By Suzanne Roberts
Getting naked with your new lover’s family.
Your lover’s family doesn’t like that you’re from California, that you’re only half Jewish (and the wrong half), but most of all, that you’re still married. While nobody seems to question your lover’s decision to have an affair with a married woman, everyone wonders about your lack of scruples. When you meet his sister in the lobby of the Bellagio, the first thing she says to you is, “Are you divorced yet?”
You tell her that in California, it takes six months.
“Well, I can’t see what’s taking so long,” she says.
“I’ve moved out. We’re separated. I filed for divorce.”
“But not divorced. I mean, technically, you’re married to someone else.”
But according to your lover’s mother, a prim woman who wears tailored outfits and a healthy dollop of makeup, the family agrees that if he loves you, which he claims that he does, you will be invited on the Annual Family Las Vegas Trip. Even if you are (unfortunately) still married. “We’re very accepting,” she says.
You meet the entire family in Las Vegas, including the grandmother who says, “We’re Bellagio people.”
The women carry enormous suitcases. The father remarks on how small yours is and says to his wife, “Look at that bag! Why can’t you carry a bag that small?”
The mother makes a face that says, Oh please! And when you say, “It’s just a weekend, right?” the mother looks at you like you have personally insulted her and her giant matching Louis Vuitton suitcase and carry-on bag, like you have no real appreciation for the Annual Family Las Vegas Trip.
You will soon find out that the Annual Family Las Vegas Trip is pre-planned to the minute, from drinks and dinner, to shopping excursions (for the ladies) and gambling (for the men), to the rental of the cabana at the pool, and most importantly, the golf (for the men) and spa day (for the ladies). An appointment for a massage has already been made for you. You will wonder if you can go golfing instead, and you will find out that no, you may not.
The women meet in the lady’s lounge, where you are to relax in your fluffy bathrobes and then follow a spa attendant to a room for a one-hour massage. Then you are to meet back at the ladies lounge for a sauna, steam room, or Jacuzzi. Your choice.
The first part goes well enough, most of the ladies flipping through magazines, the older ladies perusing Good Housekeeping or Martha Stewart Living, the younger ones looking at Marie Clare. You have brought along an eighteenth-century Gothic novel, Mathew Lewis’ The Monk.
One of the younger cousins asks you what you’re reading, and you are glad to talk about books, but maybe looking back, you were a little too enthusiastic.
“This is the greatest book,” you say, holding up a cover that features a naked monk being flown across a black sky by the claws of a demon. You should have taken the cousin’s strange smirk as a sign to stop talking, but you are nervous, and when you’re nervous, you talk. A lot.
“It’s about this monk, who everyone admires, but he is full of lust, and he has sex with this woman who turns out to be a demon. He ends up making a pact with the devil, and he unknowingly rapes his sister and kills his mother. All the while, he’s responsible for a pregnant nun being tortured in the catacombs of the dungeon.” You notice the cousin’s face drain of color, so you end your little book summary with “But the nun lives, even though the baby dies… and the monk, well, he gets punished.” You hold up the book with its graphic cover to show her.
You had never thought much about the naked monk on the book’s cover. Until now.
“Sounds…interesting,” she says in that way where the word interesting doesn’t really mean interesting.
“It is. I’m teaching it,” you say, as if that somehow would excuse you from reading something so scandalous.
“You’re teaching that?”
“Uh-huh. In freshman comp.”
“I never read anything like that in college.”
“No,” you say, “I imagine you didn’t.”
The cousin is about to ask you what you mean when you are saved by the attendant, calling your name.
After the massage, you meet, as planned, to go into the family-sized Jacuzzi together (your choice). You are naked under your robe—it is a women-only Jacuzzi, so you had thought naked was the appropriate choice.
By the time you hang up your robe, and glance into the tub, you realize the mistake you have made. Not only are you the adulterous half-Jew from California, you are the only naked person, and to top it off, you are sporting a Brazilian bikini wax (special for your lover). The whole family—mother, sister, aunts, cousins, and grandma—stop talking when you submerge your naked, hairless body into the frothy tub. The sister glares at you and shakes her head.
You wish you had chosen the steam room, where the cloud of eucalyptus vapor might have hidden your nudity.
“How was your massage?” You ask another cousin, this one a little older and very pregnant; she is sitting across from you on the edge of the hot tub with her feet dangling in.
“It was just average,” she says as if she gets a massage every day of her life.
“Mine was really nice,” You say and then turned to the mother, who is wearing a navy one-piece with little sailor buttons, “Thanks again for making the reservations.”
“We’re glad you could come,” she says through a stiff smile, though she’s not looking in your direction, saving herself from seeing her son’s lover’s boobs bobbing about in the spa.
“The girl who massaged me acted like I was going to break,” the pregnant cousin complains, “but worse than that, she had these eyebrows that hadn’t been plucked for a really long time, so she had stray hairs everywhere. It looked so gross.”
Rather than asking her if she is serious (because you can already tell that she is), you nod, trying to look sympathetic, not with the gentle masseuse who maybe didn’t have time to get spa treatments herself, but with the very pregnant cousin.
Then you realize that you yourself have not had much time lately, and though you had tidied up your bikini area, you can’t remember the last time you plucked your own eyebrows. You know that if you reach up to touch them and check, it will seem obvious. So you just sit there with your arms crossed over your breasts wondering if your sweat smells like sauvignon blanc (it probably does).
You hope you have spent enough quality time with the lady folk, so you can get back up to the hotel room where there’s someone waiting (if the golf day is over) who will appreciate your new wax job.
After a couple of the women head to shower, you convince yourself that it is appropriate for you to leave, so you rush over to your towel and robe and head straight for the mirror in the bathroom.
Sure enough, your brows are wild with itinerant hairs. Even the middle section above your nose.
At the time, you do not know that your lover’s family will have an intervention (mostly successful) a few weeks later. That they will drive over to his house late in the night and beg him to quit you like you are a drug he has become addicted to (through no fault of his own).
For the moment, you are living under the belief that he will travel the world with you (indefinitely).
Sometime later, you will find out that he has been working under another assumption: in his version of you, you will be happy living on a suburban Midwestern Lake, baking your children Jack-o-Lantern cupcakes for Halloween. He does not yet know that operating an oven is not among your talents, nor that you do not want children for whom to bake orange treats.
All of this will come later.
All you know right now is that you are not Bellagio People.
Suzanne Roberts is the author of four books of poems and a memoir, Almost Somewhere (Bison Books, 2012), which won the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award. She has been published widely in journals, such as Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and National Geographic Traveler and anthologies, including The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Southern Sin, Tahoe Blues, and The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader. She holds a PhD in Literature and the Environment from the University of Nevada-Reno and currently teaches at Lake Tahoe Community College and for the low residency MFA programs in creative writing at Chatham and Sierra Nevada College. More information may be found on her website.