According to my friend Richard, a person does not stand any chance of any inspired intimate dalliance anywhere on the Monterey Peninsula.

If only he’d told me sooner — before I gave Paul an all-expenses-paid trip to Carmel for his birthday. An East Coast transplant, he’d never been. We finally carved out a few days between Christmas and New Years.

Like a dinner party hostess wrestling with the perfect guest list, I struggled for days over where to stay. A cozy little bed-and-breakfast? A fancy hotel? I asked friends and relatives for recommendations. I asked Paul. I searched the web.

We finally decided on the Highlands Inn. The brochure described it as a rustic refuge, luxuriously defined, with harmonious gardens, award-winning restaurants, and endless views of the Pacific — a place to nurture a fine romance, the last line read. (Reel me in like a fish why don’t you?) In addition to king-sized bed, TV, VCR, CD player, and balcony which were standard in every room, suites offered double-spa baths, wood-burning fireplaces, spacious dressing areas, and fully-equipped kitchens.

Double-spa bath?! Fireplace?!

I booked a suite, garden view, $225 per night. (When it comes to special occasions, I think it’s OK to splurge a little; memories are priceless, right?)

Naturally, being a woman, I began directing the opening scene in my mind. We’d hop into my two-seat convertible Tuesday morning, zip down the coast, two small overnight bags, a bottle of Cabernet in the trunk. The skies would be clear, the air crisp and fragrant. We’d ooh and ahh when we first spotted the ocean and think we should really come down here more often.

Nothing went according to plan. (Does it ever?)

We got a late start Tuesday morning. Hit major traffic in Morgan Hill. Arrived just in time to check in: 4 p.m.

Sunset was at 5 p.m., so after dumping our bags in our room — cool! thick white bathrobes in the closet, candles by the tub — we walked back to the bar and snagged two cushy chairs in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

As we watched the sun slip slowly below the horizon, we sipped cocktails, nibbled on a shrimp quesadilla, and made idle chit chat with a friendly lesbian couple sitting on a couch to our left.

“Are you OK?” I asked Paul. He seemed quieter than usual.

“Just a little headache,” he answered, closing his eyes, rubbing his temples. He thought a soak in the tub before dinner might help, so we headed back to our room.

It was a good thing we got the nice room because we barely left it over the next 40 hours — and not for the reason you might be thinking.

Paul went south fast. Shivering cold one minute. Burning up the next. I brought him orange juice and water from the fridge, ran down to the hotel gift shop for some Tylenol Cold and Flu. (Oh, OK, and a Cosmo for me.) When he told me the only part of his body that didn’t ache was the top of his head, I kissed it — gently.

“I just wish I knew what to do to make you feel better!” I said, wondering where the nearest hospital was — just in case.

“You’re already doing it,” he answered, eyes like a puppy dog. (See why I love this guy?)

Even though I knew it wasn’t his fault, I must confess there was a teeny irrational part of me that was mad at him for being sick. Why now?

I read. Paul watched TV. Every so often he begged me to shoot him and put him out of his misery. We ate room service in sweat pants both nights. When Paul got nauseous halfway through a $30 New York steak, I resisted asking if he could manage a few more bites. I hate to see overpriced food go to waste.

We checked out at 9 a.m. Thursday morning. “Did you have a nice stay?” the woman asked. She handed me the bill: $654.95. I wasn’t sure how to answer.

Driving home, I tried not to think about the candle lit bubble baths we didn’t get to share, the Rio Grille restaurant my sister had raved about that we didn’t get to try, the Monterey Bay Aquarium passes that never left Paul’s wallet. (Not to mention all the things we could’ve bought for 600 bucks!) I must not have been doing a very good job not thinking about all those things because I almost took out a Honda Civic when I changed lanes in Gilroy. Sorry! It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

A few days later, when I told all this to my friend Richard, he said I shouldn’t feel singled out by fate. According to him, Paul and I have simply joined millions of others who headed for the Monterey Peninsula with a suitcase full of expectations, only to learn that: a) It was the “wrong weekend,” b) There was car trouble on the way, c) The “big argument” was still causing hard feelings, d) Somebody was sick, or e) Everybody was trying too hard and nothing worked.

Richard contends that the only reason to head to the Monterey Peninsula is to buy a sack of artichokes from a grower.

I hate artichokes — but he may have a point.

Still, looking back, there were bright spots. Instead of just telling Paul I loved him, I got the chance to show him. (And isn’t that what romance is all about? Showing it?) When he got the chills, I climbed under the covers, curled my body around his, and tried to warm him; when he got the sweats, I threw all the covers off. There was a certain intimacy to that.

It also gave us the opportunity to grow — as a couple. The first thing I wailed when we got home was, “I’m soooo disappointed!” Paul was too. I cried. He held me. I liked that we could acknowledge our disappointment, feel bad, and go on. That we didn’t have to pretend we were fine when we weren’t.

Come to think of it, we did all the things you’re supposed to on a romantic getaway: We spent time together, connected on new levels, created unforgettable memories, expressed our love. It may not have gone off exactly as planned, but it definitely brought us closer.

Having said all that, we’ve decided to lay low on Valentine’s Day.

published thursday, february 4, 1999, in the san jose mercury news
copyright 1999 jessa vartanian . all rights reserved
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