All week he’s demanded I make a decision on a birthday present, impatience in his voice. He makes it feel like an obligation, not out of love but necessity. I try not to complain about his attitude, try to accept that he wants to give me anything at all—he doesn’t have to—since I’m so unappreciative, so ungrateful.
I must think of something reasonable, not like the Birkin bag I asked for last year. I never wanted it to begin with; it was a test he failed. With the amount of money he spends on name brand tennis shoes, Rolex watches, designer shades, gold chains, and other expensive jewelry for himself, surely he could spare a couple thousand for his wife. I was wrong. Instead, he bought me a knockoff Michael Kors, and he took it back when I was too slow in saying thank you, made a big show of getting his refund—all twenty-six fifty of it.
I think long and hard about what I truly want. What he can give me to show for our five years of marriage. Besides his grandma’s rental home we’re living in, besides my wages being garnished because he defaulted on his student loans, besides his lavish spending on himself while we’re to our eye sockets in debt, credit too low even for a mortgage from shady online loan companies that approve you next day.
But I shouldn’t complain. I’m such a nag, he tells me. I can’t just be happy. I can’t just love him. The reality is I do love him, since high school I’ve loved him, but being in love and being homeless is not a life I want to live.
So I want a divorce.
There’s no easy way to ask him. His temper runs so hot and cold. I’ve made it worse for myself since loaning his brother money. It was only for gas—twenty dollars tops. He’d spent $260 on shoes just that day, I didn’t think he would miss it. On the contrary, he noticed right away, even more so when he found out who it went to. Tony curses anyone who gives Greg money. He doesn’t deserve it. In Tony’s world, nobody deserves nothing.
He’s stretched out on the couch now, half asleep. A re-air of the game from last night plays on the television. I reach over his shoulder for the remote, held loosely in his hand that hangs over the arm of the couch. As I try to pry it away, his grip tightens, and his eyes shoot open to glare at me.
“The hell are you doing?”
“I was going to change the channel. I didn’t think you were watching.” There was something on the news I wanted to catch. Something about a robbery at the bank where I used to work.
“That’s because you don’t think. Ever.” He sits up, pulls his in legs from across the opposite arm of the couch, knees popping. He’s tall enough to be playing in the NBA instead of half-watching games that don’t matter—neither team made the playoffs. Despite his height, he was never good in basketball—couldn’t handle the ball, worse than Shaq at the free throw line, swatting air, and sometimes faces, when going up for the block. In high school he rode the bench one season before finally quitting and becoming the team’s equipment manager, a job usually reserved for the fast-ass girls in our class—future groupies, ex-basketball wives, and baby mamas—who couldn’t make the cheerleading squad.
I prep what I’m going to say in my head, choosing the most gentle of words to dissuade him from exploding—I’m not happy; I can’t deal with the mood swings anymore; I think we need some time apart, maybe counseling; I’ll stay at my sister’s, she’s already expecting me. I try to avoid using the word “you.” I read somewhere that “you” can be connoted as argumentative, like I’m placing the blame, nagging, that female shit like we always do, according to Tony.
Before I’m able to speak, he turns the volume up to an ear splitting level, the buzzer marking the end of the third quarter ringing in my head, so loud it’s like we’re in the arena. I look at the screen and the volume level is at 85—the highest it goes is 100. “Do you mind turning that down?” I shout.
“Do you mind shutting the fuck up?” He turns it up even higher.
Sometimes I want to hit him for the way he speaks to me, but I fear his reaction, his anger like an unattended to tea kettle about to blow its top off. Last night while preparing dinner I snapped at him for picking food out of the pot after just coming in from work. I don’t want to eat asbestos, I said, lead-laced paint chips in my food.
“Shows how much you pay attention,” he said. “You’re so selfish. You only think about yourself. Do you even think about me during the day? Do I ever cross your mind?” Before I could say anything, he answered for me. “No. I got promoted six months ago, dumbass.”
That was right. He was the new facilities coordinator, the boss of the men inhaling asbestos and lead-laced paint. How could I forget, as much as he talks about his job, how much money he makes—$40,000 would seem like a lot when grandma’s still flipping the rent—assuming it’s more than my weekly check from the bank because each payday means another impulse purchase for him, while I haven’t bought a new pair of pumps in three years—the faux suede on my old ones ripping at the heel—trying to cover all the bills he hasn’t paid.
But I couldn’t say all that. So I stirred the stroganoff in silence, but to no avail because once he’s started, he can’t let things go. A simple request not to touch the food until it’s ready set him off, and before long I feared the neighbors would hear the insults he screamed at me, his tongue like a double-edged dagger piercing into flesh.
I’m tired of being called stupid, of being told to act like an adult when he’s the one screaming like a teenager. I took the lid from the pot and put it in his face. Not to hurt him, just to silence him, melt his lips like wax so that they sealed shut and the reverberating sound of his voice would finally cease. Instead he knocked it clear across the room, split it in two, then grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the wall, knocking the back of my head into the plaster and leaving a hole and an excruciating migraine. I’ve been taking aspirin pills all day.
It was the first time he ever put his hands on me, and the last straw.
I press the power button on the TV, relieved to have silence in the calm before his storm rages.
“We need to talk.”
“About what?” He slams his hands down on his knees, leans over, cocks his head to the side, twists his lips, charred black from smoking, a nasty habit I wish he’d quit. I don’t like the smell. It’s in his clothes, his skin, on his breath. I’ve asked him numerous times to be considerate of my feelings, that I don’t smoke, that I’d prefer him not to in the house, or at least not around me, but he only shrugs it off, tells me to get over it or stop breathing.
I’m reminded of an article I read online about weed. How it freezes your mind at the age you begin smoking. I don’t know how credible it is, if there was a scientific study to back it, but looking into his eyes, yellow like parchment paper, I realize he hasn’t changed since he was fifteen, when we first started dating. Both he and his brother, teenagers trying to be men. They’d see it if they’d only talk to each other.
I can’t think of what to say next, my practiced speech useless. It’s impossible to have a rational conversation with Tony, they too quickly turn to arguments.
With a sigh I ask, “I’m going to the store, you want something?”
“Really? That’s all you had to say?” He waves me off, aims the remote around my body in front of the TV and presses the power button. “Bye! Get out! All that shit for nothing. Nothing!”
He’s still yelling when I shut the door behind me, the sound spilling from the siding of the house. Now I know the neighbors have heard every argument we’ve ever had. The house just as fragile as our marriage. I don’t want to provoke him any more. I’ll come back for my thing tomorrow, when I know he’ll be at work.
Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, outlines, backstories. Today’s backstory gives you a glimpse into the character Tony, Gregory’s older brother. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!