Notebook: Mim and Arnold

A steam train transporting its passengers... by Albert Lloyd Tarter, English, 194-, via Wellcome Trust.

A steam train transporting its passengers… by Albert Lloyd Tarter, English, 194-, via Wellcome Trust.

We’ve only been sleeping in separate beds since last Thursday, but already I feel as though my body has detached itself from our marriage like an unhitched railway car left stranded on the track, as the rest of the train clatters away to the next station.

“Wait, wait!” I want to say, hoisting my bag out of the rack and stumbling down the corridor as my husband disappears. Our landscapes aren’t the same anymore. His body isn’t the same anymore. Plus, he’s lost pieces of his body. Oh, just little segments of the arteries that supply oxygen to the heart muscle, just the bits they cut out in the surgical procedure familiarly known as “cabbage.” Coronary Artery Bypass Graft, the CABG without the second b and the second and the e, so something devised by medical researchers, not chefs.

Come to think of it, my family loves cabbage. Stuffed, with homemade tomato sauce, or New England boiled dinner, the cabbage wedge sliding onto the plate next to the beets and potatoes and corned beef, with two kinds of mustard on the table.

“You want yellow or brown, dear?” I always ask Arnold, my spoon poised to dip up a glob of blazing turmeric or briny brown mustard grains.

“Both, Mim,” he always says, “one on each side of the beef. Did you remember the Irish Red Ale?”

But back to my problem with separate beds. Technically, I sleep better alone than I do next to Arnold, what with his snoring that I’ve taught myself, over the years as we’ve grown older, to accept and let float away into the night. If I practice my alternate-nostril-breathing faithfully, I know I’ll sink down into slumber. And It’s not as if we sleep cuddled up; I don’t like anybody touching me while I’m trying to sleep.

The Bed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1893, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Bed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1893, via Wikimedia Commons.

No, it’s just that when we live under the same blanket every night, my body has a chance to meld with my husband’s in a way that just doesn’t happen in daylight. Maybe I need the exchange of molecules that happens when his exhaled breath travels in through my nostrils, and my breath wafts over into his.

“Wear consistent with age and use.” That’s how dealers describe antique furniture in catalogs and web sites. Arnold used to look as if he were wearing his years well, despite the weight problem and the intermittently controlled high blood pressure. I should never have taken up baking when I reached my fifties. I’m afraid ten years of my custard cream pie has done us both in.

Editor’s note: Mim and Arnold Davies are characters in a series of stories that I’m writing. — MAB



The Biology of Fleshly Pleasure


Purple paisley stretching out from yellow ground, by Mary Ann Barton. Inspired by Zentangle: 06/25/2012

Purple Paisley Stretching Out from Yellow Ground by Mary Ann Barton

Dear Readers,

Awhile ago I published a poem about love and sex called Today Love Asks Questions. While the poem was inspired by a real moment of intimacy and happiness in my marriage, it wasn’t at all explicit, or even erotic, since I’m an old-fashioned and somewhat reticent woman. After all, the last time I wrote about sex for publication was an article about a sex therapy conference for the newsletter of a women’s health clinic thirty years ago.

Still, the topic of sensuality and bodily pleasure remains relevant and interesting to me. As my doctor said to me a few years ago, “Sex is a quality of life issue no matter how long a life we have.”

Plus, in doing research for my recent conversation with my urogynecologist about surgery for pelvic floor problems, I learned that sexual activity and orgasm can have a beneficial impact on a woman’s physical health. (See, for example, Pelvic Floor Health for Women by Ellen Braatz, PT and Erin Alft, PT.)

As a professional elder-care provider who writes about aging and caregiving, I’m aware that sexuality and sensuality are extremely sensitive topics. I’m not sure how to approach this area of human experience, or even what I think about aging and sex. I just think that as I grow older and move closer to the end of my earthly journey, I’m becoming more aware of how much I treasure all the pleasures of the body.  The biology of fleshly pleasure is such a gift, such a remarkable thing in itself and such a remarkable element of an intimate relationship. I have an anticipatory nostalgia for the expansive silliness of playful interaction with a loving partner: the jokes we tell each other, the stories we remember about how we met, the pet names we murmur in the middle of the night.

Sex and love aren’t always delicious, of course. Sometimes, in our lives, there’s tragedy and betrayal, or tragedy and pain, or tragedy and loss, or just plain tragedy. But the pleasure-and-happiness part of sex is still important.

What do you think? Is it possible to write about aging and sex without awakening the Internet trolls? Will my spam-filters be working overtime at WordPress this week? I hope not!

In any case, I trust that many of you will enjoy a chance to think deeply about aging and the fundamental pleasures of sex. Let me know how we can keep this topic in mind in ways that respect the boundaries of privacy — our own, and that of others — while acknowledging that the biology of fleshly pleasure is a fascinating part of our common inheritance.


Mary Ann

PS: My poem “Today Love Asks Questions” appears below.

Today Love Asks Questions: A Prose Poem by Mary Ann Barton

Image credit: Koekkentrappestor (Kitchen Stairs) by Kristian Zahrtmann, 1908, via Wikimedia Commons.