My husband is spitting mad. Literally. Spitting. The veins in his neck are showing and the arms he curls fifty-pound dumbbells with have clenched fists. I’m distracted from the spit by the fact that I’m turning 53 in twenty four hours. I had chosen him on my birthday a lot of birthdays ago. We like to tell that story.
There were other men in my life then. We were just dating, after all. And other men wanted to take me out on my birthday. They were calling and trying to make plans. You can’t say no to someone on a birthday and have him come back. I said yes to Ray.
The spit kept interrupting my reverie. The spit was questioning if we could stay married after what I’d done.
I tried to wrap my mind around his anger, the intensity so strong he was jogging around the word we said we’d never say unless we meant it. We theorized that once you said the word it was just a matter of time until the word happened. He wasn’t saying the word. Instead he was jogging and doing burpees with full push-ups all around the word.
“How are we going to be married after this?” he asked.
I tried to defend myself, my actions, to stop him from doing burpees around the word and clenching his fists. There was no defense. I had to wade into it with nothing but my own acceptance of my actions. No apologies. I had to be prepared for him to stop spitting and jogging and start walking. Away from me.
On Facebook, I had said things that I was not sorry for. I had said exactly what I meant. I had made people angry. I had decided the day after Trump was elected president to not care if someone I hadn’t seen in ten years didn’t like me. I didn’t care that family members–people I loved, who loved me back–would see this post and ask if I was calling them stupid. I very clearly stated total disdain for anyone who voted for Donald Trump. I did not jog around the words, tiptoe around them, or worry at all about where I stepped. I said “fuck off” and “fuck you” and “fuck fuck fuck how could you?”
I was not alone on Facebook– “my friend list seems to be getting smaller,” posted my friend, London, after a bevy of angry rants–but I was alone with my husband. I wondered how many couples across America were spitting at each other over this same thing. Around 2am after yelling, crying, slamming fists on the bed I was packing a bag. I began jogging and walking and crying around the word. “Do you want me to leave?” “Do you even like me?” “How can you be this angry? You didn’t even vote for him!” “I wasn’t talking about you!” I yelled.
“You are all talking about me!” he yelled back. The spit had become ten foot waves. “I’m white, I’m old, I’m successful so I must be a racist misogynistic pig!”
“You’ve been talking about me for months,” he spit.
There were drops of truth in the spittle. I’d picked at him over his beliefs–beliefs that I think feed systemic racism–and his hatred of Hillary, which I saw as systemic misogyny. “Why can’t you see that she’s no different than any male who has ever run for office before her?” I had asked. “Why is she somehow more ambitious, more calculating, more dishonest than her husband, who you like?”
He didn’t care if I left, he said.
I thought of all the times we’d loved each other. Been each other’s person.
We got tired. Spitting and jogging and burpees are a lot of work. Sometime near dawn we gave up, planning on trying to sleep with the pain and uncertainty. We left the word somewhere on the mat, unattended. Never picked up, never lifted, but not put away.
I touched his arm. He is my person.
He touched me back. I am his person. The spit went away. The word sat alone on the mat.
“I can’t believe we’re here over an election,” he said. I cried.
I told him about the truth in the drop of spittle, that I’d been angry and hiding my anger.
“I’ve been notching myself down for you. To make you comfortable.”
He had guessed that. “I feel like it’s faking,” he told me. “Like it’s a lie.”
It is like a lie, I said back. I told him of being dismissed. By him. By his friends. By our family. “That Kelly, she’s our little liberal,” they’d explain, eating the dinner I cooked, drinking the wine I’d chosen, and swimming in the pool I kept heated for guests.
“Those liberals,” they’d say in my house, on my Facebook feed, “They’re ruining America.”
“Those lazy welfare-living, tax-sucking liberals,” they’d say at the restaurant we agreed to meet at. I’d change the subject. I’d smile and nod. That Kelly, she’s our little liberal.
I’d been quiet, surrounded by my lie. He let me stay there.
I was not sorry for what I said on Facebook, I told him. It was my truth. My eyes closed for a time. I wondered how many other couples were trying to sleep with this.
By morning the wave of spit and spittle had become a beach. We found each other there. “I haven’t supported you on the outside,” he said. “I will.”
His arms, strong from 50- pound curls, wrapped around me. He told me how he had been distracted by the desire to be liked. Softly he spoke of the loud men we know. He had remained quiet when they were grunting at “those liberals” and laughing at women who are “easily offended.” Grunting at me. He had let them, knowing I was outnumbered.
He said, “I won’t be quiet anymore.”
I tell him I’d been thrashing, caught in the hunter’s net, thinking I was prepared by decades of bench presses and back-weighted squats. “That Kelly, she’s so strong,” they would say. I thrashed and kicked, terrified and helpless. I was distracted by my absolute outrage.
I told him I would mend fences with the people we loved.
“Yep,” he said. But I’m his person. Which makes me first.
I read him this story. “I don’t like the double fist part,” he says. “It makes it seem like I hit you.”
“I’ll change it,” I say. Because he’s my person. That makes him first.