“What’s for dinner?” he asked from the closet as he hung up his shirt.
“Oh, I haven’t started yet. Sorry. I was planning on making chicken and broccoli,” she replied from the bed without looking up from what she was doing.
He appeared before her wide-eyed in dress slacks, a black belt, and a white wife beater that was tucked in. He stared at her angrily and seriously long enough to both intimidate her and piss her off.
“What do you mean you haven’t started yet!? What have you been doing!?”
“Jacob wouldn’t let me go!” she defended. “He’s only been sleeping about ten minutes. I was about to get started.”
He stood sternly in front of her threatening with his stare. She sat still on the bed. Their two-year-old son lay sleeping next to her. She had a notebook on her lap and a pen in her hand. He didn’t break eye contact. His eyes jumped down to the notebook and then back to meet her stare. He then advanced toward her aggressively.
“What’s this? What’s this!?” he demanded. She quickly tried to lay the notebook off to the side but he grabbed it and began leafing through. With large, exggerated movements he ripped a few pages out, crumpled them up, and threw them on the ground. She squealed his name and pleaded but it was too late. He messily threw the notebook back on the bed and said angrily, “I come home from work and there’s no dinner. You’re sitting here writing in your little notebook.” . She cried and complained but remained seated on the bed. He then proceeded to slowly and sternly remove his dress shoes, then belt, then dress pants.
“Why did you do that?” she asked. She also threw in a few cuss words and a little name calling. She glanced down at her son first to make sure he was still asleep before doing so. “I’m moving out! I’m going to live with my mother! You’re messed up. You’re crazy. I hate you.” He turned away from her and acted as though he didn’t hear her or care about anything she was saying. He continued undressing himself slowly and proudly as she complained. She hated him for that. He had just wounded her emotionally and now took pride in displaying how collected he was.
When he finished undressing, he moved from the bedroom to the living room in his wife beater, boxer shorts, and dress socks. She sat on the bed and continued to cry an angry cry for a few minutes after he left. She then went and picked up the torn pieces of paper off the floor. She uncrumpled the wads and examined them. Things weren’t as bad as they had seemed. He had ripped up three pages, only one of which had writing on one side. And even that page was salvagable. Still, she asked herself, why did he have to act like such a maniac? They had a child for crying out loud. What a horrible example!
She threw the ripped up sheets away, put the sheet with writing into her notebook, tucked the notebook under the mattress, and moved into the kitchen. From the kitchen, she saw her husband sitting on a chair in the living room facing the TV, feet propped up on the coffee table, hands folded in his lap. His face was stern, serious, and fixed on the television. “What an ass hole,” she thought as she pulled a pot out of the cupboard. “How did I end up with him and why am I still with him?” she asked herself as she always did after conflict that left her feeling so enraged. She must have made a mistake. Should she have listened to her mother? Should she have married someone with a higher, more professional degree rather than someone with an Associate’s Degree in Building Construction from a community college? Would a computer scientist or an engineer rip up things and throw things? Probably not. Why couldn’t she have been more practical and have chosen a husband that was more rational?
Well, she started calming down, I guess anyone in the comfort of their own home could act irrationally, regardless of their degree, she thought. And she just didn’t fall for any of the computer scientists or engineers. Maybe she should have given them more of a chance. Maybe there was something wrong with her. Should she have thought with her head more and less with her heart? She felt incapable of doing that. As long as there was any freedom to follow her own will, she couldn’t help but to follow her heart. But was she right in doing so?
After such fights she couldn’t help but to think that she had made a mistake. However, she knew from experience that she wouldn’t actually do anything drastic to change the situation but would stick things through. Even as the words left her mouth, “I’m going to go live with my mother!” she knew that it wasn’t true. She just said that to try to have some sort of control over her husband’s uncontrollable behavior. Being able to threaten him with something made her feel at least a little empowered whereas him ripping up her law school application essay and performing other such acts of insanity , especially in front of their son, made her feel powerless. In the moment, she often wanted to seek revenge by ripping up something of his, for example, but did not want to stoop to that level and realized that he would just do something even worse in return. She was forced to submit and it almost killed her. The only thing that gave her any power was to threaten to leave. But they both knew that was an empty threat. She had ben using it for years and never actually done it although she had pretended to on occasion. Even though it wasn an empty threat, it still seemed to subdue him, at least a little, at times.
At other times he was unsubduable. He returned her threat to leave with threats of keeping their son if she were to truly leave. But she knew that she wouldn’t ever actually leave him because her life seemed to have reached a whole new level when she met him. She never felt as at home and comfortable before meeting him as she did after meeting him. Without him, she was bored. Her mind seemed to always be racing and she felt unsettled. But with him, she was able to calm down and be still. His wildness seemed to force her to submit. But who did his wildness submit to? It seemed unrestrained and dangerous. However, the truth was, she concluded, that his wildness submitted to his work. She had observed him at work and although he was still bold and strong, he was more subdued. He probably came home with bottled up wildness, then, that he took out on her.
As she cut the chicken and worked through her thoughts, she started to think that she was perhaps not crazy. She poked her head in the bedroom to check on her sleeping son. He was still asleep and in the same spot. She returned to the kitchen and continued cutting. Her thoughts flashed back to when they first met. This often happened after questioning her decision to marry him as she had just done.
They first met at a party she went to at a friend of a friend’s house during summer vacation after her freshman year in college. She wasn’t really big on parties and much preferred to hang out in smaller groups but she was only home for a few weeks and didn’t want to back out of a night out with her closest friends. The party was in a neighboring county to the one where she and her friends attended high school. Her close friend Emily had made friends with a hallmate from this neighboring county at the university she attended. The four friends headed out in Emily’s Toyota Camry. After a twenty-five minute drive they arrived at a brick, two-story house in a middle class subdivision. Cars lined the street in front of the house. They found a spot at the end of the line, parked, and headed through the yard to the front door. Emily rang the doorbel. Her friend answered shortly after with a birthday party cone hat on her head and a red, plastic cup in her hand. She and Emily hugged, as well as the other two friends who attended the same university as Emily.
“And this is Alexis!” Emily exclaimed as she presented her much talked about friend.
Alexis gave the friend a Happy Birthday hug and they both declared that they had heard so much about the other. The group then headed inside to the party. The birthday girl quickly led them past the beer pong table to the keg where they all filled up red, plastic cups with beer. Alexis wasn’t a big drinker but normally took part at parties in order to be sociable. She also enjoyed playing beer pong and quickly added her name to the waiting list with Emily as her partner. Two hours later, she and Emily celebrated winning their third game in a row and waited for their next opponents.
The birthday girl led three guys who had just arrived to the keg which was behind Emily and Alexis. As they filled up their cups, she introduced them to the girls. The first, both girls were previously informed with a full description, was the birthday girls’s prospective boyfriend. The other two were his friends. “What’s your name again?” The birthday girl asked to the third young men.
“James,” he replied. It appeared as though they had recently met.
“James, you don’t want a beer?” she asked.
“No, thanks,” he replied. “I don’t drink.”
“You don’t drink!?” she replied as a drunk girl would. “Why the hell not!?”
He stood confidently beside the beer pong table with his hands held in front of him and replied, “Because I don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to!?” the birthday girl exclaimed as a druk girl would and continued to babble for a few minutes before she got distracted by a song she liked at which she ran into the living room to dance. The new opponents showed up, the guys nodded to the girls as if to say, “Nice to meet you all”, and headed on their way. Emily and Alexis started their fourth match against a guy and girl team. They started off strong sinking three balls out of the first six before their streak broke and they collectively couldn’t hit another shot. They lost and had to leave the table. Those who had been following the games congratulated them on an impressive streak. As they walked away from the table, the birthday girl came and grabbed Emily. “Come and take shots with me!” she pressured.
“I’m the DD!” Emily replied.
“Oh, come on! You’ll sober up!”
“Oh man...” Emily turned to Alexis. “Do you wanna drive home?”
“Sure,” Alexis agreed. “I’m not gonna drink anymore.”
“Seeee,” the birthday girl said as she pulled on Emily. “Come on!” And they were off.
Alexis didn’t see anyone else she knew so she slipped out back. As she stepped out of the sliding doors and into the backyard, she found a group of about six people to the left smoking cigarettes, about five people in the pool, and two guys sitting at a picnic table off to the right. She didn’t want to swin, didn’t like cigarette smoke, and felt like sitting, so she went and sat at the picnic table. Here she found that the two guys were James and the birthday girl’s perspective boyfriend. She said, “Hi” and sat down.
“You all lost?” the perspective boyfriend asked.
“Yeah, we went off our streak,” she replied.
“Okay,” he said in a friendly and smily manner. They sat in silence for about a minute. He then returned to telling James a story he must’ve already been telling about his cousin, his cousin’s mechanic shop, and the vehicles that he owns. Alexis didn’t really listen to the conversation but nonchalantly observed them as they talked. James mainly listened, nodding, and asking short questions here and there. He didn’t make eye contact with his friend but starred toward the pool as he listened. The perspective boyfriend looked at James as he spoke and grew quite excited over some of the technical details he shared. James showed his interest in his replies but didn’t show any sort of emotion as his friend did. Alexis found James to be attrractive. He seemed very physiclly fit. His face was stern and his jaw very defined. His hair was auburn and fairly short but wavy and slightly unkempt. Although his face was stern, his eyes were gentle. She noticed this already when the birthday girl had questioned him about not drinking. Her observations were interrupted when one of the friends she and Emily came with came running up.
“Alexis! Emily fell over!”
“”She fell over right onto the coffee table after taking a shot and busted up her chin. She’s bleeding a lot!”
Alexis jumped up and followed her friend inside. She found Emily sitting on the couch, head back, with a towel on her chin. About seven people crowded around her. They discussed her need to go to the hospital to get stiches. Alexis was the most sober candidate but still wasn’t sure she should drive.
“James can drive,” someone suggested. James was quickly found observing from a short distance and confirmed that he could drive. They took Emily’s car as James had come with his friend.
Alexis and the friend that had fetched her helped Emily into the car. Alexis sat up front and their friend in the back with Emily. As the girls talked on the way to the hospital, Alexis observed James’ stern expression yet gentle eyes as he drove. She felt completely calm, safe, and content. She was concerned about Emily but knew that she would be okay with a few stitches. She seemed to be okay as far as her alcohol level but just drank too much too fast and lost consciousness which caused the fall.
The group ended up having to wait in the emergency room for a few hours. She and James got to talk quite a bit. They asked each other questions back and forth and somehow got into a conversation about the death penalty. Alexis seemed to have formulated more thoughts than James but James seemed to appreciate Alexis sharing her thoughts as though he would keep them in mind. She learned that he was third of four boys and their mother had died when he was in middle school. His father had never remarried or shown any interest in doing so. He lived in a rented townhouse with one of his brothers, had just gotten his Associate’s Degree, and worked with a construction company. When Alexis returned home late that night she felt settled in a way that she hadn’t felt in a long time, if ever. It was similar to the way a child feels in a safe and happy home: safe, secure, and fairly carefree.
During her few weeks at home before leaving town to work at a camp, she waited tables at a restaurant where she had worked the summer before and over Christmas vacation. Two days after meeting James at the party, he ate at the restaurant with his brother while Alexis was working. They didn’t have much time to talk and James didn’t attempt to talk to her much but just apparently wanted to be near her. He came and ate almost every other evening for the rest of the time Alexis was in town. Sometimes he came alone and sometimes with the same brother. Sometimes he didn’t eat a meal but sat down and drank coffee at the bar. He never acted eager to talk to Alexis or pressured her to give him attention in any way but just sat, ate, drank, said good-bye, and left. This made her feel completely secure and flattered. Had he attempted to see her more outside of work she would’ve felt a bit uncomfortable with the pressure of a “date” and confused about any future as she was leaving for camp soon. When she had the chance, she came and talked to him but didn’t normally get the chance to do so for more than ten or so minutes at a time. He always asked her, “Are you working tomorrow?” She would reply by telling him the next time she had a shift.
On her last shift, she gave him her phone number, e-mail address, and told him when she’d be back in town. From then on, he called her almost everyday. They began visiting each other on weekends and grew very close. Both had dated previously but never really entered into a serious relationship having never found someone they were willing to commit to. By the following summer, James had talked to her father about marrying Alexis. Alexis’ mother was concerned about a few things. Her main concern was that Alexis was pursuing a higher degree than the degree James held and she had ambition to continue her education further. Alexis’ father listened to and considered these concerns but James didn’t really approach the matter completely as a question but more as a declaration. James’ sternness and Alexis’ apparent committment to him caused her father to agree, despite her mother’s concerns. James’ strength coupled with gentleness gave Alexis’ father a secure feeling as well, although he still had slight fears and doubts if he thought too much. They married that November and Alexis was pregnant in no time. Nonetheless, she still graduated in four years, took a year off, and was now applying to law schools.
James stared at the TV at an old episode of Seinfeld but didn’t really pay attention to the program. He probably shouldn’t have ripped pages out of her essay, he thought, but she had made him so angry. She always had other priorities and needed to learn to make household chores a higher priority. He agreed to her going to law school but he didn’t want her to put that above her role as wife and mother. And he didn’t want to let her disrespect him or find her school or work to be more important than his work. She may cry at his outbursts, but as long as she didn’t give up neglecting her role as wife to pursue other goals, he wouldn’t give up reminding her of her family roles, by any means necessary. He didn’t say all of this to Alexis or plan to. She should know.
As always after having some time to calm down and reflect, Alexis concluced that she had made a good decision, despite frustrating outbreaks with little rational, verbal explanation. She might not always understand everything but trusted how things had started so she would continue to trust. Time would tell all things. Sometimes you have to follow your heart and let your head figure things out later. That is what we call faith.