“I want you to slap me as hard as you can,” my wife
tells me in the frozen-food section, mid grocery-cart-push. The sound of
squeaking wheels ceases. My Youngest and My Oldest sit amid piles of cereal
boxes and canned goods, adoring me with big blue eyes and open-mouths. The
Woman I Love’s big blue eyes are different. A fracas has begun, declared during
dessert at Tony Roma’s last Wednesday. What happened was The Shrink (relax - we
are not in therapy) and his wife, Number Four (it’s his fourth wife), after
eight years of marriage, still kiss all the time in public and at dinner
parties, and by kiss, I mean spit-covered cheeks and chins. Wednesday dinner
was a regular thing with them just short of a year. Last Wednesday, The Shrink
dabbed a napkin over his mouth before tossing a bite of his cobbler and raking
it out of the air with his mouth. He waited for Number Four to finish her bite
of Flan, then wielded a playful come-closer with his ring finger and didn’t
kiss her at all when she leaned in, rather, he belted her open-hand, and
shushed Tony Romas – silenced save the licks of barbecue-sauced fingers.
Then, Number Four giggled. Then The Shrink giggled.
they went back at their desserts. Then the fracas began in my wife’s big blue
eyes, filling with spark and flame.
wife is The Woman I Love. You can call me, The Risk Analyst.
loosen my collar, and, in my Dying Hamster Voice, ask her to explain herself.
of explaining, The Woman I Love hands the frozen fish sticks to My Oldest,
who’s goofy for arranging them in her pile. Then The Woman I Love does what The
Woman I Love does every time I ask a question: the Spaceship Stare. Then she
pushes the shopping cart forward and leaves me scowling at my penny loafers,
which I wear with no socks because today is Saturday.
Woman I Love and I sit propped up in bed, under the covers, tonight’s reading
lit by table lamps. Hers is a catalogue of furniture and accessories. My Youngest
and My Oldest coo a wall away. “They’re not normal and healthy people,” I say.
“There’s a horrible glitch.”
course you are,” she answers with a touch of meanness, the kind a person uses
when she sees the future, your future, and it’s all about you suffering, and it
gives her some kind of pleasure to watch it all be your fault.
course I am what?” I’m saying.
just a very spiritual person,” she goes.
I’m saying in my Dying Hamster Voice, “I know.”
“You know nothing,” she goes, and cuts out a
picture of a towel rack and slides it into one of twenty-six envelopes, this
one labeled “B.”
here’s the thing: What is nothing?” I say.
tables her reading and envelopes, flips the light and takes five minutes to get
comfortable before turning her back to me.
doing it again,” I whisper. “You promised.”
it” means she starts a conversation, then won’t answer any of my questions.
We’ve had ten million talks about communicating, and she agrees not to do
things like drop a bunch of Red Herrings then go to bed when some kind of
explanation is warranted. Everything she does she does like a wax-statue, even
the way she plays with My Oldest and My Youngest, no enthusiasm, just pushes
them on playground swings looking like what’s his name in that hospital movie
where he was in a wheelchair, couldn’t move, got better, fell in love, then
couldn’t move again and everyone cried. That’s what The Woman I Love acts like,
only that guy was just pretending to be a disabled goof-job.
adore her so much.
the playground the Shrink coils over to the swings with his daughter, The
Golden Child, whose hair is curled like shiny ribbons. When The Shrink arrives
I am pushing my daughters on the swing set, pushing My Oldest hard enough, and
My Youngest much less, because she is only one. The Shrink’s glasses are
horn-rimmed and silver as a kitchen sink, the same as his spiked hair. He sets
The Golden Child on the swing beside My Oldest and squints at the sun like he
knows everything and says, “What’s the name of your cave, brother man?”
wouldn’t care even if knew what you were saying,” is my answer.
me explain,” he says, squinching his eyes and skin-colored lips at the same
time, “So what if these three guys were born and raised in a …”
would not be interested in this information,” I say.
realize I’m biting the red flesh of my inner lip.
just as soon take a swing at me, wouldn’t you, brother man? Split me up real
want to swing too, daddy?” My Oldest shouts.
don’t say, “I would prefer to remove your eye with a grapefruit spoon,” I say,
“I do not believe in violence.” I say this to The Shrink, not my My Oldest.
like saying you don’t believe you have a beard, which you certainly do.”
guy’s crouched down behind the tin carousel wearing a jogging suit, hiding, and
seems to be Luis, the Latino Real Estate Guy.
would you do if there was a whole big bunch of darkness inside your cave you
never knew about?” The Shrink asks me.
Now Luis is waving his arms like a jacked-up
octopus, waving them at me. This is the first I’ve seen him since the Girls’ PE
Coach up and left with their three boys.
on loving my family. This is what I know.”
you sure you know?” He removes The Golden Child from the swing and scoops her
into his arms, which are also covered in silver hair. “Could it be, the cave of
say, your very own wife, is another kind altogether, and worth exploring?”
jerk into my Tiger Crane stance and throw a few jabs at the air. My inner lip
has begun to bleed. My Oldest wants off the swing. I yank on the chains and
watch as she worms her way off and runs toward the fruity-colored obstacle
course. My Youngest waddles after. It’s breathtaking. Luis is not breathtaking.
He’s shooting me the time-out signal with fierce hand movements.
should discuss this when I’m not on a deadline. I’m writing a book about my
cave. It’s somewhat in depth.” He giggles at this thing he has said. “Perhaps,
Saturday next, you and yours will join me and mine for a little patch job?”
camping next weekend,” I say.
you’re not, brother man.” The Golden Child shakes her head slowly to reiterate.
right. Camping is a sick twisted lie.
you around fourish,” The Shrink says, and slithers away with his child and
shoots a look toward the playground. Luis bolts for the dumpster and launches
in. Many things bother me. What is inside the cave of The Woman I Love?
If my cave is a hiding-from-violence cave, doesn’t that make it a cave of love?
Is there something wrong with caves of love? What’s in The Shrink’s cave? Can
there be many caves inside one’s own?
bothers me most is as much as I don’t want to visit The Shrink’s next weekend,
or any weekend, The Woman I Love still hosts a bloody fracas behind her big
and furious distance from The Woman I Love bleed into Sunday evening after I
say nothing about The Shrink’s invitation. At 9:30 My Oldest succumbs in my
arms halfway through Massive Coronaries on network. I carry her to the
girls’ bedroom and kiss My Oldest’s forehead after she sinks into the pillow
with a whimper, then lean into the crib and kiss My Youngest, imagining the
horror of what if I went and slapped her like crazy right this second, then
swear when I glance at the bedroom window, there’s Luis ducking out of view. On
the way to the living room, I see a post-it on the refrigerator that says,
“Saturday, 4pm, Open Palm!” It’s held up by a hamburger magnet with a bite
missing, because My Youngest once thought it was a real miniature hamburger. In
the living room, The Woman I Love sits Indian-style in front of our bookshelf.
I lean down and kiss the spot on the back of her neck that used to give her The
Crazies, the part with the fuzzy beginnings of her hair all bunched up. When I
remove my lips and hands from her bare shoulders she turns and offers me the
Spaceship Stare, which means I have not given her The Crazies, but something
else, because she punches me in the testicles, then continues reordering our
extensive DVD collection. Curled in bed, I imagine what lurks in her cave, and
what that something was I gave her that wasn’t The Crazies just moments ago.
The Feelgood Days
job at Lyon, Steele and Cheatham and Associates Insurance pays me to act as a
god. The salary is not competitive.
basic formula for determining premium rates is number of negative incidents
times the cost borne by the company of each, divided by the number of clients.
The quotient is their yearly bill. That said, sometimes applications most
analysts would fax to the fourth floor with recommendations that would make the
applicant very unhappy find me needing to act as a god of good. After using the
company formula, I incorporate my own, which is Determined Premium – Combined
Ages of Applicant and Dependents – Compassionate Act as a God of Good – Sum of
All digits in Applicant’s Social Security Number - My Current Age.
Unlike the company formula (factors in the chances
of falling down an elevator shaft, a dump truck squishing you, The Woman you
Love stabbing you in your heart repeatedly with the world’s tiniest knife,
etc), to truly analyze risk is to omit the odds altogether.
approach remains to peruse each application with the gaze of love, often
pretending that the applicant is The Woman I Love and her loved ones, which I
hope still includes me.
like The Woman I Love before me, am in many ways, a very spiritual person.
The Meat Face
do the minutes feel like on Friday evening reading The Adventures of a Donkey
to My Oldest and My Youngest and watching them drift off into their
adorable universes behind tremble-free lids? Try sliding the edge of your
monthly phone statement along your pee-hole.
long-stems I brought stand bud-side-down in the trash bin. The Woman I Love has
almost finished typing an inventory of our extensive DVD collection, and making
separate lists indicating the name of the film, the year, when we watched it,
the number of times, and a star rating. At 1:43 am I crouch beside the desk and
show her The Meat Face.
Woman I Love shuts down the computer, writes “Scan and Sort!” on a post-it, and
places it on top of a file folder that contains our phone statements for the
last four years. Then she locks herself in our bathroom.
2:12 she comes out wearing her Lyon, Steele and Cheatham company-monogrammed
PJ’s. She takes three minutes to get under the covers, turns sideways, and
let’s one out that’s all air.
would never leave me, would you?” I whisper.
I don’t know what I’d…”
“Go to bed. You’re colicky,” she says. Then
she covers her head with our duvet and drifts into her gorgeous realm.
ruminate for hours. Upshot:
breakfast, The Woman I love positions herself on the edge of our bed, wearing a
peach-colored sleeveless and khakis, purse on her shoulder, until The Teenaged
Babysitter from a Few Blocks Down arrives at 3:45 and I prepare for stinging
palms, marooned cheeks, and red beads of spittle. We drive twelve blocks to the
Drippy Cove housing development. The Shrink’s house looks like the others
except for a fountain with stone guys holding stone leaves over very large
uncut stone penises. Inside are people we know, milling around the living room
and kitchen bar, eating tiny hot dogs: The Civil Engineer and The Mulatto
Dentist, Luis the Latino Real Estate Guy, The Collection Agent and His Wife of
the Same Name and of course, The Shrink. The Golden Child stands in a corner of
the living room with her back turned, wearing a flowered sundress. The Woman I
Love walks onto the back patio with Number Four and maybe it’s me, but I swear
all the men’s hands are trembling in restraint. Now the images of The Woman I
Love with palm-print marks on her delicious cheeks burning in their eyeballs
command my retreat to the guest bathroom, where I wipe the sweat with a
blood-colored towel hanging over the shower door.
do the minutes look like?
guy at the grocery store approaching The Woman I Love with a tender hand: “You
shouldn’t let him do it to you. There’s help.”
bowls of potpourri and tear snot.
squat on the throw rug. My fists press into my temples. Then a tap-tap at the
door. “Brother man. Open up a sec.”
flush for appearances and open the door. The Shrink slithers in, tells me to
grab a toilet then slides open the shower door and sits with his enormous palms
on his silver-haired knees.
“I want to reach out to you, brother man,” The
don’t care for your idea of reaching out.”
takes my hand and massages it, then goes, “I’m terrified my wife’s gonna wake
up one morning and wonder where she goofed. That day comes, she’s gone, and
so’s the house and kid. So I give her what she needs, and try not to worry. You
need to worry. You’ve needed to from the start. Her, curious little thing from
an Albanian village, never even been on a plane before. You’re the pasty
insurance guy on the Internet, itching for a permanent opportunity to use those
love and understanding skills your three sisters taught you. She’s the quiet
type, language barrier and everything, but her eyes... At first, you both find
comfort in the pursuit of what you take for culture: Art galleries. Free Tibet
meetings. Book signings by authors you’ve never read. Maybe even a titty bar.
Then come the kids. Oops. Suddenly it all got ordinary. You like it though.
There’s always one like that.”
do you know about the strip club?”
be a retard, brother man, you know how I know. Just say it.”
“Don’t be a wuss. Sayit.”
know this because…”
squeezes my hand and goes, “Because you and I are the same person.”
The Shrink laughs, “Not literally, I mean.... I
just mean hey, man, I’m right there with you. I should have gone Asian the
first time around. Three times a day for nine years, baby. Oh, and your wife
tells my wife everything.”
I do make her stay?”
her what she needs. Or else. This stuff is no big secret.”
reach for a hug. The Shrink puts his arms up and says, “The hell you think this
is? Go. Get the fuck out of my bathroom.”
I exit and stand at the edge of the hall, watching
The Woman I Love as she sips a Martini, conversing with Number Four. A ringing
in my ears as Luis the Latino Real Estate Guy blocks me near the big screen.
“Tony Romas. Monday nights,” Luis says. “He did it
to me too.”
His juicy eyes are his final plea, and seal his
defeat. I push Luis into a towering palm, and sprint toward The Woman I Love
with my fist raised and yell, “Supper time!”
I launch the first backhand and send her glass
spiraling. Another flying palm leaves my fingers stinging. The third brings the
first speckle under her nose compliments of my wedding band. Through the sounds
of panicked guests and their hands clawing my face and back, I watch The Woman
I Love smiling with red wet eyes and cathartic joy. The Golden Child’s shrieks
give way to my arm-flailing howls and roars.