I couldn’t help cringing. I’d just met them both—he, full of charisma and energy, her, like damp smoke, sucking the joy out of the atmosphere. He introduced her by her first name and offered me shotgun, next to her as she drove. “Oh,” she said, hearing my name, “I have a three-year-old named Abby.” Not “we have a three-year-old” even though he was sitting right there. She wore no “token of unending love”—no ring. Odd, I thought to myself, and tried to push it to the back of my mind with the rest of the garbage needing hauled out. She’s probably just been cleaning or working out or something, I tried to excuse her slovenly appearance and dirty hair. Everyone looks terrible sometimes. She’s only going out to lunch with her husband and a couple of ladies. Who cares? But I couldn’t help thinking that he might. Especially since the other ladies were dressed nicely—he was, too. She gave no apology for her outfit to tactfully hint that wasn’t how she normally appeared in public.
We headed into the restaurant and he hung back a little, talking to us, letting her go first. Well, okay, business is business. He can talk to her any time. When he finally stood next to her, there was no temptation to touch—as much personal space as I’d expect from any guy near me. He’d said he was twenty-eight. Married four years. Hardly long enough for a marriage to go stale. Why did it seem as if the fire between them had burned to cinders and only produced an irritating smoke in their eyes?
When she spoke, I wanted to hold her tongue--sharper than a needle filled with a lethal injection. Tearing down her husband, his authority, his character. It seemed to me she smiled only when she told the story of a triumph over him. Of the dog he didn’t like but she insisted on keeping. How the dog slept with her—she mentioned several times. Where did her husband sleep? How she needed to buy a hoof file for her horse. “You don’t need that,” he said because he’d already mentioned they don’t have enough acreage for the horse, “You could just take it out and exercise it,” but she made it very clear she would be buying one. “How much will it cost,” he asked then, visibly lowering his shield, about to give up. “Only about twenty,” she answered, and he shrugged. “I guess we can do that,” trying to keep one last shred of dignity, as if he’d relented. Then she told him she had an interview for a part-time job. Told him just like I’d tell a friend I hadn’t talked to in a week or two, as if he didn’t know. He didn’t really seem to. “I’d rather you didn’t drive very far for it,” he said, softly. Would he like his wife near home? “They’ll pay my gas so it doesn’t matter,” she retorted. “Be sure you ask them to pay IRS numbers,” he said. “I’d hate to see you getting ripped off.” “I’ll just write it off in my taxes either way,” she answered, brusquely. “Just be sure you’re actually making money,” he laughed a little. “That’s kind of the point of a job.” “Well, thank you for letting me know,” she smarted hotly. “It’s not like I have a degree in finance or anything. I sure never realized that was the point of a job.” I laughed nervously and shoveled in another bite of salad. The conversation shifted to issues at hand—pornography and addictions and the ways they can ruin marriages. “Some of those guys have issues,” another person commented. “Well,” interposed his wife, “My husband’s sure got some issues of his own.” Toss that out there with pornography and addictions. He’s got issues. Then she added for good measure, “He’s certainly not the man I married.”
I nearly choked on a tomato. He most certainly is the man she married. Perhaps not the man she thought she was marrying. I doubt she looked too much like his wedding day bride, either. Or behaved much like the breathless girlfriend to whom he knelt and proposed. Nobody made her say “yes.” Here she sat, hinting that “if only I’d known.” She pointed to the sharp logo on his crisp polo shirt. “I want one of those,” she demanded. “One that says ‘volunteer’.” He smiled slightly, “We don’t have any. Maybe I can get you one that says ‘staff wife’.” Her groan echoed across the restaurant. “I don’t want a ‘staff wife’ shirt. I’m sick and tired of everyone always knowing me as your wife.” She might as well have slapped him across the face. Or me, for that matter. I couldn’t tell if anyone else had mentally recoiled. He had that “please, not in front of people” conciliatory look on his face. “So, what are you going to do today?” he asked, trying to lighten the conversation. “Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Maybe wash some dishes. I have some Avon deliveries.” “Washing dishes would be nice,” he nodded. “Oh, of course,” she turned to us. “That’s because it’s his job. I hate washing dishes so I decided to mow the lawn instead. He does the dishes.” She proceeded to tell us how the lawnmower was a worthless piece of junk.
He made some comment about someone he’d had to work with once being a bozo. “Well, isn’t that Christian of you,” she commented, “Calling people names.” I cringed again. I tried to remind myself that I was just a little mouse sitting in on one lunch. I don’t know what her frustrations or disappointments are. I don’t know what he’s like at home when no one is watching or listening. I don’t know how Christian he behaves. I don’t know what his issues are. Every marriage has it’s complications. It’s even possible the whole day was a joke or simply the day after a fight. Maybe they’re not really like that. I don’t know.
I do know what I heard and saw. And I know that, regardless of his true character or her true feelings, his wife is not improving either.
Restlessly I flipped open my cell phone to check the time. My meals didn’t usually drag by like this, sitting across from a woman who seemed bound and determined to trample across every inch of the word “respect”, strip her husband of the last vestiges of manliness and drag him by his hair through the dirt. All accomplished in an hour’s time. Was she even aware of the devastation she was causing? Did she intend to offer such a distinct first impression? Did she realize that in destroying her husband’s image she was destroying her own protection? Her own security? Her own image? I’d never met either of them before. Perhaps I only saw her on a bad day. Perhaps she was PMSing. Perhaps it was all a joke between them.
I don’t for a moment believe it.
In her smug satisfaction at having embarrassed her husband, having bested him, she seemed completely clueless, like she didn’t even realize she had completely destroyed his chances of ever being her knight in shining armor, in her mind or his—or mine.
And I’d only just met them.