Even during the honeymoon years of your marriage, dinner meant little more than frozen meat and corn divided by the walls of a plastic-sealed, microwave-safe tray. Grab a Heineken, wash down a Centrum, and pray that the vitamin helps whatever cancer you’re harboring. At your age, probably testicular. But tonight you’re all out of two-dollar Salisbury steak. All out of chicken nuggets. All out of buffalo wings. Tonight it’s the shit that should’ve been trashed months ago. Tonight it’s chalky cashews, stale potato chips, frostbitten ice cream. Not all together, of course, and not necessarily in that order.
You pull the spoon out of your mouth, its silvery face streaked white. Your wife sits on the couch, jabs the keys of her laptop, saying, “You know that the quote-unquote natural flavor in that ice cream is made from beaver anus? You know that, right? Vanilla and raspberry. Beaver anus.” Eyes glowing behind the computer, she jams the delete key, stopping only to glare at you. “Guess you could always fuck a pint of Ben and Jerry’s then, huh?”
You scrape the bottom of the bowl and sigh, because what she’s really saying is: Remember how we were laying in bed yesterday and you couldn’t get it up because we were trying to fuck for the billionth time this year, so I thought it’d be a great idea to discuss our fantasies in hopes that it would send blood rushing to your flaccid penis, and sure I promised that you could be completely and totally and utterly honest and that I wouldn’t judge, and though it all started off innocent enough with us describing all the various places we could fuck, like on a beach or in a changing room at Macy’s, and how we could try mutual masturbation and break out the purple dildo I bought from that sex-toy party years ago, but then I said, Tell me your kinkiest fantasy, and while you should’ve known this was a trick—maybe on some level you did since, after all, you avoided saying threesome like any other guy would—you were stupid enough to believe that I wanted you to be honest, and so you went with anal? Anal sex even though you once stuck a finger in my ass, resulting in me giving you the silent treatment for an entire week as well as denying you sex for an entire month? You dumb, horny, piece-of-shit excuse for a husband.
All that, that’s what she really said. So here’s where you, the shitty husband, should quietly place the bowl in the sink and go somewhere else, anywhere else. Leave before you say something that really gets you into trouble. Go smoke a joint. Whatever. Just leave this conversation. Then, after she’s cooled off, pay her a compliment about her legs, about her haircut. Whatever. Though she’ll reply with something snarky, your chances of getting to sleep in bed will have significantly increased.
And so you’re turning away from the kitchen sink when wifey tells the computer, “Yay, another dish for me to clean,” but what she’s really saying is: I will continue this passive-aggressive nitpicking until you hate life as much as I do right now. You lazy, overweight, piece-of-shit excuse for a husband.
Your jaw tightens, flexes. Air heaves out your nose, vibrating those unkempt nostril hairs. Run, man. Run. Run before you start going off about Labradors not humping this much, or about her brown-spotted underwear littering the bedroom floor, or about her pathetic need to seek her mother’s approval. Or about that ugly, Alaska-shaped birthmark behind her ear.
You lay a sweaty palm onto the railing, a foot onto a step, ready to make your escape when she says, “You aren’t having second thoughts, are you? Is that what it’s all about? Because I’d rather you tell me my vagina was too big or that you’re a gay or whatever. Bisexual. Just please don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts.” She nibbles her cherry-colored fingernails, incessantly blinking like she always does whenever she’s nervous. “You’re having second thoughts, aren’t you?”
What you want to say is: Baby, I’m scared. Scared this could tear us apart more than it already has. Look at both our parents. Divorce occurred after us, not before us.
What you want to say is: Given the choice, I’m not so sure I’d want to be born into this decaying shitscape we call earth. Second thoughts? Shit. Before we even started trying I was having fourth, fifth, sixth thoughts.
Now think of your wedding day, the reception. How Dad hooked his weathered arm around your neck, breath reeking of open-bar booze. How he winked, congratulated you for marrying “a young broad.” How he checked his gold wristwatch just before leaving you with one piece of advice. Lie. Told you that whatever you do, if it avoids a fight, lie. The less fights, the longer it’ll last. It’s easier this way, he said, trust me. Although currently courting his soon-to-be fourth wife, you’ve come to realize he’s right.
More and more, not just in marriage but in all relationships, life feels scripted. Maybe you get to play supporting actor, though usually you’re just another extra. Just another part of the scenery. Whether it’s facing forward in an elevator pretending you don’t smell a fart, or remaining silent while your racist uncle rants during Christmas dinner. It’s a flexible script, yes, but a script nonetheless.
“I’m sorry about the whole, you know, butt thing. Guys at work mentioned something about it.” You say, “And no, I’m not into men and your vagina is fine.”
“Perfect. I meant perfect.”
“Yeah, I bet you did.”
An awkward silence turns into a staring contest, the type fit for a gunfight at the OK Corral. You shift your weight and the wooden stair creaks, prompting you to say, “You think you’re still ovulating?”
R. M. Schappell writes stuff. Get stoked. His work resides (or will soon) at Monday Night, Urban Graffiti, The Legendary, and elsewhere. Send him your hatemail at facebook.com/rmschappell.