After doing countless (I lost count) edits of my upcoming novel, I decided to apply what I learned to make my old stories easier to read. This is the first.
Am I a wimp?
At the time, each decision seemed to be based on the situation at hand. I wasn't aware of any pattern. But when I look back now, it could easily be argued that I regularly wimped out.
Even the most compatible couples have countless decisions and disagreements in nearly twenty-five years of marriage. You need to evaluate every time whether it is important enough to insist on your position, whether hers is acceptable or whether a compromise can be struck. She has to assess them as well.
All right, maybe it sounds too academic or too confusing in the abstract.
The first crucial decision I remember, although others must have preceded it, was over where to go on our honeymoon. She wanted to go to a beach. I wanted to go anyplace else.
I suggested San Francisco with its ethnic communities, eclectic architecture, cultural and sporting events and quality restaurants.
I suggested New Orleans, with the Vieux Carré, the Garden District, countless world famous restaurants including two Emerils, shops, cafes and Cajun cooking classes.
I suggested Seattle, surrounded by breathtaking mountains, lakes for swimming and fishing, boating, hiking, the Pacific Ocean, fine dining and close proximity to Victoria for a change of pace.
We compromised on Aruba.
Okay, I caved in.
I'll concede the beach was beautiful to look at. But that was just sixty seconds of our week. There were wonderful places to eat and I really did enjoy Tango Parilla Argentina, where the Argentine beef was exquisite and two tango exhibitions we saw were sexy and exciting.
But during the day she lay on the beach. She tanned. She sweated. She was hot and uncomfortable. She came back to the room smelly. I don't understand the allure. I stayed in the air-conditioning and read.
Of course I enjoyed it. Reading has always been very special to me.
But I had this silly notion that during the week away from everyone we knew, devoid of responsibilities and schedules and deadlines, we would crave an excess of togetherness.
I imagined we would be constantly touching and kissing to the giggling of little children and the envy and disgust of their parents; that it would instantly be obvious from our gluttony for each other that we were newlyweds.
I had not imagined the daily pleasure of reading in our room followed by her shower to remove the stench from her rapidly darkening body before we could steep ourselves in newly-married indulgence.
Do I regret giving in? Hell no.
I much prefer the mountains. I love to fish. I like to hike in the shade of towering oaks.
But no matter where we went I was going to spend more time making love than eating. Given that, and that I desperately loved her, going where she wanted was nowhere near a deal breaker. It just wasn't important enough for me to insist on a compromise, let alone my position.
I was insistent the next summer. She wanted the Outer Banks. I wanted the mountains. This time I stood my ground and we vacationed in the Poconos.
It didn't quite turn out the way I expected.
She didn't care for fishing or hiking. She spent most days lying by the pool getting tanned, sweaty, hot, uncomfortable and smelly.
But I got to do some of the things I enjoyed. We even got to eat some bass I caught for dinner one night in our villa.
And there were two activities for which she happily joined me. We spent a day at the flea market shopping merrily. We also spent part of another day at the Outlets, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't my idea.
Mostly, though, I gave in on small things too unimportant to remember.
I recall discussions about clothing and about my hair because they had a similar theme and a familiar pattern.
"You need a haircut." She said it as if it explained, and resolved, everything.
"It's not bad. I can go for a few more weeks."
"We have a party this weekend."
"You need to look good. Don't you get this yet? How you look reflects on me. If I let you go out looking unkempt it says something about how I manage my relationship, about who I chose to marry, about who I am."
And I'm at a decision point. I'm going to get my hair cut eventually. We're arguing over when. If I insist on waiting, am I just being petulant? Is this the proper time to discuss why she thinks of it as her relationship and not ours?
She could have said she's proud of how I have maintained my fitness and it makes her happy to share her good fortune with our friends. Do I want to argue about how she phrased it?
Should when I get a haircut be the launching pad for a discussion, well, it might start that way but it would end as an argument, of the whole nature of our relationship?
"Yes dear." Flat. Emotionless. Practiced. Hostile. She knew what it meant. She also chose not to turn this into an argument. There would be another opportunity for that on Saturday evening.
"I've laid out what I want you to wear."
Yes, Mom. "That jacket is wool. I'll be itching all night."
"But it looks good on you."
"Yeah, but it feels awful."
"You can scratch when you get home. It's just one night and you'll look terrific."
What I thought were compelling, logical arguments had been rebuffed. We had to leave in ten minutes. It would be uncomfortable, but not painful. Was this the time and the reason to draw a line in the sand?
"Yes dear." Bitch.
That wasn't always the way it went. There is another archetypal variation.
"All right, wear whatever you want." Flat. Emotionless. Practiced. Hostile.
For those of you who are newly married I will translate this into English. "If you don't wear what I've told you, I'll spend at least the next few days being sullen, unresponsive and generally unpleasant. I'll find countless ways to make you regret you didn't use that pathetic, 'Yes dear.'"
There were other equally weighty matters over which we differed. It wasn't just what I would wear, but what I had available to wear.
"You need some new casual shirts."
"I'm happy with the ones I have."
"What's wrong with them? They're comfortable. I like the colors. They're fine."
"They're old; out of style. People have seen you in them a million times. You need new ones."
"I'm not going shopping for new shirts."
"Fine. I'll buy them for you."
"Don't. I'm happy with these."
Of course, she would buy them. Then the issue could become what I was wearing because these new shirts were now available and the old ones were anathema to her.
How had it come to this?
I remember standing up earlier in our marriage. I remember being willing to argue over stupid little things. I remember losing. Had I taught her that all she needed was to be sufficiently persistent and I would turn into a spineless wimp? I would later learn that, apparently, I had.
At one of those Saturday night parties I could happily have done without, I noticed her flirting with Howard Dodge. It was more than flirting. She was playing up to him like a sycophant, touching him, flipping her hair.
I could understand the choice if not the behavior. He was about five years younger than we and had lost little of his good looks to age. Sally was five foot ten in her three-inch heels so he must have been around six feet tall. Unlike mine, his hair had no gray. He was not heavy and looked classic in his blue suit. Other women flirted with him at these parties, but Sally had taken it to a new level.
I stared, my displeasure obvious. He noticed, but it didn't seem to bother him. I would have expected different. I have a few inches on him and a good thirty to forty pounds. Maybe he couldn't tell it was muscle. Sally picked out clothing that wouldn't make me look like a gym rat.
I must have made them uncomfortable. They headed into another room. Damn shame. I followed, angling my way through groups distributed in no particular pattern.
I followed through the kitchen and noticed movement with my peripheral vision. They were in a small pantry, their arms loosely around each others' waists, kissing lightly.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked.
"You don't have to take that tone of voice. We're just fooling around," Sally said.
"I can see that. What makes you think this is all right?"
"Hey man, chill. We're just having a little fun," Howard said.
"I'm not talking to you; I'm talking to my wife. But if you want to toss in your two cents, tell me why on earth you think this is okay. Is your wife going to think this is just having a little fun?"
"You leave her out of this."
"Fine. You leave my wife out of this."
"Bruce, you're making a scene," she said.
"Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?" asked Howard.
I didn't have a plan. I could easily disassemble him, but that would land me in jail.
I could physically separate them, but that wouldn't stop them from doing it later, and would do nothing to address my problem with Sally.
I swiftly headed back to the living room. I could hear them laughing as I departed.
I scanned the room and found her. "Alice, I need to talk to you in the kitchen."
"What is it Bruce?"
"Let's go in there and we can talk."
Was it cowardly or prudent? I quickly guided her to the pantry before she could speak. She had none of my ambivalence when she saw them break their kiss.
"Howard! Get your fucking hands off that slut."
"Alice honey, we were just fooling around."
"I saw. We're going home. Now!" Her voice could have cooled a hot summer day.
He followed meekly. Not so tough, are you, when confronted by a real ... woman.
"Bruce, how could you? You humiliated me. You owe me a huge apology."
"I owe you? It'll be a cold day in hell."
"You're going to get to know first hand what a cold day in hell is like." She stormed off.
She needn't have left. I couldn't have said anything. I was too stunned.
How had this happened? There was outright disrespect, disdain in her voice. She acted as if she was entitled to whatever she wanted.
Had our relationship been slowly cooked like the frog that starts out in cold water and doesn't notice it heating up incrementally until he is dinner?
I would have done something if I had noticed. Having reached this sad state of affairs, was it over? Was there any hope of salvaging our relationship?
Sally hadn't lied about being cold. She outdid herself. She barely acknowledged my existence and didn't speak a single word; not so much as, "Pass the salt." I didn't speak either. I was afraid that if I spoke first she would take it as a sign of weakness; that she would forever label me the wimp, and perhaps she would have been right.
Thankfully, the kids were grown and out of the house. I can't imagine what they would have made of their parents not uttering a single word to each other for more than three days.
Finally, on Wednesday, I decided I had to confront her. She could interpret it as a sign of weakness, but I would not back down no matter how much vituperation and ugliness it would cause. I took off most of the afternoon and got home at around two.
Howard's car was parked out front. She didn't even care if the neighbors knew he was here.
This time I would pull them apart. That kissing and touching had to stop. Without an audience I could be as assertive as I needed to be with Howard. Maybe that would even make it easier to stand firm with Sally.
I strode confidently into the living room, expecting to find them in each others' arms but they were not there. They weren't in the kitchen. Neither were they in the den. I opened the door to the basement but the light was off and no sounds were coming from there.
She wouldn't. Or had she already?
I took the stairs two at a time, quickly arriving at the door to our bedroom. They didn't hear me. She was emitting a long wail and he was loudly announcing to all that, "I'm cumming."
I had been pretty sure this was what I would find when I started up the stairs, but I still couldn't believe it even as I saw his naked body lift from hers. That was when they saw me.
"Oh, you," she said with less emotion than she would have used to prefer Kleenex to Puffs. "You were ignoring me so I found someone to fill my needs. Why don't you run along now?"
"Yeah, wimp. Take off. Or do you want to stay and watch a real man while you drop your pants and jerk off?"
I was in shock. I just looked at them. I couldn't say or do anything. They mistook my inaction as confirmation that I would passively accept the role of cuckold.
"Yes dear." She used my own phrase and intonation. "That's the only sex you'll be getting so you better get used to it."
"Tiny dick can't take care of a woman. Maybe you can take care of your hand with it."
The shock had worn off. I started into the room.
Howard continued to taunt. "Tiny dick gonna confront a real man? Don't you need to get my wife first to protect you?"
Incomprehensibly, he seemed to have no fear. Had Sally convinced him I wouldn't or couldn't do anything?
He was inviting me to attack him. I accepted.
I charged like a linebacker seeking quarterback fricassee. I know that's how I charged because I was a linebacker in college and that's exactly how I charged quarterbacks.
I made contact and drove him toward the wall. He just laughed at me. I changed our direction slightly to the right, grabbed him at the bottom of his ribs and lifted him as I continued forward.
It's funny the things you think of in the passion of instinctive action.
I remembered a college history class where I learned about a method the Czechoslovakian communists used to overcome their political rivals after World War II -- defenestration. That's what I was about to do.
I didn't just throw him out the window, I launched him through it. Glass exploded, wood splintered and debris rained down to where he hit the lawn with a thud. He cried out in pain. He had been too surprised to utter a sound until he hit the ground.
Howard was lucky. Sally had insisted on a lawn service. Our lawn was plush or he might have been killed. I guess I was lucky as well. I would have to remember to thank her.
I turned to Sally. She was getting off the bed and moving toward the door. I rushed her like she was just another quarterback. She screamed and tried to run but I easily overtook her. I picked her up in my arms and started to carry her down the stairs. She started pounding my face with her fists.
"Let me go you worthless bastard." Was that any way to endear herself to me?
As we descended the steps she changed tactics. She started to scratch my face with her nails. I could feel blood running down my cheeks. I sped up and opened the front door. I put her down with a little shove, quickly stepped back into the house and closed and locked the door.
At least she wouldn't be able to complain that the neighbors had seen her wearing the wrong clothing for the occasion.
I heard sirens approaching. Someone must have heard or seen Howard leave the house.
I can't say I was feeling any satisfaction at that point. Everything I had done was by reflex. My wife of almost 25 years had escalated her contempt and cheated on me. I felt numb.
I became aware of her pounding on the door. "Let me in you worthless limp dick, I'm naked out here."
I didn't find that especially persuasive.
I ignored her persistent pounding. Then it changed. It sounded like something wooden was striking the door.
"Police. Open up in there."
The voice wasn't Howard's so I opened the door. Sally tried to push past me but the officer held her arm. "Just a minute ma'am. Sir, this lady says you attacked her and I can clearly see she's covered with a lot of blood. Did you attack her?"
"Shouldn't you give me my Miranda rights? Doesn't matter. It's my blood, not hers. You can see the scratches. You can probably see bruises too. She attacked me; that's why I put her outside, to protect myself."
"He's lying. It's not true."
"Did you do that to him?"
"Yes, but ..." She didn't seem to have a good explanation.
"Sir, the naked man on the lawn, did you do that?"
"I think I did. I caught them together and he was taunting me. The next thing I knew he was on the lawn."
"I'm going to have to take you both in for questioning. You two need to get cleaned up a bit. My partner will go with her to make sure nothing bad happens. You know, domestic disputes are the most dangerous. I take it you two are married."
"Yes, she is my future ex-wife."
"Do you want to bring charges against her for the attack?"
There is a God. "That would be nice."
The other officer returned downstairs with Sally. How did she know the correct outfit to wear when being charged with domestic abuse?
I'm not sure how much of what I said was true. I'm pretty sure I intended to put her outside when I picked her up, but it became a necessity when she attacked me.
As for Howard, there was nothing in my mind initially except kill the quarterback. His defenestration may have been intentional. But I gave a statement favorable to myself in the heat of the moment and I thought I had a pretty good chance of not being convicted.
I gave a complete statement at the station including the events of the party. It was humiliating to describe the way she talked to me, treated me, and I knew the detective was disgusted with my wimpish behavior. He hid his contempt well.
I tried to explain the changes had been too gradual to notice, but he told me it wasn't important to the case.
They didn't charge me immediately. I guess they weren't sure what charges to file and what they could make stick.
Sally was not so lucky. With the pictures they took of my head they felt confident and she was arraigned on domestic abuse. As a result of her being charged and the pictures, I had no problem getting an Order for Protection From Abuse. Her sister removed several suitcases full of her clothes that evening.
I was looking forward to my day in court. I would be publicly vindicated even though I knew I bore much of the responsibility.
A few days later my doorbell rang. I looked out the window and saw Alice. What could Howard's wife want with me? Did she want to kick my ass or thank me? I let her in.
"Bruce, you're not going to be charged."
"I threw him through a window."
She giggled. "I know."
"I was looking forward to their public humiliation."
"I understand. But I'm not. I don't want my kids exposed to that. They didn't do anything wrong.
"After I found out everything Howard did, I persuaded him not to cooperate. That, and the circumstances, convinced them not to prosecute you."
"So it's okay to throw him through a second-story window?"
"Under those circumstances."
"There's something else."
My silence signaled my willingness to listen.
"I want you to let Sally make a deal or be diverted to probation."
"Why would you want to do anything for her?" For that matter why would I?
"Because her trial brings my family into it."
"She's got it coming."
"She does. But me and the kids don't."
I hadn't considered the effect this situation would have on innocent people. I guess my kids would not emerge unscathed either. Still, I was reluctant to let it die.
"But they'll get off scot free for their misbehavior."
"Scot free? Sally would be humiliated being caught wearing white after Labor Day. The only white she was wearing was dripping down her legs.
"All your neighbors saw her standing naked pounding on your door with police sirens and cars all over the place. She'll be arrested if she tries to go in your house or even tries to approach you to talk.
"Howard was thrown naked through a second-story window in broad daylight. You call that scot free?