to 5

    on the 5ives





After years of making believe we couldn’t hear each other, my wife and I have actually gone deaf. The deterioration of sound was, for years, negligible, and then one morning, absolute. Having run out of worthy conversation long ago, the prospect of sign language is a conflict of interest to the current state of our marriage. This removal of even our clumsy noise, though, feels prophetic and persecutory. We are adapting to the alternative signals that accommodate our disability. Before our telephone became obsolete, my wife took a liking to the vibrating clip-on pager that signified its ring. I especially enjoy when the strobe-light siren of our doorbell induces seizures in door-to-door solicitors. Our marriage has become a game of involuntary hide-and-seek. We are constantly startling each other during various states of privacy. Silence has given us an intimacy we never thought we would have to share.


While the upstairs neighbors are vacationing, my wife and I have agreed to tend their home. Our acquaintance, one of vertical proximity, has served my wife and I well with necessary intermissions to our domestic disputes. Somehow, we were able to bully them into selecting us over far more responsible couples. Their home reeks with an expertise in matters of career, love, and interior design. In the first week, the plants are blanched and drooping, and their dog has decorated room corners with impatient, guilty turds. During their routine calls, I sit couchside, nodding encouragement, while my wife fictionalizes domestic status quo, with long-distance safety, amidst the cluttered territory markings of our envy. One night, their dog sleeps between us like a child. My wife and I wake panicked, and exhaust the day with chores. Maybe something horrible will happen, and we won’t have to return to our lives.


Had I known that my wife’s intimate history with cigarettes would dwarf her history with me, I would have taken up smoking myself. Only after our wedding did I learn that my wife was not a nonsmoker but a heavy smoker on hiatus, when she hastily returned with relish to the dormant habit that I thought we both loved to hate. Is it rude to say my wife tasted sour? Will her photographs and letters fade sooner than the tart couch pillows and the jaundice of the walls? She knew better than to ask me to pass an ashtray. Then again, crushing her last pack of cigarettes defiantly in my fist provoked hostility worthy of police intervention. Her ironically non-smoke-related death has left me with an oxygen tank as my new necessary companion. Luckily, my senses are too dulled to partake in the emotional deluge of her death’s flavors.


After an expensive and exhaustive battery of tests, my specialist has concluded that I am allergic to my wife. While resistant to medication, this rare and unusual condition, prevalent among happily married men, is fortunately temporary. The symptoms are extraordinary in their metaphorical obviousness. Bodily contact with her causes unattractive and messy skin eruptions, embracing has sent my body into convulsive fits. All valiant attempts to alter her choice of deodorants, perfumes, and soaps yield no improvement. A home-cooked meal actually sent me, heavily sedated and in restraints, to the emergency room. Being psychosomatic in origin, all known treatments of this condition are exclusively behavior-oriented. My wife, frightened yet trying to be accommodating, sits on the opposite side of the specialist’s office. Precautionary measures must be taken to assure my future safety during this period of psychic rebellion, but the specialist does not feel qualified to give marriage advice.


I am expecting another call telling me our daughter died, but I already received that news. The silence on the other end is my wife calling to give her condolences. Ever since our untidy divorce, we sit quietly on the phone like this; our mutual wanting to be able to be together is a neglected thing. Our folly was that we felt inadequate among familial chaos, confused exhaustion with contentment, and fell prey to the seduction of words like mother and father. The pressure of hereditary longevity was too much for us. Did our love require the clean inevitability of an ending to persevere? If our daughter’s birth ruined our marriage, then her death has saved us. This surprising compatibility in our mourning technique has given us a small but definite hope for reconciliation. Quiet grief adequately masks our relief. We must be careful not to ruin this second chance.


The familiar unfamiliarity of my sleeping wife’s small back no longer leaves space for me in our bed. Moonlight is a purifying idea on the surfaces of our living-room furniture. Avoiding the topic of our imminent separation has taken the happiness out of what little happiness we have left. We can only hope our enthusiastic theatrical performances of contentment and passion have incited envy in the happy lovers we normally envy. Later, without an audience, the implausibility of sex only highlights the impossibility of healing. Can my wife’s discomfort that I love her too much only reveal her love’s deficiency? How can I show the same restraint and disinterest she shows me? Is there any space for these questions in marriage? The shelves are suddenly diseased with her possessions, allergies of memory, relics that need immediate removal. Morning will bring her to this now half-emptied room, to discuss simple subtraction.



"Husbands Anonymous"