It had been one of those days. He rinsed off the last of the dishes, pulled the plug in the kitchen sink and dried off his hands. Tired, he walked up the stairs, feeling the fatigue in his leg muscles with each step. As he walked down the hall to the bedroom he noticed the smell. It had been with him most of the day, of course, but he had only been sub-consciously aware of it up to that point. It was not intense, but it was persistent; the accumulated odour of various parts of his unwashed body melding together into a slightly unpleasant aromatic symphony. He stripped off his clothes and threw them into the laundry basket, not noticing that there was a set of clean, folded sheets lying on the corner of the unmade bed. Almost on auto-pilot, he made his way to the bathroom, opened the door to the shower, stepped inside and turned on the water.
“Oh, great”, a voice pierced the room, dominating the gentle sound of water droplets splashing onto the glass, “I was about to have a shower.” It wasn’t just a statement of fact, it was an accusation. The words said “I was about to have a shower”, but the tone of voice said “how dare YOU be in the shower when I was about to use it.” A hundred sarcastic remarks crossed his mind, but he knew better than to utter any of them. Besides, he didn’t have the energy for this, not tonight.
At least he thought he knew better. While his brain was reminding himself that it wasn’t worth it, his mouth had already betrayed him “do I need to make a reservation next time?”
“I don’t suppose you noticed that the bed still needs to be made,” she stated in an increasingly annoyed tone.
“No, I didn’t. I’ll make it when I get out”
“It’s too late now, I’m doing it,” she shouted as she left the bathroom. He was still trying to figure out what being in the shower at the wrong time had to do with making the bed, and why there was a time limit for when the bed needed to be made. But he was doing it again. He was trying to solve the apparent problem with logic. It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense to him, what mattered, was that it did make sense to her.
There was a steady stream of words coming from the other room. She often did this, pretending to talk to herself, but loudly enough that it was obviously intended to be heard. The noise from the shower was enough to drown out most of it, but snippets of key words made it through. “. . .Never do anything anyway . . . “why would you care about making my life easier . . . you think I’m your servant.” He would just ignore it. If logic didn’t work, then ignoring it would.
Ignoring it didn’t work. He had known that too, deep down inside, but he had once again deceived himself into believing, hoping that it would. After all, it takes two to fight. If one doesn’t respond, there can’t be a fight. “Why do you always walk away from conflict? This is important to me; you can’t just ignore what I’m saying. Why aren’t you man enough to have a discussion with me.”
There it was, the attack on his manliness. Next would be negative remarks about his family, accusations about being too cheap for her to have the lifestyle she deserves, then back to the detailed list of all the things he didn’t do to help around the house. At each stage he could already predict what the next accusation or insult would be. After all, this wasn’t the first time he had gone through this sequence. What could he say or do to break the cycle? Sarcasm and logic didn’t work, silence didn’t work either. There are five possible responses an animal can have to a threat. Fight, flight, freeze and posture didn’t work. The only other option left was to submit.
“Sorry for showering when you wanted to shower and for not making the bed before I went into the shower.” It came out sounding much more sarcastic than he had intended. It was hard to sound genuine apologizing for something so ridiculous, but he had tried. As his last option crumbled at his feet, he realized it was going to be another long night.
* * *
He lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. His stomach was in a knot, his body tense with anger. For the preceding hour he had been subject to the enumeration of his many, many shortcomings. Somehow that seemed to have been cathartic for her as she lay peacefully next to him, snoring happily. The numbers on the clock ticked by, inching closer and closer to wake-up time, but sleep was nowhere to be found. It was not going to be a productive day at work.
By Noam LePen