I had not been married before, so never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen some of the vast differences that would occur just from the fact of having gone through the ceremony and having signed the papers. I suppose it differs from couple to couple but, for us, the biggest change was how we resolved our differences. It snuck up on us little by little, but before long the pattern had been established.
When we were single, even engaged, it was, "What do you think, honey?" Or, "That's a really good idea, sweetie." It even lasted through the honeymoon. But soon we would hear, and say, "I'm not sure that's a good idea." That became, "I don't think so." Months passed and compromise no longer seemed to be in our repertoire. It wasn't that there was no legitimate reason to be compromising, or that the situations did not allow for compromise. We just gradually seemed to lose interest in doing it.
A few years in, the solution to an argument ceased to be important, we each had to win. I say argument because we really didn't have discussions any more. We either agreed on an issue or we fought. Neither of us was so crass as to touch the other physically. Katherine did sometimes throw things, making sure to miss me. And one time I smashed a dish on the floor that she had gotten from her aunt as a gift. I won that one.
We would fight over anything no matter how inane. After all, the objective was to win, not to actually resolve anything. Since there was no useful purpose to the fighting, no topic was too stupid or too trivial.
"I'm making a stir fry for dinner. Could you make the rice while I cut up the vegetables?"
Not unreasonable. "Sure." I went to the cabinet to get out the rice.
"No, the brown rice."
"It takes more than twice as long."
"You're not heating it with your body, use the damn stove."
"Why the hell the brown rice, Kate?"
"Because it's on the diet."
"You can eat 5000 calories as long as it doesn't include white flour and rice?"
"And no fruit with meals."
"And you learned this from Dr. Suzanne Sommers and her extensive scientific nutritional research?"
"It works for her and me."
"The white rice metabolizes differently with vegetables and meat than it does by itself. There's no damn reason to banish white rice and make me watch the brown rice cook for twice as long."
"Sure, you'd like me to get fat wouldn't you? You're so jealous that all the other guys find me attractive."
Jealous? Where did that come from? I was happy to have her look good. Oh, right, this is an argument and logic need not apply. "You'll do anything to get the guys to slobber over you, won't you, tramp?" Tramp? Well this was an argument. It didn't have to have any basis in reality.
"Projecting are you? I'll bet you just can't keep your hands off your secretary, you philanderer."
Mrs. Thompson? She's retiring next year and I wouldn't even have been interested in her thirty years ago. Too bad fighting isn't an Olympic event. I think we would both bring home the gold.
Not every fight was about such trivial stuff. Sometimes we squared off over really serious matters.
"Don't forget we're going out tonight to Linda and Jim's party. I'd like you to wear that blue suit you look so good in."
She had asked nicely. There was no way I could let her get away with that. "It's the weekend. I wear a suit enough for work. I like to go casual on my days off."
"It's their anniversary. They're having a special party."
"It's not my special party. What do I care why they're having it? They're your friends." There was no way she could win this one. I didn't care what they thought and she did. I didn't care what I wore and she did. It was sweet. The best she could do was to agree with me and let me wear whatever I wanted. I would be magnanimous in victory. I would not wear my overalls.
Somehow she seemed to miss the point of the argument - that I win. She messed up and started trying to apply logic. "They're your friends now too. How insulting is it to them that you won't come dressed appropriately? You're a selfish, mean-spirited lout. Can't you ever do anything I tell you?"
Foolish woman. She raised the ante, so would I. "They're not my friends. I could live with never seeing them again. If you want the pleasure of my company it will be on my terms." Checkmate!
"Fine, stay home. I don't care. I'll go without you and have a better time. They'll all know what a bastard I married."
Oops. Perhaps it was only check. But she had made a big mistake. She should have known better than to challenge me to do something completely inappropriate. We both thrived on rising to the challenge to do something we absolutely should not. "Have it your way. Enjoy yourself. I'll be watching the game." I walked out. This was checkmate. Either she would have to suffer the embarrassment of going alone or she would have to come get me and beg me to go. She could not possibly win. She chose to go alone.
You might be concluding that things had gotten out of hand. If we had gone on Dr. Phil's show, he would have heard us arguing and he would have told us we were fighting about nothing. "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" he might ask. And we would answer in unison, "Shut up, Dr. Phil. We're fighting." And if he would ask, "How's that working for you?" we would have answered, "Fine." We each won enough to feel gratified.
Eventually, Kate started to use her not so secret weapon, denial of services. She still cooked and cleaned when the spirit moved her. It was those other services. The denial became so frequent that it was unusual for us to make love in consecutive seasons. I guess it was making love. I don't know. We still loved each other. But when you reach that oasis in the desert, your skin cracked, you tongue swelling and splitting and parched, you don't make love to the water, you devour it; you consume as much as you can as quickly as you can for as long as you can, not knowing when next you will get the chance. I'm not sure that in the face of that kind of urgency it is possible to express the love you feel for each other.
Oddly enough, it was in our constant battles that I found the antidote to the disease of denial. I would fight about it. Not for it, about it.
"What the hell kind of wife are you anyway? I could be living with a guy and get as much sex as I get from you. What happened to your marriage vows to love, honor and respect? You call this respect? You call this honor? Did I somehow miss the word 'Platonic' when you promised to love?"
"And you're any better? All you want to do is fuck. Do we have conversations? Do we go places? Do we do things? That's all you ever want to do. Do you expect me to be in the mood all the time?"
"It's been over eight months. You haven't been in the mood for eight months. That's almost long enough to have a baby. But you'd need to have sex first to make a baby."
"And the way your mother treats me. She never liked me and you never stand up for me. You call that honor and respect?"
She used to win a lot of arguments with that approach. Jump to something which has nothing to do with the argument; something that sounds really bad for my side. But I had finally wised up to that ploy used by women since the first, "You're tracking dirt into the cave." I knew how to respond in kind. "You never get to go anywhere? I want to do something with you and you're down the shore with Marci." It had happened once. And frankly, what I really wanted to do was stay in and do that stuff that we didn't do in consecutive seasons, though I hadn't expressed that. It was much better to use repeatedly in arguments than to have my needs satisfied one time.
"Yeah, and you're off watching ball games with your friends. And that cousin of yours drinks too damn much."
My cousin? She stormed off. That meant that I had lost this one since she left on an appropriate, if illogical, accusation. That was fine with me. I was delighted to lose this argument. I was furious enough to put my fist through a wall. I couldn't stand her at the moment - the perfect antidote. Even if she had come back in and offered me my choice of sex acts I would have refused. I disliked her so much at this moment that the thought of being intimate with her made me nauseous. The more stupid the fight, the nastier she got, the more outrageous her position the more I disliked her. And the more I disliked her, the more content I was to be denied.
I'm not saying this was all her fault. Sure, Katherine would almost never back down and she reveled in starting fights, or at least that was the way it seemed. But I wasn't exactly Petruchio and I made no attempt whatsoever to kill her with kindness. She returned the favor.
At some point I think Katherine caught on to my use of the antidote. She was faced with a dilemma. She couldn't let me win a fight voluntarily. If I did it on my own, that was within the rules. But she could not just allow me to win. Her problem was that if she won, she couldn't torment me by withholding sex. If she lost, however, I would be happy and in the mood. Then she could snatch it away to greatest effect.
That's the situation we were in that day I made a huge, almost rookie, mistake. She tried to solve the antidote problem by calling upon the tried and true - she escalated.
"Peter," my pejorative name, "are you having an affair?" I guess if I were Italian it would have been Petruchio.
"What? Where did you get such a stupid idea?" No affair. I just had the antidote.
"You never want to make love with me anymore."
"You never say yes. What's the point of asking?"
"You lose interest in me and suddenly it's my fault?"
I suppose it was the surprise of having this sprung on me. I was unprepared to put up a good defense. I got sloppy. "You haven't had any interest in years."
"How would you know? You never ask. I have plenty of interest. I want it all the time."
I laughed. "Only if the 'it' is fighting."
"You talk a good game. You must be giving it all to your girlfriend. You have nothing left for your wife."
"Like there is any chance I would get to do it with my wife."
"Hey, there are plenty of guys interested if you're not."
Don't do it! You know what happens when you issue her a challenge. Do not do it! "Yeah, like you would really get another guy." I just couldn't help myself.
"You just watch me." I had issued a challenge and she could not refuse. It was a matter of honor. Or mental illness.
Just keep quiet. Maybe it will blow over. "I'd like to see that."
Between the two of us isn't there just the slightest pinch of self control? Apparently not. "Get dressed and let's go. I'll show you."
I could have called it off. I could have admitted something or other and taken the loss. But that was not the way we played. She could have called it off too. There was no reason she had to do this stupid, potentially marriage-ending act of treachery. Maybe it wasn't treacherous. We were playing chicken and neither of us seemed to have the sense to know when to call it off.
I followed her out to the car and she got in the driver's seat. I had no idea where she was going and I don't think she did either. She drove around aimlessly into an area of town that was unfamiliar to me. She pulled up in front of a bar that had half a dozen motorcycles on the sidewalk. There would have been more if it had been a biker bar, but this was clearly not a genteel watering hole. I expected that she would have given me the chance to back down, but she just exited her door and headed for the bar. I wouldn't have stopped her anyway. It was a matter of honor. Or mental illness.
I took my time getting out of the car and entering the bar. This was her show. We would see if she could handle the reality. This had the potential to be a big win for me.
It was a pretty big room with lots of round tables of different sizes placed around an empty area I assumed was used for dancing. She was already up on a bar stool with her dress up well above her knees showing off those gorgeous legs, looking around, and smiling at about half a dozen guys in the mostly empty bar. She didn't have a drink yet but there was little doubt that one of these gentlemen would accommodate her.
She was using her most flirtatious glances at a guy with his back to me. He got up and walked toward her. Had his skin been green, I would have thought he was the Incredible Hulk. His skin was not green but there must have been a lot of green in the tattoos that adorned his arms and his neck. There were probably more hidden under his muscle shirt.
They had a brief conversation, their heads close together, and he ordered a drink from the bartender for her. He took her and the drink back to his table. I was fuming. But then when wasn't I fuming at Kate?
A waitress came over to take my order. I felt like the tin horn ordering a sarsaparilla when I asked for a diet coke. I probably looked like it too. I'm five nine, one hundred seventy pounds. You could fit two of me inside The Hulk.
Kate continued to flirt. She was doing the hair tossing, the arm touching and leaning her head back to laugh lustily at his repartee, whatever that might have been. Hulk wasn't flirting, he was getting touchy. He got up and put some money in the juke box. I didn't recognize the song but it was slow. He didn't take her in dance position, he enveloped her.