Warning: There is no explicit sex in this story.
Am I a wimp? At the time, each decision seemed to be based on the situation at hand. I was not aware of any pattern. But when I look back now, it could easily be argued that I regularly wimped out.
There are countless decisions and disagreements in nearly 25 years of marriage for even the most compatible couples. Each time you have to evaluate 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 the same thing.
All right, maybe it sounds too academic or too confusing in the abstract. The first crucial decision I remember, although I'm sure there were others that preceded it, was over where to go on our honeymoon. She wanted to go to a beach. I wanted to go anywhere else. I suggested San Francisco with its many ethnic communities, eclectic architecture, cultural and sporting events and quality restaurants. I suggested New Orleans, with its Vieux Carre, 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 gave in. I'll grant that 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 out on the beach and tanned, and sweated and was hot and uncomfortable and smelly. I don't understand the allure. I stayed in our air-conditioned room and read.
Of course I enjoyed it. Reading has always been very special to me and I am happy with every opportunity I get. But I had this silly idea that during this 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 evident to all 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 to 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 go out and do some of the things I enjoyed. We even got to have some bass I caught for dinner one night in our villa.
And there were two activities for which she gladly joined me. We spent a day at the flea market merrily shopping. 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 do remember discussions about clothing and about my hair because they had a similar theme and a familiar pattern.
"You need a haircut."
"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 there I am at a decision point. I'm going to get my hair cut at some point. 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 that 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 up as an argument, of the whole nature of our relationship?
"Yes dear." Flat, emotionless, practiced, hostile. She knew exactly what it meant. She too 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."
"That jacket is wool. I'll be itching all night."
"But it looks so 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's not the always the way it goes. There is another popular variation.
"All right, wear whatever you want."
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 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. 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 the stupid little things. I remember losing anyway. Had I taught her that all she needed to do was be sufficiently persistent that I would turn into a spineless wimp? I would later learn that, apparently, I had.
At one of those Saturday night parties that I could happily have done without, I noticed that she was 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 us and had lost little of his good looks to age. Sally was 5'10" in her three inch heels so he must have been around 6' tall. Unlike mine, his hair had no gray. He was not heavy and looked classic in his blue suit. Other women would flirt with him at these parties but Sally seemed to have taken it to a new level.
I was staring, my displeasure obvious. He noticed but it didn't seem to bother him at all. I would have expected different. I have a few inches on him and a good thirty to forty pounds. Maybe it wasn't evident that it was muscle. Sally picked out clothing that wouldn't make me look like a gym rat.
They headed into another room. I guess I must have made them uncomfortable. Damn shame. I followed, angling my way through groups distributed in no particular pattern.
I followed through the kitchen and noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. They were in a small pantry, their arms loosely around each others' waists, kissing lightly.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"You don't have to take that tone of voice. We're just fooling around."
"I can see that. What makes you think this is all right?"
"Hey man, chill. We're just having a little fun."
"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 fun?"
"You leave her out of this."
"Fine. You leave my wife out of this."
"Bruce, you're making a scene."
"Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?" asked Howard.
I didn't have a plan. I could easily pound him but that might land me in jail. I could physically separate them but that wouldn't stop them from doing it later, and did 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 the cowardly or wise? I quickly guided her to the pantry before she could speak. She had none of my ambivalence when she saw them breaking their kiss. "Howard! Get your fucking hands off that slut."
"Alice honey, we were just fooling around."
"I saw. We're going home. Now."
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 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 whatever she wanted, she had coming to her. Had our relationship been slowly cooked like the frog that starts out in cold water and doesn't notice as it heats up slowly until he is dinner? I'm sure I would have done something if I had noticed. And now, 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 presence 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 be 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 take it as a sign of weakness but I would not back down no matter how much vituperation and ugliness it would cause. I took most of the afternoon off 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 there were no sounds 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 us that, "I'm cumming."
I had been pretty sure this was what I would find when I started up the steps but I still couldn't believe it even as I saw his naked body lift from hers. That was when they saw me.