A journey back to joy – and sex

It’s rare that I hand over my blog to someone else. But this isn’t just anyone.

Kelsey Chittick is a writer, comedian, inspirational speaker, life coach – and my co-host on our weekly podcast, SexTok with Tracey and Kelsey. 

Most importantly though, she’s one of the most wonderful human beings  I know. Five years ago, Kelsey’s husband Nate, an NFL Super Bowl Champion, died from a sudden heart attack at 42. This essay is about her journey back to joy – with some VERY hot sex thrown in. It’s intensely sad but irreverent; heart-breaking but also uplifting.

You can’t help but love reading this.


It was June of 2018 and summer had officially begun in Los Angeles. The weather was a perfect 72 degrees and my childhood best friend, Michelle, was sitting next to me. We were waiting for another one of our closest friends, Karin, who was flying in from her home in D.C. Over the last six months, Karin had made it a priority to get to the West Coast as often as she could. When we were together, I almost felt normal—like something terrible hadn’t just happened.

Michelle and I were leaning against a window of a dim sum restaurant in a new outdoor shopping plaza in Manhattan Beach that was filled with other millennial vices: Soul Cycle, Hot Core Yoga, Kreation juice bar, and the like.

“Are you going to tell her?” she asked.

I nodded, without a clue how I would actually start the conversation.

As Karin pulled up in the Uber, Michelle looked at me and said, “You are telling her right away, OK?”

“Relax, just give me a minute. I need to have a plan.”

Nine months ago, the three of us, and our best friend Lise, were together in New York City. We all flew there with our husbands to celebrate Michelle’s 40th birthday. We rode bikes around the city, had long dinners with great conversation, and laughed for days straight. When the weekend was over, we felt so much gratitude for our lives and our friendships.

And then, exactly one month after that trip, my husband Nate died suddenly of a heart attack. He was forty-two. Our lives had a different tenor now, especially mine. But those women never left my side.

After an effusive group hug, we sat down at our table inside the trendy restaurant, which felt more like a high school cafeteria than a cozy spot for a deep conversation. Karin gently laid her Valentino purse next to her, elegant as ever. I reflexively turned to the waiter to order edamame and potstickers.

Even after a six-hour flight, her face was impeccable. I couldn’t see one wrinkle on her porcelain skin.

“Damn, you look good,” I said, catching my reflection in the window.

I, on the other hand, looked like someone who had weathered a natural disaster. It was mostly my eyes—the sparkle was gone. My face was drawn, my skin was dry; even Botox couldn’t help me, and that’s saying a lot for LA.

“What’s new? Catch me up,” Karin said, taking a sip of wine.

Michelle looked at me, smirking. “Yeah, Kels, tell her what’s new.”

I took a sip of my wine and cleared my throat. “Well, it’s been a pretty big week.” I took another sip. “I finished up tons of paperwork and I finally got the coroner’s report.” Karin nodded quietly. “That lawsuit I was telling you about? It settled, thank God. And I found a great grief therapist for the kids.”

“Well that all sounds hopeful!” Karin said.

I looked over at Michelle, who signaled to keep going.

“Oh, and one more thing: I got black-out drunk, took off all of my clothes—except my high heels—and had long, passionate, sex with my general contractor.”

“Ladies, here are the potstickers!” the bubbly waitress announced with impeccable timing.  “Be careful, they are super hot!”

Nobody spoke. Finally, I looked at Karin, shrugged my shoulders with a smile and said “Super hot.” Karin stared at me for a minute while Michelle tried to find her phone to take a picture of her face.

“Wait, what?” Karin said, confused.

I repeated the phrase, talking slower this time.

Karin looked at me. “Got it. Thanks for saying it again,” she said, still puzzled. “It’s just a lot to take in. You know, after a flight.” We all started to laugh. “Anything else you want to share?” she asked.

I nodded my head. “Did I mention we smoked a ton of weed and his place had strobe lights?”

“But wait, I thought you didn’t like weed or sex?”

“So did I.”

After a spell of howling laughter, Michelle took a breath and said, “Kelsey, why don’t you just start at the beginning?”

The truth is, this story started days, weeks, months, years before.

Let’s start with the hard part first. My husband’s heart attack came suddenly, on a Saturday morning in front of my kids, at a trampoline park, while I was at a retreat in Jamaica. My world fell apart. My life was turned upside down; nothing made sense, and the person I had loved my whole life was gone. I wanted my husband to come home and I wanted my kids to have Dad…the very best Dad. My brain was manic, my heart was broken, and my body was exhausted.

After he died, I had trouble being in our house. With Nate gone, nothing felt right. His memory was everywhere, and I didn’t know how I would be able to continue to live there. I wanted to move. Fortunately, the kids did not. At nine and twelve, they were demonstrative: “We will not move. You can’t make us. This is our house with our Dad!”

I agreed with them because I knew they were right. But I did have one request: I was going to remodel the bathroom because I hated it.

Back in 2004, Nate and I bought that house in a quaint little California town called El Segundo. It’s a small town with a midwestern feel. Everyone knows each other; parents are obsessed with Little League, and our kids ride their bikes everywhere.

At the time, we had been married for two years and were pregnant with our first child. The house needed a lot of work, and we only had about six months to get it done. As I got bigger and more pregnant, I became tired and overwhelmed. One day, Nate asked, “Babe, what style do you want our bathroom to be?” I mooned him with my huge stomach and replied “Honestly, I don’t care. Design it however you like.”

Admittedly, this was a mistake. Nate wasn’t the man you wanted in charge of any type of interior design. He was a football player who had grown up in Philly, went to college and played at UNC Chapel Hill, and then played six seasons in the NFL, including a Super Bowl win in 1999 with Dick Vermeil and the St. Louis Rams. His favorite places were Las Vegas, the Yankees Stadium, and New York’s Little Italy. This was not someone with cultivated design sensibilities.

One Friday night, a few months before we were supposed to move in, we had dinner with some friends at the Italian chain restaurant Bucca Di Beppo—a half-step up from Olive Garden. They served huge portions of pasta and massive amounts of cheap wine. There was nothing Nate loved more than these nights. He loved Italian food, and loved being with friends.

At the end of this particular evening, Nate gave a spirited toast about friends, family, and “living the good life.” When he was done, and swaying quite a bit, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came back, he kissed me on the head and then whispered into my ear “Babe, good news. I know exactly how I want to decorate our downstairs bathroom.”

My husband’s heart attack came suddenly, on a Saturday morning in front of my kids, at a trampoline park, while I was at a retreat in Jamaica. My world fell apart

Cut to: fifteen years later, when I found myself sobbing on the floor of a bathroom that looked exactly like an Italian chain restaurant from the late 90s. I was deep in grief, with my face down on a hideous orange, blue, and gray tile floor. The bright yellow paint along with the black countertop made my head spin. Why hadn’t I dealt with this earlier? I wanted a whole new look, and I wanted it immediately.

The next morning I called Anne, one of my best friends. She’s an amazing designer and knows exactly the style I like: coastal and calm.

“Do you know anyone who could demo my bathroom and remodel it?” I asked. She thought for a second and replied, “Yep, I have a great guy who can help you…and he’s really hot.”

Something lit up inside me. It had been brewing for months, and at that moment, I felt it. The past six months had been so difficult. The loneliness was all-consuming. I missed being held and touched so badly, perhaps  because Nate was the most physically affectionate man I had ever met. When he hugged you, it was with his whole body and soul. Without him there to give me a hug, rub my back, or just sit with me on the coach, I felt like I was going crazy. More than once, I thought, “This is why they say solitary confinement is the worst punishment in the world.”

But I wanted way more than hugs—I wanted sex, and that felt strange to admit. Although I always loved hugging and holding hands, sex was rarely (if ever) on my mind. When Nate was alive, I just wasn’t into it. I think he would have described me as “reluctantly willing” during our marriage, and I would have to say he nailed that assessment.

Standing in his boxers, while flexing his biceps, he’d say, “Babe, seriously. What would it take for you to want me more?” I would look at him, trying desperately to somehow get excited about this. “I do want you—but for some reason my face and my body don’t show it.” We’d have a good laugh at this, but the truth was that I didn’t want to have sex with him very often, and I didn’t know how to change that.

To his credit, Nate never gave up. When I’d head out for a girls night, he’d say, “Babe, keep your heels on when you get home.”

“Sweetie, I’ll be too tired. But, I love you very much!”

When I’d get home, I opened our bedroom door, and usually he was there waiting for me—wide awake, laying naked in bed. “Hello, beautiful. How was your night?” he would ask seductively.

“Nate, I love you so much. But, please, not tonight. I promise I will do it tomorrow,” I’d say, quickly jumping into my old cotton pajamas and closing my eyes.

Looking back, I wish I had been more sexual. In the days of raising kids, earning money, cleaning the house, and living together, I didn’t have much time or energy for sex. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it when it happened. Afterwards, I’d lay my head on Nate’s chest and feel deeply connected to him. “We should do this more often,” I’d whisper in his ear. He would give me his sweet smile, kiss my head and say, “Ya think?”

Maybe it was hormonal, maybe the loss triggered a new part of my brain, or maybe, when Nate transitioned to the Divine, he passed his overactive libido to me and said, “Go have fun. Sorry I had to leave so soon.” That’s the type of guy Nate was—a giver.

Not everyone was comfortable with my desire to find love again so soon. When I shared my feelings with friends, they said, “Of course, you miss having someone, but take your time—it’s only been a few months.” All I wanted was to escape the sadness and pain, to climb out of my skin. But how could I explain this to someone who hasn’t had the same experience?

During some long, lonely nights, I questioned whether or not sex or intimacy would even help me. Maybe my friends were right, maybe I should just accept my status as a touch-deprived widow with two kids.

And then, about four months after Nate died, I was invited to a dinner party in downtown LA and one conversation changed everything. This dinner party was the epitome of  LA: a trendy restaurant in a renovated warehouse, thumping house music, and signature cocktails.

When I found my table, I realized I was sitting next to a friend I had met at the retreat the weekend Nate died. She was beautiful, in her 60s, and had a lilting British accent.  Over the past six months, she had sent me uplifting words and prayers for my healing.

“Maria! I’m so glad you’re here,” I said as I grabbed her for an embrace.

Then she pulled back and looked me in the eyes. “How are you doing, really?”

“Something is wrong with me” I lowered my voice. “It’s so weird, all I think about is other men! It has nothing to do with my love for Nate.”

She paused for a moment and smiled. “Darling, nothing is wrong with you,” she said, and then lowered her voice to a whisper. “Everyone knows the best way to get over someone is to get under someone.”

And there it was: permission.

In the days of raising kids, earning money, cleaning the house, and living together, I didn’t have much time or energy for sex.

Before I officially slept with someone else, I needed to have a conversation with Nate. So, I sat down in my meditation chair and began, “Hey, babe. How’s it going up there? I assume things are well and that you’re getting to know people. Wanted to run something by you—it’s a little unexpected.” He stayed quiet. “Turns out, I suddenly have a huge sex drive,” I paused.

I could hear him whisper sarcastically, “Of course you do.”

I continued. “Since you died young, without saying goodbye (rude), I have changed a lot. I know life is short and I want to have fun.” He didn’t respond, so I kept going. “I need you to be on board, so please send me a sign.” I waited for a few seconds. “Ok, let’s make this easy,” I said to the sky. “If the sun rises tomorrow, I will take that as confirmation that we are on the same page. I love you.”

I could have sworn I heard him laugh.

The timing of my sexual awakening was validated by conversations I had with girlfriends. Everyone’s story was similar. After spending twenty-five years or so finding a career, finding a husband, building a home, and raising a family, they finally had time to breathe. Now that life wasn’t as busy and physically demanding, they got to check in with what they wanted, and for many of them, that was sex. Something about being in your forties can make women more confident than when they were young.

I lost my virginity at 19, and met my husband when I was 20. After that, the shop was closed. I’d never had a one-night stand, never shamelessly made out with a stranger, and never had a night of sex that blew my mind. But in 2018, at the age of 40, I was determined for this to change.

Once I knew I was ready, I had no idea how to get it done. I had been out of the game for so long. (Actually, because I met Nate at 20, I had never even been in the game.) But he needed to have good teeth, smell great, and lift weights. For the first time in my life, I did not want to talk or get to know him. I was not looking for love or a spiritual connection. All I needed was for at least one person to confirm he wasn’t a serial killer.

Furthermore, I was afraid I’d reflexively compare this guy to my husband, so I needed someone totally different. God (and my friend Anne) sent me a general contractor. He was short, handy, and owned an electric saw.

He showed up to my house on a Tuesday with a guy named Carlos. “Hi, I’m Hunter. Are you Kelsey?” he said as I opened the door. That day he wore jeans, a clean pressed white shirt, and a tool belt. (He had me at tool belt.) He started measuring things and took some notes. I couldn’t help but notice that he smelled very good.

“We’ll need to move these wires, run the electrical through this wall, and probably fix this old plumbing,” he said. I watched him as he sketched some plans while leaning against the wall. He had an ease and confidence that turned me on.

When Hunter asked me about the bathroom and what I wanted done, I could barely focus. “Forget the bathroom, I have another idea,” I wanted to say. With a name like Hunter, he was destined for this role. I desperately wanted to be his next project. I wanted to go slow and learn things. I wanted to feel pleasure for hours and, most importantly, get out of my head. I had a deep desire for someone to take care of me. I didn’t want to make the decisions anymore; I wanted someone else to take charge.

The next day, he texted me with an estimate for the project. I responded right away, “Hunter, thank you for your time. I reviewed the quote and, unfortunately, that is way too high. But, is there any chance you want to meet for a drink this weekend?” I hit send while thinking to myself, You have lost your goddamn mind.

I watched as the three dots came up on the screen. “Sure, how about this Friday? Where do you want to meet?”

I had a deep desire for someone to take care of me. I didn’t want to make the decisions anymore; I wanted someone else to take charge.

The first night we went out, I sent my kids to their grandmother, met him at a bar, and got wasted. I tried to remember what he said, but the only things I recall were something about a screenplay, a lost acting career, and a pending patent for a door hanging tool. At the end of that night, as he put me in the Uber, he grabbed my waist and gave me a huge kiss. “Kelsey, that was fun. Text me when you get home,” he said as he shut the door. By the time I walked into my house, I was on the verge of a blackout, but just before I passed out, I thought, “This is exactly where I wanted to be.”

The following week, Hunter texted about our next date. We decided to go to see Chicago in concert. I was nervous so I called one of my best guy friends for advice. I knew he’d give it to me straight. “Tony, I’m ready. Saturday night it’s going to happen,” I said when we met for lunch.

He high-fived me. “Atta girl! Get back in the game!”

“But seriously, do you have any advice? What do I need to know?”

He took a breath and looked at me sternly. “There is only one thing, whatever you do—do not cry. Nobody wants to f— a crier.”

He was right. Those are words to live by.

When Hunter and I got to The Forum and parked the truck, recent conversations with friends started running through my head.

“Why in the world are you going to a Chicago concert?” they’d asked.

“I have no idea,” I’d said. I was 40 and depressed, and he was close to 50 and single. In my mind old people and love songs made sense, so I bought the tickets.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that this was not where we wanted to be. After walking inside briefly, we turned around and headed straight back to his truck. He turned on some music and lit a huge joint. I hadn’t smoked weed in a long time, like twenty years. The cab of his F-150 quickly filled with smoke. While trying not to cough, I pretended I was cool like Kelly Taylor on Beverly Hills, 90210. Just me and Luke Perry enjoying a night out.

At some point, he put his hand on my thigh and started sensually rubbing my leg. Then we caught each other’s eyes. As the smoke floated around us he said, “Just so I’m clear, you want to have sex with me tonight, right?”

I floated away from my body, my mind, my old rules, and my old life. I looked at him and said, “More than anything.”

Growing up, sex was not talked about in my family, other than my mom saying to me, “Kelsey, sex is a very special gift. If you give your gift out to too many people, you eventually become a piece of trash.” That one stuck with me. For these reasons, I never really thought of sex as something that could be fun or enjoyable.

But forty-five minutes after leaving the concert, I found myself in a bra, red underwear, and high heels, sitting on Hunter’s bathroom sink. This was about to be fun and enjoyable.

At first glance, his place seemed fairly normal. It looked like a contemporary bachelor pad. His closet and bathroom were orderly enough. His kitchen was tiny and windowless. The bed, which took up most of the living room, was low to the ground and had no headboard. As I glanced in his closet, I only saw straight black hangers with folded Levi’s and rows of perfectly pressed black and white T-shirts.

But when he turned the lights off, it went from an ordinary apartment to a steamy all-night sex club. Hunter made drinks and set the mood; it was clear he had done this before. As he pulled the drawer of his bedside table open, I saw the following items: one tube of KY jelly, two packets of wet wipes, and a box of condoms. Old Kelsey might have been concerned, but New Kelsey thought, “Wow, I’m in good hands.”

I was certain that there were many women before me, and there would be many after, but that didn’t bother me at all. That first night blew my mind. I did things I never dreamed of and enjoyed sex in a way I had never experienced. I wasn’t worried about how I looked, what I said, or what was happening next. I was in the moment.

The next ten consecutive Saturday nights were spent naked, except for high heels and sexy panties, in a steamy, strobe-lit bachelor pad in Hollywood. During our time together, Hunter and I skipped everything but the sex. No deep conversations; no discussions about family or friends; and certainly no talks about the future. In fact, we talked very little, and moved our bodies very much.

I was certain that there were many women before me, and there would be many after, but that didn’t bother me at all.

At times it was jarring. I felt like I was floating above myself, looking down on some version of Kelsey that I didn’t know yet. But at the same time, it felt so good to be occupying a different world. There were no reminders of Nate, no exhaustion from shepherding the kids through a night of grief. I was trying on a new life, a new way of being in this world. I was able to get to know this new woman in a safe, secure, and very sexy way.

Hunter was kind and generous, and always prepared. While in bed, he’d ask me what I liked, what I had done (mostly nothing), and what I wanted (mostly everything). I had never talked about sex like this before, I had never slept with a man I didn’t know or love, and I had never thrown caution to the wind. This was my first purely physical experience, and I finally understood what I had been missing.

And then one night, in the middle of the summer, I mentioned my kid’s 7th grade paintball party, and he mentioned something about a meeting with Home Depot, and the magic fairy dust floated away. It was as if an alarm went off, and we both heard it at the same time.

We knew it was over.

As I walked away from his apartment for the last time, I turned and said, “Hey, Hunter—you’re doing God’s work.”

We shared one last laugh before waving goodbye.

“And that’s basically how it went down,” I said to an astonished Karin and Michelle in the boisterous dim sum restaurant.

Karin took the last sip of her wine while motioning to the waitress to bring another one, immediately.

“Well, I did not see that coming,” Karin said, cracking a smile.

“Lots of surprises these days, right?” I said.

“I am so happy…that your bathroom was so ugly,” Karin said.

All three of us burst out laughing. At the story, the grief, the sex, the potstickers—all of it.

Early grief made me want to crawl out of my skin. The pain was all-consuming, like catching fire. Great sex was the opposite; it made me want to stay in my body for as long as possible. For a few months in that Hollywood apartment, I got to replace some of my soul-crushing grief with a physical palliative.

It’s been almost six years since I lost my husband, and that experience has changed me in so many ways. I no longer think of sex as something I have to do, or something that I give away. I think of it as a deep connection between two people, exchanging energy and emotions that need to be felt, expressed, and released. That change in perspective was one of the greatest gifts that came out of the darkest time.

If you hate your bathroom, consider yourself lucky. This could be your moment.