have issues, Paula. Every couple has issues. I bet even you and Charles have issues.”

Carl Ann said, “What on earth are issues?”

“Anything that creates an obstacle to a couple’s intimacy,” Abby said, looking to me for confirmation, as if I were going to up and tell them, right then and there, what mine and John’s issues were. I did not.

“In counseling they will be able to reach a new level of intimacy,” Abby announced as if she were giving a lecture to her undergraduate students.

“Well, they’re married! My God, how much more intimate can you get than that?” Carl Ann asked.

“Charles and I don’t breathe without each other,” Paula said. “Would that be called intimacy?”

Paula was pretty snippy when she said it. She did not go to college and although she acts like it doesn’t bother her, it does. She is jealous of Abby and her degrees. She secretly hates all that psychology stuff Abby is forever tossing around and thinks she’s a show-off. She is.

“No, that’s called joined at the hip,” Abby said. “You know they have successful surgery for that now. My guess is it’s sex,” she went on, “John has always been over-sexed.”

“Abigail Claire Lewis Rose you do not know that!” I said, hands on hips for emphasis.

That got their attention. We were painting Paula’s kitchen, except Carl Ann who was measuring for new window valances–she owns her own window treatment business and you can never get hold of her because evidently everyone needs their swags and jabots yesterday. Carl Ann is the only one of us who doesn’t live in Highlands (she lives in Atlanta with her surgeon-golf playing husband) and it kills her. She thinks she misses everything. She doesn’t. She’s here every weekend with her girls, Bernice and Lucy. Her husband, Tom, doesn’t mind because he spends his weekend driving up and down the mountains playing golf at one of the millions of courses we have here. My sisters began to circle around me like they did when we were little.

“Really?” Paula asked, looking as though she couldn’t quite picture that one. I mean honestly, even if she is married to the one man on the planet worth being married to for twenty years, sex still can’t be that good. That Sherwin Williams butterscotch yellow that I just love was dripping off her roller brush onto the drop cloth.

“Paula!” I said indignantly.

“Oh, come on now,” Carl Ann said. She was standing on her tip toes on the edge of the kitchen sink trying to measure the top of the window. “What man is not over-sexed, Abby? You could say that about any man on the planet. That is not exactly the psychological diagnosis of the year.”

“Exactly,” I said, looking at Paula, “I’ll bet even Charles wants to have sex all the time.”

Paula rolled her eyes as if to say don’t even get me started on that one, but then Abby jumped in and said, “See, I knew it. It is about sex isn’t it?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, if you must know, yes it is.”

“Ha!,” Abby said triumphantly, but Paula and Carl Ann just said, “Oh,” evidently pretty disappointed that sex was all it was. I guess they were hoping for something more dramatic because they went back to painting. Mine and John’s issues weren’t that interesting, after all.

Honestly, I wanted to say to Dr. Owens, (but I could not say anything because John was talking) you try being the only female in a house with four males. Men just take up more room than women do and they leave more messes. I told my sisters (who all have girls) when I was pregnant with John Mark, my baby, that I was praying for a girl. I simply did not think could stand to look at one more penis.

Paula wanted to know if I was having any issues or was it all John and his sex life. “Honey,” she said, “Are you happy? Do you have issues?”

Paula can look at you as if she sees all the way through to your heart and there you stand, all exposed and everything. I wanted to cry. But then Paula has seven children (and her twins, Tulla and Mary are my favorites, I admit it) so she doesn’t have time to mess around with the details. When you have seven children you best get straight to the point and quickly, before the next one jumps in and needs something.

I didn’t say anything but I have to admit I am scared to death. I am scared I’m going to mess all this up. I’m scared of what’s happening to John and me. Seems like we never talk anymore and I remember, how we used to talk. We’d sit up all hours of the night talking. We weren’t hurried or walking sick children, or worried about work, or making lists. We told each other everything–things I’ve never even told my sisters.

I made my sisters vote fast on him. I didn’t want him to get away. We met in college in a biology class. He was a botanist getting his graduate degree, and I was in love. I hated biology but I acted like all those protozoa and Petri dishes were just so interesting. When I came into class John would do this grin thing. Without looking up from his desk he would grin when he heard someone say, “Hey Savannah,” but he wouldn’t look up. He just kept working away, head down and grinning. I came unglued whenever I saw him do it. And sex….. well, it was… it was a long time ago.

At night, lying in our king size bed (his idea) I want to wake him up and ask, “Aren’t you scared? Doesn’t it terrify you to think of raising these little boys and getting it right? Do you ever miss us in the middle of all this?”

I looked at the clock. It said 1:45. Dear heaven, what on earth had John been talking about? He hadn’t talked that much since I first met him and then I think he did it to trick me into marrying him because the minute we said I do, his lips went zip.

When John told Dr. Owens about the vote, Dr. Owens leaned way over toward me (I was thinking, good, I guess it is finally my turn to talk), rubbing his chin, and said very seriously, “Tell me about the vote.”

“There isn’t much to tell,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and wondering what this had to do with anything. “When one of my three sisters an myself, has a major life decision, we vote on it. You know, like when Carl Ann, that’s my sister who lives in Atlanta, married Tom, her husband, we all voted on it. It has to be a unanimous vote.”

“So, you voted she should marry him?” Dr. Owens asked.

“Yes, though we did recommend that she wait until June and not April. Recommendations are different than the vote. You can decide not to go with a recommendation, but the vote is absolute, no fudging on it. See, Carl Ann has got that priss in her and she has to have everything just right. We knew she would be happier with the whole wedding planning if she waited until June. But she had it in April and she was a complete basket case trying to get it all together.”

“Has anyone ever not followed the vote?” he asked.

“Just once. Abby. She married her husband, Jimmy, even though it was unanimous that she shouldn’t.”

“How was it unanimous if she married him?”

“You asked if anyone had not followed the vote. Abby voted but then she didn’t follow it.”

“Oh?”

Dr. Owens was obviously confused so I explained.

“See Abby is no dummy. She sometimes comes across that way, but don’t let that fool you. She’s smart as a whip, even John will hand you that (John nodded his head yes, here). She knew marrying Jimmy was totally the wrong thing to do. She was just too weak not too and Abby, well, she’s a little rebellious, hates being told what to do, even if she has a partial say in it. And well, we all admit Jimmy is one hunk of burning love–bad marriage material, but good looking as the day is long. There are days, Carl Ann says, she might have turned tail and married him too.”

“Has it turned out all right, Abby’s marriage that is?” Dr. Owens prodded.

John rolled his eyes. He did not want me to get into the subject of Abby and Jimmy. He wanted to get back to our sex life, I presumed. So I kept it short. “No,” I said, “She left him recently, and they have a little girl, Frankie, and we are all absolutely heart sick about it. We had to vote on the divorce too, and, of course, that was unanimous–though we refrained from saying if she had followed the first vote, she wouldn’t be following this one now.”

Dr. Owens sat looking sort of stumped. “Does this vote include smaller decisions?”

“You mean like what couch or dress or something like that to buy?” (I still had my mind on his leather couch.)

He nodded like, okay, yes.

“Oh no, not things like that. I mean we do discuss them. Lord knows we’ll discuss a couch or a dress for a month. So, we voted not to vote on things like that. It takes too long. We want to keep the vote down to an hour.”

“So serious things like marriage you don’t discuss for hours?”

“No, about an hour is all. We can decide on men pretty quick. Children take a little longer, furniture and clothes we gave up on.”

John jumps in at this point to say that the Lewis women (that would be my sisters and I) don’t like men and that’s why we’ll spend days on a couch and thirty minutes on a husband. (Dr. Owens, I noted, did not stop him from interrupting.)

Dr. Owens said, “Is that true?” You and your sisters don’t like men?”

“Oh we like men fine,” I said. “We just don’t particularly need men. There’s a difference.”

“I see,” said Dr. Owens, “why not?”

“Why not what?” I asked.

“Why don’t you need men?”

“Because we have each other,” I said.

Dr. Owens and John exchanged some knowing look. I was beginning to suspect what Abby had said was true.

“Savannah,” she said, “you are going into counseling with a man who wants more sex, to talk about how to get more sex with a man who probably wanted more sex but is now too old to get it. The cards, dear girl, are not stacked in your favor.” Too true.

“How did you come up with the vote?” Dr. Owens wanted to know.

This man was too full of questions. Why did John get to ramble on about what I did or did not do and all I got was a boatload of questions. Anyway, the conversation was getting way too personal.

“My mother only loved Daddy. It was one of those loves you read about in books, you know, all the romantic, gushy stuff. Kids weren’t her thing–more of an unpleasant, and she says, unavoidable outcome of her happy union with my Dad, if you know what I mean. She always said she could get pregnant using Daddy’s toothbrush and from the looks of it, that was true. So, if we had a question about anything, she would say, go figure it our for yourselves, you’re smart girls, you don’t need me. But really, she just didn’t want to be bothered by anyone but Dad. So we did. We figured it out. We voted.”

“So your relationship with your sisters is, like John mentioned, very important to you?”

John turned around to look at me and I gave him the Savannah look, which needs no translating at all. What did these two want from me? Of course, my sisters are important to me. I cannot imagine a world where they are not. The space between us is impenetrable, a sliver of light, a shard of space too small for more than a quick breath of air. Anxiety attacks, Lamaze, marriage, divorce, children, overwhelming work loads, disappointments, memories that bring only pain, breath we whisper to each other, breath and we breath together.

“They’re my sisters,” I said.

Dr. Owens made a couple more notes, and John turned back around and stared out the window. Then Dr. Owens made our next appointment, though truly I can’t see the reason for going. If all John wants is great sex, I can tell him how to get that. As if that’s a big mystery!

Listen up, guys! Be nice. Do not expect her (the wife) to work forty hours a week, come home and cook and clean for five people, do the dishes, bath three little boys, get them in bed (kisses, prayers, monster checks and all), do the laundry, and get three little bags ready for the next day, while you (the husband) sit on your butt surfing channels. If she (the wife) has help, you (the husband) has sex. If she doesn’t, forget it bud. I mean we paid 150 bucks an hour for that it ain’t no big mystery. A nice bed and breakfast for the weekend works wonders too.

I’m just hoping the next session goes better and we actually get to discuss something important. Dr. Owens said we should bring in two lists. One that has ten things we wish we could change in the other person, (good, now maybe Dr. Owens will tell John that he can do dishes and laundry too) and one list with ten things we actually like about the person (I’ll worry about that one later).

Anyway, it wasn’t a total loss. I did find out where Dr. Owens got that great leather couch. His secretary, Francis, told me. (She has a boy at Chapel Hill and one at State. Who do they root for?) Turns out, she picked it out for Dr. Owens (of course) at a store about five minutes from Carl Ann’s house. Road trip!

Abby needs a little break with all she’s been through lately and Paula will be in the car before you can say jackrabbit. Remember the seven kids?

And me, well after this hour and a half (I wonder if insurance will cover the extra 1/2 hour–probably not would be my guess and John will croak when he gets the bill), I’m thinking lunch at the Puffy Muffin and a pedicure.

Paula said to look on the bright side. The session wasn’t a complete waste. How many women get to sit down for one hour, undisturbed? She’d kill for that. Abby and Carl Ann completely agreed. Well, that is true and it got us to thinking, you know maybe we need a spa week-end. Grove Park Inn?

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