Sex Boxers by Ben Decter

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A shirtless man in boxers in kitchen, facing sink

It’s been two years since my wife and I have had sex. Between the vicious return of my six-year-old daughter’s daily seizures, financial concerns, my mom’s breast cancer, and my wife Jackie’s work stress, there’s little mystery as to how I have arrived in a sexual wasteland. At thirty-three, I’m distraught by this physical absence, but refuse to give up. Jackie’s working at home today, and I sense opportunity.

Slipping out of my T-shirt and jeans, I’m left standing in nothing but my maroon, silk boxers. Their super-soft texture invites touch. I head down to the kitchen to pick up Jackie’s favorite potato chips, along with her favorite scotch.

With a bottle in one hand and two shot glasses in the other, I pass through the living room, where I find my daughter Addie and her little brother Leo sitting shoulder to shoulder on the living room couch, sucking on bright red Popsicles as they watch Disney’s Aladdin. My kids are riveted and peaceful.

To complete her own Princess Jasmine outfit, Addie’s added a sparkling, turquoise headband. Leo’s shirtless as usual, and wears matching balloon pants as well as clip-on, gold hoop earrings. Addie must have dressed him for the movie. He’s her three-and-a-half-year-old genie.

I don’t love the TV watching, but at least it’s safe. Leo’s recently recovered from his second broken leg, and Addie’s less likely to seize if she’s not running around. “Exertion often provokes seizure activity,” her neurologist has said. I haven’t looked at physical activity the same way since, which is brutal. Running around should be a key feature of childhood.

As part of our never-ending attempt to stop Addie’s seizures, we’ve been giving her Felbatol—a potentially toxic, potentially brain-saving drug—for the past two months. Besides the usual adverse side effects to watch out for—trembling, trouble breathing, tiredness—seven pediatric deaths have been linked to this medication. After careful consideration, we decided the risks were acceptable given the harm of uncontrolled seizures. Addie swallows the pink liquid twice a day from a plastic syringe.

Earlier this afternoon, Jackie had poked her head into my studio. “No seizures today,” she’d said. “At least not yet.”

“Okay,” I’d said. And how could I have said more? I’d succumbed to false hope too many times during the past four years.

But now, hours later, watching Addie and Leo on the couch, I reconsider. Why couldn’t today be the beginning of the end of her epilepsy?

Embracing my guarded optimism, I continue downstairs to the guest bedroom, where I find Jackie hunched over her laptop at her wooden hutch. I pull back the sheets and fluff the pillows of the guest bed adjacent to her desk. This is no time for subtlety. Through the open window, the sound of our backyard fountain adds a romantic touch. I sit on the edge of the bed, resting Jackie’s bottle of scotch on my leg.

“Hey Jack, how’s it going?”

She spins around, gives me a once over, and rolls her eyes. My romantic vision’s battered, but I hang in there.

“Still a zero-seizure day?” I ask. I feel like I’m talking to the wall.

“I wouldn’t know,” she says. “I’ve been stuck down here for hours.”

I clear my throat. “The kids are watching a movie. Maybe you could use a little, you know, sensual break?”

Silence. I can’t tell if she’s about to join me on the bed or scream. I pivot.

“How about I start a little mac and cheese for the kids? If I get inspired, I’ll make a salad, too.” I stand up and head for the door. “Join us if you’d like.”

She reaches her arm toward me. “No, don’t leave,” she says. I step towards her, encouraged. But it’s the scotch she wants. She takes a glass and pours herself a shot. I’m disappointed but try not to show it. She loves me, she’s just overwhelmed. I repeat this line to myself until Jackie smacks the stack of papers on her desk. “It’s too much!” she shouts. “The phone calls, the research, the writing.” Alcohol splashes out of her glass. “It never stops!”

“Careful,” I say. “You’re spilling.” I crack the window open further.

She refills her glass, downs her second shot like a pro, and wipes her mouth. Then she lifts some papers from the floor, grabs her stapler, and squeezes. No staples come out. She tries again. Her face reddens. A cluster of deformed staples plinks onto her desk. She grits her teeth, then yells as she slams the stapler down. “How could a STAPLER not work?!”

I don’t respond to her rhetorical question. Jackie works hard. I know she’s doing it to help keep our family financially afloat. I want to be supportive, grateful. But her fury’s rising and my own darkness is beckoning. There’s only so much physical rejection I can take. I gather the bottle and empty glasses. “Anyway, I just came down to celebrate Addie’s seizure-free day.”

“No,” she says, “you came to get something. I recognize those silky ‘sex boxers.’” She narrows her brown eyes. Maybe there’s still hope. I look from her sculpted ballerina calves to her long brown hair.

“Ahhh,” I say, “you noticed my outfit.”

“I did,” Jackie says. “But I’ve got nothing for you. I’m empty.”

She squeezes her head in a vice grip between her hands. “I have too much to do!”

“Alright,” I say, “I’ll leave the bag of chips and the bottle with you. If you need anything else, me and my sex boxers will be upstairs.” I slide my boxers down a few inches, exposing some backside.

Jackie shakes her head in mock disbelief. “Get out of here,” she says. But she’s smiling. I’ll take the small victory.

“I’ll yell down when the mac and cheese is piping hot,” I say.

Jackie’s voice again, quiet. “I’m sorry.” At last, she looks me in the eyes. But within seconds, she resumes typing.

***

As the kids and I sit down for dinner, I call downstairs, “Jack! There’s a bowl of mac here for you!”

She doesn’t make it upstairs before the kids and I are finished.

I scoop Leo into my arms. Addie trails behind us, carrying Rainbow, our newly adopted cat. Pajamas on, we three snuggle into Addie’s bed. Books are scattered everywhere. Addie can’t read, but she loves books.

With Addie’s hands wrapped around my arm and Leo’s head resting on my chest, I feel like the melted chocolate in the middle of a fresh-baked croissant. I cherish this rare moment of tranquility. I flip open Go, Dog. Go! and begin to read.

Dog. Big dog. Little dog.

As I approach the book’s joyful ending, Leo’s eyes shut and he falls asleep.

Addie says, “Leo’s cute,” but she’s not looking at him. She’s clutching at words, something, anything to anchor herself as a seizure strikes.

My calm evaporates. My stomach drops.

Addie’s arms jerk—short, sharp, bilateral motions once every ten seconds or so.

I feel stupid for my earlier optimism.

“He’s such a little guy,” she says. Her head snaps forward in sync with her arms and shoulders. The electrical storm lasts maybe a minute. She tries to smile and continues to talk, like she always does when a seizure cluster clobbers her. Maybe she’s trying to hang on to a comforting thought while her brain attacks itself.

“Hey Ads,” I say. “I got you. It’s okay.” I’d call out to Jackie, but there’s no need. These seizure clusters happen multiple times a day. Jackie’s slammed with work. I can handle it.

Addie releases my arm. Her arms jerk again. The seizures always come in multiples. This is the nature of Infantile Spasms. Over several minutes, seizures roll in one after another, like poisonous waves. When they’ve finished with her, she’s speechless, depleted.

I stare at the ceiling fan and try to count the rotations. I can’t. It’s a blur, like so many recent days, weeks, and months.

Addie mutters, “Leo,” turns onto her side, and falls asleep.

I stroke her hair.

Leo nestles against my back.

I wrap my arms around Addie and listen to her breathe. Motionless between my kids, I take comfort in their warmth.

Meet the Contributor

Ben DecterBen Decter is an Emmy Award-winning composer and songwriter who has created a diverse body of music for theater, film and television, including Netflix’s world-wide hit, Lucifer.

Excerpts from his in-process memoir have been featured in Months to Years, Kaleidoscope Magazine and HuffPo. A musical based on this material will have its Hollywood premier in November 2024.

Born in Manhattan, and raised in New Jersey, Ben graduated from Harvard University, where he majored in political science and perhaps most importantly met his future wife, Jackie Sloan, the founder of The Children’s Ranch. They have two children and live in Los Angeles.

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